This is a response to Wax's Autumn Songfic Challenge. My song was The Two of Us.
JC was looking at Justin's arms when he woke up.
He always thought of it as waking up, even though he hadn't been asleep exactly. Just - dormant. JC was a quiet person, and he lived a loud life. In order to cope, he'd learned to tone things down, to tune them out, to walk through the world half in a daze of music and random thoughts and daydreams. He could still function, could follow conversations and schedules and do what he needed to do, but none of it really reached him down deep on the level where he lived.
No one could tell, he thought, except the people who really knew him, and they'd grown used to him. The guys used to worry about it, but he'd explained how the noise and the sharpness and the crowds hit him, hurt him, made him walk around all day with a headache, and they understood. They teased him about it sometimes, and kept an eye on him so he didn't walk into any walls or say anything too egregiously stupid. JC caught Chris watching him once or twice, and thought maybe the guys still worried. But they didn't know how much easier life was when he was asleep.
It had benefits, too, aside from convenience. He saw things more clearly when he did wake up, because he hadn't been looking at them all the time. He saw changes in sharp relief, often before anyone else did. He was the first one to notice that Joey and Lance were together, were more than together, were in love. He had surfaced from a dream to find himself staring at the way they sat together. It wasn't their bodies that told him the truth, however, but the space between them. Something new shimmered in that space. It had taken on a new weight and shape that telegraphed their relationship to JC with a vivid clarity. He had put a hand out to touch what he saw, and was shocked when his hand went right between them. He was the first to know.
He was also the first one to tell everyone when he said dreamily, "I'm so glad. You two are perfect for each other." Chris and Justin had stared at him for a moment, and then fell down laughing. Chris said, "C, you're an entertainment in yourself, I swear. Where the hell did you get that idea?" They stopped laughing when they looked at Joey and Lance. Joey was staring at the floor, blushing furiously, and Lance was staring at JC with a murderous look in his eyes that made JC gulp. He hadn't meant to tell any secrets. He was just so used to being behind.
They forgave him, of course. Eventually. Joey had laughed and ruffled his hair, said, "Glad you didn't wake up to it while we were on TRL." Lance had just sniffed, but later on he showed JC a pink sequined shirt that had been pushed to the back of the wardrobe rack and told him it'd look good on him.
Chris had been suspicious of the whole thing, was certain JC had walked in on them or heard something, and just sprung it on them all as a surprise. "But why would I do that?" JC had asked, and Chris had had to admit he didn't know. JC tried to explain to him about how he sometimes saw things, picked up vibrations that people who had been living with them all along missed. Chris had mumbled something about new age bullshit. He had changed his mind when JC knew something was wrong two days before Chris told them he'd broken up with Dani.
Strong feelings, especially in the people he loved, woke JC up. And he was awake now.
He studied Justin carefully for a clue, trying to be subtle about it. Justin flopped down on the floor next to him and grinned. He seemed the same as ever.
Or, not really, JC thought as he returned Justin's smile. He'd known that Justin had changed, grown up, lost the curls. But he'd been dreaming, and he hadn't seen any reason to open his eyes. Now he looked at Justin.
Justin had changed, grown up, and the curls were certainly gone. It was a big change, big enough, JC thought, to have roused him from his slumber. Justin still had his pretty pretty face, but he had traded his soft pretty body for one that seemed sculpted of marble. He was beautiful, and JC had always responded strongly to beauty in anything - in music, in art, in people.
That explained why JC was staring at Justin's biceps.
It didn't really explain why he wanted to lick them.
Justin turned up at rehearsal two days in a row with red-rimmed eyes and refused to explain why. On the third day, he mumbled something about Britney and a breakup and a statement, and ran out of the room. They watched the rest of it on MTV. JC found himself vaguely relieved. That must have been why he woke up, he thought, he'd sensed something was wrong even before Justin had. It was a relief to finally know why.
Justin showed up on JC's doorstep two weeks after the breakup. JC had been expecting him earlier. Joey and Lance tried to be comforting, but they had turned into one of those long-established couples who would listen to sympathetically to their single friends' tales of woe, then sigh and say to each other, "I'm so glad I don't have to worry about that any more." They didn't understand why that wasn't helpful.
JC had to give Chris credit. He put up with Justin a lot longer than JC had thought he would. Chris would do a lot out of friendship. But he had a short attention span at the best of times, and absolutely no patience with whining. And even under ideal circumstances, Justin was a bit of a crybaby. And an extremely public breakup that featured your girlfriend and her band leader in the type of videotape that required strategically placed black bars when shown on network TV was not an ideal circumstance by any means. You really couldn't expect a guy who got a little sniffly when they ran out of milk for his breakfast cereal to take that kind of thing in stride.
JC heard Chris yell, "Jesus Christ. How long are you going to milk this? I refuse to listen to any more whinging about a girlfriend you never even had carnal knowledge of," and he knew Justin would be turning up at his house soon. It bothered JC a little that he was Justin's last resort, but he knew that they had grown apart, just a little, recently. It was one of the risks of sleepwalking, JC thought. He got a little isolated sometimes. The world moved a little faster than he did, and sometimes he felt it passed him by.
