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  Between Corners

 

for Cecilia


Today, JC thinks, as the Boys file past him into the compound kitchen, is not going to be interesting in one of those good, nostalgia-worthy ways that he's enjoyed several times this summer. Today is not going to be interesting like arriving at a new venue, or opening a new mini-bar, or staying up chatting because Lynn's finally agreed that now Justin's sixteen the curfew can relax.

Today is going to be interesting like sitting down to Christmas dinner is interesting when your uncle wants to convince your uncle-in-law not to come next year.

"Hey," Kevin says, shrugging off his jacket as he comes in the door. It's dark brown corduroy, and oddly appealing.

JC clears his throat. "Want me to take that?"

Kevin glances at him, then shakes his head. "I'm alright."

"Right," JC says, nodding. "Uh. Through here."

"Y...eah," Kevin says, and JC remembers stupidly that just because Backstreet are in hotels right now doesn't mean they didn't used to have a compound exactly like this one, and tries not to sigh.

Kevin strides over to the table, and JC doesn't watch him, no no.

"Hey, man," Nick says, and he's as tall as JC now, and JC starts to reply when he realises that Nick's talking to Justin.

Justin studiously ignores him by, masterfully preoccupied, checking his watch.

"Oi," Nick says, poking him, with that particular seventeen-year-old pique that's half whine and half smoulder. "I said, hey."

"Oh," Justin says, all wide-eyed, and wriggles away from Nick's fingers. "I didn't notice."

"Uh huh."

"I didn't," Justin squeaks, and it's like his voice is breaking all over again, and JC decides that it's actually going to be interesting like dinner with an uncle war and helplessly flirting cousins, and then abandons the whole simile with a sigh.

No real family's as destructively cohesive as one under Lou Pearlman's supervision, he's pretty sure.


"If they play you, it'll be a sucky game," Chris starts by saying, as soon as they've sat down, and the Boys don't seem to like that as an opening line at all.

Kevin folds his arms, and JC ignores the way that makes his shoulders look fantastic. They're at odds, right now. No time for staring. "I'm not sure insulting us will help win your case," Kevin says.

Chris rolls his eyes. "I wasn't insulting you."

"A sucky game?" AJ mimics, and Joey laughs shortly.

"Well," Chris protests, "they're Swedish."

"We're not, though," AJ says, looking round the table, then double-taking meanly on Lance, "hey, wait a minute..."

"Hey," Lance says, hunkering down his eyebrows, "shut up," and JC bites back a groan and gets to his feet and claps his hands together, firm and loud.

"You know what?" he says, brightly. "I think we should get take-out, 'cause otherwise, y'know, we're not gonna last very long." And then we should begin again, he thinks, with just the slightest touch of desperation. Coherent discussion, this time.

There's a rumble of agreement all round the table, and Chris jumps up to root around in a drawer, eventually producing a creased old flier from KFC.

"Success," he announces, apparently forgetting for the moment that he called this meeting to, in his own words, tell Backstreet good and proper why they've gotta stand up to Lou.

Maybe he's just a fabulous tactician, JC thinks.

"I'll shout you... if you agree to everything we say," Chris says playfully, and Brian laughs in his face.

Or maybe not.

JC clears his throat to draw off the attention and starts taking orders, jotting down on the back of a tram ticket. Wings, three. Fries, five. Better make that six, actually. Two litres of coke. A heap of nuggets. Beer's a bad idea, he thinks, but writes it down anyway. He doesn't really want to deny anyone anything right now.

"I'll do it," Chris says, going into the other room to make the call, and JC looks round the table, trying to analyse without getting that look on his face that Joey once, quite unfairly in JC's opinion, compared to a gopher with constipation.

Brian and Kevin are talking quietly, while Howie's listening in and looking distinctly uncomfortable, and AJ's playing irritably with a cocktail stick. JC's not sure where the cocktail stick came from, but hey. AJ's that sort of guy.

Nick's sipping water, and smirking at Justin as he does it; Justin is poking Lance in the ribs with all his fingers, and Lance is trying unsuccessfully not to gasp.

