Reindeer Games

by >>Jae

JC sat on the couch, picking at the fabric under him restlessly. Joey and Lance were sitting next to him, Chris was leaning against the wall by the kitchen. For short hauls like this, they still sometimes piled into one bus, just like the old days. They had all been ready to go for a few minutes now. They were waiting for Justin.

JC pulled harder at a loose thread, trying to work it free. He knew it was stupid to get upset. Justin didn't mean anything by it. He probably didn't even know that he'd cut JC off four times during the interview. Or if he did know, he'd just grin and say, "I was saving you from yourself, baby. When you get off on a tangent like that, it's embarrassing for everyone." JC used to get mad at Justin when he did it, once upon a time, but he'd given it up long ago. There was no point to it. Resenting Justin for stealing the spotlight was like resenting a bird for flying. Justin probably couldn't help it.

Justin burst through the door, a sunny smile on his face. "I'm here, yo. We can leave."

"Fabulous," Joey muttered, and JC shot him a sympathetic look. Justin had cut Joey off, too. Although not four times.

"What was the holdup, J?" Chris asked quietly. Justin walked toward him.

"No big deal," he said. "They just wanted a couple pictures. You know."

The bus pulled out and Justin lurched into Chris. Chris grabbed his arms, almost too quickly to see, and slammed Justin into the wall. He pinned Justin's wrists on either side of his head and kissed him hard. Justin twisted against him.

JC was surprised. He knew that Chris and Justin slept together sometimes. They'd all known, of course, but he'd never even seen them touch in a way that couldn't be seen as brotherly, much less this. They were almost unnaturally discreet. JC wasn't sure he'd even know now, after all this time, if it hadn't been for that one press briefing. It had been a few months ago, but JC could still remember it vividly, the way he could remember every second of the skit he'd done on MMC with his fly down, not cool enough to casually zip it up on camera, not brave enough to stop the taping, watching the faces of the other kids as they tried to keep from cracking up. JC had been blessed with a keen memory for humiliation. And that press briefing had seemed designed to humiliate him. Every briefing ended with a standard warning to keep any non-straight behavior strictly behind closed doors, and to notify management of any possible scandal. But at that meeting, the warning had been expanded. The press guy, John, John Bourdeaux - JC remembered his name, JC had liked him until that day - had delivered a vicious, pointed rant, critiquing what they wore, what they said in interviews, the way they touched each other in public, the way they looked at each other. He had seemed personally disgusted by them. Although he hadn't named names or even looked at any of them, JC knew the sneers were directed at him, because, after all, who else could John be talking about? He'd sunk down low in his chair. He had wondered how he could be rich and famous and men could still talk to him that way. He had wondered how he'd gotten to the point where he paid men to make him feel like a faggot.

When he was finished, John turned on his heel to go. Without exchanging a word, Chris and Lance had followed him out. JC felt a little better, watching them go. He had thought that Chris might hit him, and that Lance might have him fired. He hadn't been sure which idea he'd liked better. Joey had hauled JC out of his chair and half-dragged, half-carried him to the couch. He pulled JC against his chest and ran a hand through his hair, and although JC had smiled at him, it had made him feel worse. It made him feel like everyone knew the ugly words had been meant for him.

Justin had shifted uneasily in front of them for a few seconds, then he laid on the couch and put his head in JC's lap. "He was pretty mad, huh?" Justin had said softly.

"Fucker," Joey said.

"Yeah," JC had said miserably. "I'm sorry, I didn't think I'd been -"

"You shut up," Joey said, "you do whatever you want. They can all go to hell."

"Um, C," Justin had said, flushing a little, "I. Um. I don't think that was about you."

"Justin," JC said, and closed his eyes for a minute. "That's sweet, but what else could it be about?"

"Yeah. Um. I think it might have been about. Um. About me and Chris." JC had opened his eyes to see Justin blushing.

"What about you and Chris?" JC had said, while Joey echoed, "You and Chris?"

"Yeah," Justin had said, squirming a little under their eyes, "yeah. We. Yeah."

"Oh," JC had said, and Joey had echoed him again. "Oh." Then he rallied a little and clasped Justin's hand in both of his own. "Oh, honey, that's great. Really. That's -"

"It's not," Justin had said. "It's nothing. I mean, it's not nothing, it's just. We only. Sometimes. When we feel like it. You know?"

"Sure, sure," JC had said. "That's still great, though."

"Did you guys do something? Like, did outside people see or something?" Joey had asked, and JC had poked him. "What? I don't care, I just want to know." JC poked him again. "I mean. You know. Congratulations, or whatever. Way to go."

Justin had laughed. "Thanks. And no, no big scandal or anything."

"Then how did he know?" JC asked. "Cause, I mean, we didn't know, so I don't see how. Did you tell him?"

"Well, no," Justin said. "I mean, not exactly. Cause, um, Chris thought we should tell him. Just in case, you know? But I didn't want to."

"So Chris told him?" Joey had asked.

"Well, no."

"How did he know?" JC said.

"He. We. He. Um. Kind of walked in on us. Um. Doing it. In his office."

Joey laughed.

"Oh," JC said. "Well, that would do it."

"So let me get this straight," Joey said. "Excuse the expression. You didn't want him to know, so you had sex in his office?"

"Chris kind of dared me," Justin said. Joey laughed again.

"Well, I guess you had no other choice," Joey said.

"That's probably why he was so mad," JC had said.

"Probably," Justin had said, and rolled onto his side, burying his face in JC's stomach. "Talk about something else, okay?" he had said, his voice muffled in JC's shirt.

JC had watched him carefully after that, had watched both of them, a little suspicious of Justin's flush and that "it's nothing." But he hadn't really seen anything. Sure, Justin had stopped sneaking around and just followed Chris into his room, sometimes every night for two weeks, sometimes not for days at a time. But Justin still flew out to see Britney, and Chris occasionally picked people up, curvy dark-eyed women or slim handsome boys. Justin and Chris still bickered and scuffled and wrestled together, the same way they always had. JC had never seen anything out of the ordinary.

Until now, he thought, watching Chris press Justin into the wall. Justin said breathlessly, "Chris, no. They're all. The guys." Chris kissed him hard, again, and when he came up for air, Justin said weakly, "No. Don't."

JC thought maybe he should say something, but then Justin dipped his head down to catch Chris' mouth. Chris chuckled. He let go of Justin's wrists and Justin buried his hands in Chris' hair. JC looked at the floor. Then he looked up.

"Don't you say no to me," Chris murmured. "Like you care about them being there. Like you care if they see how much you love it."

"Chris, stop," Justin whined.

Joey shuffled a little and said, "Chris, um?"

Chris spun and looked at him, dark simmering eyes, one hand behind him braced on Justin's stomach. "What, Joey?"

"Um, nothing," Joey said and looked down.

Chris turned back to Justin, who hadn't moved, and put his mouth on Justin's throat. Justin shivered. His glance flickered over to JC before he screwed his eyes tightly shut. "Chris," Justin panted, "come on, Chris, come on, not here, not, no," and moaned as Chris bit down. "I didn't, I didn't say no," Justin said, "Just not right here, come on, come on."

Chris stepped back abruptly. Justin said, "Oh," in a small voice, then straightened up and wiped his mouth on the back of his hand.

"Okay," Chris said softly, "not right here, huh? Okay."

"Okay," Justin said uncertainly, watching him. He took a step forward and Chris pushed him, lightly, once and then again, until Justin stumbled into the kitchen and fell face down across the table. He didn't stand back up.

"How about here, then?" Chris said silkily. He put a knee between Justin's legs and spread them.

JC's mouth was suddenly dry.

"Come on, Chris," Justin whined, but the words sounded different. Chris bent down over him and whispered something JC couldn't hear. Whatever it was made Justin sigh and squirm and lift a foot up off the floor and hook it over Chris' leg, rubbing his calf. Chris ran a slow hand over his ass and Justin put his foot back on the floor and spread his legs wider.

JC thought he should say something. This was. They weren't.

They were.

Chris slid the heel of his hand slowly up Justin's back, pushing Justin's shirt up. Justin's breath hitched.

"Okay," JC said, "okay, that's enough." Chris and Justin didn't move, didn't even look up. Probably because JC only said it in his head.

Chris' tongue traced the same trail along Justin's spine. Justin started making needy little pleading sounds in the back of his throat.

JC thought someone should say something. Not him, he never said anything anymore. But Joey. Joey should say something. Joey was good at that. He'd make it into a joke, no one would be uncomfortable. JC stole a look at Joey.

Joey was sitting next to him, stock still, eyes closed. His hands were clapped over his ears like he was trying to shut out the sounds or keep his head from exploding.

He didn't look like he was going to say something.

Justin's thin thready chant of "come on, come on," started up again, and JC thought someone really should say something. And that someone should be Lance, he decided. Lance wouldn't make it into a joke, but he'd say, "Cut it out," in a sharp dry tone that brooked no argument. That was what they needed right now, JC though. Someone to take charge. He looked at Lance.

Lance was sitting next to Joey, feet pulled up onto the couch, knees tucked into his body. He had both hands covering his face, but two green eyes peered out through the large gaps between his fingers. He was breathing a little heavily.

He didn't look like he was going to say something either.

Chris was doing something clever with his mouth that made Justin toss his head and roll his shoulders and his hips, and JC thought he really, really should say something. Because the way Chris was spread out over Justin, pinning him to the table, could look threatening. To someone who'd never seen Justin haul Chris across the room on his back. And the way Justin was groaning and mumbling, "Don't, not in front, not here," could sound like a protest. To someone who'd never watched porn. And the full body writhing that was almost knocking the two of them onto the floor could look like a struggle. To someone who'd never heard of sex.

Chris' hand moved off Justin's hip and disappeared between their bodies. Justin gasped and his cries of "don't" cut off into something incoherent. JC didn't know what Chris was doing exactly, because Chris' legs blocked his hand from view, even if someone leaned off the couch so far that he had to put a hand on the floor for balance.

Not that JC had tried.

JC sat back and put a knuckle in his mouth. Chris pulled back a little, and Justin said loudly, "Chris, I want. I want."

"What's the magic word?" Chris said lightly, and Justin cried out, "Please. Please."

Chris yanked at Justin's belt until he stood up. "Love to hear you beg," he said into Justin's shoulder. Justin twisted his head around and kissed him quickly. "Go," Chris said, and slapped Justin's ass. Justin took off running toward the bunks. Chris laughed and turned to follow him.

"Cute, guys," Chris said, and JC looked down the couch, at Lance with his hands over his eyes, at Joey with his hands over his ears. JC yanked his hand down from his mouth and sat on it. Chris quirked an eyebrow at him and left.

JC breathed a sigh of relief when Chris was finally gone. Then he heard Chris' voice, clear even through the wall, saying, "Hands and knees," and he froze. He didn't know whose bright idea it was to put curtains over the bunks, but he wanted to find them and fire them and yell at them for a long time. There was no privacy there. Those bunks needed doors, wooden doors, big heavy doors, with padlocks and soundproofing and hermetically sealed Plexiglass. They needed -

"Please," Justin gasped.

Chris had apparently been serious about the begging. JC pulled a pillow into his lap and stared down at it as Justin begged for Chris' mouth on his lips, on his throat, on his back. He thought they really should turn on the TV or something, drown out that rude racket. But the remote was all the way over in front of Joey. It was really Joey's job.

Joey bolted for the window and stood looking fixedly out of it when Justin started begging for Chris' fingers. One finger, two, three, and JC pulled another pillow into his lap and crossed his arms tightly across his chest.

When Justin started begging for cock in a broken voice, Lance darted for the bathroom, tripping over JC's feet and almost falling flat on his face. It didn't slow him down. Joey started to bang his head lightly against the window. Justin gave a full, throaty moan and JC knocked the pillows off his lap and opened his pants.

When Justin started begging to come, JC gave a moan of his own. Chris kept Justin begging a long time.

JC came twice while Justin was waiting.

