by Synchronik
by Synchronik

Joey found Lance in their room. Big shock. The kid was always in his room, usually writing letters that he would cover up with his hand whenever Joey walked in. Joey didn't mind -- he had things he liked to keep private, too -- so he shared with Lance whenever Lance's mom wasn't on tour with them. Lance was quiet and reserved, but he was a good kid. Joey liked him okay.

Lance looked up when he came in, and shoved some papers under his pillow. Joey ignored that, even though it was kind of rude. He wasn't a snoop.

"Hey, Lance," he said.

Lance sniffed. "Hey."

Joey stopped rummaging around in his dresser drawer. He and Chris were going to club and that required certain supplies. "You okay?" he asked.

"Yeah, yeah." Lance nodded. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that he was lying, wiping his face with his hands, sniffling. "I'm fine."

"Really," Joey said, shoving the foil packets in his pocket.

Lance took the hint. "Really," he said.

"See ya later, then," he said.

"Yeah, see ya," Lance said. "Have a good time." He smiled a little, and Joey chose to ignore his watering eyes. He and Chris were going out.

He felt worse about it when he came back and Lance was curled on his side on the bed with his knees up and his hand pressed up against his mouth, asleep. The lamp was still on. Lance's face was red and mottled, and he'd obviously been crying, and he was asleep on two sheets of notebook paper that rustled when he breathed.

Joey sighed.

"Lance," he whispered, crouching by the side of the bed. He pinched the sheets of paper carefully between his fingers. "Lance," he whispered again.

Lance groaned and scrunched his face up and rolled over, and Joey had the papers. He clicked off the light. At least now the kid could get a decent night's sleep. He thought about getting Lance undressed -- he had on his jeans, still -- or pulling the blanket up over him, but he didn't, just took the papers and went into the bathroom to brush his teeth.

It was letter, he noticed when he glanced down, toothpaste foaming in his mouth. "Dear Lance," it started. Joey considered not reading it.

He spat toothpaste into the sink. He rinsed his mouth out with a handful of water from the tap. He picked up the letter and sat down on the closed toilet seat and read it.

"Oh, man," he said, after he'd finished it. No wonder the kid had been crying. A "dear john" letter. From his boyfriend.

He turned off the bathroom light and went back into the bedroom. Lance was still asleep on his side, his breathing light and even. Joey had suspected -- they had all suspected, especially JC -- but Lance never said anything, so they never said anything. He wondered if that would be true now that Lance and his boyfriend had broken up. Lance wasn't going to be able to hide the fact that he was fucked up, not if tonight was any indication.

Joey sat on the edge of his bed and set the letter on the night stand. Poor kid, he thought. Like everyday life wasn't tough enough.

Lance was already dressed when he woke up, dressed and sitting on the edge of the bed with his hands folded in his lap. He looked nervous, the way he did when he was getting ready to perform.

"Mmm," Joey said, and staggered to the bathroom. When he came back out, Lance was still sitting there, that same way. Joey flopped back onto the bed and glanced at the clock. 9:30. They had a thing at 11:00. No time to go back to bed. He could hear Lance breathing, carefully, through his nose. "What's up?" he asked.

"I, um." Lance shook his head. "You. Did you read my letter?"

Oh. Oh god, poor kid. "Lance, man," he said. "Don't worry about it. It's cool. We're cool. We suspected."

Lance flinched at that. "It was a private letter, Joey," he said. His voice was soft and calm.

"No, I know. I'm sorry."

Lance sighed.

"Are you okay?" Joey asked. Lance didn't look okay in any sense of the word. He seemed thin and pale and tired and miserable. Lou was going to kick his ass if he showed up anywhere looking like that.

"Not really," Lance said. "Adam was my first, um."

"Your first time?" Joey supplied gently.

Lance glanced up, startled. "What? No! My first boyfriend. The first guy I liked who liked me back."

"You didn't have sex with him?"

Lance shook his head. He was staring at his hands, his fingers weaved together. "We. I. No. I should have, though," he said.


"What chance will I have now?" he asked. It didn't seem like he was asking Joey at all, but Joey sat up anyway. He understood the post break-up blues, the period when you wondered if there was anything at all you could have done to make her stay. If only you'd kissed her better, or told her how great she looked, or bought her that card you thought of, but never did. He sighed.

"You'll have plenty of chances," he told Lance. He shifted to the other bed and put his arm around Lance's shoulders. "Okay?"

Lane sniffed, but he wasn't crying, so that was something. "Okay," he said. It was painfully obvious that Lance didn't believe him. "You smell," Lance said.

"Yeah, well, you stink," Joey answered. He hugged Lance tight with one arm and kissed him on the cheek. "I'm gonna go take a shower."

"Hey, Joey," Lance said after Joey stood up.


"Don't tell the others, okay? I. I just don't want to talk about it right now."

Joey smiled. "Sure, honey," he said. "Okay."

Lance managed a watery smile back. Joey went to take a shower and let him cry in peace.

"Dude," Chris said to Lance during rehearsal. "What's up with you? You're way off."

"Yeah, sorry." Lance ran his hands through his hair. It stuck up in strange pale points and made him look even more freaked out than he already was. "I'll. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry, man," Chris said. "Fix it."

"Right. Okay," Lance said, but the next time they started up the tape player, Lance screwed it up again. Joey, who was next to Chris, reached out and grabbed his arm, before Chris could speak.

"Give him a break," he said softly. Chris glared up at him -- this was Chris' dream more than it was his, and Joey knew that -- but didn't say anything else to Lance.

Joey hadn't meant for that gesture to mean anything, but Lance apparently thought it did, because when they were back up in their room for the night, he sat down on Joey's bed.

"Thanks for today," he said. "I'll be better tomorrow, I promise. I know I need to be. But it was just, you know, and I couldn't. But I will be, okay?" His words slurred together, dulled by his accent.

"Okay," Joey said.

"Oh, thanks," Lance said, and squeezed him in a quick tight hug before going to put his pajamas on. Joey smiled at his back. Lance was such a weird kid.

He was better the next day and Chris apologized by telling him that he, Chris, had decided Lance could stay in the band. Lance smiled at him. He still wasn't entirely okay -- that much was made clear by the fact that Joey found him crying in the stairwell during the lunch break -- but he'd gotten his game face back, and that was a good sign.

"Hey," Joey said to him that night. "We're goin' out. You wanna come?"

He expected Lance to say no -- Lance always said no -- but he looked up from his history book and said, "yeah, okay. What should I wear?"

Joey sent him to JC.

Justin ran up to him in the club, sloshing something red and (Joey hoped) nonalcoholic over his arm. "You gotta come quick," he gasped, and Joey would have laughed aloud except that Justin seemed serious and freaked out and young in a way he didn't remember Justin ever being, even when he was twelve.

"What?" he asked.

"Lance," Justin said. "Lance."

Joey went quickly. He didn't think Lance would try and hurt himself over some guy writing him a break-up letter, but then again, he didn't know Lance very well, none of them did, and it was just the kind of melodramatic thing that Joey himself would have done when he was seventeen and alone in a foreign land. Joey had been more of a girl than he liked to admit, sometimes.

Lance had not hurt himself, it turned out. When he looked where Justin pointed and finally saw Lance in the dim light of the club, Lance didn't look like he was hurting at all. He had chosen the slightly less melodramatic but equally successful way of dealing with a breakup: he was making out with someone else.

Some guy.

Oh. Shit.

"Oh, shit," Joey said.

"See?" Justin told him.

"Go get Chris and C," Joey said, turning Justin and shoving him. "We're leaving."

