by Synchronik
by Synchronik

and if I should falter
would you open your arms out to me?


Justin's waiting for him at the airport. Lance doesn't realize it's him at first, just some tall lanky guy leaning against a post checking him out, before he recognizes Justin's chin beneath his hat. There's hardly anyone else in the concourse, just a family, little kids asleep in the hard plastic chair and a college kid. And Justin. He walks over.

"Hey," he says.

"Hey," Justin says back.

"Where's JC?" Lance asks.

Justin shrugs. "L.A., I think."

"Oh." Lance stands there for a second. The plane had been intensely air conditioned and he had his sweatshirt on. He was getting hot. He took another step toward Justin. Justin pushed off the post and hooked an arm around him, patting his shoulder with one hand. It's the kind of hug Lance gave his translator when he left, casual and impersonal. He pats Justin's back so that he can let go.

"You have luggage?" Justin asks.

"Security's gettin' it," Lance says.

"Sure, okay," Justin says. "I'm in the hourly lot, so let's go," and that's it.

He's home.

Justin drives him to his house and pulls into the driveway and then up into the garage, entering Lance's code on the little remote he keeps in the glove compartment. Lance looks at him, but Justin doesn't explain anything, just opens the trunk of his new BMW and pulls out Lance's carry on. "C'mon," he says. "I been staying here."

"Oh," Lance says.

"Someone broke into my place," Justin says. "And you were, like, gone. So."

"Sure," Lance says. He wants to ask how come Justin didn't ask, he wants to be angry, but there's no point. He would have said yes anyway, even though Justin could have just bought a different house the next day if he wanted. Justin clicks on the light in the kitchen and sets Lance's bag down in the hallway. Lance sees that Justin's got his shaving kit in the small bathroom next to the laundry room, even though there's two guest baths. It's like he didn't want to come to far into the house, and Lance isn't angry, even a little.

"Night, then," Justin says. He's picked the downstairs guestroom, the smallest, without a bath. He gives Lance a little wave and shuts the bedroom door.

As Lance heads up the stairs to his own room, he hears music come on.

Justin has showered in Lance's bathroom; Lance can tell because the towel on the rack is still slightly damp and there's fancy shower gel in the tub. Lance uses Herbal Essences, a habit from when he used to live with his sister and his mother. He picks up the black oval bottle and smells it. It smells the way Justin did in the airport. Lance sets it back down.

He doesn't shower. He's too tired and showering seems like so many obstacles between him and his bed. He peels off his clothes and shoves them in the hamper and crawls into bed naked, the slip of Egyptian cotton against his skin like a kiss after the rough hotel bedding in St. Petersburg. He turns the pillow over three times, a ritual he's never been able to get over since he learned it at summer camp. Once for good night, once for good dreams, once for good luck. When he puts his face in it, he can smell Justin's shower gel. He closes his eyes.

The next day, Justin plays his new album for Lance during breakfast, humming along while he's eating his cereal, splashing milk on the counter. Lance doesn't like it. The album. He doesn't really like the milk on the counter either, but Justin doesn't ask him about that.

"So?" he says, leaning over, pushing his bowl aside.

"It's new," Lance says. He hates it. It's too much, too jumpy, too high, too full of stuff. He wonders if this is how Justin now and looks at him carefully in the fluorescent light. He doesn't look any jumpier than he did when Lance left. "It's very new."

"Dude, totally!" Justin says, slapping his hand down. He grabs his bowl and dances over to the counter. "I knew you would get it," he says. His eyes are sparkly and shining and wide with happiness. JC and Joey have eyes that squinch up when they are happy. Lance misses them. "I was telling Jayce that when we were in studio. He was all, like, 'J, man, I don't know--" Justin's imitation of JC reminds Lance of Stevie Wonder, his head swaying back and forth. "-- but I knew you would just listen to it."

"When does it drop?" Lance asks. He already knows -- it was in all the London papers -- but he doesn't have anything else to ask. Justin looks at him and Lance thinks, he knows, but Justin's just thinking.

"The fourth?" he says. "The eighth. Dunno. That Friday."

Lance nods. He gets the dish soap from under the sink and turns on the water and, like magic, Justin disappears. He's always hated chores.

Lance kind of expects a big homecoming with hugs and food and everything, but Joey's still in New York and JC may or may not be in California so it's only Chris and a case of beer. Lance is disappointed. Then Chris sets the beer down and grabs him and squeezes him tight, snuffling into Lance's neck, his shaved head prickly and sharp on the tender skin under Lance's chin.

