by Synchronik
by Synchronik

Jordan: What's 'ironic'?
Brian: When you realize the, like, component of weirdness in a situation.

[My So-Called Life]

They called it a "chris" instead of a crush because way back in the beginning, when they were still in Orlando and hadn't even found Lance yet, Justin had a thing for him. It wasn't even a secret. Justin made his mom invite Chris over to dinner, and followed him everywhere, and started wearing basketball jerseys over his t-shirts because Chris once said it made him look ghetto.

JC and Joey thought it was hilarious. Joey called Justin "Shadow, as in the White Shadow, man" and JC almost hurt himself laughing at the idea of Justin with an afro, but Justin was too young to remember the sitcom and didn't get it. That was okay, though, because that meant Chris invited him over to his apartment, just him without Joey and JC, and they sat and watched the White Shadow marathon on Nick at Nite until Justin's curfew. Chris sat next to him on the couch. They shared popcorn out of the same bowl.

JC was the one who coined the term, poking Joey in the stomach at the park one afternoon and saying "dude, that girl is totally chris for you," and it stuck after that.

Chris thought it was cute. He thought Justin was cute, in a kid sort of way, and he'd never had a little brother, and, besides, Justin was fun.

"I'm, like, a role model," he said to Joey when they were having beers on the balcony and watching people pass by.

Joey snorted. "You? You're the worst possible role model, ever."

"Dude, shut up," Chris said, snagging another beer out of the cooler. "I am not."

JC snickered when Joey told him about it. "A porn mag, more like," he said. Chris rolled his eyes and pretended to ignore him, even though Justin did like to touch him a lot, and sometimes, if Chris turned quickly, he caught Justin with his mouth open a little. Sometimes, just to see what would happen, Chris would edge into Justin's space, and if he did it right so that Justin didn't notice, they would get close and Chris could smell his clean boy smell and experience the full force of his smile. Justin would always notice eventually, of course, and get nervous and end up elbowing Chris in the nose or something, but until then it was sweet.

Most of the time, though, they just did normal stuff like play HORSE, and eat, and Chris liked it that he was old enough to take Justin places that he wouldn't have gotten to go otherwise, like R movies. It made him feel responsible, looking out for a kid like Justin.

Justin was thrilled when they finally found Lance, even if Lance was a little shy and always did his homework. Lance was only two years older than him, and had never had a serious girlfriend either, and would talk if you coaxed him a little.

"Chris and I went to Treasure Island, yesterday," Justin said, tapping his pencil on his geography book. Lance looked up, smiling.


"Yeah," Justin said. "We spent the whole afternoon, even though my mom said I had to be back for dinner, but Chris called her on his cellphone and told her that he would take care of it, and we went and got chili dogs at the Wiener--"

"Is Chris your boyfriend?"

"What? No!" Justin grabbed his book and pulled it closer to his chest. "No."

"Y'all spend a lot of time together is all I'm sayin'," Lance said.

"You thought he was my boyfriend?"

Lance shrugged. "I'm just sayin' y'all spend a lot of time, you know, doin' stuff with him or talkin' about him, or whatever. You know."

"No. He's not. I'm not. I like girls."

Lance nodded. His clear green eyes back on Justin's face were untroubled. "Okay," he said.

"Have you ever had a boyfriend?" Justin asked, curious, but Lance blushed and said he had to finish his civics or the tutor would kick his ass.

Lance didn't get it. Chris. Chris Kirkpatrick. Sure, he was funny some of the time, and he was older, and he'd done stuff like live on his own, and no matter where they went, to a restaurant or a park or Disney World, someone would always come up to Chris and say "Kirkpatrick, hey, what's goin' on?" Chris knew everyone. So, yeah, Lance could see how Chris was cool, but still.

He was short. And he had weird hair. And he was kind of really old, not just cool older. And sometimes he got crabby and mean, instead of funny. He didn't have really nice broad shoulders, or big hands. He didn't grab you and hug you and say "hey, Bass, what's up?" low in your ear. He didn't have a killer wide smile that shone like afternoon sunshine, and he couldn't make veal parmesan, and he hadn't been to the Yankees World Series games twice. Chris Kirkpatrick just wasn't someone to get worked up over.