He watched Lance for a long second after Justin left. He was looking okay now, better than when they'd found him, although Joey didn't like the uber-blond hair. The guy Lance was kissing didn't seem to mind, though. Joey sighed.

"Hey, Lance!" he shouted, stepping forward, sliding his arm around Lance's neck. Lance jerked back. The guy he was with looked pissed.

"Hey, um. Hey, Joey."

Joey smiled a big broad smile at the guy. He didn't speak much German, but the guy apparently got the hint, because he let go of Lance's hand and left, muttering something probably unflattering under his breath. "If you wanted to keep it a secret," he murmured in Lance's ear, "that was probably a bad idea."

Lance stared up at him, his eyes mournful. "I didn't think of that," he said.

"No kidding." Joey clapped him on the back and released him, right as Chris and JC came running up, Justin on their heels, eyes wide.

They had a long talk about it back at the hotel that clearly freaked Justin out and made Lance shake with anxiety. "I'll quit," he said at one point. "I swear. I'll just tell Lou I can't and then y'all can find someone else. I'm real sorry."

That upset Joey, that Lance would think that his being gay would have anything to do with him being in the band, and he thought maybe they should have had this talk a long time ago, at least him and JC. It upset JC, too, who kneeled in front of Lance and hugged him and said "Lance, no. No quitting."

"Look, we picked you for a reason," Chris said. "You're not out of the band, okay? But no more frenching guys at clubs, alright?"

Lance looked over JC's shoulder. "Okay," he said.

"Okay. So we're all good?" Chris asked. JC nodded. Justin nodded, although he didn't jump up and grab Lance's hand or anything. The surprise of it had startled him, Joey figured. Justin didn't really have a problem with gay people.

"We're good," Joey said. Lance smiled at him.

But Lance wasn't good, not entirely. He started out okay, and he was remarkably patient with all of Justin's dumbass questions, something Joey could not handle. But he still cried at night, sometimes, and he kept that damn letter in his back pocket if the pants he was supposed to wear that day had back pockets.

"Lance," Joey said, after a couple of weeks.

Lance looked up from his math book, finger marking the place. "Huh?" he said. His eyes were so green, Joey noticed. They were the most remarkable eyes he'd ever seen.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Sure, why?"

"You don't seem okay," Joey said. Lance smiled at him for a moment and then his face fell. He pressed his fingers into his eye sockets so tightly that Joey was afraid his remarkable green eyes were going to pop right out.

"I'm okay, Joey," he said. "You know."

"No, I don't," he said. "Look, just tell me, okay? I mean, I know you're upset about your boyfriend and whatever, but you need to start getting over him, Lance, and you don't seem to be, like, not at all."

"No, I am," Lance said. "I'm trying."

"You're still carrying his letter around," Joey pointed out. Lance froze, caught.

"That's not. Joey --"

"Lance." Lance sighed and shoved his math book off the bed, watching as it landed face down on the cheap carpeting, pages folding in half. He didn't seem to care, which was slightly unnerving to Joey. Lance took good care of his things. "It's not. I'm. It's not really about him, I guess."

Joey nodded. "What's it about, then?"

Lance shook his head. Took a deep breath. Let it out. "I guess I'm just. You know. I mean. I know why, like, I'm not allowed to pick up guys in clubs and stuff, and that's cool, I mean, I get it. But I just. Adam liked me. And now no one likes me."

"Lance, we all like you," Joey said. "Even Justin. I know he's a -- "

"No, not that way," Lance said. "No one likes me. And I can't go out and get someone to like me. So I just. It sucks."

"You're lonely," Joey said, everything clicking together in his head.

Lance looked up at him. "Yeah, I guess. And, you know. Other things." Lance blushed, averting his eyes.

Joey grinned. Lance trying to say he was horny was maybe the cutest thing he ever saw. "Well, you're on your own for the other things," he said. "But I can help with the lonely."

"Yeah, how?" Lance asked.

"Here." Joey picked up the math book and handed it to Lance. Calculus. Huh. Joey'd never gotten past algebra II. Lance took it. He was still looking confused, turning the book over in his hands like Joey said calculus would help him feel better. As if math ever made anyone feel better. "Now come over here," he said. "Here." He held out his hand when Lance hesitated.

Lance took it and came over to Joey's bed, moving uncertainly. Joey pulled him close and sat him down, facing away. He wrapped one arm around Lance's waist and reclined until he was leaning against the headboard, taking Lance with him, settling him in the curve of his arm so that Lance was against him like Joey was a Lazy Boy chair. "Now, relax," he said into Lance's hair, right near his ear.

Lance didn't. He shifted around. He wriggled a little. He sighed dramatically. He made a big show of leaning forward so that Joey's arm was snug around his waist and picking up his math book and reading it. Eventually, though, he stopped, and after maybe twenty minutes Joey snapped to the fact that Lance was slumped against him, writing equations in pencil in the margins of his math book that he could transfer to a separate piece of paper later. He was heavy and relaxed and Joey could feel the thump of his heart against his ribs. He squeezed a little. Lance looked up.

"Better?" he asked. Lance tensed. "You don't have to get up," Joey said. "Are you feeling better?"

Lance blushed. Smiled. "Yeah," he said.

"All right then." Joey squeezed him again.

Lance was what Joey's mom would call a tulip. That was how she described Steve's girlfriend, a soft-spoken plain looking girl who didn't seem like anything much until you got to know her and really hear her jokes and see her laugh with her mouth open and then it was all you could do not to fall in love with her. Lance was like that, without the love part.

Once Joey started hanging out with him, he realized that Lance wasn't just this boring dork from Mississippi who did school work all the time. He'd only been that guy because no one seemed to care what else he was. What else he was was sarcastic and smart and funny and completely and totally willing to work his ass off to make people happy. He also knew when to keep his mouth shut, which Chris didn't, and knew when to say something, which JC and Justin didn't get because any questions they had were trained out of them on Mickey Mouse Club. Joey found himself watching Lance to see how he should react when Lou scheduled an extra show and didn't tell them, or when their paychecks bounced. That was weird, like Lance was an adult, not just another kid. It took Joey a week or so to figure out what it was he felt about Lance. Joey admired him.

Chris rolled over on the bed and poked Joey with his foot. Joey ignored him. German television had a lot more naked chicks on it than American television. Joey guessed that Chris wanted to say something at least semi-important, though, because he kept jabbing his foot into Joey's thigh until Joey's poked him back.

"What?" he said.

"Nothin'." Chris pushed his hair back out of his eyes. Joey waited. "Okay, so, you and Lance, right?"

"No," Joey said.

"No. Uh huh." Chris nodded up at the ceiling. "Cause it seems like you and Lance."

"No," Joey said again.

"Okay, sure," Chris said. "Lance isn't even that cute."

"Chris, please shut up." Joey shoved at his leg with one foot.

"And you don't like guys."


"And you don't want to freak his hot ass at --"

"Chris!" Joey shouted, right as Lance and Justin came in with pastries and a tray of coffees.

""sup?" Justin asked. He set down the coffees. "Is he trying to tell you about those German twins? Because, dude, he totally saw that on t.v. I was there."

"Shut up, man," Chris said. He rolled off the bed and grabbed the bag from Lance. He looked like a weasel poking his nose into the white paper, Joey thought. "I was asking Joey if he and Lance had got their freak on yet."

Lance rolled his eyes at Joey.

"What?" Justin said. "Y'all are doin' it?"

"No," Joey said. "Chris is full of shit."

"Well, duh," Justin said. "But seriously."

