A Whole Different Level of Macaroni and Cheese
by Synchronik
A Whole Different Level of Macaroni and Cheese

by Synchronik

Since it was Justin's fault the Lance found out his boyfriend was a porn star -- even though he was in no way responsible for Lance's boyfriend actually being a porn star -- Justin felt like it was somehow his duty to make it up to Lance. He just wasn't sure how to do that.

"Joey," he'd said, after Lance had stormed out of the hotel room, slamming the door so hard the pictures rattled, but Joey was having none of it.

"Dude," he said. "No way. This is gay stuff. This is way out of my league."

Justin rolled his eyes. "Whatever. You're his fucking best friend. You taught him how to give head!"

"That was purely academic." Joey sniffed.

"You used a carrot!" Justin said, but Joey just shook his head and left. Chris and JC stared and the carpet and didn't say a word. Fuckers.

So it was up to him.

Really, when you got right down to it, it wasn't even really his fault. Sure, he'd bought the video, but it wasn't like Ian was on the cover or something. He'd just picked it because it was called "College Boy" and that's what he called Chris sometimes when he was being especially asslike and he thought it'd be funny on the bus.

And, seriously, they didn't even watch gay porn all that often, even though JC was basically all gay, and he had at least experimented and Chris got a boner no matter who was on the screen having sex. Mostly they stuck to the guy-girl stuff unless one of them had cash and could buy outright. It wasn't like they could have "Assplungers VII" show up on the hotel bill and not have the world know about it. It was like a treat. A gay treat. A rare gay treat.

Chris had whooped when Justin pulled the tape out of his cabinet on the bus. He snatched it from Justin's hand. "'College Boy!'" he read reverentially from the back of the box. "'See young stud Alex experience his first boy-on-boy action with his hot roommate Chad. Then the pals go to a frat party and things really get going!'" He whipped the box back at Justin. "Put it in, Alex!" he said.

JC perched on the arm of the couch like a schoolgirl, his hands on his knees. "Wait a second," he said. "Is it a Falcon?"

"Oh man!" Chris said. He grabbed JC's shoulders and shook him. "You're forgetting the important thing, JC. Are there people having sex in it?" Justin turned over the box, looking for the production label. Sometimes, JC got very political and excited about what he liked to call "issues." During these times he would only eat free- range chicken and use organic toothpaste and generally make himself a pain in the ass. Justin was going to lie if the video wasn't a Falcon thing, but he had to at least look. JC was his friend.

"What?" JC said. "They give back to the community."

"I'll give back to your community," Chris said, yanking the crotch of his jeans.

Justin shoved the tape in before JC could ask another question. He put the box in a high cupboard. JC would forget about it as soon as the guys on the tape got naked. He was easily distractible.

Looking back on the whole event three days later, Justin will think that he should have known something bad would happen when the bad techno music came on.

"Oh!" Chris shouted, clapping his hands over his ears. "Buzz kill! Buzz kill!"

"Where's the remote?" JC asked. He was curled up into a ball, like the music hurt him. It probably did, but even with his knees pulled up defensively, Justin could still see his boner. JC packs like a porn star, he thought, and then mentally slapped himself.

Justin dug into the couch cushions for the remote. Fucking porn music always sucked and they always played it just loud enough to cover up the guys' voices unless you had the sound on the t.v. blasting which they could never do because of the bus drivers or the people going by the hotel room door. Justin groped for the Mute button. "Mute, mute!" he muttered, and the t.v. went silent.

"Thank god!" Chris muttered.

JC uncurled himself. "I don't know why they even have music if they're not going to do it right," he sniffed.

"That's what you should do when we break up," Chris said. "Write good porn music."

"I could do it now," JC said. "Maybe with a ..." His voice trailed off. The guy on the video was touching himself.

Justin sprawled on the floor on his back with a pillow under his head. He liked being on the floor when they were watching t.v. on the bus because he could feel the vibration of the wheels on the road beneath his legs. Also, because then he couldn't see the exact moment Chris and JC started touching themselves. Some things didn't need to be shared.

Besides the awful music, though, the video was pretty good. The main guy was hot and blond and didn't take off his clothes too fast, which was one of Justin's pet peeves. He sprawled on a bed in a room that was decorated like the cheesiest dorm room Justin had ever seen (although, truthfully, he hadn't seen that many of them) and slid his hand down the front of his pants and arched his back. His mouth was open. Justin wished the soundtrack hadn't been so bad because he would have liked to have heard this guy. Helooked like a moaner. Justin slumped down further into the pillow and spread his legs a little.

The guy was very hot, and kept his t-shirt on even after he'd lost the jeans and the tight black underwear. He had a great cock. Justin didn't know why, but he liked guys who kept their shirts on. It made him feel ... urgent. From up on the couch, JC sighed.

Of course, the roommate came in, right when College Boy was getting into it.

"Sound! Sound!" Chris bleated. He loved the cheesy dialogue.

Justin managed to hit the mute button just in time to hear "dude, what are you doing?" in the horrible stilted way that all porn stars said things. "Dude. What are you doing?" Justin snickered. At least he was hot, too. Justin hated having the fantasy ruined by some scuzzy guy with, like, a mustache or something, but this guy was young and built. He only had on shorts and was carrying a basketball. "Can I join you?"

Justin blinked. The roommate sounded familiar. Justin squinted at the screen, but he couldn't really see the guy's face. He kept kissing the other guy and interfering with the angle.

"Hey," he called up over the edge of the cushion, not looking because he didn't really need to see. "What's that guy been in?" he asked. "The roommate."

"Hmmm," JC said, but he wasn't thinking about it. Justin could tell.

They guys were both naked, now, making out on the bed. Roommate pulled back, his mouth open. "You're so hot," he said, in full close- up.

"Holy shit!" Chris said, and Justin sat bolt upright, his heart hammering in his chest.

"No," he said. "No fucking way."

"You're unbelievable," Roommate guy said, and that was when they were all sure, all of them except JC, of course. Roommate guy was Ian. Lance's boyfriend Ian. Tall, sexy, dark-haired, polished, smooth, Lance's boyfriend Ian, who said "you're unbelievable," like, all the fucking time, especially when you made him laugh by like, say, shooting milk out your nose, which Justin had done not two days ago while Ian had been with them in Philadelphia.

"Oh man!" JC said, when he finally clued in. "I touched my dick!"

Somehow that made the whole thing funny enough to tell Lance.

"What?" Lance said. They'd grabbed him as soon as the buses had stopped and dragged him up to his hotel room and told him, Chris waving the video tape around like a flag. Lance blinked calmly. "What?" he said again.

Justin smirked. "Yeah right," he said. "Like you didn't know. It's not funny, man. JC's, like, traumatized."

"Completely," JC said, nodding. "I touched my dick."

"Y'all." Lance shook his head. "I know y'all think this is funny, but. It's not." He looked at each of them in turn. Lance was the best at the poker face. Justin couldn't even tell he was kidding.

"Roll videotape!" Chris said, and slid the tape into the VCR. "Oh, oh yeah!" Roommate Guy/Ian said. Somehow, the tape had gotten past the part Justin had stopped it on. JC blushed furiously and shrugged when Justin looked at him. "Oh god, yeah, just like that!" Ian said.

Justin laughed a loud laugh. "Just like that," he muttered. "Perfect." He grinned over at Lance. He was such a dog. No wonder he liked Ian so much. A porn star!

Lance was not grinning back. Lance was staring at the screen, his face a strange color grey like he was about to throw up or something. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He stood up. One of his hands rested flat on the table top. His skin was white from the pressure he was putting on it.

"Lance," JC said, because JC was always the last one to get things.

Lance left the room. The door slammed like a gunshot.

When Joey showed up twenty minutes later, red in the face and mad as hell, Justin barely had the energy to point to the videotape box he felt like such crap.

So it turned out that Lance hadn't known, and, worse, really liked Ian.

"Oh, fuck me," Justin said when Joey was done talking. "We didn't know, man."

"That's because you guys are fucking idiots," Joey said, but he wasn't mad anymore, not really.

"He really likes him?" JC asked, dismayed.