Based on the last three minutes, JC's not sure he's going to get through this meeting at all.

He thinks - he'd thought - that as Nsync are pretty articulate guys, and in his opinion a little more streetwise than Backstreet, that it ought to be easy enough to persuade the Boys to tow the party line.

"Fundamentally," Kevin is saying to Brian in an undertone, "it'd suit them and put us at risk. And probably not accomplish anything anyway."

It appears JC'd thought wrong. He sighs, then waves negligently when Joey gives him a concerned glance. Doesn't matter, promise. Just preoccupied.

Until as late as last week, there was no line to tow. Until last week, Lou had a basketball game planned for September, and they'd be up against Backstreet and getting all this publicity and-- no, Lou had said, apropos of nothing JC could see, "actually, we're bringing in a Swedish band instead."

A Swedish band. To intrigue the Northern European market, or something. Never mind that this was exactly the type of exposure Nsync could seriously do with right now.

JC had watched Chris protest, and Lou had listened mildly for about forty-five seconds and then interrupted him with a distracted, "I've actually got work to do - you know the way out, right?" and ambled off, leaving Chris gasping like a beached Bass.

"Food's ordered," Chris says, coming back into the room, eyes sparkling. "Now, about why you guys should totally back us up about the game..."

It's like someone turned on a tension tap. AJ smirks at his cocktail stick, and Brian folds his arms. Kevin wets his lips - which JC shouldn't have noticed, except that he was watching, in a distracted and platonic sort of way.

Well, distracted, at least.

And shit, he thinks sharply, as Chris shuffles his chair with a teeth-gritting screech and puts his elbows expectantly on the table: they all need bloodsugar before they try to tackle this again.

"The thing is," Brian starts, then glances at JC in confusion. "Um. Yeah?"

JC stops bobbing in his seat. "I vote to not talk business til the food arrives," he suggests, and Kevin tilts his head like the world's most sleek, dark, villainous cockatoo. "Bloodsugar," JC adds, spontaneously.

Kevin stares for a second, then nods, a tiny corner of his mouth twitching.

"Good," JC says, then realises belatedly that he didn't check with anyone else. He looks round the table, hoping the blood hasn't run to his cheeks. "Yeah?"

"Good," Chris agrees, and Joey shrugs. He looks depressed again. Joey looks depressed whenever something gets in the way of working for the dream, JC's noticed. It'd be reassuring if it didn't make his chest ache every time.


KFC takes its sweet, precious time to arrive.

"You balance it on top of the other one," Justin's telling Lance, and Nick's leaning round the corner of the table to peer at their fingers.

Chris hums impatiently. "Shouldn't they be here by now?"

"Should be," Howie says, checking his watch. The smile he gives Chris is oddly intimate. "You about ready to throw your fork at them?"

Chris grins the hugest smile. "I'm about ready to throw my fork at them," he agrees, and JC arches an eyebrow because that went right over his head, and when he glances over Kevin's watching him.

His eyebrow feels thick on his forehead for a second, then most definitely twitches. JC blinks three times, looks away, feels like a moron, and gets deeply paranoid about spontaneously developing a facial tic. Boys don't make passes at girls who can't wear glasses because the spasmodic activity of their eyebrows would throw them off, after all.

"Good times," Howie's murmuring, and Chris chuckles like they're all just friends, and JC smiles helplessly at the table because the tension today is enough to fry eggs on. Or however that maxim goes, sheesh.

It's not that they want Backstreet to do anything bad, he thinks, although if he's honest with himself then he wants Kevin to get outraged and demand that Lou give JC whatever he wants, including basketball participation. He knows that's unlikely, of course. He also knows Chris wants something similar, although not, he suspects, following the letter of his personal fantasy. That would be weird.

Realistically, though, Backstreet could just mention that they'd be a lot happier if Nsync were playing them. That's all they'd need to do. Probably. Maybe slip in the tiniest hint that if Lou didn't dump these frickin' Swedes then Backstreet might not give such a great performance - but only if they're not making headway with the reasonable suggestion thing.

