by >>Jae

"I'm not crying."

"What are you talking about? Look, you can see it. Right there. You're kind of hiding behind your shirt, but if you know what you're looking for - "

"I'm not, Joey, shut up."

"Aww, is the big mogul millionaire blushing? Is the King of the World all embarrassed because back in the day he was a big fat crybaby? It's okay, Lance, we loved you anyway. We didn't mind your crybaby ways."

"Shut up, Joey, you're being boring and anyway, you're just wrong. I'm not crying there. I wasn't crying." Lance was sprawled out on the couch, examining his manicure calmly. These days Lance wore a thin cool nonchalance that clung to him as perfectly as his custom-made leather pants, covering all Lance's familiar corners. It was sexy, Joey thought, and threatening, in just about equal parts, and although he knew Lance wasn't faking it, it still seemed artificial to him. Joey could remember the days when Lance hadn't been comfortable anywhere, when he'd blushed and hidden behind Joey and yes, cried a little, when he thought no one was looking. He remembered the days when Lance posed awkwardly in pants that strained at his hips or bagged at his knees because no one could ever find a pair that fit him properly. Of course anyone who remembered that would have a hard time getting used to this predatory stranger stretching lazily in Joey's living room. Joey couldn't resist teasing Lance, poking at him until all that cool crumbled a little and he glimpsed the eager clumsy kid he still thought of as his best friend.

"Oh, I don't think so, sport. But luckily, we can go to the videotape. Instant replay coming up." Joey hit rewind and snuck a look down the couch. A slow flush was rising on Lance's throat just above his collar. It made Joey happy. Lance had always blushed like that, back in the day. "Ah. Here we are. Just another day in Big Lou's Happy Funtime Boyband Factory." He let his voice sink to a stage whisper. "And the camera moves in on our old friend Mr. Lance Bass. And what is Lance doing? He's looking down and rubbing his forehead. Does he have a headache? Or is he covering his eyes in a clever attempt to disguise the fact that he is, indeed, a big fat crybaby?"

"Joey," Lance said. The blush crept over his cheekbones, the same way it always had. Joey knew he was pushing his luck, but he couldn't help it. It had been so long since he'd seen that kid. He missed him.

"Now, if you look carefully, you can see him biting his lip. Is he lost in thought? Perhaps, but I don't think so." Lance said his name again, but Joey was only half listening. His eyes were drawn to the boy on the screen. For some reason, he couldn't look away. He saw a grainy, washed out Lance grab the neck of his T-shirt with both hands and pull it up over his face quickly, like he was wiping the sweat away. Anyone who'd known Lance then, though, knew that Lance would never have done anything so unhygienic. What day was that? Joey couldn't remember. There were a lot of days like that back then, days when Joey watched Lance swallow and scrub a hand across his lips and smile shakily, days when Joey wanted to put his fist through the nearest wall or the nearest choreographer. But as he watched the tape now, Joey couldn't muster the same anger. All he felt was a nostalgia that was almost painful and almost sweet. It had been years since he saw Lance look like that.

The remote jumped onto the coffee table and then onto the floor. Joey shook out his stinging hand. "Jesus, Lance," he said. "Way to take a joke."

Lance had followed the remote onto the floor. He was kneeling in front of the TV, jabbing desperately at the buttons on the VCR. "Fuck," he said. There was a quiver in his voice that Joey hadn't heard in ages. "Fuck." He finally managed to pause the tape. On the screen another Lance held his shirt over his mouth.

"Fuck," Lance said again. He pulled his wrist roughly over his lips.

"Lance," Joey said. "I didn't mean. I'm sorry. I didn't - "

"No," Lance said. He cupped his hands over his face, then lifted his chin and let his hands slip down his skin. "You didn't. I know."

"I'm sorry," Joey said.

"I know," Lance said. "It's not your fault." He glanced at himself in the frozen frame. "It's just. That was the day it. You know. That was the day."

"Oh," Joey said. Oh.

"What?" Lance said. He didn't look away from the TV.

"It's just. I didn't realize it was that day."

"Yeah," Lance said. He rubbed a hand over his head, messing up the artful spikes. "It was that day."

Joey opened his mouth, then closed it when he realized he didn't have anything to say. Lance glanced back at him, then picked up the remote and pressed play. He sat back on his heels and watched, his mouth a little open, his eyes wide. He looked like a kid.

Joey had to look away.


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