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Story Notes:
I'm up for Best AU! Thank you to whoever nominated me!
Author's Chapter Notes:
Yay a new story! I'm excited about this one, should be interesting. :)
The laughter erupting from around the small campfire could have been heard from miles had there been ears to hear it. As it was, the seven people huddled around the flames had the entire northeast shore to themselves.

Jackson Lake is one of the largest most beautiful bodies of water Montana has to offer. The reservoir was quite the tourist hot spot in the summer, but because of the limited access through rugged terrain, the northeast shore remained practically undiscovered save a few locals and some serious four-wheel drive. Tonight it played host to a few of the most recent graduates of Mercy High School.

Among these new graduates stood the senior class president for the class of 1993. Kevin Richardson was a tall chiseled man born and raised on a cattle ranch just outside Mercy Springs, Montana. He was taught to work hard but play harder. He liked to keep things simple and be one with nature and it was his idea that he and his best friends spend grad night camped out under the stars instead of with the other 83 seniors in the high school parking lot.

The only thing bigger than Kevin’s bicep was his heart and as he looked at the glowing faces of his life-long friends he nearly had to choke back a few tears. In an attempt to regain his composure before the others learned of his girly flaw, he cleared his throat and glanced down at his watch. “Did you have something to say Kev?”

Kevin smiled at his cousin. Leave it to Brian to read his thoughts. Brian Littrell was Kevin’s only cousin, though their relationship was really more that of brothers. Brian came to live at the ranch with Kevin when he was 10 years old after the tragic death of his parents. He and Kevin were the same age and it was kind of like having an instant twin brother, just not the identical kind.

Unlike his tall dark and handsome roommate, Brian was a bit of a shrimp with a goofy smile. But with his killer blue eyes and soft nature, he never had to compete with his cousin for female attention. He owned the hearts of several girls around town but never once took advantage of it.

Brian had never really been the same since his parents’ death and had grown an irrational fear of intimacy. The only people he let into his life were the six present in his company now and there was no one that meant more to him than Kevin. “It’s nothing.” Kevin shrugged, “I was just thinking that I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend this night. You guys just mean so much to me. Thank you for coming.”

An arm was slumped around Kevin’s shoulder by the only other person in the group who could claim six feet tall. Nick Carter gave his friend a gentle squeeze and tried his best to produce a couple of mock tears. “Beautiful speech man. I think I’m gonna cry.”

The group laughed at Nick’s sarcasm, which served his purpose well. There was nothing that made him more uncomfortable than sentimental touchy-feely crap. No one could blame him though. He wasn’t exactly used to receiving love and affection. He rarely had a girlfriend and he certainly wasn’t getting it at home. Nick lived in a beat up doublewide with his four younger siblings and alcoholic parents. The Carters were the perfect models of dysfunction and it didn’t come without a price. Nick never showed his emotions but deep down his friends knew how much he cared. It was apparent in his loyalty.

And then there was AJ. “Aww, come on Nicky. You know you’re just dying for a group hug. I ain’t scared man, I’ll give you some lovin’.”

Alex “AJ” McLean wrapped his scrawny arms around Nick and lifted himself onto his tippy-toes in order to place a slobbery kiss on Nick’s cheek. Nick immediately responded with an elbow to AJ’s side and a truly disgusted grunt. “Ugh, get off me you homo!”

Again laughter roared around the campfire. Everyone knew how to get on Nick’s nerves, that was easy, but the brilliant thing about AJ is that no matter how hard Nick tried to taunt him back, nothing ever seemed to bring him down. AJ was always happy-go-lucky. It was just he and his mom at home and they got along famously.

Having such a close relationship with his mother taught him a lot about the opposite sex and in turn made him quite the ladies man. He could have his pick from just about any girl in town and at this point probably had. There were only a handful of girls that could honestly say they’d never fallen victim to the small town Casanova. Two such girls were standing to his left, Kristen and Leighanne.

Kristin Willits was a true Montana native but only got the taste of small town life at the age of eleven when her family moved to Mercy Springs. They bought the house next to Kevin’s so that Kristin could have room to ride her horse. The first time Kevin saw her prance that pony up the road past his ranch, he vowed he would marry that girl and has been trying to seal the deal ever since.

Kevin and Kristin were as perfect for each other as cactus and dirt. Kevin knew it from the beginning and never left Kristin alone so she quickly became one of the guys. Being the only girl in the group for so many years, Kristin turned out to be one strong willed, stubborn, firecracker of a woman. She loved to ride as much as Kevin and was every bit the Davey Crockett in the wilderness. They were peas on a pod, so although she’d never agreed to any of Kevin’s marriage proposals, everyone knew that’s where they would end up.