JC isn't quite sure what the sticking point is, but he's certain there is one. Kevin's talking to Brian again, and the cadence of their voices is just out of JC's hearing, what with Justin's staggered whoops coming from the other direction - but he knows they're saying negative things about his band's proposal, and that's frustrating on a whole new level.

He abruptly wants to start the discussion now, before Kevin can build up whatever argument wall he's currently planning, and then he remembers about the bloodsugar thing, and swallows his words.

"I'm thirsty," he says, instead.

"Get a drink, dumbass," Chris says, and JC sighs mournfully, and Chris rolls his eyes and jumps to his feet with a clatter. "What'dya want?"

"Juice."

"I got beer in the fridge, actually," Chris says, scratching his nose.

"Bring it on," Joey says, sourly, and Kevin frowns, and Lance and Justin and Nick look up from some complex game they were playing with pieces of broken cocktail stick.

"Not for you guys," JC says quickly, and Justin makes a sad face, and Nick laughs behind his hand. "Juice," JC repeats, and Chris is halfway across the floor to fetch one when the doorbell clangs.


The food arrives in a gazillion filmy plastic bags of cardboard boxes, and JC unloads it all and gets sauce while Chris and Kevin pay. He feels vaguely disappointed when Kevin sits down and totally fails to thank him, or even accidentally touch his fingers while passing napkins, and then his eyebrow twitches again and he rubs it angrily with his palm, hard.

"You alright?" Joey asks quietly, opening a box of chicken nuggets to release a cheerful exhalation of steam.

JC nods under his hand, trying not to move his eyebrows at all, then starts giggling, because really, shit. Heh. Oops? and then Justin starts giggling as well, and that sets them all off.

Well. Sets off all the ones with the mental age of 11, JC thinks, because Brian's not laughing, and neither's Kevin or Joey.

"Hungry," JC manages, cutting his own laughter off as he grabs a chicken wing, and the savoury smell hits his stomach at last, and he bites deeply and chews hard. Okay. That was weird. Gotta relax, or something.

He eats, instead, and the others dig in as well. It's almost comradely. Take-out is different in every country JC's been to, even down to the mass produced stuff like pizza and hamburgers. Chicken wings always remind him of those first stuttering concerts in Germany; a slightly alien version of something familiar, and eating a whole lot of greasy, salty chicken afterwards because he felt somehow hungrier in the European air.

He misses America something chronic, sometimes.

"So we're eating now," AJ says, and the present clunks unpleasantly into JC's head. "What's your deal?"

"Mmph," Chris says, chewing, and swallows so fast JC's throat aches sympathetically. "Why lose to random morons when you could lose to your friends?"

"The Swedes aren't our friends," AJ says innocently, and Chris stares at him a second, then laughs. There's an edge to it. JC feels like a shadow's come over his meal.

"Anyway," Chris says bluntly, and JC feels everybody else sit up straighter, ready to defend. "Why aren't you behind us on this one?"

"Why start now?" AJ murmurs.

"We are behind you," Howie says, ignoring AJ, "but we can't act on it, and that's that." His voice holds something of an entreaty, but it's brittle.

Chris addresses a chicken wing. "You want a game, later, boy? Because if you do, you got yourself a game." He squints at it, then glances furtively round the room, then locks his gaze on JC's. "Some reason," he says, like he's been explaining for weeks, "I like playing chickens at basketball, even though they've got no backbone. "

Brian frowns. "Hey--"

Chris makes the wing flap around. "Good chickie, good boy," he says, then adds, still to JC, "admittedly, these chickens were served without a spine. Others come with it pre-removed."

Kevin glares. "You're not gonna get anywhere by provoking--"

"Look, guys," JC says quickly, holding up his hands in hopeful intervention, "Lou said we'd be playing, and now he's gone back on his word. That's what this is about."

"Sounds to me like it's about Kirkpatrick thinkin' he'll whup us at basketball," AJ drawls, and JC curses quietly in the privacy of his own head, and Chris shrugs hugely and looked at the ceiling.