"Seriously, they kiss and hug and make googly eyes at each other," Chris said. He picked a pastry out of the bag and tossed it to Joey. "Ain't that right, Joe Bear?"

Joey opened the bag. Chocolate. Lance had the best taste in pastry. "No, it's not," he said.

"Well, we hug and stuff," Lance said.

"Whoo!" Chris hooted. "Tell us about it, stud!"

Lance shook his head. He was blushing a little, his cheeks pink, but he didn't seem that embarrassed, not like Joey thought he would. "Joey's just nice to me."

"I bet!" Justin shouted. "Nice!"

"I got chills! They're multiplying!" Chris sang in an eerie parody of John Travolta.

"Seriously, y'all," Lance said, sitting down on the bed next to Joey. "It's not like that. Right, Joey?"

"Right," Joey said.

That night, he and Lance slept together.

Just sleeping, Joey thought, climbing into the bed and lining himself up behind Lance. Just sleeping, because they were just friends and he was just being nice to Lance and the hotels all smelled strange and made strange noises in the middle of the night and Lance had said something about having nightmares, once. Like, three weeks ago.

He lay down and slid his arm into the coolness under the pillow.

Lance shifted, turning half onto his back so that Joey could see his face. "Joey," he said.


"It's not like that, is it?" His voice was low, barely a whisper.

Joey closed his eyes. "No, Lance," he said.

JC came up to him at rehearsals, smiling like a nervous thoroughbred. Joey'd known JC for a while, and he still wondered what JC had learned on MMC that had him frightened about asking questions. He wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"Hey, Joey?" JC slapped his shoulder tentatively, more of a flutter than a slap. "Can I. Um. talk to you?"

"Yeah, C, sure." Joey pulled JC's hand away, squeezing it before he released it.

"Okay, um. Lance is crying."

"Wait, what?" Joey stood up.

JC took a step back, wringing his hands together. "Lance is, um." He looked over his shoulder at the door to the hall. "He's. Um."

"Where?" Joey asked.

"Bathroom," JC said.

Lance was washing his face when Joey came in, running his hands under both the hot and cold taps.

"Hey, Joey," he said. He smiled. He looked almost fine. His eyes were red. Water dripped from his chin.

"JC said you were crying."

Lance blinked. Joey saw the lie on his face before it came out of his mouth. "I'm fine," he said.

"Okay." He put a hand on Lance's shoulder, but Lance ducked away, wiping his face on some paper towels. "I'll see you in there."

"Uh huh." Lance nodded. He kept the towels up to his face while Joey left.

They slept together almost every night, even though, if Joey were being honest, he'd have to admit that it didn't seem to be helping Lance with his nightmares; two or three times a week, he'd be woken up by Lance's twitching, his soft moans.

"What do you dream about?" he asked one morning. Lance had pushed aside the covers and sat up.

"Just dreams," he said. His shoulders shifted under the white undershirt he wore. Joey could almost see the shallow line of his spine.

They were in Berlin, again, and the clubs were great, full of girls and music and beer, and Joey came stumbling in late, still half-drunk, and peeled off his clothes down to his boxers and a fresh t-shirt because Lance hated it when he came to bed still smelling of alcohol and smoke.

He had lifted the sheet and was about to climb in when he realized that he was thinking. How he was thinking. About Lance.

He got in the bed anyway.

Lance woke him up again, his leg jerking against Joey's, once, twice. Joey blinked in the dark room. Lance was still asleep, his breath resuming its normal slow pattern, his body settling back into rest. Joey sighed and slid his arm around Lance's waist. Sometimes that kept Lance quiet for the rest of the night. And Lance was warmer in sleep than he was every other time, and smelled good, like sweat and shampoo and deodorant. Lance sighed under Joey's arm, slumped against him.

Joey inched forward, until his mouth was almost against Lance's neck.

"Mmmm," Lance sighed. Joey smiled, briefly. It sounded like Lance's dreams had taken a turn for the better. He flattened his palm against Lance's tummy, feeling the steady heat of his skin. He resisted the urge to squeeze him tight. Lance moved again, closer still, his back pressed gently against Joey's stomach. "Mm," he said.

Joey was lying to himself. He was lying to himself, lying to Chris, lying to Lance, by lying in this bed and telling people that he was just being nice to Lance, that he and Lance were just friends. He lived for these moments when Lance was asleep and Joey could touch him, watch him, without being noticed. He lived for the times when he could feel Lance near him. He was in love.

He was an idiot.

"Oh," Lance breathed, and his hip jerked once under Joey's hand.

"Lance?" Joey whispered.


"Lance," Joey whispered, his hand shifting on Lance's hip, just barely, just enough to feel that Lance wasn't having a nightmare. He was hard under the snug cotton briefs, under the light touch of Joey's fingertips. He was already hard.

For a second, Joey considered pulling away, getting into his own goddamn bed and just talking to Lance about it in the morning. Then Lance moved again, sliding under Joey's fingertips, and he forgot all about that.

He left his hand there, his wrist draped over Lance's hip, his fingertips running lightly over the ridge of Lance's cock, feeling its length, the smooth skin at the tip where it nudged out of the elastic band, the heat where it receded back into the fabric. He leaned closer, curled his hand around, cupped it and stroked it. Lance sighed in his sleep. Joey could see his mouth open, just barely. Joey longed to kiss it, to put his tongue against the corner of his mouth. Instead, Joey squeezed gently. Lance sighed again.

"Oh, fuck this," Joey murmured, and slid in hand into Lance's underwear.

He felt Lance come awake with one startled gasping breath. His body tensed and Joey tensed with it, his hand still moving, his arm tight against Lance's side.

"It's okay," he said in Lance's ear. "It's me. It's okay."

"Joey?" Lance gasped. "Joey?"

"Just enjoy it," he whispered. Lance's hand had closed around Joey's wrist, making him stop, almost pushing him away. "Just relax," Joey said. "Let me."

Lance's fingers loosened.

Joey moved, sliding his hand slowly, really feeling Lance's smooth skin, now that he was caught and had permission. Lance's cock was long and slender, and fit perfectly into the curve of Joey's hand.

Joey leaned up on his elbow to get a better angle, his face next to Lance's. Lance had his eyes pressed shut, Joey noticed, and his mouth open, his hand flat on the sheet in front of his lips like he couldn't believe this was happening. His hips moved a bit, barely rocking. His breath came out in small moans, half-sounds, airy and desperate. Joey sped up.

"Oh," Lance breathed. His hand came down, pushing the sheets away, and in the dim room Joey could see the pale glimmer of Lance's hip, swaying back and forth in time to Joey's hand, cut diagonally by the stark white of his underwear, the triangle of shadow below his wrist. He shifted on the bed, and then he was pressed against Joey, his firm ass, his heat, and Joey groaned and slowed down and pulled Lance tight against him.

"God," he said.

Lance nodded, his shoulders pulled away from Joey's, his body pushing up off the bed. He thrust into Joey's hand. His body flexed and moved against Joey's, and he was slippery everywhere, his cock, his belly, the small of his back where it slid against Joey's stomach.

"Joey, Joey," Lance panted. His hand slammed down on the mattress, twisted in the sheet. "Joey," he gasped. His shoulders trembled. His head came back, almost cracking Joey in the lip. "Joeyjoeyjoey," he gasped, and Joey felt it, the searing wet shock of it running over his fingers, coming between his skin and Lance's.

Joey released him, grabbed a corner of sheet and wiped off, then pulled it up so that the offending corner was far enough away to not be gross. Lance wriggled until the elastic on his underwear was back up around his waist, coming to rest against Joey's erection. He bumped against it, moved, bumped it again. The silence settled over them like a blanket, and for a second Joey didn't know where to put his hands or what to say.

