Author's Note: This series of vignettes resulted from my complete inability to decide what pairing I should write next! So it's partly Nikki's (for making me see the beauty of DRok) and Christine's (who sent me a gorgeous Howie/Nick pic) fault - the rest is my own disability to write a fic with no SweetBone in it and the fascination Kevin/Howie has on me... *g*
The original inspiration for this came from Jericho's Brian centred fic "Flavor of the week". The poems at the beginning of each story belong to Hans Kruppa (an Austrian poet), they were translated by me.


Across the Border
You're something special.
And as many special people
you don't seem to know it.
You don't see yourself
in the mirror of your thoughts.

On the far side of your words
shines a warm magic -
when you go across the border
between mind and soul.

Hans Kruppa - "Über die Grenze"

Oil on the Water (Howie/Nick)

When You Kiss Me
I need your closeness,
so I don't
lose myself.
I need your touch,
so I can feel life -

the life that you are,
when you kiss me.

Hans Kruppa - "Wenn du mich küsst"

Nick Carter was fuming. It was easy to anger Nick, so he was furious often - and let everyone around him suffer for it.
This time it had been a careless remark made by one of their gaffers that had triggered an outburst of the infamous Carter temper. The man had not really meant any harm and he certainly would not have said what he had, had he known that Nick was within ear shot. And Nick had it up *here* that people who hadn't been there kept making remarks about his arrest and just assumed that he had behaved like a spoiled child.
So he blew up - and if Kevin had not been there he would probably have fired the cause of his wrath or, still worse, beaten him to a pulp. Nick knew that he would have regretted it afterwards, but when he was in that state he simply didn't care anymore. And instead of being grateful that Kevin had stopped the situation from escalating he blew him off as well and stormed off, hiding in his hotel room and sulking.
Nick was aware of the fact that his behavior was somewhat ridiculous - but he couldn't help himself and turned into a thundercloud, making everyone near him miserable in the process.

When Brian tried to talk some sense into his friend all he got was an angry "Fuck off, Brother Brian! I'm so sick of you always behaving like a saint - go, polish your halo and leave me the fuck alone!" Brian knew that Nick didn't mean what he said and that he would be sorry once his anger dissolved, but it hurt nonetheless to hear the venom in Nick's voice. He had to bite back tears and turned his back on the dark figure at the window.

Leaving Nick's room he ran into Kevin, who took one look at his cousin's face and felt his temper rising. He pulled Brian closer to him and hugged him wordlessly, trying to make the pain go away. Brian looked up at Kevin's handsome face and saw that Nick would be in for a *very* bad time - and although a part of him wanted to make Nick suffer, he knew that it would do more harm than good and probably foul both Nick's and Kevin's mood for days.
So he smiled up at his protector, delighting at how quick his cousin's scowl turned into an answering smile. "Let's leave him to himself, Kev", Brian suggested, cupping Kevin's face in his hands and caressing its beautiful features. Kevin's smile turned into a grin: "And whatever shall we do until the kid has calmed down, Bri?" As he saw the impish look on the younger man's face he took his hand and guided him into his room.

Unfortunately AJ had no one to stop him from going to Nick's room a bit later that afternoon. And even if there had been someone he would probably not have listened - because, well, he was AJ... So as he entered without knocking - one of his annoying habits that even 9 years of living in close quarters with his band mates had not been able to break - he was all set to shake Nick out of his dark mood.
But experience should have told him that he was only wasting his time - Nick didn't even crack a smile as AJ smacked him on the shoulder with an easy joke on his lips. And to his suggestion of going shopping together he only stared at AJ blankly and refused flatly. AJ looked at his younger friend and felt his temper rise - the way Nick was behaving was plain ridiculous! "Look, I understand that all this bull shit everyone keeps giving you for getting arrested is getting on your nerves - but shit, Nick, it has been *hours* and the man apologized! And it's not as if it was *our* fault that your feelings got hurt - so why don't you stop pouting and behave like a normal human being towards your *friends*, who are trying to help you!"All he got in response was a dagger shooting look and an angrily muttered "Fuck off!" before Nick turned his back to him and ignored him completely.

AJ stormed out of the room, cursing under his breath. Why did he even bother - he should have known that Nick was unable to act reasonably when he was in that state. Frustrated AJ did what he probably should have done right from the start: He went to Howie's room and walked in. "D, get your ass in gear - we have a severe case of Nickitis on our hands!"
Howie looked up from the book he had been reading and sighed. "Is it that bad, Alex? Can't someone else..." But he was already up and put on a more decent looking outfit than his old sweatpants and baggy t-shirt. AJ leaned against the wall and watched Howie's preparations impatiently. But a look from Howie got him to calm down a bit and he smiled ruefully: "Sorry, D - it's just that he makes me so angry sometimes! I know that it's difficult for him to admit that he was wrong - but does he always have to spend hours in his room pouting before being able to behave like a normal human being again?"
Howie smiled in understanding and put a hand on AJ's crossed arms, saying softly: "Not so long ago and you didn't behave much different from Nick..." "You're right, I know you're right. But anyway..." Howie smiled once again at his best friend and patted his shoulder as he got ready to leave. "I know, Alex - and that's why I'm going to talk to him now."

As Howie knocked on Nick's door he felt AJ's eyes on him. He was giving him the thumbs-up and Howie was still smiling when Nick reluctantly opened the door that he had locked after AJ had left. Howie looked up into Nick's eyes, now a stormy grey. "May I come in, Nick?" he inquired and was already inside before Nick could react in one way or the other. He knew it was best not to give Nick the opportunity to tell him off, so he began walking around in the room, cleaning Nick's mess up somewhat.
Nick was a bit unsettled by the fact that Howie was not giving him the expected lecture and settled back on the bed, while his friend picked up the dirty clothes, comics and CDs strewn all over the floor. He found it strangely calming to watch Howie move around the room, seemingly completely engrossed in the task at hand. It was just such a... Howie thing to do.