"I know," JC said, when Lance brought it up to him. "It's crazy, but it's cute."

"I just don't. I mean, Chris?"

JC smiled. "Tell me about it. He's a total whackjob. But don't make fun of Justin about it, man. He's sensitive."

"Yeah?" Lance felt himself flush a little. He hadn't exactly made fun.

"Yeah," JC said. "He gets all worked up about it."

"But, Chris?" Lance said again. JC just smiled and patted his shoulder.

"So can I?" Justin asked, flopping on the edge of his mother's bed. Lynne frowned at him and set a pile of folded clothes in her suitcase. "It would only be for one night, and Dad's out of town and you'll be back tomorrow, and Chris already said that it was cool."

"Would he be coming over to get you?" she asked.

"I can? Really?" Justin grabbed the cordless phone off the nightstand. "Dude, she says yes."

"Justin, I didn't say--" she said, but by that time he was already blabbing a mile a minute into the phone.

That was how he got to stay overnight at Chris' apartment.

After dinner, they sat out on Chris' balcony and put their feet up on the rusty railing and drank root beers and watched life in Chris' lower middle class neighborhood. Chris would tell him things about the people they saw. "That's Mrs. Lopez," he said, nodding at one older woman in very tight pants who tottered by in wedge sandals. "She fucks everything." Justin giggled, feeling Chris' hot breath on his ear. "That's Julian," Chris said, about a tall black guy with perfect muscles. "Hey, Jules!" he said.

The black guy looked up. "Hey, Kirkpatrick," he said, hooding his eyes with one hand. "Who ya got up there with ya?"

"This is my friend Justin," Chris said, slinging an arm around Justin's shoulders. Justin leaned over the railing and waved.

"oooh, cute!" Julian said.

"Fifteen," Chris called back, and Julian held his hand up palm out.

"Stop right there, sister," he said. He waved and sauntered off.

"That guy," Justin said, looking after him. "He was, um ..."

"He was indeed," Chris said, and squeezed him.

Chris only had one bed, a queen sized futon that doubled as his couch. "You don't mind sharing, right?" He asked, shaking out the sheets.

"Um, no," Justin said. He grabbed a corner of the sheet and pulled it over the edge of the mattress, feeling his heart lunge in his throat. He didn't mind sharing, but the thought of it, of being so close up to Chris, did things to him. He could hardly breathe.

It was worse when he came out of the bathroom after brushing his teeth. Chris was already under the covers, lying on his back in the light that came from the open window. He turned and smiled at Justin. "Hey, kid," he said, and flipped back the covers.

Justin slid in, feeling even more like a kid in his pajamas: Chris just had on boxers and a t-shirt, and Justin could see the shadow of stubble on his face. Chris was a real man, he realized suddenly, no matter how much fun he was. He slid under the covers and turned on his side, facing Chris' sharp profile in the light. "Good night," he said. His voice sounded small and miserable.

"Just?" Chris said. "Are you okay?"

"Um, yeah," Justin said, but he didn't feel okay. He felt like bursting into tears for a thousand unknown wrongs that would never be made right again. He couldn't breathe and he couldn't explain, but something about Chris' white t-shirt and the Irish Spring scent of him, and the razor on the counter in Chris' bathroom: he never wanted to leave.

"Hey, it's okay to miss your mom, man." Chris rubbed a hand over his shoulder. "I do it all the time."

Justin squinted his eyes against the tears. He wanted to scream "it's you, it's YOU!" right in Chris' face, but he didn't even know what he meant.

"shh," Chris said. "You're okay." Justin felt the covers move and then Chris was there, enveloping him in a hug and kissing his forehead. "You're alright, Jup," he said in Justin's ear. "I'm here."

