by Synchronik
by Synchronik

The sun never knew how great it was until it hit the side of a building.

Louis Kahn

Everyone was always in love with JC in some form or another so he spent a lot of time being lonely. Not that it was bad that people were in love with him, because it meant that they spent a lot of time looking at him and touching him and he liked those things, but when people were in love with him they tended not to invite him to things or hang out with him or just plain talk much, and that kind of sucked.

People in love with him didn't, for example, call him up and ask him business questions that he didn't know the answers to and they knew he didn't know the answer to but that was okay because they didn't really want answers, but just to hear his voice on the other end of the phone saying, "no Lance, no, I'm sure it would be fine. You're totally right." And they didn't tell him about their new baby except to say that she was fine. And they didn't make him stay up with them at night sitting close on the bus couch and whisper about girlfriends and how they could really really suck sometimes.

So JC spent a lot of his time reading books about Picasso and flipping through Gourmet magazine and listening to European pop, and watching them all. Sometimes he felt a little bit like an alien, or a seventh grader leaning against the wall in the gym while other kids danced.

Way back when Lance had first gotten to Florida, Joey'd caught him staring at JC, who was sprawled on the floor with his shirt off, gasping for air. JC had bad hair then -- they all had, except for Chris, whose bad hair days came later -- but when Lance remembered it now, he saw JC's new silky hair spread around his head.

"Nice, huh?" Joey'd said in his ear.

"Yeah," Lance had breathed before he could stop himself. Joey had laughed and slapped him on the shoulder.

"You'll get used to it," he'd said, but Lance never did.

At first, Lance thought JC was sweet. He smiled all the time. He had table manners. He never said anything bad about anyone else, which was especially noticeable to Lance in the beginning because Chris talked so much smack about him, like, everyday. JC wasn't like that. He always said something nice to Lance, even when Lance was sucking in rehearsal, and would stay behind and help him with the dancing whenever he asked, and never asked for anything in return.

He was Diane's favorite, too, because he wasn't old and experienced like Chris, or rowdy like Joey and Justin. "You stick with JC, honey," his mother told him on her last day in Germany. "He's a nice boy." He knew what she meant.

By that time, though, he'd spent enough time watching them all to know that JC wasn't exactly nice or sweet. He was, sort of, but he wasn't, not down deep where it mattered. Chris, who was brash and loud and sometimes so mean he could make Lance cry, was really the one who was sweet. Chris was vicious to protect his soft gentle center, and he was vicious to protect theirs, too. But JC, he was different. He could afford to be nice and gentle and sweet on the outside because, Lance could see, JC didn't need protecting.

He had realized it while they were doing the first recording. They'd been talking about what songs should go on, what things they should cover.

"I'm tellin' you," Justin said. "We should definitely do some Boyz II Men or something. That would be so dope! We'd be like white R&B!"

"Oh, we should definitely!" JC said. "Also, we should do this song 'Sailing.' Do you know that one?"

Justin shook his head.

"It goes like this," JC said, and sang a few bars. Lance liked it. It sounded romantic.

Chris laughed. "C, man," he said. "That's, like, a seventies song."

JC shrugged. "Sure, but it's cool."

"I dunno--" Chris said. "I mean, it was a kind of a cheesy song."

"Let's just do a demo of it and we'll see. Maybe it will totally suck."

"Plus," Joey said. "It's not that old. I mean, we probably can't even get the rights."

"Lou got the rights," JC said, quickly. "But if it sucks. Well, whatever. I mean, we did 'Riddle', right?" He smiled, and everyone laughed, and Lance knew right then that 'Sailing' was going to be on the recording. If it didn't suck.

It didn't.

The realization shocked Lance, and he spent the next couple of days watching JC from a distance. JC got his way a lot of the time, Lance noticed. Everyone usually went along with what he said, even when they didn't want to initially, because JC would just smile and keep talking until they said okay. The only time that didn't work was when Justin got whiny and bratty and started yelling, which didn't happen often, Lance noticed, because usually JC got him alone and spoke to him quietly until Justin calmed down.

It made Lance nervous in the same way Lou made him nervous: he felt like he was being moved around without knowing where he was going. But then he saw JC in a corner with Justin, stroking his hair back from his face and murmuring something in his ear and realized that it was different. JC tried to get his own way a lot of the time, but he still cared about them. He still made Justin tea when his throat was sore, and listened to Chris' old albums, and went out girl shopping with Joey. And he still helped Lance anytime he needed it and still didn't ask for anything back.

So Lance's shock wore off, or changed somehow, until Lance could watch JC work with something like admiration. And then that changed, too.

Bobbie had called him a selfish bastard. That hadn't been the day they finally broke up for good, because by that time they were both so tired of fighting that they didn't say much of anything; she'd just packed up the last of her stuff and said "don't call me, okay?" He'd nodded.

She called him selfish during one of their first real fights, one of those screaming, shouting crying fights that had only ended because the two of them were too tired to keep on fighting. They'd ended up going to bed in the same bed, but JC didn't sleep, lying on his side facing away from her, eyes crusty with unshed tears and fear. He was pretty sure, now, that they'd never really recovered from that one. They'd started breaking up on that day and it had only taken nine months to finish it.

He'd tried to talk to the guys about it, but they didn't get it.

"C, man," Joey told him, clapping him on the shoulder. "That's what they always say. There's nothing you can do about it."

"It's the schedule," Justin said. "There's not, like, any way you can do everything she wants you to do."

"No," JC said. "It's not. She gets it about the--"

"Dude, they all say they get it. Britney says she gets it, but still, man."

"They never really get it," Joey said. "Not really."

"No, that's true," JC said, because it was true, but it wasn't. He couldn't figure out how to tell them that Bobbie wasn't having a problem with the schedule, that somehow he was the problem. They didn't get that about him, because he was never a problem for them. They loved him, and that made Bobbie wrong.

She wasn't, though. She'd been wrong about a lot of things, that he didn't love her, for example, and that he wouldn't know what to do with himself without her, but she hadn't been wrong about that. And she hadn't been wrong when she'd thrown a t-shirt at him and shouted "you're going to end up alone, JC Chasez, and then you'll fuckin' see!" Her face had been streaked with mascara, her mouth distorted. He couldn't remember her ever looking so horrible before or since.

Lance had established himself early on as the responsible one, so he was the one in charge of making sure everyone was where they were supposed to be all the time. He'd tried to get them all to get personal assistants, or at least Palm Pilots, but Justin was a fucking prima donna and Joey kept trying to pick ones he could sleep with (assistants, not Palm Pilots), and Chris was insufferable, and JC kept losing his (Palm Pilots, not assistants), so Lance just ended up doing it himself, calling and making sure they had addresses and going into the hotel room to clear out the groupies and get them up.

That's how it changed.

He had the spare keycards to everyone's room so that he could wake them. Justin was very good about getting up, even though he was crabby. Chris was usually up already, lying in bed sipping at coffee, scrunching his nose up at Lance when Lance eased open the door. He was the most cheerful in the morning for some bizarro blood chemistry reason he'd once tried to explain to them all. Joey typically took some shaking. JC was never up.

Even if they didn't have to leave until check out time at eleven, even if they'd gotten to bed early the night before, no matter what time Lance slid the key card into the lock and pushed open the door, JC would still be asleep, curled around a pillow, sheets tangled around his legs. Lance would always wake him first, because usually he'd have to wake him up again, after going to everyone else's room.