But Justin walked right through the door and straight into JC's arms, and JC knew nothing had passed him by. He guided Justin to the couch, handed him a box of tissues, draped an arm around his shoulders and prepared to hear hours of stories of heartbreak and betrayal. And he listened for a while, he really did. But he kept getting distracted by the new breadth of Justin's shoulders under his arm, the familiar satin of his skin just below the sleeve of his T-shirt. What is wrong with me, JC thought, and then Justin shifted closer to him, brushing his thigh against JC's, and JC thought, Oh. Ohhh. That's what's wrong with me.
JC pulled away a little, but it was more than awkward, it was actually physically impossible to keep his arm around Justin and move the rest of his body as far away as he needed to. I am the worst friend in the world, he thought, and resolved to focus on what Justin was saying. And he tried, he really did. He kept his eyes down and concentrated hard on what Britney had said the last time she called Justin. Or maybe it was the last time she called him before they broke up. JC thought he might have missed a piece of the story somewhere. He felt Justin glancing at him for a reaction, and he attempted a sympathetic nod without turning his head to Justin. But Justin said, "C?" in a small voice, and JC sighed and surrendered. He looked at Justin.
He admired the elegant tilt of Justin's chin, the breathtaking way tears slipped slowly down his skin. Unlike JC, who hiccupped and sobbed and had mucous problems when he cried, Justin's crying was serenely beautiful. He didn't cry, JC thought, he wept.
Justin looked up at him, miserable, and crystal drops shimmered in his long, long lashes. JC put out his hand to touch them, irresistibly drawn. Justin rubbed his face gratefully into JC's outstretched palm.
"I don't know what I'd do without you, C," he breathed, and JC thought, I am going to hell.
After the breakup, Justin bounced back quickly. JC wasn't quite so resilient. Justin had fallen back casually into the old patterns of their friendship. At least JC assumed they were old patterns, Justin coming by one or two evenings a week to talk about music with JC, giving him a ride to rehearsals in the morning. It was hard to tell, because in JC's newly alert state, it felt so different. It was his current crisp awareness, after all, that made him notice how large Justin's hands looked on the steering wheel, how deftly his long fingers turned the pages of JC's notebook.
JC wasn't thinking about how large those hands would look clasped around JC's waist, he told himself firmly as he lay in bed. He rolled over onto his stomach and tucked his hands securely under his pillow. He certainly wasn't thinking about what other uses those deft fingers could be put to.
JC groaned and rolled back over. One hand wandered down beneath the covers.
If he was going to hell, he might as well enjoy the ride.
Oh, it just gets better with each day, JC thought. It was a bit much to hope that Justin would suddenly go through a demure phase, but this was getting ridiculous. Justin apparently had a new pair of favorite jeans. JC mouthed the word that was scrawled across Justin's ass. Rebel. JC didn't think he approved. He had a shirt that said the same thing, but wardrobe had given it to him and anyway, a shirt was different. Shirts had things written on them all the time, but really, the only reason to have something written on your ass was to make people look at it. They had to, to read what was written there. JC pulled his eyes away. Yeah, he thought, that's why I'm watching Justin's ass. I'm reading. His eyes drifted back. Justin looked back over his shoulder and smiled at him. JC grinned weakly back. Hell, he thought. That's where I'm going. He wandered into the dressing room and sat down next to Joey on the couch.
"Joey, can I ask you something?"
"Ask away, baby," Joey said, stretching out beside him.
"It's about Justin. I was just thinking. Um. Do you think he's been dressing differently lately?"
"I don't think so," Joey said without opening his eyes. "Looks the same as always to me."
"Oh," JC said. "How long. How long has he been dressing that way?"
"So. Um. Provocatively?" JC said.
Joey opened his eyes and stared at JC for a minute, then chuckled. "Lance, get in here."
Lance leaned against the doorway. "What's up, Joe?"
"C here wants to know how long Justin's been looking all slutty." JC protested as Lance started to laugh. "Sorry," Joey said. "How did you say it? Dressing provocatively?" Something about the phrase made Lance laugh harder.
"How long has Justin been dressing provocatively?" Lance gasped. It did sound a little funny when Lance said it. It was probably the drawl. "I don't know. What year was he born?"
"He hasn't -" JC said, and Lance held up a hand.
"No, you're right," he said, "that's not fair. It's only been since, what, puberty?" He started to laugh again, and Joey joined him.
"No," JC said. "I mean, he used to wear those weird polo stripey things. Remember?"
Joey and Lance looked at him. "Yeah, but that was ages -" Joey said, and stopped. "Just out of curiosity, C, what year do you think this is?"
"Shut up," JC said. He thought for a second. "Shut up." Joey and Lance laughed again, and JC sighed and waited for them to stop. "So seriously," he said, "J's been doing this for a while?"