Justin unfolded one arm from his chest and hooked it around Chris' neck. He nose was against the collar of Chris' t-shirt, and Chris' hands were warm on his back.

"You're fine," Chris said softly, and Justin shuddered with guilt and pleasure.

"Dude, this is gettin' out of hand," Joey said, after he found Justin's Chicago Bulls jersey in one of Chris' drawers while he was looking for a clean shirt.

Chris sighed. "I know," he said.

"How many times has he been over this week?"

Chris ran a hand through his hair. "Okay, Joe, okay."

"There you go," Joey said, and slung an arm around his neck.

"So, what'd you want to talk about?" Justin asked, taking a bite of his Sonicburger. Ketchup shot out onto his fingers. He shook them off, grinning.

"Here," Chris said, handing him a napkin.

"Thanks." He smiled, swallowing, swiping his hands on the napkin. Chris had just shown up out of the blue to take him to lunch, and they had driven over to the Sonic in Chris' old convertible with the top down, but Chris wasn't laughing or whistling at the girls they drove by. He hadn't even flirted with the drive-in waitress. Justin knew he was thinking about something, the group, maybe, or his family. He worried about his family still.

"So, we're friends, right?" Chris said, drawing a French fry through a puddle of ketchup.

"What! Duh!" Justin said, grinning. "Whatever it is, Chris, you can totally tell me."

Chris nodded. "Okay, so that's it. We're friends." He dropped the French fry. The sun slanted under the red umbrella into his eyes, and he was squinting, but he was looking at Justin, too.

"Yeah, I said--" Justin said, and then he understood. He swallowed. "Yeah, Chris. We're friends."

"No matter what," Chris said, his hand on the white plastic table.

Justin nodded. His burger was leaking grease onto the napkins. The sight of it turned his stomach.

"No matter what," Chris said again, smacking the table lightly. Justin met his eyes.

"Okay," he said.

Justin stayed away from rehearsal for two days. When Chris called, his mom said he had a touch of the flu, but when he came back he looked fine, tan and healthy. Chris didn't ask.

He seemed fine, too, if you ignored the fact that he wouldn't be left alone in a room with Chris, and he didn't think Chris' jokes were funny anymore, and he didn't want to hang out at Chris', even when the rest of the guys went over and had beer and barbeque and sat on his balcony. Even Lance went, but Justin just shook his head that afternoon at rehearsal.

"You sure, Jup?" Joey asked, when Justin turned down the invite.

"Yeah, nah. I can't," Justin said. "I've got some stuff at home."

"If you're sure," Joey said, and Justin nodded. Chris just watched him. He couldn't blame the kid, he guessed, but it still hurt.

Once they got to Europe, though, things improved. They had to, really, because none of them spoke German, and the clubs were awful--black and smoky and loud--and the hotels were awful--damp and smelling of mildew and old--and all they had was one another, in quarters too close to allow Justin to have moods.

He seemed to have gotten over whatever he had that needed getting over, Chris thought. Joey snuck him out to a club and gave him beer, even though he was only sixteen, and when Justin showed up at breakfast in Lance's room the next day and just crawled into Lance's bed and pulled the covers up over his eyes, Joey nodded at Chris and smiled and Chris knew that Justin was going to be okay.

He was.

He and Lance started spending a lot of time together, and JC walked in on them kissing and came back to Chris' room flushed red, and blurted it out after, like fifteen seconds of questions. JC couldn't keep a secret unless he got distracted by something and forgot he knew the secret in the first place.

"Really?" Joey said, allowing his cards to tip toward Chris. He had two pair, Chris noticed.

JC nodded. "Dude, I saw, um. Tongue," he whispered.

Chris rolled his eyes.

"Huh," Joey said. He glanced over at Chris and covered up his cards. "You fuckin' cheater," he said.

"Two pair." Chris said, smiling, and Joey threw his cards on the bed in disgust.

"Cheater!" Joey said, and grabbed Chris and threw him down on the bed.

"Loser!" Chris said, and let Joey tickle him until he felt better.

