Most of the Time
Most of the time, Chris thinks, he's the luckiest bastard on earth.
He's made more money than he ever dreamed of doing what he loves. He's got millions of girls screaming for him every night. He spends most of his time with guys who, well, who cares if it sounds corny. They're his brothers. And he's got a best friend who, even though he's on the cover of magazines and has his own legions of fans panting his name, still thinks Chris is just about the greatest guy in the world.
And if Chris thinks of that best friend in a way that isn't precisely friendly? Well, he can handle that.
Most of the time.
There's a pattern, Chris realizes. He knows that when they're on the buses for a couple of days at a time, when it's cold and gray out and they're driving through the flat states, he knows that's a dangerous time for him. Not because the weather bothers him, but because it bothers Justin.
At the beginning Justin is full of energy, shouting happily as he beats Chris at Playstation, bending close to Chris to whisper schemes against JC or Joey. But as the days stretch on, Justin seems to sink with the temperature. He'll huddle on the sofa, completely wrapped in a blanket, watching The Matrix or There's Something about Mary, something he's seen so many times he can recite it.
Chris knows it's dangerous then. He tries to stay away, tries to ignore Justin's voice calling his name plaintively. Once he even tried hiding in his bunk, only to find Justin standing over him, looking at him with concern. "You okay, Chris?" And Chris didn't have the heart to leave him alone. He never does.
He curls up on the couch with Justin, sharing his blanket, Justin's head on his shoulder or his thigh. Once, during an interminable expanse of Wyoming, Justin crawled completely into his lap, murmuring, "Don't tell the guys, okay."
They watch movies together, Justin's giggles resonating through Chris' body. But as night falls, Justin gets quieter, snuggles closer to Chris. He'll tell Chris things now, secret things, his breath warm and soft in Chris' ear. He tells Chris when he's fighting with his mom, how he loves her but wants to make his own decisions. He tells Chris about how he's afraid JC takes their critics too seriously and gets his feelings hurt. He tells Chris how he misses his brothers sometimes. He never talks about Britney.
Sometimes, sitting beneath Justin's old quilt, trying to keep his breathing even and his body relaxed as Justin leans against him, Chris wants to end it. Wants to leap up, knocking Justin to the floor, and storm off to his bunk. Fold up into himself, stare at the wall, ignore Justin's bewildered pleas. But he never does. They started this in Germany, when Justin was a cute kid who looked at Chris like, well, like girls look at Justin Timberlake now. And Chris can't bring himself to break the pattern, to cut Justin off now that he's a beautiful man who looks at Chris like he's Chris Kirkpatrick. Justin Timberlake's best friend.
When Chris convinces Justin to go to bed, Justin sleepily mumbling, "Love you, man," as he stumbles off, Chris knows he can go to the other guys.
They know. Of course they know. And they listen to Chris, comfort him, sympathize. And that helps. Most of the time.
They don't really understand, of course. They try. But to JC, Justin will always be the little kid who followed him around on MMC, trying to get the big kids to let him play. He listens earnestly to Chris, sitting cross-legged on his bed, patting Chris' arm. He writes god-awful songs and sings them for Chris, and talks about the healing powers of art. But Chris can always see in JC's eyes a glimmer of distaste at the idea of Justin as a sexual being. JC never says that, though, and he'd die if he thought Chris knew.
Joey doesn't have JC's history with Justin. But Joey is, Chris thinks, the straightest man on earth. Lance once leaned into Chris, as they watched Joey getting down with the girls during Just Got Paid, and said, "He'd look straight even if you saw him fucking a guy." It's not like Joey's bothered by it. He wouldn't have lasted long in this band if he was. It's just that his idea of sympathy is to take Chris out clubbing and get him drunk, helpfully pointing out guys he thinks look like Justin.
Lance is certainly not the straightest man on earth. But Lance, in some ways, is the worst of all the guys. Lance thinks he should tell Justin. "He loves you, man," he drawls as Chris sits across from him, shaking his head. "He'd never let it fuck things up between you. You've gotta try, or else you'll be sitting there in ten years wishing you'd done something while you had the chance."
But while Lance is smart, maybe the smartest of them all, he's book-smart. He's never understood people really well, especially Justin, who intimidated Lance when he first joined the group and still confuses him a little. Lance thinks that the way Justin laughs loudly at Chris' jokes, wrestles him and curls up with him on the couch, that that must mean something. But Chris has felt Justin tense up next to him sometimes, when Chris' hand rubs down Justin's back toward his hip. And he's seen Justin look sharply at him, once or twice, when one of the guys mentions Britney. He wonders if Justin doesn't remember Germany, and if there aren't patterns Justin can't bring himself to break.
On the long nights that follow the dangerous days, Chris feels a sharp ache for his mother. The guys are great guys, and they love him. Success hasn't made them arrogant, or hard, or greedy. But they're all middle class boys born and raised, and they've always been given everything they needed and a good part of what they wanted. Deep down, they each still believe that hard work and talent and a good attitude will get you what you want, that virtue will be rewarded. They don't know what it's like to want something passionately, with all of yourself, and know that you will never get it.
His mother knows. She listens as Chris whispers urgently into his cell phone. She never tells him that he should tell Justin, or get over it. She just listens, and sighs, and says, before she hangs up, "I wish it could be different."
Chris thinks about the time difference to Pittsburgh, and opens his phone. He can hear his mother's voice, heavy with sleep and sympathy, saying his name. Then he remembers how her voice sounded years ago when she told him that he couldn't have new sneakers, or a bike, and closes his phone. He leans back against the couch and sighs. He closes his eyes and listens to himself breathe, listens to his heartbeat. He feels his breath quicken, his heartbeat pick up, and he opens his eyes.
Justin is standing over him. "I'm sorry," he says.
"What?" Chris says, thinking how stupid he sounds.
Justin crumples down next to him, his face full of pain. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
"Hey, hey," Chris says softly, putting an arm around Justin to comfort him because that's what he does. Justin turns under his arm, leaning in and kissing Chris hard. Chris freezes, letting him, opening his mouth when Justin licks the corner. Justin is kissing him frantically now, throwing an arm around Chris' neck, making a little desperate sound deep in his throat. Chris kisses him back, neither pressing forward nor pulling back, letting Justin set the pace. When Justin pulls away, he's panting, eyes wild. Chris watches him.
Justin starts to cry, his face twisting with his efforts to fight it. Chris is amazed; he hasn't seen Justin cry in years, since Germany maybe, or the beginning of No Strings. He's fascinated for a moment as he watches Justin pull his knees to his chest, grinding the heels of his hands into his eyes. Chris can still see that homesick boy in this lean man with his shaved head.
Then Justin lets out a choked sob, and Chris is galvanized into action. "Come on now," he says, gently prying Justin's hands from his eyes. "Justin, don't do this. You don't need to do this." He sits back against the couch, settling Justin against his chest. Justin doesn't fight him. He never does.
"I thought - I wanted," Justin stammers, still crying. Chris hushes him, but Justin shakes his head. "I thought I could try, I wanted to so badly, I thought I could do it, I did."
"Justin, it's all right."
"No, no it's not. I'm so sorry, Chris, I wanted to, I'm so sorry." Chris runs a hand along Justin's back, rubbing in circles. Justin sobs again, and sighs. "I wish it could be different," Justin says, violently, and Chris closes his eyes for a minute.
"It's all right, Justin. Really. It's fine. It's enough."
And it's true, Chris thinks as he feels Justin's breath shuddering against his chest. Justin is his friend, and he loves him hard, as hard as he can, and it's enough.
Most of the time.