"Actually," Lance said, "now that I think about it, he's been looking a little classier lately. I mean, he seems to have grown out of that phase he had a while back where he looked like he borrowed Wade's International Male catalog."
"You say that like it's a bad thing," Joey said, and Lance hit him on the shoulder. Suddenly Joey straightened up and looked at JC. "Oh man," he said, "you're not telling me you missed the shirt?"
"What shirt?" JC said.
"Oh C," Joey said, "I can't believe you missed it. The shirt. It was, like, epic. It was. I don't even know how to describe it. It was."
"A shirt?" JC said.
"Only by the loosest possible definition," Lance said. "It was more like a ribbon across the top of his shoulders and then this mesh. Thing. That stopped above his navel. And it was black, and it clung, and." Lance shook his head. "I can't believe you missed it."
"He wore this out?" JC's voice sounded a little prim, even to his ears.
"Of course they didn't let him wear it out," Joey said. "There would've been riots in the streets. This was back when you guys were working out all the time. He swore it was normal workout gear."
"But Joey," Lance said, "it was well-ventilated."
"It would kind of have to be," Joey said, "seeing as it was mostly made out of air." He sighed. "Oh, the shirt, man. I was never in such good shape in my life as when he was working out in that thing. I wonder where it got to? He must have outgrown it."
"Not like that's stopped him with anything else," Lance mumbled, and Joey grinned.
"You don't remember it at all, C?" Joey asked, and JC shook his head. Joey ruffled his hair. "Sleeping Beauty," Joey said fondly. "I'm sure it's nice in dreamland and all, but you've really got to wake up more often. You're missing all the good stuff."
JC was starting to think Joey was right.
Justin was messing around with Wade during a break in their rehearsal. JC drank his water and watched as Justin slapped Wade playfully, then leaned in and let his hand rest on Wade's hip. Something about it looked odd to JC. It looked - flirtatious, almost. JC didn't like it. He saw Chris looking at him, a small smile on his lips. JC walked over to him.
"Hey Chris, I was wondering."
"What is it?"
"About Justin. I wondered if you noticed anything, you know, kind of different. I guess. About him lately."
"Now whatever could you mean, C?"
"He just seems a little. Um. I don't know."
"I need a bigger hint."
"Well, I guess the word would be. Camp?"
"Camp," Chris said. "I assume you're not talking about that place parents send their kids in the summer."
"No, I mean. Um. I don't know. I guess. He seems kind of. Flamey."
"Flamey," Chris said slowly, rolling the word in his mouth like he was tasting it. He seemed to enjoy it. "Flamey, huh?"
"Yeah. I mean, not that there's anything. But yeah."
"Hmm," Chris said. "I'm not sure I've seen anything like that. I'll keep an eye out for it though." Chris reached out and rubbed the hem of JC's shirt between his fingers. "Are these daisies?"
JC looked down at the beaded border. "No, I think they're violets. They're lavender, see?"
"Ah. Yes. Indeed they are," Chris said. "Indeed they are."
"So. Anyway. You really haven't noticed, like, with Justin?"
"What do you think I should have noticed, C?" Chris said, and his voice was rough.
"He just seems a little. I don't know. I mean, if I didn't know better, I'd say he seemed. Kind of. Well, gay. Or bi," JC said quickly as Chris stared at him.
"Would that be a problem, JC?"
"No, I guess not. I mean, don't you think it's a little. Strange. I mean, Justin. It just seems. Wrong, almost," JC said, and bit his lip at the look on Chris' face.
"Well, these are words I never thought I'd say, but. JC, are you straight?"
"What? No, no, of course not. I thought you knew."
"Well, I thought I did too, but for a minute there it was like I'd stumbled into some sort of alternate universe."
"Mm. Ha. Yeah," JC said, and Chris laughed at him. Then he stopped laughing.
"So what's the deal, C? It's all right for you to suck cock, but not for Justin?"
"No, no, I mean. I don't know."
Chris looked at him and smiled kindly. JC shivered. When Chris smiled like that, he was dangerous. "It's okay, C. I can see why it might be weird for you. I mean, you've known Justin forever, since he was a little kid. You're like his brother, and that can be strange. I don't like to think of my sisters gettin' all sexy with guys either."
"No, that's not it." JC was oddly certain of that.
"Then what is it?" Chris asked impatiently.
"It's not that it's not all right, it's just. I don't know. Weird. I mean, it's kind of out of nowhere, this whole thing, don't you think? Like a phase, maybe. I just didn't really see it coming."
"Yeah, maybe you should try opening your eyes sometimes," Chris said, and walked away.
JC decided he'd try. He was tired of missing things. It seemed like a good idea, keeping his eyes open.
It seemed distinctly less like a good idea when he walked in on Justin and Chris.