"Hey," Chris says. He pulls back, his small hands tight on Lance's shoulders. "You're fucking skinny."

"Yeah, I," Lance says, but he doesn't know what else to say and his smile threatens to split his head in half.

"J!" Chris shouts. "Did you blow Lance? He's all grinnin' and shit!"

"Shut the fuck up," Justin shouts from the kitchen. He's making tacos. Chris rolls his eyes at Lance.

"He didn't, did he?" Chris asks.

Lance shakes his head. His smile kind of hurts, it's so big. Chris bends down and scoops up the beer. "Well, come on then," he says. "We'll see what we can do about that." He grabs Lance's hand. Lance goes willingly.

They don't do anything special. Justin makes tacos out of mix and they drink beer and talk about shit. Chris' hair looks really bad -- something Justin says right away and Lance says after four beers. Chris shrugs each time. Lance keeps watching him, for hours and hours it seems. When he was in Russia, he missed Joey and JC. He won't ever tell anyone, ever, but there were times when he pulled the thin blankets up over his face and cried a little, missing them. He didn't realize until just now, sitting shoulder to shoulder at the breakfast counter in his own kitchen, that he missed Chris, too. He's always missed Justin.

Chris is seeing a new girl, but they're going to break up. Chris doesn't say that; Lance can just tell from the resigned look on his face. "So, yeah," he says. "That's about it. She's hot, she's nice, she likes sports."

"Fuck, man," Justin says. "You're such a downer, even when you're getting laid. Did you talk to Dani or something?"

"No," Chris says. He means yes.

"Dude." Justin shakes his head. Lance doesn't say anything, but puts his hand on Chris' shoulder and rubs gently. Chris and Dani don't talk very often anymore. Ironically, that seems to make it harder. "Dude, you have to change your number."

"I did," Chris said.

"You have to change your number and not give it to her," Justin says.

"Shut up and get me another beer," Chris says. Justin does. Chris looks over at Lance and makes a wry face, his mouth all twisted up in a knot. Lance knows what he means. Justin thinks that he's over Britney, that you can get over someone you really loved by banging someone famous, or several someones, and then talking about it on the radio. He doesn't understand that there's no getting over the first person you really love. You may move on and love other people, or you may just move on, but you never actually get over them. Lance should know; he's been trying to get over Justin since he was eighteen.

"So are you bringing her, then?" Justin asks, handing over the beer. He means to the release party. It's all he's been talking about all day.

"Dunno." Chris sips. "Maybe it could just be a guy thing, huh, Bass?"

"Yeah, sure." He's relieved. He has about fifty numbers he could call, but they would all take effort, they would all want something from him. What Chris wants is someone to make smart ass comments to. That's easy enough.

Lance doesn't have anything better to do so he goes with Justin to his publicity stuff.

That's not entirely true: he has several other things to do that would be "better" in the sense of they wouldn't involve spending all of his time with a guy that he's not in love with anymore. He could go home, for example, and see his family, his niece seems to be growing up by the second and his mother has been making noises about how they never see him anymore. Or he could go to New York to see Joey on Broadway and chill with his goddaughter. Or he could go to California and see JC. Or he could go play golf with Chris or learn to ride a motorcycle so that Chris would stop calling him a pussy all the fucking time. Or he could just stay home and read scripts. Or watch t.v. Or listen to music. Or nap.

He goes with Justin.

Justin gets his picture taken for the covers of magazines. The publicists love his new short-haired jock look, and they put him in tank tops and let him wear his own jeans and have him photographed with bare feet. It's a good look for him, Lance admits, but he wants to note for the record that Justin doesn't look like that when he's home by himself. At home, Justin mostly wears track pants and big t-shirts and one of his seven thousand pairs of tennis shoes, because at home Justin still likes to act like he's a b-baller. Of course, Lance doesn't say anything.

Lance goes with Justin to radio stations and listens to Justin give interviews that mostly have to do with did he or didn't he fuck Janet Jackson. Lance doesn't know whether he did or he didn't, although he suspects Justin did. Justin hasn't told him that, though, which is unusual because the first time that Justin had sex -- with Britney -- Justin practically took out a billboard. Chris says that Justin waited until Britney fell asleep that night and then called him from the hotel bathroom. The first time that Justin had sex with a guy -- Wade -- he didn't even wait, but called Lance from the bed, Wade making low laughing noises while Justin talked. Strangely, it's Justin's silence that makes Lance think it's true.