When Justin emerged a few hours later, he looked sheepish, but not half as sheepish as JC felt. Joey and Lance had escaped to their bus at the first opportunity, Joey saying, "Dude. This is like the porn bus. And not in the good way, you know?" Chris had wandered out about an hour ago, smiling casually and ruffling JC's hair on his way to the Playstation. JC had stayed on the couch. He had cleared his throat a few times, but when Chris looked back at him, he forgot what he had been going to say.

Justin stood in the doorway and ran a hand sleepily over his head. He was wearing pajama pants and an old T-shirt that JC thought had belonged to him once.

"Um, Justin," JC said, and Chris leaned back on his hands and looked at them upside-down.

"Yo, J," he said, grinning, "I thought you were gonna sleep all night, man. You left me alone out here to amuse myself."

"I already amused you plenty," Justin grumbled, but he was smiling. "And C's sitting right here. Why didn't you ask him to play with you?" He sat down on the floor next to Chris and grabbed a controller.

"It's no fun playing with C," Chris said, still upside-down. "He's got no killer instinct." He smiled at JC to take the sting out of his words.

It didn't really work.

JC thought things would change with Chris and Justin after that, and they did, but not as much as he'd expected. They still went their separate ways some nights. Justin still had long hushed phone conversations he wouldn't talk about, and Chris had some sort of on again off again thing with one of the lighting guys. But when they weren't separate, they seemed more together than they had been. They'd lost their shyness in front of the rest of the guys, or Justin had lost it, JC thought. He couldn't really see Chris being shy about much to begin with. Now Chris' hand sometimes dipped casually from the small of Justin's back down over his ass, and Justin just tilted his head back and smiled. When Justin sat on top of Chris on the couch, Chris nipped at his shoulder before tumbling him down to the floor. JC had walked in on them once, late at night, kissing in the kitchen, Chris sitting on the counter with Justin between his legs. He had stood there watching for a few seconds before quietly walking away.

JC spent a lot of time traveling with Chris and Justin, so he had more opportunities to see them together. To get used to it. Joey and Lance were a little skittish these days about getting on the three-man bus, so they really hadn't had a chance to see the changes. It probably took them by surprise. At least that was what JC told himself when Joey walked into the hotel room where Chris and Justin were sitting on the couch, Justin with his legs draped casually over Chris' lap and his tongue in Chris' ear.

"Aw, Jesus, guys, gimme a break," Joey groaned. "Nobody wants to see that. Come on. My virgin eyes!"

"Fuck off," Chris said. "Nothing about you's been virgin for years." Justin started to slide off Chris' lap, but Chris put a hand around his calf and held him there.

"Something has," Joey said, "and's gonna be for a long, long time."

Justin pulled free of Chris' grip and sat next to him with his feet on the floor. JC saw Justin flush and drop his eyes as Chris shot him a thoughtful look.

"Hey, Joey, that's not cool," JC said. "We've all seen you doing lots worse."

One good thing about Joey, JC thought, was that he was fair. "You got a point, C," Joey said. "Carry on, gentlemen." He grinned at them, and Justin smiled back. He didn't move any closer to Chris, though. Joey reached down and ruffled Justin's hair. "You know I was just kidding, right, J?"

"Duh, asshole," Justin said, still smiling. "Like I ever listen to what you say."

"That's my boy," Joey said happily, and wandered over to the breakfast table. JC watched Chris cast a long look at Joey's back, and nod slightly, a small smile on his face. JC wasn't sure what that look meant. He wasn't sure he liked it. Chris got up and followed Joey to the table, putting an easy hand on the small of Joey's back as he reached around him for a cup.

Justin pulled his legs up onto the couch and tucked an arm around them, chewing his lip. JC knew exactly what that look meant, and he didn't like it at all.

When breakfast was over and everyone started to disperse, JC put a hand on Justin's knee. "Wait a minute, huh, J," he said, and Justin sat back. JC was older than Justin, and he'd known he was gay since just about forever, and he knew some things he thought Justin might need to hear. He'd been thinking about this all through breakfast. He had a neat little speech prepared.

Justin didn't seem quite as grateful as JC might have wished. His eyes widened with what looked a lot like horror as JC spoke, and JC stumbled a little as he made a nice point about diversity and openness. JC asked Justin if he had anything he wanted to share, and Justin opened his mouth and started shouting for Chris.

Chris came running to the doorway, and JC saw something fierce and dark flicker in his glance before his eyes lit on JC. Then he grinned and leaned against the doorjamb. "What're you bawling about, J?" he said.

"He's trying to make me talk about my feelings," Justin said accusingly, pointing at JC.

"Your feelings about what?" Chris said.

"About being gay," Justin said. "Which I'm not, anyway. I'm bi." JC looked away and rolled his eyes. He caught Chris doing the same thing.

"Well, that's nothing to scream about," Chris said. "Anyone who spends as much time as you do in the self-help aisle shouldn't have a problem with that. And God knows I don't want to hear you talk about your feelings."

"But he's all talking about tolerance, and my growth process, and, and awareness exercises. And he said I had to be actualized. I don't wanna be actualized."

Chris laughed. "I'll give you twenty bucks if you can tell me what actualized means."

"Yeah, well, I bet you're not actualized either, fuckhead." Justin laughed with Chris, and JC felt a little rumpled.

"You're making me sound like an idiot," he said. "That's not all I said. There was some good stuff in there, Justin."

"He did talk about being true to all of yourself, and not changing for anything," Justin said grudgingly. "That part wasn't so bad."

JC felt pinned by Chris' sharp appraising glance as Chris said softly, "Well, that's something C certainly knows a lot about, I'm sure." JC stared at him in confusion until Chris grinned and said, "I guess I'll leave you kids to it. Make sure you tell him about that time when you were five and your mom lost you in the mall, J. It explains a lot about you."

JC thought about that appraising look in Chris' eyes until the next time he saw it, one night when everyone was hanging out together. It wasn't directed at him this time, but at Joey. Joey was sitting on the floor in front of the couch, nudging an out of it Justin playfully with a bottle of beer. As JC watched, Chris' expression crackled into something wild and menacing and hot. Chris got up from his chair and moved toward the couch, and JC braced himself for a scene like the one he'd witnessed on the bus. But Chris stepped carefully over Justin, and sat behind Joey.

Joey was half drunk himself, and he leaned back easily into Chris' legs. Chris bent over him, saying something low, and Joey's laugh rumbled in response. Chris put his hands on Joey's shoulders and bore down a little, his head still hanging next to Joey's, his lips still murmuring next to his ear. JC could almost feel Chris' breath on his own neck. Joey stiffened for a second under Chris' fingers, then relaxed and rolled his shoulders into Chris' grasp. Finally he tipped his head up to smile at Chris, and his cheek brushed against Chris'. Joey gasped, and froze.

Chris smiled at Joey, a wicked little smile, then stood up and prodded Justin with his foot until he grunted and grabbed Chris' hand to haul himself up. Chris guided him to the door with a hand over his hip. JC shot a look at Joey. He was still sitting on the floor, his mouth a little open, his hand on his cheek. JC looked back at Chris. Chris glanced over his shoulder and winked at JC as he walked out.

Joey stood up unsteadily. He swayed on his feet as he headed for the door, and JC reached out to keep him from falling.

"You doing okay, Joe?" JC asked.

"Yeah, yeah," Joey said, one hand still against his cheek. "I just. Um. I feel a little funny."

JC knew the feeling.

The next morning JC was curled up on the bus couch, half asleep, when Joey poked his head in the door. "Hey, you guys mind if I ride with you a while?" he said, looking around as if he wasn't quite sure why he was there.

"Of course not," Chris said silkily. "You're always welcome on the porn bus, Joe."

"Hey," Joey said, laughing a little nervously, "you know I was just kidding with that, right? I didn't mean anything."

"Sure," Chris said. "You didn't mean anything at all."

Joey looked at him a little strangely then sat down in an armchair. "J around?"

"He had some sort of dramatic luggage crisis," Chris said. "He'll probably be terrorizing the hotel staff for another half hour or so."

"Oh," Joey said. "Why are you on the bus so early then?"

"I don't know," Chris said smoothly. "Why are we all on this bus so early then?"

"Oh," Joey said again. "Heh." He looked down at his lap. Chris smiled and moved from where he was leaning against the wall. He crossed in front of Joey to get a magazine, then retreated back into the kitchen, where he sat at the table and read. Joey jumped a little as Chris passed.

Chris was having kind of a restless morning, JC thought, although that wasn't really a surprise. Chris got up to get another magazine, then sat down next to JC on the couch and joked around with him for a minute, then glided back toward the bunks. Joey's eyes followed him every time, darting away when Chris caught him looking. Chris' eyes rested on Joey every time he looked down, sly and smoldering. His eyes flickered over to JC once, and before JC could look away, he saw Chris lick his lips.

As JC watched, he realized there was a pattern to Chris' wanderings. Each casual arc brought him a little closer to Joey. Every once in a while, according to some private rhythm JC couldn't predict, Chris would break the pattern and veer toward Joey, ruffling his hair or touching his shoulder. Joey always jerked away at first, but soon he was leaning slightly into Chris' hand. JC started making bets with himself about when Chris would touch Joey. JC owed himself fifty bucks when Chris perched himself lightly on the arm of Joey's chair and whispered something into his ear. Joey got up as if he were hypnotized and made his way back toward the bunks.

JC watched the easy cock of Chris' head and the sleek grace of his stride as he followed Joey, and he thought maybe there was a simpler solution than hypnotism. He heard some noises he was becoming very familiar with, and he knew hypnotism wasn't involved at all. As the noises grew louder, he thought about jumping onto Lance's calm, quiet bus and getting some sleep. But he didn't move.

Justin hopped lightly onto the bus, already bitching about the hotel. "Jesus, I don't know what we're fucking paying these people for, when they can't even -" He stopped and tilted his head to listen. "Is Kirkpatrick gettin' laid back there?"

"Um," JC said. "I don't know. Maybe?"

"How can you not know?" Justin said. "You'd have to have seen him bring somebody onto the bus, and you can hear him - oh, never mind." He ruffled JC's hair as he passed. "Go back to sleep, baby."

"Are you going back there?" JC asked.

"Sure," Justin said without stopping. "I'm tired, and it's not like it's anything I haven't heard before." As Justin disappeared toward the back of the bus, JC heard him yell, "Oh, Jesus Christ, Kirkpatrick, you better not be in my fucking bunk." He heard the shrill spin of the curtain castors on the rod, and then Justin's voice said, "Joey?"

Joey was on his best behavior after that. He gave Chris a wide berth for a few days, until they all got drunk and Chris pushed him over lightly and climbed on top of him and said, "Relax. Jesus. You ain't that great a piece of ass." Joey refused to talk to JC about it at all, humming loudly and looking away when JC tried to broach the subject. The next time he and JC walked in on Chris and Justin, Joey just swallowed hard and said, "Um. Good. Good for you." JC appreciated the sentiment, although he wasn't sure it was exactly what Justin wanted to hear. It didn't really matter, though. Justin probably didn't hear a word. He was still cracking up every time he caught sight of Joey.

JC tried to say something about Joey to Chris, but Chris just shook his head and grinned at him. JC couldn't help smiling back. It was nice to see Chris smile like that again, loose and easy, without the predator's edge to it. Although Chris always saved that sweet smile for JC. JC had noticed that.

It wasn't his sweet smile, but another, sharper one on Chris' face that tipped JC off to trouble, even before Justin raised his voice. JC had been lying on the couch, wondering who painted the pictures that hung on hotel walls. They all looked so similar. Did the same person do them all? But there were so many, surely too many for just one person to manage. As the argument on the other side of the room grew louder, JC imagined a huge factory full of people standing at easels, painting canvases full of abstract greens and blues and golds. It was probably really quiet there, he thought with a sigh as he sat up. They probably piped in classical music or something. He bet it was really nice.

He started to get up to break up whatever was going on across the room, but then he caught Chris with that smile on his face. JC sat back down.

Justin said loudly, "So you're saying I'm a slut."