"So, um, you and Justin, huh?" Chris asked Lance when they were alone in the van while the others picked up food.

Lance ducked his head, rubbing one hand through his newly blond hair. "No, um. No."

"It's okay," Chris said, patting Lance's arm. "We're cool."

"No, um, it was just, like. He was curious."

"Oh, yeah?"

"He says he's all into girls. It's kind of insulting."

Chris smiled, and punched Lance lightly on the shoulder. "It's not you, baby," he said.

Lance smiled a small smile. "Don't I know it," he said.

He still liked Chris, but it just wasn't the same. He didn't get all fluttery in his stomach like he had before when Chris would put a hand on his shoulder, and sometimes, really, Chris was just plain annoying. He made stupid jokes all the time, even when Lou was giving them important critiques of their performance and stuff. And he'd started dressing really funny, like in white cotton shirts that were all, well, foreign was how Justin thought of them, with floppy necks and big sleeves. And Chris was letting his hair grow and it hung in his eyes a lot in a way that made him look kind of straggly and weird and European, and not at all like the Chris Justin used to know. He definitely still liked Chris, a lot, but he didn't have a chris on him anymore, and that was kind of weird.

For a period of about eighteen months, Justin chrised on about twelve different girls. He would come into whose ever room was the common room and flop onto the bed, pressing his hands to his face with a broad grin.

"Uh oh," Joey would say.

"Looks like another one," JC would agree. "The Jupster's sprung," Chris would say sagely, poking Justin in the ribs if he was sitting close enough.

"Head over chris, man," Lance would chuckle, and then they would all listen to Justin describe the latest girl, who would inevitably end up being too weird, or too talkative, or too friendly with JC, or too short, and who would inevitably have to make room for the next girl Justin would fall head over chris for.

In the meantime, Chris met Dani, and Lance came out to the group, and the songs kept getting bigger and bigger, until Lou told them that they were heading back to the States, and were going to be opening for Janet Jackson. JC actually said "Janet Jackson of, like, the Michael Jackson Jacksons?"

It was that Janet Jackson, who turned out to be very sweet and shy, and very short, even to Chris. She came into the room in jeans and a white blouse and no shoes, and Chris swore later on the bus that you could see Justin's heart leap from his open mouth and fasten itself to his sleeve.

"Like, buckets of drool," Chris said. Lance was on his back on the floor, laughing, tears on his cheeks. Joey was holding his stomach.

"Do the face, again," JC gasped. "Do the face!"

Chris stood up. "Yo, I'm Jup," he said. "And I'm bad, and I'm cool, and I'm chi--" Chris bugged his eyes out and dropped his mouth open, and made a gagging sound. "Janet," he whispered, and fell to the floor, elbowing Lance in the stomach.

"Miss Jackson if ... if ..." Joey said, but he was laughing too hard to finish it.

"What the hell, man?" Justin asked. Chris took one look at his angry young face in the doorway, and burst into giggles, burying his face in Lance's stomach. He didn't even care when Justin slammed the door.

Justin wanted to ask her out, but he couldn't. She was ... he would walk up to her, hands in his pockets, and she would turn around, and his throat would get all dry and he'd hardly be able to say hello, let alone ask her if she wanted to maybe have lunch with him sometime.

"Hey, Justin," she would say, smiling her perfect heart-shaped smile, and his heart would freeze in his chest and he would be unable to meet her eyes and he would mumble "hi" and try to get away before he exploded.

Chris and Joey and JC talked to her all the time, about music and her dance routines, and about places she'd toured before and how she dealt with the craziness of the fans, because Janet's tour was the first tour they had really seen the kind of rabid and terrifying fan who would actually try to hurt you out of love. Lance didn't really care one way or the other about whether Janet was famous or not. She made corn bread for the performers and crew one afternoon and after that, Lance was smitten.

"I have a huge chris on her," he told Justin, when Justin asked. He flopped onto Justin's bed, grinning, and put his chin in his hands. "She's, wow."

