by >>Jae

"I'm not crying."

Justin's head was turned carefully away, but something in his voice made Lance think he was lying. He didn't sound like he'd been crying, he wasn't sobbing or sniffling, but there was a brittle breakable tone in his voice that Lance had never heard there. It didn't sound like anything true.

"Okay," Lance said. "Are you. Um. Are you all right?"

"I'm good," Justin said softly. "I'm good," and Lance knew he was lying. There was a faint tremor in his voice that resonated in Lance's chest. He had spent the past fourteen months smiling till his lips shook, training that tremor out of his own voice as he said, I'm fine. They're cool. I'm making friends. I don't mind. Lou's nice. Everybody likes me. I'm just happy for the chance. We're going to make it. I'm doing great. I'm fine.

"Okay," Lance said again. "I was gonna go to bed."

Justin didn't say anything. Lance put on his pajamas and went to brush his teeth. When he came back, Justin was still lying on his bed, his face twisted into the pillow at a painful angle.

Lance rubbed the back of his own neck in sympathy and thought. He didn't know what to do. When they'd first met, he'd thought Justin would be the easiest to win over. Justin had an open sunny face and an open shiny smile and an open sharp ambition, and Lance thought that he knew exactly how to make Justin like him. All he had to do was whatever Justin wanted. The only problem was that he never could figure out what it was that Justin wanted. At least not from Lance.

Justin shifted a little, and Lance saw his shoulders flinch and heard his breath hitch, just once. He'd never seen Justin cry before, but he'd seen him mope and pout, lots of times. You couldn't spend a week with Justin without seeing him sulk. Lance had weathered enough of Justin's moods to know just what he should do when Justin was like this. At least, he would've known what to do, if he'd been Joey or Chris or JC.

If he'd been Joey, he would have brushed up against Justin as he walked by, knocking into him lightly again and again, until Justin threw them both onto the ground. He would've wrestled and sworn until Justin came up bitching but grinning widely. Lance had tried that one afternoon, bumping into Justin once, twice, until Justin turned to him. He'd gotten a hard elbow in the eye and a hard punch to the gut that left him winded, and Justin was still frowning when he walked away.

If he'd been Chris, he would have cracked jokes, watching Justin's face intently for a hint of a smile. He would've pulled faces, mocked Justin, pushed his own lip out and called Justin ever more ridiculous names until giggles burst past the hands Justin clutched helplessly to his mouth. Lance had tried that once too, but Justin had stared at him fiercely until the words dried up on Lance's tongue, then stalked out of the room. He didn't speak to Lance for three days.

If he'd been JC, he would have wrapped an arm around Justin's shoulders, keeping it there even when Justin squirmed and shoved at him. He would have hummed gently into Justin's hair when Justin finally relaxed and slumped against him. Once or twice, like when Justin had the flu and still had to do two shows a day, he would've pulled Justin all the way into his lap while Justin whispered and sighed and closed his eyes. Lance had put an arm around Justin's waist once, after a particularly awful rehearsal, and Justin had pushed him into the wall and snarled, "Faggot," and refused to apologize until JC dragged him over to mumble at the floor in front of Lance, one fist scrubbing at the dull red mark on his cheek where JC had slapped him.

Lance shrugged and turned off the light and got into bed. He'd cried himself to sleep a bunch of times, and it hadn't killed him. Justin would survive. Then he heard Justin's breath hitch again, and Lance sat up and turned on the light. Justin still didn't move. "Justin, you want me to get Chris or JC?"

"No!" Justin looked over his shoulder at Lance. His eyes were dry. "No," he said again, quietly, and pressed his face back into the pillow. He pulled his legs up stiffly to his chest and tucked an arm tightly around them. "I'm fine," he said. He looked miserable.

Lance got up and stood over Justin's bed, hovering awkwardly. He put a hand out tentatively toward the small of Justin's back. Justin flinched again at the last minute and Lance's hand ended up on his hip, his fingers resting on the warm skin where Justin's sweatpants had slipped down a little. Lance froze, but Justin didn't move. He patted Justin's hip.

Justin said something, so low Lance couldn't hear. He bent down closer to Justin, hand still moving on his hip, and said, "What, Justin?"

"I didn't think it was going to be like that," Justin said. Lance's hand stopped.

"Oh," Lance said. He swallowed. "Did you," he said. "Were you." He swallowed again. "It'll get better," he said. "It'll get better."

"I didn't think it was going to be like this," Justin said. Lance took his hand away. He was freezing, even in the heavy flannel pajamas his mom had sent him. He was only going to get four hours of sleep that night. He had worked on Easter and Mother's Day and his birthday. That morning he had spent an hour being taught how to square his jaw when he smiled so he didn't look like such a fucking fairy. It hadn't worked.

He patted Justin's hip again. "It'll get better," he said. Justin closed his eyes. "It'll get better."

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