"No," Lance said, "no, I'm just saying that maybe you want to start thinking a little about some of the things you're doing."

"So you're saying I'm a stupid slut."

"No," Lance said. JC tilted his head back against the couch and sighed again. Lance had a reputation for being the most businesslike of all of them, and it was true, he did keep track of their schedules and plans and budgets and publicity. JC wasn't so sure this was evidence of Lance's exceptional management skills, though; rather, it was evidence of Lance's exceptional nosiness. JC had stopped reading their PR a long time ago. He found it confusing, almost surreal, glimpsing the kernel of truth surrounded by layers of lies, some generated by their own people, some generated by the media, some seemingly generated out of thin air. But Lance read everything about the group he could get his hands on. Sometimes he stayed up all night reading magazines and message boards. JC had spent many late nights reassuring Lance after these information orgies, convincing him that yes, Justin was still in the band, and no, they didn't all secretly hate each other, and yes, Joey would have told him if he had fathered twin boys in addition to Brianna, and even, on one memorable occasion, that no, Lance and JC hadn't been having a passionate, if hidden, love affair.

But despite his intermittent freakouts, Lance couldn't be persuaded to give up his publicity addiction. Usually JC didn't mind. Sometimes the aftereffects were amusing, like the time Lance spent a week crank calling Eminem and threatening to go to the tabloids with further details of their secret love. Sometimes, though, the aftereffects were annoying. This looked like one of the annoying times.

"You're not listening," Lance said.

"I am listening," Justin said. "And I'm hearing you calling me a stupid slut."

"Look, clearly you're not stupid," Lance said, and JC sat up straight. He shot a look at Chris. Chris' eyes had narrowed, but the smile hadn't left his face. Justin stood up but didn't go anywhere.

"All I'm saying," Lance said soothingly, "is that maybe you should think a little before you do some of the things you do. It's not just you who has to worry about it, you know. If someone finds out, all of us will have to hear about it."

"Oh, so now I'm a selfish, stupid slut." Lance tried to interrupt but Justin yelled louder. "And what do you mean, if someone finds out? What, you think Chris is gonna start calling the papers?"

"Well, if the money's good enough," Chris said, but Justin didn't laugh.

"Like it's just Chris," Lance said. Justin froze. JC heard Chris hiss, but when he turned around Chris was still smiling at Lance.

Lance kept talking. JC only heard part of it - "reasons why… choices … what you're looking for…" - because he was watching Justin flush and bite his lip and study the floor.

"So what you're saying is that I'm a slut with low self-esteem," Justin said finally. JC looked at Chris again. Still nothing but the smile.

Lance was in the middle of saying something about searching for approval when JC said his name. He had to say it twice before Lance looked at him.

"What is it, JC?" Lance said politely.

"Shut up," JC said. Lance was being absurd, and Justin shouldn't pay attention to him, but he was, and Chris wasn't doing anything but smiling, and something had to be done. So JC did it.

There was a gratifying silence.

Everyone looked at JC. Lance's mouth was open. Justin was staring at him. Chris wasn't smiling.

"C -" Lance said.

"You're being very rude," JC said. "I think you should leave."


"You heard me. This is -" JC looked around to check - "this is my room, and I think you should go."

Lance walked out, looking confused. Chris shut the door behind him. He leaned against it and smiled.

"You," JC said, pointing at Justin.

"What did I do?"

"Come here." Justin sat down next to JC. "What are you doing, listening to Lance?"

"I wasn't," Justin said, looking down. "Not really."

"You know how he gets. He reads his nine million press clippings and freaks out and gets all obsessed with something stupid and it doesn't matter and it's not true anyway, and besides it passes in a few days and the only way to deal with it is not to listen to him. You can't let it bother you. He doesn't know what he's talking about anyway."

"I know."

"Remember when he decided he didn't like the way I dressed? Remember when he said I was making us all look ridiculous? I didn't let it get to me. I knew he didn't know what he was talking about. It's not worth getting upset over. Just let it roll off your back."

"This is like when he said you dressed weird?" Justin was biting his lip again.

"No," Chris said before JC could answer. "It's nothing like that at all, J." Justin smiled.

"Well, no, of course not, in a way, although in a way of course it is," JC said. "I mean, what he said to you was much more offensive, of course. But still, you shouldn't worry about it. It's not worth fighting over. What you do is your business and you shouldn't -"

"Three," Justin said.


"Three," Justin said. "Three since - and that's not very many, considering. I don't think it's that many. And it's not like I don't know how to be careful, I do. Nobody's gonna find out."

"Well, sure," JC said. "Anyway, that's not the point. The point is, it's nobody's business whether there've been three - people - or a much bigger number than three. It's your business, not Lance's or mine or - well, possibly Chris', but -"

"I don't care if you sleep with every member of the Wu Tang Clan," Chris said. "Although if possible I would like to watch. Just putting that out there."

"You would, huh?" Justin said, leaning over JC to smile at Chris.

"But the point is -" JC said.

"Right, right, I get the point. Lance is an idiot and I'm gonna kick his ass and I'm not a slut with low self-esteem." Justin was still looking at Chris.

"No, that's not the point."

"Wait, so I am a slut with low self-esteem?"

"No, that's -"

"You have the opposite problem of low self-esteem," Chris said. "If you're a slut, it's not because you don't think enough of yourself."

"Chris," JC said, "that's not nice."

"That's your job," Chris said. JC glanced at him sharply. Chris smiled blandly back at him.

"Well, anyway, you're not a slut," JC said firmly. "You're young, you're attractive, of course you're going to - The joyous, beautiful thing that we call sex is a very special. Thing. And of course you should share that with people if it makes you happy."

There was a silence.

"I feel compelled to point out," Chris said, "that opinions expressed by JC Chasez may not, and in fact absolutely do not, represent the opinions of *nsync as a whole." Justin laughed. Chris opened the door.

"Hey, where're you going?" Justin said. "Don't you want to go get something to eat?"

"No, you and JC can go and share the joyous, beautiful thing that we call lunch. I've got something to do," Chris said. He was smiling.

JC and Justin had time to have lunch, dinner and a midnight snack before Chris appeared with Lance in tow. Lance apologized profusely while Justin stared him down and Chris smiled. Eventually JC nudged Justin and he accepted Lance's apology. It was the right thing to do, JC thought. After all, Lance looked very sincere and very sorry.

He also looked very satisfied.

Lance hid out for the next three days. No one saw him except at shows and sound checks. Chris and Justin spent most of that time laughing at some private joke. JC spent that time thinking about Justin twisting against a wall and Joey following Chris like he was hypnotized and Lance looking shell-shocked and sated. Mostly he thought about Chris' smile.

After three days, JC thought he needed to take steps, for his sanity's sake. He moved to Lance and Joey's bus.

Two days of watching Lance shake and Joey stick his fingers in his ears and sing loudly every time JC said a word that started with "ch" convinced JC that running away was not the answer. He wasn't sure what the answer was, but when he thought about that smile, he thought Chris just might know.

JC was ready to find out. He moved back to his bus.

He'd given lame excuses for moving in the first place, and his reasons for moving back were even lamer. As he stammered through them, he was afraid that Justin would laugh at him, and Chris - Chris, at least, would see right through him. Chris would flash that wicked smile.

Justin shrugged and headed back to his bunk. Chris didn't look up from his magazine.

JC was annoyed.

Further action, he thought. Nothing worth having ever came easy. He thought about Chris' smile, and spent half an hour brushing past Chris on several obviously made-up errands.

Chris didn't notice.

JC complained about the heat and took his shirt off.

Chris grunted and turned the page.

Now JC was annoyed and freezing. Clearly even more drastic steps had to be taken.

JC climbed onto Chris' lap, plucked the magazine from Chris' hands, dropped it on the floor, put both hands on Chris' face, and kissed him. He did a good job, he thought. Chris wouldn't be wearing that knowing smile after a kiss like that. JC was willing to bet he'd wiped that smile right off Chris' face.

He had.

Chris wasn't smiling. He was laughing.

"C," Chris gasped, "are you feeling all right?"

"You could make me feel better," JC purred.

Chris laughed so hard JC fell off his lap. Chris held a hand out to help JC off the floor, but JC ignored it and got up on his own. He put his hands on his hips and looked down at Chris. "All right, what?" he said.

"Don't all right, what, me!" Chris said. "All right, what, you! All right, what, you!"


"What the hell were you doing?"

"Well, I was kissing you," JC said. He'd never had to explain that before.

"Yeah. But why?"

JC'd never really had to explain that either. "Well," he said. "Justin. And Joey. And Lance. It's my turn."

Maybe JC wasn't as good a kisser as he'd thought, but he rocked at making Chris laugh.

"C," Chris said, "C, you're amazing."

That sounded promising. JC sat back down on Chris' lap.

Chris shoved at him impatiently, the way he swatted at the dog when he was jumping up on the kitchen counter or something, somewhere he knew he wasn't allowed. "Come on, C, get up."

"But -"


JC kissed him again. Chris pulled away. He wasn't laughing.

"You're not serious," Chris said. "Or - you're serious."

"Well, yeah."

"Look, C, don't be an idiot," Chris said. "You don't have to do this."


Chris looked at him for a moment. "C, if you're that hard up you should go on back and wake up Justin. I feel morally certain he'd give you a blowjob if you asked nice enough."

"I don't want -"

"You don't want Justin to give you a blowjob?" Chris' eyebrows lifted skeptically.

"Well, not right - I mean. I mean, no. I mean, I thought that you and me - that we would. We could. I mean, I want you." JC smiled his very nicest smile.

"Oh, C." Chris tapped JC's leg until JC reluctantly stood up. "Don't be an idiot." He got up and headed for the bunks.

"What?" JC called after him. "Why? Why is that being an idiot? Why can't I want you?'

"Baby," Chris said over his shoulder, "believe me. You don't want me. You only think you want me."

"How do you know?"

"C," Chris said, sounding exasperated, "it's obvious. I mean, come on. You're just not cut out for my reindeer games."

JC watched Chris walk away. He thought about what Chris had said.

After several days of thinking about it, he had to bring in help. While Chris wasn't holding a grudge, clearly he wasn't going to be helpful either. JC thought vaguely that it might not be tactful to ask Justin. Lance was clearly a non-starter.

JC pried Joey's hands away from his ears and convinced him to stop singing by swearing his question wasn't about Chris.

"Okay, baby," Joey said, his hands still clasped in JC's, "what is it?"

"It's about Chris," JC said.

Joey went back to bellowing More Than That. JC let go of one of Joey's hands to try to cover his mouth, but Joey resisted mightily. They ended up collapsed in a heap on the carpet.

"You swore," Joey said accusingly.

"I know," JC said. "But it's not about - what you think it's about."

"Okay," Joey said slowly. "But if it is about what I think it's about, I'm just warning you. I know all the words to Liquid Dreams."

"It's not," JC said. "It's just. Chris said something weird to me, and I was thinking you might be able to help me figure it out."

"He's not fucking with you, is he?" Joey said. "Because, okay, I'm not talking about what we're not talking about, but if I was, I'd say, okay, fair fine, fuck around with my head. Maybe I deserved it. But he shouldn't be messing around with you. He shouldn't play his games with you."

"See, that's what he said," JC said. "He said I wasn't cut out for his reindeer games. I don't know what he meant."

"It's just a saying," Joey said. "It's like the song, you know, Rudolph? The Christmas song?"

"I know where the phrase comes from, Joey."

"Well, then what are you asking for?"

"Why did he say that - and you too - about me not being able to play his games? I mean, if you can, and Lance, and Justin -"

"Well, it's a different game with J, I think."


"I guess it's just because - well, we're different from you, C. We're tough. We can take it. You're - you're more fragile." JC crossed his arms and looked at Joey. "No, I meant it in a good way," Joey said. "Like - like a flower. Like a pretty flower that everybody loves."

"Okay, you know what? I'm getting really sick of people saying things like that. What, just because I want to wear -" JC looked down at himself. "Just because I wear pink pants and a shirt with feathers, that means I'm not tough? I'm not manly?"