Leighanne Wallace on the other hand was a very different case, but she and Kristen had become best friends upon her arrival in Mercy despite their differences. The southern belle had grown up in Atlanta, Georgia and was the last to join the little band of brothers at the ripe age of 15. Her hotshot lawyer daddy had had a bit of a breakdown after failing to win a high profile case that had gone all the way to the Supreme Court. After much unwanted press Leighanne’s parents decided on a change of scene and Montana proved to be just about as far from the spotlight as you can get.

The petite little princess stuck out like a sore thumb in the dirty old town and that made her an ideal candidate for this bunch of misfits. The gang made Leighanne feel right at home and helped her adjust to her new lifestyle. It took a little effort sometimes but nobody minded all that much. She was, after all, the prettiest girl in town, which didn’t bother the guys’ one bit, and Kristin was grateful for the change in hormonal balance among her small circle of friends. “I think maybe it’s time we douse this fire and hit the hay.”

Kevin smirked as six pairs of eyes suddenly rested upon him and he dared each and every one of them to protest his rational suggestion. Nick of course, was the first to break the silence. “Sure thing Dad. What’s the matter? You think that just cause we’re graduated we have to start acting like adults now?”

“No, he’s right. If we’re going to hit the jug tomorrow before it gets too hot, then we should probably get some rest.”

Howie. Howie Dorough was always the first to be rational behind Kevin. He couldn’t help it; he was too intelligent to not be responsible. He was a pretty small guy thanks to his mother’s Puerto Rican genetics, but what he lacked in size, he made up for in brains. The class valedictorian was probably the smartest of the group, but his shyness was almost crippling.

His friends had always been his only comfort zone and even around them he had a hard time opening up. Most of the time it was simply enough for him to be in the presence of his friends and he had no problem letting Nick and AJ fight over the spotlight, which they did often. “He ain’t trying to be responsible Nick, he’s just trying to get Kristin alone in his tent. If you guys are gonna get freaky tonight at least have the decency to be loud about it. It’s sort of like getting free HBO.”

“AJ! How dare you!”

“It’s alright Leighanne. AJ’s just jealous cause he wont be getting any tonight. And for the record, neither will Kevin.”

AJ gave an obnoxious chuckle in order to make his disbelief of Kristen’s comment known. “What makes you so sure that Kevin and I have even had sex?”

For a brief moment the entire camp went as silent as the grave as looks were exchanged. Then simultaneously everyone burst into absurd fits of laughter. Kristin’s mouth dropped open and she slugged Kevin when she realized that he was snickering along with everyone else. “Well if that’s what you all really think.” She pouted, “We may as well just go to it then.”

More hysterical laughter followed Kristin as she dragged Kevin off to her tent in a huff. Once they were out of earshot Nick turned to his four remaining friends and grinned like the devil. “Did you see the look on Kristin’s face? Do you think that they are really not having sex?”

“Dude, no way. They’ve been together since they were like 12.”

“I don’t know man, that would explain why Kevin is grumpy so often.”

“And besides, not everyone is like you AJ. Some people wait until after the first date to be intimate.”

Nick and AJ had been so wrapped up in their argument that they were startled by the third opinion. “It’s been like six years. Just how long should someone wait?”

“Well the bible says you should wait until marriage.”

Nick and AJ looked at Brian with giggling faces. “Well I’ll be damned.”

“AJ don’t curse.”

“You’re still a virgin aren’t ya Bri?”

Brian immediately cast his eyes to the ground. Nick and AJ saw the redness creep into his cheeks and couldn’t hold back their laughter. “Geez Bri, if I’d have known that I could have helped you out. I know a ton of girls that would love break you in.”

“Yeah. I bet even AJ here wouldn’t mind. He’s the biggest slut this town has.”

“No, you lost it to the biggest slut this town has.”

“Paris is not a slut!”

“The bitch gave you crabs.”

“Did not.”

“Did too. Word of advice Brian, don’t let Paris Hilton know you’re a virgin. Find some nice little girl like Leighanne to help you out there. Or better yet, why not Leighanne? You could solve this problem tonight. We’ll never hear you over the noise Kev and Kristin will be making.”

“You know, that’s not a bad idea. Nice thinking J.”

Leighanne’s face turned as red as Brian’s as her anger heated up. “Quit being jerks you guys!”

