On the Bus 6
by Synchronik

Later, Joey would remember the exact minute it started, although at the time it hadn't seemed like anything important, or anything good. It had seemed like a big fat pain in the ass.

"No! No WAY!" Justin had shouted, flailing.

"Yes," JC had hissed, pushing at his shoulders.

"I'm not done, C!" He grabbed onto to the doorframe of the club, hands catching on the molding.

"Fuck!" JC cast a desperate glance over his shoulder. "A little help, Joey?" he asked. Joey pried Justin's fingers off the door frame, sighing, and Justin was out the door.

"Damn it, C!" Justin shouted. "I wasssn--" he staggered "was not DONE!"

"You're done," JC said, shaking his head.

Justin pointed a finger at him, sidestepped, and re-pointed. It was kind of funny, actually, watching him, Joey thought. Justin was normally so coordinated. Joey wished idly for Lance to witness this momentary fall from grace. "I was NOT!" Justin said.

"Joe?" JC said.

"You were done, Just," Joey said, mildly.

"Fuckoff!" Justin flung an arm at him, staggered and fell to his knees. "fuckoff," he muttered. JC rolled his eyes.

"C'mon, Just," he said, reaching around Justin's waist.

Without warning, Justin hurled.

"WHOA!" JC jumped back, arms out, like Justin was coated in poison.

"Damn!" Joey muttered. Justin was done, alright. He'd never seen anyone vomit up such prodigious amounts of alcohol. Not even Chris that night in Germany when he'd done a headstand after three mugs of dark.

JC, always the courageous one, had re-approached Justin and had one hand on his shoulder. He was keeping his new boots out of hurling distance, though, Joey noted. "You okay?" JC asked.

Justin groaned.

"Uh huh. Here." JC handed Justin the half empty bottle of Evian he'd brought with him from the club. "Rinse it out."

Justin moaned, but he took the bottle and rinsed out his mouth, spitting sloppily into the gravel of the parking lot. JC, braver than Joey would ever want to be, reached out and wiped Justin's mouth with his sleeve.

"Okay, back to the bus, man." He grabbed Justin under the arms and tried to haul him to his feet. Justin remained standing only for a split second before he tipped forward. "Joey," JC gasped, trying to stabilize his charge. "Joey, get over here."

"No way," Joey said. "What if--"

"Get. Over. Here." JC glared at him.

"Fuck." Joey growled, but came over.

"The bus is right over there." JC pointed. Joey looked. Yep, there it was, right at the edge of the parking lot, right where Lance said it would be.

"JC," Joey said. JC looked at him. "JC, what if he throws up all over me?"

"You'll wash. Joey, I can't."

Joey sighed. "Fine." It was true. Five years ago, hell, even two years ago, JC would have swooped Justin up and carried him across the parking lot himself. Unfortunately for Joey, Justin had had a growth spurt. He was too tall for JC to carry anymore. "Fine, but if he pukes on me, you owe me new pants."

"Done," JC promised.

"Easy for you to say," Joey muttered. He put one hand on Justin's shoulder. "Ready, J?" he asked. He figured that the low moan was as close to a yes as he was ever going to get, so he leaned down and hooked one arm behind Justin's knees and picked him up.

He wasn't that heavy, really. He was tall, though, and Joey felt a little stupid carrying him across the parking lot like some damsel in distress. Halfway across the parking lot, Justin kind of came to and wrapped one arm around Joey's neck. "Fucking hate you, Joe. Ruined my good time," he said. He pressed his head against Joey's collarbone.

"Yeah, yeah," Joey said. JC ran on ahead and got the bus doors open for him, and he angled Justin in, carefully, trying not to bump his head. The kid was going to have enough problems with his head in the morning, anyway, Joey thought.

"Freeze!" Chris shouted, and a flash of light exploded.

"You fucker," Joey said. Chris giggled.

Lance, who had stayed behind to do some work, looked up as Joey squeezed by. "Rough night?" he asked.

"Wait til you see him in the morning," Joey huffed. He paused near the bunks. Justin usually slept on the top, but there was no way he could lift him up there. Sighing, he dropped Justin into his own bunk. "Don't puke in there, Justin," he said loudly. Justin mumbled something and rolled over.

Joey went back to the front of the bus. "Oh, Joey," Lance said. He was holding the Polaroid Chris had snapped. "You're mah hero!"

"Give me that." Joey reached for he picture, but before he could touch it, Chris leapt into his arms.

"Oh, *save* me!" he cried, flinging himself backwards, so that Joey was forced to catch him. "Joey, Joey, JOEY!"

Joey dropped him on the couch, not feeling the slightest bit sorry when Chris' head bonked off the arm.

"Lemme see." Lance surrendered the picture easily enough. It was a pretty good picture of him for being taken in a dark bus. Justin was kind of . . . flopped across him, and his chest looked good, broad. His eyes sparkled from the flash.

"You should put that in computer and put an S across your shirt," Lance said, leaning over his arm. Joey smiled at him. "It's a good picture of you."

"If you're going to do anything with it," Chris said, still rubbing the back of his head, "make sure you put a girl in it."

"Although Justin might deserve a little humiliation," JC muttered. He had changed into sweatpants and a t-shirt, and was talking around his toothbrush.

Chris laughed. "I can see the headlines now: 'Fatone and Timberlake Announce Engagement.'"