Joey looked away.

"Oh, God," JC said, looking down at himself again. "Oh my God. No wonder he said that. I am like a flower. An insane, pink, feathered flower."

"A pretty, insane, pink, feathered flower that everybody loves," Joey said helpfully.

"Oh, God," JC said again. "How did this happen? I just wanted to look a little - brighter. A little shinier. I'm a freak! Why do you let me out like this? I have to do something about these clothes."

"It's not just the clothes," Joey called after him, but JC was already halfway to his room.

He went through his bag frantically, dumping the contents on the floor and sifting through them. He put on a white sleeveless T-shirt he'd been meaning to tie-dye when he had a chance. Then he sat on the pile of discarded clothes and started to get depressed. What kind of grown man didn't own one pair of pants that weren't sequined or embroidered with pansies or made out of pink leather?

JC let himself into Justin's room and pawed through his clothes. When he was done, he felt a little better about the sparkly state of his own wardrobe, but he still didn't have a plain pair of pants to wear.

Lance caught him emptying his duffel out on the bed and said, "What are you doing, C?"

"I'm looking for some pants," JC said.

"Okay," Lance said. He watched JC inspect a pair of jeans carefully. "Um, why?"

"I wanted to wear them."

"You and who else?"

"Look, can I borrow these jeans or not?" JC said. They were faded and painfully free of decoration, but JC reminded himself that that was the point.

"Well, sure, if you want," Lance said. "But those are pretty big on me -"

"Thanks," JC said, and took off.

When it was time to go clubbing, JC was ready. He studied his new look in the mirror. He'd slicked his hair back the way he used to. It was a little long for that style to really work, and curls kept escaping, but he'd done his best. He'd borrowed a leather jacket from one of the roadies - Lonnie said there wasn't time for him to go shopping. But still, he looked good. Sure, the jeans were a little big, and so was the jacket, but JC thought he made it work. He maybe even looked a little like James Dean.

He swaggered over to Justin's room in his borrowed clothes. He was pretty sure he was swaggering - it looked like swaggering when he practiced in front of his mirror. He felt a pang when Justin opened the door in a filmy, tiny black shirt and black leather pants. Why hadn't he thought of black leather pants? Black leather pants were tough. They were cool. But the only pair of black leather pants he'd brought had big red flames running up and down the sides, and that type of thing, JC told himself firmly, was how he got into this trouble in the first place.

"Hey, C," Justin said, looking at him oddly. "Did you - did they lose your luggage?"

"No," JC said. "Why do you ask?"

"No reason," Justin said.

There was another knock on the door. When JC opened it, Joey grinned and then grew serious. "Hey, man," he said, "what happened? They lose your bag?"

"No," JC said.

"Really?" Joey said.

When Lance said, "Did you call down to the desk? Because maybe they've got your bag down there," JC sighed heavily. He was about to explain again that nothing had happened to his bag when Chris appeared in the doorway.

Chris leaned against the wall and said, "You all ready to go?" He looked JC up and down and said, "Hey, C."

"My luggage is in my room," JC snapped.

"Good for you," Chris said. "Do you want us to go look at it, or can we leave now?"

When they got to the club, JC sat at a table with Chris and let the others hit the dance floor. He ordered a Scotch because Chris did, and then nursed it while he listened to Chris talk about motorcycles to some guy at the next table. At least, he thought they were talking about motorcycles. Chris looked over at JC every now and again, and JC slouched in his chair and looked tough.

After what seemed like four hours but was probably closer to forty minutes, the motorcycle guy left. JC took the opportunity to slide over closer to Chris. Chris pushed back in his chair and studied JC carefully. JC lifted his chin and looked out over the dance floor and thought cool thoughts.

"Whatcha looking at, C?" Chris said.

"Oh," JC said. "Nothing. I was just. Looking."

"Looking, huh?"

"Yeah. Just looking. The guys look good tonight, don't they?"

"Sure," Chris said. "And I'll deny it if you tell him, but Justin's looking especially good tonight."

"Oh, Justin always looks great," JC said. He slid his eyes over to Chris. When Chris caught him looking, he glanced hastily back at the dance floor.

"So," Chris said. "What're you doing, JC?"

"What? Nothing. Like I said, I was just. Looking."

"And why are you doing your looking dressed like an extra from the cast of Annie?"

"I don't - I do not look like that!"

"You do. You look like a ragamuffin. A cute mop-headed ragamuffin who can sing and dance, but still."

JC looked down at his baggy pants and baggier jacket. "A ragamuffin, huh?" he said dejectedly. "That's not really what I was. I was kind of going for something else."


"James Dean?" JC said hopefully.

Chris choked on his drink.

"Okay, I'm leaving," JC said.

"No, no," Chris said. "I was just thinking about something else. I'm sure if I just get a better look. Stand up." JC stood up. "Turn around." JC turned. "Squint or something." JC squinted and threw his shoulders back. "No, now I'm getting near-sighted ragamuffin."

"Good night," JC said.

"No, wait," Chris said. "Come on. I'm sorry. Sit back down. Why were you trying to look like James - I'm sorry, C, I just can't say it."

"That's okay," JC said.

"So why the new duds?"

"Well, it's kind of a long story," JC said.

"That's my favorite kind."

"You always say you hate long stories."

"No, I hate long boring pointless stories that aren't really stories at all but just really long sentences that take forever to listen to and never really go anywhere."

"Oh," JC said. "This might be that."

"Well, that's fair warning. Hit me."

"Okay," JC said. He thought for a minute. He had to be subtle. He didn't want Chris to guess all his secrets. "So, you know how sometimes there's this person that you've known for like, years, or longer, a really long time, and you love them and everything but you've kind of stopped even like looking at them because you see them so much, and then one day that person does something - or no, doesn't even do something but maybe says something, or someone else says something, just some offhand little thing but suddenly you're like, whoa, wow, that person is like one cool cat, but see, you've changed but the other person hasn't, so you've got to do something to shake them up a little just like you were shook up so that they'll be all like whoa, wow?"

"Wait," Chris said. "Could you repeat that? I'm not sure I got it."

"So, you know how sometimes there's this person -"

"I was kidding, C."

"Oh," JC said. "Well, anyway. That was what I was. It was kind of a stupid idea, I guess."

"Oh, I don't know about that," Chris said. "Did it work?"

JC sighed and looked out again. "I don't think so, no."

"Oh," Chris said. "Well, it's early days yet. You never can tell."

"Maybe," JC said. He stood up. "I think I really am going to leave."

"Chin up, C," Chris said. "You made a move. You took the initiative, and that's something to be proud of. That's progress."

"Progress?" JC said. "What do you mean, progress?"

"I just - nothing," Chris said. "I just mean, you put yourself out there, and that kind of behavior should be rewarded."

"I don't know," JC said.

"I do," Chris said. "And I've got a good feeling. I'm willing to bet that when you go back - you're going straight to your room, right? - I'm willing to bet that sometime tonight, there just might be a present for a deserving young JC."

"What kind of present?" JC said suspiciously. He'd gotten a few presents from Chris before that had stuck to his hands or blown up in his face.

"The kind that's worth waiting for," Chris said. He checked his watch. "The kind that'll be knocking on your door in approximately an hour."

"Oh," JC said. He thought about that. "I would like a present."

"Everybody likes a present," Chris said.

JC went home happily. He folded his borrowed clothes carefully and jammed the white T-shirt back into the bottom of his bag. Chris was right - that stuff didn't really suit him. Still, it was good to try something new every once in a while. Shake himself up. It was surprising, sometimes, how that made people see something new. Sometimes people couldn't see what was right in front of them until something made them look twice.

Right on time, there was a knock on the door. JC pulled a pair of sweatpants on hurriedly and opened the door.

Justin was lounging against the door frame.

JC blinked.

"Aren't you going to invite me in?" Justin said.

"Sure," JC said. Justin walked past him. "I mean, I was kind of expecting. I think I might be having. Later."

"Don't you want your present?" Justin said.

JC blinked.

"Um," he said. Justin smiled patiently at him. "That's you?" he said. Justin looked at him narrowly. "I mean, that's you!" He snuck a look down the hallway.

Justin slammed the door shut and stood in front of JC. "That's me," Justin said.

JC looked at Justin's large hand, spread out flat against the door. He looked up at Justin, grinning down at him. "Great," he said. "Because I totally wasn't looking for anybody else, if that's what you thought. I mean, not Chris or. Anybody."

"You know," Justin said, "you're like the only person in the world who thinks that sleeping with Justin Timberlake is the consolation prize."

JC said, "No, no, I don't," but it didn't sound convincing, even to his own ears.

Justin dropped to his knees and tugged at JC's sweatpants. "You're just lucky I have high self-esteem," he said.

Later JC lay in bed and blinked at the ceiling as Justin licked idly at his shoulder. "I'm so, so sorry," he said. "I was so, so wrong. You are so not the consolation prize."

"That's sweet, C," Justin said. He nipped at JC's skin. "But I've slept with Chris, and you know what? I kind of am."

Justin was apparently a permanent present. JC didn't get him all the time, of course. But every couple of days Justin turned up at his door and in his bed, expecting to be welcomed. He was. But after a few weeks, JC felt obliged to explain that he'd understand if Justin was ready to move on. After all, he was sure Chris hadn't meant this as a longstanding arrangement.

Justin lay on JC's bed and laughed at him. "I'm here because I want to be here. Nobody made me be here, and nobody can make me leave. Unless you don't want me here?" he said, smiling up at JC, confident he'd be kissed.

JC wanted him to stay. He'd been missing Justin recently, as much as you could miss someone you worked with and toured with constantly. Which was quite a lot, actually. Justin had been spending so much time with Chris lately. JC had gotten used to only seeing him alone when they were writing. They were friends, of course, very good friends, but JC thought that had faded a little over the past few months. He hadn't said anything, because what could he say, really, that wouldn't sound jealous or selfish? But he hadn't realized quite how much he'd missed just hanging out with Justin, listening to him talk about his family, planning what they'd do over the break, talking about kids they'd known back on MMC, until he had it again. It was like the old days again, only better. It was better because JC was older now, both of them were, and more mature. It was better because they had drifted apart for a little while. It was better because now when they hung out and talked and planned and dreamed, they appreciated it more.

It was better because now when they did those things, Justin didn't wear any clothes.

JC had more than he'd ever dreamed of now. He had more than he'd even known he wanted. He knew just how ungrateful he was being when he thought about more. But Justin still slept in Chris' room every night he wasn't with JC, and JC couldn't help watching them sometimes, couldn't help looking at Chris' hand on Justin's hip and thinking. Things. The smiles Chris tossed him now were amused, sometimes, and tolerant, and sometimes even sympathetic. But JC never saw the smile he wanted to see.

He thought he hid it from everyone. It was ungrateful just to think it. It would be something much worse to let Justin think he wanted something more. So he was horrified one night when Justin straddled his stomach, his favorite position for serious discussions, and said, "So, I want to ask you something but I don't want you to get mad."

"Go ahead," JC said. After what they'd just done, he couldn't imagine getting mad at Justin.

"Do you think you might maybe want to fuck Chris?"

JC closed his eyes. This was horrible. Not only had Justin guessed, but he thought JC might be mad at him. JC was - he was - there was no other word for it. JC sucked.

He took two deep breaths and opened his eyes. It wasn't fair to Justin to make him wait. He was probably worried.

"Oh, Justin," JC said, "you're so beautiful, and hot, and sexy, and smart, and funny, and really, you're so much more than any one man could ask for. And talented. Did I say talented? Because you are, so talented, everyone thinks so. And beautiful, which I did say, I'm pretty sure, but it's worth saying twice. Because you are. All those things. Really."

"Yeah, no shit," Justin said. He did have high self-esteem. JC thought that was very healthy. "That wasn't what I asked."

"Why would you think that?" JC knew he was stalling, but he wasn't sure what else to do.

"Just answer the question," Justin said.