He blamed Chris, he thought as he leaned against the wall, Chris' laughter shrill in his ears. Maybe he did overreact a little. Maybe it was a little much, gasping and clapping his hand over his mouth and stumbling back into the door. But if Chris had told him when he asked about Justin, or even acted like he had some idea what JC was talking about, then maybe JC would have been a little less surprised. This was all Chris' fault, JC thought. He was really mad at Chris.
He wished it were a little easier to concentrate on his anger instead of on the long slender curve of Justin's neck, the slow dark simmer in Justin's eyes the second before he saw JC.
JC found it a lot easier to be angry with Chris after the fourth dramatic reenactment of his discovery. When he walked into rehearsal, Chris swooned back into Joey's arms. "Oh dear God," Chris cried, "What are you doing?" His voice cracked obnoxiously on the last word.
"I didn't say that," JC said irritably. No one listened. He wondered how much longer before Chris got bored with this. Judging from the way Joey and Lance were laughing, it would be a long time. He closed his eyes. He opened them when he felt a hand on his elbow. Justin was standing next to him. He wasn't laughing.
JC let Justin guide him into the hallway. He leaned against the wall, looking at the floor. He heard Chris shriek, "Bring me my smelling salts, Bass. Someone loosen my stays. I didn't know civilized people did things like that." JC sighed.
"Sorry about that," Justin said.
"Not your fault," JC said. Justin smiled at him tentatively. "So. You and Chris, huh?"
"Not really, "Justin said. "I mean. It's just for fun. It's not." He trailed off.
JC said, "Oh." They looked at each other uneasily. "Well, welcome to the family, I guess."
"Yeah," Justin said. "Ha." There was another awkward silence.
"C," Justin said, "can I ask you something?"
"Okay," JC said, bracing himself.
"Do you have. Like, a problem with me. Being, you know?"
"No," JC said, "no, of course not. Why would I?"
"I don't know," Justin said. "You just seem. You seem kind of pissed at me." Justin was fidgeting a little and his lips twitched into a quick smile that faltered when he looked at JC. Hell, JC thought. Fire. Brimstone. Eternal torment.
"Of course I'm not pissed at you, J. I'm just kind of preoccupied right now."
"Oh," Justin said. He looked at the floor.
JC really wished he was a better liar. He couldn't leave Justin feeling so miserable. His only hope was to stick as close to the truth as he dared, and then get away as soon as possible. He took a deep breath. "No, really, Justin. I just. I've kind of got this thing. For this guy. And it's impossible, and it'll pass in a while, but until it does I'm feeling kind of strange. And, you know. Preoccupied."
Justin looked at him, his eyes full of sympathy. "Oh, C, I'm so sorry. How long has this been going on?"
"A few weeks," JC said. "Like I said, I'll be over it soon. But until I am, I think -"
"A few weeks?" Justin said. "God, I'm such an awful friend. You were so good to me during the Brit thing. I can't believe I haven't noticed. All this time."
"It's okay," JC said. "Don't worry about it. I just kind of want to be left-"
"I'm gonna be there for you, C," Justin said, and put an arm around him. JC forgot what he was going to say.
JC wasn't sure why he was so surprised that Justin's being there for him involved so much actual being there. Justin followed JC home happily after every rehearsal. On their days off, Justin came by JC's house in the late afternoon, which was first thing in the morning to JC. JC tried getting up earlier, going out, but he always returned to Justin's cheerful voice on his answering machine. "Where are you, C? I've got a CD you're going to love. New band I bet you never heard of. And I just can't wait till you get home to listen to it."
Justin invited himself over for dinner, brought takeout with him and set the table carefully. JC knew Justin wouldn't have bothered for himself, but Justin knew JC liked things nice. JC watched Justin move gracefully around his kitchen, a tan strip of skin revealed as he reached up for JC's wineglasses. JC bit his lip. He picked at his food politely, complaining about a poor appetite, then ushered Justin out.
Justin always smiled gently and patted his shoulder as JC led him to the door, and he always showed up again the next day. He brought movies and sat on the floor to watch them, his head leaning lightly against JC's knee. JC blamed his headache on the quick cuts of the editing, but he suspected it was really caused by the jarring effect of repeatedly pulling his gaze away from Justin's rapt face and back to the TV screen. He never managed to make it through the end of a movie without pressing a hand to his temple, waving away Justin's concern, and feeling like a jerk as Justin's car pulled out of his driveway.
After Justin left each night, JC would go up to his room and lie in the dark and try not to think about how Justin's smile faltered, just for a moment, when JC sent him home. He tried even harder not to think about how beautiful Justin's eyes looked when that brief flicker of hurt leapt in them.
JC wondered what kind of music they'd have in hell. Probably Eminem and the Charlie Daniels Band. The Muzak versions.
Finally one afternoon Justin turned up empty-handed. He sat on the counter in the kitchen and looked at JC seriously. "C, we're friends, right?"
"Of course," JC said, leaning against the refrigerator and smiling at him.
"So if I say something, you know it's just cause I'm your friend, and you won't get mad, okay?"