"Joey, please," Justin said, but Joey just shook his head and said they'd better fix it or he was going to kick their asses just on general principle. He probably would, too. Joey kept his promises.

Justin decided to start making it up to Lance right away at breakfast the next morning so there wouldn't be any weird silences. He hated weird silences. Once, right at the beginning, Justin had caught Chris whacking off in the bathroom and they hadn't spoken for a week. It had sucked.

He found Lance sitting in the common room with a cup of coffee and a newspaper, just like it was any other day and he hadn't just found out his boyfriend had sex with people for money. Lance had always been kind of stoic about things, but still. Justin kind of admired his guts.

"Hey, Lance," Justin said.

Lance looked up from his newspaper. His eyes were puffy. Fuck. "Hey," he said.

"Listen," Justin said. He inched his chair over until it was next to Lance's, their arms resting on armrests side by side. "I'm really sorry, okay?"

"I don't want to talk about it," Lance said.

"No, but, I'm really sorry," Justin said. "We all are, me and Chris and JC. Especially JC. And me. And Chris. We're sorry."

"I said, I don't want to talk about it," Lance said. His voice was light. He turned the page of his newspaper. Justin sighed. He'd forgotten that Lance was a total ass when he was upset about something.

"Dude, we completely wouldn't have told you if we knew you didn't known. We didn't mean to break y'all up or anything." Justin patted his arm reassuringly. He'd probably have to take Lance out for drinks so he could cry in his beer or something. Break ups sucked, Justin knew, because Chris had been a total bitch for, like, an eternity after he and Dani broke up.

Lance turned a page. "We're not broken up," he said.

Justin stopped patting Lance's arm. He apparently really meant it and wasn't just saying it to piss people off. "You're. Not broken up. Well. That's good. I'm glad. For you."

Lance looked at him. "Thanks," he said. His smile was thin and mean.

"Okay, well, then." Justin stood up. "I'll see you later."

Lance nodded into his newspaper.

"You're kidding me, right?" Chris said, propping his feet up on Justin's leg to brace himself. They were on their way to Denver, and the bus rolled over the roads like a ship on the open sea. It was kind of cool.

Justin shook his head. "He says they're not breaking up."

"So I guess me buying all of Ian's videos off the internet and having them sent to his house isn't going to be as funny now, huh?" he asked.

Justin chuckled. "His house or his mom's?"

"Oh, man! I should have sent them to Diane! Dammit."

Chris was a comic genius. He told reporters that Chris was his best friend, but most of the time, Justin was just really glad Chris even let him hang around. "No, but really," he said. "They're not breaking up."

Chris shook his head. "Fuckin' Lance, man. He's so stubborn."

Justin nodded. Chris would know. He and Lance had a thing a long time ago. It hadn't lasted long.

"I know," he said. "I just can't. A porn star, man."

"Dude," Chris said. They sat in silence for a minute.

"So," Justin said finally. "How many videos were there?"

The most awkward thing was seeing Ian around after shows and stuff. Before Justin had seen him in a porn movie, Justin had kind of liked Ian. He didn't say much, but he was funny when he did, and he hadn't given interviews with the Enquirer after being with Lance a little over a month, and he played decent videogames and basketball, both of which Lance sucked at. Ian hadn't exactly been a friend of Justin's, but he was someone Justin hadn't minded having around.

Now, though, it was just weird.

"Hi," he said, the first time he saw Ian backstage.

Ian smiled. "Hey, Justin," he said. He really was incredibly good looking, sharp and pretty with dark hair and blue eyes. A model, Lance had called him. Yeah, like, if they had cock ring models, Justin thought and laughed to himself.

"So, um." Justin said, but he couldn't think of anything else to say besides "I hear you're a porn star," which didn't seem cool. "I, um. JC. I have to go." He gestured with his thumb toward the door. JC practically ran out of the room now when he saw Ian, his face red. JC was a pervert, but he still had his morals. "So, see ya."

"Sure," Ian said.

He has sex for a living, Justin thought, and burst into laughter the second the door closed behind him. He'd thought life couldn't get any stranger after they'd become famous. Sometimes, he felt very stupid.

He also didn't know what to say about Ian to Lance. Lance seemed okay, happy, Justin guessed, but seeing him and Ian together left Justin feeling slightly slimy, like he was a supporting actress in a Lifetime movie or something.

"What do you say?" he asked Joey one afternoon while Lance was off calling Ian.

Joey shrugged. "I tell him he should do what makes him happy," he said.

"Oh," Justin said. Joey fuckin' sucked.

Still, though, Justin felt like a jerk not being supportive, especially because Lance had been all cool when they'd found out about Lou and they had almost been forced to break up. Lance had brought him tea, even though Justin didn't really like tea, and sat next to him, so close their arms were touching.

"I'm cool," he'd said, shoving the mug back at him.

"Sure," Lance had said, and pushed the mug back. Justin drank the tea and didn't think about the group breaking up anymore.

So Justin thought that he should do something, show Lance that he was cool with whatever the hell it was that Lance was doing. A gesture of solidarity. He decided to do it on Lance's bus, because that way it could last for a while and he wouldn't have to do it again for at least a couple of weeks. He didn't think he could be solid about Ian too often, no matter what Joey said.

"Hi," he said when he got onto the bus. Lance squinted at him.

"Hi?" he said. "Um. Can I help you?"

"I just came to chill." Justin slumped into the bus seat next to Lance. Lance inched away from him.

"Why?" he asked.

"What why?" Justin asked. He nudged Lance with his shoulder. "Because I feel like it."

"No, seriously," Lance said. That was the problem with Lance -- he couldn't just let things slide, at least not small things that most people would let slide. Big things -- like fucking porn stars, for example -- he was apparently fine with.

"Seriously," Justin said. "I just wanted you to know that I'm cool with whatever you decide to do."

"With my hair?"

"Fuck you." Justin shoved at him. "You know what I mean. With Ian. You and Ian. It's cool, man."

Lance pulled even further away, pressing up against the wall of the bus, turning his head to the window. "We broke up," he said.

"Really?" That was just like Lance: the minute Justin decided to do something, Lance had to do something else that would ruin the effect. Lance was always busting on him. He hooked an arm over the back of the seat.

Lance nodded. "Yeah."

"You okay?"

Lance shot him a look. "I'm great," he said.

Justin rolled his eyes. "Look, don't be a fuckin' bitch, okay? I'm really sorry."

"Yeah," Lance said. He pressed his forehead against the glass and closed his eyes.

"Was it the sex?" Justin asked. He knew if he'd accidentally had sex with a porn star he'd be totally messed up by the thought of all those other people. Like, what if one of them was better than he was. If there were so many, wasn't that, like, a hundred times more likely? Just the thought of it gave Justin the shivers. "Cause I mean that is pretty messed up," he told Lance. Then something else occurred to him. "Oh, wow! Was he still, you know, while y'all were, um --"

"No!" Lance's voice was loud in Justin's ear. "I mean. No. He said he wasn't."

"Because that would have been seriously gross, man. Think of all the people he slept with and there's that saying that you slept with all the people your partner's slept with and all the people --"

"Justin," Lance said. His eyes stared straight out the window.

"Sorry," Justin said. "Sorry, man. You know I am."

Lance laughed a small sour laugh. "Yeah. Thanks," he said.

That was another thing about Lance -- he never believed anything Justin told him, like Justin didn't mean anything he said, which was completely not true. Justin meant everything he said. He was sorry. Not that Lance and Ian had broken up, because that was way overdue -- the guy was a porn star, man! -- but because Lance was sad about it, and no matter what kind of bullshit show Justin put on for the media, he was a big fat softie about his friends. He was cool with that.

He watched Lance for a minute, the sharp line of his face against the dark window. Rain ran in streaks over the glass, like the bus was crying and Lance was trapped inside its eyes. Justin opened his fingers and touched Lance's hair, the soft unstyled hair on the back of his head so he wouldn't mess it up. Lance didn't move. Justin slid his hand into Lance's hair and pressed his fingertips against Lance's warm skull and just left them there.

"Really?" JC asked when Justin told him about it later. It was such a relief to be on his own bus again, where everything was loud and fun and unbreakable.

