by Synchronik

Before You
by Synchronik

And now I think I'll get through
the end of the world.
Now I think I'll get through
life as a girl

---Chantal Kreviazuk


Baby, before you,
well, I was bad news.

Justin turned into a girl on a rainy Monday. Chris remembered especially because it was so normal at first, Justin tossing his video game controller to the rug and slapping him on the shoulder saying "don't cheat while I pee, man."

Five seconds later, he was shouting through the bathroom door, his voice strange and tremulous.

"Chris! Chris, c'mere! Chris!"

"You're too old to have someone hold your dick, J," Joey called back. Lance snickered. Chris didn't say anything--the flame dragon was kicking his little archer guy's ass.

"Chris, please!" Justin shouted.

"Hang on, Justin!" JC said, standing. He would go, because JC always went. He was the one who babied them--who bought Lance silk shirts in grey and green for his birthday and put everyone's name on the card, and who made sure Joey's laundry got done. JC had made a wonderful girl. Chris still missed her from time to time.

He went, and a second later, leaned back into the lounge. "Chris," he muttered, and when Chris glanced up, he nodded.

"Okay." Chris sighed and handed the controller to Joey. "Feel free to lose my game, Fatone," he said. "Here we go."

Lance, whose foray into womanhood had left him with nothing more harsh than an addiction to facials, smiled as he passed. "This should be good," he said.

Chris left the room to the sound of his little archer guy getting skewered.

Justin sat on the toilet, crying.

"Justin, hey. Hey, Justin," Chris said, touching his shoulder.

"I'm not Justin!" he shouted, jerking his arm out from under Chris' hand. He looked up, and sure enough, Chris thought, he wasn't Justin. He looked like Justin, only his eyes were bigger, bluer, and his mouth ... well, Justin had always had a pretty mouth.

"Sure, okay," Chris said. He pulled on Justin's shoulder and Justin tipped forward into his arms, lighter, like a bird might feel, Chris thought. "It's okay, baby," he said. "You're still my baby, right?"

Justin snuffled into Chris' shirt. "Sure, I guess," he muttered.

"Okay, then," Chris said. He glanced up at JC, who was still standing in the doorway. JC nodded.

Nathan and Theresa were completely unimpressed.

"It's fine," Theresa said. "We've got the 'family emergency' story in place. He can take as long as he needs," she told Chris.

"Okay, yeah," Chris said, wishing she had been as calm as this when he'd turned into a girl. Sometimes it sucked being the oldest. "But he, um." Chris nodded his head over at Justin, who was standing with his arms wrapped around himself, sniffling, while Nathan appraised him. "He seems a little upset."

Theresa rolled her eyes. "Tell him to call me when he goes through his first hot flash. Little bastard. Nathan!"

Nathan raised his head. He was holding Justin's arms out and eyeing him as if he was measuring wingspan. Justin looked miserable.

"He's a size 10, but he's tall as fuck," Nathan said.

"Tell me about it in the car," Theresa said over her shoulder.

Nathan put his finger under Justin's chin. "You're gonna be fine, sweetie," he said, in the same voice he used to tell Chris that short was sexy. Nathan was sharp, but he was never entirely convincing. "I'll be back with clothes."

Justin collapsed on the couch, shoulders shaking with sobs. Fuck, Chris thought. He always got stuck with the hard jobs.

The clothes were small and pink and tight, and Justin started crying again when he tried them on and looked at himself in the mirror.

"Jesus," Chris muttered under his breath. The other guys had scattered as soon as Nathan had returned with hangers. JC'd had the courtesy to mumble "songs" before he ducked out.

"I'm sorry," Justin said, wiping at his face. His eyes were puffy and red. His face was tear-streaked and mottled and horrible looking. Everything he'd tried on made him look like some bizarre stretched out Britney, and had led Chris to the realization that even as a girl, Justin's legs were thin and gorgeous. Even with the hair. "Chris. I just can't wear that."

"No, sure, of course not," Chris said. "Why don't you just wear sweats or something and you and I can go shopping or have FuMan put something together for you or something later, okay?"

Justin nodded. "Okay."

"Okay." Chris patted Justin's newly thin shoulder, and slid his hand down Justin's newly narrow back. "Go wash your face, and I'll get you some clothes."

The others came back after Justin was dressed in a pair of Chris' sweatpants and a t-shirt that said "Marathon for Muscular Distrophy" in faded red letters, and lying with his head in Chris' lap, asleep, while Chris stroked his hair.

"He okay?" Lance murmured, sitting next to Chris.

Chris nodded. "No thanks to you guys."

"He looks kind of cute when he's asleep," Joey said, peering down into Justin's face. Chris swatted him away.

"Stop it, ass," he said. "You're going to wake him up and make him cry again."

"He cries a lot," Joey said, sitting in a chair.

"I don't remember you being a barrel of laughs when this happened to you," Chris said.

"I was fine!" Joey snorted. "I loved it."

"Right up until they told you you were fat," Lance said.

"I'm big boned!"

"He's not," JC said.

Chris ran his hand over Justin's arm: it was still corded with muscle, but thinner, narrower. "No," he said, feeling protective, although he couldn't say why.

"No, no, you're right," Nathan said, when Chris called him the next day. "I'll be over with something else. Gimme a few hours."

Justin came out of the bathroom this time with a tremulous smile. "You like it?" he asked Chris.

Chris nodded. Blinked. Nodded again. "You look cool. Tough."

Justin's smile broadened into a grin. "You think?" He shifted from side to side.

Chris nodded again. Justin was so tall, suddenly, so tall and narrow in his knee length skirt and his boots that zipped up the sides and his black tank. His short hair suddenly made him look younger instead of older, his eyes, his smile, big. He looked tall and cool and tough, like a chick you wouldn't want to mess with unless she wanted to mess with you.