"Yeah," Justin said. What he didn't get was why Lance's chris would allow him to sling an arm around her shoulders and whisper things in her ear that made her smile and shove him away, saying "you're a bad thing" when Justin's chris wouldn't even let him breathe while she was in the room.

"You could ask her out, man," Chris said, lying on the couch in the tour bus.

Justin hung his head. "She'd just say no, man. You know she's got some guy, or somethin'."

Chris laughed. "Of course she'd say no, J. She's, like, ten years older than you, and she's Janet Jackson, but she'd be nice."

"What would that get me?" Justin asked, squinting at Chris.

"It would get you the right to say you tried, babe," he said. He slapped Justin's knee, then rubbed it to remove the sting. Justin nodded, but he never asked her.

Chris did not have a chris on Dani. She was pretty and sharp and told him to "shut the hell up" on their second date when he started talking smack about the Backstreet Boys. "I like them," she said. "They're catchy."

"We're catchy," Chris said.

"You're caught," she answered, and kissed him, and he knew he was in love.

She was right. They didn't get to see each other much, because she was living out in L.A., and Lou wouldn't let her be in any more videos because it was "bad for business, kid," but whenever she got a chance she would fly out to wherever they were and hang out. She brought him records from the vintage stores in California, and made him horrible lasagna.

"No, it's ... " he said, trying not to spit it onto a napkin.

"It's good!" Joey said. He grabbed a glass of milk and chugged half of it.

"I'm a vegetarian," JC said, peeling back a noodle with his fork.

"JC, why didn't you tell me?" she asked. "I could have made you something special."

"Not necessary," he said.

"I like it," Justin said. He chewed happily. "It's crunchy."

"It's lasagna," Lance muttered under his breath. He set his fork down.

"Thank you, Justin," she said, and ruffled his hair.

After that, she loved Justin, and no amount of annoying teenage kid stuff would convince her otherwise.

"He's sweet," she told Chris, after Justin came in and laid in the middle of the bed for an hour and half, watching t.v. and talking, and just generally preventing Chris from getting any action.

"He's obnoxious," Chris said.

"Right," she said, smiling up at him. "That's why you didn't kick him out, he's so obnoxious."

"Woman, don't push me!" he said, but he didn't argue when Dani pushed him over onto his back and slid her hand down his pants.

Justin saw Britney Spears again after her first hit single. He came back to the compound and stretched out on the floor at Chris' feet.

"Pretty good, huh?" Chris said, nudging him with one stocking foot.

"Amazing," he said, smiling. "A. Maze. Ing."


"I'm sooooo in chris," he said, rolling onto his back. Chris laughed.

Britney didn't laugh. "I don't like it," she said.

Justin frowned at her. "What are you talking about?"

"The, the Chris thing," she said, waving her hand. "I'm not a boy, Justin!"

"Baby, I know. It's just a thing, like, a joke. You know."

"Whatever, Justin," she said. "I don't like it."

"Fine," Justin said. But it wasn't fine, because there was a whole list of things that Britney didn't like, including Chris himself. "He's so jumpy," she complained after they did a photo shoot together. "He makes me nervous."

Justin ignored her, and when they decided to break up and pretend to go out instead of actually going out, he wasn't as sad as he thought he should have been. Lance, who had just gone through his hundredth un- serious breakup with some Italian fashion model, patted him on the head and said, "tough, man."

Chris sat down next to him while he was playing Evil Dead VI, and bumped him with his shoulder.

"You're okay, right?" he said.

Justin nodded. "Yeah. It's not like we ever get to see each other anyway."

"Still," Chris said. "You miss her?"

Justin paused the game and turned to Chris. He had his head tipped to the side like a dog, listening to a far off noise. "I don't think so," he said. "I mean, I miss some things," he blushed a little, "you know. But not really. She was kind of bossy."

"She was," Chris said, smiling. Justin grinned and tipped his head to Chris' shoulder.

"Do you think," Justin said, looping one arm around his neck, "that I'll ever find someone like you have?"