Lance cleared his throat.

Joey concentrated on keeping his heart beating.

Lance sniffed.

Joey thought about breathing in and breathing out.

"Joey," Lance murmured.

"Lance," Joey said.

"That was, um." He chuckled a little, an embarrassed chuckle. "I."

Joey laughed, relieved. Pillow talk. He could do pillow talk. He was good at it. He slipped his fingers under Lance's t-shirt and tickled a little. "That's the idea, baby," he said.

"Yeah." Lance sighed, but it sounded like a happy sigh. "So, do you. I mean."

"We should get some sleep," Joey said. He did want, he wanted a lot, but he felt like he was lying on a hill of sand that was getting washed away and he needed all the ground he could get.

"Okay," Lance said. "Joey?"


"Can I kiss you? You know. Good night?"

Joey's heart sped up. Stupid, that was stupid. He'd had his hand on Lance's dick, but he wouldn't kiss him. Stupid. "Sure," he said. "Of course."

Lance rolled onto his back. Joey could see shadows where his eyes would be. Lance tipped his chin, lifted up slightly, and that was his mouth, soft and open against Joey's, his hand on Joey's neck. Lance's tongue brushed his. Joey felt dizzy.

"'night, Joey," Lance murmured against his mouth.

"'night," Joey said. He waited until Lance had rolled back on his side, and curled up against him again, until he had his arm hooked around Lance, his palm on Lance's chest, before he dared to breathe again.

He was so fucked.

Lance was already awake when Joey woke up, sitting on the side of the bed, rubbing his hands over his knees. He turned when he felt Joey move, smiling a little, nervously. "Hi," he said.

"Hmm," Joey said. It was too early in the morning for this. It would always be too early for this.

"So," Lance said. "So, okay. This was probably, like. A one-time thing. Right."

Joey blinked. He'd been planning to say that, trying to figure out how to work that in, but it surprised him coming out of Lance's mouth. It sounded so awful. So final. "No," he said. "It doesn't have to be."

"No?" Lance said.

"No. It can be, you know."

"A favor," Lance said.

Joey thought about that. A favor. A way to help Lance out, keep him from feeling so lonely, keep him out of clubs. That sounded okay. Almost like a good idea, if you tilted your head and squinted at it the right way.

"Sure, man," he said, and tried to smile. His teeth felt sticky. "Anything for you."

Lance rolled his eyes. "Riiiiight," he said. He slapped Joey's arm through the blanket. When he got up to go brush his teeth, Joey stuck his head under the covers and tried to go back to sleep. It smelled like salt, and Lance. Joey could hardly breathe.

"So, you and Lance, huh?" Justin said in the elevator. They were alone, on their way to the dining room in the lobby, where Justin's mom was waiting for them with the rest of the guys.

"What?" Joey asked. He looked at his fingernails.

"Lance says --" "When did you and Lance become so close?" Joey asked.

Justin flinched. He and Lance had problems sometimes, because Justin thought they should be close, but they weren't. Lance wasn't like him, and for Justin that meant that Lance didn't like him. He didn't see the difference, just yet. "We're friends," he said.

"Since when?" Joey asked. He felt like shit, asking, but he couldn't answer questions about Lance. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

"Shut up," Justin muttered. Joey did. When he tried to put his hand on Justin's shoulder, Justin pulled away.

"What'd you say to Justin?" he asked when their hotel door had shut behind him. Lance looked up from his history book. He had glasses on. He hated them. He thought they made him look dorky, like a nerd, but they didn't. They made him look smart, his green eyes large behind the lenses. Joey really liked Lance's glasses.

"Nothing," Lance said.

Joey crossed his arms in front of his chest.

"What, Joey? Nothing."

"He said something."

Lance squinted at him. "He asked me, but it was just. You know. Chris, I think."


Lance nodded. He pushed his glasses up. Joey reached out and ran his fingers over the collar of Lance's t-shirt. He hooked his finger in the material and pulled on it, stretching it out. Lance smiled.

"Okay," Joey said. His closed his hand over Lance's upper arm. "Are you doing homework?"

"Uh huh," Lance said, but he had tipped to the side, his cheek against Joey's thigh. "Yeah." His arm came around Joey's knees.

"I'll help you later, okay?" Joey asked.

"Sure," Lance said.

Joey pushed him back onto the mattress and climbed over him, straddling him, hands on the outside of his arms.

Lance opened his eyes. "You know anything about the Korean War?" he asked.

"No." Joey leaned down and kissed him, opening his mouth right away. When Lance moved to take off his glasses, Joey stopped him. "Leave them on," he said.

Lance kissed like a girl, his eyes closed, his head tilted back, his arms at his sides, hands barely moving. Joey thought it was weird, at first, but he started to like it, the way Lance would sigh and submit, like he was helpless against Joey's powers.

"Lance," Joey would say, and Lance would stop whatever he was doing and wait for Joey's touch, eyes half-closed. It was all Joey could do not to do it in the hallways of the hotels, in the damp changing rooms at the back of the clubs, in the dark corners of the street. Sometimes, when they were sitting around watching tv or playing Playstation in Chris' room, Joey would come up behind Lance's chair and set a hand on his shoulder, right where the collar of his shirt pulled away from his neck. If he had his fingers in the right place, he could feel Lance's heartbeat speed up.

Joey wondered sometimes if it was the fact that no one knew that made Lance so exciting. On his own, without the additional thrill of intrigue, Lance didn't seem exciting enough to make Joey's mouth dry. He was cute, but Lance wasn't really about excitement. He was about hard work and diligence. Joey wasn't sure, but diligence didn't scream excitement to him.

"They're going out," Lance said, when he came in from his extra practice with JC. Diligence, Joey told himself. "Chris says he wants to see the wonders of Amsterdam."

"He means the hookers," Joey said.

"Oh. Well. You wanna go?"

"No," Joey said, although he'd have to come up with some reason why he didn't. A better reason than "I want to watch Lance do his homework." A reason Chris could believe.

"Really?" Lance shifted from one foot to the other.

"You want to go?" Joey asked.

"Well, it's Amsterdam, and it's supposed to be fun, and I don't have tutoring tomorrow and Justin can go because Lynn isn't --"

Joey smiled. "We're going," he said.

Joey'd thought that once they got out on the streets of Amsterdam, they'd split up, that Chris and Justin would run wild the way they always did and JC would wander off, and he'd be left alone with Lance in a city where he could get away with holding Lance's hand in public. Amsterdam was a city where you could get away with a lot of stuff that you couldn't in other places.

Which was part of the problem.

Justin was kind of freaked out by the fact that you could buy marijuana in almost every coffee house. "Dude, some of them don't even sell coffee!" he whispered. His eyes big.

But Justin being freaked out meant that JC was paying attention, trying to direct them away from streets where Justin would see other things that freaked him out, which was every fucking street in Amsterdam. Joey was sure that there were parts of the city that had houses on them, where people lived normal boring lives and went to work as bankers or some shit, but they didn't seem to be within walking distance of where Chris had the driver drop them off.

"Down here," Chris said, and Joey thought "oh no" because he knew, he should have known, even before he saw the red lights shining from the windows into the street, what Chris had planned.

"Dude, what is this place?" Justin asked. Looking around at the people lined up in the windows, women in their underwear, lying on pillows, their breasts showing, Joey thought it was pretty obvious what this place is. He felt Lance's arm bump against his own.