"Yeah?" Justin asked.

"All right." Nathan slapped his hands together. "So this is who?"

"Justin," Chris said.

"No, no. He needs a name. He can't be Justin." Nathan rolled his eyes.

"Justine." Chris tried concentrate, but Justin was turned in front of him, smiling at him, and Chris was getting a little dizzy.


"Jane," Chris said.

"Jane," Nathan said. "I like it. It's simple. Classic. Jane it is."

"Hey," Justin said. "Don't I get--"

"You should grow the hair out a little, maybe," Nathan said. "We don't want to cultivate the lesbian chic, do we? Okay. I'll call Theresa and get things taken care of. You know how to reach me."

Justin watched him go, a bewildered look on his face. "What if I don't like Jane?" he asked Chris.

Chris, who was watching the long narrow line of Justin's leg where it slid up under his skirt, just shrugged. He wasn't entirely sure what Justin said.

The underwear that Nathan had brought over all matched, bras and panties. Chris knew that because Justin made a big show of displaying it to everyone, every morning.

"See?" he'd say, flipping up the hem of his shirt and pulling down his pants until they could see the edge of the elastic.

"Yeah, Justin, we see," Lance would say, not looking up. "We get it. They match."

"Dude, that's, like, important," Justin answered. "If you're a girl, your underwear's supposed to match, top and bottom. That's why they make them in sets."

"That's bullshit," Chris said. "They only do that for special occasions."

"Then how come every time I've seen a girl's underwear it's always matched, huh, Kirkpatrick?"

Chris glanced around, unable to say that it was because for a girl, Justin Timberlake seeing her underwear would be a special occasion. And when the closest thing you had to a real girl in your life was a pop star whose underwear probably did always match and a gay stylist, maybe that's what you thought women were like. Sometimes, it was just too harsh to tell Justin the truth. And he'd only stopped crying a few days ago.

"Even if it's not true," Joey said. "It should be."

"Oh, jesus, Fatone," Lance groaned.

"What? It should be. I like it. It shows attention to detail."

"Whatever, you ass," Chris said.

"Look, if Justin wants his underwear to match, it's okay," JC said. "Can we just stop seeing it everyday?"

"It's pretty!" Justin protested.

"We know," Lance said. Chris didn't say anything. He was watching Justin laugh while Joey whispered something in his ear.

At first, Justin was all about the new image. He liked walking down the street without being recognized, and he liked intimidating people in shops with his extreme look. He wore dark eyeliner and red red lipstick and sunglasses even when there was hardly any sun at all.

"Dude, guys totally get out of my way," he told Chris coming in from shopping in New York one afternoon. He had on a black sleeveless tanktop and one of Chris' necklaces, a thick one made of dog chain. "Some guy cut in front of me in line, and I told him he'd better step back, and he did! I'm a scary chick!"

"You're the scariest," Chris said, and beamed when Justin showed him the laser tag guns.

But Justin got tired of things quickly, almost as quickly as Chris did, and the rush of intimidating people wore off as soon as some construction worker in Chicago called Justin a dyke.

"What the fuck?" Justin had said, turning around, but Chris took one look at the guy and pulled Justin back.

"Come on," he said. "Forget it." The construction worker smirked and Chris wished that Joey or at least Lance had been there so he could have punched the guy and known he had backup.

"I'm not a dyke," Justin muttered as they walked away. "I'm a guy. There's a difference."

"I know," Chris said.

Justin started letting his hair grow out after that, and toned down the eyeliner, and started wearing gloss instead of lipstick during the daytime. And one day, when they were supposed to go out and have lunch and see some anime movie, Justin showed up in a dress. Not a skirt, because Justin wore skirts all the time, skirts made of leather, or bright colored polyester that hung to just above his knee and showed off his lace-up knee-high Doc Martens, but a dress. A baby blue dress with small white flowers on it and spaghetti straps. And sandals.

"Whoa," Chris said when he opened the door.

"You like it?" Justin said. He twirled and the skirt flared, revealing a length of smooth thigh. Justin had taken to shaving right away.

"It's pretty." It was pretty, it was beautiful, the light blue against Justin's peaches and cream complexion, clinging to him, the skirt swishing with Justin's movement, the long line from Justin's knee to his ankle cut by the white sandal strap. He had tiny little ankles, Chris noticed. He blinked.

"Thanks." Justin grinned at him. "So, you ready?"

"Um," Chris looked down at his shorts and black canvas tennis shoes. "Maybe I should change or something. I didn't know you were gonna, you know. Dress up."

Justin laughed. "Whatever. We'll be late. Let's go."

So Chris went, and Justin smiled at him, and held his arm when they walked into the restaurant, and leaned up against him in the movie theatre, and Chris knew that when they walked by people were wondering how a scrub like him got such a beautiful girl. He wished he knew.

Three days later, while they were at Justin's house swimming, JC came up and sat down next to him.

"Thank god he's out of the black phase," he said gesturing to where Joey was shoving Justin toward the pool. Justin had on a tropical print two-piece.

"Yeah." Chris glanced over at JC. He had been almost unbearably pretty as girl, Chris remembered suddenly, slim and delicate and lovely. JC as a girl had worn a lot of pastels and floral prints and when he smiled he broke your heart. JC had been sweet as a girl, and it was only after he'd changed back that Chris had realized JC had always been sweet and he'd just never noticed until JC had worn a peasant blouse. He wondered if JC was jealous at all of Justin, who was pretty, but not delicate.

"He looks better in colors," JC said. "Not like you."

"Oh yeah?" Chris said. "What the hell does that mean, Chasez?"

JC grinned at him. "You just look better in black. You know. Dangerous."

"Oh really?" Chris asked. JC stood up, stepping back slowly.