"Just saying it's in your interests to make him change his mind," Chris says, with studied innocence, and JC knows that when Chris is nervous he tends to get mean, and he shrinks back in his chair and hopes it will be over soon.


It's not over, and no family dinner ever felt like this.

Nick's glass has moved steadily closer to Justin's in the last ten minutes, JC's noticed. The glass hasn't been working alone: Nick's wrist has also idled along the tabletop, and Justin has spontaneously started eating chicken nuggets left-handed. JC concentrates on spearing four fries at a time so that the ends line up neat enough to dip into ketchup all at once.

Justin needn't worry. JC's got his eye on him.

"Not good enough," Chris is saying, stabbing the air with a half-demolished chicken wing, the bone glinting, and the herd of baby popstars at his table doesn't make him sound any less streetrat. JC half expects him to break out a pistol, one of those old cool ones from Westerns. JC thinks Chris suits Westerns.

Well. Suits stubble and low-brimmed hats and shooting from the hip, lethally fast; suits being cock of the yard, and loyalty, and talking your way out of a situation, which is why Lou's listless insistence that Chris doesn't have a say is ripping him in half right now.

"You wanna play innocent," Chris is saying, "you can go right back and lick his feet some more. Y'know, I bet there's some fluff between his toes you haven't sucked out yet."

Howie, more than the rest of them, flinches. "Harsh," he says softly, and Chris scowls at him.

"Guilty conscience, baby?"

Howie lifts his chin, but doesn't reply, and neither does anyone else. AJ's especially silent, but that's because twenty minutes ago he squared up to Chris with a "look man, it's your skin," and Chris said,

"Hence the move to protect it. Though-" with a quick once-over, "-I'm guessing you don't know nothing 'bout that." He hasn't even glanced at AJ since.

JC isn't one hundred per cent sure what Chris meant by that, but AJ shut up like the meekest clam on the menu, looking every inch the sullen teenager as he grabbed his beer, even though he hit 19 a few weeks ago. He hasn't spoken since.

Sometimes JC wishes Chris wouldn't make this shit personal. An insult from Chris is like the worst kind of mosquito bite - he forgets about it within an hour, and you don't notice anything special at the time, but the words slip insidious under your skin, and later you lie awake and simply, endlessly, can't stop scratching.

JC eats another handful of fries and notices the silence has stretched into something unmanageable. Justin's wrist is brushing the cotton where Nick's carelessly left his elbow.

"Yeah, we see your point, but you're asking us to stick our necks out a really long way," Brian says, eventually. "If we tell him we'll only play if you get to play, well, there's nothing to stop him letting us both go."

Chris folds his arms. "Mm," he says. "I guess you wouldn't wanna rock the boat, 'cause Lou's treating you really well at the moment, isn't he? I can see why you wouldn't support us." He smiles, and it looks helpless. "I mean, he's practically your extra dad. Isn't that right, Nick? A real father figure."

Nick's eyes go big and bluer. "What?"

Chris watches Brian. "Just sayin' I bet you look up to Pearlman, that's all," he says, and Brian's mouth scrunches at the edges, like he's unwilling to taste something being pushed right under his nose. "He takes a real fatherly interest in you, I heard."

"Leave that right alone," Howie growls, and Chris looks at him like he's surprised, then turns his attention when Nick takes a quick unsubtle breath.

"He don't really take no interest in me, actually," Nick says quietly, and JC knows it's a lie and hopes it's not the lie it could be.

"Oh, no?" Chris says, "damn. I must've got it wrong. 'Cause y'see," he shrugs, "looks to me like you guys are protecting him, like, siding with him, and I was just castin' about for a reason."

For a full two seconds, JC loathes Chris. It's bad enough they're in Chris' rooms; JC still doesn't know how that got swung, still has no idea why Backstreet would agree to meet at Nsync's compound when it's so obviously not their turf. "Chris is good at dragging people to the table what don't know they've been drug," Joey said earlier, barely a tone to his voice. Joey gets the most honest-to-god miserable about screw-ups like this, JC thinks, which is mostly why he didn't bother correct Joey's past perfect.