So, anyway, the interviews are mostly about that, and Justin laughs and makes jokes full of innuendos and implications, and Lance sees right through them. Justin has always loved Janet Jackson. When the producer of one of these shows recognizes him (it doesn't happen very often, which kind of surprises Lance, but doesn't exactly disappoint him) and asks him to join Justin on the radio, Lance refuses.

"This isn't my thing," he tells the guy, who shrugs and walks away.

JC shows up after Lance has been home a week. He doesn't call ahead of time; Lance just opens the door one day and JC is there. He has a tan and the beginnings of a beard and smells just the same as he did the night they spent together while Lance was training in Texas. JC was the only one who came to see him.

"Lance!" he shouts, like Lance opening his own door is some kind of surprise, and throws him arms around him. He's gained a little weight. He looks glorious. He kisses Lance on the cheek when they pull apart and says "I really missed you, man," while staring intently into Lance's eyes. Lance has to step back. He doesn't want to cry.

"How was California?" he says, instead, and JC talks and talks, his hands going back and forth, the door open behind him and letting in cool October air. Lance listens and watches the sun in JC's unruly mess of hair and wishes that he and JC were in love so that he could live happily ever after. He's so glad to see him.

JC pauses mid-sentence when Justin comes into the room, the remote in hand.

"Jup?" he says. He looks at Lance, surprised, and Lance remembers that no one else knows Justin is staying at his house. It seems so natural, them piled on top of one another, that he's forgotten Justin doesn't live there. JC has not. "You stayin' here?" he asks.

"Um, yeah," Justin says. "What's up?" He sets the remote down on a table and steps forward, his arms open for a hug, but JC takes a single step back. Lance blinks in surprise.

"Why?" JC asks.

"My, um. My house got broken into," Justin says, and that's when Lance realizes that he's lying.

They decide to go out, the three of them because Chris has some thing with the new girlfriend, and Lance goes upstairs to change. When he comes back down, JC has Justin backed into a corner and is speaking very quickly and quietly, never a good sign. Justin is shaking his head and not looking at him.

"We ready?" Lance asks. Justin looks up at him. JC does not turn around.

"Yes," Justin says. "Yeah, we're ready."

They all go in one car, and JC is his normal self for the rest of the night. He dances like a fool when Like I Love You, the first single off Justin's album, is played. It's not the different from how JC usually dances. Lance watches Justin watch him.

They drop JC off at his house and Lance drives home, both hands on the wheel because something is in the air between them and he's afraid to touch it. He gets out of the car and follows Justin in, just like that first night, and just like it Justin says good night and goes inside and shuts the door.

Lance goes upstairs and showers and sits on the edge of his bed in the damp towel for twenty minutes before he gives up.

He wakes up alone, naked and crabby. "Hey!" Justin shouts and bursts through the door and for a second Lance thinks this is it, but it isn't it, not at all. It's just Justin, excited because today is the day of the release party, just like the thousand other times that Justin's been excited about something and come running into the room. It doesn't mean anything -- it never does -- but Lance can't stop the feeling. He's tried enough times to know.

Justin yanks clothes out of Lance's closet and leaves with a deep blue shirt the color of his eyes. Lance bought the shirt because it reminded him of them. He calls Chris the minute the door shuts behind Justin.

"You were serious about coming with me to this thing, right?"

"Oh fuck," Chris says.

"No," Lance says. "No, no, no. Don't you fuckin' back out on me, Kirkpatrick, I swear to --"

"Hold on to your undies, asshole," Chris says. He mumbles something and there's an answering mumble. "Okay, we're cool," he says. There's a squawk in the background, but Lance says

"good!" and hangs up before Chris can say anything else.

The party is like every other release party Lance has ever been to except for the first one. Their first release party, the one for the Europe album, was maybe the best party Lance has ever been to; every party he's been to since, every party he's had since, has seemed like a pale imitation. This one is, too, but as far as imitations go, it's pretty good.

Justin is everywhere. Everywhere Lance looks Justin is there, talking, laughing, his mouth open wide. He's having the time of his life. He's wearing a black t-shirt and worn jeans and boots and his teeth sparkle even in the dim light.

"Hey," Chris says. He nudges Lance with his shoulder.

"Hmm." Lance sips his drink. Justin is talking to a black girl, a model, tall and thin and gorgeous. Justin leans in and whispers in her ear, then leans back and looks her up and down. She laughs and slaps at his arm.