The specific moment it changed was on one of these mornings. Lance had opened the door, blinking against the blinding sun streaming in the windows. JC was facing away from him, over at the far side of the bed, breath light and slow. He was just starting to grow his hair out and it was all tangled up around his face.

"C," Lance murmured. JC didn't like loud noises in the morning. "JC, time to get up." He leaned one hand on the bed. "JC."

Lance stretched his other hand out and rested it on the curve of JC's hip, right above the warm silk of his underwear. He shook gently. "JC," he said. "Time to get up."

"Mmm," JC said. He shifted on the bed, and Lance felt the muscle under his hand move and JC was moving, rolling onto his back, and Lance's fingers slipped inadvertently under the waistband of JC's underwear and skated across JC's flat firm stomach and brushed against, against him before Lance could jerk his hand away, flushing with embarrassment.

"Time to get up!" he said again, his voice uncomfortably loud in his own ears. Then he left, unable to stay and see JC kick the blankets off.

He would think of it all day, the slide of JC's skin under his fingers, the crisp silk of the hair on JC's belly, the heat beneath his ... Lance would lean his head back against the couch cushions and feel the rock of the wheels beneath his head and wonder why he hadn't just shook JC's shoulder. Then he would think of the curve of JC's waist, the stripe of skin revealed by the elastic waistband and know why.

Part of what JC loved about being in the group was the people he was in the group with. He didn't say it very much because it seemed kind of sappy and melodramatic, but he really loved all of them. They were all such good people. He was thinking about that, about how much he liked being around them, when Lance came and sat next to him.

"Hey, JC," he said.

JC smiled. Lance. He was such a good guy. Lance was the type of guy you could call when something was really really wrong, and he would make it better. He was a strong kid. "Hey," he said.

"Whatcha doin'?"

JC shrugged. "Nothin'. Thinking." Lance had been thinking, too, JC could tell. He had that look on his face, his eyes somehow narrower than they were usually, his lips tight. He wanted to say something that he wasn't sure how to say. He'd looked the same when he had to tell them that he was gay before they'd gone to Germany, and the same way when he'd had to explain that he was going to miss a lot of recording for the movie. JC patted Lance's hand.

"'bout what?" Lance asked.

JC shrugged. "Nothin'," he said again. He leaned against Lance's side. "You?"

Lance shrugged, too, and put his arm around JC's shoulders. That would make him feel better, JC thought. They thought it was just because he liked to sleep, his curling up on them, his hands on their arms, his head on their shoulders, and it was, sort of, but it was also because it made them feel better. He'd read somewhere once that petting a cat relieved stress and that was how he thought of himself sometimes: he was their pet, the way they soothed themselves when they didn't know they needed soothing. Lance rubbed a hand over his shoulder.

"A lot of stuff," Lance said. JC blinked. Then remembered that he'd asked a question.

"Anything good?" JC asked.

Lance chuckled a little and squeezed JC and JC knew then that whatever he was worried about was nothing important in the overarching scheme of things. A bump in the road, his mom would say when JC would come running up to her, teary when his report card said he "needed improvement" at paying attention in class, or when he vocal coach said he was working beyond his ability. "It's just a bump in the road, Josh," she'd tell him, brushing her hand over his forehead, "not a real problem." He thought of all of his problems like that, Real Problems or Bumps in the Road and he knew that Lance wouldn't laugh if there were a Real Problem. Chris would, but not Lance. He loved that, that they were all --

Lance said something, then, that JC didn't catch, but he seemed okay now, relaxed, so JC didn't ask him to repeat it, just closed his eyes and breathed and thought catlike thoughts.

"You okay?" Justin asked him when they came in for rehearsal one day.

Lance looked up, surprised. "Yeah. Why? Am I not lookin' okay?"

Justin smiled. "Oh, you're lookin' fine, baybee," he said, swatting Lance on the ass. "No, seriously. You're spending a lot of time with C."

"Oh. Um. Yeah."

"But you're fine."

Lance nodded. Justin squinted at him. He was looking better now that his hair was growing in, Lance thought. More like the Justin that he remembered knowing and less like the half-naked man that had started showing up in magazines.

"You're spending time listening to JC talking about abstract art and California wine, but you're okay."

"I like wine," Lance said.

"You like somethin'," Justin said, smirking. Lance felt his mind empty of all responses, it was a physical sensation, his brain cells wiped clean by his knowledge of the next question Justin was going to ask, but Justin didn't ask another question, just smiled and slapped him on the ass again.

JC did talk about a lot of stuff that Lance didn't know about or really care about, like wine and art and stuff, but he looked so sweet when he did it, that Lance didn't mind. Also, he didn't talk about stuff the way Justin did basketball, acting all superior and brilliant, when you knew he was just repeating stuff the announcer had said the night before. JC just told what he knew and when Lance asked him what the difference between a merlot and a cabernet was, JC blinked and smiled and said, "whoo, good question, man," and came back three days later with a magazine open to the right page. Justin would have made up the answer.

"They're from different grapes," JC said, sitting down so close that his shoulder was right up against Lance's and handing the magazine to him. "See?" He pointed to a little chart on the page. "And, like, the cabernet is supposed to be kind of harsh on its own, so it's sometimes blended, and the merlot is like 'merlow'," he said, drawing out the l and the o so that it was one long syllable, sliding his hand through the air for emphasis, "like smooth and mellow, merlow, like it sounds." He smiled at Lance, and Lance smiled back, amused, because JC had obviously gone out and bought this magazine, maybe at the Borders in the last town, maybe that's why they had had to stop and wait around on the bus until they found him and shooed him back aboard, and why he had been all secretive until they'd gotten to the hotel. "See. Merlooow," he said again, and he was so fucking cute that Lance kissed him.

Everything got a little strange after that. He'd kissed JC. JC'd kissed him back. Without tongue. Maybe, okay, maybe there was a little bit of tongue right at the end when Lance realized that JC was kissing him back and pressed in and extended the tip of his tongue just a little to brush against JC's mouth, but then Lance had kind of freaked out and pulled away, gasping. He'd been horribly embarrassed, afraid to look JC in the eye, but JC had just smiled at him for a minute or two. Finally, Lance had mumbled something and gotten out of there. He had been totally weirded out.

That was the strange part, that JC wasn't all weirded out about it or anything. He didn't tell the other guys, either. He just kept smiling at Lance in the same spacey way he always had, and left him the wine magazine and went off to listen to a mix cd Chris had made for him.

Lance didn't know what to do, if he should apologize or what. JC had said it was nice, so he didn't need to apologize, did he? And if he did, would JC take that as a sign that he didn't want to do it again? Because he did want to do it again. But he couldn't really say that, could he? Because JC had said it was nice, but he hadn't said it was totally fucking fantastic, and he'd gotten up and left, and Lance didn't want to kiss him again if he didn't want to be kissed, but if he did, well, then. Lance would be happy to do it.

So, because he was confused and not a little worried and worked up from the hormones and the adrenaline and the rub of his erection against his jeans, he went and did something stupid.

He asked Chris.

"Does JC like kissing guys?" he asked.

Chris, who had been drinking milk, snorted and choked and blew milk all over the table. "Jesus, fuck Lance!" he shouted, snatching the paper towels out of Lance's hand. "You don't ask shit like that when people are trying to drink, man!"