Nick couldn't bite back a small smile as he saw Howie take a used pair of boxers with two fingers and carry it gingerly to the laundry bag, his hand as far away from his body as possible. And although Nick's face turned to stone again almost at once Howie seemed to sense the lightening of his mood and shot him a smirk. "You know, cleaning your room won't kill you", he remarked drily, and Nick couldn't help himself but smirk a bit, shooting back: "But why should I, when I have you to do that?"
The atmosphere in the room got a lot more relaxed after that and Howie finished his cleaning in silence, only glancing at Nick tenderly with his big expressive eyes every now and then. Once the room passed his scrutiny he went over to Nick's bed and lay down beside the younger man who was watching him silently.
"So, you wanna talk about it?" Howie asked simply, not the slightest undertone of lecture in his even voice. Nick just couldn't be mad at him, so he only said: "Nah - it's the same as always..."
Howie looked at him seriously, putting a warm hand on Nick's arm. "I know, but sometimes it helps to talk about it." He paused and, when he didn't get a response from Nick, went on: "What do you wanna do instead?" His face was soft and his hand was caressing Nick's bare arm as he inched closer to the still form beside him, his eyes never leaving Nick's.
Nick couldn't suppress a shiver running down his spine as he felt Howie's warm breath on his face and his whole body relaxed visibly. Almost involuntarily he reached up to tug back a curly strand of hair that had fallen into Howie's face.

The older man smiled down at him and Nick couldn't stop a answering smile as he felt his anger slip away quietly. He pulled Howie down to him and almost moaned just from anticipation. Their lips met and began to move together and Nick felt Howie settle down between his legs as their tongues danced together. Soon passion washed over them and Howie deepened the kiss, exploring Nick's warm mouth with his tongue, while Nick's hands were roaming his back and pulling up his shirt.
They broke their kiss to free each other off their tops and Howie latched his mouth to Nick's nipples, knowing that this drove him wild. He felt Nick's erection grow beneath him and his own arousal grew in response to the delicious friction Nick was producing by rubbing himself against him. Soon the younger man was getting impatient and he urged Howie on by sliding his hands in Howie's pants and caressing his butt.
Howie stopped his ministrations to gasp and quickly take off the offending garment. Nick followed his example and stripped completely, letting his cock slap against his stomach. "You're so gorgeous, Nick!" Howie whispered before planting kisses down over Nick's chest and stomach, dipping into his navel and finally taking him deep into his mouth.
Nick arched off the bed, his hands grabbing the sheets, at he feeling of Howie's tongue moving around his cock before deep throating him and moving up and down his length with just the right amount of suction and the occasional grazing with his teeth. One hand played with Nick's heavy balls while the other was busy holding Nick down who couldn't help himself but try to get even deeper into Howie's mouth.

All too soon Nick felt his climax approaching and exploded into Howie, who swallowed every last drop, all the time looking up at Nick with tenderness in his big brown eyes. Then he moved up Nick's body and pulled him into his arms while Nick was still trembling from the high he had just experienced. Finally his eyes opened, now again a sparkling blue, to come to rest on Howie. "Thanks, D..." he said softly, kissing him deeply, enjoying the sensation of being held and loved. "I know I've behaved like an ass - but when I'm so angry I can't seem to help myself. I know that what I do and say is wrong and childish, but I do it anyway..." he murmured against Howie's lips, the words now coming easy.
Howie smiled and kissed him again. "I know - and the others do, too. But you should perhaps try not to be so mean to Brian next time, okay? Kevin would almost have killed you for that..." Nick nodded, blushing hotly at the thought of the terrible things he'd said to his best friend. Howie's lips were in the meantime busy nibbling on his neck and Nick suddenly remembered that his friend was probably in near pain because he hadn't cum yet.

"Shit, I'm sorry, D - let's take care of you before I go begging for Bri's forgiveness..." He laughed softly at Howie's enthusiastic response and quickly flipped them over, pinning the smaller man to the bed easily. With expert movements he travelled down his friend's body, enjoying the sounds of pleasure that escaped Howie as his tongue traced the well built body beneath him. He paid special attention to Howie's navel, knowing that he was specially sensitive there. Howie's hands were in his hair as he tried to get Nick to move further downwards.
Nick grinned impishly up at him but relented since Howie seemed close to begging - and after all he had done for Nick that didn't seem fair somehow. So Nick closed his lips over the already weeping tip and began to suck while one hand moved up and down the base. The other hand nudged Howie to move his legs up so he could reach his sensitive opening better, penetrating him with three fingers. Now Howie couldn't stop his hips from moving and Nick had to let go of his shaft to hold him down.

As Nick's fingers hit Howie's prostate again and again and he alternately sucked on his cock as if it was a lollipop or swirled his tongue around it Howie couldn't hold back any longer and came into Nick's mouth with a low cry, pulling the younger man up for a kiss. Their tastes mingled as their tongues danced together leisurely.
"You okay again?" Howie inquired finally as he had calmed down a bit more. He still held Nick close, playing with his short blond hair as he watched him tenderly. Nick smiled up at him - a genuine and warm smile, worlds away from the sullen look he had worn before Howie came. "Yes, I'm okay again. Thanks, Howie - somehow you always manage to keep me grounded when I'm in danger to lose myself in my anger..."
Reluctantly Nick broke their embrace. "I better go and shower - I have to apologize to Bri for being such an ass and to AJ for blowing off his try to help." Howie grinned and nodded. "Yeah - and you should better hope that Brian has managed to curb Kevin's homicidal instincts..." Nick groaned. "God, I had forgotten about that - and I owe him an apology as well, for keeping me from doing anything stupid to that guy..." "That's my boy!" Howie approved with a big grin before pulling Nick up and giving him a light push towards the bathroom.