"'Teenage Girls Commit Mass Suicide,'" Lance added.

"'And Fatone Will Be Missed, Too,'" JC said. He leaned into the bathroom and spit.

"Jerks." Joey smiled, sitting down next to Lance at the table.

"But we're your jerks." Chris patted his head. "That's it for me." He yawned, suddenly, and stretched until his belly showed under the edge his shirt. Lance leaned over and poked him. "Night."

Joey watched him head to the back of the bus, then turned to Lance. "You should have come."

Lance smiled, already typing again. "No chance. I have to get this stuff done. I mean, what if Johnny had been too busy to see to us?"

"True enough," Joey nodded. "I'm going to bed. Wake me up when we get there."

"Where?" Lance asked.

"I know we leave at midnight. The rest I figure you know."

"Houston, Houston, New Orleans," Lance said, "via numerous small towns. I thought you might want one of those."

"Think again," Joey said. He brushed his teeth quickly, almost bleary with exhaustion. He pulled off his shirt, and shucked off his pants, letting them crumple on the floor in front of his bunk. He was just about to fall in when he saw. He remembered. Justin. Justin, who was sprawled across his bunk, still in his jeans and the silky green shirt he'd worn to the club. Still in his shoes, even.

"Justin," Joey whispered. Nothing. "Justin."

The kid didn't budge an inch.

"Justin!" he hissed. An arm swept out from Chris' bunk and hit him in between the shoulder blades.

"Shut up before I kill you," Chris said.

"Sorry, man." Joey reached out and ruffled Chris' already ruffled hair. "He's crashed in my bunk."

"Sleep in his," Chris said, turning toward the wall, and pulling the blanket up over his shoulder.

Joey sighed. He looked at his bunk, his amazing comfortable gorgeous bunk, and then he looked at Justin's. He sighed, and climbed up.

Ten minutes later, he crawled out. He couldn't sleep up there, so high, so close to the *ceiling* for Pete's sake. How did Justin do it, with his nose almost touching the roof of the bus. How could he turn over? How was he unafraid of falling? Joey sighed again.

He looked toward the front of the bus, where the faint light indicated that Lance was still working away.

Then he looked at his bunk again. He sat down on the edge of the bunk, grabbed one of Justin's feet, and yanked off the shoe. Then he did the other one. Then he leaned over and put his lips close to Justin's ear.

"Justin," he said. "Move over."

Shockingly, Justin did, inching closer to the back wall of the bus, curling his arm around a pillow. Joey eyed the space. It wasn't nearly enough, but he couldn't go and sleep on the couch, and he couldn't sleep in Justin's claustrophobic bunk, so this was it. He lay down on his side. He was disconcertingly close to the back of Justin's head--he could smell the club smells and gel in Justin's hair. "Night, Justin," he whispered, and clicked off the light.

Justin said nothing.

Joey closed his eyes, and tried to sleep. Fifteen minutes later, when he heard Lance come back and slide into bed, he was still trying. He couldn't. Just when he would almost drift off, Justin would sigh, or twitch or something and there Joey was, wide awake. He hadn't slept with anyone in so long that he'd forgotten this, the adjustment period. When you were so hyperaware of the other person that it seems like you can feel their pulse in time with your own. He remembered the last time he'd felt that way, with Mary, the girl he'd been seeing in Orlando before all of this, before *nsync. Since then, there had just been one night stands, and he'd been too drunk or too uninterested to worry about their pulses against his skin.

Justin murmured something in his sleep.

Joey opened his eyes. Justin was still on his side, almost pressed up against the wall, his long frame curled in on itself. In the dark, Joey could see the bare outline of Justin's throat where it met his shoulder, a gentle sloping curve that disappeared under the floppy collar of his shirt.

Justin spoke again, this time clearly. "No other home," he said.

Joey leaned up. "You okay, Just?" he whispered. He put his hand on Justin's arm, rubbing absently over the silk. Justin sighed, but didn't say anything more. Joey rested his chin on Justin's shoulder. "You're okay," he said, not really meaning anything in particular. Justin's shirt slid lightly under his palm, warm and slippery to the touch. It was comforting, in a strange way. Joey wondered absently how long it had been since he touched someone else, someone he cared about. Probably a long time, he thought. A really long time.

Justin rolled over under his hand and Joey found himself rubbing the smooth plane of Justin's stomach. He had a vague feeling that he should stop, that this wasn't right, him with his hand on poor drunk Justin, on his stomach, but he didn't stop. He didn't want to. There was something comforting about being this close to someone, feeling breath on his cheek and soft flesh under his hand and love in his heart all at the same time. There was something precious about it.

After a minute, Justin moved again, this time wrapping his arm around Joey's neck and throwing one leg over his. Joe lay still for a moment, wondering if he should wake the kid now and detach him, or if he should wait until morning and, well, snuggle, the whole night first. Justin's nose was pressed up against his throat. His hand had somehow found its way under Justin's shirt and was resting palm down in the small of Justin's back, feeling the smooth slope of his spine. Joey was warm and comfortable, and thought that maybe, if he tried, he could feel the beat of Justin's heart against his own.

Fuck it, he thought pulling Justin a little closer. I'm snuggling. Suddenly, Justin seemed less like a pain in the ass, and more like a present. Joey slept.

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