Hook Up

Soundtrack: "Can't Fight This Feeling" by Reo Speedwagon
Note: This is part of a series of vignettes based on some of my favorite oldies. Because it's spring and I'm on an oldies trip at the moment - they fit my summery mood...
Dedication: For my girl Christina, for being her wonderful self! Hope you like what I've come up with. Sickeningly sweet as always, but you don't seem to mind... 😉

Step by Step - story title

Howie was a very affectionate man - he was forever touching people, not in the almost catlike way Nick had of cuddling, draping himself all over his friends, but more subtle and most of the time with a reason. AJ enjoyed that a lot about being friends with Howie - he could always count on him when he felt the need to be held or petted.
Being on the road so much made them all hunger for physical contact at times and they all had different ways of dealing with that. Brian called Leighanne and they talked for hours on the phone if she couldn't fly out to join them. Kevin did the same with Kristin, but he also went out more and danced for hours, grinding away with attractive women, although it never went further. Nick did the already mentioned cat routine, curling up against or on top of anyone around. And AJ, AJ had Howie.

He never had to pretend to be strong and "manly" with him, he could just let go and slip into bed with him or ask him for a back rub or a hug. And most of the times he didn't even have to say anything, because Howie seemed to sense what AJ needed almost before he did.
It was all very good and comfortable - until AJ found himself missing something when Howie entered a room without touching him in some way.
He forced himself to stay away and was surprised when it felt as if he was somehow incomplete, unfulfilled without Howie there to touch him. He caught himself staring at Howie, trying to figure out what had changed. He was suddenly interested in whatever Howie did, even in his business ventures, because he wanted to know what made Howie tick. Howie was always on AJ's mind, even when they were apart - no, specially when they were apart. And sometimes AJ wondered what Howie did when he needed affection.

AJ had fallen in love with Howie, it was as simple as that. But of course it was not really simple at all, for a number of reasons AJ could have recited in his sleep.

There was reason #1: He's your best friend! This one never failed to bring AJ up short, because he had seen enough friendships being ruined by love not to want this to happen to him and Howie.

Or another good one: It'll hurt your careers.

And related to this one and weighing even more: It'll hurt your friends' careers.

Or: He's not gay anyway! Although AJ was not quite sure about this one.

More valid was reason #5: Why should he like you that way?

But the last point on his mental list of "reasons why not", written in very small print and only admitted very late at night, outweighed them all: You're scared shitless. But AJ really didn't like to think of that one.

He preferred to think of the other reasons, they seemed so much more reasonable. In fact, AJ concentrated so hard on them that he sometimes imagined he could see a neon sign over Howie's head, blinking Hands off! in big pink letters.
Not that it helped, but at least it stopped him from doing anything stupid, like kiss him when they were both bent over a magazine, their heads so close that they were almost touching.
It took all of AJ's hard earned self control to refrain from spilling his guts to Howie. He had always been able to tell him everything - and the fact that this was different hurt like hell.

AJ wanted things to be the way they used to - before Howie's face had become the first thing he wanted to see in the morning and his voice the last thing he wanted to hear at night.
But he wondered sometimes why he didn't just tell Howie about his feelings. Howie was not someone to abandon a friend - and even if he was a bit uncomfortable around AJ for a while, he would deal with it and certainly not stop being AJ's best friend. So what was it that made AJ stay silent?

The gay thing would certainly not be a problem, that he was sure of. They had never actually talked about it, but it was an open secret that not only AJ but also Nick and possibly Howie swung both ways. With Howie it was hard to tell, because he was such a private person and was actually telling the truth when he said in interviews that he was not looking for a relationship at the moment. He didn't like one night stands and the few he had brought back to his room were girls. But still, AJ's gaydar sometimes definitely pinged around Howie.

So AJ was torn between fear and hope, not knowing exactly why he was making the whole thing so big. It was not as if he had never been in love before and he had usually gotten what he wanted - and in the few cases he had been rejected he had been able to shrug it off without bigger problems.
But he just _knew_ that his feelings for Howie were different. They went a lot deeper, not just scratching the surface of his heart, but claiming it completely and AJ got the strong feeling that they were there to stay - forever.

Forever. A big word and one that used to make AJ squirm - but to his surprise not anymore. When he looked over at Howie on the dance floor of the club they were in, dancing with the same abandon he had on stage, singing his heart out for the crowd, AJ imagined him in ten or even twenty years and felt sure that Howie would still possess this passion and he wished desperately that he would be there to see it. It wouldn't be so bad getting older if it was with Howie...