"What was the question again?"

"Do you," Justin said slowly, "want to have naked sweaty sex, in a bed, or maybe somewhere else even, with me and with that other incredibly hot guy in our band who isn't named Lance or Joey? Do you want to watch while Chris fucks me? Do you want Chris to watch while we fuck? Do you want me and Chris to do something dirty to you at the same time? Do you -" Justin squirmed thoughtfully and then grinned. "Okay, I think I've got my answer."

"Why would you ask that?" JC said breathlessly.

"Because I think it'd be hot."

"That's the only reason?"

"What, that's so hard to believe? Have you seen Chris? Have you seen yourself?"

JC looked at him suspiciously. "That's the only reason?"

Justin slid down onto the bed and pushed his face into the pillow. "Okay," he said, his voice muffled, "that's not the only only reason."

"What?" JC said. He put a hand under Justin's chin and turned Justin's face gently until he could see his eyes. "Justin, you can tell me."

"It's just -" Justin said. JC held his breath. "C, I'm getting worn out."


"Man, I'm twenty-one now. I ain't a kid anymore. I can't keep up this pace."

JC laughed. "I haven't noticed you slowing down any."

"Yet," Justin said. "But seriously, how much longer can I keep doing this? I got the shows and everything - something's got to give."

JC laughed again. "Well, I'm sure all your fans will appreciate your consideration. And your time management techniques."

"So, seriously, C," Justin said. "You don't mind if I ask Chris?"

"No," JC said slowly, "no, I don't mind."

"Cool." Justin rolled back on top of JC and kissed him. "You won't be sorry, C. I'll make sure you're not sorry." He kissed JC's throat and moved down his body. "Starting now."

JC was pretty sure he wouldn't be sorry.

He changed his mind about that two days later when Justin burst into his room saying, "Man, what did you do to Chris?" He tossed his shirt toward the bed.

"What are you talking about?" JC said, shoving Justin's shirt onto the floor. "I didn't do anything to Chris."

"Okay," Justin said, "you and me, we need to do some thinking here." Apparently Justin thought best without his pants on. He climbed onto the bed and pushed JC back, straddling his stomach. "I've got good news and bad news."

"What's the bad news?"

"About the sex thing - Chris said he really, really didn't want to have sex with you. His exact words were no, no, no fucking way."

"No fucking way?" JC said. "That's kind of - harsh."

"C, I know," Justin said. "And I did my best. Really. I set it up perfect, and I asked all nice, and I thought there might be some, you know, resistance, so I used all my wiles. But nothing."

"Your wiles?"

"I whined for a while and then I blew him." JC didn't say anything. "Hey, don't look at me like that. It works on everybody. It works on you."

"It's not your fault," JC said dully. It wasn't. "So - there was good news?"

"Yeah," Justin said. "After Chris finished bitching and moaning about how he didn't want to sleep with you, he practically ripped my clothes off and fucked me through the mattress."

"Okay," JC said after a minute, "I can see how that might be good news for you -"

"No," Justin said, "no, don't you see? It totally wasn't normal fucking me through the mattress, it was filled-with-suppressed-lust-for-that-other-incredibly-hot-guy-in-our-band-who-isn't-named-Lance-or-Joey fucking me through the mattress."

"You can tell the difference?" JC said.

"Definitely," Justin said. "So see? That's good news. Cause clearly it's there, the whole suppressed lust thing. We've just gotta find a way to get it out. Because it's not that Chris doesn't want to sleep with you. It's that he doesn't know that he wants to sleep with you. We've gotta change that."

"How?" JC said.

"See, that's where the thinking comes in. We need a plan."

"Well, did he give you any clues about why he doesn't want to sleep with me? I mean, why he thinks he doesn't want to sleep with me?"

"Um," Justin said. JC looked at him. "Okay, remember now, he doesn't know what he's talking about. This is Chris. He gets some stupid idea in his head, and he's all stubborn about it and he doesn't sometimes have all the facts. So don't get upset."

"What is it?"

"He kind of implied that he maybe thinks you're. Kind of. You know."



"He thinks I'm boring?"

"Well, like I said, he kind of implied it."


"He said you're really boring." JC closed his eyes. "Come on, C, help me out here. Look, he's not right, he's stupid, we've got to, you know, enlighten him. Help him see the truth. We've got to convince him you're not boring."

"How?" JC said.

"Well, that's the part I'm not sure about yet. We need a plan."

"Great," JC said. Justin tapped his fingers against JC's chest. JC tried to think of ways he wasn't boring. He couldn't come up with any. Think, he thought. Think think think. Then he thought about what a boring, cliché thing that was to think when you were trying to think. Maybe he was boring. Maybe everybody except Justin thought he was boring and yawned and rolled their eyes behind his back. Maybe Justin was just too sweet to see that JC was really, really, really -

"Okay," Justin said. "I've got it. Here's what we do. We make sure that Chris kind of accidentally stumbles on us doing something me and him have never done. So then he'll be all, that JC, he's one kinky motherfucker, and definitely not boring. Not boring at all. And then he'll want to fuck you, and we're gold."

"That's your plan?" JC said. Justin nodded. "You really think that's going to work? On Chris? Chris Kirkpatrick?"

"Hey, who's sleeping with Chris Kirkpatrick here?" JC looked down. "Yeah, exactly. Don't be slamming the plan."

"I'm sure it's a good plan," JC said.

"Okay, so what should we do? Think of something kinky that me and Chris have never done. Something that'd really get him."

"Well," JC said.


"We could do it in his bed."

"Well, duh. How else are we gonna make sure he sees us?"

"Oh, right," JC said. He thought again. "I could tie you up."

"Something me and Chris haven't done," Justin said. "And seriously. You can get a little kinkier than that."

"I could spank you."

"Done it."

"Do it in a public place?"

"Done it. Come on, C, go a little crazy. I know you can come up with something."

"Okay," JC said. He thought. "Okay. Oh, wait, I've got it. You remember that schoolgirl outfit Brit wore in that one video -"

"Done it."

"You've done that?"

"Remember when we were snowed in that extra day in Detroit?" JC nodded. "Me and Chris got really bored."

"You were really bored and snowed in and you just happened to have a Catholic schoolgirl's uniform on hand?"

"What can I say?" Justin smiled smugly. "Kirkpatrick comes prepared."

"Maybe we could just do it like normal people," JC said. "Maybe that would be something you and Chris have never done."

"Don't get all pissy with me."

"Hey, maybe we could -"

"Absolutely not."

They thought for a while.

"I can't think of anything," JC said finally.

"I thought you were supposed to be the kinky one," Justin said.

"Well, in any other band I would be." He sighed. "Maybe we should just forget about it."

"No," Justin said. "No. Come on, we can do this." They thought for a while. "Okay, maybe we can't."

JC tried to turn over, and Justin fell onto the bed. "I've got it," Justin said.

"What?" JC said, rolling back over.

"See, we were thinking about this all wrong. We don't go with how you're not boring. That's not the point. You're not all exciting. You're not all trendy and hot."

"I'm not?"

"No, of course you're not. That's the point. That's the plan."

"It is?" JC said. He kind of preferred the not being boring plan.

"Sure. See, it's not about being all kinky and tricky and fancy. That's not you. That's not what you're about. You're about quality. You're a classic. You're a Cadillac."

"My dad drives a Cadillac," JC said.

"Okay, maybe you don't need to tell Chris that."

"I just meant -"

"Look, a Cadillac, that's great. I've got a Cadillac. I love my Cadillac. Looks good, American made. Sure, maybe it's not the fastest ride out there, or the sharpest looking, but if you want to get the job done, where do you go? You go to the Cadillac, and you go to JC."

"What kind of car are you?"

Justin thought for a minute, then grinned. "I'm a brand new BMW convertible."

"What's Chris?"

"He's a completely restored 64 Impala, all tricked out and juiced up."


"One of those vans that fits like 15 people, with a naked lady painted on the side."

"And Lance?"

"Lance is a Schwinn. And we're getting off the subject. Are you in on the plan?"

"What was the plan again?"

"Cadillac, baby. Cadillac."

It was a few days before they could put the plan into operation. Justin insisted that they needed to practice so JC would be sure to be in peak form. Then Justin had to figure out a time when Chris would be out by himself. Finally the night arrived.

Justin let them into Chris' room and they undressed each other, laughing with excitement. All their practice had paid off. JC was feeling pretty confident about the plan. Justin crawled into Chris' bed and JC tied his wrists to the bed frame, because, as Justin pointed out, "even with a Cadillac, you want it fully loaded."

Then he sat next to Justin on the bed and they waited for Chris.

And waited.

And waited.

They made out for a while.

Justin took a little nap.

JC did some of his breathing exercises.

They fucked, by accident really, when Justin heard someone walk by and thought it was Chris. By the time they realized it was a false alarm, it was too late to stop.

They watched some TV, but it got too annoying to keep turning the sound down every time they heard something in the hallway. Besides, nothing good was on.

Justin beatboxed.

JC wrote two verses of a song tentatively titled Tied to Your Bed. He thought it might be a little too mature for their fan base, but Justin liked it. "We got away with Up Against the Wall. Hell, we got away with Digital Getdown. I don't think it'll be a problem."

They made out again.

JC started to drift off, but Justin kicked him. "Don't go to sleep, C. Cause if you fall asleep, I'll be all bored and I'll fall asleep, and when Chris gets home he won't think you're a Cadillac, he'll think you're one of those old wrecks up on cinder blocks in front of a mobile home."

"I wasn't falling asleep."

"You were."

"I was meditating."

"You had your eyes closed."

"That's how I meditate."

"You were snoring."

"I don't snore."

"Except when you're meditating, I guess."

JC didn't dignify that with a response. He just closed his eyes. Justin kicked him again.

"Hey, don't -"

"Chris," Justin said.

JC looked over and saw the door handle turn.

"Don't look," Justin said.

"Shh," JC said, but he turned away from the door. Justin was right. They didn't want it to look like they'd just been sitting around all night waiting for Chris. JC moved over Justin and slipped a hand under his thigh, pressing Justin's leg back against his chest. He could feel Justin's body thrumming with excitement. JC rocked his hips forward.

Justin lifted his head and nipped JC's shoulder. "Wait," he whispered. But even as he spoke, he wrapped a leg around JC's waist and pulled him closer. JC slid a hand over his ass. "Wait," Justin said again. They listened to the door click shut. Chris sang softly, drunkenly, then dropped something with a clatter and swore.

Justin looked over at Chris and smiled. JC watched him lick his lips slowly. He didn't realize he'd moved until Justin nipped him again, on the arm this time. "I said wait."

JC bit him back sharply, teeth skimming over Justin's collarbone. Justin cried out in surprise.

"J?" Chris said. "Is that you?"

"Now," Justin said, and moaned as JC pushed inside.

JC didn't dare look over at Chris. Instead he tried to concentrate on the task at hand. But somehow he felt strange, almost clumsy, suddenly aware of the sweat at the small of his back, the way he grunted slightly with every thrust. It was stupid, he knew, to feel like that; he'd done this often enough, and he'd never had any complaints. But he felt Chris' glance plucking at his skin, throwing him off his rhythm, making him fight to focus. Justin squirmed beneath him awkwardly, and JC knew he was feeling the same way. JC shut his eyes. The whole thing was a bad idea.

Then Chris breathed, "Holy fuck," and Justin gasped and arched. JC opened his eyes and looked right at Chris. Chris was still standing in the middle of the room, his feet planted a little apart, his arms hanging loosely by his sides. His mouth had fallen open. The look in his eyes made JC tremble. He had to turn away. He looked down at Justin.

Justin had closed his eyes and thrown his head back. The line of his throat was long and lovely, the taut stretch of muscle echoed in his extended arms. As JC looked down at him, he caught a glimpse of his own forearm, bracing his body in the same delicious strain. Always before he had thought about how Justin looked, how Justin felt, how he felt himself. He had never thought about what he looked like. His body was just his body - he hardly even saw it anymore. And he had certainly never thought about how he must look with Justin.