Nick grinned at him, the thundercloud completely gone. "Since I've been such a good boy - what about you join me in the shower, D?" He paused and continued, a mischievous light in his eyes: "First one gets washed by the other - do you think you're up to it, old man?"
With that he took off, closely followed by Howie. "Old man? I'll show you an old man, you impudent boy!"

Light in the Darkness (Howie/Brian)

Because you exist
Because you exist
I'm in love again
with life.
You can give me so much
that I can't believe it -
I am a new man.
Your tenderness
has freed me,
your look
is my happiness,
your light of love
all I can see.

Hans Kruppa - "Weil es dich gibt"

Brian Littrell knew he should be incredibly grateful for everything God had given him. He had a great career, was doing the things he loved and earned good money with them. His family supported him, his loving wife was everything he had ever wished for. He was surrounded by wonderful friends on a daily basis - and he shared this special connection with one of the most gorgeous men on the planet, who just happened to be his cousin.
But although he knew all this, Brian still had days when he felt incredibly lonely and sad. Then nothing seemed to be able to brighten his mood and this affected everyone around him. He didn't *want* to spoil his friends' mood when he sat around brooding and pitying himself. But telling himself how many good things he had just didn't help when he got into this state of mind.

This time the spiral down had started as Leighanne had to cancel her long planned visit. On top of that Brian had a sore throat and was afraid he wouldn't be able to sing well enough for his own high standards. And to make matters even worse, Kristen was staying with Kevin. Not that Brian didn't like her or wasn't glad to see the happiness on Kevin's face - it just meant that Kevin was too preoccupied to take care of his cousin the way he needed him to when the world turned grey for him.

Kevin saw Brian retreat into himself, trying to keep up a happy facade and failing miserably. But he also knew that Brian would be mad at him if he cut short the few valuable days he had with his wife in order to cheer him up, so after a short hug and a quick kiss he left him alone. It always took a lot of time spent holding him, caressing him, convincing him on one hand that he was loved and on the other hand that he was not behaving ridiculously. Brian always felt as if he was burdening the others with his dark mood, as if he should be able to work through it himself without them noticing.
But this just didn't work - as hard as Brian tried to be cheerful around his friends he only succeeded in depressing himself further because he didn't manage on his own. And when everyone left him alone the way he wanted them to he began to feel even more alone and abandoned.

Thus was the dilemma Nick faced as he watched Brian's usually open face cloud over and his shoulders slump as if tired. When he tried to wake his best friend's interest in a brand new movie that was showing in the hotel's own theatre, Brian only forced a smile and said in a dead voice: "I don't think I'd be good company today, Nick - you better ask AJ or Howie."
With that Brian went back to brooding, wrapping his loneliness around himself like a blanket of darkness. Nick watched him, feeling his pain as if it was his own. How he wished to be able to help him! But Brian obviously didn't want his help - he even shied away as Nick tried to pull him into a hug. Hugging sometimes worked with Kevin, but it just was not the same coming from Nick, no matter how good his intentions...

After a while Nick got tired of Brian's monosyllabic answers and gave up, leaving Brian to his dark thoughts. He went looking for Kevin, but the older man had gone out on a day trip with Kristen - they were always shopping for things to make their home even more comfortable. And Howie was at a meeting for the DLF, so Nick didn't even try to go to him for help. As Nick passed AJ's room he stopped and knocked quickly before entering, not waiting for an answer. "J - you here?" he called as he found the living area empty.
The bedroom door was closed and he suddenly heard noise that could only mean one thing - Sarah had flown in for a surprise visit. Nick threw up his hands and left the room, muttering to himself: "Am I the only one around to look after Brian here? I'm just not cut out for this job!" He turned to go back to Brian's room for one last try to cheer him up before the show in the evening.

To his big surprise Brian was not on the couch anymore, where Nick had left him staring desolately out of the window. He felt a strange sense of dejà vu as he neared the bedroom - but this time the sound coming through the partly open door was Brian sobbing and Nick almost stormed into the room to console his friend. But as he was about to enter he suddenly heard soothing noises that he identified at once as coming from Howie. With a silent sigh of relief Nick peered through the doorway and saw Brian and Howie standing on the other side, Brian leaning into Howie's tight embrace as sobs wracked his body. He didn't know why Howie was here - but he knew that he would take care of Brian much better than Nick would have been able to. Quietly Nick closed the door and left them, confident now that Brian would be alright.

Brian clung to Howie's broad frame as if his life depended on it. He felt soothing hands on his back and in his hair, telling him without words what Howie repeated out loud over and over again: "It's okay, let it go, Bri... I love you, I'll never leave you alone."
A part of Brian knew that he was being melodramatic - but it just felt to good to be held like this. Except for Kevin Howie was the only one able to do that, to make him feel loved and safe again with just a touch and a word. The darkness around Brian began to disappear as his sobs grew fewer and fewer, until he was quiet. But still Howie held him, still his strong arms encircled Brian and his hands wandered over his back, his shoulders, caressing his neck and hair in a soothing rhythm.

