Nobody Does It Better
by Wax Jism

First and foremost, I'd like to thank God, MTV and the fans. Also, in no particular order: Dale, Rosa, Zelda, Bronwyn, Georgina, Wendy, Navia, Pet, Dacey, Synchronik, everyone, and their grandmothers, too.




He was working on a song when Chris sat down in front of him. Fuck - what rhymed with 'guy'? Buy. Uh ... shy? Bye. Lie - that worked. "What?" he said when Chris poked at his notebook.

"Dude," Chris said. He looked like he was trying to be serious. But then you never knew with Chris. It could be a practical joke in the making. He could have a can of whipped cream stuffed under his shirt.

Hmm. You better watch out for that guy / Everything he tells you is a lie?

"We have a problem," Chris said. Yeah, JC thought morosely. I got one, too. This song ain't happening.

So... lie. Lie. Everything he tells you is a lie...

This had better work. Three songs from last month were still crumpled into his bag. Lou had told him to think about the 'demography'. They were good songs, JC thought. One was called "Red Light". It was about Germany. "The Police had a song about a prostitute," he'd offered, but Lou had just scowled and said "Their target demographic wasn't teenage chicks. Keep it clean, Chasez."

"--and he ain't listening-- dude, are you listening?"

"Huh?" Chris was starting to look sort of pissed off, and not in that fake-pouty, brattish way he got when people weren't laughing at his jokes, but a real, grown up pissed off. "Sorry. What were you saying?"

"About Justin."

"Huh?"

"Justin? 'Bout this high, curly hair, sings in the same goddamn group as you? Remember him?"

JC rolled his eyes. "What are you talking about?"

Chris eyeballed him impatiently. "Okay. Justin. Partying. Sex, drugs. Lots. Baaaad thing."

"What?"

Chris muttered something that may or may not have been "moron" and said, slowly and carefully, "Lance and Joey caught him with a hooker again last night, okay?"

"What?" JC said again, but it was more his mouth on auto-repeat. He got that one loud and clear. "He's sixteen, Chris. He doesn't. He can't sleep with hookers."

"That's hardly a deterrent," Chris said with a snort. "When I was sixteen, I was this close to being one."

Chris loved doing that. Dropping little hints about his life before the band. Shocking little hints. He never elaborated on them; probably made them up just to make JC feel guilty about his own steady and conservative middle class background.

It was also distracting. What were they talking about? Justin. Hooker. This had to be a joke. Let's all see if JC-the-airhead falls for this one. Ha ha ha.

"Very funny," he said, trying to sound bored and cool. Getting close enough. "Leave me alone, I'm working," and he turned back to his song, the first lines: Lie, lie lie... guy. Hmmm. All those things he says he'll - buy? Like hookers, he thought. He scratched it out. He's shy. He'll cry.

Chris was still there, looking pissed-off, like the joke was JC's fault. "I'm not kidding, man. We're heading for a disaster here. If the BadYear blimp finds out ... hell, if Justin's mom finds out, she'll tattle for sure. And then she'll grab the kid and run back home." Chris looked serious. Earnest. Worried. "And we need him. He's the chick magnet."

"What-- What am I supposed to do about it?" Chris never knew when to end a joke. He'd go on and on and on until you had to buy it, believe him, because no one would even bother to push a joke that far, right? Ha. Chris would.

"You could fuck him."

Chris looked completely earnest. A little wide-eyed, a little uncomfortable. It was a perfect performance. For a moment, it seemed real. JC stared at him. Then Chris blinked, and actual reality caught up with JC.

"Fuck you," he said. Chris also was a jerk. Ridiculous. Ignore him. Back to guy, lie, buy...

Chris swept his hand over the table. The notebook, the pen and JC's half-empty coffee mug all hit the carpet. "What the fu--"

"Listen to me," Chris growled, and now he was leaning over the table, getting right up in JC's face, and JC wanted to pull back, shy back, maybe cross his arms and look down, but he was getting pissed now, too. He didn't flinch when Chris snarled, "It's not a fucking joke, JC."

"Would you--" he tried, but Chris hadn't actually stopped talking.

"--doesn't listen, he's a fucking kid and he's in his experimental phase, teenage angst, whatever, you know the deal, and he's wild as hell and we can't control him anymore. Or cover for him."

Now he had to close his eyes. Chris could outstare a snake.

"What can I do, then?" he asked. He kept his eyes closed. "You were joking about--"

"Do you remember last year?" Chris said, and JC opened his eyes. Chris was sitting sedately in the chair again.

"Of course I remember. I'm not senile yet."

"Maybe you remember the time Lance almost got that Dutch chick pregnant."

"What-- no! How do you get someone almost pregnant? When the hell was this?"

"October. In Hamburg. Joey took care of it. You don't know because you stopped paying attention."

"You guys never tell me anything," JC countered, but Chris just snorted again.

"You don't listen if it's not about the music. Stop living inside your own head, man. There's a whole big, fascinating world outside it."

"What happened with Lance?" If this was what the world had to offer, he might just stay inside his head.

"Joey took care of it. Of him. It works. Keep it in the family: nothing gets out, everyone who needs to get off, gets off. No muss, no fuss."

Jesus. This was just too surreal. "Why can't Joey-- Um. Why can't he just do the same for. With. Um. With Justin." He couldn't believe he was asking. He couldn't believe he was actually having this conversation.

"Wake up, Chasez," Chris said impatiently. "Joey's still screwing Lance."

"What about you?" Apparently, he was still talking about this. He thought he sounded pretty calm, too. Reasonable. Maybe there was a song in this. Lou probably wouldn't like it much. "Stop getting your inspiration from Jerry Springer, Chasez," he'd say. "But it's my life," JC could say.

"Do the words 'statutory rape' mean anything to you?" Chris said.

"But--" There was a flaw in that argument somewhere, JC just knew it. He didn't think he could pin it down fast enough, though, because Chris was already going on with,

"Besides, he likes you."

"He-- what?"

"You're totally his type."

"I am not. I'm not. Justin-- he likes girls. Blonde girls with big tits."

"Yeah, well, he likes guys too. Skinny little danceboys who can suck their own dicks. You know, flexible. Like you." And he actually looked JC up and down, appraising. JC crossed his arms. Realised he looked defensive and uncrossed them. Jesus. This was one of those days when he should have just stayed in bed.

Wait a minute, though. "I can't--"

"Sure you can," Chris interrupted. His eyes glittered. With mirth or menace, JC couldn't tell. "You mean you haven't even tried?" And now he was laughing, as if this was the joke of the century.

JC bent down and picked up his mug. There was a coffee stain on the carpet.

"So. Settled. This is great," Chris was saying when JC straightened up and tuned in again. "Okay, we locked him in his room. Just, like, go up there and--"

"Wait. What, now?" This was, this was just ... fucked up. This wasn't normal. "I'm not--" but Chris was already getting up, saying,

"Don't worry. I mean, it's not like you haven't done it before."

"No, I-- How, I haven't." No one knew. No one. He'd been discreet. No one was supposed to know about that.

"Don't be prissy. Everybody knows, JC."

This was worse than having siblings poking through your stuff. This was worse than that time when Tyler found his diary and read the poems aloud to his friends.

"So, come on." And Chris was pulling him out of the chair, dragging him along. JC snatched up the notebook and tucked it in his pocket.

Lance and Joey were standing quietly in the hall outside Justin's room. Joey leaned against the wall. JC noticed that he was resting his hand on Lance's hip. That wasn't unusual. It just hadn't looked suggestive before.

"Is he gonna handle it?" Joey asked Chris. I'm right here, JC wanted to say, but he wasn't sure he could say anything without stuttering or throwing up.

"Sure," Chris said cheerfully. "No problem."

"Cause it was a close call this time," Lance said. "She only had, like, a thong under that coat. And the shoulder holster and handcuffs..."

"Yeah, not like we could say she was the receptionist's sister or something." Joey chuckled. It sounded somehow lewd. You're paranoid, JC told himself.

***

Justin was sprawled on the bed with his headphones on. His sneakers had left dirty tracks on the bed spread. He was wearing a leather jacket that JC hadn't seen before. It looked old and too big for him. He didn't look up when JC came in.

Chris closed the door behind him. JC thought of dungeon doors slamming shut, but the sound was just a soft click. Not exactly bigger-than-life drama.

Justin looked very young in his too-big jacket, and for a while, JC thought that this would be easy. Justin would listen, of course he would. They were friends, from a long time back. Maybe not as close as they'd been once, at MMC or when the group just started - but still close. He could say, "Man, what are you doing? Stop it," and Justin would nod and say, "sure, C, I get it. I was just fooling around, but I won't do that anymore. Wanna play parcheesi or something?"

Then Justin turned his head and stared at JC, and the words stuck in his throat.

"I'm not interested," Justin said, his voice louder than necessary over the music only he could hear. "Fuck off and tell Chris to give it up."

"Look--" He met these guys every day. All of them. When did they have time to think up these jokes? Were they all standing outside, pressed up against the door, trying not to laugh out loud? "Whose jacket is that?"

"What?" Justin lifted the headphones off his ears.

"Whose jacket is that?"

He shrugged. "Dunno. Guess I found it somewhere." There was a hint of a slur in his voice; a softening of the consonants, maybe a bit more of a lilt to his accent, and JC asked, although it felt wrong, wrong, because this was Justin, for god's sake,

"Are you drunk?"

A new shrug; "Yeah." It was one pm, Sunday afternoon. This wasn't just crazy, it was ... really fucking crazy. It was also wrong. Wrong like a Disney film where the villain killed the hero and got the girl.

He stalked up to him, too pissed off now to worry about Chris and practical jokes. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he shouted and tore the the headset off Justin, probably snagging a tuft of overbleached hair, too, because Justin yelped and swatted at him. JC smelled beer and smoke and some strange heavy perfume. Gardenias, roses, something musky underneath, all wrapped aroung the smell of leather.

"Hey, give those back." Justin reached for him, and this was just like always, bickering over a discman, this was normal, except Justin didn't usually smell like cheap perfume, and he wasn't usually this rough and aggressive. And it must have been a while since they really horsed around like this, because it seemed like Justin had grown at least four inches since the last time; he had a good reach, and he was strong and wasn't holding back. JC got a sharp elbow in the side and gasped. Justin had him pinned in about five seconds flat. He stopped struggling and Justin plucked the discman from his hand and put the headphones back on. He was still straddling him.

"Um," JC said after a while. Justin was heavy, and he was moving a little with the beat. JC didn't know if it was intentional that he seemed to be grinding his ass into JC's groin. Probably--

"Okay," Justin said. He grinned, but it wasn't a sunny grin. It wasn't even a plastic photo shoot grin.

"What?" He wanted to tell Justin to get off him, but he didn't. He wasn't sure why. And Justin was definitely doing the grinding deliberately. His eyes were way too calculating. JC stared back at him and tried to see the Justin he remembered. When did he disappear?

He gave up trying to remember, because he suddenly couldn't think of the last time he'd felt completely relaxed around Justin. How did I miss it, he thought helplessly. This must have been building for months.

"You can suck my dick if you want to," Justin said.

"You--" Justin was still grinning at him, but it was a little softer now, less shark-like, more ... assessing.

"Chris sent the chick away," Justin said, possibly in way of explanation. "He said he'd take care of stuff."

And he got off JC and sat on the bed next to him. JC pushed himself up. He could feel his pulse beating in his throat, too fast, too hectic.

Justin grabbed his wrist, a little roughly. His fingers dug into his skin, and JC had a flash of dj vu so sudden and strong that his heart lurched and stuttered in his chest, but Justin didn't twist, just pulled JC's hand down into his lap.

"Yeah," Justin said, and JC moved his hand almost automatically, rubbing and flexing his fingers, and Justin almost purred and lifted his hips. "Come on," he said and let go of JC's hand. It didn't occur to JC to move his hand away until it was too late, until Justin's hand was twisting in his hair. Not roughly enough to hurt, but decisively. JC felt a shiver that could have been fear or excitement or just muscle memory. He rubbed Justin a little harder, traced the shape under the denim. Justin tightened his hand into a fist, and JC caught himself pulling back until his scalp hurt. He forced himself to stop. Justin just grinned lazily and looked at him from under heavy lids.

"I--" JC said, or tried, or thought he tried. He didn't know what he wanted to say. He hadn't said anything back then, either. He hadn't even known the guy's name. He wondered how the hell Chris knew about it, and it occurred to him at last that Chris probably had been bluffing like hell.

"Hey," Justin said, not impatiently. "Are you gonna do this or what?" and JC thought, Jesus Christ, he's grown up, who is this? Who the hell is he? and pulled back with a jerk. His scalp stung. His throat felt too tight, every breath a harsh rasp.

"Don't--" he said, but Justin grinned again, as if his face went into that nasty, calculating grin by default now when he wasn't paying attention, and said,

"What? Isn't that what you're here for?"

"I don't know what you mean," JC muttered and leaned further back, making sure he didn't touch Justin anywhere. He felt like he was standing on the edge of a cliff. Danger, Will Robinson, danger.

"Well, fuck you, too," Justin said, and the grin was gone and the sullen teenager was back. It felt soothing to know that he was in there somewhere, at least. Sullen teenagers was what JC was used to. They wouldn't listen, but they wouldn't tempt you, either.

"You're acting like a moron, Justin," he said. That wouldn't go over well, he knew, and it didn't. Justin's face darkened, stormclouds gathering.

"They sent you up to lecture me? Fuck, someone's getting fucking desperate."

"Someone's gonna catch you--" but Justin grabbed his arm again, gripped him in a steel-claw grip, his fingers digging deep, finding nerves.

"Who the fuck's gonna notice? You didn't. You didn't have a fucking clue."