The other reason is that JC likes to think he's fundamentally a polite guy.

"We don't like Pearlman any more than you do," Kevin says, evenly.

Chris smiles, mean as all hell. "Ah, see, I think you do," he drawls, "'cause if you hated him as much as we do right now, we wouldn't be on our own with this boycott thing."

Kevin's eyes blaze hot for a second. "We've been here for months," he snaps, "and he's stalled taking us home over and over again, and he still might not, and it's nearly August. Don't tell me about hating Pearlman."

"What, so it doesn't matter what happens to us because we're supposed to stagnate as long as you did?" Chris says, and Kevin sits back in his chair.

"Not what I meant," he says, like Chris was a child bomber, naive and dangerous. "But making a fuss right now - it's not the right way for us to deal, and you've gotta realise that too. I can give you a couple of numbers - like, Johnny's sister'll take up your case if you give her something decent to go on - and I can wish you luck." The pause sounds unnatural. "I'm not about to jeopardise my band."

"The number of some chick we've probably got already," Chris says, flatly. "That's big of you."

Howie sighs. "Maybe we could just mention to Lou--"

"No," Kevin interrupts, mild as Chris' nastiest smile.

Chris exhales a disbelieving laugh. "Nice to know you're exploring all avenues." He keeps his eyes on Howie. JC's realised Howie's the weak spot in the Backstreet cold shoulder. JC has a feeling Chris has known that all along.

Howie swallows, visibly. "Guys," he says, voice rich with stuff that JC doesn't get, would only get if one of his boys were speaking; that sort of tone.

Brian shakes his head at Howie. "I've thought about this a whole lot," he says. "If we interfere, it'll just come worse."

"You think fast," Chris says. "Considering all the, whatsit, permutations--"

"It's pretty simple when you get down to it, and you can't be stupid enough to think we'd put your wellbeing before ours," Brian says sharply, and JC swallows a fry so crookedly his eyes water, because he sort of... had thought that, had thought a Musketeers mentality remained, with the all-for-one and the loyalty thing.

"Nah, just it's a new concept to me that the fifth member of Backstreet thinks at all," Chris says, and AJ looks up angrily.

"Fifth member - you can talk," he sneers, and Chris ignores him so absolutely that JC forgives him everything. Chris has been through a fucking lot for this band, and people still think-- and even then, Chris still forces them forwards, still takes Lance by the chin and promises he'll fix it until Lance nods with clear-again eyes.

JC straightens his shoulders. "Numbers," he says to Kevin, and Kevin looks at him, sure-eyed and curious.

"Yes," Kevin says. JC feels a brief chill at ignoring Chris' talent for ignoring insults, and puts it aside. If Kevin has a useful number in the middle of all this, then that's what they need tonight. He mentally blots out the rest of the table, then swallows, because that leaves Kevin watching him, and Kevin looks really incredibly commanding from this angle.

From, well, every angle.

"You can talk - Lou - seen you lookin'," AJ says, from nowhere, and as Chris and Howie slam simultaneously to their feet, JC realises sickly that AJ's been busy with his silence, busy ingesting.

"Take that back you little prick," Chris breathes, leaning forwards, one hand splayed on the table, the other training one finger on AJ's mouth.

AJ glares up at him and licks his lower lip, Howie looks incensed, and Brian gets to his feet. "Get up, Alex," he says, cold and contained. "We're going."

Nick and Justin have identically crumpled expressions, transparent frustration at not getting it. Joey moves and puts a hand on Chris' shoulder, the first positive action from him all evening. Howie's just staring at Chris, a thick wordless intensity emanating from his dark, dark eyes, and Chris ignores them both, just says to AJ,

"I knew there was a reason we shouldn't let the kids drink - they go all cocky, like they might actually have a clue," and then pushes back his chair with a clatter and stalks out the room. Joey's hand hangs in the air for a moment, before folding into a fist and settling back on his thigh.