"No," Chris said. Justin laughed against his neck. Chris ran one hand over his back, feeling the solid muscle along his spine. "As long as you're okay."

Justin pulled back and nodded. "Way," he said.

"Good." Chris smiled, then ruffled his hand through Justin's hair. "Okay."

Justin tossed his controller to the carpet and tipped over until he was in Chris' lap, head against Chris' shoulder.

"She didn't like you," he said.

Chris laughed, combing through Justin's hair. "Duh," he said. "I'm not the kind of guy Britney likes, Jup."

"You're the kind of guy I like," Justin said, closing his eyes.

"Yeah," Chris said. Justin's hair was springy and soft between his fingers, the curls looping and twining around his knuckles, clinging to his skin. Justin sighed, and when he smiled a sleepy smile, eyes glinting up at Chris in the blue light from the video game, Chris smiled back.

It was inevitable, he supposed. The business, which they had optimistically dreamed would draw them closer together, kept Dani in California almost all the time. Even when he did make it out to see her, or she managed to catch a red eye to Orlando, they spent most of their time talking about production problems and financial backing and how the new line should broaden its appeal. She never cooked anymore, and she never wanted to be woken up in the middle of the night to watch crazy bad horror movies, because she was always tired. And, truthfully, so was he.

"Look," Dani said, finally, because Chris would never had said it, "I just don't think we're working out anymore."

Chris didn't know what to say to that. She was right, but it didn't seem like he should agree with her.

"Dani," he said. "I love--"

"Sweetie." She reached out and tugged on his hair, smiling. "I totally love you, too, but seriously." She held up her hand. "We never see each other, we never talk about anything but FuMan, you're totally focused on your career, I'm totally focused on mine, and we're kind of heading in a different direction right now, you know?"

He nodded miserably. He knew.

"But we're still friends, right?" She folded his hand between hers. "No matter what, right?"

"Yeah, of course, honey. No matter what," he said. He waited until she'd gotten on the plane to Cali before he started crying.

"Chris, man," Joey said when he told them. They were all sitting on couches in the bus, looking at him, half-relieved, he thought, that this had been the big announcement. They all hated "big announcements," Chris included, because they still all remembered the day that Lance's big announcement had been that if they ever wanted to make any money or go anywhere in this business they were going to have to get away from Lou Perelman.

"Wow," JC said. "Wow, Chris. Are you okay?"

Chris nodded, but just hearing JC ask that made him tear up again. He pushed his fingers into his eyes.

"Oh, hey," Lance said, patting his knee. Justin didn't say anything. He stood up and pulled Chris to his feet, then hugged him so hard that he came up off the floor, Justin's arms squeezing the breath out of him. It made him feel better, like Justin was squeezing all possible thoughts out of him and all he had to do was continue to exist, right here, right up against Justin's collarbone, and everything would be fine. He felt someone else's hand on his back, Lance's maybe, or JC's, and Joey was a big shadowy presence out of the corner of his eye. He knew when Justin let him go, though, that there would be tears again. He sighed, and Justin squeezed him tighter.

"So, what you wanna do?" Justin asked him three days later.

Chris looked up from his spot on the couch. "I'm doin' it," he said.

Justin flopped back against the cushions. "God!" he said. "You're so fucking boring! Are you just going to lie on the couch and watch soap operas all damn afternoon?"

Chris raised an eyebrow. "Nope. Tonight I'm going to get up and dance and entertain 60,000 people even though my fucking heart's been ripped out and run over with a truck if that's alright with you, Timberlake."

"Sure, okay. Sheesh." Justin said, but he didn't get up. He wouldn't, Chris knew. He'd been sitting practically on top of Chris for the last three days, watching t.v. with him, making him sandwiches, annoying the fuck out of him. It was Justin's version of a cure: unremitting attention. He didn't understand how someone could not feel better if they were on the receiving end of the Timberlake charm.

Chris would never admit it, but it was working.