JC flattened his hands against the cool surface of the refrigerator and tried to keep his voice even. "What is it, Justin?"
"This guy, there's like no chance with him, you said?"
"Yeah," JC said. "Thanks for reminding me."
Justin squared his shoulders. "I think it's time for you to move on."
"That's what I've been trying to do, Justin," JC said.
"No, you haven't," Justin said. "I don't wanna say you've been wallowing -"
"Well, good," JC said.
"But you've been all noble and suffer-in-silence and you've been humoring me. You haven't been moving on."
"What exactly would you like me to do?"
"See, now you're getting mad," Justin said. JC took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a minute. "No, I'm not," he said. "I just really don't know what you want from me. I don't know what else to do, other than what I'm doing."
"I know something you can do," Justin said. He looked at JC earnestly. "What you need to do is make a bold gesture."
"A gesture," JC said.
"Yeah. You've got to make a big change, do something that says that you're leaving him behind, moving on with your life. Something that'll remind you that you've moved on every time you look in the mirror." JC looked at him skeptically. "Trust me, it works," Justin said. "I know."
"How do you know?" JC said.
Justin rolled his eyes and rubbed a hand over his shaven head.
"No offense, J," JC said, "but I'm not cutting all my hair off."
"I know," Justin said a little wistfully, "I know no one likes it but me."
"No, no," JC said, moving over to the counter, "it's just that I've just got mine where I like it. Yours looks good." He ran his hand over Justin's head. Justin's fingers were still resting on the back of his neck, and JC let his own fingers brush against them. Justin smiled at him. "Wait," JC said, "you did this before the thing with Brit."
Justin flushed and looked at the floor. "Yeah," he said, "yeah, it was. Um. Something else."
"A guy, huh?" JC said softly. "Your first?"
"Yeah," Justin said. "I mean, it was a guy, but he wasn't. He didn't. It was just me, for a long time. Then I decided I had to move on."
"He was an idiot, J," JC said.
Justin gave him a small smile. "No, he wasn't at all. He's a really nice guy, and he was really sweet about the whole thing. It just. You know. Wasn't meant to be." JC smiled back at him and rubbed his fingers gently against Justin's knuckles. "But it really did," Justin said. "Help me move on. Cutting my hair, I mean. It sounds stupid but it did."
"It doesn't sound stupid," JC said. He thought it did, a little, but he'd tried everything else. And this would make Justin happy. "What do you think I should do?"
"Well, it should be a big change," Justin said, "and something that lasts a long time." They thought for a minute. "You could get a tattoo."
"Um," JC said, "paralyzing fear of needles here."
"Oh, fine, fine," Justin said. "How about a piercing?"
"Have you not heard about my paralyzing fear of needles?"
"No, they've got these little guns now that just punch a hole right in your ear. Or wherever. They're really fast."
"They may be really fast, but they're not magic, Justin," JC said. "The thought of really fast, really sharp needles doesn't make me any happier. And I'm just going to ignore that wherever."
Justin grinned at him. "How about ... um ... you could change your name."
"Again?" JC said.
"Oh, right," Justin said. JC laughed at him. "Well, if you're going to say no to everything."
"I could dye my hair," JC said.
"That's not really all that bold a gesture," Justin said. "It's kind of lame."
"Or I could just go back to my wallowing," JC said.
"I guess it's better than nothing," Justin said. He hopped down off the counter. "I'll drive."
There was an overwhelming array of options at the drug store, and Justin wasn't much help. He kept getting bored and wandering away, then remembering he was supposed to be helping JC and dashing back to suggest purple or electric blue.
"I can't," JC said, putting his hands protectively over his hair. Justin looked at him. "I can't. They'll kill me."
"No, they won't," Justin said. "They'll yell for a while, then they'll make you watch the New Kids on the Block Behind the Music while they keep saying, 'Do you want to end up like that? Do you?' But it's not so bad. And if you can work up a few tears about how you're losing your real self in the Justin Timberlake image, they'll pretty much leave you alone." He paused. JC watched him, his mouth open a little. "You'd say the JC Chasez image, though," Justin said. "I mean. You probably figured that out."
"Did they really make you watch the New Kids on the Block Behind the Music?" JC said.
"Well, not all of it. But, you know, enough."
JC shook his head and turned back to the rows of dye. He studied one and then handed it to Justin. "I think this one looks good."
Justin looked at it briefly and then rolled his eyes. "JC, this is the same color your hair is now."
"No, it's not," JC said. "See, it's a little blonder." Justin put it back on the shelf. "All right, what do you think I should get? And don't say blue or purple again, because I'm not doing it."
Justin picked up another box. "How about fire engine red? You'd look good as a redhead," he said.
"No, I don't think I'm the fire engine red type," JC said.
"If we're going by types, then how about pink?" Justin said. JC just raised an eyebrow. "Look, if you don't want to do this -"
"Oh, all right," JC said. He scanned the shelf again. "How about this? Rosewood. That sounds pretty. And dark red highlights - that'll be something different."