"Really, Chris, don't-" he said, but by then it was already too late, Chris had grabbed him and leaped into the pool, breath whooshing out when JC's elbow cracked him in the rib. He ended up surfacing near Justin who was adjusting his bikini top, his hands up behind his neck.

"Can you help?" Justin asked, turning around.

"You, um. You want it open?" Chris coughed, staring at the drops of water on Justin's shoulders.

"No, dork! I want it tighter. Joey keeps throwing me in. I'm gonna pop out of the damn thing."

"Oh, okay," Chris said. His fingers felt like sausages, fat and useless as he untied the top.

He was a little too happy, he thought, when Justin showed up at his door in a scoop neck t-shirt and jeans. He'd started dressing more simply, lately, Chris had noticed, and he'd pulled out some of the stuff the Nathan had brought over the first time, shirts that showed off his flat stomach and halter tops. His bra (when he wore one, which was happening less and less, Chris thought) and underwear still had to match, and Chris noticed that Justin still had shimmery lip gloss on even though it was almost eleven at night.

"What's up?" he asked. Justin slid by him into the room and sat on the edge of the bed.

"There's this guy," Justin said. "Did you ever like a guy when you were like this?"

Chris faked a bright bright smile, intentionally not remembering Justin saying "forget it, man. It's gross," in a high panicked voice. "A little," he said.

"Does that make you gay?"

Chris' laugh took him by surprise. "That's what you're worried about?" he asked. "Whether liking a guy makes you gay? Justin."

"What?" Justin ran his hand rapidly over his hair. He'd been letting it grow out lately, and it was almost an inch long, the curls still low and tight to his head. Joey'd started called him Shirley Temple and patting him on the head. "I'm serious, Chris. I mean, I'm having all these feelings and shit, and I'm not sure what to about it, because, like, what if I sleep with him and we like each other and then I turn back and I still like guys?"

"Then you'd be gay."

"Fuck you!" Justin shouted. "I need your help, Chris! I need you."

"Hey, J. Hey." Chris put his arms around Justin and pressed him close, trying to calm his pounding heart. "Like this guy all you want, J," he murmured, while Justin cried. "It doesn't make you anything you weren't already."

"Yeah?" Justin mumbled into Chris' shirt. "Even if I fuck him?"

"You want to fuck him?" Chris asked, and was embarrassed by his wave of relief when Justin shrugged. "Well, don't worry about it. Just. Do what comes naturally, okay?"

Justin nodded against his t-shirt.

"You feel better?" Chris murmured. He ran his hands over Justin's back to the waistband of his jeans in soothing strokes. Justin sighed against him, and Chris felt Justin's hands come together on his spine. "You okay?"

Justin shrugged again.

"You're still my baby, right?" Chris asked, smoothing his fingers through Justin's short hair.

"Chris," he said, pulling back.

"What?" Chris ran a hand over Justin's cheek. His face felt just the same: try as he might, Justin had never been very successful with facial hair. Justin flinched backwards.

"Don't," he said.

"What? You're not my baby anymore?" Chris smiled.

"It's just. Don't you think I'm a little old for that?" He shrugged, and the collar of his shirt shifted on his shoulder and Chris could see the thin white satin of his bra strap.

"I guess," he said. "If it bothers you."

"Well, you know." Justin shrugged again. "It's just. You know."

"Sure, hon--Justin. Jane. Sure."


"So," Chris asked finally, folding his hands together in his lap. "Are you okay?"

"I think so." Justin bobbed his head. "I think I can figure it out."

"Okay," Chris said. "Then I'll see you in the morning."

"Great," Justin said, standing. Chris stood, too, and stepped away before Justin could do anything else, like try to hug him or anything. He didn't think he could bear to feel that just now, Justin's almost- familar body against his.

"Great," Chris echoed, as Justin shut the door behind him.

He saw Justin come out of Joey's room at nine thirty one morning, which wouldn't have been a big deal except that Justin's shirt was unbuttoned and Chris could see a flash of Justin's black lacey bra as he pulled the door closed quietly behind him.

Justin didn't see Chris, though. That much was obvious when Justin leaned his shoulders against the door and touched his swollen lips and smiled to himself, eyes closed.

Chris went back inside his room and called Lance and said he was too sick to eat breakfast.

Lance found him in the dark, tapping his fingers against his thigh in a pattern: pinky, ring finger, middle finger, index finger, thumb, then back again, like he was fingering a flute. He kept doing it over and over again until he lost count or screwed up. Then he'd take a breath and start over again: pinky, ring finger, middle finger, index finger, thumb. It was calming.

"Chris," Lance said, shutting the door behind him. He didn't turn on the light. Chris didn't say anything, just kept track of his fingers in the dark until the bed dipped next to him and he could feel Lance's heat near his side.

"It's Joey," Chris said, then.

He heard Lance's breath pause and then resume. "I'm sorry," he said, sounding not only sorry but hopeless as well.

"Yeah. Me too." Sorry. That little word would never mean anything like the big churning hole left in his gut.

"It won't last," Lance said, sliding his arm around Chris' shoulders and shaking him gently. "It'll be the messiest break-up ever. He'll cry. They'll both cry."

Chris chuckled a little, more for Lance than because it was funny, because that was the hard part, really, knowing that ultimately, Joey and Justin had no better chance at happiness than anyone, because Justin would change back, just like they all had, and that would be the end of it. "I want them both to bleed, I think."

"Sure," Lance agreed, and hugged Chris close. Chris let his head fall to Lance's shoulder. There was something comforting about Lance, something entirely solid and present about him at times like this. He could just sit there, silent, and make Chris feel like even if things weren't alright, they would be, eventually.

"Hey," Lance said, after a while. "You remember the last time I did this?"

"What?" Chris sniffled.

"Assuaged your broken heart."

"What the fuck does that mean?"

"Made you feel better," Lance said. His hand rubbed Chris' ribs idly, slowly, in small circles.