Justin had always been a charming kid--that was how he got the job of Famous Entertainer in the first place. Chris remembered the first time they met, Justin looking up at him (looking up at him, Christ!), and saying "you sing?"

"Yeah," Chris had said.

"What's your range?" Justin had demanded.

"I'm a castrato," he'd said, folding his arms over his chest.

"Really? Like, for real?" Justin had asked.

"Dumbass kid," Chris had said, rolling his eyes. He and Justin had gotten along ever since.

This newer, bigger, older Justin crawled up over him and squeezed in between him and the back of the couch. "Wake me up when you get over yourself," he muttered, closing his eyes. His heat settled over Chris and stole away his irritability.

Chris sighed and pressed the volume down on the t.v. He closed his eyes. When one of Justin's large hands folded over his bicep, he fell asleep.

He couldn't sleep at night, though, no matter how tired he was from the show. It wasn't intentional, like he was trying to feel sorry for himself or anything: he would go and lie down in his bunk, and after twenty minutes he would feel like he was about to suffocate and had to get up again. Sometimes, he would crash out on the leopard print monstrosity in the lounge with the t.v. on and catch a few hours before Lance got up in the morning. He started staying up, playing video games until the rest of the guys went to bed. He got really good at Tetris.

Once, coming out of the bathroom, he saw that Justin had left his curtain open, the little light inside casting a glow into the narrow hallway. He tip-toed over to close it and there was Justin on his back, one hand behind his head, the other low on his stomach. He had on sleep pants and one of the tight t-shirts he liked to sleep in, and he was utterly unconscious.

Chris wasn't sure how long he stood there, maybe until Justin had frowned in his sleep and rolled over to face the wall. Then Chris reached in and turned off the light, letting one hand drift over Justin's shoulder.

It got to be a habit, him standing outside Justin's bunk. He would only do it if the curtain was already open, though, thinking of that time at the very beginning when Justin would follow him everywhere and do anything to get his attention. He knew it was sad, missing a pathetic little kid crush like this, but he was lonely and he couldn't help it. Sometimes, before he would turn off Justin's light, he'd think about kissing him on the cheek or on the forehead. He never did, though.

Justin knew Chris wasn't sleeping--they all knew, because Lance said he was still out in the lounge every morning when he got up--but he didn't know what to do about it. He had tried staying up in his bunk and waiting for him, but that never worked. Eventually, the sway of the wheels would get to him and he would crash, and when he woke up, his light would be off and his curtain closed.

So he started staying up with Chris. The first night, Chris had glanced over at him. "What're you doin' up, J?" he'd asked.

"Nothin'," Justin had said, shrugging, and that was it. Sometimes, Chris would come and sit next to him on the couch, and they would watch t.v. until Justin fell asleep, slumped over on the arm of the couch. More often, though, Chris would just continue his game of Mario-Go- Round, and Justin would doze off to the sight of the back of Chris' head and the gentle pings of the video game on low.

One night, Chris woke him up with a gentle shake on his shoulder.

"Hmm," Justin said, stretching, filling the whole divan with his impossibly long limbs. It had been Joey's idea, this huge couch, and they had all made fun of him for it, but they all appreciated it more every day.

"Go to bed, kid," Chris said.

"What?" Justin asked, squinting up at him.

Chris shook his head. "I'm okay," he said. "Go to bed."

"Are you sure?" Justin asked. "Cause, like, I can stay up for a while. If you want."

Chris laughed a little, wishing it were four years ago and this was still a little kid crush. It had been so much easier then. Now, Justin was this, this real person, this amazing sexy real person, who never wore shirts big enough to cover his six pack, who lounged like a lion, and who was a friend of his.

"Chris?" Justin said, and Chris realized he'd been staring.

"Look, it's. Just forget it. There's just." He slammed his hand down on the cushion next to Justin's thigh.

Justin chuckled. "I get it, man," he said, propping himself up on his elbows. "You're chrissing."

"What?" Chris jerked his hand back. "Justin, look--"

"What's her name?" Justin asked. He pulled himself up and hooked his arms around his knees.