Justin sighed. "I don't think you're really getting the whole big life-altering change thing, C. But it's your bold gesture," he said quickly as JC started to put the box back. "Rosewood it is."
Back at JC's house, Justin took charge. "Go put on an old T-shirt and find a towel you don't like. We'll probably get dye all over."
"I like all my towels," JC grumbled, but he did as he was told. He sat on the side of the tub and looked at the instructions while Justin fiddled with the tiny bottles. "Look, it says we have to do a strand test."
"That's stupid," Justin said without looking up. "We don't have to do that."
"It says we have to check for allergies and for the color."
"We don't really," Justin said. "They just have to put that in for whatchamacallit reasons - you know, so some idiot doesn't sue them."
"I really think we should," JC said. "It says that not doing it could result in incorrect hair color, allergic reaction, blindness or death. Death, Justin. "
"Don't be such a baby," Justin said. He reached around JC and turned the water on in the tub. "Dunk your head."
"I can't believe you're calling me a baby," JC said as he let the water run over his hair. "Boys who cry when catering forgets the root beer live in pretty big glass houses."
"Hey, I'm in touch with my sensitive side," Justin said. "Nothing wrong with that."
"In touch with your crybaby side," JC said. Justin pushed JC's head all the way under the faucet. "Hey!" JC sputtered.
"You've got to get your whole head wet," Justin said innocently. JC sat up and Justin tossed him a towel. Justin picked up the dye and said, "Bend your head down a little and close your eyes."
"Aren't you going to put on the gloves? You're going to dye your hands red."
"They're too small," Justin said. JC closed his eyes. He felt Justin's fingers moving gently through his hair, tracing small circles against his scalp. When he opened his eyes, he saw purple rivulets running down Justin's arms.
"Justin, that looks purple," he said. "I think you put too much in."
"There's still half a bottle left."
"This better not be purple."
"Jesus," Justin said, "this is the least bold bold gesture in the history of the world." He leaned back against the sink. "Wrap the towel around your head. You've got to let it sit for ten minutes." Justin ran a hand absently over his head and left a maroon handprint. JC laughed.
"What?" Justin said, smiling.
"This whole thing," JC said. "It's so ridiculous." He laughed again, and started to sing I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair. Justin looked at him blankly for the first verse, but by the second he was harmonizing, and when JC started again at the beginning, Justin was making up his own dirty lyrics. They were laughing when the alarm on Justin's watch went off, and JC was filled with hope. This felt just like the old days, better than the old days. This felt just like friendship. Maybe it would work, he thought. He might be able to move on.
"Probably easiest if you just jump in the shower," Justin said. JC hesitated for a second. "Don't worry, I won't look," Justin said, grinning as he turned around.
As JC got into the shower, he called, "You might want to look in the mirror." He heard Justin say, "Oh fuck," heard the water running in the sink, and laughed again.
"I can't get my head far enough into your piece of shit sink to wash this off, Chasez," Justin said. JC waited just a moment too long before he said, "Um, did you want to get in here with me?"
"No," Justin said slowly in a small voice, "I think I'll just. Go down to the kitchen or something, try there." JC heard Justin's footsteps in the hallway. He tried hard not to think about Justin standing beside him, wet and laughing, naked. He failed. He leaned his head against the tile, leaving a purple mark. He looked down.
Apparently he wasn't moving on.
When he got out of the shower, he hoped his hair was purple. He hoped it was hideous. He thought he deserved it. But when he looked in the mirror, dark red streaks shimmered and caught the light. It looked perfect. Justin had been right.
Justin was waiting for him in the kitchen, sitting on a wooden chair with one leg drawn up beneath him. He smiled when JC approached and said, "It looks great, really, C."
JC stopped in the doorway and smiled weakly back. "Thanks," he said. "Um. Justin." Justin stopped smiling. JC looked at the floor, like a coward, he thought. "You've been really great, and I appreciate it, I really do. But I think that this isn't. I think I just need to be by myself for a while. Get my head on straight. So maybe you could. Um. Not come over. Just for a while. Until I get myself together. You know?"
"Sure," Justin said softly. He stood up. "I'm sorry, C," he said. "I didn't mean to make you do stuff when you didn't want to."
"No, no, Justin," JC said. "It's not you. It's me." The words sounded every bit as false as everyone always said they did. Justin nodded, and left. JC sat down in the chair and stared at the kitchen table.
When Chris showed up, the sun was low in the sky, throwing Chris' face into shadow as he stood in the doorway.
"So you're alive," Chris said.
"What?" JC said dully.
"J turned up on my doorstep a while ago, all upset because you were heartbroken over some unrequited love and he'd made everything worse by making you dye your hair." Chris squinted at him. "I thought I wasn't getting what he was saying, but you did do something to your hair. Did you actually take hair styling tips from Justin? Have you seen his hair?"
"Did you want something, Chris?" JC said. Chris pulled out a chair and sat down across from JC.