But now, with Chris' glance prickling over him, he saw how his skin, though paler than Justin's, had caught the same golden glow. When he ran a hand over Justin's hip, he thought about what that smooth sweet curve must look like pressed tightly against his own. When he looked at the lean muscled plain of Justin's stomach, he saw how his own angled down to meet Justin's body, just as lean, just as muscled. Just as beautiful. He took Justin's face in his hand and paused, struck by the way his own fingers slanted against Justin's face, slender and strong. When he kissed Justin, he heard Chris gasp. He thought about what Chris must be seeing - the two of them, tangled, joined twice, twisting into each other perfectly.

When he came, JC knew he looked beautiful.

He curled into the mattress after, facing away from both Chris and Justin. He was shaking, and his skin felt sore against the soft sheets. He heard Justin murmur his name, but he didn't want to answer. So he didn't. He lay quietly, breathing carefully. He felt like something was changing, and all he could do was wait for it.

In the brief silence something wild crackled and bristled in the air. It wasn't what JC was expecting. He wasn't sure it was what he wanted. Chris' hand brushed soothingly over his shoulder and JC jerked away. He caught Chris' eye and then looked down. "I," he said. His voice was hoarse. "I think I should. I have to." He sat up and fumbled with the scarves that secured Justin's wrists to the bed.

"Leave it," Chris said, his voice low. He patted Justin's stomach, and JC watched the way Justin trembled under Chris' hand. "I have a strict policy. Anything I find tied to my bed stays there." The words were light, but Chris' tone seemed strained. JC felt grateful when Chris didn't say anything else.

JC found his pants and headed for the door, stammering, eyes down. He felt raw and exposed under Chris' gaze. But when he glanced back over his shoulder, Chris wasn't looking at him.

As he eased the door shut behind him, he heard Chris say, "Timberlake, how do you get yourself into these things?" JC shivered at the sound of Chris' voice. He told himself he was relieved to have made such an easy escape.

By the time he got back to his empty room, all he felt was stupid.

The next morning Justin couldn't raise his arms. He lay on the couch in his room with his head in JC's lap, while JC rubbed his shoulders guiltily and wielded the remote at Justin's command. Chris had appeared half an hour before. JC had been worried about seeing Chris again, had felt shy of Chris' knowing eyes and his sharp smile. Chris had just nodded at him, though, as he sprawled on the floor to feed Justin rum and Coke through a straw. JC felt stupid again. Nothing had changed.

"Change!" Justin bawled, and JC switched channels hurriedly. "No, no, stupid, no, wait, is that, no, I've seen that, sucks, no, no, okay." JC laid the remote down on Justin's chest and tipped his head back on the couch. "Change! Commercial, commercial, change it! Go, go, no, wait, no, no. Jesus, C, why would you stop on the Lifetime Channel? Are you a girl? Am I a girl?"

"You're a bitch," Chris said.

"I'm injured!"

"And whose fault is that?"

JC flushed. "I guess I didn't really think -"

"Oh, please," Chris said.

"What?" JC said.

Chris looked at him. "Like it was your idea. It's his own damn fault."

"Well, it was both our idea. Kind of. I mean, it depends on what you mean by idea."

"By idea, I mean, who came up with it in the first place? Who made up a whole elaborate plan and rationale and ridiculous metaphor? Who practically tied himself -"

"It doesn't really matter whose idea it was," Justin said.

"Yeah, that's what I thought," Chris said. He held the glass up so Justin could take another drink. JC looked up at the ceiling and let his mind drift.

"Hey!" Justin yelled, so loud JC jumped and dropped the remote. "Commercial! Change, come on, change!"

"Oh, for Christ's sake," Chris said. He turned on ESPN and then threw the remote across the room. "Shut up, you big baby."

"You shut up! I'm hurt, and you could at least treat me with some fucking kindness instead of -"

"Oh, stop carrying on like you were wounded in the war. It's not like you're paralyzed."

"You don't know that. Maybe I am. Maybe I am paralyzed, and I'll have to quit the band and everything'll fall apart. What would you do then, huh? You'd be sorry then."

"Right. It'd be an American tragedy. I can see our Behind the Music now: *nsync's demise was precipitated when Justin Timberlake suffered a bizarre bout of arm paralysis. Some sources attributed the injury to a kinky bondage incident, while others claimed that it had been so long since the diva tried to do anything for himself, he'd simply forgotten how to use his arms. Renowned midget sexologist Dr. Ruth weighs in -"

Justin kicked at Chris, his legs flailing wildly, while Chris laughed and leaped away and shrieked in an incomprehensible accent. JC patted Justin's chest, trying to calm him down, and said to Chris, "Come on. He's in pain. You could be a little nice to him."

Chris stopped jumping around the room and looked at JC, his eyes narrowed. "What, you don't think I'm nice?"

"It's just - you don't need to make fun of him when he doesn't feel good."

Chris walked toward JC, still watching him. JC felt an absurd desire to move away, but Justin's weight pinned him to the couch. "I'm nice," Chris said. He knelt down in front of the couch.

"You are not, you're a fucking asshole who -" Justin's voice cut off as Chris opened his pants and pushed his T-shirt up above his nipples. Chris didn't stop looking at JC the whole time.

Chris dropped his head and licked Justin's cock, his eyes dark and hot as he met JC's gaze. Justin whimpered. Chris didn't look down. He smiled, and JC had to look away. He saw Justin's face, eyes closed and lashes fluttering, teeth worrying at his lip. He let his gaze skitter around the room as Justin gasped and shook in his lap. Despite his best efforts, JC's eyes returned again and again to Justin's face twisting prettily beneath him, Chris' mouth sliding lewdly over Justin's skin. His own hand was shaking, and he put it on Justin's chest, just to steady himself, he thought, not to feel the tremors that shot through Justin's body as Chris' lips worked. Chris slid his fingers over the long bare expanse of Justin's stomach. When they touched JC's hand, JC jerked away as if he'd been burnt. Justin came with a shudder.

Chris wiped his mouth on Justin's hip. "Don't say I'm not nice," he said, buttoning Justin up. "I'm plenty nice." Justin nodded fervently.

Chris smiled at JC and walked out.

It wasn't the smile JC had been wanting to see.

He had pretty much given up hope of seeing that smile tossed his way. The more he thought about it, the more he thought maybe that was for the best. So things hadn't worked out. Sometimes the universe had its own way of saying that things weren't meant to be. Sometimes some things were meant to stay a fantasy. And besides, maybe Chris had a point - maybe JC didn't really want him. Maybe he just thought that he wanted him. That made sense; after all, thinking that you wanted somebody probably felt a lot like actually wanting them, so it was easy to get mixed up.

The problem was that while that made sense to his brain, his body was still a little confused. JC tried ignoring it, turning his head away firmly every time he glimpsed Justin and Chris in a dark corner, putting on his headphones every time he heard suspicious noises coming from the back of the bus. Nothing worked. JC knew he had to try harder to get Chris out of his system.

Three straight nights of falling asleep with Sting blaring convinced him he had to come up with an idea quickly.

When JC thought about it, Chris really wasn't that attractive. He was kind of short, and that was something JC had never gone for. He was addicted to weird hairstyles. He didn't really have JC's flair for fashion. And he could be a little sarcastic sometimes - even, if JC was honest, even mean. And JC had always made a point of surrounding himself with positive people. He didn't think he could truthfully say that Chris was a positive person.

In fact, the more JC thought about it, the more he was convinced that he had never really wanted Chris at all. But he had wanted something. He ran through his memories of Chris, the ones that stuck in his head and tormented him on the nights he spent alone. He saw Chris smiling smugly as Lance ducked his head and apologized. He saw Chris striding arrogantly through the room, Joey following him docilely. He saw Chris crowding Justin against a wall, Justin bending his head obediently and trembling under Chris' touch.

He saw that last one a lot.

By the time Justin turned up in his bed again, JC had a plan.

"So, I want to ask you something but I don't want you to get mad," JC said, studying Justin's face carefully.

"Yes," Justin said.

"Yes, you promise not to get mad?"

"Yes, whatever it is, I'll do it," Justin said.

"But, what if you don't want to do it? What if you - I don't know, think it's weird or something?"

"C," Justin said, smiling lazily up at him, "come on. Whatever it is, I don't think you're gonna shock me."

JC thought about that.

"So what is it?" Justin said.

"I was thinking. I thought maybe we could, you know. Maybe we could do something like -"

"Spit it out, C."

"I thought maybe we could do it like you and Chris."

Justin didn't say anything.

"Justin?" JC said after a few minutes. Justin sat up on his elbows a little. He was biting his lip. "Justin, just forget it. It was - we don't have to -"

"You want me to fuck you like I'm Chris?" Justin said. His fingers tapped nervously against the bed.

JC was tempted to say yes, just to see how Justin would manage that. That would show him. He thought JC couldn't shock him, huh? But JC wanted what he wanted a lot more than he wanted to teach Justin a lesson.

"No," JC said. "I want to fuck you like I'm Chris."

Justin sucked in a quick breath but didn't say anything again. He watched JC carefully. JC wasn't sure what to make of those dark serious eyes. Then Justin rolled onto his stomach and pushed up slowly on his elbows and knees.

"Justin," JC said. But Justin shook his head rapidly and spread his legs. JC knelt between them and looked down at Justin. They'd never done it this way before. JC didn't really think it was respectful, and besides, who wouldn't want to look at Justin's face, so beautifully responsive? Chris didn't know what he was missing. Justin rolled his shoulders, sending a ripple of motion down the long slim curve of his back, and JC thought maybe Chris was onto something.

Justin rolled his shoulders again and glanced back at JC, raising an eyebrow. JC realized he'd missed his cue. He cupped his hand over the back of Justin's neck, fingers drawing small circles at the base of Justin's scalp. Justin shrugged his shoulders and hummed irritably. "What?" JC said, and Justin arched his back. JC ran his fist roughly down Justin's spine, then traced the same line with his lips. Justin moaned encouragingly.

JC's hand curled over Justin's ass, and Justin gasped and squirmed. JC paused. He knew Justin was cueing him again, but he couldn't figure out what exactly he was supposed to do. Then Justin flinched deliberately, and JC grinned. He brought his hand down hard across Justin's ass. Justin gasped and JC slapped him again, and then again without waiting for Justin's signal.

Justin looked back at him. "Yeah, okay, all right," he said.

JC was pretty sure Chris didn't stand for that kind of backtalk. He smacked Justin a few more times, until his ass was covered in a light blush and Justin was squirming in earnest. JC's hand stung pleasantly when he stretched it out over Justin's stomach, tugging Justin toward him. He pressed tightly against Justin's back, his mouth on Justin's shoulder and the side of his throat. Justin struggled beneath him, but JC couldn't tell what he wanted until Justin grunted and then jerked suddenly, violently, so that JC bit down in surprise. Then Justin made a high soft sound, and JC laughed into the sweet skin at the base of his neck and nipped him again and again.

Soon Justin was rocking back into him, and JC pulled away briefly and then slid a hand over Justin's ass with intent. Justin groaned loudly, and JC pushed three fingers inside him. He knew Justin didn't make that kind of noise for anything less. Justin said, "Fuck, fuck," low, almost to himself, and thrust back onto JC's hand. Justin groaned again, louder, longer, and JC grabbed his hips and drove inside.

Justin set a hard, fast pace, moaning and bucking against JC, and JC met him and then moved harder, faster, smiling smugly when Justin's cries grew hoarser, more ragged, when he started moaning after JC thrust and not the second before. Justin shifted his weight slightly to one side and grasped his cock, but his furtive movement and the quick sly smile he shot over his shoulder tipped JC off. He yanked Justin's arm up and pinned it behind his back. "Oh no you don't," JC said lightly, bending over to bite at Justin's shoulder. "You want it, you have to earn it."