Chris thought. "It was a while ago," he said.

"It was when you were a girl," Lance said. "Remember. You came to my room after the awards show, upset because you had to walk behind us on the catwalk."

"Oh, yeah," Chris said, grateful for the dark. He'd forgotten about that lie, the one he'd told to forget that Justin had turned him down back then, too. But he remembered Lance in his pajamas, sliding his arms around Chris' narrow girl waist and holding him close, saying "it's only for a little while," in his dark sleepy voice. He remembered feeling better that night, because surely Lance was right and things would get better. He'd thought then that he couldn't love Justin Timberlake forever.

"Whatcha thinkin'?" Lance asked.

"I should have fucked you," Chris said, and that made Lance laugh out loud squeezing him tight, and Chris laughed with him, swiping his hand across his face to cover the tears.


And now I think it's funny that you say you love me.
You tell me that I'm crazy, then you smile.

Joey and Justin were a happy couple. They held hands all the time, in every place that they could, and laughed when some photographer got a blurry picture of them kissing in a restaurant.

Chris, who seemed incapable of feeling anything anymore, just looked at them dully while Lance said "you have to be more careful. Someone could recognize you." The warning had no effect on them, Chris noticed, except to make Justin giggle and curl up tighter under Joey's arm.

"Sure, we will," Joey promised. His fingers were trailing along the outside of Justin's breast. Chris got up and went outside and sat on the back porch until he heard Joey's car drive away. Then he went back in and ate with Lance and JC and ignored their looks and made bad jokes about the stuff they watched on television. Lance smiled but didn't laugh. JC looked at him as if his dog had just died. Chris wanted to scream.

"You know," he said, unable to help himself one day. "You know he's gonna change back."

Joey looked up. "Yeah."

"I mean." Chris knew he was flapping his hands around like a maniac, but was helpless to stop it. "You know that one morning he's just going to be his old self again. His guy self. Not a girl anymore."

Joey smiled. "Yeah, Chris. I know. I did it, too, remember?"

"Okay," Chris said. He slapped Joey's shoulder. "Just wanted to make sure."

"Okay," Joey said. "Thanks for the update."

The good news was that since Justin was a girl they weren't doing any touring and not very much publicity, and no recording. The bad news was that Justin still thought he was Chris' best friend and would show up randomly, just to hang out.

"Man," Justin said, leaning back on Chris' couch one afternoon. He had on white shorts and sandals. His legs went on forever. Chris was dizzy with jealousy and want. "The next three weeks is gonna suck."

"Yeah? Why?" he managed to choke out.

"Joey's going to L.A. to do promotions for the movie. He's going to be gone for three whole weeks starting day after tomorrow."

"Oh yeah?" Chris asked.

"Yeah," Lance said when Chris called him after Justin had left. "We leave day after tomorrow. Why?"

"And Justin said you were going to be gone for three weeks."

"About," Lance said. "Why?"

Chris didn't know what to say.

"Oh," Lance said after a second. "Chris, no."

Chris didn't say anything else.

"Chris," Lance said again. "Look, I know what you're thinking and I'm telling you don't. Don't do it. It's not worth it, he's not worth it."

"Not worth what?" Chris asked. "It's not like I--"

"He's not worth getting hurt over," Lance blurted. "You know. Again."

"What do you know?" Chris asked. He closed his eyes against the tingling sensation.

Silence in the other end, and then a sigh. "Nothing, Chris," he said finally. "I don't know a damn thing."

"Okay." Chris paused. "If I don't talk to you before, then, have a good trip."

"Yeah," Lance said, his voice already distant. "Thanks."

Chris clicked the 'end' button and began dialing Justin's number.

"Sure," Justin said. "It'll be like a sleepover. We can make cookies or something."

Chris stared.

Justin stretched out on the couch, his skirt riding up his thighs. He didn't push it back down. "What?" he asked.


Justin shrugged, and Chris noted with dismay that one of the straps of Justin's dress had slid off his shoulders. It was like a Playmate video in Justin's living room. "You know, sleepover shit."

"Girl shit," Chris muttered, but then Justin spread his arms out wide and smiled and said,

"You gotta work with what you got,"

and Chris was too preoccupied by trying not to stare at the dip between Justin's young breasts to say anything else.

"What're you doing?" Lance asked.

Chris propped the phone in the crook of his neck and turned so that he could see Justin padding around his kitchen in a short dress and no shoes, walking a baking sheet to the stove. "Making cookies," he said.

Lance laughed. "So he's staying while we're gone?" he asked.

Justin bent over to slid the cookies in the oven and Chris coughed. How fucking long were his legs anyway?

"This was a horrible idea," he muttered into the phone.

"Told you so," Lance said, and hung up on him.

Horrible didn't even begin to describe it.

"Horrible doesn't even begin to describe it," Chris whispered to JC on the phone. Justin gave another small moan from the couch.

"Chris, where's my juice?" he groaned.

Chris flipped off the back of Justin's head and hoped he couldn't see it in the reflection of the television screen.

"--be understanding," JC was saying when Chris tuned back in. "He's a girl, Chris. He doesn't know what he's doing."

"He knows enough." Chris slammed the door of the refrigerator. "He's making me get damn juice!"

"Juice?" JC asked. "For PMS?"

"Don't ask me," Chris snapped. "I just took the fucking drugs and lay down when it was my turn. You didn't hear me bitching about juice."

Justin's hand shot up over the back of the couch with his middle finger sticking up.

"Chris," JC said. "Look. If you don't want him there, send him home. But you gotta quit callin' me. I'm trying to work."

"You weren't this big of a pain in the ass when you were a girl," Chris said, trying to placate JC so he would stay on the phone a little longer. When he was talking about Justin, bitching about him and his juice-drinking ass to someone on the phone, he wasn't looking at him. That helped.