"Meeting adjourned," Joey says, and the flat certainty to it, the lack of surprise, makes JC ache. Lance makes a tragic little sound, and hurries after Chris, probably to apologise for being born or something.

"Yeah," Howie says, watching him go, and then gives himself a visible little shake, smiles with brutally fake brightness. "Well! We'll see you around." He meets JC's eyes, sort of desperately. "Good luck with this thing, y'know? I wanna see you on the court with us. Seriously."

"G'luck with that thing," AJ slurs, waving after the door Chris left through, and then Joey's striding round the table, helping Brian shunt AJ up out his seat, steering him ungently into the corridor.

"C'mon," Howie tells Nick quietly, dusting his hands nervously against his thighs. "We're moving."

Nick gets up quickly, and Justin follows. "Right, yeah," he says, and he looks so unaware that Justin's stood right behind him that JC thinks he's probably feeling every up-stood hair. "Are we gonna, um. Come back?"

Kevin looks at JC, just for a second. "Not for a while," he says, and JC nods fractionally, and Kevin's mouth tightens in an apologetic little smile, and JC feels his own shoulders slump. Christ. This is just-- maybe Backstreet couldn't help all that much in reality, but they've got a helluva lot more clout than Nsync. It's not like this game is the be-all and end-all but the idea of being stuck in Europe as long as the Boys were - when they could be blazing a trail back home - is wearing pretty thin.

"Right," Nick says, nodding earnestly. "Okay." He sneaks a look at Justin, and JC tries not to laugh. Of all the inopportune times, little Carter...

"You got your jacket?" Kevin says, and Nick blinks, then shakes his head.

"It's, um." He glances at Justin again. "Where'd you put my jacket?"

"Spare room," Justin says quickly, and that's a lie because nothing's spare in Chris' part of the compound, not even cutlery, but JC doesn't say a word when Justin leads Nick off into the dead-end annex by the bathroom where the laundry rail sits, just watches Kevin watch the boys disappear.

"Healthier than fighting, I guess," he suggests, after a moment. He hopes he doesn't sound wistful. Kevin glances at him.

"Well, a little," he says. "We leave pretty soon after the game, though. And we're definitely not in a position to budget in long-distance phonecalls."

Damn practical, that guy. "Pity," JC says, as lightly as he can manage. "AJ seems like the sort of guy I could really come to cherish."

"He's nervous," Kevin says, and his tone adds depth to it, and JC knows that Chris was just as bad tonight, if a little more eloquent, and doesn't need to be told twice.

"Those contacts," he says, instead, and Kevin frowns for a moment, then nods, pulls out his phone.

"You coming?" Howie calls, from the corridor.

Kevin frowns again, thumbing buttons on his phone, digging in his pocket with his free hand. "Just... waitin' for the kid," he calls back, then pulls out a bit of paper and a biro, and scribbles something down. "Okay, I haven't got the numbers on me," he says, passing the paper over and looking directly into JC's eyes, "but call me tomorrow, and I'll have dug them out."

JC clamps down a shiver. His eyebrow twitches. "We'll probably manage to budget one long-distance phonecall," he says, smiling, by way of thanks. "That's really good of you."

"Won't be that sort of conversation," Kevin retorts, but it's gentle and for a moment JC thinks, pity, and then Kevin's clearing his throat and calling, "Nick, that coat giving you trouble?" and JC has to smother a grin.

"No?" Nick's voice is thinner than earlier.

Kevin smirks at JC, without breaking eye contact, and calls again. "Nick, c'mon. It's not even cold out anyway."

Cold in, instead, JC thinks, distractedly. Cold in here with these cold young men; Nick and Justin tumble back into the room, little warm torches that common sense dictates should be extinguished straight away. Nick's got one arm in his jacket, and he's struggling with the inside-out sleeve of the other, all shoulder angles and lightly panting frustration.

"We gonna have another meeting next week?" Justin pipes up, and smiles charmingly at JC. "Like, 'cause this one kinda broke down."