Brian let out a sigh and snuggled closer, feeling the need for closeness now more than ever. He nuzzled Howie's neck and his arms, that had been hanging limply by his sides, moved to wrap themselves around Howie's middle. Howie was still talking softly, assuring Brian that he was here and not going anywhere.
Suddenly Brian felt the need to be even closer to Howie, to experience his love in a more direct way than through words, sincere as the were. He lifted his head and looked at Howie with eyes red from crying: "Stay with me, Howie - please?" To make his meaning clear he leaned in to kiss Howie's lips, enjoying their softness and taste.

Howie did not hesitate but tightened his hold on Brian and pulled him flush to his body. He returned the kiss with just the right mix of tenderness and passion, his tongue playing with Brian's. With sure movements he steered them both towards Brian's king size bed, never once breaking their kiss. Once there he pushed Brian lightly onto the soft bedding, from where his friend looked up at him with wide blue eyes.
"Of course I'll stay with you, Bri..." he said softly before stripping out of his casual suit, his movements slow and seductive as he felt Brian's eyes on him and could hear his breathing getting rugged. When he was naked he crawled onto the bed, straddling Brian who didn't move at all, just lay there and watched him, licking his dry lips.

Howie bent down to kiss Brian slowly, sensually, while his hands were at work ridding him of his clothes. He broke the kiss only to pull Brian's t-shirt over his head and to pull his jeans and boxers off in one swift movement. Once Brian was lying beneath him completely naked - a sight that made Howie's breathing stock - he began to stroke him and kiss him, making sure to caress every single inch of white skin. He began at his feet and slowly worked his way up, only sparing Brian's erection, already thick and begging for attention. Howie paid special attention to Brian's scar, well knowing how sensitive the flesh there was, to the spot beside his left ear that caused Brian to moan Howie's name, and to the soft inner side of his wrists.

Just when Brian thought that Howie had finished his journey over his body and wanted to take action himself, he was turned over by strong and gentle hands as Howie began to caress his back. Brian almost bit into his pillow as wave after wave of pleasure went through him. He was incredibly aroused and half knelt on the soft mattress, rocking against it in an attempt to reach his climax. But Howie whispered for him to wait as he came to a halt at Brian's firm butt, skimming over it with feather like caresses. Then, when Brian thought he could not handle one more teasing touch, he suddenly felt Howie's tongue at his entrance and a strangled cry escaped him. Then fingers replaced the tongue and Brian almost came as they hit his prostate.

"Please, Howie!" he begged, rocking back against Howie, feeling his friend's hardness pressed against his butt. "Please - inside me - now!" he managed to pant as Howie continued his ministrations, his tongue now on Brian's neck and his other hand around his hard cock.
"You sure, Bri?" Howie's voice was just as breathless as Brian's. His answer was a turn of his head, a passionate kiss and a husky: "Lube - in the left drawer..." That was all the encouragement Howie needed and he quickly coated himself, fending off Brian's attempt to do this by saying: "No way I'd last if you helped me, Bri..."
Then Brian felt Howie's erection at his opening and braced himself for the pain, trying to relax as much as possible. Howie's steady stroking of his cock certainly helped and suddenly Brian felt Howie's entire length filling him and the pain subsiding. Slowly he began to move and Howie picked up on his movements and started to pull out slowly and push back in, hitting Brian's prostate in the process.

After all the sweet torture Howie had inflicted on him Brian knew that he wouldn't take long and sure enough, after only a couple of minutes he felt pure ecstasy approach him. Then he knew nothing for a while as he blacked out shortly, overcome by one of the most intense orgasms he had ever experienced.
The sensation of Brian's muscles clenching around him was too much for Howie and after several more thrusts, that became shallower and shallower, he climaxed as well, collapsing on top of Brian. He quickly rolled off and met Brian's still hazy gaze as they lay side by side.

Finally Brian had recovered enough to say: "Thank you, Howie - that was amazing!" He smiled at his friend and Howie rejoiced as he saw the light shining in Brian's eyes again. He returned the smile tenderly and kissed Brian, pulling him closer so he could hold him properly. As they broke their kiss Brian settled his head on Howie's shoulder, their eyes still locked as they smiled at each other contentedly.
"I should get depressed more often - I always forget how wonderfully alive I feel afterwards..." Brian said jokingly, grinning at the mock outrage on Howie's face. "I *knew* there was a reason for it!" Howie said with a smirk, then he became serious and he continued, his voice again soft: "Why don't you come to me or Kevin as soon as you begin to feel lonely, Bri? You don't have to try to get through it on your own - that's what we're here for, okay?" Brian returned Howie's tender smile and nodded: "I'll try, Howie - I just always feel so ridiculous for feeling sorry for myself..." Howie's arms tightened around Brian, reassuring him without words as they lay in silence for a while.

Just when Brian was about to fall asleep in the safety and comfort of Howie's embrace as suddenly someone pounded against the door. They exchanged a quick look and grinned as they said in unison: "What is it, Nick?"
There was a short pause then Nick popped his head in, the famous Carter smirk on his face. "Oh, good, you're finally finished! We have to leave in 20 minutes and Kevin is about to have babies because you were still going at it - loudly!"
Howie and Brian exchanged a look of complete understanding and moved at the same instant. Only lots of practice allowed Nick to duck as two pillows came flying his way and he quickly exited, giggling uncontrollably.

Escape from the World (Howie/Kevin)

With You
In here
with you
it is comfortable
and warm -
and the noises from the streets
are drowned out
by harmony and silence.
The book shelf tells us
its secret
and we bury it
in the vacuum of candle light.