"Hey," Chris says again. Lance gives up and looks at him. Chris looks back and sips his beer. "His house wasn't broken into. You know that, right."

Lance nods. "Yeah," he says. "I figured."

"So what are you going to do about it?"

Lance looks over at Justin, who now has one arm around the model's waist and is laughing while she whispers to him. Lance thinks he sees her tongue in Justin's ear. "I'm going home," he says to Chris. And he does.

He's not asleep when Justin comes in. He wants to be, but he hears the garage door open and close, and the kitchen door open and close, and the distinct soft beep of the alarm being set. Lance sighs. He hates Justin. A lot. Someday, he's going to change his locks or his alarm code or his mind. One of those things. Any of those things.

He's sinking into his mattress, his blankets high on his shoulder, his body drifting loose from his brain, and the door opens.

Lance opens his eyes.


"Lance," Justin whispers. "Are you up?"

Lance almost answers before he catches himself. He breathes in once, twice, and then it's too late to answer. The chance has passed. Lance closes his eyes in relief.

"Mmm," Justin says. He climbs onto the bed, clambering over Lance pressing him down under the covers. "You left my party," he murmurs. "It's my party," he sings softly. "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to, cry if I want to, cry if I want to." He flops down and Lance tenses because it's Justin on top of him, over the covers, but on him, pressed against him in a way Lance hasn't felt since they were kids and cold and slept in the same bed, arms and legs fitted around him, holding him in. In a minute, Justin is still. A minute more and he's snoring softly. He smells like smoke and alcohol.

In the morning, Justin drags his ass out of Lance's bed and downstairs to his own room without a word. Lance rolls over and goes back to sleep. He dreams that Justin is back in his bed.

The album drops on a Tuesday and Justin is busy all day with interview after interview. Lance buys the cd at the mall, just walks right into the Sam Goody and picks it up off the rack and takes it to the counter. He waits in live behind two young girls who are also buying the album, along with Nelly's new one and the latest Christina. His target audience. They do not recognize him. He pretends it's because of the baseball hat.

He listens to the album in the car on the way back home. He still doesn't like it, but it's going to be huge.

The album enters the chart at number fifteen. Justin's deflated for, like, a minute and a half, and bounces back and makes Lance shoot hoops until he feels like vomiting.

It's inexorable, like the force opposite of gravity, Lance thinks, when the album begins to creep up the chart. The singles are going nowhere fast, blooming at ten or twelve and fading like hothouse flowers, but the album, the album is a weed. It climbs, number after number, and hits number three after four weeks. Justin, when he is not on promotional gigs or doing awards shows, stays at Lance's house, but when he's gone, Lance can't remember a word he's said. Justin is a ghost of a former life.

While Justin is gone, Lance cleans his whole house. Himself. He cleans out the closets and gives stuff away to Good Will. "You should sell this crap," Chris tells him. He sits on Lance's Mexican tile floor with his back against the wall and drinks Lance's beer while Lance pulls old shoes from the closet and sneezes up closet dust.

In the evenings, he sits down in his house smelling of Windex and Murphy's Oil Soap and looks around. He doesn't turn on the t.v. or the radio or even open a magazine. He sits and looks around at his freshly cleaned, antiseptic smelling house and wonders if this is what space would have been like.

One morning, Lance wakes up and his pillow is wet. He's concerned at first that he's gotten a nosebleed like the ones he got in Russia when they did the centrifugal force tests, but when he clicks on the light there's no blood on the pillow. It's just wet. His face is wet, too.

Joey calls him later, and Lance says that he's fine. Joey's in New York for at least another month or so -- there's no point in telling him the truth.

"Really?" Joey says. "I just saw J and he says you've been all weird."

Lance laughs, really. "When has Justin ever known shit about me?" he asks.

Justin shows up on a two day layover, dumping his bags in the hallway by the laundry room and laughing for no reason. "Hey," he says. Lance is stirring spaghettios, and hardly looks up.

"Hey," he says.

Justin sits down at the breakfast counter and slumps over, leaning on his elbows. He's just come in from New York, so he's wearing a sweater, a loose knit tan one that hangs from his shoulders and clings to his waist. He's a study of browns, the dark stubble of his shorn hair, the tan of his sweater, the faded khaki of his pants. Lance turns off the burner and holds up the pan, but Justin says

"no, I ate on the plane."