"No one's as big a pain in the ass as Justin," JC said. "Girl or not."

Chris sighed. "I know."

"Love you, man," JC said.

"Yeah," Chris said, and hung up. "Here's your damn juice," he said to Justin, leaning over the back of the couch. Justin was sprawled across the cushions in a pair of Chris' sweatpants, one hand under the waistband pressing against his stomach. When he looked up, Chris could see his eyes were pinched and miserable. "Here," Chris said, softer.

Justin smiled up at him. "Thanks." He reached for the glass and took two tiny sips before setting it on the coffee table.

Fucker, Chris thought, but what he said was "are you okay?"

"It hurts so bad," Justin muttered, closing his eyes. "I've taken, like, seventy Midol, and it still fucking hurts."

"Yeah," Chris said. He remembered the tight hot feeling of his abdomen the few times it had happened to him, how relieved he was when they finally found a drug that put him to sleep for the first day. It was always better after that, but man, those first few hours sucked. "Sit up," he said.

"Chris," Justin whined, hefting himself up.

Chris sat behind him on the couch, and slid one hand over Justin's lower back, his smaller smoother lower back. When he had been a guy, Justin had had back hair, just a thin little patch of golden hair right at the base of his spine. He had hated it and tried to have it removed, but Chris had liked it, liked touching it, running his hand across it as if by accident, whenever he had the opportunity. It was gone now. People should be careful what they wished for.

"What are you doing?" Justin asked.

"Rubbing your back." Chris pressed with the flats of his fingers, low above Justin's hipbones. Justin sighed. "Why? What did Joey do to make you feel better?" he asked.

"Fucked me," Justin said, and Chris saw that, Joey laying Justin on the bed and entering him slowly, smiling down at him, undisgusted, unbothered, willing to do anything to make Justin feel better. He knew that feeling. Justin flinched. He must have pressed too hard.

"Sorry," Chris muttered. He kept rubbing, firmly and slowly, until Justin's skin heated up under his hands and he sighed.

"That feels good," he breathed over his shoulder. "Where'd you learn this?"

"Lance," he said. That first time Chris had gotten his period, and felt achey and huge and repulsive, like he was outside his body looking in, Lance had come and sat on his bunk and said "roll over." Chris had rolled over onto his stomach and let Lance slip one warm hand under the back of his t-shirt and rub his spine until Chris couldn't feel anything else.

"I love Lance," Justin murmured.

"Yeah," Chris said.

"I'm sorry I didn't rub your back," Chris said that night when he called Lance.

"What?" Lance asked. He was getting dressed for some press thing and his voice was alternately muffled and clear when he pulled shirts over his head.

"When you were a girl. You know, when you had, um. I'm sorry I didn't rub your back."

"Oh," Lance said. Chris could tell that he'd stopped moving around. He could hear Lance's hotel tv going in the background. "Well, it's okay. I didn't have cramps much. How's the prima donna?"

"You'd think he was giving birth," Chris said smiling.

Justin was still a heap of fun. Besides the cookies, Justin also still danced around the living room to eighties music, and shot basketball, and liked stupid movies. He still made the best popcorn of anyone Chris had ever met, shunning Chris' air popper and pouring oil into a saucepan and shaking once the popping started until the cover almost burst off the pan. And he heated the butter separately and made Chris stir the popcorn into a big bowl with a wooden spoon while he drizzled it.

Later, halfway through the movie in Chris' darkened living room, Justin licked his fingers clean and laughed when he caught Chris watching him.

"You perv!" Justin giggled, tipping his head to Chris' shoulder. "This is so much fun. I'm so glad we're doing this."

"Yeah," Chris said, shifting until he got his arm around Justin's shoulders. "Me too." They watched the rest of the movie in silence, Chris' arms around him, fingers trailing lightly over the smooth skin. Chris felt sick to his stomach the whole time, but it might have been from all the grease on the popcorn.

So it alternated, which was what he told Lance the tenth day, when Lance called at midnight while Chris was lying alone in his bedroom trying not to think of Justin in tiny sweat shorts and the thin baby tee he had been wearing in the bathroom while he brushed his teeth.

"Sometimes it's like nothing's changed and he's just Justin, and it's cool," Chris said, rolling onto his side so that he wouldn't bend the antenna on his phone. Again.

"And the other times?" Lance asked. He sounded neutral about the whole thing, like he didn't care, but then Chris heard the whisper of papers in the background and knew that Lance was just working.

"The other times, man." Chris sighed. "I wish he weren't so fucking hot."

Lance laughed. "That didn't help you last year. Or the year before that."

"Shut up," Chris muttered.

"So what are you gonna do?" Lance asked. "What's your devious plan to woo the fair Justin?"

Chris leaned over and turned out the light. "I dunno," he said. "I mean, I could just sneak into bed with him naked, but that seems sort of ..."

"Like sexual assault?"

"Well, I was thinking, like, too forward, but you know. Whatever."

"Yeah," Lance said.

"Where's Joe?" Chris asked.

"Hmmm," Lance said. That was his considering noise, the noise he used when he was either considering the answer or considering telling you the answer. "Some club, I think," he said, finally.

"Tell me he's not cheating on Justin." Chris felt his heart race. That would be the final straw, he thought, if he was still alone, without Justin, and Joey threw him away. He didn't know what he would do if that were true. Tell Justin? Hold him when he found out on his own? Kill Joey and make it look like an accident? He couldn't feel anything but the churning of guilt and excitement in the pit of his stomach, so tumultuous that Chris almost didn't hear him when Lance said

"He's not cheating on Justin, Chris. Wishful thinking much." Lance's voice was suddenly tired and annoyed.

"No, no," Chris mumbled, feeling tears prick at the corners of his eyes, although he couldn't explain why.

"He's just out with Emanuelle and some of the crew people for some beers," Lance said.