Hans Kruppa - "Mit dir"

Kevin Richardson was an organizer, no doubt about that. There were even people who might have called him a busybody, always meddling in other people's affairs. But those close to him knew that this was just his way of caring for his loved ones. Kevin liked to make sure everything was going the way it should be, that things were running smoothly, to make life easier for those around him.

That concern sometimes drove every one wild - specially Nick felt sometimes as if he was doomed to be the 'baby' of the group until the day he died. Kevin seemed to simply refuse to let him make his own mistakes - and when Nick went and blundered along on his own Kevin seemed to be standing on the road side, just waiting for him to mess up. He knew that this was far from true, that Kevin would probably have died protecting him if that was necessary - but still... Sometimes Nick wanted to strangle Kevin, but he also enjoyed pulling the older man's strings, knowing exactly how to anger him. This had resulted in countless pranks Nick had played on him, sometimes in league with Brian, sometimes on his own. And Kevin's face had always been worth every single lecture Nick had received over the years!

While Nick was certainly the one Kevin "babied" the most, the others all had times when they complained about the way he would walk in somewhere and just take control.
He and AJ had had countless fights over the years, their personalities clashing, resulting in Kevin turning to ice and AJ red with fury. But it had ultimately been Kevin who convinced AJ that he needed more help than he could get on the road and AJ would be forever grateful to the man who had in many ways replaced the father he had never really had.
Since AJ was sober things had gotten much better between him and Kevin. They still fought sometimes, but with much more respect for the other. AJ knew that without Kevin's concern and insistence on helping him he would probably still be fighting his demons with drinks and drugs - and would ultimately have lost everything he valued. And Kevin was happy to see his friend mature and successfully stay sober - AJ hadn't touched a drink since going to rehab, which made Kevin really proud of him.

Other than AJ Brian had never really resented his cousin's interference in his life. That was just the way he was, the way he had always been. Kevin had always protected Brian, even when Brian was still a toddler and a neighbour's kid had tried to take his favorite toy. Kevin was the one Brian turned to when he needed someone. As they grew older the special bond between them had grown closer, even when Kevin moved Florida. And when he had called Brian asking him to join this new group he was in Brian hadn't hesitated and agreed, knowing that Kevin only wanted what was good for him. In the following years becoming lovers had seemed natural, a deepening of the connection they shared that didn't change as they both found the women they wanted to grow old with.
But all this didn't mean that Brian never complained about Kevin's meddling - when he felt specially overprotected he sometimes said that he might be Kevin's cousin and his lover but certainly not his son. After seeing the hurt this remark caused the other man he always was terribly sorry, trying to make it up to Kevin.

And through it all Howie was there. As the only one he shared part of Kevin's responsibilities, was more a partner for him than someone he had to look out for. Besides being the second oldest Howie also had a strong sense of responsibility that kept him out of mischief most of the time, something Kevin was incredibly grateful for. Howie remained in the background most of the time, but Kevin knew that he was there, a reliable presence, ready to support him, to smooth things over and calm Kevin's temper when it got the better of him. And when Kevin felt as if the burden he had taken on voluntarily got too heavy he knew that he could turn to Howie and count on him to lighten the weight on his shoulders.

That was the reason why Kevin turned up on Howie's doorstep after a particularly strenuous day. The Orlando reporters had asked stupid questions, there had been an annoying article in a magazine and they had to make adjustments in their schedule because a hotel had messed their reservations up. Nick had been in a specially teasing mood, driving Kevin crazy because he didn't take anything seriously. AJ had been off in his own world most of the day, talking to Sarah on the phone when he wasn't wool gathering. And Brian had a terrible cold and was feeling as if he was going to die, sitting by himself in a corner trying to get some sleep at every chance he got. All in all a moderately hellish day and Kevin just had enough of it all, specially because Kristin was on the other side of the country working so that he hadn't seen her for weeks and missed her terribly.

Howie took one look at his friend and grabbed his hand, pulling him inside his spacious condo. He had obviously been preparing for a nice cozy evening at home. A fire was burning in the fire place, candles were lit all over the place and soft jazz was playing in the stereo. With a content sigh Kevin stretched and felt himself relax while Howie poured him a glass of his favorite red wine in silence, seemingly knowing that was Kevin needed now was quiet and a break from normal life.
After sitting in companionable silence for a while, nipping on their wine, Kevin broke the silence by saying: "I'm sorry I interrupted your quiet evening, D - just tell me if you'd prefer to be alone..." Howie waved him off, his smile genuine enough to convince Kevin that he meant what he said: "You know you're always welcome to stay here, Kev! I was actually expecting someone tonight -", with another wave of his hand he cut short Kevin's protest, "but I already cancelled that. This is more important - *you* are more important, Kev!" He smiled and Kevin felt relief wash over him - to Howie it really was no sacrifice, the urge to care for his loved ones was as much part of him as of Kevin.

They sat together and talked about everything but work and Kevin felt himself relax and realized that he hadn't done that in a long time. There was always work to be done, things to be arranged and people to be taken care of. But not now - now everything that counted was the precious time with Howie, feeling completely at ease.
All too quick midnight approached and Kevin's tiredness caught up with him, something Howie noticed at once. "Wanna crash here tonight, Kev?" he inquired, an offer Kevin gladly accepted, being much to lazy to drive to his place. Also he felt comfortably buzzed, so driving was not really an option anyway.

