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Shows came and went on the European tour and everything was still going pretty good for the guys. There weren’t any issues between them or anything, and everyone was in good spirits- just everyone was getting burnt out a little bit. Brian was getting nervous because his heart surgery was coming in a few weeks. He knew that everything would be okay, but part of him felt empty somehow and he couldn’t explain why. Sometimes he thought back to that dream he had months ago about Leighanne and wondered if she was really what was missing. He finally got in touch with her because their music video producers were looking for girls for their next video and he knew she would be perfect. Surprisingly she replied back, and they had been in touch by phone when they could to Nick’s disappointment. They’d be on the phone for a while each night and Brian would roll his eyes at the fake gagging motions Nick would make while they talked. 

“Aren’t you getting a little old for that?” Brian asked one night when he got off the phone. Nick sat up in bed, reading some comic book that he’d brought along and doodling in his sketch pad. 

“You’re making me wanna barf with that baby talk. We never did that shit.” 

"We weren't dating." Brian reminded him, and Nick rolled his eyes again. 

“You’ve been with a girl before, what’s the problem? Or is it just because you’re jealous?” 

Nick blushed. “Hardly.” 

“You’re a horrible liar.” Brian laughed, throwing one of his pillows at him. 

“No, really. I’m happy for you. I suppose you’re going to go see her when we go back to LA next week to film our music video?” Nick said, half lying. He actually wasn’t happy to be seeing her again and hoped Brian wouldn’t bring her around. Part of him wanted to tell him about her threats but kept quiet. That was a whole other mess he didn't want to start now that things were so good between them. So Nick put up with the baby talk on the phone and the fact that he'd lost again simply to save their friendship. 

Brian felt bad for lying, but it wasn't really a full lie, because he hadn’t told Nick that Leighanne was going to be in the video. There was enough tension without that bit of information getting out. 

"Sure, I'm going to see her." Brian smiled. 

Nick looked away, a little disappointed but he knew it was bound to happen once they got back home to the states. At least Brian had someone he could rely on other than the other guys in the group...Outside of the group, Nick had nobody. When he was 18 he legally separated from his parents and moved out his things during downtime back home. He was still looking for a place but crashed on the couch at AJs apartment from time to time. When he was all by himself, it felt very lonely and he often wished he had a real friend that didn't just want to be friends because he was Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys. Being gay didn't help matters either, it wasn't like he could walk into a gay friendly place looking for friends. Nobody knew his secret and for now, he intended to keep it that way. . 

"Baby, I missed you." Brian said softly as his lips touched Leighanne's. They were busily getting reacquainted back at her apartment across town. 

"I missed you too. How are you feeling?" 

More kisses. Brian didn't answer her. He didn't feel like discussing the upcoming surgery. 

"Fine." he replied with a smile as she gave him a skeptical look. 

"Okay, I'm just tired. That's all… I feel winded sometimes and my chest hurts a little bit but no more than usual. Nick asks me the same thing. I am gonna tell you the same thing. I'm fine. No need to worry." 

"Brian, I know you say you're fine, but I can tell you're not fine. It's okay to not feel okay, you know? You aren't Superman. I won't think anything less of you if you feel sick." Leighanne said sweetly, kissing him. She ignored discussing Nick for now because that was the last person she wanted to talk about. 

“I mean, other than feeling winded like I said, everything is great. I promise. I wouldn’t lie to you.” Brian said, feeling that sinking feeling in his chest. Why couldn’t he just tell everyone the truth? 

"So are you excited about the video shoot?" Brian asked instead, changing the subject as they walked into the living room and sat down on the couch. 

"Yes, thank you for telling them to have me audition. What did the rest of the guys think about it?" 

Brian looked away for a moment because he hadn't really told anyone yet and thought up a fast lie. 

"They can't wait to see you." 

Nick was deep in thought when he left the recording studio the day after they got back to the states. He was thinking a lot about him and Brian and what the hell he was thinking kissing him back in Ireland when he had promised himself he wouldn’t. He had disobeyed what Leighanne told him not to do, and was terrified she would find out that they had kissed more than once the past few weeks. 

“Stupid, stupid.” Nick muttered to himself, his hands in his pockets. 

“Hey, Nick...where are you going? I thought we were going back to my apartment.” AJ called to him, startling him from his thoughts. 

“Ohhh. Sorry, AJ. I think I’ll go for a walk. I’ll find a way back, your place isn’t far anyway.” Nick said absentmindedly. AJ shrugged and headed to his car before driving away. Nick decided to go down to the beach and listen to the ocean to clear his head. He took his shoes off and held them as he walked down the beach, thinking for the longest time. What was he going to do? He knew that being in the band and having feelings for Brian was going to be trouble. He knew that it could possibly ruin everything and it would all be his fault. Then what? Sure, he could probably have a solo career if he wanted...Johnny had already tried talking him into one and he turned them down, saying he wasn’t ready to venture on his own just yet. He was still very young and had to figure out some things first. All Nick wanted was a sign, something that would guide him in the right direction because he felt so lost. He loved Brian, but he couldn’t allow himself to keep waiting for Brian to leave Leighanne. Deep down he knew that he would never leave her. Leighanne’s claws were dug in him too deep. 