"Why didn't you go?" Chris asked. He didn't care about the answer, he just wanted to curl up and go to sleep now, drained by Justin's proximity, the fear that Joey would dump Justin and, worse, the fear that he wouldn't.

Lance mumbled something, and sighed when Chris asked him to repeat it. "I said, I had more important things to do," Lance said.

"What, like calling me?" Chris asked.

"Oh, yeah." Chris could almost hear Lance's eyebrows raising. "I raced home from the set so I could spend some time chatting with you. Don't hold your breath, Kirkpatrick."

"I'll hold something," Chris breathed in his sexiest phone whisper.

Lance chuckled. "And on that disturbing note, I gotta go."

"Good night, sweet prince," Chris said.

"Good night, you corn flake," Lance answered, and then there was silence on his end for so long that Chris had almost fallen asleep, and jerked when he heard Lance's voice again.

"Chris?" Lance said.


"Good luck. If you want it."

Chris smiled into the dark. "Thanks, baby," he said. "I can use all the luck in the world. He's still on the rag."

"Oh gross!" Lance shouted and hung up.

Chris smiled into the empty phone for a minute, then hung up himself.

Chris wasn't sure if he'd forgotten or if he just thought that Justin as a girl would be different, but he was still the crappiest houseguest in the world. He left his shit everywhere: Chris found strappy sandals behind the toilet, and one of Justin's bras over the closet door and the basketball kept reappearing in the hallway, even though Chris kept hauling back to the garage. And Justin liked to be waited on a lot, like he wouldn't even get a glass of water for himself if Chris was in the room.

When he'd been a girl, Chris'd stayed at Justin's for a while right in the very beginning, but he'd been very freaked out, and Justin, although he was a great best friend, was not very good at being calm while Chris was being freaked out and Chris had to leave after three days because Justin had started looking at him with worried eyes. He'd ended up spending a month at JC's and the rest of the time at Lance's, because JC was spacey but calm and Lance was reassuring and relaxing. And neither of them had hogged the bathroom when they were girls, not like Justin, who always took the big bathroom and spent hours with the door closed. It wasn't a big deal, because Chris had two other bathrooms, but it was the nicest bathroom with the deep tub and the dual sinks and the best lighting and Chris sometimes felt like he wanted to use it and not the hot cramped bathroom off the laundry room. And Justin always left it looking like wartime Beirut.

"Justin!" Chris shouted, banging on the bathroom door.

"I'm busy!" Justin shouted back.

"You been 'busy' in there for an hour. What the fuck?" Chris asked, fiddling with the doorknob.

"This takes work," Justin said, and swung open the door.

"uh huh," Chris said. Justin had his hair clipped back in tiny little barrettes, and his eyes outlined with smoky eyeliner. His shirt was white and snug and clearly showed that he wasn't wearing a bra. His skirt was short. His smile was blinding. And glossy, Chris thought. Very glossy.

"You like?" Justin pointed his toe and thrust his hip out. With his strappy black shoes on, he was at least eight inches taller than Chris, eight inches of narrow naked shapely leg.

"Yeah," Chris said.

Justin beamed at him. "Good, you're taking me out."

"What? When?"

"Now," Justin said, "go get dressed." He spun Chris around by the shoulders. "Put on something black."

"Something black," Chris repeated, trying not to notice that the bathroom was absolutely wrecked.

"Go!" Justin swatted him in the ass.

While he was staring at his closet and not seeing anything the phone rang.

"Hey, Lance," he said, holding out the sleeve of a black silk shirt. "What's you favorite shirt of mine?"

"Hot date, Kirkpatrick?" Joey laughed.

"Oh! Oh, hey Joe." Chris sat down on the edge of the bed, feeling blindly behind him to pull the pillow out of the way. "Hey."

"Hey. So, hot date?"

"Nah, not really." Chris closed his eyes.

"Can you put my girl on, then? I need to talk to her."

"Yeah, sure." Chris set the phone on the bed. Then he took a deep breath, feeling the swell under his ribs where his heart used to be. "Justin!" he shouted. "JUSTIN! Phone!"

He was flipping swiftly through his hangers when Justin came in.

"Aren't you dressed yet? Dude, let's go. Who's on the phone?"


Justin flopped onto the bed and grabbed up the phone. "Hey baby," he breathed. Chris yanked a shirt out of the closet and went off to the bathroom. He was sitting on the toilet lid, staring morosely at a leaking tube of exfoliation rinse, whatever the fuck that was, when he heard the high chirp of his cell phone.

"Are you hearing what I'm hearin'?" Lance asked, when he picked up.

"I'm in the bathroom," he muttered.

"Wait, hang on," Lance said. Chris hung on, kicking at a wet towel with his toe. "Okay, me too. I thought I was going to die of nausea," he said.

"I left right after the 'hey baby." He shoved the towel into the corner, wondering if he could get up the courage to pick it up and put it in the hamper. Lance laughed.

"Lucky thing. What're you doing?"

"Pickin' out a shirt." He swiped a hand full of crumpled Kleenexes into the trash.

"In the bathroom?"

"We're supposed to be going out tonight," Chris said.



"Wear the long sleeved black one, the one with the French cuffs," Lance said. "And jeans. Dark jeans."

"You don't think pants?" Chris asked and could almost see Lance shaking his head.

"Nah. You want to look like his date, not his pimp, man," he said.

"You should see the skirt."

"I can imagine."

"Sometimes, Lance, he's--"

"--so hot. I know, Chris," Lance sighed. "You told me."

"No, I mean. He's flirting with me. Like, he swatted me on the ass."

"Chris," Lance said, in a way that meant he was going to say something Chris didn't want to hear. "It's Justin. He flirts. That's what he does."

"Sure," Chris said. He twisted the water on and off, watching little flakes of eyeshadow crumble and then rinse down the drain.