"Chris," he said. "Maybe we should get out of here." Justin was pretty obviously freaked, and Lance was pale in the bloody afternoon light, and JC looked nervous, but Chris had pulled something, a piece of paper, out of his pocket and was squinting at it and then the numbers on the doors in turn, ignoring the women.

"Here!" he said, pointing to a house with no one in the window. "This is the place."

"The place for what?" Joey asked.

Chris grabbed Joey by the arm and hauled him in.

It was dark inside, the blinds all pulled, and smelled like too many people and cat piss, and Joey was about to demand some answers when a older women in a robe came up to them.

"Da?" she asked. Chris spoke to her in German, which Joey would never understand, but the look on Justin's face was enough. Something bad was going to happen.

"Oh man, no way!" Justin gasped. And Joey thought Justin was looking more excited that afraid, now. It wasn't a happy thought.

"Chris," he said.

The woman shouted something up the stairs and five minutes later a guy came down, dressed in leather pants and nothing else, his feet bare on the grimy carpet. When he got close, Joey could see that he was about their age, meaning his and JC's, not Chris' or Justin's, and that his hair was dyed blond in chunks. He was thin and muscled. He reminded Joey of a vampire.

"Guten tag," he said to them, smiling.

"Chris!" Joey whispered.

"Relax, man." Chris said. "He's not for you." He grabbed Lance's sleeve and yanked him forward.

"Chris!" Joey said again. Lance didn't say anything. The hooker looked Lance up and down, smiling. "Lance, you don't have to," Joey said.

"Yeah, Lance, you don't," JC echoed, but his voice was breathy and completely unconvincing. JC was such a sucker for blonds.

Lance glanced back over his shoulder. "No, it's okay," he told Joey. The guy took his hand and they went up the stairs. The woman smiled and said something to Chris, who handed her money, and then shooed them all out onto the street.

"Are you fucking insane?" Joey demanded. "You just left Lance in there with a hooker!"

"Dude, that's the cool part," Justin said, and for one brief moment Joey longed to slap him. Justin didn't know shit.

"What?" Chris asked. "It's no big. And it's better than him picking up some dude in a club or somethin'."

"How is it better than that?"

"Joey, man, this guy's a professional. He's not going to tell, he's tested for diseases, like, every five minutes. It'll be fine."

"It's shitty," Joey said and went to stand by the door, arms crossed over his stomach to keep himself from vomiting right there in the sunny street.

Lance came out twenty minutes later, smiling a perfectly normal smile.

"Whoo hoo!" Chris shouted.

Lance blushed.

He wouldn't tell them anything about it, except that the guy's name was Wilhelm and that he was 22. "It's private," he said, when Justin pressed him. Joey, walking behind them with his head down, was kind of glad. The day sucked enough already.

He left them in Chris' room with a legally obtained bag of weed and went to lie down. When he woke up, the room was just starting to get dark and Lance was asleep beside him, the tilt of his head revealing a love bite at the very base of his throat above the collarbone. Joey looked at it until the darkness covered it. Then he got up and turned on the t.v.

When Lance woke up, Joey didn't apologize.

"Joey," Lance said, after maybe an hour. "Are you okay?"

Joey glanced over to the bed. "Uh huh, sure."

"Okay," Lance said. "You seem a little. Weird. You know. Since this afternoon."

Joey fought for a moment to keep his face absolutely still. "Oh, yeah?" he said. "No, I'm fine."

"Okay," Lance said. He got up off the bed and climbed into the chair Joey was in, his knees outside of Joey's. "In that case." His hands cupped Joey's face.

"Lance," Joey said. He wondered if this new forwardness was something that Lance had learned from his hooker. He twisted his face out of Lance's grip.

"I knew it." Lance sighed, sitting back on Joey's knees. "You're pissed about Wilhelm."

"I'm not," Joey said, but he was and he was such a bad liar. Lance rolled his eyes.

"Chris said that you would be."

"Did he?" Joey asked.

Lance nodded. "I said you wouldn't, because it was just a favor, you and me, but Chris said he knew you better than I did and you'd be pissed and now you are."

"I am not," Joey said. "Besides --" He stopped and looked at Lance, who was chewing on his fingernail. "You told?"

Lance nodded. "Yup."

"I thought we weren't going to tell," Joey said.

Lance wiped his wet finger on his t-shirt. "I thought you were just doing me a favor," he said.

"I just. You. I can't believe you." Joey shook his head.

Lance smiled. "Don't," he said. "I didn't."

Joey looked at him. Lance bit at the tip of his finger, then set his hand carefully on his thigh. "You didn't think I would?" Lance asked, quietly.

Joey shrugged. "No."

Lance's smile shifted, became sly. "Liar," he said. "You were jealous."

"I wasn't!" Joey said, but he couldn't keep the smile off his face or the relief out of his voice. Lance slid over to the corner of the mattress, bumping his knee against Joey's.

"No?" he said. His knee rocked against Joey's. "So you're not mad at me?"

"Whatever, Lance. Don't be a dork." Joey pushed Lance's knee away with one hand. Lance bumped him again.

"So if I wanted to do you a favor, you would let me?" he asked.

"What kind of favor?" Joey asked. Lance slid to his knees on the rough carpeting, his hand covering Joey's kneecap. "Oh, hey," Joey said. He hadn't considered this, even when Lance was flexing under his hands. Somehow it had seemed like only something he did, not something that was done to him. Lance's hands opened the button on his jeans.

"Okay, Joey?" he asked. His eyes shone. He was afraid, Joey realized. He hadn't looked this way with the hooker.

"Come up here," Joey said, and pulled him up, then down, until Lance was across his lap, in the curve of his arm. Joey kissed him until he couldn't breathe anymore, Lance's weight both too much and not enough against the fly of his jeans. "On the bed," he said.

Lance stood, and when Joey stood, his knees shaking, Lance shoved him and climbed on top of him, his hips pressing hard against Joey's. He was heavy and hot. Joey's jeans were yanked down around his knees before he could say anything, and that was Lance's mouth, trailing up the inside of his knee, wetting the hair on his thighs. Joey grabbed for the sheet.

Lance had told him once, before any of this, that he'd never done anything with a guy, not even his boyfriend from Mississippi. "Nothing but a little kissing," he'd said, blushing. Joey wondered if that had changed at some point, if Lance had been picking up tips from guys in clubs, guys like Wilhelm, JC, because he was literally pulling Joey's underwear off with his teeth, his breath steamy, his tongue licking hesitant licks over Joey's hipbone.

"Lance," Joey hissed.

He didn't want to move. No matter how much experience he'd gotten on the sly, Lance -- he was trying to be careful -- but Lance's mouth, Lance's mouth came over him and his hips came up off the bed, and Lance's hands slid beneath his thighs and held him there, up in his mouth.

Joey opened his eyes, just for a second, and there were Lance's eyes, on him, and Joey thought not the first time and jerked himself away from Lance's mouth and came, yanking a handful of bedspread up to catch it.

He opened his eyes after a second. Lance was watching him, trailing one hand over his knee where it was uncovered. "Where the hell did you learn that?" Joey asked.

Lance smiled. "Made it up as I went along," he said.

Joey tipped his head back and closed his eyes. Fuck, he thought.

Joey had hoped that the thrill would wear off once Chris (and presumably Justin and JC, because Chris couldn't keep a secret to save his mother's life) knew. Once it was out in the open, in a manner of speaking, Lance would become just another person that he'd done stuff with and Joey could go back to having regular sex. With people outside the band. Women outside the band. Non-blond women.

It didn't work.