Justin nodded. "Really," he said. Then he looked at JC. "Tell me you do not have that video."

"I do not have that video," JC said.

"Gross!" Justin shouted. "Fuckin' gross, JC!"

JC just shrugged.

Justin thought it would get easier after that, being around Lance, now that all the weirdness was over, and he guessed it was easier, a little. Or it would have been if Lance weren't so fucking depressed all the time.

He didn't want to go out anymore, not even to Hard Rock Cafˇ, which he loved, and he didn't even want to have parties in the room, and he hardly fuckin' talked at all unless it was right after the show, when everyone was still all giddy from the energy. Otherwise, he just sat quietly and read, like, Newsweek or something. Lance was turning into a sitcom dad.

"You," Joey said, bursting through the connecting door into Justin's hotel room. He whipped something at Justin's head that turned out to be a keycard. It hit Justin in the forehead and landed on the pillow. "You did this. You fix it."

"Dude, I could've fuckin' lost an eye!" Justin shouted, but Joey had already slammed the door behind him.

After that dramatic entrance, Justin was a little afraid of what he might find in Lance's room, but Lance was sitting calmly on the end of the bed, flipping back and forth between MTV and CNN.

"Hey," he said when Justin came in. "Which one?" He pointed at the screen with the remote.

"Duh," Justin said. Lance turned to MTV. Some kid screamed into his microphone. Justin hated the new music. He grabbed the remote and muted. "So what's up?" he said, shoving at Lance's shoulder. Lance scooted over on the bed.

"You're looking at it," he said.

"Okay, all I'm sayin' is you're famous and rich and this is all you got goin' on."

Lance smiled at him. "And look who I got with me."

Justin wanted to say something, but Lance had a good point.

Justin decided that his mission in life was to cheer Lance up. That and be an internationally recognized musical genius. But since the music thing was pretty much taking care of itself at the moment, Lance was the mission.

"I'm going to cheer you up," he told Lance.

"I'm already cheered up," Lance said.

"No, dude. I mean really. I'm going to really cheer you up."

"Whoo!" Lance said. "I'm so incredibly cheery! I've never been happier, Justin." He clapped his hands.

"Whatever," Justin said. "You're going to be cheered up. Just wait and see."

"Oh my god, it's working already!" Lance grabbed Justin's arm. Justin pulled his arm away. Lance was such a dick sometimes.

"I'm serious," he said. "You watch me." He pointed at Lance. "You're going to be so happy that you don't know what to do with yourself."

"I don't know what to do with myself!" Lance shouted.

"Wait and see," Justin said.

He started with the easy stuff: alcohol. "You know alcohol's a depressant, right?" JC said, when Justin told him his brilliant plan. "I mean, it's not a ... non-depressant."

"He's got to go through the pain," Justin said. JC didn't know anything about how people worked. He hadn't read any of the books Justin had given him during the lawsuit, not even the one about past lives, which had seemed right up JC's alley.

"But don't people drink to forget stuff like pain?" JC asked.

"Dude, do you want to talk to him about Ian?"

"So where you goin'?" JC asked.

They went to a little club on the strip, a place with sticky tables and bad lighting and regulars, and Justin bought shots right away.

"This is step one of your plan?" Lance said. Justin nodded.

"To step one, then," Lance said, and tipped his shot glass against Justin's.

"Step one," Justin said, grinning.

He woke up naked on the floor of his hotel room, the carpet leaving a painful scribble of a pattern on his cheek and a matching design on his hipbone.

"Fuck," he muttered, shoving himself up. He peered over the edge of the mattress. Lance. Lance asleep, in all of his clothes, even his shoes. Justin shoved himself to his feet. His head felt almost empty, like his brain had shriveled up and rattled against the insides of his skull. He staggered into the bathroom. He braced himself against the bathroom wall and peed. He splashed water on his face. He sucked in air, once. Twice. He did not throw up. His reflection in the mirror was old and faded, like it had been washed too many times. The carpet pattern on his face looked angry and red.

"Oh fuck this," he said to his face. It grimaced at him.

He staggered back into the bedroom. Lance was huddled in the middle of the bed, but he only had his head on one pillow. Justin grabbed the other one and yanked the covers down.

"Urrrrr," Lance groaned. One hand swatted at Justin. Justin pulled the blanket up over his shoulder and shoved his feet under Lance's thigh. "Mmmmm," Lance moaned. He sounded annoyed.

"Shut up," Justin said, and turned his back and fell asleep.

When he woke up for the second time, Lance was looking at him, his face unbearably close. His eyes were yellow-green and scary.

"I don't suppose you're all cheered up," Justin said.

Lance grimaced. "Your breath smells like kitty litter," he said and rolled out of bed.

"I'm going to take that as a no," Justin said.

"So," he said when Lance came out of the bathroom. "Why am I naked?"

"That wasn't part of your plan to cheer me up?" Lance asked. He sat on the side of the bed and ran his hands through his hair, which was looking pretty heinous. He needed it dyed again. It was getting too dark for Justin.

"Hmm," Justin said. It might have been. He'd certainly been drunk enough to think that Lance would be cheered up by nudity, but that didn't seem like the right answer. "I woke up on the floor," he said.

"So it wasn't part of your plan."

Justin thought again. "No. I'm pretty sure, no. Maybe I wanted to take a shower."

Lance nodded. "Maybe," he said.

Justin scootched up until he was sitting against the headboard, the sheet pulled up over his waist. "Would it have worked, though? Like, as part of the plan?"

Lance laughed. "Justin," he said, shaking his head. "I gotta go."

That was a little unnecessary, Justin thought. He knew plenty of people his nudity would cheer up. Millions even. He'd been offered five hundred thousand dollars by Playgirl, but Chris had told him to hold out for the cool million. "You don't have to laugh about it," he said to Lance's back. Lance just laughed again. Prick.

Lance tried to avoid him for the rest of the day, but there were only so many places to go between the stadium and the hotel, so he was pretty easy to find. "Hey," Justin said, when he found Lance sitting up in the nosebleed seats so far under the overhang that he was barely a speck from the floor. Justin had had to use Chris' binoculars to find him. "What's up?"

Lance sighed. "Nothing."

"Hmm. Cool." Justin pushed down the edge of the seat and sat down, propping his knees on the back of the chair in front of him. These seats were a little tight -- he didn't know how fat guys watched hockey from up here. "Can I ask you something?"

Lance closed his eyes, but didn't answer.

"Okay, so, um. Was Ian good in bed?"

Lance stood up. "Good bye, Justin," he said, but Justin caught his hand before he could leave. "No, no. I'm serious. It seems like he would be."

"What, you know from, like, research?" Lance pulled his hand away and shoved it in his pocket.

"Dude, no! Jeez. I wouldn't do that to you." Justin tipped his head back against the chair. He'd thought about it, though. A lot. Ian had been pretty hot, even when he was just Lance's boyfriend. Not that Justin would ever do something like that to a friend of his, but Ian had worked out a lot and the idea of seeing him was ... well, Justin would be lying if he said he wasn't tempted. "I wouldn't do that," he said again.

Lance shook his head. "No. I know," he said. He sounded tired. He looked tired, when Justin really looked at him, but he guessed that might be because there had been a lot of drinking the night before, even for Lance.

Lance slumped back into his seat. "Yeah," he said. "Yeah, he was."

Justin wanted to laugh because it was funny, the fact that one of his friends, someone he knew, had actually slept with someone who had sex as, like, part of his job, but Lance didn't look too cheered up and Justin didn't think laughing would assist in that part of the plan so. No laughing. He smiled into his hand instead.

Lance noticed anyway. "I'm glad you think it's so fuckin' funny, J. Thanks."

"Sorry," Justin said.

Lance shook his head. "Whatever," he said.

"Alright." Justin clapped his hands together. "Tonight, phase two."

"What's that? Heroin? Cocaine?"

"Better," Justin said. "Strippers!"

"Oh, fuck me," Lance muttered, but Justin pretended he didn't hear it, so it was okay.

"Female strippers?" Joey asked hopefully when he heard.