"Oh, you noticed that, huh," JC teases, because Justin left himself wide open, and Justin glares at him happily. It takes a lot to rock this kid, and today's nothing compared with what he's meandered cheerfully through before. He's their portable happy corner.

JC feels bad for Justin's non-starter-y little relationship here, and vaguely aggressive towards nothing much in particular.

Towards Lou, he thinks. Safe bet.

"Shut up," Justin smiles. "Are we gonna meet up again?"

Nick's stopped jacket-wrestling to watch JC closely, JC realises, with a thump of regret. He sighs. "I don't think it's that wise to put certain people in a room together any time soon." KnowwhatI'msayin'.

"We're taking him out to the car," Howie yells, out of sight, and Brian appears in the doorway.

"We're taking AJ down to the car," he says, gaze darting over the four of them before resting on Kevin. "Can y'hurry up?"

"Giving JC a couple of addresses," Kevin says, waving his phone, and Brian looks at JC again, then nods.

No you're not, JC thinks, tucking the phone number in against his palm.

"Right," Brian says, "We'll see you down there," and pulls the door closed as he leaves.

"I think we should try the meeting again," Justin says, unrepentantly.

Kevin laughs shortly. "Bad idea."

There were ten in the bed, JC's mind sings, and the little one said, let's murder-each-other, let's murder-each-other.

"But if we don't talk, nothing's gonna get sorted out," Nick says cautiously, and JC wonders if they've rehearsed this innocent sensible thing, because he's pretty sure they wouldn't neither have come up with it on their own.

"It's not... essential," Kevin says, delicately, "to Nsync's situation right now," a quick glance at JC, "for us to, uh, sort things out. On a personal level, I mean. It's more important that they present the best possible case to Lou for doing the game, and that we don't irritate him any more than necessary."

"Chris wouldn't've called the meeting if it wasn't important," Justin says loyally, and JC bites his cheek. Chris would do pretty much anything right now, to avoid sitting by impotently. "Why don't we just meet up without AJ?" Justin adds, and Kevin frowns.

"I don't think--"

"--just AJ's the problem," JC interrupts, peace-keeper blaring in the back of his head. He swallows, suddenly aware he's going to grasp a nettle he hadn't even really registered springing up in his path. "That's why Kevin's given me his number - we're gonna meet up separate, talk things through. You guys could come if you think you've got something to contribute," he adds, thinking, with suppressed excitement, in for one, in for all.

Justin looks at Nick, and JC studiously avoids looking at Kevin. "Sure," Nick says to Justin, and JC decides he wouldn't be surprised if the air between them were to crackle.

Kevin clears his throat. "In that case," he says delicately, "you'll see him on Tuesday, so can we get a move on now, please?"

Nick - blushes, there's no other word for it, and JC finds himself just watching Kevin, watching Kevin's calm serious eyes glitter for just a moment. Sprite, JC thinks irreverently, loving the momentary mischief, and then Kevin's gaze flicks up to him instead, and his mouth goes dry.

"Tuesday," he agrees, and Nick struggles the rest of his coat on and Justin hovers closer and Nick grins and blushes some more - and he's blushing because he feels like he's been caught, JC thinks, not because Kevin's making him feel guilty. There's something oddly cool about that.

JC wonders what would make Kevin blush.

"Okay," Joey says, walking back into the room, "your boy's in the car." He's focused on Kevin, and looks jauntier than JC's seen him all day. "He's not happy about it," he adds, dryly, "but he's damn well staying put if Brian's got anything to do with it."

"Thanks," Kevin says, and puts a hand on Nick's shoulder. "We'll go down."

"I'll call about the addresses," JC says casually, watching Justin mouth a probably adorable something; Nick grins for a second, fierce and glittering, before nodding subtly and looking up at Kevin again.

"You do that," Kevin says, and they leave without any final glances or enigmatic smiles. JC thinks that's probably for the best.

Tuesday could be interesting, he decides, in a whole new way.

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code to link to this page: <a href="http://www.yearningvoid.net/stories/calico/000034.html">Between Corners</a> by Calico