"I've come to commiserate, JC. To offer succor and aid in your time of need. Tell Uncle Chris all about it."
"I don't feel like it."
"Come on, Heathcliff. It'll make you feel better. Tell me all about your forbidden passion."
"There's nothing to tell," JC said wearily. "I love him, I can't seem to stop, and it's impossible. That's the end of it."
"Why is it so impossible?" Chris said. JC shrugged. "No, really, I'd like to know."
JC sighed. "Well, for one thing, he's a lot younger than I am."
"A lot younger, huh? You been trolling the playgrounds again, C?"
"Shut up, Chris. He is a lot younger. He's twenty," JC said. "Or, um, around twenty. Maybe nineteen or something. I don't know."
"And you're what now? Forty-six?"
JC said, "Chris -" and Chris leaned a little closer. "No, I'm sorry, I get it, you're separated by cruel, cruel time. Anything else?"
"Well, he works in the business. And that's kind of awkward, or, you know, it could be. If we ever had to, like, work together or something. One day. Possibly. In the future."
Chris smiled. "Ah yes, that would be awkward. One day. Possibly. In the future. And with your schedule, you've got a lot of time to meet people from all walks of life. Come on, what else have you got?"
"He's a friend," JC said. "You don't know him, though. But, I mean, that's always a bad idea, right? Could mess up the friendship."
"Hmm," Chris said. "You're probably right. You don't want to date your friends. It's a much better idea to date your enemies. What do you think Kid Rock is up to these days?" JC tried to laugh, but it sounded forced. "Is that it, C? Is that why you traumatized Justin and got me over here? Cause I'm not really impressed with the impossible dream here."
"No," JC said defiantly. "That's not it. You're right, all those reasons are a little stupid. You want to know the real reason why it's impossible?"
"Yes," Chris said.
"Because I love him and he doesn't love me." JC took a deep, jagged breath and closed his eyes. He'd said it.
"Oh, C," Chris said. JC turned his head toward Chris. The words were right, but the tone was distinctly unsympathetic. JC opened his eyes. Chris had pushed his chair back and was tapping his fingers against the table. He looked annoyed.
"You know," Chris said, "I'm going to start hanging out with some physicists or something, because you boyband members are a little too slow on the uptake."
"Whatever," JC said.
Chris stood up and walked to the door. He paused. "Hey, C. What is it that Joey calls you? Snow White, or something?"
"Sleeping Beauty," JC said.
"Yeah. You might want to think about that."
"Oh, so what are you saying?" JC said. "Someday my prince will come and I'll live happily ever after. I've heard it before, Chris. But that's not how this fairy tale is gonna end."
"You keep telling yourself that, JC," Chris said. "Maybe you'll make it come true." He turned to leave, and said over his shoulder, "I've got to do something, but I'll be back to check on you later. Try not to off yourself or write more than two or three songs that rhyme lonely with only in the meantime, okay?"
"Great," JC said nastily. "Thanks for all your help, Chris."
"You're welcome," Chris said.
Late that night JC heard a key in his lock, and footsteps on the stairs. He was sitting at the desk in his bedroom, working on a new song. Lonely was a perfectly good rhyme for only. Chris could go screw himself. He was ready to tell Chris that when his bedroom door opened.
Justin was standing there.
"Um," JC said, standing up.
"Yeah," Justin said. "I know the feeling." He walked over to JC and kissed him hard on the mouth. JC pulled away and stepped back.
"Um," he said.
"Got that the first time, C," Justin said, advancing on him. JC took another step back, and his desk hit the back of his thighs. Justin followed until he was standing directly in front of JC, so close that JC could see the tiny lines in his lips, could see the tip of Justin's tongue as he smiled slowly.
Justin tugged lightly on the dangling end of JC's belt, pulling JC closer. His hand moved higher, unbuckling and then sliding his hand beneath. "That's my belt," JC said.
"That's right, it is," Justin said. His hand moved lower. "And what is this?"
"What are you doing?" JC gasped.
"I guess we're gonna see."
JC jerked away, moving to the side, and Justin laughed. "It's okay, C. Don't worry about it. Chris said."
"What did Chris say?" JC said.
"Everything," Justin said, and pushed JC lightly, three fingers in the center of his chest. JC tumbled back onto the bed. He didn't think about why he'd fallen so easily. Justin climbed on top of him and kissed the corner of his mouth, licked his jaw.
"Justin," JC said breathlessly. "I don't think this is such a good idea."
"It's all right, JC. Chris said."
"I don't let people into my bed just because Chris said," and Justin straddled him and kissed him again. He was really, really good at it. When Justin raised his head, JC was panting. He thought maybe he'd have to rethink that policy.
Justin got up, and JC said, "Where are you going?" Justin laughed and JC thought briefly about making a dash for the door. Instead, he moved further up the bed and watched as Justin took his clothes off. Justin crawled back over him, flushed and warm and still laughing. "Want you," he whispered, "wanted you forever," his hand clutching JC's T-shirt, and JC decided he really should do something nice for Chris.