Justin shook his head. "You don't need cheering up," he said. "This is for Lance."

"Hey, I always need that kind of cheering up," Joey said, but he decided to come along anyway. He was pretty good friend, Justin thought.

Unfortunately, Justin had forgotten that they weren't in L.A. or New York, they were in Kansas City, Missouri. The only male strippers that Melinda had been able to locate was one of those cheap touring Chippendales ripoffs in some bar outside town where Lance surely would not be able to relax enough to cheer the fuck up. If they could even get in -- Melinda wasn't one hundred percent on that.

So female strippers it was.

The bar was called "Gooseman's" and it looked like a total dive from the parking lot, but the music was hot and the girls were hot enough. Justin bought a round of drinks for everyone in the whole place (he loved being rich and famous because it allowed him to say shit like "drinks are on me!" and mean it) and bellied up to the catwalk.

He was tipped back in his chair with his fifth beer resting on his flat belly when Joey leaned over into him.

"Hey!" he shouted over the thump of the music. He yelled out of the corner of his mouth so he could keep an eye on the stripper, who was blond and curvy and just about everything Joey looked for in a deep and meaningful one night stand. "Where's Lance?"

Justin twisted in his chair and almost cracked his skull open, catching himself with his hands as he fell, but he found Lance over at the bar nursing a rum and coke. "I'll go get him," he said.

"Don't kill yourself on the way over," Joey said, his face lifted to the stripper. She'd noticed him and was bending over not three feet from his face. Silly girl. Joey was a boob man.

Justin staggered through the chairs and took the seat next to Lance's.

"Hey man," he said. "I know that this isn't exactly your thing, but you need to get into the spirit. You need to get down, man!" He slung his arm around Lance's neck. "C'mon," he whispered in Lance's ear.

Lance shrugged furiously. "Get off," he hissed.

Justin stepped back, knocking his ass against the stool behind him. It tilted and clattered over. "Gee! Soooorrrrrry, man! God." Justin scowled at him. Lance could be such an ass sometimes. Like, sure, yeah, he had every right to be pissed about Ian, but he didn't have to take it out on his friends who were just trying to cheer his ass up. Like it was Justin's fucking fault that there weren't any male strippers in Missouri. Fuck.


The bartender had come over, a tall guy, a tall dark haired guy with biceps that swelled out of his black tank top. He stopped in front of Lance and stuck his hands in his pockets and smiled. He had not brought Lance a drink.

"Oh," Justin said.

Lance tossed him a glance. "Justin," he said.

Justin snapped to. "Oh. Right! Sorry. See ya." He slid back into his seat next Joey, whose face was covered with bright red lipstick prints.

"How's Lance?" Joey asked.

"Fine," Justin said. He glanced over his shoulder. The bartender had leaned over the edge of the bar, his face split in a wide grin. Lance grinned also, his pointed down at the bar, his arms crossed in front of him. "He's fine."

The next morning, Justin slung his arm around Lance's neck. "See?" he said. "Any time you need cheered up, you just come to Uncle Justin, man. I'll take care of you."

Lance smiled, but didn't say anything else.

"So." Justin shook him a little. "How was he?"


"Dude, don't fuckin' play me." Justin slapped his back. "The bartender. Mr. Strip Club."


"Whatever the fuck his name was, man. How was he?"

Lance shrugged. "I took him home."

Justin rolled his eyes back in his head. "Duh. After that."


"Nothin'." Justin shook his head. "Please, Lance. I mean you don't have to give me, like, the gory details or whatever, but." Lance was staring at him, his eyes clear and sharp. "You didn't."

"I didn't," Lance agreed.

"Dude!" Justin slumped to his knees. "I work and I slave and you don't even sleep with the bartender! You're killing me softly!"

Lance walked away. Justin threw a donut at his back.

Justin knew better than to try and sleep on the couch in the bus because Chris would inevitably jump on his stomach or draw on his face with magic marker, but he kept doing it anyway, hoping that someday Chris' love for him would prevent him from being such an ass. It hadn't worked yet, but Justin was an optimist at heart.

This time, Chris woke him up by dribbling water on his head. Warm water.

Please let that not be spit, Justin thought before he opened his eyes and saw the glass. Just water.

"Fucker," he muttered and drew up his feet so Chris could sit down.

"How's Bass?" Chris asked.

Justin shrugged and yawned. "The same, I guess," he said.

"You suck at this cheering up thing," Chris said. He had his thumb on the channel button of the remote, pressing hard to see how fast he could get the channels to flip, which normally would piss Justin off, but JC had bought the replacement this time, so what the fuck.

"I'm just out of ideas, man."

"You got him drunk," Chris said.

Justin nodded.

"And you tried strippers."

"Well, chicks, but yeah. Basically."

Chris shook his head. "Sorry, man. Alcohol and strippers is all I've ever needed."

Justin sighed. "Yeah," he said. "I mean, after strippers, what's the next step?"

"Food," JC said.

He'd forgotten JC was in the room, but there he was, his arms locked around his knees. He'd been watching t.v., maybe, before Chris got hold of the remote, or looking out the window, watching the road run. JC spent a lot of time being quiet by himself. Justin wondered how he could stand them all.

"Food," he said.

JC nodded. "Sure. Food's always stage three."

Justin looked at Chris, who shrugged. "Food," he said.

"Okay. Food it is," Justin said.

He took Lance to the best restaurant ever, the Waffle House. Justin loved Waffle House, the tiny dingy restaurants that hadn't been remodeled in years, the broken down waitresses that called everyone "honey" or "sugar", the thick syrupy sludge left on his plate after a stack of blueberries -- Waffle House was probably the best restaurant in the history of the world. They'd used to go all the time, back when there were traveling in vans instead of buses, pulling up to the familiar A shape of the Waffle House in the middle of the night and ordering the $2.95 breakfast specials.

"How come we don't come here anymore?" Justin asked Lance after they were waved to seats by the counter waitress.

Lance just shrugged. He didn't order pancakes or waffles, either, just toast and black coffee. Toast! At Waffle House! The guy was a fuckin' cretin. Justin ordered a blueberry waffle with extra whipped cream.

"You remember when we used to come here, when we were poor?"

Lance nodded. "Umm hmm."

"Sometimes, man, I miss that," Justin said. "Like, when we would all hang out and just chill."

"We still do," Lance said. "We do that all the time."

"True, yeah, but it's not the same somehow, you know?" Justin leaned across the table. He wasn't sure what he was trying to say, why Waffle House was making him all fucking reminiscent, but it seemed important for Lance to agree with him.

Lance surprised him by nodding. "I know," he said, and he seemed to mean it.

Justin grinned. "I'm going to order you some waffles, man," he said. He did, but Lance didn't eat them.

"He hates waffles," JC said.

"What? Since when?"

"Since, like, 1995, or something. That time he and Joey ate all those strawberry waffles and he barfed for two days."

"Well, fuck," Justin said.

He took Lance to McDonald's because he knew for sure that Lance liked McDonald's. He'd had it just last week.

"Look," he said when Lance had gotten his Quarter Pounder unwrapped. "You can tell me if you hate something."

Lance lifted his eyebrow. "What good would that do?"

"Fuck you. Seriously."

"Okay," Lance said. "I'll keep that in mind."

"Okay then," Justin said. "You want a shake or somethin'?"

Lance didn't, but he ate the apple pie Justin bought him on the way out.

McDonald's didn't seem like enough of a gesture, though, since they ate there three or four times a week on the road and there was one, like, a block from Lance's house and it had only cost Justin nine bucks, even with the apple pie, so he called his mom.

The macaroni and cheese wasn't that hard to make, even on the bus, even with Chris brushing by him, like, eight five fucking times and stealing the cheese, and bumping him.

"I can't believe you're doing this," he said at one point, hanging his chin over Justin's shoulder and reaching around under his arm to pluck shredded cheese off the noodles. Justin slapped at him, but just succeeded in making Chris dump cheese all over the counter.

"Doing what?" he said. "I made you macaroni and cheese when you were sick."

"Out of a box," Chris said.

"Whatever," Justin said.

"It's whole different level of macaroni and cheese is all I'm saying." Chris groped for more cheese, but this time Justin got him with the fork and he retreated, whining to JC to "come and kiss my fuckin' owie, you jerk. Get off the phone!"

It turned out okay -- the macaroni and cheese -- even if it didn't have the nice crust on it because Justin had to cook it in the microwave.

"Justin," Lance said. "This." He poked his fork at his plate, gingerly, like he was afraid the noodles might bite. "This is really nice of you."

Justin shrugged. "It doesn't have the crust on it, like I said."

"It's nice of you," Lance said. He was staring at Justin like he'd never seen him before and Justin was suddenly glad that he'd made Joey switch buses instead of hanging around watching Lance eat macaroni and cheese. Lance's look made him feel funny.

"Least I could do, man," he said.

"Well. Thanks," Lance said.

"You're welcome," Justin said back.

Lance was actually pretty cool. Justin knew that -- he'd learned that along time ago when he first met Lance and thought he was a dork until he realized that Chris thought Lance was the funniest person in the world, Chris thought that -- but hanging out with Lance, making him sandwiches, listening to him talk about shit, Justin sort of re-learned it. Re-discovered it.

Hanging out with him was like, hmm. The only thing Justin could think of when he tried to describe it to himself was sitting in his childhood bedroom on a rainy afternoon playing with plastic soldiers on the carpet in a puddle of lamplight. That was a real memory, a good one that ended with tomato soup and cheese sandwiches, one that happened way before *nsync or Mickey Mouse Club, even before Star Search, and Justin didn't know why he thought of it when he thought of what Lance was like, but he always did.

"Huh," Joey said when Justin told him that one morning while Lance and Chris were getting fitted by wardrobe and JC was curled up on a couch across from them. The wardrobe ladies, Kim and Angela, were cool, but they won't let Chris and Justin be in wardrobe at the same time because "We gotta get shit done, baby" according to Kim, which Justin supposed was true, although it was Chris' fault when Justin split his pants last time.

"Huh," Joey said. "That's funny."


"I think of rain, too," he said. "Only it was from when I was in high school and me and Kelly were sitting in the back seat of my dad's --"

"Whoo!" Justin shouted. "You perv! You think of Lance gettin' it on!"

Joey grabbed Justin and put him in a headlock. "Okay, no," he said, rubbing his knuckles over Justin's skull. It fucking hurt, but Justin supposed that was the point. "We were eating Dairy Queen, but it was raining and it was. I don't know. Nice." He released Justin. Justin sat back and touched his head gingerly. He was afraid that Joey'd rubbed the hair off in some spots.

They got to go home for four days in the middle of the tour because of some mishap at the venue, a fire or something. Justin wasn't quite sure what happened because he'd stopped listening when he heard "home."

The first day, he slept. He crawled into his own bed in his own room that he'd only lived in for three months before they'd gone to Germany and put his head on his own pillow and fell asleep and slept all through the night and into the middle of the next day. Then he went downstairs and ate a bowl of cereal and lay on his mother's couch and slept some more. Then he ate pizza and watched a movie and went back upstairs and did some more sleeping, and then it was the second day.

He woke up early, so early he could hear the birds in the trees. The sun glinted cheerfully off everything and into his eyes. Justin filled himself with sunny air. He'd never felt so awake, but the whole house was silent. He was the only one up.

He called Chris.

"Mmm, hello," Lance said in his ear.



"What are you doin' at Chris' house?" Justin sat back on the edge of the bed.

"Heh heh," Lance laughed, low and soft. "I'm stayin' here, remember?"

Justin didn't remember, although he thought he would have. "No, man. Why aren't you staying with Joey?"

"Kelly," Lance said. "You want Chris?"

"Nah, it's cool." Justin tipped back onto his pillows. "What are y'all doing today?"

"Sleepin'," Lance said. "Same thing I did yesterday."

Justin laughed. "Tell me about it," he said, closing his eyes against the morning light.

"See, first I close my eyes," Lance said, and Justin laughed again and drifted off before Lance could say anything else.

"Dude, you totally fell asleep on me," Lance said when Justin opened the door six hours later.

"You're boring," Justin said, but he didn't feel bored. "What do you want?"

"New James Bond."

"Lemme get my jacket," Justin said.

The James Bond was pretty good. The chick was hot and had dark hair, which kind of surprised Justin because for some reason he thought that all the Bond girls were blond, even though he knew there was at least one black one. Still, she was hot and stuff blew up and the world got saved and it was a pretty good movie.

They snuck out the back right when the credits started to roll.

"That was pretty cool," Justin said, cranking the ignition. It was Lance's car, but it was a BMW and Justin was just, like, physically incapable of letting anyone else drive a BMW. Especially Lance, who drove it like an old lady, like he couldn't afford a new one any time he wanted.

"Yeah, definitely cool," Lance said. "You wanna go somewhere?"

"Sure," Justin said. "Name it."

"Stripes," Lance said.

"OH man!" Justin tossed his head back and forth against the seat back. "I should have known better. Stripes? It's so gay."

"Dude, totally the point."

"Okay, fine," Justin said. "But you have to pretend to be my date, man. The last time --"

"-- some huge guy named Ralph followed you around all night and you had to kiss Joey. I know."

"That's all I'm sayin'," Justin said.

"Fine, yes," Lance said. "But you're paying for your own damn drinks."

"Dude! That's so not romantic!"

"Put out and I'll give you a refund," Lance said.

Lance bought the drinks anyway, because he was Lance and he couldn't stand the possibility that some anonymous guy at Stripes would think he was el cheapo. Also, Lance had let the bartender blow him, once, so they always got served.

"So what are you doing for the rest of our glorious vacation?" Justin asked when Lance came back with his rum and coke.

Lance laughed. "The next day and a half?" he said. "I think I'm going to fly to Spain."

"Cool. Bring me back something," Justin said. Then they started playing good music (another great thing about Stripes was they never played *nsync, ever, unless it was one of the funky dance mixes) and Justin made Lance gulp his drink and go dance. Lance kind of sucked at un-choreographed dancing, truthfully, but Justin wasn't about to accidentally get his picture taken dancing with someone else. Plus, after a couple of drinks it didn't matter anyway. He was with Lance and they were having a good time.

"Okay, okay, okay," Justin said in the car afterwards. He yanked at the collar of his shirt. "Dude, it's fucking hot in here."

Lance, who was trying to fit the key in the ignition, blinked at him. "What?" he said. The keys fell on the floor.

"Okay, you have to tell me, man." Justin pushed him back and reached around his ankles, fishing for the keys.

"Ticklish!" Lance said, and almost kneed him in the chin.

"Hold fuckin' still." Justin pressed his thigh down with one palm and groped for keys. They jingled against his finger. "Ha ha!" He handed them up to Lance. "You have to tell me, man," he said. "How was Ian?"

"What?" Lance asked. "Ian?"

"Like, in bed?" Justin said.

Lance tipped his head back against the head rest and from Justin's angle, his head by Lance's knee, Lance looked impossibly tall. His chin was pointier from below than it looked normally. "Good," Lance said. "He was good." He fumbled with the keys again. "Maybe we should get a cab or something."

"Really? Like, he didn't seem really ... I don't know. Porny?"

"Shut up, okay Justin?" Lance said.

Justin patted his knee reassuringly. "Sure," he said. "Okay. You want me to call a cab?"

They went back to Justin's house because Chris was having a girl over and Justin's mom sometimes left beer in the refrigerator and didn't care if Justin took it as long as he wasn't driving around.

"Jackpot," he told Lance, handing a Heineken over his shoulder. He opened his own and leaned back against the counter. "This was cool," he said.

"Yeah." Lance nodded. He took a sip of beer. "You've been pretty cool. You know, cheering me up and all."

Justin smiled. It wasn't like it was a big deal, trying to cheer Lance up, since it mostly involved him doing shit he wanted to do and dragging Lance along, but still. It was nice to be noticed. "Hey," he said. He meant to say "hey, anytime," but by then Lance's mouth was already covering his, hot and damp from the beer. Justin froze.

Lance didn't open his mouth or use his tongue or anything like that. It was more like a hug, like Lance was hugging him with his mouth, his lips, his breath. Justin opened his eyes. Lance's were closed. After a minute, he opened them and pulled back.

"I should go," he said.

Justin wanted to say that he shouldn't go, that he should stay and sleep on the couch or something because clearly he should, but he couldn't speak. His time had stopped when Lance had kissed him. Lance had kissed him, he kept thinking over and over again, a loud thought that prevented any other thoughts from forming.

"See ya," Lance said and walked away. Justin heard the front door shut quietly.

He stood there in his kitchen for a long time. The beer in his hand grew warm and sweaty. He drank it anyway, in small sips. Then he drank Lance's beer and imagined he had kissed him back.

Lance didn't answer his phone or Chris' the whole next day. By the fourth time he called, he didn't have any stupid excuse to offer Chris and just said

"let me talk to him, man."

"He's asleep. He said you guys partied your asses off."

"Yeah," Justin said. He hadn't told Chris. Lance hadn't told Chris.

"Yeah, thanks for inviting me," Chris said. "Fuckers."

"We invited you," Justin said, although that was probably a lie. "We can go somewhere today."

"Golf?" Chris said.

"Golf. I'll pick you up in two hours. Tell Lance to get his ass dressed."

"Rock on."

Part of the reason Justin liked golfing was that you kind of had to get dressed up for it. The place in Orlando required shirts with collars and real golf shoes, not tennis shoes, and Justin had a whole dresser drawer full of tailored khakis and polo shirts that made him look taller that he actually was. They had quite a bit of money now that the lawsuit had unraveled, but when he went golfing Justin actually felt rich.

In line with the "feeling rich" mood, he drove the Lexis SUV over to Chris'. It was actually his mom's, but it was gold and roomy and felt like something you drive your buddies to golf in. Justin was all about the appropriate feeling of things.

He pulled into Chris' driveway and honked.

Chris liked to dress like a metalhead leprechaun for golf. He had on red plaid knickers and a round beanie that matched and a black Iron Maiden t-shirt over a green polo shirt. "It's all part of my plot to overthrow the machine," he'd told Justin once. "It's fashion irony."

Justin, who had no response to fashion irony, had called him a "fucking idiot," but there wasn't any way for him to stop it.

"Where's Lance?" Justin asked. Chris threw his gear into the back seat.

"Not comin'," Chris said.


Chris paused in his fastening of his seat belt. "What does that mean?"

"Nothing," Justin said. "I just would have brought the BMW if, you know. I had known."

"What the fuck?" Chris said. "Lance is draggin' his ass around my house like someone punched him and you look like you just caught your girlfriend kissing another guy. What the fuck is up?"

"What? Shut up," Justin said, and concentrated on backing out of Chris' driveway. "You look stupid."

"You look like a Tiger Woods knock-off," Chris said, and the subject was officially changed.

"Hey," Justin said, grabbing Lance's sleeve just before he got on the bus he shared with Joey. "I called you, like, five times."

"Look, I totally. I'm sorry, okay? I'll talk to you later." He pulled his shirt away from Justin's hand. "Later."

"Um. Yeah," Justin said. The door shut in his face.

JC tapped him on the shoulder after the first rest break. "What're you doin'?" he asked.

"Nothin'." Justin shifted his feet so that JC could sit next to him.

"Mmm." JC tipped his head into his hand and looked out the window. "It's weird having you on the bus instead of over at Lance's."

"It's my bus," Justin said. "Sorry if I'm crowding you or whatever. Jeez!"

JC looked at him, his blue blue eyes clear and questioning.

"Sorry," Justin said.

"It's cool, man." JC patted his arm. "I just talked to Lance."

Justin squinted at him. "Uh huh?"

"He doesn't seem very cheered up."

"JC, man --"

"No, he totally did for a while, but maybe he saw Ian or something because he's regressing, man."

"JC --"

"But I'm sure that whatever you're doing is totally gonna work. Your master plan or whatever." JC patted him again, smiling encouragingly, and that was all Justin could take.

"He kissed me," Justin said.

"Oh." JC looked out the window and then back at him. "Is that part of the plan?"


"Oh." JC nodded. "So he just kissed you. Like a surprise kiss."

Justin nodded.

"Oh." JC thought for a moment, scratched his head, rubbed his nose. When he was thinking, JC looked a little like a speed freak. "So, you didn't want to kiss him back?"

"Dude!" Justin shouted, wrenching himself up off the couch. "Oh my god! You are so missing the point, man, because that is so not the point of me telling you this!"

"Okay. What's the point?"

"I'm going to the other bus!" Justin shouted. "Stop the bus!"

Joey stood up when Justin climbed on board, dragging his duffel bag behind him.

"Oh, it's you," he said, so Justin figured that Lance had told him, too.

"Yeah. Um." He set the bag down. Joey was a pretty big guy. Justin was pretty sure he could still take him, but he might need more room than the bus allowed. Plus, this was Joey's brilliant idea in the first place and Justin didn't see why he should have to get in a big fight just because Joey didn't handle "gay" things. How was Justin supposed to know that Lance was gonna like him? Lance hadn't ever liked him any of the other times they went to McDonald's. "So --"

Joey sat back down. "He's in the back," he said.

"Okay." He stepped over Joey's feet carefully. "Joey," he said, but Joey held up his hand.

"Just don't be a fucking prick, okay?" he said.

Justin wanted to be pissed about that comment, but Joey still looked mad so he just went into the back instead.

Lance scowled at him. "What?" he said. "Don't tell me you stopped the bus so that you could give me the whole 'let's just stay friends' speech."

Justin stepped back. He didn't know. "No," he said. "No."

"So? What?" Lance folded his arms over his chest.

"I. Lance." If this had been a movie or a television show or something, Lance would have been glad to see him, would have, like, jumped up with tears in his eyes or at least smiled a little, but Lance didn't look like he was trying to repress his true feelings at all. He just looked pissed.

"What Justin? What?"

"Look, I just. I came over, I just."

"Oh fuck you," Lance said. He stood up and shoved Justin's shoulder. "Get out of my --"

"Lance," Justin said, catching Lance around the waist and then somehow between Lance trying to pull away and him trying not to let Lance pull away, they were kissing again. They kind of realized it at the same time, Justin thought, because at first Lance kept trying to jerk away and then it was very much like the first time, a moment of stillness and little breath, but then Lance's hand came up and curved around Justin's arm and they were really kissing, Lance's mouth moving against his, the gentle non-taste of his tongue, the weight of his chest pressing Justin into the wall. He was surprisingly solid, his waist, his shoulders under Justin's hands, and he smelled like soap and tasted like toothpaste and he was so familiar that Justin almost cried out when he pulled away.

"Justin," he said, his hand flat on Justin's chest. He gasped for air. Justin groped for him, his fingers catching on the material of Lance's sleeve, but Lance pushed them away. "What the hell?"

"What? Nothing!" Justin grabbed his hand. "Nothing. C'mere. C'mere."

"Nothing?" Lance backed away and sat down on the nearest bench seat. "Nothing? You're kissing me like you like me. Last night you were all 'I'm not gay' and now you're kissing me and that's fucked up. No, stay away from me -" he said, holding up his hand. Justin stopped.

"Lance, come on," Justin said. "Just let me."

"Let you what? What, Justin?"

"God! Fine! Never mind!" Justin flopped onto the couch. Lance and his fucking reasons. He always wanted reasons for shit, he couldn't ever just let things happen the way they were supposed to happen, naturally. He was such a jerk. Justin wished he'd never kissed him. "I'll just stay until the next rest stop, okay?"

"Okay." Lance folded his hands in his lap. He looked out the window. He tipped back on the bench and rested his shoulders against the tinted window.

Justin picked up the remote and clicked on the television. BMX racing. His stomach swayed and swooped with the bikes. He thought about vomiting, idly. If he didn't concentrate on it, it wouldn't happen. He shifted around onto his side and rested his head on his arm. His balls hurt. His thighs hurt. His head hurt and Lance was sitting right there across the aisle from him, the answer to all his problems, and he didn't want to think about that at all.

He curled his knees up into his stomach. "Jeez," he murmured. Fucking Lance and his fucking porn star boyfriend. He thought if he ever saw Ian again, he might have to kick his ass.

"Move over," Lance said.

Justin lifted his head. He felt his heart stutter and then leap forward. "Hmm?" he said. Lance stood above him, his head turned to the television.

"Move over," he murmured without looking at Justin.

Justin moved, scooted toward to the edge of the cushions. It wasn't a big couch and Lance crawled in and kept moving until they were lined up and pressed together, Lance's breath warm on the back of his neck. Justin could feel his innards trembling, anticipating what would happen next. He concentrated until he couldn't feel it anymore.

"Okay?" he said, his hand over Justin's arm.

Justin nodded. Swallowed. Lance's hand came down and ran over him, shoulder to elbow. Justin closed his eyes.

"So what, um." He sighed. "What, um. What -"

"Whatever," Lance said. "Anything."

"Oh," Justin said.

They didn't do it. Not that Justin didn't want to, or hadn't done it before with lots of guys, but. Okay, not lots of guys, but many guys, several. A few guys. Three. But he'd done it more than once with two of them and it wasn't like he was a virgin or anything.

Still, though, they were on the bus and Joey was right in the other room, which was hardly a room, and the bus driver and everything, so obviously they weren't going to do it. Obviously. There was a moment, though, when Lance was on top of him and had his leg between Justin's and his hands on Justin's ass and Justin had his own hands shoved down the back of Lance's pants and thought oh god and hoped they would do it anyway, but they didn't.

Justin almost did, a little, on his own. But they didn't.

"Okay?" he said to Joey, long after he and Lance had stopped kissing and Lance had fallen asleep, his arm tight around Justin's waist. If Justin breathed in deep, he could feel Lance's fingers on his skin.

Joey squinted at him. "You're not fucking with him."

"Not yet," Justin said.

"You're fuckin' funny."

Justin grinned up at him, his best sweetest grin, and finally Joey gave up and rolled his eyes and went to make a sandwich.

"So you all are boyfriends now," Chris said.


"You and Lance."


"You fuck him?"

"Dude! Crass, man!" Justin kicked at him. "Jeez."

"So, no then," Chris said. Justin kicked at him again, but Chris hadn't lived on a bus with Justin for, like, years without learning how to avoid that.

"You gonna?"

Justin rolled his eyes. "Duh! No, I thought what I'd do was spend the rest of my life with a guy I never intend to fuck."

"Rest of your life? What are you, married?"

Justin flipped him off. Chris was an annoying prick, man.

"No, okay. Really. You plan on having sex with Lance? Because that's some serious pressure."

"I've had sex with guys before, Chris. Remember?"

"Yes, sure, Justin Timberlake, stud on four continents -"

"And Japan," Justin added.

"You had sex with a guy in Japan?"

"No. But I'm still a stud in Japan."

"Whatever. My point is, you've never had sex with a guy who's had sex with a porn star before."

"What difference does that make?"

"Dude, Ian was a porn star, a porn star."

"Yes. I. Know. I was there."

"So you're not uncomfortable at all with the fact that you're boyfriend's had sex with a professional. A guy who makes money fucking. That's cool."

"Yeah," Justin said. "Yeah. Well. I'm cool."

"You aren't going to get all sappy and smoochy on the bus, though, right?"


"All right then," Chris said.

"I gotta go lie down," Justin said. "I'm, um, really tired."

Lance wouldn't even talk about it. "No, Justin," he said. "I'm not gonna talk about it."

"Man, c'mon," Justin said. "I'll ... do whatever you want." He fingered the button on Lance's jeans.

"I'm not telling you about Ian, so you can just forget about it," Lance said, and then Justin felt like he couldn't just leave Lance hanging like that and unbuttoned his pants the rest of the way anyway.

Finally, after, like, a week of him begging Lance and giving him blowjobs Justin caved and got a video. Not the college one because it had vanished and he suspected that JC had something to do with that that he didn't want to think too seriously about, but another one, one where Ian played a soldier and gave it to some guy over the edge of a table with his shirt still on. Having his shirt on seemed to be a theme in Ian's videos.

It was good.

Ian was good.

"I'm in trouble," he told Chris, who was reading the new version of The Flash. Chris hardly looked up.

"Mmm," he said.

"No, really. I checked him out, man, and Ian was like, some sort of stallion guy. I mean, I got the stuff, you know, but -"

"You checked him out?" Chris said. His book lay flat on his lap.

"Yeah, and I'm telling you, he's, like, not human. He's, I don't know, part horse or -"

"You checked him out."

"Yes," Justin said. "I checked him out and you have to help me. Like, how do you do it?"

"Do it?" Chris set the magazine down on the table. "Do what?"

"No, not the sex thing, I mean, I have the basics, but how do you -"

"Do I what? Make up for the fact that I'm not Justin Timberlake?"

Okay, that wasn't what Justin had meant, not at all, but, well. Yes, okay it had been sort of what he meant, but it sounded a lot more fucked up when Chris said it that way like he was being conceited or something, which he wasn't, especially since he'd come to Chris for advice. Truthfully, he should have known better.

"Never mind," he said. "Forget it."

"I'm going to forget it," Chris said.

"Please, yes, forget it."

"Forgetting it now," Chris said. "But lemme ask you something, okay?"

Justin nodded. It was going to be some stupid smartass comment like did he whack off to the video (which he hadn't, but that had taken a stupid amount of self control on his part, not that Chris needed to know that), and then Justin would be free to go. "Ask away."

"What do you think Lance is gonna say if he finds the video?"

Fuckin' Chris and his fuckin' questions, man. It was enough to make Justin want to punch someone.

Lance was great, though. Really great, not just the normal great of someone who would have sex with you regularly. He was really thoughtful, like he would pour Justin's cereal when he got up, so it would be ready for milk when Justin rolled out of bed. Or he would have Justin's bag ready and sitting by the hotel door. Or he'd sit behind him after Justin had his post-show shower and rub his neck and shoulders, his fingers stroking up Justin's spine into the wet curls at his nape until Justin practically collapsed from joy. Chris called them "lovahs" as in, "hey Jup, where's your lovah Lance?" but JC and Joey were cool, especially once Joey'd made sure Justin wasn't fucking around.

He wasn't. He found that out during sound check one day, when a girl asked how long Justin was going to let his hair grow and Lance came up behind him and squirted a mountain of silly string onto his head. "Pink fro!" he'd shouted and tried to run for it, but Justin caught him around the waist and hauled him back and almost kissed him before Chris jumped on his back yelling "free Lance! Free Lance!"

"You almost kissed me," Lance had whispered to him as soon as the mikes were off.

Justin shook his head and planted his hand in the middle of Lance's chest, holding it there for a minute before pushing him away.

So it was perfect, Lance, the band, everything. Justin had the perfect life. He had great friends and a great family and a great Lance and everything was perfect. Perfect, perfect, perfect.

And when Lance was busy or on the other bus or somewhere else he wouldn't be back from for a while, Justin would watch the tape, watch perfect Ian have sex with perfect strangers.

Lance caught him because he fell asleep with the tape in the VCR. Lance had been with the stylist getting his hair bleached, and he came back smelling of peroxide along with his normal Lance smell. Justin hooked an arm around his neck and kissed his cheek.

"hey," he murmured. "Hey. You smell."

"Yeah, nice to see you, too, doll," Lance said. He shifted on the bed until he was sitting, and Justin slumped against his chest. "What you got in the machine?

Justin squeezed him. "Dunno," he said. Lance had on a soft old t- shirt that folded over his cheek. He smiled into it. Lance's hand patted him, then the mattress behind him, then pushed against his stomach and groped in between them. By the time Justin realized what he was looking for, Lance had already pointed the remote and pressed play.

"Fuck!" Justin said.

"Oh, fuck!" Video Ian said.

"What the fuck?" Lance said.

"Lance," Justin said, but he was already off the bed and standing by the door. "Lance."

"You're fucking kidding me, right? I mean, really, Justin. You're kidding me. This is joke, right?"

If he'd had any sense, he would have said "yes, absolutely" and laughed his head off and taken Lance to bed, but it was Lance and they were supposed to be having a real relationship not just some fuck buddy thing so Justin went against everything he normally would do and told the truth.

"No," he said.

"No what? No what, Justin?"

"No, it's not a joke."

Lance looked at the t.v. where, thank god, two guys who weren't Ian were doing it. "Okay," he said. He opened the door.

"Lance," Justin said. He pushed the blanket down. "Lance wait."

Lance waved his hand the way he did when Joey or Chris had teased him too much and he was fed up. He shut the door quietly. Justin knew enough to not go after him.

Joey didn't talk to him for a week. That hurt more than Justin thought it would. He'd expected Lance not to talk to him - Justin knew he was a stupid jerk about some things, but he knew when he'd fucked up - but Joey was usually the type to beat you up and then hug you and forget the whole thing.

"He's pissed at you," JC said when Justin crawled into his lap and pouted. "We're all pissed at you." He pushed Justin's curls back from his forehead. "You were a jerk to Lance."


"You're not pissed at me," Justin said, secretly grateful for the fact that once on the Mouse Club JC had gotten diarrhea and had to ask Justin to borrow a spare pair of underwear. They knew too much about one another to not talk to each other.

"I am," JC said. "Just not as pissed as Joey."

"Good." Justin twined around him and pressed his face into JC's belly. It was nice - JC always smelled kind of spicy - but it wasn't Lance. He squeezed. JC squeezed back.

"The difference is," JC said, toying with his hair, "Joey's going to get less pissed at time goes on."


"You have to make up with him."

Justin rolled onto his back. "JC," he said.

JC made a face at him, his lips all pursed up into a pout. "Justin," he said.

"How?" Justin sat up. "How, exactly, am I supposed to make up with him? He thinks I was jerking off to a video of his ex-boyfriend."

"Uh huh," JC said.

"So how do I make up for that?" Justin demanded. "How? I mean, I don't think flowers and candy are going to work, man."

JC thought about that for a second. "No," he said slowly. "Probably not."

"Thank you!" Justin threw his hands up. "That's what I'm saying."

"You're just gonna have to be nice to him," JC said, rubbing his shoulder.

"God!" Justin said and closed his eyes.

Unfortunately, Lance really wasn't about letting Justin be nice to him, even after he had sucked it up and faced the fact that, yes, he was an idiot and yes, this was totally his fault, and yes, he really did owe it to Lance to make it up to him. Making it up to him was kind of hard, though, when Lance would walk out of any room Justin would walk into. He did this in the quiet room and the play room and group meetings and hotel rooms and every single other place except interviews where he sat as far away from Lance as possible and didn't comment on anything he said, staring off into space and smiling a vague smile that Justin absolutely hated.

Once, Justin tried to block him from leaving by standing in front of the door, but Lance just ignored him and when Justin had gone to the couch to sit down, Lance had left.

"I don't know what to tell you," Joey said, watching the door close. Justin had made him a pizza by hand. It had sucked, but Joey had forgiven him because of the gesture. Joey was a big fat softie. "He's pissed."

"Yeah." Justin flopped back on the couch and threw his arm over his eyes. He was gonna have to resort to something drastic, he just fucking knew it. "No shit, Joey."

"So what are you going to do?"

Justin lifted his arm and peered under it, squinting at Joey's interested face. He didn't know what he was going to do, he only knew that he had to do something because Lance wasn't talking to him and this time it was his fault. More than last time. "Dunno," he said.

"Hmm. That sucks," Joey said.

"Tell me about it," Justin said. He and Joey looked at each other. Justin sighed. "Okay," he said. "Trade me buses."

"What?" Joey sat up, already shaking his head. "Man, no way. He's already pissed at you, I don't need him to be pissed at me, too."

Justin slapped the couch cushion. "Joey! C'mon! I need to talk to him and I can't, he won't even be in the same room with me. What'm I supposed to do? Put up a fuckin' billboard? Change buses."




"Please, please, please, please, please."

Joey shook his head. "Sorry."


"ALL RIGHT!" Joey roared. "Jesus Christ, Justin! You better not fuckin' teach Brianna that."

"You're the best, man," Justin said and laughed when Joey flipped him the bird.

Justin snuck onto the bus so Lance couldn't throw him off before they started moving. "Lance," he said, once they seemed to be going fast enough so that Lance wouldn't consider tossing him out a window.

"Justin," Lance said. He seemed to have chosen the path of graceful resignation.

"Listen, I just wanted to say I was sorry."

"Great," Lance said. "Thank you for saying that."

"Oh." Justin folded his hand over the back of the bus seat, watching Lance carefully. He didn't look angry, but that was kind of the problem. "So. Good. So we're okay then."

"Yep," Lance said. His eyes were wide and mild and all wrong for this conversation. Justin wanted to shake him, just to get a reaction.

"So you forgive me," Justin said.

"For what?" Lance asked. Now his eyes were wide and innocent like a child's and Justin took a step back. Lance hadn't been as innocent as a child when he was a child.

"For, um. Watching that video?"

Lance shook his head.

Fuck. Justin was in trouble. "For getting the video in the first place?"

Lance shook. He picked idly at a fingernail.

"For watching gay porn because it, like, exploits young gay men and you're against it?" Justin said hopefully, even though he knew that was totally horseshit.

"Nope," Lance said.

Justin clutched at his hair and slammed the heels of his hands into his eyesockets. "What, then?" he cried. His head hurt, his stomach hurt. He hated Lance with ever fiber in his being and he never wanted to kiss someone so much in his whole life, even Britney when he was fifteen. "What?"

"How about you're sorry that you pretended to give fuck about me in the first place, Justin? Are you sorry for that at all?" Lance lifted an eyebrow.

Justin staggered. He groped for the bench again and felt the shocking pain of his thumb nail bending back, pulling away from the skin. He snatched his hand back and popped his thumb in his mouth. He was a baby, a kid, a fucking idiot. He couldn't have been more stunned if Lance had socked him in the chest. "Lance," he said around his thumb.

"I knew you were just trying to cheer me up, Justin, but." Lance sighed. His face changed into something old and sad, a face Justin had rarely seen before and had certainly never been the cause of. Lance's eyes made him want to cry.

"I wasn't," he said. "I wasn't trying to cheer you up."

Lance laughed a little, but his eyes watered. "Justin, whatever."

"Okay, no, I mean yes. I was. I did try to cheer you up. I mean, I was trying to cheer you up. But not. You know. The sex part." Justin sat down, pressing Lance up against the wall, hooking his arm over his shoulders. "Lance, honey. That wasn't."

Lance shook his head. "You were watching his video, Justin."

"That's." Justin ducked his face. He didn't, he couldn't explain to Lance ... "I was. Researching."

"Researching what? My ex-boyfriend's ass?"

"No, his. Technique."

They were so close that Justin could hear Lance's breath pause and resume. He pressed his face into Lance's shoulder. He couldn't look at him. He was an idiot.

"His technique," Lance said.

Justin nodded against Lance's shirt. "I'm sorry, okay?" he mumbled into the sleeve.

"Justin, this. Look at me."

Justin lifted his head. He knew he was red and mottled and looked like hell. He felt like hell. He'd had Lance, Lance, and he'd fucked it up. "What?"

"Okay, I'm just going to tell you this once. Ian's technique sucked."

Justin blinked. Lance was lying. He'd heard Lance through the walls of the hotels, he'd seen the blissed out look on his face when he came out of the quiet room with Ian in tow, and mostly he'd seen Ian who had a perfect body and a perfect face and made the college boy on the video scream for mercy. Lance was full of shit.

He looked at Lance, who was staring back at him, but Lance's eyes looked completely normal and not deceitful or lie-full at all, which was a sure sign that he was lying his fucking ass off. Lance leaned forward and took Justin's hand between his own. His hand was warm -- Lance's hands were always warm -- and his fingers slid between Justin's and curved into his palm. He shook his head.

"Sucked," he said, and looked right at Justin, his face somehow grim and determined. "Completely."

"Oh," Justin said, and pressed his mouth against Lance's sudden smile.

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