"Sorry. But, does he?"

"Why the hell do you think I would know?" Chris swiped the towels carelessly over the table top. It would be sticky, Lance knew. He took the paper out of Chris' hand and went over the table more carefully, making sure to get the edges.

"I don't know," he said. "Do you?"

"Why do you want to know?" Chris asked, looking up into Lance's face while Lance leaned over him.

"No reason," he said.

Chris laughed. His breath smelled like milk. "Oh, you got it bad!" he said, pointing. "You love JC!"

"Shut up," Lance muttered. He tossed the soggy paper towels onto the table in Chris' general direction. It was as close as he could get to throwing them at Chris, he knew.

"You think JC's hot!" Chris laughed.

"You don't?" Lance said. He folded his arms over his chest.

Chris shrugged. "Sure. He's way hot. I'd fuck him."

"Why don't you then?" Lance asked, feeling both snotty and afraid. He didn't want to be putting any ideas into Chris' head, because Chris was the bold type of guy that would just throw JC down and ravish him if he wanted.

"JC and I are better as friends," Chris said. "I don't need to fuck him. I love him the way he is."

"So do I!" Lance said. "Just because I -- oh," he said, glaring at Chris. "You bastard."

Chris giggled. "You wanna fuck JC!" he declared.

"Oh, fuck you," Lance said, and left the table.

JC wasn't really sure what to expect after the kissing thing. It had surprised him, but mostly, he thought, because he hadn't been kissed in such a long time. Since Bobbie. Lance was a good kisser.

Chris had kissed him once, on the bus while Justin had been asleep in the back and JC had been playing music with his keyboard down low. He'd looked up and there was Chris, hovering over him, eyes dark and intense, and JC had thought "finally" and closed his eyes. Chris was a kind of energetic kisser. Enthusiastic. He'd yanked himself back though, jerking his hands away from JC and muttering "sorry, sorry." He hadn't listened when JC tried to say it was okay. It would have been okay, too, except that something in Chris made it not okay, so JC let it go and that had been, wow, a year ago, almost two. A long time ago.

He'd never kissed Justin or Joey, because they were "straight" and because the kind of love they had for him, hard and deep, still wasn't the kind of love that made straight guys kiss other guys.

Lance was a sweet kisser. That had been a surprise to JC, who thought of Lance as tough all the time. When he was freaking out about things like the new music or the schedule or the fact that his girlfriend had never really liked him at all just used him to get a spot on a third rate magazine, JC liked to be around Lance. Lance was always steady and calm, and even when he got angry you could see something in him solidify into rock hard determination and controlled fury. It was reassuring. Lance was reassuring.

And unpredictable, his kiss soft and gentle and charming. JC had liked it a lot, in the same way he liked Lance, but he didn't know what it meant. Chris had kissed him and it had meant love, so Chris had left. Bobbie had kissed him and it had been slightly more complicated -- ambition and physical attraction and some sort of affection, but not enough -- and he'd understood that, too, although it wasn't enough in the end. Lance. He didn't understand. He didn't know what Lance wanted from him, so it was safer to sit back and wait and see if Lance did it again. He might be able to figure it out if Lance kissed him again. He hoped it was soon.

In the meantime, he read a coffee table book about Picasso and one about Monet. Artists were always so screwed up and interesting.

Joey was more help after he got over his initial freak out. Once he stopped flailing his arms around and saying "you did what?" he actually answered Lance's questions.

"I think so," Joey said. "I mean, I never flat out asked him, but yeah, I'm pretty sure," he said. "You gonna go for it?"

Lance shrugged, helplessly. "I don't know," he admitted. "I kind of. It's a little weird."

Joey laughed. "Duh. It's JC. It's all weird."


"Dude," Joey said, covering Lance's hand with his own. "You should. What's it gonna hurt, right?"

"Only, like, the whole band, Joey. I mean, what if it's just too weird and we end up breaking up and turn into like, a bad soap opera or something."

"Oh man," Joey said, rubbing Lance's shoulder. "That's not gonna happen."

"How do you know, Joey? I mean, what if? How do you know?"

"Dude," Joey said. He shook his head. "It's not. It's JC."

Lance didn't have any response for that.

JC came to the conclusion about three days later that this was going to be another Chris thing, meaning that Lance was going to pretend nothing had happened and things would eventually settle back to normal. Not that they weren't normal now. Mostly. Lance still talked to him and sat by him and brought him food -- he forgot food a lot -- and everything was fine. He just didn't bring up the kissing, and if JC got too close, snuggled in and got really comfortable, Lance could only sit there for a minute or so before he had to get up and do something. Work, or use the bathroom, or make a phone call. The excuse was always different. JC had to give him credit.

He was going to let Lance do it, too, just forget about it. JC'd been kissed plenty in his life, although not lately, and it wasn't like he was in love or anything, but then he started thinking about it, started remembering the soft glide of Lance's mouth on his, and his smell, and Lance's long slim fingers closing gently over JC's bicep while they kissed.

He lifted his eyes from his travel magazine casually, like he was thinking about the plight of Tibet or something, and looked at Lance. He was at the table, sitting in one of those overstuffed hotel chairs that no one besides Lance ever sat in because they weren't really comfortable, his elbows on the edge of the table, squinting at something on his laptop. He probably needed glasses with all the computer work he did. One of his hands was folded under his chin. He looked a little tired, but not bad, and while JC watched he scrunched up his nose and rubbed at it with the back of his hand like a bunny, an itch or something. He had on a t-shirt with a stretched out collar, and JC realized that he wanted to touch that place on Lance's throat where the shirt gapped.

Okay, he thought, sliding one hand into his own shirt collar, feeling the thud of his heart. He wasn't going to let it go.

He thought he could just forget about it, the whole kissing thing. It had been stupid, a mistake, one of those things that just happened and then just didn't happen anymore. A flash in the pan. An accident. No big deal. Chris kept looking at him and then casting significant glances at JC, and Joey elbowed him every time JC came into the room, but JC himself seemed normal. Maybe a little more smiley than usual.

And he seemed more focused on other people, Lance noticed. JC had always been kind of spacey when it came to other people. He cared about them, Lance knew, but he often seemed to prefer to read or play music or just retreat into his head, rather than talk, especially about things that weren't important. Now, though, he seemed more ... there.

Like, he would hang out in Chris' room or Justin's before they had to go to the venue, or after they came back if they weren't going out. Before, he'd spent a lot of time alone in his room with his headphones on, and he usually went to bed right away after the shows, crawling into bed with his hair still wet so that when he came in to breakfast in the morning his hair would be tangled up in strange knots and bizarre loops. He at least came into the room and hung out for fifteen minutes, now, which was nice, like Germany, all of them in the same room for a little while just buzzing on the adrenaline high.

Lance remembered those times a lot, how tired he'd been, his bones aching with weariness. He wasn't that tired now, but he was close. JC used to sit next to him, one hand rubbing absently over Lance's shoulder or stroking idly through his hair. It wasn't anything different, Lance told himself, closing his eyes. JC's hand was on the small of his back, pressing lightly. It eased the tiredness out of him, releasing it into the air, but it was nothing, just JC being friendly, making an effort.

"You look tired," JC murmured to him. They were in Chicago, so Chris was trying to order pizza on the phone while Justin shouted toppings in his ear.