Howie left him to himself for a minute, saying something about knowing the perfect end for this day. When he returned he found Kevin browsing his book shelf, now and then taking down a book and looking at it. "If you see anything you like..." he offered, causing Kevin to jump in surprise. "Jeez, give an old man a heart attack, D!"
Howie just laughed good-naturedly and stepped behind Kevin, reaching up to massage his neck and shoulders. Kevin instantly leaned into his touch, his eyes falling shut as Howie worked the kinks out of his muscles. After a while Howie obviously decided that Kevin needed a more thorough treatment and pulled his shirt over his head before motioning his friend to make himself comfortable on the wide couch. There Howie didn't resume his massage right away but said softly: "Let's do this right..." With that he freed Kevin also from his pants and boxers in order to be able to work his whole backside.

Then he straddled him and forcefully kneaded Kevin's bare back and legs, not relenting until he felt that his friend was completely relaxed. When a soft moan escaped Kevin Howie took this as a sign to concentrate more on the beautiful firm butt beneath him. At the same time he officially ended the massage part by leaning down and planting wet kisses on Kevin's shoulder, burying his head in Kevin's neck and nuzzling him.
Kevin was in heaven - first the wonderful massage and now the delicious pleasure running through his body. He was already hard and trying to hump the couch as Howie's first finger slipped inside his opening. Kevin gasped and turned his head, capturing Howie's lips in a lust filled kiss. When they finally broke apart Howie grinned at Kevin: "I guess this means that you're feeling better, Kev?" Kevin laughed, but the sound turned into a strangled moan as Howie pushed another finger inside him, making sure to hit his prostate. After a short time he inserted a third finger, all the while never ceasing to stroke and kiss Kevin all over his back.

All too soon Kevin felt his release get close and managed to pant: "If... if you don't want me to soil your couch I should move..." Howie kissed him again, his hands leaving Kevin's body as he pulled him off the couch, smiling seductively up at him. "I didn't really plan on this happening here - let's get you to where I wanted to take you in the first place..."
Kevin groaned, still painfully hard. "I don't care where - just take me, please!" Howie laughed, a low and sensual sound that tested Kevin's self control sorely. All he wanted was fuck him senseless right there on the spot, but he followed Howie out of the living room to the master bathroom.
There he saw a huge steaming tub, scented candles were burning and soft salsa music filling the air. Howie motioned him to get into the hot water and Kevin did so, his eyes never leaving Howie. His voice was hoarse as he asked: "You coming in, D?" Howie smiled and began to take off his clothes in the way of an answer before climbing into the tub as well, slipping in behind Kevin. He wrapped his arms and legs around his friend, letting him rest his head against his broad shoulder.

Kevin sighed contentedly, relaxing against Howie and enjoying the feeling of being held. His arousal had lessened a bit, but it flared up again as Howie's hands moved to hold his cock, slowly beginning to stroke it. Kevin's breathing grew laboured as he was fully hard again instantly, his hips thrusting up. He heard Howie take in a sharp breath and realized that he was rocking against Howie's erection and he picked up the speed, trying to make Howie feel as good as he did. Soon their movements became frantic and they didn't care that water was spilling onto the floor as they felt themselves getting close. Kevin was there first, cumming violently as Howie teased the small slit and played with his balls. He collapsed back against Howie, shivers running all over his body. After a while he became aware again of the hardness pressed up against his ass. He turned to kiss Howie, playing with his tongue, wanting to surprise him with his next movement. And surprised Howie sure was as Kevin moved so that his throbbing cock was pressed against his entrance. "Fuck me, D..." he said, his drawl pronounced and almost driving Howie crazy.

With one swift movement Howie was buried deep inside Kevin's tight hole and a scream escaped him as he tried to make it last just a bit longer. But Kevin began to move, lifting off Howie and coming back down quickly. All Howie could do was hold on for dear life as he felt his climax approach rapidly. "God, Kev - I can't... FUCK!" he screamed as he emptied himself inside Kevin, his arms tightening their hold on him. He rested his head against Kevin's broad back, trying to catch his breath.
Kevin slowly slid off Howie's now limp cock, turning around so he could see how beautiful he looked coming down from his high. Howie smiled at him, pulling Kevin closer and kissing him deeply before standing up to get out of the cooling water. "Come on, Kev - let's get you dry and into bed, okay?"

Later, as he lay in Howie's arms in the darkness Kevin sighed softly, burying his face against his friend's neck. "What is it, Kev?" Howie inquired softly. "Nothing bad, D, don't worry... I was just thinking about how you always make me forget everything that bothers me." He chuckled a bit, a relaxed sound that made Howie smile as he asked: "What's so funny, Kev?" "Without you the other three would probably have driven me insane - I think Nick alone is sometimes enough to make anyone go nuts!" Howie giggled, a noise that made Kevin laugh harder. For a while they just held each other, slowly calming down. Then Howie said, his voice sleepy: "In that case it's good that you have me, isn't it, Kev?" Kevin grunted, nestling closer to Howie's warm body. His voice mirrored Howie's sleepiness as he replied sincerely: "It sure is, D, it sure is..." That were the last words spoken as Kevin fell into a carefree sleep, his worries and cares forgotten for one night.

Air to Breathe (Howie/AJ)

Tell Me What Love Is
Tell me what love is,
but not with your voice:
have heard so many words
and forgotten most of them.

Show me what love is,
but not with your eyes:
have let so many looks
into my heart
but none have stayed.

Let me feel what love is,
but not with your body:
have been embraced so often
I hardly remember by whom.

Just be with me,
let your warm silence
melt my doubts.
Stay with me.

Be everything I have left.

Hans Kruppa - "Sag mir, was Liebe ist"

It had been eight months that AJ was sober - not really a very long time, but he was proud to have made it so far. He didn't like to remember the time before, the way he had been, how he had behaved. He still was no saint and repeated some mistakes still - but he had sworn that he would never again go down that road! He could live with the consequences of a lot - but his self destructive behavior had threatened to destroy everything he valued. He had been in danger not only of losing himself, but also his family, his friends, his career - never again would he let things go that far!

