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"What're these?" Nick picked up the package of shimmery butterfly clips laying near the sink in Kevin's bathroom. Nick marched into where Kevin was sitting -- attempting to work on the educational tapes he was putting together -- and held them out gingerly, as if afraid his touch would break the tiny accessories.

Kevin looked up and examined the item in question. "They look like hair clips."

"*Girl* hair clips." Nick felt that this was probably important information, all things considered.

"Wha'd'you want from me? Maybe Leigh left'em last time her and Bri were over, or something. I didn't buy'em for myself, if that's what you're worried about."

Nick's eyes had narrowed and he scrutinized the man in front of him. "Maybe they were left as a hint."

Kevin pushed a lock of hair away from his forehead and made a non-committal grunt. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

"You *are* getting kinda shaggy."

"It's supposed to be shaggy, Nick, that's the intended look."

"Well, yeah, but it, like, hides your eyes."

"Thanks for the tip, Miss Fashion." Kevin felt slightly guilty when Nick's eyes went blank and he walked dejectedly out of the room.


"What'd you do to Nick?" Brian seemed genuinely puzzled, since Kevin generally erred on the side of too-careful about the guys' feelings.

"I might've made a crack about his gender."

"Not cool Kev. Sensitive topic anyway without the added benefit of Mopey-About-AJ Nick."

"Yes, thank you. I really do feel badly enough already without my second conscience helping out."

"Look, could you just talk with him? He's acting like a kicked puppy. Leigh's ready to adopt and I do *not* want Nick Carter to be my first born."

"Oh, c'mon-"

"Kevin-" Brian was about to lay the smack down, the tone of his voice left no question about that.

"I'll fix him."


Kevin let himself in to Nick's place and yelled, "Hey, can I come in?" as he made his way to the kitchen.

Nick came in from the pool having heard his shout. He was dripping and petulant and if he hadn't stood over six feet tall, Kevin would have pegged him at approximately thirteen years of age. Nick's eyes skittered to where Kevin was peeling the top off a Tupperware container. "What'd you bring me?"

Kevin fished his offering out of the container and held it up for inspection. "Gingerbread cookies. With the chocolate chip buttons that you like."

"Tell me you aren't going through another domestic phase. You are *not* cleaning my house. I know where everything is right now and I like it this way."

Kevin bit the head off the cookie. When he had swallowed, he went out to the porch and found a towel. Nick was sitting on one of the stools in his kitchen when Kevin came back. He used the towel to gently tousle the water out of Nick's hair and wrapped it around the younger man's shoulders. Nick wiped his hands on it and grabbed a cookie. He nibbled on the arm. "Thanks."


"I miss AJ." Nick made the announcement in the middle of "Reservoir Dogs" as if it had something to do with the scene playing out in front of them. "I mean, not scary, absent AJ…the guy before that."

Kevin paused the movie. He did not want to have this discussion over the sound of bullet fire. "I know. We all do, really."

"Maybe I should have been a better friend. I went out with Mandy or Brian when he would ask me, like I preferred them."

"I'm pretty sure AJ's alcohol problem doesn't relate directly back to you."

"I know the world doesn't revolve around me." Nick only used that tone of voice when he felt like he was proving a particularly important point. "But I don't think I helped this time."

Kevin was about to speak when Nick added, "See, there's the other part of this whole thing. The part where I know that AJ's a hell of a lot smarter than me and maybe stronger and I just don't feel like I have much of a chance if he can't pull it together." He flicked his hands around in a meaningless gesture. "But the missing AJ thing is more important, I'm pretty sure, and I don't like feeling selfish -- I do when I think about that other stuff."

Kevin reached out and tugged gently at the ends of Nick's hair. "When I checked AJ in, got him settled in the room and all, AJ asked me to make a promise with him. The idea was, both of us would make the promise and then hold each other to it as best possible. The promise was not to make the same mistake twice." Kevin's hand dropped to his side. "The next time one of us falls, I'll be there to catch him before he hits the ground."


Kevin found the clips in Nick's medicine cabinet while searching for mouthwash. His mouth quirked in a semi-smile and he grabbed the tiny bag filled with them. Casually, he placed them on the coffee table and settled back onto the couch, opening up a novel Howie had recommended to him. Watching Nick surreptitiously over the top of the book, Kevin made a lot of fuss about his hair getting in his eyes.

Nick finally looked up from the puzzle he had been working on for two years now, on and off between tours. "What the hell, Kev?"

"I really do need a haircut."

"Told you so." Nick went back to concentrating on his puzzle. His head whipped back up a moment later as he noticed the bag sitting out on the table and his glance crept to where Kevin continued to pretend he was reading. "What are those doing out?"

Kevin shrugged. "Wanna do my hair?"

Nick failed to suppress a squeal. "Really?"

Kevin thought there were days when he deserved canonization.


Nick was cute when he was concentrating. Kevin had noticed this fact before, but when the kid was busy peering down at him -- tongue sticking slightly out between his teeth, one hand trying to keep hold of a lock of hair while the other worked out the mysteries of women's hair accessories -- it just seemed like an observation worth making again.

It was nearly forty-five minutes before Nick stood back and surveyed his project, the beginnings of a smile on his face. "All done."