After sitting on the beach for a good hour and getting a leg cramp from sitting in the sand, Nick decided to walk home. He was getting hungry anyway. 

“Nick, is that you?” 

Nick turned around and was surprised to see Lance Bass walking out of a coffee shop nearby. 

“Hi, Lance. How are you? I was just walking to AJs place.” 

NIck had stayed in touch with some of the NSYNC guys after the meeting at the Mc Donald’s with Brian, Justin and JC. He became good friends with Lance and Joey especially and they texted now and again. 

“Doing great. I didn’t know you were in town.” 

“We just got in yesterday. I would ask if you wanted coffee, but I guess you had some already?” Nick asked. 

“Yeah, I just did. Where are you headed? I could give you a ride.” Lance offered, and Nick took it. 

“So is everything good with you, Nick? You seemed distracted when I saw you before. I actually waved at you from the window but you didn’t see me.”

“Yeah, I just got a lot on my mind but I don’t think you’d get it.” Nick said, looking out the window. They actually weren’t far from the apartment but Nick didn’t feel like waking anymore after his leg had cramped up. 

“Try me.”

“It’s kind of, well….complicated.” Nick said, feeling a bit nauseous. He didn’t know why he was feeling so nervous all of a sudden, but he felt like that any time someone was close to knowing his secret. He’d only told Kevin and Brian, and Leighanne knew but was threatening him so he held off on telling anyone else out of sheer terror. He was terrified of management finding out he was gay because he knew none of them would understand. Management already kept telling him he couldn’t  have public relationships because it would upset fans. 

“Try me. I feel like you really need to talk about it. You can trust me, Nick. I won’t judge you, whatever it is.” 

They parked outside of the apartment building where AJ lived and Nick sat there, looking out of the window. Sure, Lance was his friend but could he really trust him? 

“Okay, well there’s someone that I really lo- like and we kind of- well not dated, but we have been off and on fooling around, and-“ 

“Is it Brian?” Lance asked suddenly, throwing Nick off guard. Nick blushed and Lance smiled. 

“H-how did you?” 

Lance looked away, blushing himself and Nick eyed him curiously. 

“I’m gay too. I kind of picked up on it but I didn't say anything."

Nick’s mouth dropped open because he was not expecting this at all, but in a way he was relieved. 

“You are? You’re gay, really?” 

“Yes. That doesn’t freak you out, does it? I mean you are too...aren’t you?” Lance asked softly. 

“Well, I just came out last year but this...I mean- wow. Have you told anybody? Or is it just me? Do the guys know? How long have you known you were? I just have so many questions.” Nick stammered. Lance turned off the engine of his car and they sat there for a minute in silence. 

“I have known for a while that I was, and I haven’t told them yet, no. Nobody knows but you. I hope I didn't freak you out or something.” 

“No, not at all. I really appreciate that you told me first. I was the same way when I told Brian. I told him because I thought he would understand the most."

"Yes, that's why I told you. I knew you'd understand. It's not that I'm not close to the other guys or anything, it's just that they wouldn't get it. I am so afraid that they'd kick me out. So I kept quiet." 

"I understand that completely. I felt that if I told anyone I'd lose everything. So if you don’t mind me asking, why have you not told the other guys in your group? Are you afraid of what they’ll say? Or is it because of how you think other people will react, because that was my concern. I’ve only told Brian and Kevin." Nick said. 

"It's like I said, they just wouldn't get it. Something like this is not easy for others to understand. So for me it was easier to just keep quiet, but sometimes I felt like I was going to burst from not telling them."

Lance seemed so much more at ease about this than he did and he was a little jealous. They talked for a long time in the car, and Nick ended up telling him everything. Everything about him and Brian and the past year, even the stuff about Leighanne. It all came spilling out. Stuff he'd been holding in for months. 

"So she said she'd tell everyone?" Lance said finally. He didn't look pleased. 

"Yes, she said if she ever found out I was doing anything again she would tell everyone and ruin us. I don't know what to do, man. I've tried pushing him away. I tried keeping my distance, but one kiss and I am right back to where I fucking was before. I can't get him out of my head. Am I an idiot? What's wrong with me? I just want to be happy." Nick sighed.

"Stop saying that. You're not stupid. You're in love. I hate to say this but he's stringing you and her both along. It sounds like she just wants him for his money and he's allowing it. He is so in denial that he's okay with her because being with you scares him. He's never going to leave her. You need to put yourself first. What do you want out of it? Do you really want to be with him, or are you just afraid of being alone like he is?" 

Nick thought about this and nodded because Lance was right. He was waiting for Brian to make a decision and it was blaringly obvious that he'd already made it. Nick was afraid of being alone because being with Brian felt safe, even though it was hurting him. 

Nick said goodbye to Lance and said they'd stay in touch. He walked into the apartment building feeling much better than he did earlier, and now he knew he had a lot to think about. The big question was, was he going to expose Leighanne for all she was doing or let Brian find out on his own? Would their friendship survive this time? He knew things were going to come to a head soon, but he just didn't know when or how. He figured he would cross that bridge when he came to it.