"Fucker," Justin mumbled into the mattress, "motherfucker," but he worked his hips wildly, his shoulders rolling in the same desperate rhythm. JC watched the play of muscles in Justin's back, the way his skin shimmered with sweat, and knew he wouldn't last much longer. He wrapped an arm around Justin's chest and sat back on his heels, hauling Justin up with him. "Oh, fuck," Justin gasped, reaching behind him with his free arm and pulling JC closer, "fuck, C, please, fuck." His back arched and he tipped his head onto JC's shoulder. JC licked his throat. "Please, C, please -"

"Say it," JC said.

"JC -" Justin cried, and then stopped.

"Say it," JC said again, and bit Justin's ear.

"C," Justin said. He shook his head when he felt JC's teeth again.

JC let go of Justin's arm and grasped Justin's hips firmly, stilling him. Justin's hand scrabbled at JC's back. "C, please, don't -"

"Say it," JC growled into Justin's neck. Justin fought him, but JC dug his fingers into Justin's hips and held on. Justin moaned and swore in frustration.

"Say it," JC said, "you know what I want, say it or I'll leave you like this, I swear I will, I'll leave you just like this if you don't say it say it say it -"

"Chris," Justin gasped, and JC slid his hands up to Justin's waist. He thrust up as Justin ground down. Justin howled, "Chris," again as he came.

JC pushed Justin roughly until he hit the headboard with his hands out. JC slammed into him while Justin mumbled brokenly beneath him. He heard Justin mutter, "Chris," and came, his hands skidding over Justin's spine.

Justin crawled out from underneath him and lay on his back, one arm draped over his face. JC sat back and panted and watched Justin. He felt uneasy. Things had gone a little further than he'd planned.

"Justin?" JC said, but Justin didn't move. "Justin, I'm sorry. I didn't mean - I didn't think. I'm really sorry. Are you okay?"

"No," Justin said, and JC winced. "No, you've traumatized me for life and I'll never be the same." He peeked at JC from under his arm and winked when he caught JC's eye. "Wake me up when you wanna do it again, all right?"

Justin grinned at JC, but he shivered when JC's hand drifted across his stomach. JC smiled. He was pretty sure he'd gotten Chris out of his system.

Two mornings later, Chris burst out of his room and shoved JC hard. JC caught himself slumping against the wall so his face was level with Chris'.

"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Chris said.

"I was going to have breakfast," JC said.

"Don't fucking play around with me."

"Nothing. I didn't do anything. I'm not doing anything."

"So you weren't doing anything with J the other night?"

"Oh," JC said. He felt himself flush. "Oh, that."

"Yeah, that. What the fuck was that about?"

"It was - how did you find out?"

"How do you think?"

"Justin told you?" Chris nodded. "Oh. He was - was he upset? Because he said he wasn't, but now that I think about it maybe I shouldn't have believed him, because it was kind of an intense thing, and I think maybe -"

"He wasn't upset," Chris said. "JC, do you even know what I'm mad about?"

"Well, if Justin wasn't, then I'm not sure - oh. Oh." JC looked down at the floor. "I guess it wasn't very - considerate, I guess. I mean, it kind of puts you in an awkward position, um, metaphorically I mean, and it must be kind of weird for you to think that we. Did. You know, that. Although of course I didn't think he'd tell - but that's no excuse. So yes. I'm sorry."

"That's what you think I'm mad about?" Chris said slowly. He ran a hand through his hair, spiky and mussed with sleep, then rubbed a hand over his chin. The beard horns were still there, but for some reason JC didn't really mind them today.

JC looked at him. "Well, yes. I mean. Aren't you?"

"Christ," Chris said. He yanked at the hem of his shirt, an old Smiths concert T-shirt that, honestly, would have benefited from some sparkles, but still, Chris was making it work.

"I can't believe you. God, you can't ever. Even when you're fucking, you still can't -" He stopped and ran his hand through his hair again.

"I can't ever what?" JC said. Chris didn't say anything. "I still can't what, Chris?"

Chris stepped away and studied JC. JC studied the floor. "Nothing, JC," Chris said finally. "Don't worry about it."

"Oh," JC said. "Well. I am sorry."

"Don't be," Chris said kindly. "I overreacted. There's nothing to be - don't worry about it."

"Okay," JC said. He met Chris' eyes. Chris smiled at him sweetly. "I just. I guess I'm just going to go get breakfast, then."

"You do that, C," Chris said. JC felt Chris' eyes on him the whole length of the hallway.

Chris was back in his system.

That night JC cornered Justin in his room. "Why would you tell him?" he said.

"I thought it would help," Justin said. JC was gratified that Justin had the grace to look embarrassed.

"Help what? Help him think I'm a crazy stalker who's obsessed with him?"

"I just - I mean, it definitely wasn't boring, and it's not like him and me have ever. I just thought." Justin plucked at the bedspread. "I thought he would think it was hot."

"Well, he didn't."

"No, I know. It was kind of funny - I mean, he really freaked out."

"Well, of course he did, Justin. What did you think he'd do if you told him that we're talking about him when he's not there, that I'm all interested in what you guys do together?"

"But that's what was kind of weird. I don't think that's what freaked him out."

"What did?"

"I don't know exactly," Justin said. He looked over at JC miserably. "I'm sorry. I was just trying to help."

"I know," JC said. "It's okay. It's not your fault. Just - maybe don't try to help me so much anymore? At least with Chris." He suddenly thought that sounded a little harsh. "I mean, it's really nice that you wanted to, but I'm not sure -"

"I know," Justin said. "I'm bad at it. I always think about how I'd react and then think that's how everybody will. And I'm always wrong. I'm not so good at helping."

"No," JC said, sitting next to Justin and patting his thigh. "No, it's not your fault. It's just - maybe some things can't be helped, you know?"

Justin put his head on JC's shoulder and snuggled in. JC wrapped his arm around Justin's waist and kissed his forehead and tried not to think about things that couldn't be helped.

The trouble with trying not to think about things was that you couldn't really do it without thinking about the things you were trying not to think about. It sounded confusing when JC said it out loud, but it was true. The best method, he knew, was to try not to think of anything. It was usually what he did when something upset him. He spent a lot of time in his room or in his bunk, breathing deeply and meditating. Usually after a while he forgot about what had bothered him in the first place.

But this time that wasn't working. He did so many breathing exercises he almost hyperventilated. He spent so much time in the lotus position he gave himself a cramp. He felt worse in the end than he had when he started. He developed a scratchy, sharp pain that felt almost like when he was about to get a sore throat, but this wasn't in his throat, but in his chest, and he was pretty sure it wasn't physical. It nagged at him, something just always at the edges of his consciousness, like something he'd meant to remember but had just forgotten.

The only relief JC found was when he was alone with Justin. But he couldn't spend all his time with Justin. And even the time they spent together couldn't be counted on. One night as Justin stretched JC caught sight of a small fading mark just above his hip, a mark JC hadn't put there. JC bent to fit his mouth over it. As he did, he felt a painful scratch in his chest, like something trapped and trying to get out.

JC finally resigned himself to carrying the pain around. It wasn't so bad, really. Lots of people had much, much worse to deal with. And besides, he was sure that it'd be better once he got used to it. It was just the newness that made him feel so raw.

Until he got used to it, JC held himself carefully, trying to avoid anything that would make the pain flare sharply. JC didn't want to tell anyone about it - he wasn't sure what he'd say, and anyway, there was nothing anyone could do. Unfortunately, the guys weren't really careful by nature. JC spent a lot of time flinching and wincing over the course of the day.

Finally Chris knocked JC into the wall as he raced toward the dressing room, and JC snapped, "Watch where you're going!" before he thought. But as he said it, a flash of warmth sparked in his chest, soothing the pain. It felt as if an itch had been scratched. He was so fascinated by the feeling that he hardly noticed Chris looking at him oddly and mumbling, "Sorry."

The next day the same thing happened. Joey was hauling JC across the stage before sound check. JC was smiling tolerantly and trying to untangle himself from Joey's grip. Then Chris called Joey's name, and Joey's head banged into JC's chin as he turned. "Jesus, Joey, what the fuck?" JC said.

Joey dropped him gently to the floor. "Sorry," he said. "C, are you - have you been feeling all right? You've been kind of funny the past couple of days."

"Actually," JC said, one hand rubbing his chest lightly, "I feel just fine."

It was strange. When JC had been really hurting, no one had noticed. But now that he had found a way to feel better, everyone was suddenly solicitous of him. He barked at Lance for leaving his shoes right in front of the door, and Lance just shrugged and patted JC's arm on his way to move them. "You're right, C," Joey said. "Anybody could trip over them." JC supposed that their concern should have made him feel bad about bitching at them, but instead he felt strangely vindicated. If they didn't think he was out of line, why should he stop?

The only person he tried to guard himself around was Justin. None of this was Justin's fault, and it would really be awful to take things out on him. But even Justin realized something was going on. He was determined to cheer JC up. JC tried to resist at first, feeling he didn't really deserve to be cheered up, but Justin was persistent. His method of cheering JC up involved a bottle of really expensive champagne he liberated from the minibar and a pair of really cheap handcuffs he picked up at a truck stop and some other things that made JC blush when he remembered them. The more he thought about it, the more he realized it wasn't really fair to protect Justin from his emotions, as if he were some baby who couldn't handle it. It was really kind of condescending, when he thought about it. And JC hated condescension. He decided to let Justin try to cheer him up whenever he wanted.

In the past, JC had always smiled tolerantly at Chris' mood swings, Justin's tantrums, Joey's brooding and Lance's bitching. He always said that it just seemed like so much trouble, making a fuss like that. He just didn't have the attention span or the energy to waste on things like that. He remembered when he was younger, he'd gotten angry and upset over so many things. He remembered lying awake nights with his stomach in knots, reliving some argument, going over and over his retorts until he'd won in his head. It was useless, worse than useless, and he'd trained himself to stop before he gave himself an ulcer. That lesson had taken him a long time to learn. But what he hadn't realized was that things had changed since then. They were famous now. Most of the time now, they won the arguments. Now when they complained, people scurried to fix things instead of threatening to fire them. That really made a difference. Now throwing a tantrum didn't really seem like such a waste of energy. Now it seemed kind of easy.

Now it seemed kind of fun.

They had the wrong kind of tea in the dressing room and JC threw a fit, saying, "Don't we have a rider? Isn't this someone's job? Do I have to go out and buy it myself?"

Justin rolled his eyes and said, "It's just tea, man. What does it matter what kind it is?" But he pushed JC into a corner of the room and dropped to his knees. By the time Justin was done, someone was knocking on the door with six different types of herbal tea.

"I'm sorry," the tea girl said when Justin opened the door, "I'm so sorry. I don't know how we made that mistake."

"It's okay," JC said. He felt oddly relaxed about it now. "I maybe overreacted a little. It's just - we do so many shows, and my throat gets kind of -"

"I know," the girl said. "I totally understand, and I'm so sorry. I just - I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't mention this to anyone, you know?"

"Of course I won't," JC said. "It's no big deal, really."

"That's awfully decent of you," the girl said.

"Oh, no," JC said, but secretly he thought it was.

A few days later JC found himself alone in a room with the craft services table. He eyed it thoughtfully. He'd always heard about famous bands trashing hotel rooms, and Johnny Depp, who was undeniably cool. Even Chris lost his temper and hit things sometimes, and Justin had thrown a vase or two in his day. He bet there was something really satisfying about breaking things, hearing the sharp crack of glass shattering or the dull thump of something solid smashing into a wall. He tugged tentatively at the edge of the tablecloth.

Nothing happened. He tugged a little harder.

The table must have been shaky or something already, because one set of legs collapsed, tipping everything onto the floor. JC jumped back. The noise it made wasn't a satisfying crash, but more of a quick bang and then a wet squishing sound as a bunch of sandwiches and potato salad and some white dip-looking things slid to the floor. Looking at the mess, JC didn't feel cool at all. He didn't feel like one of the Rolling Stones. All he felt was kind of embarrassed. He grabbed some napkins and tried to clean things up.

One of the caterers ran in, drawn by the noise, JC guessed, and cried, "What the hell?"