"It doesn't mean anything, baby," Lance said, softly.

"I know," Chris said. The eyeshadow was a strange color, the color of smoke or midnight.

"Hey," Lance said. "Remember when you were a girl and we went clubbing?"

"At Paladio's," Chris said. He did remember. It'd been funny, not only to put on a skirt and go out in public--it had been before Nathan and Theresa had figured out it was temporary and that they would all end up going through it and everyone's first impulse was to keep Chris in the house at all times--but to have people smile at him, to eye his legs, and try to touch his hair. To be a girl. He trailed his finger through the face powder on the edge of the sink.

"And there were pictures of us in Enquirer?"

"'Lance Bass's Mystery Girl'!" Chris said, smiling. He remembered the picture, too, of Lance looking askance into the camera, and Chris's dark hair but not his face, and their hands clasped tightly together. "You held my hand."

"Can't let my mystery woman go wanderin' off," Lance said. "Hey, Joey's hanging up. Usually, he lasts longer."

"Like you would know," Chris scoffed.

"Wait 'til you see your long distance bill."

"He's been using my phone to have sex with Joey? That unbelievable fuck--"

Lance laughed, low and affectionately into the phone. "You gotta go get dressed, Mystery Girl."

"I'm feeling more like Loser Boy."

"Don't," Lance said. "That shirt makes you look hot."

"Chris!" Justin shouted, banging on the door. "Let's go!"

JC showed up at the crack of dawn the next morning with doughnuts and juice, and Chris knew something was wrong. JC didn't eat doughnuts. They were bad for you.

"What?" he asked, scrubbing a hand through his hair.

"I just came by to see how you guys were. Haven't talked to you much lately." JC smiled a sickly smile. He was, Chris thought, the absolute worst liar in the entire world.

"Come in," he said.

JC beamed at him, a real JC smile and headed to the kitchen while Chris went off to brush his teeth. His reflection was truly hideous to behold. It looked like he had given himself beard burn, and the bags under his eyes would have exceeded the weight limit on most international flights. Also, the crud he pulled out of the corners of them with the Kleenex was truly nausea-inducing.

And it hadn't really been worth it. Justin hadn't spent more than ten minutes with him the whole night, coming back to the table to take sips of his drink and then striding off to the bar, legs flashing to see if he could pick up this guy or that guy. He could. He'd come and sit down occasionally, and tell Chris about them, the fools who thought they could get him number just because he winked at them.

"Dude," Justin said once, laughing, "I didn't realize guys were so stupid!"

"I did," Chris said, and downed the rest of his drink.

He didn't tell that to JC though, when he came back to the kitchen and JC handed him a cup of coffee and said

"How was your big night out?"

"Fine," Chris answered. Sometime during his second sip (heavy cream, light sugar, just the way he liked it. God, he loved JC), he realized that he hadn't called JC. "How'd you know?"

JC shrugged, guiltily. "You seem hung over."

Chris glared.

"Okay, Lance called me." JC reached into the box of doughnuts and pressed his finger to one of the glazed ones and put it in his mouth, before meeting Chris' eyes. "He's a little worried."

"What? Why?" Chris grabbed the doughnut JC had touched and took a bite.

"It's ... not good. What you're doing."

"I'm not doing anything," Chris muttered, chewing.

"Remember when Joey was a girl?" JC asked.

Chris nodded. Joey had been a truly spectacular looking girl, big and sexy and glamorous in a movie star way.

"Remember Jeremy?" JC prodded.

Chris squinted. Jeremy. Jeremy.

"The production assistant at Jive?" JC prodded, and Chris felt it snap into place. Jeremy had been smitten with Joey as girl. Completely head over heels for her. He followed her around, and bought her lunch everyday they showed up at the office, and begged her for her phone number. Literally begged. And Joey'd gone out with him a few times, and probably fucked him, if Chris knew Joey, and after he'd changed back, told them all how Jeremy had cried when he showed up at Joey's door to find out that "Jolene" had gone back to Italy and didn't want him to call her anymore.

"I felt awful for the poor guy," Joey had said, "but it was kind of pathetic."

"I'm not like Jeremy," Chris said quietly, "and you and Lance can go fuck yourselves if you think that's how it is."

"We don't, Chris," JC said. He patted Chris' shoulder. "We don't. It's not the same at all from your side. Lance knows that."

"Then why'd you bring it up?"

"Because, you know, maybe. Maybe it's like that from his side. Maybe you are--"

"Maybe you're what?" Justin asked, slouching in the doorway. "Hey, C."

"Hey, baby," JC said, standing up. Justin came over and hugged him, his babydoll nighty riding up in the back when he put his arms around JC's neck. Chris tried not to look and failed.

"Maybe I'm just asking for trouble," Chris said, after Justin had hooked a doughnut out of the grease-spotted box and sat down. Behind Justin's shoulder, JC shrugged.

"Look, I'm not Jeremy," Chris said when Lance called that night.

"I never said you were," Lance replied, and Chris knew that was exactly what Lance had said, because he didn't pause or falter or pretend to ask "Jeremy who?" It was only when Lance was completely smooth and perfect that Chris knew he was lying.

"Whatever," he said. "I'm not."

"You're in love with someone who doesn't love you back. That's pretty Jeremy-like to me."

"He loves me," Chris said. Lance didn't answer.

"I'm gonna do it," Chris said finally, rolling onto his back. "I'm gonna do it tomorrow night."

"What exactly?" Lance asked.

"I haven't exactly worked it out yet," Chris admitted. "Kiss him, maybe. Tell him ... something. I dunno. What would you say?"

"Chris, don't. I'm no good at--"

"C'mon!" Chris smacked the bedspread. "Lance!"

"I would tell him that he's the best person I've ever known, and that I've been in love with him forever, and that if he didn't freak me within the next three days I'd shrivel and die." Lance's voice rushed and ran together, blurring the words with his accent.