He watches Lance eat for a minute, and then he gets up to unpack his stuff. Lance doesn't ask him to change rooms.

Lance comes full awake in the middle of the night, his breath catching in his throat. His heart throbs like it's been jump started.

There's someone in the room.

There's someone in the room.

"Lance," Justin says, and Lance, who hasn't realized that he is sitting up, flops back against the mattress.

"Yeah, Justin," he says. He's tired. If he closes his eyes, he'll fall back to sleep and won't have to listen to whatever bullshit Justin is about to sling. He's tired. He's so tired.

"I'm sorry," Justin says, and Lance's eyes snap open. "I mean, I know you're trying to sleep and all. Can I talk to you?"

"Sure," Lance says. He pushes himself up and leans against the pillows, folding his arms across his bare chest. "What's up?"

"It's the album," Justin says. Lance sighs. He knew this would happen. It's not going to reach number one, it's not going any higher than three, and none of the singes are going to go much past ten, and they're all going to have to be nice to Justin, who will have finally failed.

"J," he says, but Justin interrupts him.

"It's doing so good," he says. "I mean. It's."

"Number three," Lance says.

Justin nods in the slant of light from the hallway. He sits down on the edge of Lance's bed and leans on his hand. "Three," he says. "Can you believe it? I never thought that it would be. That it would go that high. I never thought it would do nothin'."

"Oh, please," Lance says. "Justin, c'mon."

"Fuck you," Justin says, without heat. Empty. "I just. You don't understand. Fuck you."

Lance sits up even further. "Justin," he says.

"It was just supposed to be a side thing," Justin says. "Like, a fucking hobby. Like Chris and Fuman or Joey and this musical thing. Or you and space. Like, temporary."

"Temporary," Lance says, but it had been temporary, his trip, his dream. He shakes his head. "What's your damage?" he asks, because he doesn't want to hear any more of Justin's rationalizations.

"It's working," Justin whispers. "It's working and it's going to be a big hit and then what do I do? What do I do then, Lance?" he asks.

Lance reaches out and touches Justin's shoulder, pulls him down onto the bed. It must be rough, he thinks, when your biggest problem is that all your dreams come true, but he stops thinking when Justin starts crying, his face hot and wet against Lance's shoulder.

"Justin," Lance asks, startled.

"No, I'm okay," Justin says. "I'm just. I don't know what to do next, Lance."

Lance shakes him a little, squeezes him. "Don't worry about it now," he says.

"But," Justin flaps his hand randomly. "JC and Chris, and everyone keeps asking me."

"Don't worry about it now," Lance says again, keeps saying, until Justin dozes off.

When Lance wakes up again, Justin is under the covers, his hands on Lance's ribs, his fingers moving gently. "Justin," Lance whispers. He's motionless, entirely still, practically holding his breath. He thinks maybe he can feel each individual hair on Justin's arm rubbing against his.

"Lance," Justin murmurs. He surges up against Lance, his body smooth and slick. He kisses Lance's jaw, his chin, and then he's kissing Lance's mouth, gently, softly, his mouth barely open, his lips baby soft. Lance opens his mouth, gasps.

Pushes away.

"Justin," he says.

"Lance." Justin folds his arms around Lance and presses close.

"I'm not your pity fuck," Lance manages to choke out. His chest hurts so badly that he thinks he's breaking apart.

"No," Justin says, still pressing, still kissing. "No," he says. "You know me."

"I hate you," Lance says, but there's only so much a human being can stand and Justin's mouth is on him.

Justin leaves the next morning for L.A. Lance drives him. He doesn't go in, just pulls up outside the terminal and says "okay, here you go," but Justin leans over and hooks one hand behind his neck and kisses him. Lance hardly has time to kiss him back, but he stays in the drop off lane and thinks about doing it until the security guy knocks on his window and waves him along.

Justin comes home from California on a Sunday while Lance is putting the storm windows up, and the first inkling Lance has that he's there is his big hand on the window frame.

"Hey," Justin says, and Lance drops the window. It cracks up the middle, almost exactly in half.

"Jesus," Lance says. He's pissed, he's really pissed, or rather he wants to be but the churning in his stomach is more fear than anger, and he wonders when it got so that he could lie to everyone else but himself.

Justin steps back and smiles.

"Hey," he says again.

"Hey." Lance picks up his broken window and starts walking to garage. He doesn't have to look back. Justin follows.

The album does not reach number one.

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