“Aww come on Leigh, you know we’re just playing. The man has a point though. I’ve always thought you and Brian would make a cute couple. You have that whole blonde hair, blue eyes thing going on.”

An awkward silence filled the air and everyone was startled when Howie dumped a bucket of water onto the flames. “I think we should call it a night.” He said sternly.

He walked past Nick and AJ with disapproval oozing from his eyes. They watched him head off to his tent suddenly feeling a tiny bit of guilt. When they looked back Brian had walked off and though the flames had been put out, they could still see fire in Leighanne’s eyes. “Too far you guys.”

Leighanne walked off feeling more sorrow for her humiliated friend than anger towards her insensitive ones. She slowly made her way over to Brian’s tent where she could hear him whispering the end of a prayer. “Brian?”

“I’m fine Leighanne. Let’s just get some sleep. We have a big hike tomorrow morning.”

Leighanne heard the pain in Brian’s voice and sighed because she knew he wouldn’t let her in. That was just Brian’s way. Whenever he didn’t want to deal with something he shut people out and turned to the lord. It wasn’t a bad way to deal with things, but this time Leighanne didn’t want him to shut her out.

Leighanne decided to be brave and took a deep breath as she slowly pulled back the zipper on Brian’s tent. Brian was very surprised by the intrusion, but didn’t tell her to go away. Without saying a word Leighanne climbed in and closed the tent behind her. Brian turned on his lantern and Leighanne was quite surprised to see him already tucked into his sleeping bag and without his shirt on. She swallowed her nerves and then smiled at him as best she could. “Are you sure you’re alright? You seem upset about something.”

“I told you I’m fine. I know that’s just AJ and Nick being AJ and Nick. They mean well.”

“You know if it’s true, what they said, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”

Brian darted his eyes to his lap and began mindlessly twiddling the edge of his sleeping bag. Leighanne hesitated again and then scooted herself just a little closer to Brian. He shifted his weight becoming more and more nervous with every move she made. When she reached out and placed her hand on his bare chest he immediately shook his head in protest. “Leigh you don’t have to-

“I want to.”

Leighanne slowly leaned in and pressed her lips to Brian’s. At first he was frozen from the shock of her touch but his body gave way and he allowed her to give him his very first kiss. When she pulled away she could tell by the look on his face and the way he was slightly trembling that he’d never felt that before. “How did you manage to go 18 years without even kissing someone?”

Brian shrugged and the redness began to surface on his face again. Leighanne smiled and took his hand. He looked down at their fingers for a moment and when he looked up Leighanne kissed him again a little more aggressively. This time he kissed her back. He was shy at first but quickly began to relax. Leighanne felt his tension ease and she leaned all her weight into him, laying him back against the ground. When she climbed on top of him he quickly sat back up. “We can’t do this.”

“It’s ok Brian. I didn’t come here because of what AJ and Nick said. I’ve wanted this for a long time, but a girl could wait forever for you.”

Brian’s eyes grew wide at the revelation of her feelings. He was so shocked that he nearly gasped. “You mean you like me?”

It was hard for Leighanne not to giggle at Brian’s innocence because it was so cute and yet the whole situation was quite frustrating. “Why do you think AJ said what he said? I’ve tried to make it as obvious as I can.”

Leighanne searched Brian’s eyes for some sort of feelings and when she couldn’t tell what he was thinking she became scared and shrunk back, but it was all or nothing now. For nearly a year she’d wanted to tell him this and now that she’d started it, she had to finish it. “I don’t just like you Brian, I think I’m in love with you.”

Her confidence had left her and her voice had weakened to a barely audible whisper as if she were ashamed of her confession. She looked down at her lap suddenly wishing she’d never come tonight as she listened to the utter silence that filled the tent. So sure that she’d just ruined everything between them forever, she closed her eyes and let a few tears escape. Before she opened them again she felt Brian’s hands wiping the tears away. “Leigh.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Leighanne look at me, you have nothing to be sorry for. I had no idea you felt like this. You should have said something sooner. Things could have ended up a lot different.”

“What do you mean?”

Brian opened his mouth to explain but then stopped himself. He was tortured by the answers that were locked up in his heart and yet no matter how much he loved her back, he just couldn’t let her know it. Leighanne saw the pain and confusion in his eyes and knew she’d just given him a lot to process. “I should go now.” She whispered, “Good night Brian.”

Leighanne began to unzip the tent and Brian took her hand away from the door. “Don’t go.” Leighanne froze at Brian’s command. “Stay with me tonight.”
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