JC thought maybe he'd buy Chris a fruit basket.
Justin was laid out on top of him, kissing his throat until JC was writhing beneath him. When JC tried to move, Justin just grinned and pushed his shoulders back down. JC put his hands on Justin's waist and flipped them over. Justin made a soft little delighted sound and wrapped his legs tightly around JC's waist. He tilted his head and kissed JC sweetly, then ran a hand down between them and grabbed JC dirtily.
JC thought maybe he'd buy Chris a car.
Afterwards Justin curled up next to him, his head on JC's shoulder. "What made you change your mind?" Justin said sleepily.
"I think it was right about when you took all your clothes off," JC said.
"No," Justin said, "I mean, I've been. For you. For a long time now. But when did you change your mind. You know. About me?"
"I didn't really," JC said. "I just wasn't. Thinking, I guess. Maybe if you'd told me sooner," he said, squeezing Justin's ass lightly. Justin laughed.
"But you shot me down," Justin said.
"What? I never -"
"Well, not shot me down exactly," Justin said. "You were really nice about it." Justin blushed a little and pushed his face into JC's neck. "I thought I was being all smooth, with the clothes and the working out and the following you around, but you were probably laughing at me the whole time."
"What? No, of course not," JC murmured. Clothes? Working out? Following around?
"It's okay," Justin said. "And by the end there, when I just started crawling into your lap, it must have been kind of ridiculous, yeah? It's pretty embarrassing. But you were so sweet to me."
"J, no," JC said. He was starting to vaguely remember. There was a time last year when Justin had hung all over him for a while, leaning up against him, lying on the couch with his head on JC's thigh, sitting in his lap. JC had thought Justin was just lonely, just homesick, craving contact, and he had tried to be extra nice to him. He had let Justin climb all over him, and he'd tucked Justin into his bunk at night, running his fingers through Justin's curls until his eyes closed. In retrospect, he thought, he probably should have realized that something else was going on. Justin had been nineteen, not nine. But he'd been lost in a dream then.
"Did you have a shirt back then, Justin?" JC said. "Like, a special shirt. Black, maybe."
Justin blushed again. His smile grew wider. "I didn't think you noticed."
"Do you maybe still have it?" JC said.
"Maybe. It'd be kind of tight now," Justin said teasingly. "You know. If I could find it. I don't know if I'll still be able to get into it." He licked JC's ear, then ran a hand down JC's chest.
"Wait a minute," JC said. Justin pouted.
"This. It's not just," JC said, and Justin smiled at him. "I love you," JC said.
"I know," Justin said. "Chris said." Justin rolled back on top of him and kissed his chin, his shoulder, his stomach. "Love you too," Justin said.
JC thought maybe he'd buy Chris Canada.
When JC walked into rehearsal the next day, he settled for grinning at Chris from across the room. Chris came over and leaned against the wall next to him.
"The heartfelt gratitude and giving of gifts can start now," Chris said.
JC smiled at him. "I really do. Um. I don't really know what to say."
"Say that this is going to last forever. Now that I've got all of you hooked up, I don't ever want to go through this again. The tears, the sulking, the angst. I'm too old for this shit."
"Oh, come on. You love it," JC said.
"Why do you think I started this band?" Chris said.
"For the music," JC said.
"Well, sure," Chris said. "For the music. But also for the money and the fame and the hot and cold running groupies. But contrary to popular belief, I did not start this group so I could play yenta to the four gayest boyband members in the country."
"Yenta?" JC said.
"I mean, I don't think you quite understand what I've gone through, C. First I had to listen to hours and hours of Justin mooning over you last year. Your talent, your smile, your integrity, your blah blah blah. Then I had to listen to how he was so over you. All the time, I'm watching you frolicking in your little dream world. And then, just when I thought he might actually be starting to get over you, you come out of dreamland and start brooding instead of frolicking."
"I don't really think I was ever brooding or frolicking," JC said.
"Shut up. You don't understand the sacrifices I've made for you. Not only did I have to listen to thousands more hours of mooning and swooning and blah blah blah, I had to get three blowjobs from America's heartthrob in there. I had to hear -"
"Wait a minute," JC said. "Three blowjobs?"
"You didn't walk in on us the first time," Chris said.
"Oh." JC thought for a minute. "That still leaves one."
"Well, I didn't want him to get suspicious after you did walk in on us."
JC looked at Chris narrowly. Chris just laughed. "Okay, we're getting off the point here. Time to get back to the thanking and the praising and the building of the Chris Kirkpatrick shrine." He punched JC's arm lightly. Justin stuck his head in the door, his lips curved in a grin that hadn't left his face since the night before.
"C, can you come here a minute? I need you," Justin said.
JC leaned into Chris and said, "Thank you. Really. I do mean it. If there's ever anything."
"There is one thing you can do for me, C." JC looked at him attentively.
"Try and stay awake for this," Chris said.