"Mmmm, yeah." Lance cracked his eye open. JC was watching them, a half smile on his face. His hand trailed over the fine hair at Lance's temples. He was on Justin's couch, slumped over on the arm. JC was half standing, half leaning against it, one hip braced near Lance's shoulder. His fingers were soft, delicate against Lance's skin.

"You should go to bed," JC said. He turned his smile onto Lance, and Lance felt the spit in his throat dry up. He managed a sickly smile back. "C'mon," he said, taking a step back from the couch, holding out his hand. "I'll take you."

"Whoo!" Justin said, over his shoulder. "JC and Lance are gonna do it!" He was still flipping through the cable, trying to see how many channels they got. Justin didn't know shit.

"You're like my dad, now?" Lance asked, smiling.

"Your pervert dad, maybe," Justin said. Joey kicked him in the back with one foot, and did not look over at Lance.

JC shrugged. "Sort of," he said. He pulled Lance to his feet and let him out of the room without even saying goodbye to the other guys. It was kind of rude, Lance knew, but it also made him feel special, like he was privy to a part of JC's attention that the other guys didn't get.

JC took him to his own room and herded him into the bathroom. "Brush your teeth," he said. Lance obeyed, wishing he weren't so tired. There was something going on -- he could hear JC moving around in the other room -- but he was too blurry with weariness to focus on anything past the rasp of the toothbrush against his tongue. He came out of the bathroom. JC was asleep, kind of slumped over on the bedspread, Lance's pajamas tangled loosely in his hand.

"JC," Lance said. JC didn't move. He was diagonal across the bed, his feet still touching the floor. His mouth was open. "C," Lance said, but he knew it was hopeless. Well, not exactly hopeless, because he could wake JC up if he went over there and shook him or something, but that seemed ... he didn't want to do it.

He pulled his shirt over his head and unzipped his pants and slid under the covers in just his underwear. JC was still on top of the blankets, but he shifted when Lance leaned over to turn off the light and pressed up against him, his weight solid and warm through the bedspread. One of his arms lay over Lance's waist, Lance's own pajamas clutched like a security blanket in his hand. Lance felt JC's nose nuzzle against the back of his neck, his breath moist on the short hair there.

"Night," Lance said into the darkness. JC didn't answer.

JC hadn't meant to do it, but he liked it, waking up curled against Lance. Lance always slept drawn up on his side in a little curve, hands under his chin, knees up, and when someone else was involved, JC was discovering, Lance coiled himself around the other person, threading his legs between and wrapping his arms around until it was hard to tell where he ended and the someone else began. The feeling was like being hugged by a friendly pretzel. JC liked it a lot.

"Mmmm," Lance said, the noise that he usually made right when he was waking up. JC'd heard it at least two or three times a week for the last six years, he remembered, just not usually from so close up.

"Mmm," he said back, squeezing whatever part of Lance was in his grip. "Sorry I crashed out on you," he whispered.

Lance tightened his arms on JC's waist and nestled in against him more securely. "S'fine," he mumbled. He dozed off again a minute after that, and JC used the opportunity to disentangle himself and get up. No sense ruining a good thing.

Lance would think for a second upon waking in his empty bed that he had dreamed the whole thing, assembled it from his wishes and his familiarity with JC's sleepy salty scent. But there was JC's indentation on the other pillow, and the smell of JC's shampoo because his hair had still been damp, and when JC rolled in to the lounge at the crack of noon for breakfast, he smiled at Lance and squeezed his shoulder and Lance knew for sure.

"Too fucking cute for words," Chris said, low so that only Justin could hear it.

"What is? What?" Justin glanced around, trying to be cool, but there was no one else in the room, just JC and Lance sitting on one of the benches at the piano. Lance was playing. He didn't play a lot any more, but he was still pretty good.

"Nothin'! Jeez, be a little subtle, man!" Chris hissed. He yanked Justin's shirt.

"What!" Justin whispered. "I don't see anything!"

Chris rolled his eyes. Justin glanced over Chris' shoulder casually. Stretched and glanced behind him, but it was still just JC and Lance sitting at the piano.

"You mean them?" Justin whispered. Chris nodded, pressing random buttons on his game controller. "Really?" He narrowed his eyes, and he guessed he saw it, a little maybe, in the way JC was kind of leaning into Lance, but JC pretty much hung all over all of them so he didn't see--

"Stare much," Chris muttered.

"I don't see it," Justin said back. "That's just how he is."

Chris shrugged. "We'll see," he said.

"This is never going to work," Lance told Joey. Joey looked up from Inside the Actor's Studio. Melanie Griffith was on, and Lance was kind of surprised. He couldn't remember her being in anything worth seeing ever.


"JC," Lance said. "We just. It's just not going to work out."

"He's not good in bed?"

"Joey. Please."

"What, man?"

"First, we haven't been to bed. Second, it's not going to work out."

"You should take him to bed first," Joey said. "Then tell me it's not going to work out."


"Lance. Look, what do you want me to say? That yours is a tragic love doomed to failure? Well, duh, Lance. That's, like, so true I'm not even sure it's a clichˇ any more."

"I don't see what you're getting so upset about."

"Cause you won't shut up about it! Just frickin' have sex and fall in love and break up, already. At least then you'll have something to bitch about, you fucking pussy! Sheesh!" Joey snatched the remote and turned the volume up so loud that Lance was pretty sure his ears would start to bleed any second. Melanie Griffith screeched that she was just "enjoying the process."

"Fine," he told Joey, who probably couldn't hear him, and went to the back of the bus and flopped down on the couch with his cell phone. He wanted to call JC and tell him they should go out. He wanted to call JC and tell him that they should stay in. He wanted to call JC and tell him that he was sorry but nothing was ever going to happen between them because it was all too complicated and he hoped JC would understand. Of course, JC would understand, because that was the kind of guy he was and then Lance would never have the chance to kiss him ever again. He didn't want that at all.

"No one really talks to me," JC said, while they were in Johnny's lounge, sitting on couches that felt like they were a mile apart. Lance had been looking out the window at Johnny's beautiful lawn, his foot jiggling. They were waiting for the others.

"Hmm?" he said. JC sighed. He wasn't sure he wanted to say it again. He wasn't sure he wanted to say it at all, but he'd decided he was going to take a chance, to put things out there, so he had to follow up on it. "I wasn't listening," Lance said. "What'd you say?"

No choice, then. "People don't really talk to me," he said. He glanced out the window beyond Lance. A single bird, a seagull, flew across the sky and disappeared.

"No?" Lance asked.

JC shrugged.

"What do you wanna talk about?" Lance asked.

JC shrugged again. "Nothing, really. It's the principle of the thing."

"Sure," Lance said, and JC flicked his eyes over Lance's face, but he didn't seem to be making a joke. He didn't seem amused. JC offered him a smile. Lance smiled back.

Lance went and bought the book himself, wearing a fishing hat because he looked like a tremendous dork in a fishing hat and aviator sunglasses and no one would ever think that it was him. He paid cash for it and the girl at the counter who actually had an *nsync necklace on didn't even look at him twice.

He waited until they were at the next venue to open it though, during the deadtime between the sound check and wardrobe, when they all ate and hung out and did nothing important. "JC," he said. "Can you come here?"