Chris gaped at the phone.

"Um, Lance?"

"Chris, see--"

"Shrivel and die?"

"Chris, look,--"

"I mean, I'm serious and all, Lance, but shrivel up and die? That's some frickin' seriousness, man." He pulled his feet up and beat his fingers on his knees.

"Okay, so maybe don't say that."

"Yeah, maybe not, Lance."

"Maybe," Lance said, slowly. "Maybe you shouldn't say anything."

Chris paused, looking at his fingers and the yellow light pooling over his legs and the stretch of his blue comforter. "What do you mean?"

"I mean ... maybe you should just forget about it. Justin. He's with Joey and all, and I, Chris, you and--"

"I gotta go, Lance," Chris said, suddenly, not entirely sure why, just certain that he didn't want Lance to finish whatever he was trying to finish. "I'll see you when you get back, okay?"

"I. Um. Okay. I'll talk to you later."

"When you get back," Chris repeated. He stared up at the ceiling, forcing himself to look up at the blank space up there, at keeping his mind empty and smooth.

"Right," Lance said.

"See ya," Chris said. He looked at his cell phone for a second after he clicked it shut. Then he pressed the "off" button.

Justin was in shorts and socks and a t-shirt, his bangs pulled back from his forehead with little clips. He was reading something, and was chewing on his fingernail.

"Whatcha doin'?" Chris asked, leaning over the back of the couch.

"You don't think these quizzes mean anything, do you?" Justin asked. He flipped the magazine closed so Chris could see the cover. Cosmo.

"What quiz?" Chris asked. Justin opened the magazine again and pointed. "'Made for Each Other," Chris read. "'Are You and Your Man the Perfect Match?' What the hell are you reading that for?"

Justin shrugged. "It says Joey and I are doomed to fail," he mumbled. "We're never gonna make it."

"Well," Chris said. "You're gonna turn back, you know. And Joey, I don't think he, um."

"Shut up," Justin said, and Chris realized suddenly that Justin's eyes were diluted with tears.

"um, hey," he said, sighing. "Justin, I'm sorry." He was. He was sorry that Joey and Justin were doomed to fail because Justin would turn back and Joey didn't swing that way, no matter what he said. And Chris was sorry that he'd come over to the couch intending to kiss the back of Justin's neck and see what happened. And he was especially sorry that Joey and Justin had ever gotten together in the first place, because they were in love, that much was clear, and neither of them would be any good for a long time when it was over.

Justin sat quietly with his magazine on his lap. He wasn't reading it anymore, Chris knew, just staring at the pages blankly, facing the horrible reality that love ends or changes or leaves and the only thing you can do is watch it go, and try not to fall to your knees and clutch at it. Chris thought it was a shame Justin had to learn this at all.

"It'll be okay," he said, petting the soft curls that were starting to develop at the nape of Justin's neck. Justin tipped his forehead against Chris' arm.

"You mean it?" Justin said.

"Sure, baby," Chris answered. "Everything is, eventually," he said, and when Justin laughed a little, thick with tears, he kissed Justin's forehead.

Lance's phone rang and rang and rang. When the voice mail picked up, Chris would hang up and dial again. He fell asleep to Lance drawling "if you're not a teenage girl, please leave a message" in his ear.

Lance was at his front door with a suitcase, rain pouring over him in sheets.

"What the hell?" Chris said, yanking open the door. "Get in here, man! What are you doing here? Didn't you just get back?"

Lance shook his head, but Chris wasn't sure what question he was answering. Lance looked strange, dangerous and desperate soaked with rain.

"Justin was at the airport to meet Joey," Lance said.

Chris sighed. "Yeah."

"So, it didn't work?" Lance asked. Chris was tempted to sigh again, and shrug and say something smart, like he'd overestimated his powers of seduction or something, but this was Lance and Lance had been a friend to him, a real friend, and he couldn't lie.

"I didn't. I didn't try. It was wrong." Chris smiled and glanced up into Lance's face in time to see something change there, something vanish.

"Yeah?" Lance asked, and he was almost smiling.

"Yeah." Chris shrugged. "It was just. He's never going to love me, you know. Not like that." He found himself staring at the growing puddle on the floor between Lance's feet and forced himself to meet those green eyes. "Not like you do."

He heard a thud, and then he felt a thud and then Lance was squeezing him close, and Lance was wet and warm and his mouth tasted like rainwater and salt, and Chris slid his arms around Lance's neck and laughed when Lance picked him up off his feet.

He rolled over and Lance was looking at him. Or, not him, exactly, but his hand where it clasped Lance's forearm. Lance was running a finger over his knuckles and smiling.

"Hi," Chris said.

Lance kept his eyes on Chris' hand. "Hi," he murmured.

Chris rolled until he was pressed along Lance's side, pinning their arms beneath him, then he tilted his head back and pressed a kiss to his mouth. Closed mouth, because this was still too new to subject to morning breath, and he knew with sudden certainty that it would never occur to Justin to worry about morning breath because he would think his breath was perfect in the morning just like the rest of the time. It would occur to Lance though, and so would Chris' favorite dessert, and the fact that Chris liked only white socks no matter what color pants he was wearing. Lance would think of these things, probably more often than he needed to, because that's the way Lance was.

Chris smiled against Lance's mouth.

Lance smiled back when they drew apart. "Hi," he said again.

"I'm an idiot," Chris said. "I'm a complete idiot."

"Yeah, you are." Lance brushed his fingers through the hair at Chris' temples. "Completely."

"Why didn't you fuckin' tell me? Why didn't you say something?"

Lance laughed. "Like what? 'Quit being in love with him and be in love with me'? That woulda worked." He tipped his forehead against Chris'.

Chris shrugged, closing his eyes, inhaling the scent of Lance's skin. "You never know," he said.

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