"It just. It kind of fell," JC said, scrubbing at the carpet with his wad of napkins.

"Please, don't," the guy said. He pulled a trash can over and knelt down, tossing some of the food into it. "I'm so sorry. Please, I can handle it. You shouldn't have to -"

"It's all right," JC said. "I don't mind."

"Oh, wow. Are you sure? Because you really don't have to -" JC smiled and shook his head. "That's so nice of you. Really. You wouldn't believe what some of the people we have here are like sometimes. Trashing things, that's all they want to do. I can't think of anybody who'd help clean things up."

"Some people," JC said, looking down at the floor.

He helped the guy - Rick - clean everything up. When they were finished, Rick said, "That was so amazing of you. Really. I really appreciate that."

"Well, it wasn't your fault," JC said. "I don't see why you should have to clean it up by yourself."

"That's not what most people would think. I can tell you're a really great guy. I really appreciate all your help." Rick paused. "You know, all this food got wrecked - do you want to come back to the kitchens? I could make you a sandwich or something while they set things up again."

"I'm not really hungry," JC started to say, and then he looked at Rick's sharp profile, his dark grateful eyes. "I could eat a small sandwich, though."

Leaning against the steel refrigerator, his hands twisted in Rick's hair, JC felt like Mick Jagger. Except younger and gayer and better looking.

Generally JC was feeling a lot better these days. He only felt that scratchy feeling in his chest every now and then, when he watched Chris scuffle with Joey or Justin, or poke Lance until Lance slapped at him. He didn't try to avoid Chris; in fact, sometimes he put himself in Chris' way, just to let Chris know there were no hard feelings. But Chris, when he noticed him, only ruffled JC's hair gently or grinned at him. It made JC's chest hurt.

He told himself that he shouldn't complain. It should be easier to deal with, now that it was only every once in a while. But for some reason, the fact that it didn't happen all the time made him feel worse. He didn't see why Chris should get to make him feel this way. It was starting to make him kind of mad. He knew that wasn't really fair; after all, it wasn't Chris' fault exactly. Although Chris was the one who started it, really, with all his prowling around and pouncing on everyone. Everyone but JC. And Chris had called him boring. In fact, if you looked at this whole thing the right way, it was all Chris' fault. JC felt a wave of righteous anger rise in his chest.

It made the scratchy feeling go away.

JC started pulling away when Chris reached out to pet his hair or squeeze his arm. Chris looked at him oddly but didn't say anything. JC stopped laughing at Chris' jokes. At least, he tried. Chris was pretty funny sometimes, and JC found himself giggling before he knew it. He compromised by stopping as soon as he could and walking away when Chris looked like he was going to say something funny. He ended up walking away a lot. He could tell Chris noticed.

They had an interview at a radio station one afternoon, the same old boring questions they got asked every time. JC usually liked these interviews because he didn't have to pay attention. He could just let his mind drift, knowing that one of the guys would nudge him when it was time for him to say, It's all about the music or the fans or expressing yourself or whatever it was all about that day. But today he'd spent the ride over watching Chris watch Justin, his mouth curved in a small smile. Today JC's mind didn't want to drift. It wanted to dwell.

The DJ asked them who was the most annoying to tour with, and JC leaned in quickly. The others looked at him in surprise. JC had always hated that question, even though they had a system for answering it. They never said whoever it was who was really getting on their nerves; instead, they said the person they were having the least problems with. That way no private business got aired in public, and no feelings got hurt. Still, JC was usually reluctant to answer questions like that, saying that they were mean.

Today he didn't mind so much.

"Chris," he said before anyone else could answer. "Chris is really the worst. He can really get under your skin."

"Why is that?" the DJ asked him, and JC blinked for a moment. He hadn't thought that far ahead. He knew he couldn't tell her the real reason - Chris distributes his sexual favors in an unjust manner - and it took him a minute to come up with something.

"I guess it's because he's just. Well, he's really old. Old and. Um. Annoying," JC said.

The woman looked at him like he was crazy. Joey and Justin were looking at him the same way. Chris and Lance were behind him, but JC was willing to bet they had the same look on their faces.

"Because he's - old?" the DJ said. "I'm not sure I really understand -"

"Oh, you know, these kids are all, I want to go make a movie, I want to make a solo album, but I make them stay on the road. I just want to keep the band together another year or two, until I can collect Social Security," Chris said, and the woman laughed.

"Well, you certainly don't look your age," she said, and JC snorted. Everyone looked at him. Everyone but Chris, who ignored him and embarked on a long monologue about whippersnappers and his lawn. JC didn't listen. He sat back in his chair and let his mind drift.

When the interview was over, Justin shoved him into the wall. "Yo, what the hell was that?" he said angrily.

"You all say stupid things about me to people all the time. Why can't I?"

"That wasn't cool," Justin muttered.

"Do you think - is there something on your mind?" Joey said. "You seem kind of. Lately. I don't know. Different, maybe."

"No, there's nothing on my mind," JC said. "And I'm not different. I'm the same boring old JC as ever." He looked over at Chris. Chris was leaning against the wall with his arms crossed over his chest. He smiled slowly at JC. JC smiled right back.

Everyone gave JC a wide berth for a few days after that. Justin called a moratorium on cheering him up until JC explained that what he said had been taken out of context. He wasn't really sure how that could be, since they'd all been sitting right there, but Justin wasn't being picky. He wanted someone to curl up on the couch with him and watch movies, and Chris wasn't doing a lot of cuddling these days. He was doing a lot of smiling, though.

So was JC.

They had a night of driving in front of them, and Chris, JC and Justin ended up playing cards. They played a lot of cards on the bus. Chris and Justin really liked to play, and JC didn't mind it. He knew a lot of games. He had been pretty good when he was younger, but it had been a long time since he cared enough to try to win. Chris smiled at him as he dealt, and JC felt that familiar scratch in his chest. He thought tonight he might try.

Justin started out in his lap, leaning back and holding his cards over JC's head, but as JC ruthlessly kicked his ass in three games, he moved into his own chair. Chris was playing just as cutthroat, his eyes on JC as he flipped cards deftly. Eventually Justin threw his hand down and announced he was going to bed.

"To sleep," he said meaningfully as he stormed across the room.

"Night, J," JC said absentmindedly.

Chris and JC played two hands silently, tensely. Finally Chris laid his cards on the table and pushed his chair back.

"You folding?" JC said.

"What are you doing, JC?" Chris said.

"I believe I'm kicking your ass. Unless you're quitting. Are you quitting, Chris? Or did you want to play?"

"Oh, I want to play," Chris said. He didn't move.

"Good," JC said. He laid his own cards down. "I want to play, too."

"You better be careful what you start," Chris said.

"I didn't start this."

"Who did?"

"You called me boring," JC said. It still stung. "You said you wouldn't fuck me, no no never, not in a million years."

"I don't know if I said a million years -"

"I was paraphrasing."

"Well, I'm sorry, C, doormats serve a purpose, I guess, but I don't particularly want to fuck one."

"A doormat? That's what - that's what you think I am?"

"Well, what would you call it, C?" JC didn't say anything. "I guess I better sleep with Chris, after all, everybody else has, it must be my turn."

Even more than the words, JC was infuriated by the fact that Chris pitched his already high voice even higher to imitate him. "Shut up!"

"I want Justin, but God forbid I say anything or do anything about it, because my tongue might shrivel up and fall out if I expressed a desire or even a fucking opinion."

"Shut up!"

"And even when I have Justin, I'm going to do whatever I think he wants, I'm going to pretend to be somebody else, because God knows nobody would ever possibly think of wanting me -"

JC launched himself over the table and landed on Chris, toppling them both onto the floor with a satisfying crash. "Don't you say that to me! If I think nobody wants me, whose fault is that? Because you sure as fuck don't want me, do you?" He straddled Chris and pinned his arms to the floor. Chris struggled underneath him, but JC was bigger than he was, and stronger too. Chris usually won these scuffles because he was meaner, but not tonight. JC leaned right into his face. "Do you?" he breathed. "Do you?"

"Yes," Chris said, and kissed him.

JC was so surprised that he relaxed his grip, and Chris rolled them over. They banged into the couch, and JC yelped into Chris' mouth. Chris laughed.

JC took advantage of the opportunity to roll them back over so he was on top. "Now you want me? Now?" he said breathlessly. "Like this?"

"Right now," Chris said. "Just like this."

"Good," JC said, and bit his shoulder.

After, JC felt around on the floor for his pants, but gave up when he realized he'd have to sit up to reach them. "Chris?" he said tentatively.

Chris didn't answer.

"Chris," he said louder. He punched Chris' leg. "Chris!"

"What?" Chris said without opening his eyes.

"I'm confused."

"You, C? I don't believe it."

"Chris," JC said warningly, and Chris sighed and opened his eyes. He propped himself up on one arm. "So you just wanted me to be more - bitchy? That was it?"

"I sleep with Justin Timberlake on a regular basis. It never occurred to you I might like bitchy?"

"Oh," JC said. "So all that stuff about me being boring and not wanting me, that was just - you just made that up to get me mad and make me bitchy?"

"Well, no," Chris said. "I meant it."

"But -"

"Look, you've got your zen thing going on, and fine, that's great if that's what you want, but you should remember that Buddha didn't exactly get laid a lot."

"Actually, I think he did," JC said. "I mean, before he became the Buddha, but still. I think he saw a lot of play."

"Hmm," Chris said. "Anyway. You had your whole yoga guru meditating I don't care about anything on this earthy plane shit, and fine, whatever, but you're not really fooling anyone who knew the old JC. I mean, sure, it looks all peaceful and whatever on the outside -"

"It was peaceful," JC said. "I mean, it is peaceful."

"Okay, great. But the point is, it's not very interesting being around zen JC, and I can't believe it's very interesting being him."

JC thought about that. The past few weeks had certainly been a lot more interesting than he was used to.

"I'm sure being all calm and detached and not wanting things is great for your soul, but I kind of like fucking people who want at least one thing - to fuck me."

"I wanted to," JC said. "I did. And, I mean, I do."

"Well, I guess I like something else, too," Chris said. "I like people who want things, and I like people who fight for the things they want."

"Yeah, but Chris, what you've never understood is that there are ways of getting what you want without fighting."

"No," Chris said sharply. "No, there's not."

"Well," JC said. "There are other ways of fighting, then."

"There you may be right." Chris put his hand on JC's chest. "But, C, the thing is, I don't know that you know any more about those other ways than I do."

"Oh," JC said. He thought Chris might be right. "But, Chris, I'm not like you and Justin, I don't want to be like you. I'm just not all loud and yell-y like you are. These last couple days, that's not really how I want to be all the time."

"That's not such a bad thing," Chris laughed. "You kind of took things to an extreme there. I don't think anybody in this band knows the meaning of the word moderation." He stopped laughing and looked at JC seriously. "I'm not saying you have to be all loud and demanding if that's not what you want to be. I'm just saying, I kind of like it when I can tell you're in the room, you know?"

"I like it, too," JC said.

"Well, good. And come on, be honest - you've been enjoying yourself a little the past couple days, haven't you? Throwing your weight around, just a little, it's kind of fun, isn't it? I'm not talking trashing hotel suites, but - "

"I knocked down the food table," JC said shyly. "On purpose. The other day. Remember?"

"That was you?" Chris said.

JC nodded. "And I got the caterer to blow me after we - after he cleaned it up."

"JC!" Chris said proudly. "Clearly you've got some hidden talent for this whole aggressive thing. I'm gonna have to keep an eye on you." JC beamed. "So what do you want to do now?"

"I guess I could put my pants on and go bitch at the driver for going too slow," JC said. "As a special treat for you."

"Not that that doesn't turn me on," Chris said. "But I'm against any plan that involves you putting your pants on."

"So what do you want to do?"

"I was thinking we could go tie Justin to his bunk and see who can make him scream first."

"You perverts leave me out of this!" Justin yelled from the other room, but he was laughing.

"Race you," JC said, and pushed Chris down as he ran for the door.

for dacey

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