"Hmm?" JC came over. He was wearing a v-necked t-shirt and jeans and had taken his sandals off because they'd put carpeting for the quiet room in the rider this time. JC looked like a guy who worked in a coffee shop, a cute guy that would make you buy more coffee than you actually wanted just so you could hear him say "two fifty, please." Lance fingered the book.

"I was gonna, you know, start buying some art or something, as, like, an investment and I wanted your advice."

"Oh yeah?" JC leaned over and looked at the book. "Man, that is so cool. Art is so cool."

"Yeah, but I don't know anything about it," Lance said. He let the book fall open on his lap.

"No, but that's okay." JC sat down and kind of tilted into Lance, drawing his feet up so that they were sharing the same space. Lance lifted his arm and draped it over the back of the couch, behind JC. "This is the way to go. You just find something you like and go with that. You don't have to know stuff. Art is about feelings."

"I dunno, C. What if --"

"Here." JC tapped the book. "Start flipping through and tell me what you like."

Lance flipped with one hand. His arm had slid until it was around JC's shoulders. It was hard to really look at the pictures while JC's hair was brushing against his cheek. "Um, let's see ..." He stared at the book. "What do you like?" he asked.

"Oh, well, all this stuff at the beginning in really not my scene, you know?" JC shook his head. "I mean, this is all really old and the whole idea of it was to, like, capture reality perfectly. Like, see how detailed this stuff is?" JC pointed at a picture of an old man bent over a book, a candle in the background. "I'm not all into that. It's beautiful, but it's too real, you know?"

Lance nodded like he had any idea what JC was saying.

"See, this is more my style." JC reached for the book and flipped it to the back. "Here, this guy is really cool, and this stuff, and this." He turned a few pages.

Lance looked at the pictures JC pointed to. "JC, these are just colored squares," he said. "Justin could paint these."

"Yeah, no, I know," JC said. "But he didn't, you know? Like, these pictures are partially about the act of painting, like the artist is trying to get you to go inside yourself and figure out what these things mean to you, not what they mean to him. It's very cool."

"Um, okay."

JC turned his head and looked at him, his pretty deep eyes narrow. "No, if you don't like it, then it's not. So maybe something else." He turned some more pages.

"Wait!" Lance said. "What about these? I like these." He traced a finger over the picture of flowers growing along a hedge. It was kind of blurry, like it was made up of blobs of paint, but he could still tell that that was the road, and those were bluebells and there was a house in the distance. "Can I get one of those?"

JC laughed. "Dude, that's Claude Monet. You cannot get one of those."

Lance snorted. "What, I'm not good enough for Claude Monet?"

"You're not rich enough," JC said. Lance stared at him for a second.

"Wow," he said.

"I know." JC nodded sympathetically.

"It's just been so long," Lance said. He could feel the rush in his chest, the tingling that reminded him that there were still things out there that couldn't be done.

"I know." JC smiled.

"Okay, so we need to find some Claude Monet rip offs."

"Right on, baby," JC said, and tipped his head against Lance's.

It turned out that Lance was an Impressionist fan, and a fan of pictures of plants, maybe because the two often went together, and didn't really like things that didn't look happy, even though he was sure JC was right when he said that the unhappy looking paintings were important major works of art.

Mostly though, he was a fan of JC leaning up against him, explaining things in his ear.

JC knew the art was a ploy. Not that Lance didn't like art, because it seemed like he really did, especially the Impressionists. "It's like, I have to use my imagination, but not too much," he said to JC, and that was probably the best description of the Impressionists that JC had ever heard.

But it was still a ploy.

He sat on the couch and waited for Lance's arm to come around his shoulders. "What now?" JC asked. He knew that if he wanted to he could put his head on Lance's shoulder and Lance would rub his arm idly.

"The MOMA catalogue," Lance said. "But this is more you're style than mine."

"Sure," JC nodded, eyeing the Fontaine abstract. It was all shades of green, like summer and spring all at once. It was gorgeous.

"I dunno, JC," Lance said, shaking his head. "I just like pictures of things, you know?" he said, and when he looked at JC his eyes were summer and spring all at once.

"Sure," JC said. "Sure."

"What's up?" JC asked, perching on the arm of his chair. Lance glanced up. His stomach got kind of flip-floppy whenever JC was around nowadays, the same way he used to feel before they went up onstage. He'd forgotten how much he loved that feeling.

"We've started taking in new audition tapes at FreeLance," he said. "They're going over them for me and sending clips and pictures and stuff."

"Oh, yeah?" JC hunched over, looking at the screen, one hand on Lance's shoulder to steady himself. "Anything good?" His hand was neutral and still. Lance fought against moving under it. There had been a lot of those touches in the last few days, touches that seemed like nothing. He was beginning to miss it if JC came into the room without touching him.

"No," he admitted, and JC grinned at him.

"You should take a break," he said.

Lance looked around the hotel room. JC's hand was still there, even though he'd sat back. "And do what? I'm sick of everything on TV. and it's too close to soundcheck to go out, and you know it makes me sick to eat so near the show --" JC was rubbing his shoulder lightly, shifting the fabric over his skin. He glanced up. "What?"

"This is why you should take a break," JC said. His hand slid up onto Lance's neck and into his hair. "Just a little break."

"uh, JC," he said. JC shifted on the arm of the chair and then he was in Lance's lap, heavier than he looked, his bony butt digging at just the wrong angle into Lance's thigh. His arm stayed around Lance's neck, and his face tilted upward. His breath smelled like tea and peppermint. His eyes were closed. He had such pretty eyelashes, Lance thought, long and da--

"If you don't kiss me right now," JC whispered, "you're an idiot."

Lance started, but JC had him by the back of the head and had his mouth up against Lance's before he could move again, and after that, what would be the point of fighting? Lance closed his own eyes and opened his mouth and shifted until JC's ass was no longer digging into his thigh and it only got better after that.

JC seemed to get lighter as they kissed, lighter and more flexible, his legs twined around Lance's waist, his hands gliding through Lance's hair. He was everywhere; Lance felt like waves were washing over him, waves of JC's ocean blue eyes, his rocking hips, his silken hands. They kissed like that for a long time, moving slowly against one another. JC licked lazily over his neck, sucking gently so as not to leave a mark. He got hickeys easily, and for a second he thought he was going to have to push JC away, stop him, and he didn't want to, but then he remembered that JC knew, they all knew, because when Justin was sixteen and Lance was eighteen, they had made out to see what it was like. It hadn't been like this.

Lance couldn't hear anything but his breath and JC's gasps in counterpoint. JC kept pulling his knees up, trying to get closer and closer, but the chair was too small or they were too big, and the frustration of feeling JC almost rubbing the fly of his jeans but never quite getting there was too much for Lance. He stood up, catching JC under the thighs, and practically threw him onto the bed. JC gasped with appreciation.

"Wow," he murmured, while Lance tipped him backwards. "Impressive."

"Just be glad the bed's right here," Lance admitted. He was going to say something else, something about how he wasn't sure they should be doing this because what was this anyway, but then JC was surging up, his legs hooking around Lance's waist, pulling him in until they were hip to hip, pressed solid against one another, moving faster than they could have in the chair, and all Lance could say was "oh, god," under his breath.