Chris did tell JC and Justin, but they had seemingly already figured it out on their own, so there was no hoopla that Joey could point to and say "we have to stop." And Lance wasn't getting all googly-eyed over him, like he was falling in love, so Joey couldn't point to that and say "we have to stop." And Joey himself didn't even want to stop, not when Lance was just figuring out what he really liked, so it was all a big mess disguised as a favor that Joey did for Lance (or Lance for Joey) pretty much everyday.

Joey wished the sex wasn't so good so that he could say his life sucked.

"Hey, Joey," Lance said one morning after the good morning blow job. Lance hated kissing before he brushed his teeth, and neither he nor Joey was that thrilled about kissing with sperm breath, so Lance had decided giving head before he got out of bed to brush his teeth was the most efficient use of toothpaste. It was shit like that Joey thought should be insufferably annoying, but was, instead, fucking adorable. Plus, Lance gave great head.

"Mmmm," Joey said. The part of him that was awake wasn't very good at using language.

"Would you do it?" Lance said.

"Do what?" Joey asked. He was getting chilly and wished Lance would either get up and brush his teeth or get back under the covers. Mostly, he wished Lance would get back under the covers. He wasn't sure when it had happened, but bed didn't even seem like bed if Lance wasn't in it.

Lance didn't say anything for a long moment. Joey was almost asleep when he heard the murmur of Lance's voice. He couldn't make out the words.

"What?" He cracked one eye. "I couldn't hear you."

"It," Lance said. His face was flushed. "Do you. Would you do it? To me?"

Suddenly Joey was wide awake.

"You mean have sex. Like, with you."

Lance nodded.

Joey wished with all his heart that he'd never fucked the three guys Lance knew he fucked. He wished he were a guy virgin so that he could say "oh, hey, no man. I don't do that." He wished that Justin had never talked them into playing Truth or Dare with Jagermeister so that Lance didn't know he'd fucked three guys already. He wished Jagermeister had never been invented. He wished he had never been invented. He said "sure, okay."

Lance smiled, relieved. He rubbed his hands up and down Joey's thighs enthusiastically. "Okay," he said. "Do we need, like, supplies or anything?"

Joey sighed. "I'll take care of it," he said. In for a penny, in for a pound, like his mother said. Fucking bitch.

Joey went out and bought the condoms and lubricant right away. No harm in being prepared, he thought to himself, reading the side of the box and then felt like the biggest loser ever. He was such a fucking boy scout. Worse, he was a boy scout who was about to have intercourse with another boy scout. He wondered what the merit badge for something like that would look like.

He felt Lance's eyes on him for the next couple of days, but they were doing seven shows, one right after the other, so he didn't say anything. He kept checking in his duffle bag, though, for the brown paper bag. It was always there.

Lance came into Joey's room about a week later and closed the door. "Hey," he said, leaning up against it. "You don't have to." Lance had his hand on the knob, ready to go, and Joey thought about it for a second, but then he saw the pale line of Lance's throat falling into his ugly brown sweater, his waist narrow under the shapeless wool.

"No," he said. "It's fine."

Lance stepped into the room.

They did it slowly, of course, even the foreplay, Joey's hands slipping under Lance's clothes inch by inch, pulling him out of his sweater and the baggy corduroys he wore. Lance's eyes stayed on Joey's, luminous and green. Joey wished desperately that he knew what he was doing. Those eyes seemed to deserve more.

"This is really nice of you," he said, when Joey opened his pants.

Joey laughed. "Yeah, well, my pleasure."

"I mean, this whole thing," Lance said. His hands were on Joey's shoulders. Joey shrugged, leaned in and kissed him, open-mouthed.

"My pleasure," he said, again.

They kissed until Lance was naked, his eyes dark, his breath harsh. Joey loved him like this. "Get on the bed," he said.

Lance did, sprawling against the pillows. Joey climbed on top of him, still in his clothes, Lance's heat shooting through him, and kissed some more, Joey's hands wandering. "Oh," Lance gasped, when Joey nudged at him with his finger.

"Okay?" Joey whispered against his mouth. Lance nodded, his eyes big. Joey pressed in. "Spread your legs."

Lance did. His arms came up around Joey's neck. His eyes closed.

Joey had never done it before, not like this, with Lance sighing in his ear, his knees up around Joey's ribs. He'd never done it with Lance's pale skin stretched out beneath him. He'd never done it so slowly, barely moving, listening for every hitch in Lance's breath, every press of his fingers. Joey had liked it, before. The other times. He remembered doing it with guys as hot, dirty, fast. But this time with Lance, he felt everything, not in a big rush, but in increments, every sensation rolling through his entire body, unfurling like cloth in the wind.

"Joey," Lance whispered, at last. He shook, his skin shiny with sweat. "Joey," he gasped, and Joey slid a hand between them and caught Lance up, feeling the clench of Lance's muscles around and under him. He trembled with it.

"Are you?" Lance asked after his breathing slowed, cracking his eyes open, his sweaty hair smeared across his forehead. Joey sprawled over his hot skin, pushed Lance's hair back, kissed the fine arch of his eyebrow.

"I'm fine," he said. "How are you?"

Lance's smile was goofy and lazy at the same time. "I'm good," he said. He turned his face toward Joey's and accepted the kiss Joey gave him, mouth open.

"Good," Joey said. He nuzzled soft damp place behind Lance's ear, felt Lance's giggle. He watched while Lance fell asleep.

JC was the one who noticed. "What's wrong?" he asked, when Lance came into the room for breakfast. "Did you hurt yourself?"

Joey looked up from his mueslix. Lance walked in stiffly, blushed, sat down. "I pulled a muscle," he said to the table.

"But you're going be okay?" JC asked.

Lance turned an even brighter shade of red. "I'm okay," he said.

Joey bumped his foot under the table, and winked when Lance looked up. Lance grinned into his cereal.

"You okay?" he whispered into Lance's ear while they were in the elevator.

"Mm hmm." Lance nodded. Joey brushed his hand against the small of Lance's back, right above the waistband of his pants. Lance took a step forward, away, and smiled into his palm.

Joey asked again when they were done for the night, Chris and Justin out on the town, JC curled up in bed already, just his nose poking out from under the blankets. Lance was sitting in his chair at the cheap pressboard table, studying chemistry or history or something, his fingers on his forehead. He looked tense.

"What? Yeah," he said. "It's just physics." He waved his hand at his books.

Physics. Joey forgot sometimes how smart Lance was.

"But other than that?" he asked.

Lance squinted at him. "I'm kind of lonely," he said, slowly.

Joey smiled.

The first time had been slow, but if Joey had learned anything about Lance, it was that he was a fast learner. "C'mon," he'd say, and pull Joey out of the common room by the hand, delight already shining on his face.

Joey was delighted to go. Lance fucked like he did everything else, with diligence and attention to detail and a sly sense of humor that came out as surprising moments. He was still growing into his body, still had slim shoulders and arms that were too long for his body, and a long neck like a swan's, but he also had pale perfect skin dotted here and there by chocolate moles like the one just under his shoulder blade and the one below his navel, and he had a perfect round ass, and his cock. Lance had a huge cock, something that seemed obvious to Joey once he knew about it, because it wasn't really hidden by his jeans, no matter how loose they were. He was awkward and young looking and Joey wanted to touch him all the time.

Lance didn't seem to mind.

He let Lance fuck him because he was in love and there was no sense in fighting it anymore, even though he couldn't bring himself to open his mouth and tell Lance. He was willing to lie on his stomach propped up on pillows and get slimy with lube, he was willing to lie to Lance and tell him that sure, he'd done this lots of time, he was willing to do, well, pretty much any thing anytime, as long as he didn't have to tell Lance that he loved him.