"Let me go," JC said automatically, defensively. He hadn't noticed. So? There had been other things to think about, and it wasn't like Justin had been alone. His mother was here; Chris was here, Chris was the one who'd noticed and not done anything, let Justin go out and do god-knows-what with god-knows-who, and let him change into something strange and sullen and wrong when JC had been concentrating on something else.

"What if I don't?" Still sullen. Justin had large, strong hands. He could easily grab, say, a wrist and just ... twist-- "What are you gonna do, JC? Kick my ass? You gonna spank me? I've been a bad, bad boy, JC..."

"Stop it!" and the words came out sounding frightened, pleading. I'm not afraid of him, JC thought, but he was probably lying to himself. But he had to prove something, prove he wasn't just a spaced out wimp, so he straightened his back and snapped, "would you stop acting like a schoolyard bully and think about what you're doing?"

A second of quiet, when Justin's pissed-off glare seemed frozen, and then he broke, laughed a harsh, barking laugh but didn't let go. JC looked at his young-old face and the contempt there, and swung with his left hand.

It must have really surprised Justin, because JC had a lousy left hook and never managed to hit anything, but this time he connected solidly with Justin's still-laughing mouth. He felt teeth cut his knuckles, felt Justin's lip split. For a second, it felt good, a rush, as if he'd been wanting to do that.

"You fucker!" Justin snarled and let go of JC's arm to hit back. JC ducked and caught his fist on the side of his head, and then they were grappling, tearing into each other, fighting like wild dogs, too close to get any punches in, just clawing and snarling and digging fingers into flesh.

But Justin had grown up so much bigger and stronger than JC, and he was simply more ruthless. JC ended up on his back again, his wrists pinned over his head. Justin glared down at him, slit-eyed and mean, his bloody lips pulled back, and JC had to swallow a sudden urge to cry uncle. Justin looked like he might just lose it and start pounding away until JC was a wet smear on the bed. All that pent-up adolescent rage unleashed in a big, nasty spew of violence.

Instead, Justin dropped down, crushing JC under him, pressing him into the mattress with the weight of his body, and kissed him.

It was an angry kiss, and it tasted like blood and pain. JC was stunned and taken by surprise, and went along automatically for a few seconds. Justin's mouth was hot and slick and open over his, and the kiss hurt, because JC's lip was bleeding, too. Justin's hands were still crushing his wrists. He was stretched out and melting into the bed, and Justin's tongue was sending sharp, painful spikes of dumb lust into his groin, and that's when he came to his senses and closed his mouth and started struggling. Justin pushed him down and bit his lip, and that was it, that was just way above and beyond the call of whatever duty he had here, and JC bucked and got a knee up and got Justin in the balls.

"hhhh--" Justin hissed and rolled off him. JC staggered up on wobbly legs and fled the scene. "Fuck you!" Justin screamed after him, his voice high-pitched, but still strong and so angry, so fucking angry.

Outside in the hall, he leaned against the wall and rubbed his hand violently over his mouth. He was bleeding. A seam had been torn in his shirt. His hardon didn't seem to realise the show was over. He could hear muted thumps and crashes from inside the room.

"What are you doing here?" someone asked right in his ear, and he almost lashed out in panic. Almost.

It was Joey. JC saw Chris further down the hall. "Um," he said hesitantly. He wondered if his lip was bleeding badly.

"What the hell were you doing in there?" Joey said, "you look..." but Chris had stormed up to them already, and was saying,

"What the fuck?" and, "jesus, he's not a fucking wild dog, JC," and, "you weren't supposed to piss him off, he's plenty pissed off already, man--" while Joey interjected helpful things like,

"you look like a date-rape victim, dude, seriously." JC hunched his shoulders and touched his bleeding lip. His head hurt furiously and he was cold.

"I'm going to bed," he said when there was a second of quiet while they were both pulling in breaths, and he bolted, legging it for his room before either of them could protest.


The next morning, everything was back to normal. Except Justin didn't look at him at all, and Justin's smiles for the fans were wide and sun-bright despite his swollen lip, but his eyes were cold.

JC tried, confused. He had hardly slept at all, and his voice was a rusty creak. "Justin--" he said, but Justin just stared right through him with a face like a closed door, and whatever JC had wanted to say died a silent death in his mouth.

"Fuck you," Justin said flatly to the air beside JC and brushed past him.


Joey and Lance were all over each other. JC wondered if it had been like this all along and he just hadn't noticed, or if they'd relaxed around him now that he knew.

It was almost surreal: he walked into the dressing room a little late the next evening, and they were all there. Chris was helping Justin cover up the gash on his lip with concealer. Joey had lifted Lance onto one of the tables and they were kissing and moving lazily against each other. Just like that. JC froze in the door. Chris looked at him and said, "hurry the fuck up, man, we're all dressed." Justin got up and looked in the mirror, twisting his mouth to see if the make up did its job. He ignored JC like he'd been doing for two days. Lance and Joey kept doing what they were doing. JC saw that Joey's hand was pushed up under Lance's shirt, and he was stroking his stomach and side. Lance leaned back and Joey licked his neck.

After the concert that night, JC saw Lance glance quickly around and slip his hand into Joey's as they filed out towards the exit, and Joey leaned in and whispered something that ended in 'baby' in Lance's ear. They were both smiling private smiles, and JC thought about Justin's calculated smirks and decided to get drunk that night.

***

Drinking mini-bar vodka on his own felt like Alcoholism 101, but he didn't let that stop him. He wasn't much of a drinker and the stuff burned his throat and made him cough, and at some point, just before the third shot of one hundred proof Finlandia went down, he wondered why he was behaving like an idiot. And a fight with Justin shouldn't drive him to drink.

Well, too late. He downed the shot and almost choked on it. The fire had traveled down his throat and into his stomach, and and then licked its way down and out, spreading everywhere.

The alcohol slowed down his thoughts somehow, and he could concentrate on one at a time. They paraded in front of his eyes like supermodels down a catwalk. One said, German girls don't shave their underarms, did you know that? It sounded suspiciously like Joey. But Joey wasn't doing any German girls, not anymore, not with the way he hovered over Lance, the way he touched his face in the morning and smiled at him across the table.

Justin's face flickered by, and that guy's - that guy in the alley in Stuttgart. The guy that Chris just couldn't know about. He'd crowded JC up against a wall, and he'd been tall and angular, with a stone cut of a face, jagged and bony with colourless eyes and thin lips and buzzcut dirty-blond hair, and his voice when he said, "very pretty, very pretty, you suck me, yes?" had been a husky, broken whisper. And he'd been wearing a heavy leather jacket and at some point, JC's face had been pressed against it, a zipper scratching his cheek and his head filled with the smell of leather and sex.

What if it was him? With Justin - he could imagine what Justin's wrists would feel like, he'd held them often enough. But to clamp down until he felt delicate bones grind together. Justin's thin wrists and big hands twisting in his grip. And the next thought was inevitable, smashing on top of the rest like a drunk tripping on his own feet: Justin trapped between a wall and a huge guy with eyes like clear ice, and it wouldn't go away. What if that guy grabbed Justin's bleached curls and yanked until he cried out? What if that guy twisted Justin's wrist until he had to fall to his knees on the wet street?

The image burned in his brain like the vodka going down, and it, or the booze, or both had worked their way all the way to his feet when he got up and aimed himself at the door, but then he got into the hall and up the stairs and all the way to Justin's door and it was open and Chris was coming out. Chris looked pissy, but JC was walking carefully, carefully, not falling against the wall even when he staggered, oh, he was drunk, drunk, very drunk and going to see Justin, and maybe he could talk to Justin now, just talk, just talk and not touch. Just to see that he was there and not ... somewhere else.

"Right on fucking time," Chris hissed in his face and stomped off. His hair was wet, JC saw, and his shirt was soaked to the skin.

JC slipped into the room on light feet and pushed the door closed. He had to lean against it for a while, lean his back against something solid. He stood there, feeling the reassuring, solid wood until he heard a small choked sound from the bedroom and realised that it was Justin crying, harsh and angry sobs. Tiptoe through the room to the bedroom door, and he didn't bump into anything on the way. The door was open, and Justin was curled up on the bed.

"Justin?" JC said, because that's how you started when someone was crying like that, carefully, neutrally - would they want comfort or distance?

"--fuck you," but JC was walking over, because his legs had started moving while his mind still hovered in the door. Justin was twisted up on his bed, hugging himself and shivering. He was soaked, too.

"What are you--" He stopped halfway, hesitating. "Justin..."

"Would you fuck off?" Justin snarled, but it came out trembling and broke at the end, and JC took the last few steps and sat down on the bed, patted Justin's shaking shoulders, murmured,

"are you okay? hey, hey--" and rubbed his back gently. Justin swatted his hand away, but gave up when he put it back.

"What do you care?" Justin muttered into the pillow.

I do care, JC thought, but couldn't quite say it. His mouth felt numb and stupid-drunk. Justin pulled in a wet, gasping breath and rubbed his face and said louder,

"What are you still doing here?" and then JC could say, defensively,

"I do care."

"Yeah, right," Justin said with a snort. He shook off JC's hand. "You're so fucking stupid, you don't even know-- You're just here because you're worried about the fucking group, 'cause Chris made you--"

"I'm not--"

"Shut up! Shut your stupid face!" Justin shuffled back and leaned against the headboard, his arms crossed in front of him, and JC saw that his eyes were red-rimmed and bloodshot.

"Justin, I--"

"I hate you," Justin hissed, and JC recognised the tone, the same tone Tyler used when he was grounded for stealing money from their mother's purse or sneaking out at night. "I hate you."

More sobs, and JC didn't know exactly what to do, but he tried the standard response: he reached out and pulled Justin into a clumsy hug.

Justin was an awkward bundle of trembling limbs, and he snuffled against JC's shoulder and didn't fight.

"Shhh, shhh," JC mumbled and thought about his brother, hugging hiim when he was upset, but this was different. His brother had never pinned him to the bed and told him to suck him off.

Justin's skin was burning hot through his thin, wet shirt, scorching hot and he was large, bigger than JC; he'd put on some bulk these last couple of years, working out compulsively.

"You don't give a shit about me," Justin whispered accusingly, but his hands were on JC's back, sliding up and down. It seemed to be the only thought that made it out his mouth, though, and JC wondered where it came from. Of course he cared about Justin. He loved Justin, pain in the ass that he could be. Like a little brother. Of course.

"What are you talking about?" he mumbled soothingly into Justin's damp, dirty hair.

"You don't know shit about shit," Justin said and twisted in his arms and kissed him. Wet mouth and hard teeth and slippery tongue, his breath moist heat on JC's face.

JC opened his mouth, almost against his will, and folded under Justin. He wasn't sure how he ended up on his back on the bed, pressed down by Justin's rain-soaked body, spreading his legs to accommodate Justin, arching into the pressure and--

--he tore loose, turned his head away, pushed a hand into Justin's chest, breathless. There was no air left between them, none at all that wasn't thick with danger and sex and the smell of wet clothes and alcohol.

"You don't know anything," Justin said, and he grabbed JC's chin with careless fingers and turned him back. JC closed his eyes. He couldn't look at Justin's face.

"Tell me," it finally occurred to him to say, even though he really didn't want to know. He felt weighted down with more than Justin's bulk, weighted down with concrete and drowning. He couldn't breathe, pushed at Justin, halfway desperate, but Justin wasn't budging. His fingers dug spikes into JC's jaw, five sharp points of pain. "Wait-- hey," he panted, but Justin held him stubbornly, and said,

"But you want to. You want me," his voice harsh, like a command: want me, "I can feel you," and his other hand cupped JC's crotch, and yeah, hard to hide that, soft track pants left nothing to the imagination, and Justin's hand felt so fucking good there, ungentle stroke, knowing fingers, shameless, shameless.

"Ahhhh..." he sighed in defeat. He wasn't clear on when he'd opened his eyes again, but Justin flashed another grin at him, carelessly smug, eyes still glittering, but not crying anymore.

"You want me," he said again, satisfied, and leaned heavily on JC's weakening arm between them, "and I'll be the best you ever had."

"Justin," JC said, trying something - reproach? accusation? plea? - but it just sounded like "yes", even to himself, even as he was saying it, and he finally relaxed his trembling arm and let Justin fall against him and push him down again.

Justin let go of him, but only for long enough to catch his hands and pin them over his head. His knee pushed up between JC's legs with unerring precision.

"You want me," and it was as repetitive and ragged as "you don't care about me" earlier, and did those mutually exclusive statements go together? What the hell was Justin thinking? It was impossible to tell when his face was twisted up in anger or lust or whateverthehell that was, and JC's brain didn't want to think any further than the sweet torture of Justin's knee rubbing against his groin.

Justin's mouth came down on his again, roughly, teeth again on JC's still sore lips and it didn't matter, not at all. In fact, his back arched, surprising him, seeking more of the same, and his mouth was open and wanton under Justin's. He struggled against Justin's hand clamping his wrists, but he was at an awkward angle and Justin had this down to a science; he'd pinned JC like a lab specimen between his hand and his chest and his knee and his mouth. He bit down on JC's lip and there was the sting as it split, the murky taste of blood.

JC gasped again, sucked in emptiness and a little recycled, heat-thick air and bucked, and finally Justin got his hand down where it was needed; still on the outside of JC's pants, but by now it was enough, enough with all these small pains: his bleeding lip and Justin's unforgiving mouth still teasing at it, his aching groin under Justin's hand and Justin's knee; his wrists bruising in Justin's grip - all these small pains combining into one great surge of pleasure. It was strange and scary as hell and the scariest part was that he didn't care at all. Not about anything but thrusting up one more time, crushing his mouth willingly against Justin's angry teeth, twisting his wrists until the tendons screamed and bone ground against bone.