JC had his head back, mouth open, and Lance leaned up to kiss it, and JC's erection was shifting against his, chafing through the thick material of their pants. This was, it was just, Lance couldn't remember the last time he'd done this, making out, hoisting himself up on his forearms so he could lean down and kiss JC while not losing the friction. JC had his ankles hooked around Lance's thighs, and one of his hands down the back of Lance's pants, beneath his underwear, and he made the sweetest noise, something breathy and rhythmic, and Lance bore down, unbelievably turned on by the noise and the heat, and the thin sweat that bloomed on JC's neck that tasted like salt and lust, and --

"yeah," JC whispered, "oh, yeah," and his hips were pistoning against Lance's and Lance pulled his mouth back from JC's neck because he wanted to see this, JC's slack mouth and closed eyes and the cords of his neck while he came. It was.


JC kind of crumpled beneath him, arms hanging limply from Lance's neck. He looked. Ruined. Slick. Sexy. Lance shoved a hand under his shirt and pressed it against JC's hot fluttery stomach, feeling the pulse there. He was so. JC.

JC's eyes opened. "Hey," he murmured, smiling.

"Hey," Lance breathed. "You forget something?" JC asked. Lance looked at him, blank. Forget something? Then JC's hands were fumbling with his buttons and before he could say anything JC's hands were on his cock, sliding up and down in the sweat, and Lance was thrusting against him, his own eyes closed, and then JC did it, pressed Lance's cock against the hot bare skin of his stomach, his hand still around it, and that was it. JC whispering "that's it, baby," in his ear had nothing to do with it.

"Sorry," he said, a minute later, forcing his eyes open. JC was peeling off his shirt, wiping his stomach. He rolled his eyes.

"That was kind of the point," he said. He stood up and shoved his pants down, and his underwear. He wore Jockey shorts, little bikini ones, all the time. Lance hadn't thought that was sexy before. He got back on the bed, and Lance had to force himself to keep his eyes from JC's cock, to see what it looked like when it wasn't hard. That was private somehow. JC climbed on top of him, sprawled out on his chest, one leg in between Lance's, and nuzzled into his neck. He sighed. Lance let himself put one hand in the small of JC's naked back, trailing his fingers over JC's spine. He felt protective, having JC naked while he was still wearing his jeans and t-shirt. He felt like he could take care of things. JC.

"JC," he said softly.

JC shifted. "Shhh," he said. "Shhh."

"We should --"

"We have an hour and a half before the soundcheck," JC murmured. "I'm going to take a nap. You should, too." He moved again, so that Lance's hand was resting just above the curve of his ass.

"Okay," he said. JC kissed his shoulder.

JC loved everything about Lance, his body, his mouth, his breathless sighs, the sweet way he'd bring JC iced tea whenever he got some for himself. Lance was just all around great, something JC'd known before but somehow hadn't felt. Before, Lance had been just another one of the guys who JC had loved in the unconscious way he loved his family. For a few days, JC had thought there was something different about Lance, something he couldn't quite put his finger on, like a new jacket or a changed haircut, but then he realized that Lance hadn't changed at all. He was just seeing more of him.

"You're great," he told Lance one afternoon when they were in Lance's hotel room. Lance glanced up from his magazine, surprised.

"Okay," he said, neutral.

"No, really," JC said, flopping across the bed. "Like, I mean, you're just super. You know. Like a really cool person."

"You're a freak," Lance said and flipped a page. He was blushing, though, and smiling a little. "Super."

"You are," JC said. He rested his cheek on Lance's thigh.

"Uh huh." Lance flipped another page, and that was how JC knew he was listening. Lance was a very slow reader.

"Seriously," JC said, turning his head and moving his lips against the soft material of Lance's cotton pants. He breathed through it.

"Seriously?" Lance asked. He looked amused. JC grinned up at him and nodded, his fingers spreading on Lance's thighs.

"You're, yeah," JC said, not able to really think of any other words to describe Lance besides "great" and "super" and "awesome" and none of those seemed particularly sexy at the moment. Lance seemed particularly sexy, though. He was built so differently, not like JC himself who was all skin and bones. Lance had broad thighs and broad shoulders and a waist that JC could slide his arms around and feel anchored. He was so --

"You're hot," JC said, tugging at Lance's waistband. Lance set aside his magazine and lifted his hips. He could never say anything, not once JC got started, and that was another thing JC loved about him, how he was struck dumb by arousal, how it made him lose all self control, all ability to say no.

He loved also Lance's surrender. It came after just a minute or two, while JC was still planting kisses along Lance's flat belly, avoiding the rigid insistence of Lance's cock, and JC couldn't help but smile. It was so charming, the sigh, the tipping back of his head, the relaxation that meant JC could slide his thighs apart and lie between them and lick him until Lance shuddered.

"Yeah," Lance whispered, voice hoarse. "Oh, yeah." His hips moved involuntarily against JC's mouth. JC spread his fingers wide so that his thumbs were stroking Lance's hips, feeling the flex of muscle under Lance's silken skin. His lips were numb with the friction, but Lance was delicious, feeling him move like this was delicious, and he didn't stop until Lance stopped, his hips locking into place, his breath frozen, and then it was just a matter of swallowing, fast and quick. Lance started breathing again, and JC rested his cheek against Lance's hip, luxuriating in the rapid heave of his stomach and throb of his pulse.

"JC," Lance whispered. His face was flushed.

"Hmm?" JC tipped his head back and smiled up at him.

"You're incredible."

"Whatever you say." JC nodded against Lance's skin, happy to agree.

The only problem was that Lance wanted to be with him all the time now, to feel his hands or his breath or his heat, not even for sex, just for any reason. JC was a balm to his heated skin. It scared him.

He knew how JC was because JC was how he was. Self sufficient.

His mother told him stories about how when he was a baby he never needed anyone to play with him. "I could just sit you down on a blanket with your teddy and you'd be fine for hours," she'd told him, more than once. "You just never had any need for other folks."

He still didn't, not really. He loved them, the other guys, but he never needed them, not in the way Justin needed people, or Joey, or even Chris. He was happy to read his contracts and his news magazines and help make the decisions about the next album or the next concert or the next appearance. He liked getting lost in the details and coming up with the answers. He was of more use that way, he thought, than by hanging out and horsing around. He was better at that, too.

But that meant that he wasn't good like Justin and Joey at keeping connections. His closest friends, the only friends he had outside the band anymore, were ones that understood that sometimes he just got caught up in things and forgot to call, or missed things he didn't necessarily want to miss. It wasn't on purpose.

And he knew JC was like that, too, the type of person who got lost in music and art and thinking about things, which wasn't the same as the stuff Lance got lost in but served the same purpose, eventually, which is that he would start to forget things as he started taking Lance more and more for granted. He'd forget that Lance liked to be squeezed to sleep, and that he didn't really like kissing before he brushed his teeth, or he'd just be busy writing their next song or something, and Lance would end up disappointed and that scared him. A lot. There weren't many people who could disappoint him, not like that.

It was harder to see JC once they were off the tour, just because JC lived twenty minutes away and Lance felt like a tool driving all the way across town for no other reason but sex. Chris had described booty calls to him and Justin when they were kids, and to Lance turning the final corner to get to JC's house, he didn't seem any better than those guys Chris talked about, the ones who dialed chicks' numbers at three in the morning.

JC never seemed embarrassed when he showed up at Lance's house, though, and he always seemed happy to see Lance when Lance's desire to see him overwhelmed his well-developed Baptist sense of shame.

"Hey," he'd say, stepping back from the door, smiling. "Come in."