It was totally worth it.

Lance crawled on top of him, kissed the back of his neck, held his hands up over his head. "Joey," he said, his voice rough and low. The nerves in Joey's spine tingled. They were already naked and slick, and Lance thrust against him, gently, testing. His back ached with the angle. He was scared, he realized, but Lance's weight fenced him in, and he thought that it might be okay.

He'd expected it to hurt, but the pain flared red behind his eyes, made his back bend involuntarily.

"Joey?" Lance whispered, concerned.

"No, it's okay," Joey grunted, and Lance pushed again and it was okay, mostly, and then Lance pulled back and in again, and then it was really okay, despite the fire around the edges. Joey shoved backwards, lifting his chest up off the mattress and then Lance was there, all the way inside him, so deep that Joey thought he would never entirely forget the feeling, Lance's hips against his ass, Lance's arm hooked around his chest, Lance's mouth against his jaw.

Lance had just really started moving, slicked by sweat and lube, when Joey shuddered and came on the pillow, his cock digging roughly into the material.

"Oh Joey, Joey," Lance gasped. His cock seemed to get bigger somehow and his arm tightened around Joey's ribs until Joey thought he would hear them crack. Lance's hips jerked, twice, shakily, and he collapsed, and Joey felt Lance's full weight settle on his back. They stayed that was for a minute or two. Joey timed his breath to Lance's. Lance's heart thudded against his ribs like it was his own. Lance shifted, eventually, and wiped Joey off with the sheet before falling back across him, his nose against Joey's ear.

"Mmm," Joey said.

"Am I too heavy?" Lance murmured.

"No." He reached around and hooked his hand over Lance's solid thigh. "No."

He woke up aching the next morning. Lance was already up, humming to himself in the bathroom, over the water running. He smiled when he came out. "Hey," he said. He pounced on the bed, pinning Joey under the blankets and kissing him with minty fresh breath before getting back up. "You're up."

"I'm up," Joey said, stretching. Lance twined his fingers with Joey's.

"Joey," he said. Joey smiled. Lance was going to ask him something -- he was using the "asking something" voice. Considering how the last time had went, Joey was pretty interested in the new question.


"You're not my boyfriend, are you?" He slipped his fingers between Joey's, then out of them, then between them again. He wasn't looking at Joey's face, just their fingers, linking and then unlinking.

"No, no," Joey said. He patted Lance's hand reassuringly. "No, I'm not."

Lance sighed and smiled. "Okay," he said. He pulled Joey's fingers to his mouth and kissed them briefly.

"Okay," Joey said.

"Dude," Justin said, plopping down on the cheap vinyl seat of the club. "Your boyfriend's working it on the dance floor."

Joey sipped from his drink. He fucking hated bar pop -- it was always too sweet or too flat or something -- but they couldn't have real drinks if Justin and Lance came along. Chris wouldn't let them.

"Not my boyfriend," he said.

"Whatever," Justin said. "He's still working it."

Joey rolled his eyes and waited a good five minutes before he got up. "Bathroom," he said.

Justin, who was begging Chris for just one drink, didn't even hear him.

Lance was indeed working it, dancing with JC in that half-distant way that guys danced with each other when they were trying not to be obvious. Lance was an awful dancer. He had rhythm, but he didn't know how to move his arms, always ended up swinging them back and forth like he was sweeping or something. C was a great dancer, though, and Lance was an adequate mimic, and they swayed together. JC stumbled into Lance at one point, and Lance laughed and caught JC with one arm around his waist. Joey watched for a minute.

Lance looked so happy.

"I gotta go," he said, when he got back to the table.

Chris waved at him.

He walked back to the hotel, because the guys would need the van later, and because he felt like walking in the mist. It suited his mood. He took a long shower and went to bed, leaving the t.v. on even after he turned out the light. He made sure his door was locked.

"Hey!" Lance said at breakfast. His smile was huge and sunny. He touched Joey's hand beneath the table. "What happened to you last night?"

Joey put his hand on top of the table and picked up his spoon. "Nothing," he said. I was just tired."

"Oh," Lance said, and Joey knew he was looking at him, waiting for him to look up and say something else, smile, let Lance know everything was okay, but everything wasn't and Joey didn't feel like lying directly to Lance's face. He stared at his breakfast until they had to go to rehearsal.

"We have to stop," he said, before Lance could say anything or take off his shirt or whatever.

"um, okay. Why, though?" Lance asked.

"It's just. You know. You're fine now, and everything. There." Joey sighed. "There's no point of it now, you know."

"Sure. Okay." Lance nodded. He took a step toward Joey, touched his arm with one hand. "If I get lonely, can I still hug you?"

Joey blinked. "Oh! Sure," he said, surprised. He hadn't thought that was the part Lance would ask for. Lance squeezed his arm.

"Okay, then," he said. "See you later."

"Yeah, bye."

Lance shut the door and Joey turned on the television. Normally, he and Lance would be on the bed right now, lying across one another, kissing, listening to late afternoon television with half an ear, running their hands over each other. It wasn't ever sexy in a porn way in the afternoon. It was more like friends, more like when he and Kelly had already gone through all the romance and had just reached the good part of their relationship, before it all got ruined by his traveling and his cheating. He'd watched t.v. and made out with her, too. It was kind of one of his favorite things.

Sometime, during those times, Lance would fall asleep. Lance had to work really hard during dance rehearsals because his dancing back in Mississippi show choir had been mainly standing and letting girls twirl around him, with an occasional dip or box step for flair. Also, Lance never got enough sleep. He had to have it totally quiet in order to sleep, so he couldn't take catnaps like JC and Justin, and sometimes he couldn't sleep at night because he was worrying about the new routine or an old routine or how he wasn't going have any friends left in Mississippi by the time he got back. Anyway, he never got enough sleep, so sometimes Joey would lift his head from the pillow and realize that Lance was crashed out with his cheek on Joey's stomach, one arm around Joey's waist, his mouth open. The noise of the television didn't seem to bother him those afternoons. If he did fall asleep, Joey would, too, resting his hand on Lance's back between his shoulder blades, or on the back of his neck.

And Joey knew that it didn't make any sense, but it was because of those afternoons when he would doze off with one hand on Lance's back that he couldn't sleep with Lance anymore.

JC wasn't talking to him. Joey felt something weird when he came into the dance hall, but he didn't put a finger on it until he said "hey, JC, buy me a coke, okay?" and JC walked off without saying anything and then came back with cokes for everyone else, even Chris, who wasn't supposed to have them because of his braces.

"What the hell?" Joey asked. JC walked off again.

"He's not talking to you," Justin said. He kept his eyes on the table.

"What? Why?"

Justin shrugged, even though he obviously knew. He looked too embarrassed and miserable to not know.

"You must have done something to piss him off," Chris said, and he obviously knew, too, because he was glaring at Joey with a disgusted look on his face. He knew and wasn't going to tell.

Joey turned and looked at Lance, but Lance just shrugged and drew circles in the condensation left by his glass. "You want my coke?" he asked. Joey shook his head.

He kept having dreams about Lance, sexy dreams. Dreams where Lance leaned over him and sucked his cock, his eyes locked on Joey's. Dreams where Lance kissed his neck. Dreams where Lance hovered, braced on his arms above Joey's chest, and fucked him, sweat pearling on his chest, dripping from his chin. Dreams where Lance slept beside him, his nose pressed against Joey's collarbone. He started sleeping with a clean pair of underwear underneath his pillow so he didn't have to get up in the middle of the night.

Sometimes, he woke up in the middle of the night, his dick hard, Lance's eyes fresh in his memory, and couldn't get back to sleep. His misery was a hot lump in his stomach.