Luckily he had the support of the people he spent most time with - the other guys tried their best to help him stay on the road he had chosen as he admitted to Kevin that he needed help. Brian was always there for him, an open ear and a comforting companion. He had told AJ that his door was always open for him, that AJ could always spend some days with him and Leighanne or come to hang out and talk in his hotel room. Since Brian didn't like to party as much as the others AJ mostly spent those evenings with him when he didn't feel up to face to temptations a club offered, glad not to be alone.

Nick's offers to help were not less genuine, but concentrated more on taking AJ's mind off things. Being the two youngest they shared a special bond, having gone through the worst of puberty together, faced the same problems at the same time and been babied by Kevin, much to their dismay. Also Nick shared AJ's love of shopping and they could spend hours in a mall together. All this made Nick the person AJ turned to when he needed a pick me up - Nick was sure to goof around, joke about Kevin or let him in on his latest prank, all in all making it impossible not to be in a good mood.

Although they were like fire and water Kevin held a special place in AJ's heart because of what he'd done for him by not leaving him alone until AJ broke down and by staying with him afterwards, coming to see him in rehab and calling him daily. Kevin just did what he was best at - he made sure AJ 'had his shit together' as AJ had called it unceremoniously.
If AJ had issues too serious for Nick (who tried to listen but got bored quickly) or too disturbing for Brian (who liked things to be straight forward and easy) he went to Kevin, because he had come to learn that Kevin actually understood him and did not just lecture him on his bad ways.

But Howie, well - Howie was special. He was AJ's best friend, had been through it all. They had taken to each other despite the differences in age and personality right when they first met and when they had decided to found a group together this had grown into a tight friendship, that had only deepened over the years. Well, AJ's problems had almost driven them apart - something the destructive part of AJ's personality had rejoiced in, feeling that he didn't deserve such a relationship anyway. But Howie had refused to let him go, he had stayed by his side with a determination that AJ couldn't help but admire.
It had been this determination that AJ had clung to through many dark nights, Howie's presence at times seemingly the only good thing in his life, keeping him balancing on the edge of the abyss of despair without falling - or jumping...

And even now that AJ had seemingly found his balance again he still clung to Howie. And tonight he needed him more than ever - but could he keep doing this, could he keep burdening his friend with his mess? He knew that Howie didn't mind being there for everyone, comforting, cheering or distracting them. It was a part of him, of what made him special. But still, perhaps it was time that he tried to cope with this on his own...
Lost in doubts AJ stood in front of Howie's hotel room, his trembling hand raised to knock. That was how Howie found him as he opened the door. "Alex - what's the matter?" he asked immediately, his face clouding over with concern. He grew even more worried when AJ only stood fidgeting, refusing to meet his eyes, his whole body shaking slightly.
Resolutely he pulled him inside, guiding him to the couch, scared at how listless he seemed. He sat down beside him, one hand on his arm, moving in soothing circles with his thumb. "Tell me what's up, Alex - please, I need to know what's bothering you... Don't lock me out, Alex - you promised me you'd never do that again!"

This caused AJ to finally look at him. He remembered this promise and as he looked into Howie's brown eyes he knew that this was not yet another promise he broke. So he began to talk, his eyes filling with tears as he let it out: "I just had to come and see you. I don't think I've ever had such a craving for a drink, Howie. The need for it is so strong it's almost killing me not to succumb to it." He paused, again avoiding Howie's gaze. "It's... it's Sarah - she left me, D, for good I think..." AJ looked at Howie, waiting for his reaction. As it came Howie's voice was soft and tender, holding no accusation: "Did she catch you cheating again?" AJ nodded dumbly. "I told you that she was going to, one of these days... Oh, Alex, why do you have to keep doing that?" Howie hugged his friend to him, letting him rest his head on his shoulder. AJ remained silent, so he continued, his voice dropping to a gentle whisper: "You've spent so many nights with me, Alex - why did you still go to another woman?"

AJ lifted his head from its comfortable resting place to meet Howie's eyes, seeing understanding and love but also a faint hint of sadness in them. He remembered how many times he had come to Howie for comfort lately, how it had somehow turned into something he needed to reassure himself that there was such a thing as unconditional love. Howie had always been there for him, just as he was always there for the others - and some more he suspected as he looked into the chocolate brown depth of Howie's eyes.
In fact, when Brian had been so down Howie had already been in the hotel, having skipped the meeting to be with AJ. And the night Kevin had come over, AJ had been the one Howie had called to tell him that he had to take care of Kevin.

Thinking about it, it seemed to AJ as if recently being with Howie had not only been something he needed when he was feeling down and battling his demons - no, they had been spending more and more time together. And this led him to break the silence between them to whisper: "I didn't go to another woman, D..." He saw shock registering on Howie's face - and was there relief, too? "Sarah broke up with me because I've been going to *you*, D..." Howie was still sitting there speechless, but he still held AJ close, giving him the courage to continue: "That scares the shit out of me, man! I mean, she's always forgiven me my cheating, but she won't forgive me this - because it has turned into something important, something I don't think I can live without anymore..." Howie's eyes were wide, and he was swallowing hard. But AJ had not finished what he had to say: "Nothing has to change between us because of that - it just fucking scared me. And that was why I wanted to have a drink so bad, Howie - because I've never expected to feel like that. I thought that I was rotten goods, spoiled for love - and there you come and are your beautiful self and I can't help but fall in love with you..."