Lance realized soon enough, though, that JC would invite him in no matter what he was doing, even if he was painting or in the middle of a song, and would end up getting out of bed afterwards to go finish what he was doing.

"Just a couple of minutes," he'd say, tugging pants on. Lance usually left after that. JC could be hours when he got wrapped up in stuff.

JC expected Lance to get tired of him. People did. Bobbie did. He was kind of high maintenance especially when he wrote. He forgot to eat sometimes even, forgot about everything except the song, and people, other people he'd dated, had gotten tired of waiting around for him to start paying attention to them and left.

Lance left, too, but not in the same way. He would just make up the bed or wash the dishes or whatever, and when JC came back up from the basement, he'd have left. He could have stayed, JC wanted to tell him, because he could have. JC would have loved to climb the stairs and find Lance asleep in his bed, a book open on his chest. Lance was so cute when he slept, young and pretty, and JC liked to curl up next to him and slide his hands under Lance's shirt and stroke his smooth skin until he fell asleep.

"You can stay," he told Lance once, while he was putting his pants on.

"No, that's okay," Lance said. He seemed bothered, somehow, but he kissed back willingly enough when JC leaned over the bed.

"Okay," JC said. "Hey, can you do me a favor, though? Before you go, maybe?"

Lance looked up at him. "What?"

JC trailed his finger over the edge of the dresser. "There's um. I talked to the accountant guy again."

Lance nodded, pulling his pants on. "Yeah?"

JC nodded. "And, see, he says that there's only certain stuff I can write off for work, even though it's all stuff for work. Like my clothes. He says some of the costumes and stuff ..."

"You have the letter?" Lance asked, groping under the sheets for his t- shirt.

"Uh huh," JC said. "In the den."

Three hours later JC came downstairs, wiping his hands on his paint cloth. Lance was punching numbers on JC's miniscule insurance computer. He still didn't have his shirt on. "JC," he said, when JC slung his arms around Lance's neck. "This all looks good to me. You can't deduct the stuff you buy because you like it."

"No?" JC asked. He pushed his nose into the hair at the back of Lance's neck. "Okay. I was just wondering." He kissed Lance's ear. "You wanna, um?" he whispered.

Lance shook his head, but he was smiling.

"So," Joey said.

"So," Lance said. He watched the television screen.

"So," Joey said again, brushing his fingers against the mark on Lance's neck. "How's JC?"

Lance flinched him away. "You just saw him yesterday."

"Lance, I swear to god, man. Just tell me."

Lance cast a glance at him and went back to watching television. "Nothin' to tell," he said.

"No? Then how come you're here instead of at his house?"

"Why would I be at his house?"

"Oh, fuck you," Joey said, and left.

"We're good, right?" JC asked, stretching his arms above his head. Lance fought to keep from putting his hand on JC's smooth beautiful stomach. It would just distract him.

"Uh huh."

"Okay," JC said. He rolled onto his side, his back to Lance. He'd get up in a minute, Lance knew, and pull pants on and go to the spare room he used as an art studio or to the basement where he had his keyboard set up. Just the thought of it made Lance's stomach curl up.

"Okay," Lance said.

JC came into the lounge, still pulling his shirt over his head. Lance was on the couch underneath both Chris and Joey. His shirt was rucked up, and he'd lost a sock. Something had gone drastically wrong.

"JC! JC!" Lance gasped, from under Chris' hands. Joey had his feet. "Rescue me!" His words were lost in a flurry of giggles.

"Your boyfriend can't save you now!" Chris declared. "You belong to me!"

"No, noooo," Lance wailed, wriggling. Joey sat on his ankles.

"C'mere, Chasez," Chris called. "We'll get you and your little dog, too!"

"You're gonna make him pee," JC said, smiling. He picked at the bagels on the table. Boyfriend.

"I'm gonna pee," Lance said. He was a quick study.

"I get peed on enough at home," Joey said. His hands loosened on Lance's ankles.

"Ugg, fine!" Chris got up, and motioned to Joey. "Babies."

JC went to the couch, chewing reflectively on a plain bagel. Lance was flushed red, tears seeping from his eyes. He looked like he just got laid, good and proper. This was his boyfriend.

"What'd you do?" JC asked, sitting next to him on the couch.

Lance shrugged, wiped at his face. "I may have said that the Ramones were overrated."

"They are." He shifted his bagel to his one hand and rested the other on Lance's chest. He was overheated from the tickling. JC leaned down and kissed Lance on the cheek.

"My hero," Lance said. He kissed JC's knee through his jeans. JC stroked his hair back. "How come you never get shit like this?"

"Ha!" JC declared. "Joey almost made me vomit by carrying me around upside down." He set his bagel on the coffee table, and nudged at Lance with his knee. Lance scooted back until JC could lay down in front of him, pressed together chest to ankle. His head fit under Lance's chin. He slid an arm between Lance's back and the couch. Lance slid a leg over both of his, anchoring him.

Lance felt like he was living life on a yo-yo, yanked up and down on a string JC held in his hands. He tried to give himself some ironic distance by listening to No Strings Attached over and over again, but JC's clear voice in his headphones kind of destroyed that and Lance found himself getting choked up during "I Thought She Knew." He stopped listening.

Sometimes, JC was just the sweetest guy Lance had ever known. Sometimes, that was the problem, because JC was sweet to just about everyone. To Justin, who sometimes needed someone to tell him that he was acting like an ass. JC was the only one who could do that and not make Justin mad. To Joey, not very often, though. Joey was already pretty sweet. To Chris, who needed sweetness quite often, who needed JC to sit with his legs crossed and listen and nod at him and run his fingers over Chris' wrist and say things like "it's going to be fine. You know that." Lance thought that, besides the sex, which he assumed JC wasn't having with Justin or Joey or Chris, Lance wasn't sure how his relationship with JC was any different from anyone else's. He wasn't sure that sex was enough of a difference.

"So," Chris said and that was the first sign JC had that he was in trouble. He pulled off his headphones and clicked the off button on his MP3 player. Chris sat down next to him. "Whatcha listening to?"


"Oldies, but goodies."

"It's the new one."

"You breakin' up with Lance?"


Chris rolled his head around on his shoulders like he was warming up before dance rehearsal. "You breakin' up with Lance?" he said again, barely meeting JC's eyes.

"Chris, man. What the heck are you talking about?"

"Cause if you're not, you better act fast."


"I'm just sayin'," Chris said, slapping JC on the shoulder. "He's getting away."

"He is not."

"He is," Chris said. He tugged gently at JC's hair. "And he's a much better catch than I am."

The knock on the door was soft, hesitant, completely familiar. JC slipped in, smiling apologetically.

"Hey," he said.

Lance smiled. He felt like he was being stretched thinner and thinner every time he saw JC, every time he had to pretend that everything was fine. That didn't stop him from wanting JC by him every single second. His life officially sucked.

JC flopped down on the bed and propped himself up on his elbows. "Chris says you're all messed up."

"Chris is full of shit," Lance said, trying hard not to flinch.

"Sure, most of the time," JC agreed. He planted his chin on the backs of his hands and looked up at Lance.

"I'm fine," Lance said.

"That's what I said," JC told him. He pushed himself up and slung his arms around Lance's neck. "I mean, I think I'd know if my boyfriend was messed up." JC's soft lips pressed against Lance's jawline.

"You would," Lance said. "Of course you would."