Lance came by one night for a hug. Joey'd meant to go out with Chris, but then Justin had whined and Chris said he could go, which meant that they were only going to go to the boring vanilla clubs and it wasn't worth the effort. Joey'd found, suddenly, that he only wanted to go out if going out meant too much drinking and too much dancing and too much grinding against people he hardly knew. Otherwise, there didn't seem to be much point.

So he was lying on his bed in his boxer shorts and a t-shirt with the television on, reading an old Entertainment Weekly when Lance knocked and came in.

"Hi," he said. "Busy?"

Joey sat up, bunching the pillow up behind him. He felt like he hardly knew Lance, suddenly. A stranger just came into his room. "No," he said. "No. Not busy."

"Well, um." Lance smiled. He seemed embarrassed about something. "I was. I'm. I just called back home and. So."

Joey's heart sped up. He felt it skip, once, and begin to race in his chest. "Come here," he said. He stood up as Lance approached, and held out his arms, and there it was, Lance along every inch of him, his arms tight around Joey's waist, squeezing, his head bowed so it was against Joey's shoulder. Joey could feel Lance's ribs under his hands.

"Are you all right?" he asked the back of Lance's head. He hadn't meant for Lance to pull away, but Lance seemed to take the question as some sort of cue and stepped back.

"Oh yeah," he said. He smiled. "Thanks, Joey. You're the best."

"Uh huh." He patted Lance's shoulder, unable to stop himself. Lance smelled the same as he had when they were fucking, like sugar. It was just his shampoo.

"See ya," Lance said, and left. Joey sat back down on the side of the bed. His stomach hurt. His head hurt. He was filled with Lance's sweet syrupy scent and he wanted to vomit. He rolled onto his side on the bed and curled his arms around himself. It was so not the same. The door behind him slammed open.


JC. JC had apparently picked this very moment to start talking to him again. In a very loud voice.

"JC," he groaned.

"Joey, dammit!" JC slammed the door again, closed, Joey imagined. "You -- oh! Hey! Are you okay? Are you sick?"

"JC, please." Joey rolled onto his back. The only thing worse than JC pissed off was JC worried about something. JC kneeled up on the bed and felt Joey's forehead.

"Are you sick? Because I'm trying to be mad at you, but if you're sick, man, then I --"

Joey sighed. "I'm fine. Why are you mad at me?"

JC felt his cheeks, apparently not convinced that Joey wasn't sick. "I don't want to talk about it unless you're okay," he said.

Joey grabbed JC by his skinny little wrists and pulled them away from his face. "I'm fine, Jayce. Jeez. Why weren't you talking to me?"

JC sat back on his heels. He was gonna fall off the bed any minute, Joey thought. He kept his grip on JC's wrists. JC sighed. "I'm not supposed to say," he said, finally.

Joey shook his wrists. "Don't make me knock you off the bed," he said.

JC smiled. He knew as well as Joey did that Joey wasn't gonna knock him off anything. It was one of the downfalls of spending every single minute with the guys -- they knew him too well. "Lance," he said.


JC shrugged. "Why'd you break up with him, man? I mean, it didn't work out, that's cool, but, he's really upset and you're so nice to him and everything and it makes him cry, and that's not cool, ma --"

Joey sat up, shocked, and almost knocked JC off the bed. "What?"

"Joey, I know you've got to make --"

"No, JC. He's crying?"

JC blinked, and Joey could see the possible lies crossing his face. "He's not. He was. Just a little. He's upset, man. He misses you."

"We weren't going out." Joey said. He let go of JC's wrists. JC clambered further up onto the mattress, holding on to Joey's arm for leverage. "He's really upset, huh?"

JC folded his legs up underneath him and leaned against Joey's shoulder, kind of hugging Joey's arm. "You weren't going out?" he asked. "We all thought you were."

"It was just a thing," Joey said. "Just a stupid thing."

"But you wanted to be going out, right?" JC said. He looked worried, like maybe he shouldn't have told.

"I didn't think I did," Joey said. The words hurt, physically hurt coming out of him. Lance was crying.

"But you did."

Joey nodded. JC pressed his cheek against Joey's shoulder.

"He did, too," he said. He pulled away and stood up in one fluid motion, grabbing on to Joey's hands and yanking them. "He's in my room."

Lance was sitting on JC's bed, legs crossed Indian style, his history book in his lap. His eyes were a little red, like he'd been up too late, or was tired. He'd looked like that a lot, lately, Joey realized, and then felt like an idiot.

"Lance," he said.

Lance smiled up at him, the same sweet open smile he'd always had for Joey. Joey winced. "What's up?" he said.

"JC told me," he said, and watched Lance's face change.

"He wasn't supposed to say anything," he said, closing his book.

"He'll apologize," Joey said, climbing on the bed and shoving at Lance's shoulder. He hooked an arm around Lance's neck to support him, and kissed him. He tasted like toothpaste and tears and everything. Everything.

"Joey," Lance whispered, pulling back, ducking his head.

"It's okay, it's okay," Joey said. He kissed Lance again. He didn't want to talk, to explain that he was in love, that he'd been in love forever and just not known. He didn't want to talk, not when he could have Lance up against him, kissing him, so he said "it's okay" and hoped that the kissing said the rest.

Lance ripped Joey's shirt trying to get it off.

They kissed all the way through, Lance's mouth open underneath his. They kissed every single second, even when Lance closed his eyes gasped and panted and arched his back. Joey kissed his open lips, when Lance was frozen with pleasure. Even when Joey closed his own eyes and bowed his head, Lance turned and followed his mouth, licking at him while he came, breathing for him.

Afterwards, they kissed until Joey's lips were practically numb, and then they kissed some more. Lance finally put an end to it, clapping his hand over Joey's mouth. Joey kissed his palm.

"I wanted you to love me," he said. His eyes flicked away, then back.

"I do," Joey said.

Lance blushed. His blush started at his face and streaked all the way down his chest, past his nipples. Joey put his hand over Lance's heart. "Yeah, well," he said. "I didn't know."

"You didn't say anything. It was, like, I dunno."

"That's what JC said."

Joey swung his arms around Lance's waist and dragged him on top of him. "We should always listen to JC," he said.

Lance, who had collapsed on Joey's chest and was lying there with his arms looped loosely around Joey's neck, nodded. "JC's always right," he said.

They spent the night in JC's room. He must have figured they would, because when they went down to breakfast, Lance's hand sweaty in his, JC was already at the table wearing one of Joey's t-shirts. He smiled when he saw them,and waved with his spoon, and Joey felt a little bit guilty about messing up his sheets. He'd switch permanently, if JC wanted.

Justin looked up from his cereal. "God," he said, catching sight of their hands. "About time. So y'all are boyfriends, right?"

Joey paused, unsure, but Lance said "yes" right away, so Joey guessed he didn't have to worry after all.

"Thank god," Justin said and went back to his cereal.

"Hey, Lance," Chris said. "Do you have any idea what we have at two? I have a thing written here --" he held up the ratty piece of paper he used to keep track of their schedule, -- but I don't know what the hell it says."

"We have an interview thing," Lance said, pulling his own notebook out of his back pocket and sitting down. Joey sat down next to him and reached for a bowl. He listened to Chris and Lance hash out the schedule with half an ear. At some point, he looked up and saw Lance's profile, half of his smile, one green eye, the sharp angle of his nose. He seemed so young, suddenly, happiness flitting over his face like the shadow of a butterfly. Joey smiled. He put one hand on Lance's back and watched his expression change.

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