Coming to a decision AJ got up and went to join Howie on the dance floor. Their eyes locked over the girl Howie was dancing with and Howie smiled at him, glad to see AJ finally stop brooding and obviously getting ready to enjoy himself.
At once AJ was surrounded by girls and he began to move his body in time with the fast beat of the music. He kept his eyes on Howie and felt his eyes skip a beat when Howie completely ignored his girl and smiled at AJ instead.

Skilfully AJ managed to manoeuvre his dance partner closer to Howie, until they were dancing back to back. To every onlooker it had to seem as if they were both concentrating on the girls in front of them - but all AJ felt was Howie's muscular back against his. He moved carefully, grinding against Howie's firm butt. He could always say it was an accident if Howie asked.
But Howie didn't ask, instead he now began to move purposefully against AJ, who suddenly had trouble keeping up the appearance of dancing with the girl whose name he didn't even know.

When the song ended he was not sure if he was disappointed or glad, but he knew that he had to get rid of his dance partner and talk to Howie. Well, talk and throw him to the floor and fuck him senseless.
Glancing over his shoulder he saw that Howie was obviously saying bye to his girl as well. He waited for him, not sure what he was going to do or say, but knowing that if he didn't do it now he probably never would.

Howie smiled at him when he saw him waiting for him. He threw an arm casually over AJ's shoulder and said: "Hey man - glad you decided to join the fun! It just isn't the same without you!" AJ felt a silly grin spreading on his face at Howie's words. He tightened his arm around Howie's waist, enjoying how perfect they fit together. Knowing that it was now or never, he wordlessly pulled him through the crowds. He needed to do this before his courage left him again.

When they reached the back of the club, AJ looked around and saw the half-open door of a supply closet. Perfect! Still not offering an explanation for his behavior he pulled Howie inside and shut the door, leaving their perplexed bodyguards outside.
Once inside he turned to face Howie who looked at him questioningly. "Emm, Aje - what are we doing here? Because if I didn't know better I'd think that you were coming on to me..."

At that point AJ almost chickened out - he would only have to make a joke now and everything would stay the way it was...
Instead he felt a hot blush creep over his cheeks as he managed to say: "That's because I am..." He studiously avoided looking directly at Howie, afraid of what he was going to see.
"You are what?" AJ lifted his gaze, trying to see if Howie was serious or if he was just speaking to cover his shock. Howie's eyes were completely innocent, although AJ thought that he saw something like... hope shining in them. But that was probably just wishful thinking.

He gathered his courage again and pushed the words past his suddenly dry throat, forcing them out of this mouth: "I'm... I'm coming on to you." He quickly shot a look at Howie from under his lashes and saw complete surprise etch Howie's features.
'Please, God - I know I don't deserve him, but please...' AJ closed his eyes tightly, willing his nerves to calm down. He took a deep breath and stepped closer to Howie, but making sure that Howie could step away if he wanted to.

Howie didn't move.

AJ took this as a sign and took another step.

Still no movement from Howie.

AJ dared to look at him. Big brown eyes were watching him. There were a lot of feelings showing in them - surprise and shock and something close to anticipation. But no fear and no rejection.

Taking another deep breath AJ closed the remaining distance between them.

Reo Speedwagon - Can't Fight This Feeling

I can't fight this feeling any longer
And yet I'm still afraid to let it flow
What started out as friendship has grown stronger
I only wish I had the strength to let it show

I tell myself that I can't hold out forever
I say there is no reason for my fear
'Coz I feel so secure when we're together
You give my life direction, you make everything so clear

And ever as I wander I'm keeping you in sight
You're a candle in the window on a cold dark winter's night
And I'm getting closer than I every thought I might

And I can't fight this feeling anymore
I've forgotten what I've started fighting for
It's time to bring this ship into the shore
And throw away the oars forever

'Cause I can't fight this feeling anymore
I've forgotten what I've started fighting for
And if I have to crawl upon the floor
come crashing through your door
Baby I can't fight this feeling anymore

My life has been such a whirlwind since I saw you
I've been runnin' round in circles in my mind
And it always seems that I'm following you girl
'Cause you take me to the places that alone I'd never find

And ever as I wander I'm keeping you in sight
You're a candle in the window on a cold dark winter's night
And I'm getting closer than I every thought I might

And I can't fight this feeling anymore
I've forgotten what I've started fighting for
It's time to bring this ship into the shore
And throw away the oars forever

'Cause I can't fight this feeling anymore
I've forgotten what I've started fighting for
And if I have to crawl upon the floor
come crashing through your door
Baby I can't fight this feeling anymore

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