There was silence between them, but it was not uncomfortable, because Howie kept rubbing AJ's back while his warm eyes never left AJ's, conveying to him that he had done the right thing by telling him. AJ had to smile a bit - only Howie managed to make him feel this good without words. And in the silence AJ felt himself relax, the craving that had gripped him lessening until it was only a background noise, something he had gotten used to during the last months. This was doubtless was Howie had intended - after all he had a lot of practice in dealing with AJ and knew that words or touch sometimes were not enough, that he needed this silence to find his balance again.

AJ lay his head back on Howie's shoulder, completely relaxing into his embrace. Howie took this as a sign, that he was ready to listen to him, now that the urgency that had brought him here had disappeared. "You're right, Alex - what we have *has* become more than me helping you when you need me", he said quietly, his warm breath caressing AJ's cheek. "I.. I'm sorry that you and Sarah broke up..." AJ looked up and moved as if to say something, but Howie silenced him by sealing his lips with two fingers. "Yes, I'm sorry - but I also can't help being glad that it was not just me wanting more..." His fingers traced AJ's lips, then wandered to his neck as he leaned in and kissed him softly.

AJ readily complied, his lips opening to let Howie's tongue in. It all seemed so familiar and yet everything was different, new and exciting - and completely intoxicating, drugging AJ's senses better than any drink would have. Yes, he decided, he was drunk on Howie - specially when he did this little *thing* with his tongue...
The kiss seemed to go on forever, they were both holding onto each other, hands roaming over backs and tangling themselves in the other's hair while their hips rocked against one another. It was AJ who pushed Howie on his back and deftly began to open his shirt, revealing his perfectly toned chest and stomach. Howie just lay back, his eyes on AJ's face, taking in the look of complete trust, burning passion - and deep love. How could he have missed that?

Howie smiled, telling himself that he had probably been too busy trying to convince himself that what he was doing with AJ was no different from what he did with the others. But it had become something different quite some time ago - and he felt butterflies in his stomach as he watched AJ, his best friend, his lover, his love, undressing quickly before finishing to free him from his clothes. Howie was content to lay back and enjoy, for once not feeling the need to think about what to do next, what the other person needed. This was different - not a means to an end (as agreeable as that was) but the sealing of something new, something that was as much about him as about the man who just moved to straddle him, giving him a perfect view of the body he craved.

All thought left Howie as AJ's lips skimmed over his chest, latching themselves to his nipples while his hands slipped under him and cupped his butt. "God, Alex!" he moaned, not able to stop himself from thrusting up against AJ's hips. His hands slipped in between their bodies and began to rub their erections together. The delicious friction drove them both near crazy and AJ bit down on Howie's left nipple, sending a line of fire through his body. "Fuck, Alex - are you trying to kill me?" Howie gasped, overwhelmed by the mix of raw lust and pure emotion that was making him lose control faster than he thought possible.
AJ lifted his head to grin cheekily at his lover: "Why would I do that - alive you're much more fun..." He cut short Howie's snort by kissing him again deeply, his hands kneading Howie's ass cheeks, knowing how much he enjoyed that.

Howie let go of their cocks, causing AJ to moan into his mouth and thrust his hips against Howie's hard stomach in an attempt to get back the wonderful friction. Howie stilled his movements and broke their kiss to say huskily: "Make love to me, Alex..."
AJ groaned at the suggestion, diving back down to kiss him hungrily while spreading Howie's thighs to give him access. Blindly fishing for a pillow it took him a while to get them into the right position and all the while they were kissing passionately and rubbing against each other.
Howie got impatient as AJ stopped to look around for something to use as lube. "Oh, come on already, Alex! I'm not getting any younger here!" AJ looked at him, aroused and amused at the same time by this untypical outburst. But the invitation was too tempting to not accept it and he positioned himself at Howie's entrance.

He leaned back down and kissed Howie tenderly, their tongues dancing shortly with each other. Then he pushed slowly inside, trying to make the hurt at least bearable. Their eyes locked and AJ reached out a hand to stroke away some of the pain he saw on Howie's face.
Howie hurt terribly - but at the same time it was absolutely perfect to be one like this with AJ. And soon the pain was fading to be replaced by an exquisite pleasure and he moved his hips lightly. "You can let go now, Alex..." he said softly, seeing how much strain holding back cost AJ.
Being inside Howie was so good, so right - AJ felt as if he could lose it right then and there. But he was determined to make it good for his lover as well and began to move, trying to hit Howie's prostate with every stroke. He was rewarded by a stream of meaningless sounds escaping Howie and he felt his self-control begin to slip. They were moving in unison now, both bent on reaching the point of no return. And all the time their eyes were locked and silent vows of love were exchanged.
They came at the same instant, both feeling the world go blank for a moment as they lay in each other's arms, shaking with pleasure. For some reason it had never been so intense before - it was almost as if not only their bodies but also their souls had become one for an instant...

Afterwards Howie snuggled closer to AJ, glad that they were both small enough to fit on the wide couch. Also he was glad that this was not his couch, because cleaning it wouldn't be easy... But above all he was glad that he was lying here with AJ.
"Thank you, D - I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't opened your door..." AJ mumbled sleepily. "There's no need to thank me, Alex - it was *my* pleasure..." Howie replied with complete honesty, willing AJ to believe him. He loved being the peacemaker and keeping everyone happy - but this time he doubted that anyone could be happier than he was at this moment...


Just some seconds
This magic moment
when we said goodnight,
these few seconds
were a great gift
that you gave to me,
showing me something
that normally lies hidden.

Some seconds
can hold so much.

Hans Kruppa - "Nur ein paar Sekunden"