He threw his head back and cried out, louder than he thought he could with what little air was left in his lungs. His voice cracked and turned rusty and thin, and he came and it hurt.

Then the pressure was gone and Justin was pushing himself off the bed, off him, away, and JC could breathe again, but he was too wrung out to think.

He blinked and realised that he was crying. He hadn't even noticed. He licked his lips and sat up, fighting down a surge of nausea. He didn't feel drunk anymore, just weary and worn out and sinking deeper with every breath. He wiped his face dry.

Justin was standing by the bathroom door, leaning against the wall. His face was expressionless.

"Why are you wet?" JC asked, suddenly. Justin's teeshirt was still damp in places.

"It's raining," he said. And then, as an afterthought: "Got thrown out of a club."

"For what?"

"Punching a guy who called me a fucked up little faggot."

JC pulled a hand over his eyes. Justin stayed where he was, leaning casually, like he was just having any conversation; like he hadn't just rubbed JC off with professional ease. "But--"

Justin gave an unattractive snort. "It doesn't matter what I am."

JC got up. He was woozy and his groin throbbed dully with something that was uncomfortably like the residual pain you feel hours after someone's kicked you in the nuts. He bit his lip to get another pain to think about. He had no idea what to say. He tried to catch Justin's eyes, but it was a lot like trying to catch the eyes of a painting. They looked right at you and right through you without actually registering anything.

"Justin, what are you doing?" he said helplessly.

"Go away," Justin said, so coldly that JC's legs actually started obeying and took a couple of steps towards the door before he realised where he was going and stopped. He forced himself to walk up to Justin.

"Don't do this." If only he didn't sound like he was pleading. He reached for Justin, gingerly, like he'd reach out to pet a strange dog, ready to pull back if it showed teeth. "Just let me--" and Justin cringed back and for a second, so short that JC was only half-sure it was real, his game face cracked and he looked afraid. Young and scared to death. Then the moment was gone and he relaxed and deepened the slouch and said with a shrug,

"Whatever."

JC dared touch him then. He touched his face, stroked his cheek and his mouth with its fading bruise, his tense jaw. "Let me," he said softly. Justin didn't say anything, but his eyes fluttered shut.

He leaned in and kissed him, just a brief touching of lips. Justin didn't react, but he didn't protest either. JC stroked his hair and kissed him again, put his arms around him.

"It's okay," he mumbled. Justin shook his head, his eyes still closed.

"No, it's not," he said.

"You need to sleep, Justin. It'll be--" better tomorrow? JC remembered hating it when people told him that. So he said, "I'll stay here, okay," making it deliberately matter-of-fact. Justin seemed to be crashing, probably coming down off whatever he'd been on.

"I'm going to bed," Justin said slowly, and pushed JC aside, not roughly. He walked back to the bed, swaying softly, and pulled off his wet, torn teeshirt and threw it on the floor. Unbuckled his jeans and shimmied out of them. He wasn't wearing anything at all under them. JC kept his eyes on Justin's shoulders and neck.

"I'm gonna--" he started. Had to stop because his voice sounded funny. Weak. He felt battered and broken, he ached all over and he'd come in his pants. A shower suddenly seemed like the answer to all of life's problems. "I'm gonna take a shower."

Justin didn't answer, just crawled into bed and buried himself under a pile of cotton and down. JC turned the light off on his way to the bathroom.

Hot water, a lot of it, and it felt wonderful. His thoughts settled down and rolled along lazily. He tried to remember why he'd come up here in the first place. He tried to remember exactly what had happened.

After he'd turned off the shower, he stood in front of the mirror for a while and stared at his own face. He looked tired. Like shit, actually, with the dark purple smudges under his eyes and the blossoming bruises and the way his eyes were showing way too much white. He looked a little crazy. Someone unpredictable. And all things considered, maybe he was.

"You won't see me comin'," he told his reflection, but it wasn't that funny. He really couldn't see himself coming.

He watched himself going, though, watched himself wrap a towel around his waist and go back into the bedroom, steal a pair of clean boxers from Justin's bag and slip them on.

Justin was asleep, snuffling softly like a puppy under the blankets. JC thought about taking off his clothes again and just slipping into the bed with him. Most of him wanted to. The bed looked warm. Justin would be warm and naked and smooth-skinned, and because he was asleep, he'd be welcoming and maybe turn and throw heavy, limp arms around JC. He was a cuddler when he slept. JC could remember times when he'd just fallen asleep in someone's lap like a contented cat. Joey's lap or Chris' or his mother's, it didn't matter. He'd find a comfortable spot and close his eyes and conk out, and whoever got to serve as pillow wouldn't dare move, because Justin had a way of looking absolutely blameless in sleep. JC couldn't see his face now, just a tuft of hair, but he bet Justin looked perfectly innocent.

It was warm. He tried not to get too close to Justin, though. He didn't want to wake him. He did lie awake for a while and stared at Justin's back and listened to his breathing and tried to figure out how they'd ended up in this bed.


Darkness. There was something in his bed, something hot and damp and large, large, clinging to him, sticking to him in places, something, something around his chest, tentacles, and he couldn't tear loose, couldn't get away and it was black night, black everywhere and he didn't know what that was, and finally he just lashed out and rolled out of bed and landed on thick, dusty carpet.

He was shivering, long, deep quivers running down his back. His kneecaps were shaking. He was cold and his heart was still racing and he was running from something, wasn't he? Something.

The knowledge that he had his eyes squeezed shut appeared in his brain as if it had always been there. He opened them. He was standing in the middle of a hotel room. He was wearing only a pair of boxers. Justin sat on the bed, outlined in the dull gold-orange of streetlight. He was naked.

JC had a headache. His face hurt. And Justin sat naked on the bed and stared at him with wide, dark eyes.

JC backed away. The nightmare still lurked somewhere just outside the circle of light. Teeshirt, pants in a pile on the dresser, no socks or shoes, what the fuck? But he didn't care, and not until he was out in the hall did it occur to him that he'd just vanished without actually giving Justin a single word of explanation.

On the other hand, "excuse me" probably wouldn't have cut it, and that was as eloquent as he could imagine getting right now. He stood in the elevator, barefoot on the cold floor, and tried to breathe.

***

He awoke to the polite knock of room service, and had to ask himself why he was lying on top of the covers, shivering in nothing but boxers, and why he had such a horrible headache.

His memory started kicking in when he was taking a leak. It might have been the fact that he was wearing Justin's underwear. He looked in the mirror and saw four small smudges along the line of his jaw. There was a single bigger one on the other side. He touched them lightly with a fingertip and felt their heat through the skin.

He stared at his bruised face and his huge, scared eyes and nausea rolled up and he spent the next ten minutes hugging the toilet bowl.

When he was done puking his guts up, he felt better.

"After all, tomorrow is ... today," he told the toilet and chuckled nervously. Better, but still scared, apparently. Last night wasn't something you just shook off. He was still wearing Justin's underwear. Which meant his own shorts were in Justin's room, streaked with drying come.

He took a shower and changed into a pair of his own. He got dressed. Then he sat on his bed for a while, holding Justin's shorts and trying to decide what to do with them. Finally, he just folded them neatly and tucked them at the bottom of his bag.


Hell was being stuck in a small bus doing 90 on the Autobahn. The bus didn't sound like it was made for going over 55, and JC's hands were already aching from clutching the armrest.

Justin was next to him, staring blindly out the window. He'd sat next to JC without even saying hi. After half an hour, he'd asked if he could sit by the window. That was the extent of the conversation so far. But he was sitting next to JC although there were empty seats.

At the back of the bus, Joey and Lance sat together. Joey was reading aloud from some German teeniebopper magazine. His German pronunciation was creative, and Lance was bent over double and wheezing with laughter.

"Dude, there's a naked photo of Arnold Schwartzenegger in here," Joey said.

"Come on, seriously?" Chris said and scrambled down the aisle from his seat up front, bumping JC's hand painfully on his way.

"Ouch," JC said, mostly for form's sake. Justin woke up from his meditation of the scenery and looked at JC. His eyes were guarded, but he didn't look angry, at least.

"What are they doing?" he mouthed.

"Looking at nude pics of Arnie," JC said.

"Full frontal and everything!" Chris hooted.

"Euw," Lance said primly, despite the fact that JC had spotted him shimmying contentedly under Joey's hand just twenty minutes earlier. With Lance's mother sitting up front, chatting with Lynn Harless, no less.

"Morons," Justin said dismissively and turned back to the view rushing by. JC couldn't find a comfortable position. Three more hours to go, and Justin wasn't going to talk to him. He couldn't think of a way to start a conversation, either. He thought about moving, hanging out with Chris for a while. Anything. But he didn't.

Finally, the bus turned off the Autobahn and slowed down so quickly that everyone fell forward. A sharp turn followed, and JC found himself pressed close against Justin, and also found that it gave him a sharp, secret thrill.

Pathetic, he thought.


They arrived in some town with a name JC couldn't even read without stuttering, and there was a stampede of shrilly screaming girls outside the venue. One of them, a tiny blonde with a mouthful of metal, threw herself past the beefy guard and clung to Justin like he was the last lifesaver in a stormy sea. When the guard pulled her off, she lifted the hem of her pink shirt and shook her surprisingly ample breasts in Justin's face. He just waved cheerfully at her and walked on, but JC felt his own smile waver. He bit his lip and turned the smile back on. This was what they'd all wished for, after all. It was a thrill, it really was. Just not every day.

"Those chicks are nuts," Chris declared once they were safe inside their dressing room.

"They are," Lance said, nodding sagely. He was leaning his back against Joey, and Joey had his arms around him. JC thought he might be getting used to them by now. It didn't seem strange to see Joey rest his hands on Lance's belt.

"Everyone is," Justin muttered, and JC looked up and Justin was staring at him, expressionlessly. A hot blush crept up over JC's face and he stammered,

"I'm not--" Over by the mirror, Chris was rolling his eyes and exchanging a glance with Joey, and JC could almost feel their thoughts: There he goes again.

Justin finally stopped staring and turned away. "Anyone got batteries?" he said, "my GameBoy's dead."

"Boy ain't got game," Chris snickered and Justin flipped him off.

JC had batteries. "Here," he just said when he handed them over. He kept his eyes turned down and felt like a moron.

"Hey! Thanks, dude," Justin said, and the pleased surprise in his voice made JC look up and meet his eyes. Justin was smiling, a sunny, relieved smile. Impossible not to respond to that, and suddenly they were grinning at each other like fools, grinning and then giggling and finally laughing out loud.

When they ran out of steam, JC noticed that Chris, Joey and Lance were staring at them with bemused expressions.

"Excuse me," Joey said.

Lance blinked and crooked an eyebrow. "Do you need privacy?"

"Yeah, are you guys having some kind of moment here?" Chris asked.

"I guess," Justin said, his voice still trembling with residual giggles.

"I gave him my batteries," JC said, and this time they all laughed.


They had a good show that night.

Afterwards, they were interviewed by some teen radio DJ. JC misunderstood half of his questions because the guy had such a thick accent. Justin didn't miss one, and JC wondered just how much German he'd picked up while cruising the red light districts.

They left, running the usual gauntlet past screaming fans. A small group of dour, black-clad young men stood among the girls, like a murder of crows in a parrot cage, and when Justin passed them, on of them yelled something that had to be an insult, because Justin snapped around and hissed an angry reply, the harsh, throaty syllables falling smoothly from his mouth. One of the guys raised a fist, and then security closed in, whisking Justin away and pushing the guys with their Amorphis teeshirts and combat boots back and out of the way.

"What did he say?" JC asked Justin when they were in the car again. I didn't know you spoke German, he wanted to add, but there were so many things he didn't know about Justin that he didn't dare.

"Nothing new," Justin said sourly.

"Called us fags again, then," Chris said and yawned loudly and stretched, his arms over his head.

They all got that. JC had no idea why Justin was suddenly letting it get to him. Especially since he really didn't seem to be that discriminating when it came to bed partners. When none of them seemed to be. "What did you say?"

"I told him his mother sure didn't think so when I fucked her last night," Justin said with a cocky grin, and they all laughed again, but now JC felt awkward and uneasy, as if they were all just pretending to have fun, covering the cracks with big smiles and dirty jokes.

The feeling stayed with him for most of the next week, like a scab he couldn't stop picking. There was no opportunity to sit down and think about it, or maybe even talk about it, because their lives were mostly put on hold for the shows flickering by at 24 frames a second, pop, pop, pop, with no time to breathe in between, and it didn't matter that Justin didn't seem to be talking to him anymore, or that he saw Joey leaving Lance's room one morning and felt an intense, cutting pang of envy.

He found himself watching Justin sometimes. He never caught him looking back.

***

Days off had to happen sooner or later. Free time was almost frightning now.

"Hitting town?" Chris asked.

"No," JC said, and no one looked surprised.

"Yeah," Justin said, and Chris held up a hand quickly.

"Oh no, oh no. Nope. No way."

"What?" and already he was scowling and straightening his back, ready for a fight, but Chris said,

"I told your mother that you probably needed some company tonight, dude," and Justin blanched and whispered,

"you fucking didn't--" but Chris nodded sharply and said,

"After last time, I fucking well did. I'm not saving your underage ass from any more pissed-off bouncers, kid."

"I'm not rotting away in the hotel with my goddamn mom, Chris."

Chris wasn't impressed. "Hey, JC's staying in, too."

There was a pause. Joey and Lance snickered. Justin's eyes flickered to JC and away. Then, dismissively, "How much fun is that?"

It hurt, just like it was meant to. JC bit the inside of his cheek and looked at the wall. Justin knew how to stick the needles in just deep enough.

Chris sighed and rolled his eyes and said, "Kid, face it. You're grounded."

"Fuck you, dad."

"If I was your dad, I'd belt your sorry ass, so be glad I'm not."


So Chris took Joey and Lance and disappeared somewhere, and JC went to his room. After twenty minutes, Mrs Harless called him and asked if he wanted to come down and play Scrabble. He went, and Justin was hunched up on the sofa next to his mother. He looked like the storm of the century and didn't acknowledge JC.

"Justin's being a little childish," Mrs. Harless said with a patient smile. "I think we'll just ignore him for now." Justin got up and walked into the bedroom. JC was surprised he didn't actually slam the door behind him.

"Okay," he said.

The German version of Scrabble was called Alfapet and had the letters in very odd proportions, plus a lot of the umlaut things, which were very distracting until they decided that the would count as A and would count as O.

"I'm glad you wanted to stay in tonight, JC," Mrs. Harless said and spelled 'RTICHOKE'. "I know it's hard for Justin to stay behind when everybody else can go out."

"Um," JC said. He could get 'CKE', but she'd call him on that as a brand name, and then he'd have to say that he meant the drug. He wasn't quite ready to do that.

"He's been so difficult lately. It's his age." She paused. "Are you having problems, honey?"

A cold finger of panic stabbed him somewhere in the lower back, until he realised that she was talking about the game. "Sort of," he said. Okay. CE.

"He just doesn't listen anymore. I feel like I'm talking to myself."

"Maybe he's--"

"It's great that you're such friends, though," she went on blithely, and JC had to put down the he'd been trying to roll over his knuckles, because his hand was suddenly unsteady. "I think you've really been there for Justin."

Now he had to put his hands in his lap, squeeze them between his thighs to stop them from trembling. He couldn't stop himself from blushing, though, so he stared furiously at the board, at every word, at every letter, all the little dots on the umlauts; at the box next to the board and the German text. He read it. And again.

"I was so worried about him," she went on, "what would happen to him here. Things are so different. There are so many ... temptations."

"Uhuh," JC mumbled. "Yeah."

"But you've always been responsible. I'm so happy about that. I think Chris may be a little... He and Joey. They can take care of themselves. And Lance is just such a steady boy, but Justin is..."

She trailed off and he had to look up, his face burning painfully hot.

"Justin thinks he's a lot older than he is," she said, and she was looking a little afraid, a little introspective. She wasn't really looking at JC. "He's doesn't let himself be a kid. He wants to do everything you older boys do. And I know how many temptations there are. All sorts of... There's the drinking, and the drugs. And. Women. Everywhere, the women. He's growing up so handsome. They want to. They're interested in him.

She was twisting a lock of her hair around a finger, and she had forgotten about the game. She was looking at the closed bedroom door now. JC didn't think he'd ever been this ashamed in his life. He pictured an abyss opening at his feet and flinging himself into it with gratitude.

The carpet remained whole, and Lynn Harless said, "Don't let him go astray, JC. I can't keep him with me forever." Her face was oddly distant, as if she wasn't as sorry about as she thought she should be. Justin has her eyes, he thought.

His lips were so numb the words slurred together. "I will, ma'am."

Go away, go away, go to bed, go away, he thought, but she just picked at her letters and sighed. "I'm going all melodrama mom on you, honey. I just get so worried."

"I understand," he said. He started picking at his letters, too. His hands trembled, but he was breathing evenly and maybe she'd just let him leave now.

"Are you doing okay, JC?" she asked suddenly, and he jerked and spread little white squares all over the coffee table and the carpet.

"Yeah, I'm cool." Five more minutes of her pale, sad eyes staring at him and he'd break down and just blurt something out. Something stupid.

"You're looking a little worn-out. Maybe you should go to bed early."

"No, I'm fine. Um. Just a little hot." He wanted to go to bed. He was getting a headache, and his eyes felt itchy and dry. But somehow, he couldn't make the decision to just let things slide.

Shit. It was time to face something, and he realised he wasn't ready to leave because he wanted to go into Justin's bedroom and see if he could get Justin to talk. Or not talk. Or to just see him and make sure he wasn't angry at JC specifically. Or something else, and he couldn't be thinking this while Justin's mother was looking at him with too-bright eyes.

"Well," she said, "maybe Justin's sulked enough and you two can watch a video. I think I'll head off to bed myself."

"Okay," he said. She got up and came around the table. He stumbled to his feet and accepted her arms and her lips on his cheek, and didn't think about Justin's arms and Justin's lips until she had let him go.

"Goodnight, JC," she said.

"Goodnight, Mrs Harless."

She knocked on the bedroom door on her way, knocked a couple of times, sharp, matter-of-fact mommy-in-the-morning raps, and said, "Justin? I'm going to bed now." There was no answer, but she said "goodnight" and left.

***

JC stood in the middle of the room, suddenly at a loss. He'd been wishing so fervently for her to leave that he'd forgotten to think about what he was going to do once she did.

He sat down on the sofa again and turned on the TV. Surfed around for a while. Two channels had porn. He recognised one of the films, and realised that he'd been in Europe for so long now that he was seeing reruns of the Saturday night porn.

He watched blankly for a while. Porn was porn, after all, even if he'd seen it before. The girls writhed slowly and panted at the camera. The ugly old guy stuck his tongue up their asses. JC wondered a little about rimming, about who did that sort of thing and whether he'd want to do it one day.

He watched the fucking and then some more fucking, and suddenly Justin was standing next to him, sleep-mussed and half-awake. JC's heart stopped to make a quick somersault before resuming normal service again.

"what's the time?" Justin asked sleepily and sat down next to him. He was wearing a pair of loose sweats and an old Metallica teeshirt with the sleeves ripped off. He had a sleep-wrinkle running down his cheek.

JC looked back to the screen. The jerkily moving bodies looked about as attractive as a dangling row of pig carcasses. Justin moved a little, and JC remembered to look at his watch. "Quarter to midnight," he said without looking up.

"Fuck, couldn't sleep. What are you watching?"

"Uh. Buttman 5. It's the same one we watched in Amsterdam, I think."

Justin folded his legs up and leaned back. JC kept his eyes on the screen.

They sat in sleepy silence for ten minutes. Justin shifted and yawned, and then he was leaning on JC, and soon his head was drooping against JC's shoulder. Next, he simply dribbled down and ended up with his head heavy in JC's lap. His breathing evened out and it was just JC again with the porn reruns. And Justin's face pressed against his thigh.

His foot started itching, but he didn't want to disturb Justin. To wake him up. He didn't know what to do with his hands - his arms seemed too long and awkward. He stretched them out on the back of the sofa. He changed his mind and crossed them in front of him. His lap was burning hot under Justin, and the skin on his arms was goose-pimpling up and felt like it wanted to slink off his flesh and go hide somewhere.

Justin snuffled and moved a little, and a new spot on JC's leg started burning. He watched Justin sleep for a while, tuning out the annoying panting-and-muzak sleaze soundtrack and listened to his own breathing and Justin's. He noticed that Justin hummed a little under his breath from time to time, and that he had washed his hair and the bleach-white curls looked soft and springy. They felt even softer when he finally gave in and touched them carefully.

Everyone was always touching Justin's hair. Fans whenever they got the chance, his mother, Chris and Joey; even Lou would grin broadly and ruffle the tight curls when he came to see them. Justin bore all this with the stoic patience of someone who'd always had cute hair.

JC slowly wound a curl around his finger and let it spring back. Stroking Justin's head was a little like petting a poodle. Only not.

Justin shuddered under his hands, and JC pulled them back, but Justin was already awake, rolling his neck, sitting up and blinking owlishly.

A drowsy "mm-hmm?" and he leaned against JC again, heavy and warm and sleep-languid. "I had a dream," he mumbled against JC's shirt.

"What?"

"I can't remember. I think it was about the sea. Swimming. Or diving, or maybe I was ... I was drowning."

"It was a nightmare?"

He felt Justin's face move into a smile, the hot gust of a short chuckle. "no, no. 's all good. It felt good. It was like ... flying."

JC tried to imagine feeling good about dying and couldn't. A cold shiver danced up and down his spine. He slipped an arm around Justin's shoulders and pretended that this was just what they always did. And it was, and it wasn't, and Justin pressed closer, and he smelled sleepy and a little dusty from the sofa, and JC could feel his smile still there, now against the shivering, sensitive skin of his throat.

"hmmm... I think--" Justin whispered and then he stretched a little and trailed his mouth up over JC's jaw and chin and then his mouth, just a quick, soft, almost timid touch.

JC opened his mouth and his hand found a place it liked, cupping the back of Justin's head, pulling him in, back, lips again, tongue there, slowly, and it wasn't like before, there was no anger here now, just tired, punch-drunk mouths, tongues, eyes fluttering closed, Justin's eyelashes moving in tiny, feathery tickles against JC's cheek. He leaned back and Justin leaned heavily against him, arms creeping around him, just holding, not aggressively, just holding, keeping him still, and he wanted to hold Justin still, and they just slipped together, fit together, locked together with the wet slide of lips and tongue.

And he couldn't think further than Justin's hands on his shoulders and neck, and Justin's mouth on his and Justin's chest and legs pressing against his. And JC remembered his last girlfriend before they had left for Europe, her soft, small body under his, and Justin was just as softly pliable right now; nothing hard and resisting about him now.

They slid down together, down along the couch and JC was again pinned under Justin's bulk, and he didn't feel like fighting now, not at all, he just wanted to lie right here and feel this, feel Justin's hands creeping under his shirt, feathering over his skin.

He had thought this couch would be very uncomfortable to make out on - because that's what they were doing. Just making out, a couple of kids at home in front of the TV. The TV was still on. From the corner of his eyes he saw bare skin moving in hungry, eager thrusts, and on the couch they had their clothes on and neither seemed to want to do anything about that, both happy to just grope under shirts and stroke cloth-covered muscle and bone.

Justin mumbled something into his mouth, unintelligible syllables that tasted sweet and felt sweeter, and he answered, not sure what he was saying, maybe Justin's name over and over, maybe little terms of endearment he'd never dare say out loud, but mostly just breaths, warm breaths, small whimpers, breaths.

He was hard and aching, but it was more of an afterthought; he was too happy just being right where he was, in this kiss that stayed a kiss, to do anything about it. It'll happen, it'll happen in time, he thought, one coherent thought at least, good to know his brain still could produce those in this hazy, shivery dream of things that weren't meant to be, or at least not meant to be remembered.

But Justin was stretching out on top of him now, and he straightened his own legs and slid along the smooth, flowery chintz of the couch, made space for Justin between his legs, let him settle in, and felt him shimmy into place, felt him push his hips down insistently. It created friction, delicious friction, just perfect to arch his back into, lift his hips into, answer with more of the same.

"hmmmm, yeah..." Justin sighed and moved his face a little, and his mouth slipped along a wet trail to JC's jaw, traced the sore spots where the fingerprint bruises had showed up as soot smudges on his skin this morning and darker still when he'd studied them in the dressing room mirror.

The small, contained ache of the bruises brought back a twinge of - what? - fear, maybe, or regret, but not strong enough to lure him out of this slow Technicolor dream. He gasped when Justin put a little pressure on the center of the soreness, but his hips were moving against Justin's in their own lazy rhythm, grinding and finding points of pressure and places to rub against and it felt dizzily good, deliriously good, and he held Justin's shoulders a little harder still, kneaded and dug his fingers into the muscle.

Justin's hands had traveled down, and there was something new to rub against; clever fingers and the steady pressure of a palm, and JC pulled in a breath that sounded harsh and wheezing from the inside, and rocked his hips. Justin's mouth had moved again, rested on his collarbone, light nips and the curls tickling his chin, and down still, nibbles on his chest and his nipple through his shirt, definitely moving downwards, and Justin was too calm and determined, and it reminded JC of something, of how Justin had distanced himself from the action before, been the cause but not a participant, and he grabbed his shoulder a little tighter and pulled him back up and whispered, "Justin, wait--"

He froze, and they must both have opened their eyes at the same time, because Justin looked just as surprised-scared-surprised-again as JC felt.

"Justin, let me..." he mumbled, and he didn't think he'd blush in a situation like this, in the heat of the moment, so to speak, but he did.

Justin pulled back a little, got his knees under him, pulled back more. "What?" he said and his voice was defensive and flat.

"Let me," JC repeated, because it was all he could say, all he could articulate right now. He pushed himself up, swung his legs off the couch, slid to his knees on the soft carpet. "Justin..."

Justin uncurled his legs, sat straight and stiff on the couch. Maybe the way he strummed with tension should have made JC less nervous, but it didn't work that way. He was trembly and hesitant, too, but this wasn't the time to let old fears and old memories take over. He stroked the tightly knotted muscles of Justin's thighs, rubbed lightly up over the curve of hip, over the sharp jut of hip bone, and down again. At last Justin let go of his inheld breath and leaned back and JC dared take his hands new places.

He bent down and rested his face on hard-soft-hardness and rubbed his mouth over concealing fabric, let his neck and knees and hands and mouth get used to the position and tried very hard not to think about the past. The past had no place here, he didn't think it had; what place could a hazy, drunken memory of a strong, ruthless hand in his hair and another on his wrist have to do with the willing, conscious, voluntary decision to end up on the floor like this? His knees weren't scraped and hurting on rough, badly-patched asphalt, and he wasn't freezing cold and rain-wet. And there was no smell of stale smoke and garbage, just the light, sweet scent of sleepy, turned-on Justin and the warmth of the hotel room and the soft carpet under his knees.

Justin's hands lay next to his thighs, curled in loose fists, and he knew that Justin wouldn't pull his hair or ears or hold him down and use him like another hole to fuck. Not tonight, and that was enough to calm the last nerves.

Justin still wasn't completely relaxed, but he lifted his hips obediently when JC pulled down his sweatpants. He wasn't wearing any underwear, and there was nothing more hindering JC from opening his mouth and getting that first taste.

Sharp and salt and a touch of sweetness and musk, and it was fresher and cleaner than he remembered. Of course, this wasn't someone who'd walked around in tight leather pants all day and night, and there was nothing unpleasant about this.

The sound of Justin breathing faster, in short gasps and hisses, muted chatter of some post-porn talk show on the TV, the sound of his own mouth sliding over wet skin, and he concentrated on breathing evenly, and he didn't remember this, that it felt good, that it wasn't just the danger and the thrill of breaking rules that made it exciting. Also the size, the heft of it, the taste and texture, his lips stretching and the way he let it fill his mouth just up to the edge where the gag reflex threatened, and then eased back and pushed down again, teasing the edge, using lips and tongue and teeth and hand. His other hand crept downwards without thinking, down to cup himself and give him something to feel, to build a rhythm against, a steady counterpoint to the rhythm of his mouth on Justin, and the restrained rocking of Justin's hips.

Justin's rhythm was breaking up already, becoming ragged and fluttery. JC glanced up, and Justin's face was tight, his eyes screwed shut. That was a thrill, too, a vulnerable face from Justin: the way his forehead scrunched up and he chewed on his lower lip compulsively, and his fists still resting by his sides, clenched white-knuckled.

He smoothed his hand over the damp crease of Justin's groin, and felt the pulse drum wildly there, the same pulse he could feel on his tongue, and Justin shuddered and groaned throatily and his hands landed in JC's hair, not clutching, but with the quiet threat of strength, and JC felt an eager spike of excitement, and then Justin jerked and cried out and came.

He fell back a little, swallowed, swallowed, swallowed again, coughed a little. Licked his lips. Justin lay back, breathing heavily, eyes half shut. His lower lip was swollen and red.

Then he took a deep, harsh breath and opened his eyes and met JC's. He blinked slowly. Blinked again and then moved suddenly, fluidly, and pulled JC up and kissed him deeply and almost desperately. He pulled him up even higher, let his mouth go, pushed him up, fumbled with his fly, hasty fingers. JC got his legs to work and stood, swaying and helpless as Justin yanked his pants down and dove in without a second's hesitation. He had to clap his hand over his own mouth to stop a cry when he felt wet, elastic heat slide over him deeper and deeper, and Justin could just keep going without gagging or apparently breathing, just let him in, held him in, his hands roughly gripping the wings of JC's hipbones.

Pressure, light scrape of teeth, quick, merciless rhythm, Justin's breath fanning sweaty skin, and it was building already, approaching the brink and falling over, free-falling and landing hard.

His knees buckled and he was back down on the floor, and Justin was wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, slowly and deliberately.

Post-orgasmic bliss gave way to post-bliss exhaustion, and if he didn't get horizontal right now, he'd just keel over right here and fall asleep half-naked, so he hoisted up his pants and crawled back onto the couch, waited the two arm-trembling seconds it took for Justin to get his sweats tugged up over his hips and stretch out on the couch. JC collapsed on top of him, settled into the crook of Justin's arm, crashing already but having time for one last worry about the morning tomorrow, but it was only vaguely, distantly important right now, and Justin was hot and sweaty and smelled of sex now, instead of sleep and dust.

***

At least he didn't freak out this time. He knew where he was immediately. There was no question about it. He was stuck between the back of the couch and Justin, squeezed in and confined, and his neck felt like it had been stuck at this angle for hours, and it didn't matter. He felt almost serene.

Of course, now that he was awake, he couldn't stay like this. The couch wasn't made for sleeping on, especially not for two people. His neck was killing him, and his nose was itching. Justin had him pinned good and well, arms and legs and everything.

"Justin," he said softly. "Justin, wake up." He squirmed and tried to free his arm. Justin was heavy and hot and damp, like a large dog, one of those Newfoundland ones, that crawled into your bed and wanted to sleep under the cover, and then wouldn't move.

He felt it when Justin woke up, because he went from languid and pliant to pillar of salt. And then he pushed away, backed off, almost fell off the couch.

"Hey," JC said, struggling up from the dip in the seat he was stuck in, grabbed Justin's arm. "hey."

Justin looked pale and bleary, unrested. He blinked, pulled a hand over his face.

"Good morning," JC said. He still felt the warm, fluttery remains of his good mood, the dizzying realisation that he didn't mind waking up like that, after all. That he wanted to lie pinned down under Justin again.

"What?" Justin said. His voice sounded rusty and tired. JC wanted to hug him. Figured there was nothing stopping him, and did. Justin stiffened even more and finally just tore loose.

"Don't... just don't," he said. JC tried to kick his own brain, figure this out. Did he miss a memo again? Justin looked at the floor. "Look. I'll-- we can fuck and all. You can fuck me if you want, but don't be all. Don't be like that."

"Like what?" JC sputters, mystified but feeling dread rise black from somewhere in his chest, spreading. "Be like what?"

and Justin narrows his eyes and chews on his lip and mutters, "I'm not your little boyfriend, okay, I'm not like your boys, or whate--"

"There-- what? I don't have any boys, what are you talking about?" and he felt his voice rising, getting louder, and he hated it, hated getting angry when he should be calm and constructive and not open his stupid trap and say things like "I don't fuck people off the street," in a voice that sounded weird and hollow to him, and it was a nothing but a lie when you got down to details, but he hadn't made a fucking habit out of it, he wasn't the one acting completely psycho.

"Maybe you should," Justin said, looking away, out the window, and he seemed so distant now he might as well have been circling the Earth in orbit, "so you'd know what the fuck you're doing."

That was a bucket of cold water. It was so cold that JC lost control of his mouth and blurted out, "I'm not some-- I'm not one of your hookers, Justin, you're not paying me," even though he knew it was the worst thing he could have said even before the last words were out.

And then Justin was up on his feet, stalking around the room, into the bedroom, out again, looking for something. His clothes, he was getting dressed without saying a word, pulling on whatever he found, and when he was done, had his jacket on, he pulled out his wallet and dropped 200 DM on the coffee table. And left.

JC stared at the money. His eyes burned suspiciously, but it was probably just because the morning light was white and unforgiving, and he hadn't slept that much. And his neck hurt like hell now, all cramped up.

The TV was still on. It was showing some behind-the-scenes shit about Executive Decision. Steven Seagal was saying something about the stunts. JC might have been interested some other day, but the money on the table stared its dumb accusation at him.

World class fuckup. Yeah.

And suddenly, the fact that it was German money there on the table, that the bills were blue and not green, made it all worse. He was starting to hate Germany. There was nowhere to hide here, just town after town, show after show, hotel after hotel, and they were doing it, they were making it, but every little argument became life-threatening because there was nowhere else to go and no one to turn to who wasn't biased or involved or affected.


He took the money and put it in Justin's bag before he left. No point handing the cash around to the personnel just because Justin had to prove a point.

It was early, just seven thirty, and he went down to get breakfast. He was pretty sure no one he needed to talk to or in any way acknowledge would be there, since today was a day off.

That would be the deal on your average day off, but since this one had started off so well, there seemed to be no stopping it. They were all there, Chris, Joey and Lance.

"Hey, man," Chris said, "where's Justin?" and goddamnit, were they supposed to be joined at the hip now?

"I don't know," JC muttered and stared at his coffee. "What are you guys doing up already?"

Lance chuckled and quirked an eyebrow. "It's not up already, dude, it's still up."

"We had a ... night," Chris said. "Wild!"

"I'm not even tired," Joey said, thoughtfully. "I could go out again."

"No, man, really. Yeah," Chris said, and it went on in that vein for a while. JC drank his coffee, and figured they'd forgotten about him.

"So did you get any last night?" Joey asked him just when he was about to exit stage left, feeling moderately revived by the caffeine, and less like he was about to throw up or cry or both. Of course, that went to hell with that comment, and he had to abort mission on the actual standing up, because his heart raced and his stomach churned, and when did he get this fucking pathetic?

He must have been blushing, because his face was hot and dry and they were all laughing.

"Left the kid upstairs to sleep it off?" Chris said, and of course there was an evil little eyebrow waggle to go with that, and the laughter just went on. JC started looking around for flowerpots large enough to puke into.

"You did?" Joey said. "Really? Great!"

"No, but--" JC started, but Chris interrupted him.

"Knew you'd come through, man."

"But where is he?" Lance said, sipping his latte, swallowing the last bit of his sandwich. He looked disgustingly fresh and mellow for someone who'd just spent all night in a loud, smoky club, dancing like a fool.

"I don't know," JC said miserably. He was staring at the door, desperately wishing he was on the other side if it, anywhere but here. He'd rather be having root canal done. Getting a fucking tattoo. Acupuncture. His dick pierced. Being hung, drawn and quartered. Anything.

"What do you mean, you don't know," Chris persisted. He was eating sausages, for crying out loud. And scrambled eggs. JC's stomach shivered and tried to hide.

"I don't know, I don't know, he just left," he blurted out, hating them all. He entertained a brief fantasy involving a pump action shotgun, and immediately felt horrible. They were who they were. If this was about anyone else, he'd be doing just what they were doing.

"He left?" Chris said, surprised grin all over his face. "Dude, what did you do? How the hell do you get Justin to, like, repeatedly turn down sex? I didn't know that was possible."

If he eats another sausage, I'm gonna puke, JC thought with crystal clarity, and then Chris did, still grinning, and JC got up and half-ran, half-stumbled out the door.

As soon as he was outside in the lobby, the nausea settled. He leaned against the wall, smiled weakly at the receptionist, just breathed. He felt clammy and exhausted and ready to fold into bed and slip into a coma.

He had counted to seven slow breaths when Joey came after him.

"Hey," Joey said, "are you okay?"

"I'm fine," JC said. Fine, fine, fine, just fucking dandy, that's me. A-OK.

"Dude, did Justin-- How bad was it?" There was no trace of mockery in Joey's voice. He sounded worried. He looked worried. Chances were he was worried. That he wouldn't laugh. JC chewed on an already worn-down nail and gathered strength.

"Um, bad," he said carefully. "Take the two hundred Deutsch marks he gave me and go from there."

"Oh, Jesus," Joey said, and only waited a beat before giving JC a kidney-crunching bear hug. JC wilted against him and screwed his eyes shut. He always got misty when someone was spontaneously nice to him like this.

"The little bastard," Joey said fiercely when he let JC go. JC sagged against the wall. The receptionist was now smirking at them, and he had to clench his hands into tight fists to keep them from flipping the guy off. "I should kick his ass from here to fucking Munich."

"But he's--" Um, yeah. What was up with Justin, really? JC felt an urge to defend him, because he was pretty sure he hadn't imagined the flashes of fear and confusion, but he still hadn't got the faintest clue what was wrong. He just kept catching the fallout. "He's got a lot of ... issues, I guess."

"No shit," Joey said. He still looked a little like he was about to run out to find Justin and beat the crap out of him. Then he stilled and narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "You're not beating yourself up over this, are you? You can be a little... Um, it's not on you that he's a fucked up brat, C."

"Right, um." He felt tired. He was tired and weak and maybe sick. "I think I'll just, dunno. Go to bed. Sleep all day. I'm not feeling too hot."

"Yeah, I can tell, man. Go to bed, fuggedaboutit."

He found a tremulous smile for Joey, good old Joe, and only remembered when he was halfway to the elevator: "Oh. Oh, Joe?"

"What?"

"Do you know where he'd go? He was pretty pissed off, and he kinda... I don't want to-- He was so angry."

"I'll go look, okay. He's pretty predictable. Don't worry, I'm on the motherfucker."

"Don't tell them," JC added quickly. Not that he thought Joey would. Joey was nothing if not dependable.

"'Course not," and he made a zipping motion over his mouth and smiled reassuringly. It was easier to smile back now. Joey was on the motherfucker. Yeah.

***

He did sleep, nervously, waking every other hour. He didn't feel like eating much, but he ordered room service around three, ate a measly third of the fries and went back to bed.

You're moping, he told himself when he couldn't sleep and still lay in bed. This would be a great time to work on a song. Something bittersweet.

Unfortunately, 'sweet' was not the first emotion that came to mind, and he spent way too much time trying to come up with a viable rhyme for 'shotgun'. He thought about hitting Justin over and over in the face until there was nothing left. He felt sick again.

Goddamn, he couldn't even maintain a proper revenge fantasy. He felt bad. He wanted to apologise. He wanted to get on with life. He wanted...

The phone rang. He contemplated just leaving it, but his head felt too big and sleep-achey, and the sharp ringing was hitting ice picks into his ears.

It was Joey. He sounded out of breath. Someone was yelling in the background. "Okay, I found him, I found him, but he isn't too happy I did."

JC recognised Justin's voice screaming, "YOU FUCK!" somewhere close by.

"Um," Joey said. "JC? Are you there?"

"We have a show tomorrow," JC said numbly.

"I know, fuck, I know. Look, I'm gonna have to-- Shut UP, Justin! Okay. Um. I'm getting him back to the hotel, but I think we'll have to get Chris."

"I can come," JC said.

"SUCKER!" Justin yelled and laughed a horrible, broken laugh.

"Um, I don't. I really don't think you should, JC," Joey said quietly. "I just wanted to tell you that. Um. That I found him."

"Okay," and he had to hang up because he could still hear Justin laughing.


Okay. This was not the end of the world. Justin was a little rude, and now he was a little high, but Joey was gonna fix it. It was gonna be fine.

He went back to bed and didn't wake up until Chris started yelling behind his door.

He stumbled to open it, and Chris was inside and buzzing around like a frazzled wasp.

"What the fuck did you do to him? He's a fucking mess!"

"Chris? What, I didn--"

"He got into a fight with Joey. Joey!" Chris stopped long enough to jab a finger into JC's chest. "Joey doesn't fight, but he had to suckerpunch Justin just to get him to back off, and all we asked you was to suck his dick or something to get him to calm down, and--"

"Chris--"

"Sorry, man, but you just-- Fuck." Chris finally flopped down on the couch and leaned his head in his hands, and JC noticed that he was pale under the stubble, and his face looked pinched and tired and scared. "It's just that he seems to have some kind of beef with you. He keeps cussing you out. I don't know. What the hell happened?"

"I don't know," JC said and sat down next to him. "I thought it was okay. And then it ... wasn't. At all."

"No fucking shit, man." Chris shook his head violently, which made him look like a small dog shaking water from its fur. "Fuck. He's just crazy. I don't know, man. I don't know. Lance wasn't like this. I'm starting to think maybe--"

"I'm gonna go talk to him," JC said before he knew he was even going to open his mouth. Chris was right, maybe. He'd done something. Something wrong, something he didn't even know was wrong.

"What, to Lance?"

JC didn't even dignify that with an answer. He just pulled on a sweater and found his shoes and left.


It was starting to feel like he'd walked down this hall before. He bumped into Mrs. Harless in front of the elevators. She was carrying boutique bags, and JC had time to wonder where the hell she found boutiques in a shithole town like this. On the other hand, her son had found drugs, so maybe they just had good noses for finding merchandise.

"Oh, JC, good afternoon," she chirped. "I haven't seen any of you boys today. Have you been busy?"

"Yes, ma'am," he said, concentrating furiously on a spot on the wall just above her left shoulder. "I'm sorry, I'm sort of--"

"Oh, don't let me keep you, sweetheart. If you see Justin, tell him I'll be by later. I'm going for coffee with Diane."

"I will, ma'am," and there was the elevator, thank god, and he could escape. He wondered how blind she had to be to think she could trust him.

That nasty feeling of dj vu was growing again, crawling up his back and nesting in the back of his head. It almost hurt. He had to squint, because the light was too sharp in the elevator. Thankfully, it was darker in the hall on the sixth floor. He felt like he was walking on autopilot. How did he even remember where Justin's room was? He'd been there once. His feet picked the corners to turn and there was Lance and Joey again, and Lance was stroking Joey's face, and Joey had his hands on Lance's hips.

"It's not so bad, baby," he was mumbling, and Lance rumbled disapprovingly and said,

"You don't bruise easily. He really whacked you a good one," and they kissed shamelessly there in the empty but exposed hotel corridor, and JC cleared his throat but they didn't stop.

"Um." They finally pulled apart.

"JC," Joey said. He was stroking Lance's arm slowly, dreamily, almost like he wasn't aware that he was doing it. Lance smiled morosely at JC the way only he could, all seawater clear, big eyes and those delicate eyebrows arching into his smooth forehead. JC wondered how it happened that Joey got quiet little Lance with his quiet little smiles and quiet little temper tantrums, when JC somehow got saddled with the American Werewolf in Germany.

He thought that would be funny to think, but it wasn't. Whatever Lance had got up to back before Joey had started stroking his arms like that and calling him baby and looking at him like he was the English Crown Jewels, it wasn't anything like what Justin was doing.

"Are you okay, Joey?" he asked. Joey tore his eyes off Lance's face. His jaw might have looked a little swollen, but JC wasn't sure.

"Yeah, I'm fine. It takes a little more than a swing from some piece of Tennessee jailbait to take a Fatone down for the count."

"Yeah," JC said. That was probably true. But Justin had a wicked aim and he wouldn't have been holding back. "Maybe I just have a glass jaw," he said. "But. How is-- um. Is he okay?"

"I guess. He was a little, uh, upset. I don't know, I think he did some coke earlier or something, I don't know. No idea how he found it."

"Or how he could afford it," Lance said suddenly. "I remember I couldn't, like. It's not cheap here."

JC was too tired to flinch at that, but he felt a little shiver of fear zip through him. Lance and coke, Justin and coke, it was fucking Out There TV, all of this. Next, Chris would be shooting up heroin and Joey'd be dealing ecstasy to underage fans.

JC had done coke, a lot of it, but it was such a long time ago, back in LA when he was stupid as fuck and just barely seventeen--

Yeah. Stupid as fuck. He walked past Joey and Lance and knocked on Justin's door.

"What do you want?" Justin said through the door.

"It's JC," JC said, knocking again. His headache was growing into a roar. He'd have to get checked for migraine once this rollercoaster settled down some.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah," Justin muttered and opened the door. He poked his head out, spotted Joey behind JC and flipped him off. "Fuck you, too," he said to drive home the point.

"Shut up, Justin," Joey said, and Lance glared at Justin with slitted eyes like a cat and showed teeth.

"Justin," JC said, and that was as far as he'd thought. Complete, echoing emptiness answered him when he riffled through his brain for good openings. And he was so fucking tired, and his head was killing him, and Justin looked like he was wired for a fight again.

"J-C," Justin said, sing-song, and he slammed the door shut behind JC and paced the room like a caged lion, still too much drug-fueled energy left, no outlet, and JC knew that this was not the time to have deep and meaningful conversations, but he couldn't just leave now that he'd got this far. "What are you doing here, JC?"

"I just wanted to--"

"What? Wanna fuck again? Wanna hit me in the gut like Joey? Wanna hit me 'til I scream and bleed and puke all over the floor?" Justin's voice was loud and cracked on 'bleed', and JC thought he'd be sore and strained tomorrow, and they had to sound good, and there was no way Justin was going to be on his best, no way.

"What's wrong with you?" JC said, and it was louder than he intended. His head throbbed white-hot. "You're just determined to fuck everything up--" and he swallowed that down before it could reach full force, before he started yelling out his own frustration. Be constructive, he told himself. Constructive. Catalogue your emotions. I'm worried about Justin not being in shape for the show tomorrow. I'm angry that he's treating me like either a whore or a punching bag. I'm sad that things have come to this, and I can never remember the fourth one.

That didn't help much.

"If everyone would just stop trying to run my fucking life for me," Justin snarled, running a hand frantically through his hair until the curls twisted madly every which way on his head. He wasn't looking at JC, just pacing and chewing on his lip, his eyes flickering between floor, ceiling, walls quickly and aimlessly.

Constructive. Yeah. What came out was: "If you maybe did a better job living it, everyone would lay the fuck off." Deep breath, and it hurt. His midsection was clenched tighter than his fists. Justin had stopped in the middle of the room, and now he was looking at JC, staring wildly, his head lowered and his mouth twisted. He looked like murder, and JC took an involuntary step backwards and raised his hands, palms outwards. "Justin..."

"Fucking bitch," and it was getting louder, louder with every word, "you stupid fucking moron, you don't know the first thing about my life, you have no idea--"

And fuck constructive, fuck reasonable, fuck everything but yelling right back, and it didn't matter what you said or how loud you shouted it. "About what? The drugs? Been there done that, got bored. The hookers? Guess I'm one of them now, right, golden boy?" His own voice sliced crystal sharp pain through his head, and then Justin was right in his face with fists and bared teeth and more words that just didn't register, and he was suddenly so achingly tired, all through the adrenaline haze, too tired to fight back or even defend himself.

He sagged in Justin's unforgiving grip and said, softly now, "They don't care about you, they aren't even thinking about you--" and Justin must have known what he meant even through the anger and the fading coke high, because he shook JC with bone-rattling force and screamed, ear-piercingly loud,

"That's why I fucking do it, asshole! That's what I want! Everybody loves me! I don't have that much fucking love to give back!" and he hit JC twice in the face, awkward slaps, not the murderous closed-fisted punches JC had been expecting. They still stung, and he toppled backwards, crying out, and Justin toppled with him and they went down together in a whirr and tangle of arms and legs. Justin's forehead connected soundly with JC's nose, and there was the real juice, pain so clear that he could see it as a dazzling blue line in the air. And then a black line, and black roses, petals unfolding like big, flapping sheets in front of his eyes, and the carpet under his back disappeared, and the boy on top of him disappeared, and it was just JC floating in a vat of pleasantly warm goo, just floating there for a while, and the smell of flowers and spring, and nothing to worry about.

Of course, the smell turned out to be Febreze when he floated back to consciousness, and he hadn't passed out completely, but he'd been stunned for long enough to have missed the latest, which was Justin collapsing on top of him, boneless like a six-foot ragdoll, and it was also Justin crying; harsh, raspy sobs that shook his body violently.

"Oh god," Justin mumbled between sobs, "oh god, oh god, I'm sorry, I'm sorry--" but it wasn't clear whether he was sorry about the coke or the hookers or hitting JC or hitting Joey or what, or maybe all of the above, but he sounded like he was ripping himself in two.

JC lay back against the thankfully soft carpet and tried to ignore his nose, which felt like it was twice its usual size and still growing, and stroked Justin's quivering back and tangled curls and felt the damp of Justin's tears seep through his sweater.

***

Fifteen minutes later, there was a knock on the door. Justin was calmer now, just a warm, limp weight anchoring JC to the floor.

"Justin?" JC said. "Justin, move. Someone--"

"Huh--?" and there was a second when Justin's arms tightened around him, chokingly tight, and then he was released and Justin was shuffling away, getting up. JC gotup, too, a little shivery and weak. At least the migraine headache seemed to have receded somewhat. Not that it was that much of an improvement, all in all, what with the substituting angry throb in his nose. He touched it gingerly and the fingertips came away bloody.

Justin looked at him and winced. "Fuck," he said, a little sheepisly, a lot contrite. "I'm sorry, man. I keep knocking you around."

"Yeah," JC said, because, well. Duh.

Justin sat down on the couch and JC went to open the door. It was Chris.

"Hey, you're still alive and kicking!" he said, looking pathetically relieved. He came in, treading uncharacteristically softly. "Wow, both of you. I was sure you'd killed each other already."

"No, we're okay," JC said.

"We're okay," Justin echoed glumly.

Chris shifted uneasily and frowned. "I thought-- well. It got quiet all of a sudden. I was almost afraid to knock, dude. And before, y'all were just yelling and we had to bribe the hotel guard, and let me tell you, those German guys are not easily persuaded." He was regaining his equilibrium now, the bounce returning to his step, the grin to his face, the sparkle to his eyes. Watching Chris find his center was always entertaining.

"Was it, um. That loud, huh?" JC said tentatively. He felt strange, cold without Justin's heat covering him. His collar was damp. Justin turned on the TV, put on MTV. They were playing some sort of gloomy, loud hard rock, aging, long-haired guys with tattoos snaking up and down their arms.

Chris was momentarily distracted, squinting at the TV with a disapproving moue. "Pshaw, fucking German MTV, man," he scoffed. "I swear, these people never left the eighties." Then he turned back to JC. "Whatever, 's long as they play our stuff, I guess. And yeah, it was that loud. Sent Lance down to play interference, distract the parental units while we, like, disposed of the bodies."

He lost interest in JC and went to sit down next to Justin on the couch. "Don't pull shit like that again, kiddo," he said, and Justin squirmed and muttered,

"What-ever, dad," but his eyes were still tear-bright.

"No, no, no, really. You can't fuck yourself up like that, cause you're my baby, baby," Chris said with a ludicrously straight face and reached out and pinched Justin's pale cheek.

"Cut it out, Chris," Justin said tersely and swatted away his hand.

"Baby," Chris said again. Justin giggled, a broken half-sob of a giggle, but one nevertheless.

"Freak," he muttered. JC wasn't sure, but he thought Justin might be humouring Chris. And Chris, Chris might just be trying to, to, lighten the mood? Ignore the mood? That was some feat of ignoring, what with Justin still jittery and trembling, with blown pupils that made his eyes huge and black like Chris' own. What with JC standing right here with a bleeding nose.

"Baby."

"Shut up."

"Baby."

"Chris, if you don't shut up, I'm gonna call you a--"

"Shutting up."

JC sometimes felt almost jealous of Chris, because he'd never been able to just be a kid with Justin like that. He always felt either too serious or too out-there goofy. Justin and Chris were the same age in Mars years. But JC bet Justin had never cried with his head pressed into Chris' collar until the tears soaked through the fabric down to the skin. They were laughing friends, like now. They had to have fun together to work. And now it seemed as if JC was Justin's crying friend. Whatever that meant.

"I know that band," Chris said, "Tot tot something."

"Die Toten Hosen," Justin said. He was scratching his elbows, both of them, with his arms crossed. Scratch scratch scratch. His knee bopped, not quite in beat with the music. "It means ... dead something. Lederhosen. Pants. Dead pants."

"Freaks."

"It's a cool name for a band, though."

"It is."

JC felt stupid, standing in the middle of the room. He went to the bathroom, and splashed cold water on his face. His nose didn't look as swollen as it felt. He had bags the size of his luggage under his eyes.

"Hey," he said to his reflection. "You look like shit warmed up and served on a Monday night."

His reflection stared back tiredly. He flipped it off.

When he got back to the living room, Chris and Justin sat quietly and stared at another video, some other German band, something that sounded vaguely like hiphop, only in German.

"This sucks," Justin said glumly.

"It does," Chris said. "Americans should patent hiphop to avoid shit like this."

"I'm gonna go, um," JC said, not sure what he wanted to do, but not really ready to sit down and join the rainy-day fun.

"Okay," Chris said distractedly without looking away from the TV.

"Are you coming back here?" Justin asked, twisting around, and JC thought he might be imagining the neediness in that.

"Yeah. I just have to..." and he trailed off and gestured at the room and the door and the world in general. They didn't see that, of course, because another video started and Justin twisted back and stared intently at the TV. This time it was real music, the Beastie Boys, and they bopped their heads and mumbled along with Sabotage. "I'm going," JC finally said, and left.

The corridors again, your typical hotel hallway. He passed another guest, an elderly lady who gave him a stern look when he overtook her and almost stumbled over his own feet trying to walk softly when he wanted to run or bounce off the walls or just fall down and curl up into a ball. He wasn't tired, but he didn't feel completely awake, either, and he just needed to do something, dance or scream or maybe work out for three hours.

Instead, he just went downstairs, to the bar. Lance sat at a table with his mother and Lynn Harless. They were playing cards.

"Hey, JC," Lance said. He raised an eyebrow and blinked his eyes meaningfully. JC shrugged and waved his hand. Comme ci, comme ca.

"Hey," he said neutrally.

"Oh," Mrs. Harless said, "I was going to go talk to Justin. Is he in his room?"

"He's watching TV with Chris," JC said. "In his room."

"I think I'll be going to bed, then," Mrs. Bass said. "Goodnight, boys."

JC got a coke from the bar and for a while, he and Lance sat quietly and stared at their drinks.

"How was he?" Lance asked when ten silent minutes had passed. He was looking a little ragged by now, and JC wondered if any of them had gotten any sleep at all.

"Angry," JC said, and they were quiet again. JC picked up the card and tried to remember the rules for any solitaire. He ended up cheating, and Lance looked at him with the corners of his mouth curling up just a little.

"Lance," JC said suddenly. He didn't think he had planned on speaking.

"What."

"Do you ever--" He shuffled the cards again and again. He liked the sound they made when he did it right. Flapflapflapflap. "Do you ever feel used?"

"Why?" and now Lance was smiling.

"With Joey. With. Everything. Do you ever feel like you're being taken ... advantage of?"

Lance chuckled softly and looked down, and JC thought he might be blushing just a little, because Lance had very fair skin, and there was a faint tinge of red on the top of his cheekbones now. But that might just be a trick of the light. "No. Not at all."

"But--"

"I'm pretty happy. I feel good, I've got it made." He lifted his eyes now, met JC's steadily. "But Justin's not, if that's what you're getting at. We're not the same. Whatever Chris seems to think."

Lance could be almost creepy sometimes. You could go for weeks without even noticing him. And then he just said things like that, and it was obvious that he noticed, even if you didn't. "I wasn't-- I was. But he seems to--"

"I think he thinks he has to prove something." Lance finished his drink. "I'm crashing. Are you gonna be okay?"

"Yeah." He was. He thought.

He sat where he was and drank his warm soda. When the waiter came over and asked him if he wanted anything from the bar, he asked for a gin and tonic. He wanted gin straight up, but that wasn't something you drank in a bar, even a skanky German hotel bar at ten pm.

***

He ended up scribbling notes on a napkin. It never failed to amaze him how the ideas always seemed to crowd his brain and whisper feverishly at him when no better writing material was available.

After a couple of gin and tonics, his nose stopped bothering him, and he was feeling a mellow, steady buzz. He felt good about the song, despite the fact that it was going straight into the Never Show Anyone, Ever folder. It could work with a sort of slow, bluesy sound. He thought he'd like to sing it some day. He didn't figure he ever would, though. It wasn't exactly an NSync song.

When he'd finally worked in that line about snow on the streets that should have been easy to fit in but somehow turned out not to be, he looked up and noticed that it was midnight. The bartender was giving him the evil eye.

He folded the small pile of napkins with their cover of his cramped handwriting, little arrows, underlinings, parentheses and crossed-out lines and tucked them into a pocket. He left his last, forgotten gin and tonic with its melting ice cubes and headed back upstairs.


He was already in his room, looking for his notebook to transcribe the lyrics and tentative melody when it occurred to him that it was late and he'd just lost himself again, and Justin had possibly hinted that he should have gone back to the sixth floor. But it was too late now, and Chris had been there, and Mrs. Harless on her way, and it seemed to JC that none of them had really noticed that he was around.

He noticed that he'd frozen in place to think about that. No wonder no one paid attention to him when he didn't even have a grip on himself.

He dug the wad of napkins from his pocket and looked at them for a while. A song about Justin. Drugs and sex and anger. It might even be profound. He'd have to make sure it was gender-neutral later. there's snow on the street, dirty grey under our feet. Hmm. Maybe he wouldn't even bother.

Maybe it would even be too much bother to write it down properly. It felt chaotic enough, his head felt chaotic enough, to just leave like it was, a jumbled mass of corrections and misspelled words.

The phone rang, and his heart lurched unpleasantly. Late-night phone calls shouldn't feel that dire and foreboding anymore, not after two years with the guys calling at every hour, but he still got that nasty pinch every time. He had an unbidden image of Justin still and blue-lipped on the floor, and almost didn't pick up.

It rang four times, and then he gave up and answered. On the other end, Justin sounded both pissy and relieved. "You're there!" he said.

JC felt better. Pissy Justin was infinitely better than dead Justin. "Where else would I be? It's past midnight."

"I've called like fifteen times. You weren't there, man," Justin said, getting louder. "You said you were coming back here."

What the hell? "I sat in the bar for a while."

"But you said--" Then he cut himself off, harshly, and started over, calmer. "I thought you were coming back here."

"It got late."

A pause that stretched out over several long, awkward seconds, then, softly, "I'm gonna come over. Okay?" and then a click and the sharp, hiccuping dialtone of the internal system.

Time to throw the notebook and the pile of crumpled napkins into a drawer and sit down on the bed, time to think, several times, what does he want from me? before Justin was at the door, short, sharp, nervous knocks, rap rap rap rap.

"Don't you-- why didn't you-- what are you doing?" Justin said quickly, quickly, and he sounded nervous and angry.

"I'm not doing anything," JC said, not sure what the deal was anymore, if he ever had been. He might have sounded slightly short in tone when he said, "I was going to bed, I thought you were hanging out with Chris."

"Chris was tired."

"Oh."

Justin still looked wired, hollow-eyed and tight-faced, the lines of his body tense and awkward. JC wanted to put distance between them, stay annoyed; also wanted to smooth out the jagged edges, stroke him, pat him like a gun-shy horse.

"I'm fucking blitzed," Justin said, but he didn't move. JC still didn't know what he wanted, but then Justin asked, "what do you want?"

"What?"

"You're not doing anything. You're not talking. What do you want?" and now he was approaching, and his movements lost the awkwardness, and gained fluidity and grace, and JC thought, uh-oh, not again, because in between appreciation and want, he didn't want it to go down like this again, because it was a road he'd been on before.

"Justin--" he said and thought about backing off, changed his mind, caught Justin and held him, tighter grip than strictly necessary, muttered, "you need to sleep, you're crashing," and didn't let him get closer than arm's length away.

"Do you wanna--" Justin started, his eyes maybe smouldering just a little, but there was something underneath that, something tired and scared.

"You can sleep here, if you want," JC said, loosening his grip a little.

"Okay." Finally he gave in, stopped trying to be so fucking seductive, just sagged a little and dropped the act. "I'm tired. I'm so fucking tired, man."


And later, when Justin's breaths came slow and regular and hot against the goosepimpled skin of JC's throat, JC found he wasn't that tired after all, and stayed awake for a long time, stroking Justin's hair and thinking about all the ways his wishes weren't coming true.

***

Any fears he might have had about waking up with Justin were wiped out by the sharp banging on the door in the morning, by Chris' voice yelling,

"JC! Up and at 'er! And where the hell is the kid? He in there?" and the realisation that it was 8.15 and they should have been ready half an hour ago.


There was no time for awkwardness or anything, really except quickly exchanged words ("shit, did I bring anything--" "don't think so." "okay, running now, later--"), a two-minute shower and then quick search for anything appropriate to wear (jeans and teeshirt; surely someone would have thought to bring something from wardrobe, surely), and everything back into overnight bag and away.

Lance raised an eyebrow when they piled into the bus, but nobody said anything, not until they were back out on the highway, and Andreas "you can call me 'sir'" Kster turned to them with his I Work For Big Poppa, Watch Me Wield His Authority face on, and said, "We do not appreciate this tardiness," in a tone that suggested that he knew they were screwing up simply to make his life harder.

"Sorry," they all mumbled, even Lance, who'd probably been down by the bus at eight am sharp.

"Sorry is not good enough, boys," Andreas muttered, but then he dropped it, because they really were late, and he still had to go through the itinerary in detail.


JC was surprised to notice that work was pretty much what it always had been. Maybe life did go on, no matter what. Interviews were occasionally interesting, mostly same old, same old, and Justin said the same kind of things as he always did, and made the same kind of jokes with Chris that JC still didn't get until afterwards. Photo shoots were hard work, performances were fun and gave him the same afterglow as they always had.

At night, it wasn't the same, because when they got back to the hotel, Justin followed him to his room and didn't leave. "I'm going to bed," JC said, and Justin stared intently at the wall and didn't move. "You can stay," JC said, finally, because it seemed to be what Justin wanted.

And it was the same the next morning, no time to talk or even react, and then at night, Justin was there again. JC thought he should say something about it, but couldn't think of what. He just wanted to sleep and think some other day. But there was always another day like the one before, and another night. It occurred to him that they really didn't have any lives. That shouldn't be news, but it felt like it.

One morning, Chris clapped him on the shoulder and said, "doing good there, C," and JC stopped chewing on his cud of soggy cereal and stared at him.

"What?" Remembered himself, swallowed painfully and repeated, "what? doing what?"

"With the kid. He's been good," and Chris was smiling knowingly, but JC felt a blush heat his cheeks, and he was shaking his head frantically.

"No, we're-- we're not--"

"He comes out of your room all mellow, dude," Chris said, winking. "You're working the Chasez magic."

"We're not. He just. We sleep."

"Get outta here," Chris said, half-amused, half-annoyed.

"We just..." but he didn't know how to explain it, because he hadn't been able to figure it out himself, and Justin would just curl up around him at night with an arm over his chest, and that was it, just bodies in rest, that was all.

Chris lifted an eyebrow and stared at him intently for way too long, until JC thought he was going to just spontaneously combust from the heat of his blush, because he would lie awake with Justin next to him, listening to him breathe and trying to fight off his own imagination. He'd written a thousand songs in his head, not one on paper.

"Whatever works, man," Chris said finally, and left with a little shrug. JC bent his head over his bowl and concentrated on the pulp of weetabix and milk.


When they were once again set loose with three whole days off and nothing to do, Justin said, "We'll just go dancing," and somehow JC ended up going with him. He thought he might have had some sort of good excuse. Like, maybe, then I can keep an eye at him. Possibly. And at first, they did dance. Just a quick drink, and beeline for the dancefloor, music a good mix of relentless drum n bass grooves, hysterical Europop and old disco tunes. Justin told him someone at their last show had recommended the club, because it was for everyone adventurous. It looked pretty standard to JC, but then he wasn't a great connoisseur of German club life. There were a lot of guys on the dance floor, though, but dancing was dancing, and for a while, they just let loose and JC didn't know why it felt so good to dance when that's what he did for a living, every day, but it was great. Justin stayed close, his shoulder nudging JC's from time to time.

And then JC went to the bathroom, and when he came back, Justin was nowhere to be found. There was just the dizzying throng of dancing bodies, the swirling lights, and the bone-deep thrum of the bass reverberating in his chest. Fuck, he thought. Fuck. Someone bumped into him, and he almost fell over. Someone else, a reed-thin boy with electric blue hair and a thick line of black around his eyes, caught him and laughed, and said something in German that might have been "fuck off" or "easy now" or "I think you have something in your teeth", for all JC could hear or understand.

He ended up sitting at the bar for half an hour, smiling through gritted teeth and nursing a second vodka tonic, before someone talked to him. He had time to think about how Justin would get picked up in three seconds flat. JC didn't get hit on much in bars. He liked to think it was because he looked intimidating, but he couldn't make himself buy that.

But now someone was talking to him. "I don't speak German," he said and turned around. It was a tall, built guy with a face that looked like something an angry, primeval god might chop out of a block of wood. He wasn't smiling.

"I said, I think you look like you need me," the guy said, his voice loud over a lull in the music. His accent wasn't German, as far as JC could hear. Swedish, maybe. He had large, big-knuckled hands. He grabbed JC's wrist. "You need me," he said again. JC blinked and tried to pull away, but the guy was almost-smiling now, and his hand was very big. He was probably thirty-five, at least, but the crow's feet around his pale eyes didn't make him look worn. He just looked like a viking with his dirty blonde hair and his hard face.

JC thought, maybe I do need you. He looked around. No Justin. Goddamn. They were playing Donna Summer now, she was feeling love. Good. Feel this. He got up. "Okay," he said, but the music had picked up, and he couldn't even hear himself. It didn't matter.

The music was painfully loud even in the empty hall behind the restrooms. The guy pressed him against the wall and felt him up roughly, just roughly enough. JC bucked helplessly against him, and when he leaned back against the wall, the guy said, "pretty American boy..." and his hands now grabbing JC's arms were hard and ungiving. JC gasped and closed his eyes when he moved a hand up to his throat and squeezed, just hard enough to hurt, enough to feel dangerous and fucked up and good when his hard leg pushed against JC.

He thought about the steely-eyed German in the alley, and it was the same now: hot as hell with a bitter aftertaste. Probably wrong. Probably a mistake. But still he moved his hips to get a better angle and panted harshly through the grip on his throat and didn't think about Justin until he heard his voice shout "Hey-- Hey! What the FUCK!" and when JC opened his eyes, he was there, close up, narrow-eyed and glaring.

"What?" the guy with the viking face said, not letting JC go. His thumb was digging into JC's upper arm, just between muscles, pinning some nerve so hard that the arm was starting to go numb. JC didn't fight it. "Go away, puppy dog--" and Justin was right up in his face, growling,

"Fuck off, he's not yours," and the large hands fell from JC's throat and shoulder, and it was bizarre, really, because the guy was, like, 6'4" and built like a lumberjack, and he was backing off slowly. Justin's eyes glittered dangerously. It occurred to JC that Justin might not need a baby sitter.