JC was practically asleep, still half in Lance's lap, his arms around Lance's neck, when Lance spoke again. It didn't really register at first, because his nose was against Lance's neck and Lance smelled really good and he was really comfortable and --

"-- awake, Jayce?"

"huh? yeah."

"Cause, um," Lance said. JC blinked himself awake. Chris was right, and something was wrong, and the only thing he could do was hope it wasn't already too late. "Boyfriend?"

"Mmm, yeah." JC slipped his hands through Lance's hair, breathed on his neck. He tried to feel calm, to let calmness seep through his skin and into Lance's. "What?"

"No, JC." Lance shifted, and JC took the hint, pulling away and sitting up on his own, running his hands through his own hair to straighten it. He felt groggy and confused. Maybe crabby. Maybe afraid. He wasn't sure yet.

"What?" he asked again.

"You said I was your boyfriend."

JC blinked. "Um, yeah. What would you call it?"

Lance ducked his gaze. "JC, I --"

"Oh," JC said. "Oh right." He shoved himself backwards, barely catching himself before he fell off the edge of the bed. "God, Lance, why the heck didn't you say something. Fuck." He propelled himself to his feet, feeling like an idiot. Fucking Chris and his fucking advice. This whole time he'd been thinking Lance wanted something besides the sex, so he'd been all kissyhuggy, and Lance didn't want that at all. "Okay, so if you want to ... do something later, you know where my room is, okay?"

"JC, no."

JC paused for a second, trying to formulate a response. He shoved his hands in his jeans pockets, blinked a couple of times. He hadn't, he didn't. Lance could have just said something. Something nice. "So, see you at practice, then," he managed.

"No, JC, wait." Lance grabbed his wrist. "I didn't mean." He sighed. He seemed flushed or something, like something was wrong, but JC was going, wasn't he? It wasn't like he had put up a big fight or whatever -- "Are you my boyfriend?" Lance asked.


Lance's hand around his wrist softened. "Are you my boyfriend? Are you? Is that what we are? Boyfriends?" His voice was higher than usual, shaky, and JC saw what had happened clear and plain. He was an idiot, a selfish stupid idiot who didn't deserve a boyfriend half as good as Lance. He twisted his wrist in Lance's hand and folded his fingers into Lance's.

"Oh, baby," he said, shaking his head. "I'm so bad at this."

"Me, too," Lance said.

"So we are." JC squeezed Lance's hand. "Okay?"

"Okay." Lance tugged on JC until he was back on the bed, lying across his lap so that Lance could kiss his throat, his collarbone where his V-neck t-shirt dipped down. "Couldn't you tell?" JC asked, feeling his back arch involuntarily. He loved it when Lance kissed his neck. He always sucked at it, just a little, just enough so that JC could feel it, and his hands always wandered under JC's clothes while he did it. It felt like Lance was painting him with his hands.

"No," Lance mumbled. "Not really."

"But I." He sighed as one of Lance's hands slid down the front of his pants. "I was always kissing ... you." He opened his legs for Lance's hand.

"You kiss everyone," Lance said.

JC smiled, lifting his arms so Lance could peel off his shirt. "Not true."

"You kissed Joey last week when he brought you a sandwich." Lance's tongue was delicate on the whorls of his ear, making him pant.

"But. I didn't use tongue," JC rasped.


"Chris said. ... uhh. Chris called you my boy. Boyfriend."

Lance chuckled against the sensitive skin behind JC's ear. "You listen to Chris?" he whispered. JC gasped.

"But," he breathed. "The sex. I, ah, didn't have sex with the ... other people." Lance had shoved his pants down his thighs, exposing him to the air. It wasn't cold in the hotel room, but JC shivered anyway. He loved being naked in front of Lance. Lance shifted him onto the mattress and peeled his pants down, and JC though for a second that Lance would blow him. He shook with anticipation -- Lance was so fucking hot when he did that, his eyes luminous -- but Lance didn't, just spread himself out on top of JC, his jeans rough against JC's naked erection. "Uhhh," JC said. He thought he might try to form words, but then Lance was kissing him, pinning him down on the bed.

Lance used to think that when he finally found someone, a boyfriend, everything would be perfect. Everything hadn't been perfect with the girls because they were girls, but once he found a guy, someone he cared about, that would take care of it. He knew that because his parents had a perfect relationship: all it took was for him to meet the right person and everything would click into place.

JC wasn't perfect. He was kind of spacey and weird, and he cared a lot about stupid shit like different types of cheese. Cheese. He was also kind of kinky. He liked to be held down. He liked to be fucked while Lance still had clothes on. He ate foods that Lance couldn't pronounce. Things that didn't even look like food. He was stubborn about his clothes, especially the really ugly clothes, clothes with feathers or animal prints. He got moody when he just woke up. He thought the Wall Street Journal was boring because it didn't have color graphics. He was so not the right person for Lance.

He would always smile when Lance walked into the room, a big smile that made his eyes crinkle up. And he would paint pictures to match Lance's dˇcor, paintings full of abstract blobs that were supposed to be flowers and had his name in loopy letters in the corner "Joshua 'JC' Chasez" like it was an autograph. And he would always say when he liked what someone was wearing, even people he hardly knew, stopping them backstage, touching their arms and saying "that's a really great shirt" or "wow, you look great!" and smiling so that they knew he meant it. He met more people that way. And he would almost always get his own way when he wanted it, just like Lance almost always got his own way, but JC did it quietly, so that you hardly felt him getting his own way, or felt it like it was the way you would have gone anyway, if you had stopped to think about it.

Lance glanced over at him, at the pretty curve of JC's eyelashes against his cheek, his narrow chest heaving breath, his mouth, his gorgeous mouth. The shallow slope from his ribcage to his hip. His spread legs. The tousled tangled hair that fell away from his forehead. Lance didn't reach out to touch it, but he knew if he did it would feel damp and silky and JC would turn his face into Lance's palm, and nuzzle it like a big cat.

JC was completely the wrong person for Lance, except for everybody else.

"Just so you know," JC said afterwards. "I'm not a good boyfriend." They weren't really touching, just JC's hand resting lightly on Lance's thigh. Lance looked over at him.


"I forget stuff. People. I get, you know. Distracted." JC waved his hands in loose loops trying to describe the ways that he lost people in the scenery of his mind. He gave up after a second, settled for stroking the light hair on Lance's leg. "I get distracted," he said again.

"Uh huh," Lance said. He ran his hand over JC's. His fingers bumped gently over JC's, eluding JC's lazy attempts to capture them.

"But that doesn't mean anything. I just. There are --"

"JC, I know how you are," Lance said, and pulling on his hand until JC rolled toward him. He placed JC's hand over his heart and covered it with his own. His heart thumped slowly beneath JC's palm.

"You do, huh?" he mumbled against Lance's shoulder.

"I do." Lance turned onto his stomach still keeping JC's hand in his, making him shift so that he was pressed against Lance's shoulder.

"But you really didn't know," JC asked. "You didn't know you were my boyfriend." He sprawled on Lance's sweaty back. Lance didn't seem big, wasn't big. He felt big though. Solid. Like something worth hanging on to.

Lance smiled over his shoulder. "I wanted to know," he said.

"Mmmm," JC said. "You know now, though."

"Yup." Lance reached around and patted JC's knee. The soft skin between Lance's shoulder blades tasted of salt and something familiar. JC had no name for it.

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