Kevin was silent as he got up and made his way to the nearest mirror. Nick followed him and he could see the anxious expression of the younger man reflected as he waited to hear what Kevin thought. Kevin surveyed the wasteland of pink, blue and purple sparkles that was his hair. "I think I like it."

Nick grinned. Kevin *knew* he liked that.


Kevin spent a lot of time with Nick so as not to leave him alone, while giving Brian a chance to be with Leighanne and allowing Howie extra time to put together Lupus Foundation events.

Nick got more deft with the clips. When Kevin was reading, or helping him out with the puzzle, or making dinner, he could yell, "beautician boy!" and Nick would bustle in, clipping his hair neatly back in five minutes or less.

They found out the morning after the night they rented every Coen brothers film and watched all of them in a row -- falling asleep half way through the last one -- that the clips were even easier to manipulate with wet hair.

Kevin was pretty sure the time he made his decision wasn't any different from the ones that had preceded it. Suddenly, though, Nick was so close to his face that Kevin could feel the kid's breath against his nose. Nick plucked up a shiny green butterfly and when he turned back, Kevin's mouth met his in a quick kiss. Nick blinked, unsure of what his response was going to be. The moment of indecision passed and he leaned back in to initiate another kiss, mouth still closed. He drew back and placed the green clip in its correct position.

His hands free, Nick ran a finger down the line of Kevin's nose, his eyes as curious as a newborn checking out the human physique for the first time. His other hand ran palm up against the underline of Kevin's jaw. "Um, are you sure?"

Kevin raised his eyebrows. "Am I sure?"

"I'm just…Nicky."

Kevin frowned. "I'm just Kevin."

Nick shook his head, amused at something that only he understood. "Not for me,
Kev. Not since AJ briefed me on the nasty, anyway. Which was a lot longer ago than you're probably hoping."

"Oh." Kevin was going to have to reconsider his ability to read people. "Right. Well, yeah, I'm sure."

Nick was better at kissing than he was with the clips. Kevin wondered if he'd had as much practice.


Kevin had banished Nick to the pantry to hunt up some syrup while he was busy making breakfast at two in the afternoon the next day when Brian and Leighanne walked in. Kevin heard the front door open and shouted, "Hello?"

Brian answered, "Hey cos, me and my girl thought we'd drop by and see if the newly christened bachelor's pad had burnt down yet."

"Smart ass." Kevin was still facing the oven as Leighanne came up to peck him on the cheek.

She stepped back with a mildly perplexed look. "Where'd you find my clips?"

Kevin touched his hair with a lot less embarrassment than he had expected to feel upon someone other than Nick seeing the clips. "Nick found'em in my bathroom, they keep the hair outta my face."

Leighanne shrugged. "Huh, I wonder when I left'em there. Oh well, they look better on you anyway and I already bought a new pack, they're yours."

"Really?" Nick entered with a look of triumph and a bottle of real maple syrup. "That's generous of you, Leigh." He picked her up in a big hug and swung her around.

Brian reclaimed his wife and tilted his head, examining his best friend. "What are you on?"

Nick shrugged and casually invaded Kevin's personal space as he went to get the plates. "You want pancakes?"

Brian looked between his cousin and Nick. "Yeah, but I'm not drinking the water in this house."


Howie stopped by unexpectedly one night for dinner holding up bags from a Cuban restaurant that he had gotten everyone in the band hooked on. Howie always rang the doorbell if it wasn't an emergency, claiming internalized protocol. Kevin hadn't even stood back to let him inside when Howie fixed his hair with an assessing stare and commented, "I didn't believe Brian when he said the Baby had finally gotten what he wanted."

Kevin stepped outside and closed the front door behind him. "You disapprove?"

"You're kidding, right? I've lit a candle on the prayer that you would wake up and smell the Nick for six years now."

"Sacreligous bitch."

"Don't you forget it." Howie reached out and flicked one of the clips. Kevin glared. Howie laughed. "Can I borrow those sometime?"

Kevin snorted and turned back to the house. "You wish."


Kevin hadn't been to his house in almost a week when he dropped by to make sure that the guy who watered his plants hadn't killed anything and that his aquarium was being cleaned on a regular basis. He stopped by his bedroom to pick up some clean clothes since he was starting to have dreams about going for longer than two days without doing laundry. He noticed the box on his way out. It was a spot of blue on the otherwise straight black of the comforter on his bed.

He picked it up to discover that the blue was actually a bow, the type with the double stick tape underneath for easy application to any surface. Kevin took the top off the box to discover a set of four hair clips, one with a deep green emerald, another containing a dark blue sapphire, another blood red ruby and the final one an amber yellow amethyst. They were tiny, like the butterflies, but definitively masculine.

Nick had written on the bottom of the box. "Miss Fashion says: I know my man *will* wear butterflies for me. I thought I'd let him know he doesn’t have to."


When he was questioned by a Teen Vogue reporter about the gemstone clips at their next formal appearance, Kevin smiled and offered the sound bite, "They're this year's butterfly clips."

She giggled. "For men?"

Kevin shrugged. "I'm wearing'em."

Behind him, Nick grinned and looked anywhere but at the reporter.

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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile