On the Bus 14
by Synchronik

It had started so simply that Joey wasn't sure when it had become the big hairy mess it was now. Now it was taking up all his free time, every spare moment that he wasn't thinking about, rehearsing for, or actually performing in one of their concerts. Lance had noticed it this morning.

"Joey," he' d said, grabbing Joey's sleeve. "Are you okay? Have you been sleeping?"

"Yeah, we're sleeping fine," he'd answered, before he even thought about it. And Lance had stared, really stared at him, for a good long time before nodding and letting him go.

He hadn't lied. He was sleeping fine. He went to bed earlier and earlier, lulled to sleep by the rocking of the bus, and the rush of wind outside, and the rush of breath against his cheek. He was sleeping fine, JC was sleeping fine, they were both sleeping fine. And together, they were sleeping together, but Lance hadn't asked about that.

Initially, Joey hadn't wanted the two-person bus, especially not with JC, who was a great guy and a great friend, and who saved up most of his fun for onstage. Joey was more of an offstage fun person. But Chris had to be on the three person bus, or someone would end up dead, and Lance's stuff was already on the three person bus (because of all of them only Lance had the foresight to look and discover that the three man bus had the bigger bathroom), and Justin, well, Justin pouted, so that was that. Joey and JC and their driver Andy, who liked to be left alone so he could sing along to Patsy Cline while he drove.

And, at first it had been boring, because JC liked to write and liked to sleep, and neither or those were really group activities (or they hadn't been, Joey thought), so for the first couple of days Joey watched a lot of t.v. and spent a lot of time on the internet exchanging instant messages with Chris on the other bus. Chris always made it sound like the other bus was a party. Joey wouldn't have been surprised if, when they passed the other bus, he had seen girls in bikinis and a pool on the roof, from some of Chris' messages.

But then, the third day, JC had come and sat down next to him and said, "hey, listen to this," and Joey had listened to the fledgling song JC was working on, and things took off from there.

They spent a lot of time singing, sometimes JC's new stuff so that he could hear it, but mostly old stuff. Sometimes, they sat in the front seats and sung along with Andy. They also talked a lot, about what had happened to them, and what was going to happen, and about the other guys. Joey found out that JC was a worrier: he worried that Lance, who had just turned 21, was going to party too much and live to regret it. He worried that Chris would wake up one morning and think he was too old for this shit, and quit the band. He worried that Justin would get married at 19 because he thought it was romantic and end up divorced at 21. He worried that the break would kill their momentum and they would never be this happy or this successful again. Mostly, Joey noticed, JC worried about things he could not control.

"What about me?" he asked.

JC was lying on the couch, his hands folded beneath his head. "You, Joe?"

"Yeah." Joey was lying on the floor on his stomach, chin on his hands. Every word he spoke made his head bob up and down in a stupid funny way. "What do I do that makes you nervous?"

"More like what doesn't make me nervous about you." JC laughed.

Joey sat up. "Really? Really, JC?" He was a little shocked. He was Joey, after all. Low key. He never caused trouble, never held things up or slowed them down, never did anything, he thought, to make anyone nervous.

JC looked over at him, and there was something there, flickering in the blue of his eyes, but JC shook his head. "I'm kidding," he said.


A couple minutes later, JC stood up and stretched. "I'm heading to bed," he said.

Joey nodded, and stood up himself, feeling like a guest who should leave or something. He wished his sweatpants had pockets in them so he could put his hands somewhere. "Okay, um. Good night, I guess."

"Yeah," JC said.

Joey grabbed him by the shoulders and yanked him into a hug. JC stood stiffly in the hug for a moment, then Joey felt his hand patting gently. He held on. Eventually, JC gave up and hugged him back.

Joey squeezed and released him. "You worry too much," he said.

"Yeah." JC smiled. "G'night."


The next night they spent on the bus, after a concert in Chicago, JC had ambushed him on his way to bed, looping his arms around Joey's waist and holding on for a good minute before letting go. Joey held back. In his arms, JC felt thin and strong and trembly, the way he imagined a greyhound must feel. It was nice.

It kind of snowballed after that.

The hugging -- the only word Joey could think of was "mutated," although he knew that wasn't the word he was looking for -- first into longer and longer hugs, or hugs that happened not just before bed, but getting on and of the bus, coming in and out of the lounge, thank you hugs . . . suddenly Joey felt like he was in some sort of Barney-induced acid trip. He liked it, though, turning and finding JC in his arms, pressing his nose into JC's hair, rubbing his back. It seemed to satisfy something in him that he didn't know had been missing, like when he poured a glass of water and then realized he was thirsty.

Then he and JC had been sitting back in the dark after the show, sticky with sweat, and exhausted, contentment oozing from their pores, and the world rushing by outside the window.

"That was a great show," Joey said. He'd said the exact same thing three minutes ago, but it seemed to bear repeating.

"Yep." JC nodded.

"Really. We were so on," Joey said, kind of amazed that even after they had done this show a hundred times, a hundred nights, it could still get better.

"Yep," JC said.

"We rule."

"Yep," JC said again. Then he tipped toward Joey until his head hit Joey's shoulder. "We do."

Joey reached up and patted JC's face. "You're crashing, huh?"


"You mind if I stay up?"

"You mind if I stay here?" JC asked, bringing his feet up onto the couch so that he was pressed up against Joey's side.

"Nope." Joey lifted his arm and JC slid underneath it, ending up not so much in Joey's lap as across it, like a big dog. Joey ran his hand over JC's side a couple of times. JC smiled. They stayed like that for a long while, JC dozing, Joey trailing his fingers over the smooth skin of JC's arm, feeling its heat under his fingertips.

Eventually, Joey shook him awake, and they staggered toward the bunks, JC rubbing his eyes with the heel of his hand. "G'night, Joe," he mumbled, and put his arms out. Joey, feeling a little bleary and exhausted himself, gave his friend a squeeze. JC was warm from sleep, and his arms were loose and sweet around Joey's neck, and it seemed like the right thing to do as JC pulled away to lean in a little and kiss him goodnight, the way Joey would anyone he happened to be putting to bed. So he did.

For a second, JC kissed him back. Then he pulled away and fell into his bunk, curling up under the blanket as if he had never slept before. Joey stood, staring, for a second. Then he went to bed.

After that, the kissing was part of it, too, JC's sharp face lifting to his before they went to bed, and like the hugs, Joey found that he had missed goodnight kisses without even realizing that they were gone. And, sure, maybe it wasn't quite normal, and maybe he didn't mention it to anyone at all especially not JC, and maybe it made him blush when Lance wanted to switch buses one night and Joey said "NO!" really loud and made everyone look in his direction.

"Why not?" Lance asked. He seemed a little hurt. "I wouldn't mess anything up, or--"

"No, it's just that." Joey paused, knowing that everyone was staring. "Lance, it's just--"

"We're working on something," JC said, quietly.

"Well, sheesh, Fatone, why didn't you just say that?" Chris asked. "You nearly gave Lance a heart attack. No worries, baby," he said to Lance, rubbing his shoulder. "We'll keep it down for you. Won't we, Just?"

"Sure," Justin said.

Joey looked over at JC, who looked back, a curiously unreadable expression on his face. Joey saw that same expression later, on the bus, when he looked down at JC's head in his lap and smiled. "Working on something, hmm, JC?" he said.

"Well. You know, if you want to, Joey."

"Yeah, sure. I mean, I'd love to. We could get some stuff together and show the--" he stopped, because JC sat up and was staring at him, at his mouth, apparently.

"You want to work on songs?" he asked.

"We could, you know, um. Work on some."

"Sure, we could." JC nodded. He sat back on the couch, and crossed him arms over his chest. His leg was still up against Joey's but he seemed across the room.

"Um, okay."

"Great," JC said.

Joey ran a hand through his hair. "Look, just tell me what the hell it is, JC, because I've obviously pissed you off in some way, and I don't want to spend the rest of my life on this bus with you acting like a bitch."

JC glared at him. "Fine. You're telling me you didn't want Lance on the bus because you and I are going to work on some songs?"

"Oh. JC. I--"

"That's what I thought."

"No, I mean." Joey sighed again. "No. I didn't want to trade with him because I would miss you. I would miss. I would miss it."

JC sighed, and his shoulders slumped, and Joey knew that whatever he'd said had been the right thing to say. JC was no longer mad.

"I would, too," JC said.

"So . . . boy I'm getting tired." Joey turned a little, stretching his arm along the back of the couch, until it was around JC's shoulders.

JC rolled his eyes. "You're a fucking dork," he said.

Joey nodded. "Yep. Wanna go to bed?"

JC did.

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