"Her name?" Chris said. "Um, her name is, um, Bethany, and she's really pretty, and--"

Justin was staring at him, eyes narrow.

The words died in his mouth. "Ironic, right?" he said, finally, tasting bitterness on his tongue. He closed his eyes.

"Chris," Justin said, rubbing his arm. His hand was warm and dry, and soft over Chris' shoulder. "Chris," he said, and his breath was hot on Chris' ear.

"Don't--Justin," Chris said.

"Don't what?" he asked, and licked his ear. Chris turned, trying to catch Justin's eye. This wasn't fair. He wasn't some plaything for Justin to cut his teeth on.

"Don't," Chris said again.

But Justin did, swirling the tip of his tongue around the whorls of Chris' ear. Then he breathed softly and Chris felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. "Justin," he muttered. Justin's tongue came back, then his teeth, nibbling on the edge of Chris' ear, and Chris moaned.

"Justin, please," he said, trying to pull away, but Justin grabbed his arm and pushed, shoving Chris over onto his back. He loomed over him, not really smiling, and Chris' hands came up, helplessly, clutching at Justin's narrow waist.

Justin kissed him, then, palms beside Chris' head, mouth closed, and Chris relaxed. That was Justin, soft lips against his, sweet Justin, who would do anything to make him feel better. He smiled when Justin pulled back.

"J," he said, touching Justin's cheek. "This is nice of you, but, um. Not. You don't have to cheer me up this way."

Justin rolled his eyes. "I'm not trying to fuckin' 'cheer you up,'" he said, sighing. "I mean, I am, but that's not why."

"Why?" Chris asked, and Justin pressed down on top of him, elbows above Chris' shoulders. He was so big--he could cover Chris completely--and Chris was startled to find out that he liked being covered, feeling Justin's thighs on top of his, and his smooth firm belly where his t- shirt didn't cover it. His arms wrapped around Justin's fine waist, fingers feeling the indentation of his spine.

"What if," Justin said, nuzzling Chris' throat. "What if I'm tired of being your friend?" His tongue crawled across Chris' jaw. He slid his body in time to the swipes of his tongue, like a big cat. His hips were loose and liquid motion in Chris' hands.

"Um," Chris said. "Um, okay."

"Okay," Justin said, and his smile was like daylight after a stormy night.

Afterwards, Justin curled up around him and Chris thought that he would never get used to this, the feeling of Justin's long smooth limbs wrapped around him like a spider would its prey, the feeling of being caught, helpless, and having to give up all thought of struggle because this was how it was meant to be, him here, in Justin's sweet clutches.

"Remember that time I slept over at your house?" Justin mumbled against his neck.

Chris snorted. "You slept over at my house nine billion times, J."

"That time when I got homesick and missed my mom."

Chris smiled. "Yeah. You were such a fuckin' kid."

Justin shifted against him, holding him tighter. "I had such a chris on you, man," he whispered. "And you knew it, too, and you were all cool about it."

"Cool is, like, my defining element," Chris said airily.

Justin chuckled, and kissed Chris' neck. "Tell me about it," he said. "What if, you know, hypothetically, I said I had a chris on you now? Would you be cool with it?"

Chris turned in Justin's embrace, sliding until his head was on Justin's bare chest. "Not at all, man," he said, sliding a leg between both of Justin's. "No way."

Joey stumbled out from his bunk, scrubbing his hand through his hair. Justin and Chris were on the divan under a blanket, foreheads pressed together, sharing breath. One of Justin's naked shoulders peeked out. From the heap of clothes on the floor, Joey thought the rest of him might be naked, too.

He grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down next to Lance, who was reading his morning paper. Joey tipped his head to Lance's shoulder and closed his eyes. "mmm," he said.

"You should have seen them before I covered them up with the blanket," Lance said.

Joey lifted his head and looked at them, then settled back against Lance's shoulder. "They're totally chris for each other, aren't they?" he said.

"Yup," Lance said, and turned a page.

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