The guy finally just shrugged and left, and JC almost saw him think too much trouble. He turned to Justin to ask him what the hell that was about, but lost his train of thought, because Justin was still looking, hell, looking dangerous, wild-animal dangerous. JC shifted under his stare. He was still good to go, and the music throbbed insistently around him, like a hot, stifling blanket of sound, and Justin licked his lips and flashed a lightning-quick grin that was all even, white teeth and didn't make him look any less threatening.

"We should--" JC said, but what should they do? Leave, leave now and find ... some other place, and Justin was pressing against him, suddenly and just about a breath from violently, to say something in his ear, maybe

"he can't have you," or something like that, although that was ridiculously possessive and ... his voice was deeper than JC thought it should be, just a little deeper. "I won't--" but then he seemed to pull back and swallow the rest. A step back, and JC wondered if Justin just started listening to himself.

"Hey," he said. It wasn't easy to speak. Justin was still glowing with only half-idle threat, a potential for violence that JC probably should be used to by now. He'd be used to it, too, if it wasn't for the way the faux-arrogant jut of Justin's jaw made his face look older, but the pout made it younger, and the way the tension thrumming through his muscles was only noticeable when he had his hands on JC's body, because he could look completely relaxed and smoothly casual even when he was drawn tight like a bow.

Justin didn't move at all. JC rolled his shoulders and winced when his biceps complained. There were pinpoints of fading pain left along the muscle. Justin's face darkened a nuance when he noticed the wince, and JC said quickly, "we should go."

They walked out, and Justin stayed two steps behind him the whole way, as if he wanted to keep an eye out for more possible pick-ups to stave off, and JC had to stop himself from turning around every five seconds to look at his blank face and hooded eyes.

They caught a cab outside, back to the hotel. JC sat to attention, the tension in his body almost painful. He had to unclench his hands from tight fists twice. No one spoke, but there was a storm gathering in the quiet air between them.

***

He started having second thoughts even before he had the first ones. He thought we shouldn't even before he'd articulated we will in his head. Justin was next to him in the elevator up, his eyes dark and impossible to read, but JC could feel it in the air. That pressure that had been building. He was surprised that the lights weren't flickering, because he felt it as a tingling current around him.

That was the kind of thing you could imagine when you'd watched too many movies where they build the tension with soundtrack and clever editing. When Justin brushed against him on the way out into the hall on his floor, he thought he saw a spark fly. Ridiculous. Maybe Justin was thinking about food, or cars, or chicks or anything.

Justin stood outside the door and waited for JC to find his card key. His eyes were on JC, and if he was thinking about cars, JC wanted that car.

Inside, and it started feeling wrong. Hotel room again, always a new place. It was as if Justin could change with every town, be someone new, and who would he be next, when this one wore off? Justin was still glowering at him, and JC thought he might have made a quickly-aborted move to reach for him, but it wasn't obvious. JC thought about Justin's strong, talented fingers finding the sore spots on his arms and pushing the new bruises. He caught himself staring at Justin's hands, and when he looked up, Justin was staring at him with widening eyes. JC mumbled, "bathroom," and escaped. He leaned over the sink to avoid his own face in the mirror.

"Jesus," he muttered to the blameless porcelain. He straightened up and felt hands on his waist and then lips tongue teeth on his neck.

It wasn't a hard bite, just a nip behind his ear, but he saw Justin's face in the mirror now, next to an behind his own with the comically wide eyes, and his eyes weren't wide anymore, they were knowing.

"Shit," he said, because he needed to move his mouth. "Shit," his mirror image mouthed back at him, and Justin's hands on his waist tightened, and swung him around. He tried, he did: "Justin--" he said, but when Justin pulled him closer and kissed him, he stopped trying. Stopped wanting to.

Justin was pushing him back, painfully hard against the slick curve of the sink, and JC pushed back, ignored the ache in his back and reached for Justin, fought his way over Justin's tight, hard arms and got a grip on the short, nappy hair at the back of Justin's head, and the kiss that had started like any other kiss grew and mutated and went on until JC was woozy and weak-kneed, and--

--ended, abruptly, and Justin took a quick, shallow breath and said, "I'm hurting you."

"Wha--?" JC started, but then Justin let go of his arms suddenly, hastily, guiltily. "You're not--"

"You let me," Justin said. He seemed to have trouble controlling his breathing. JC tried to screw his own brain back into place, but it was out in orbit, it seemed, and the only clear thought he could catch was wantwantwantwant. And that was less than constructive. "You--"

"I want you to," JC gritted out, and it wasn't what he was going to say, not at all, but his teeth and lips and tongue were conspiring against him. "You can--" and he reached for Justin again, helpless to resist.

"Fuck," Justin breathed and put his hands back where they should be, tight, like they should be. "Fuck."

JC twisted in his grip just to feel it harden. "Yeah, yeah--" Back to the kissing, and it was odd, really, it gave him the weirdest feeling of double exposure, because Justin's mouth wasn't like his hands, unforgiving, but still soft and almost gentle. Like the girls JC kissed when he wasn't thinking about large hands and bruises. Like normal and right and still, there was pain blossoming, too; his back protesting the cold porcelain, his arms burning in ten sharply focused points.

Their groins had been rubbing together for a while, he realised, quite regardless of what else they'd been doing, but it hadn't registered through the haze of displaced lust. He got a hand down between them and found Justin's fly, a fucking button-fly, of course, and it was awkward as fuck and if he twisted his wrist a little more, it might just snap, but then Justin eased off and let him fumble with the buttons.

"Fuck," Justin said again and thrust once, sharply, against JC's hand, before pulling away a little, "I wanna, I wanna--" and he sank to his knees so quickly and gracefully that JC thought, in the space of three, four, five seconds it took for Justin to unzip him and take him in, that there was the ease of long practice in that.

Clearly so: he rocked back against the sink again and tried to remember what it had felt like the last time. It was all sort of a blur, a hazy memory of something too-good, too-quick, too deeply hidden behind all that weirdness that came afterwards. He tried to savour this. He tried, he tried, but Justin's was pushing down his pants and kneading his ass, and JC didn't think anyone had done that to him before, none of the girls would have thought of it, thought of pushing blunt, dry fingertips into him and twisting and it was a good thing that he was gripping the sink with whiteknuckled force or he would simply have folded at the knees and hit the floor right there.

He felt his back arch, mostly because it made his spine grind even harder against the sink, and his legs wanted to spread and spread more, and he must have shimmied and pushed down and out against Justin's fingers and Justin's mouth, because the other hand clamped onto his hipbone and held him back, not that he was doing Justin any damage, no way, because Justin had this shit down, he could just open up and take it, in a way JC knew he wouldn't be able to imitate without a hell of a lot of practice.

And Justin twisted his fingers again, and the sheer crudeness of it, the breach, burning and so utterly necessary, painted the world black around the edges, and when JC closed his eyes, he saw flickers of silver and electric blue zap before him, as if he'd hit his head hard enough to make his brain crash against the inside of his frontal bone.

He might have been moaning, possibly even keening, because when he tried to speak, he had no air left, so he sucked in a long, hissing breath and let it out with, "Justin-- hey. Hey. Shit-- stop--" and it almost hurt to push him away; hell, it did hurt, but he did it anyway, because his brain had taken a leap there, inside that little cloud of blue and silver sparks and the cottony darkness of approaching orgasm, and he sank-fell-crumbled to his knees in front of Justin and ignored the creak of too-tense joints and the spike that shot through his left knee when he landed a little askance.

Justin was looking half-scared, but maybe even more pissed off, snarling like a dog over a bone, and JC, amazingly, didn't have to ask. The floor welcomed him with cold tiles and the edge of the thick, soft bathmat, and he stretched out on his back and thought, briefly, that he really wasn't drunk enough to fuck on the bathroom floor, but then Justin was there on top of him, mouth still gentle, taste a familiar stranger, and there were other ways to get drunk, anyway.

It was like being drunk, though, no matter the fact that he only had two drinks in him, hours ago, so heavy were his arms, and his legs seemed helplessly tangled in his pants, and Justin was kissing him with slow, frowning concentration and how the hell was he supposed to think through that?

Getting the pants off was a victory, and he could spread his legs to accommodate Justin. The tile floor was icy unpleasantness under his ass. Justin was taking a break in the kissing for long enough to pull off his shirt, and it was even colder under his back, and when Justin backed off completely, he cried out, something, he didn't even know what.

Justin just took off his clothes, without show, as effectively as a soldier. He had smooth, golden skin with a smudge of dirty green-yellow running a three inch strip along the lower edge of his ribcage, a bruise JC couldn't place until he remembered that Joey and Justin had got in a fight sometime last week, last month, last year, whenever. He reached out and ran his fingers along the fading trace of violence, and Justin hissed and dropped down over him again.

More kissing, and the frantic pace had slowed a little; Justin was touching random spots on his body, his fingers lighting on shoulder, ribcage, arms, hipbone, as if he was trying to memorize them. What if he never touches me again, he thought with a twinge of desperation, and the possibility of that was stone cold and real, more real than the chilly floor underneath him or the hot-sleek boy on top of him.

The thought made him hurry, made him need it more, some proof that this was real; more than the vague, utopistic memory of hot mouth, clever fingers.

And Justin, bless him, was done hesitating. Maybe he, too, felt the same low-grade dread, that disturbing shadow of the upcoming morning after the night before, because he spread JC's legs, lifted his hips a little, practical boy, snagged a towel and bunched it up underneath - thank you, JC thought but said nothing, fascinated by this detached, businesslike preparation. Next, Justin would say, "forceps, nurse."

He didn't, though, but crawled down again and used his mouth, shock of wet heat, and his fingers, quick, efficient, devastating, and JC bit his lip because he wanted to say something stupid, like "I love you."

It was hard to keep it in. It was just something he'd want to say, maybe, when he was spread out on the floor like some sort of whacked-out sacrifice, and someone, someone, oh, fuck-- Justin was doing things JC didn't want to know where he'd learned.

And it wasn't enough, and he didn't know why. He was gripped by some kind of heavy lethargy that just let him grit his teeth and push down onto Justin's fingers, and when he figured out how to get his hands into Justin's hair, Justin backed off quickly. "Fuck," JC said, because it seemed appropriate and was the only word he could remember just then. His skin was shivering into goosebumps, but he was sweating and hot underneath, and it felt like his entire body had been supersensitised, and it wasn't enough to feel every lump in the scrunched towel pillow under him, and it wasn't enough to feel the faint pressure of Justin's legs against his.

And then there was quickly, efficiently more than enough, and he was pretzeled up into a strange and uncomfortable position, and it was exactly what he'd been begging for, he realised, exactly all of it and maybe so perfectly it that he wouldn't be able to handle it, not this pain that he didn't know what to do with, because it didn't seem to make him want it less. That's not right, he thought, that's not the way it goes, but it did, and he was screaming somewhere off in the distance, and when he felt Justin tensing and maybe, potentially, going away, he clawed at his arms and shoulders and found purchase somewhere, neck, hair, a fistful of short, soft curls and just pulled.

He knew he was gasping for breath like a fish on dry land, deep, harsh gasps that curled his lips away from his teeth and probably made him look like a yawning racehorse, but this was what they wrote the fucking songs about, this was that mix of pleasure and pain you couldn't write home about, so they hid it in obscure, banal, confusing lyrics, and he might be writing some after this.

For a few, crystal-sharp seconds, he could even hear the song in his head, but before he could memorise the melody, it was drowned out by his own choked scream, and Justin's sharp cry, and he found his strength again, all that strength he'd forgotten how to use for a while, and he threw his arms around Justin's steel-tight neck and trapped him and found his face and bit his lips and his tongue when they kissed, and down along his jaw and further, and thank god, Justin caught on and used his mouth and teeth and it all went full circle at some point, and JC could swear he saw actual stars. So that bit was true, he thought, and came with his teeth grinding against Justin's collarbone.


He heard the splash of the used rubber hitting the toilet bowl; even post-coital, Justin had a deadly aim. JC felt pretty used himself, wrung out and hung to dry in a cold, hard place, but Justin was a solid source of heat right next to him, heavy arms around him, smooth, sweat-slick skin and hot, damp puffs of breath on his neck and ear, and there was another towel they could cover themselves with, and the last, scatter-shot thought didn't ask why they didn't just pick their lazy asses off the floor and go to the actual bed, it was all of ten steps, but instead, was this it? because somehow it felt more like an ending than a beginning. And the hard, uncomfortable floor was maybe the best place to lie; at least he wouldn't sleep heavily and miss anything.

***

He had woken up like this before; uncomfortable, cold and pressed against a nameless body. This was not new. The light was bright and cut through his eyelids, and he wondered how the hell he could have slept at all.

Then Justin stirred next to him, coughed and muttered, "fucking hell, what--" and JC didn't feel the ache in his limbs over the sting of fear somewhere below his diaphragm. "what's the time?" Justin said. He hadn't moved; his arms were still locked around JC's chest. JC felt muscles flex and tighten against his own all along his back. Christ, what was the time? He opened his eyes a crack, tried to give them time to adjust. He was hugging himself, his arms crossed over Justin's. His skin felt cold and porcelain hard; corpse-like. His entire left side was numb where it wasn't hurting. The only bits that weren't freezing were the spots in direct contact with Justin's hot skin.

He wasn't wearing his watch. "Dunno," he said. His voice sounded froggy and cracked.

"Feels early," Justin said. JC slowly worked himself loose and stretched his legs, moved every limb carefully. He was a wooden doll, creaky and clumsy. And sticky, sore, bone-tired. A shower suddenly seemed like right next door to heaven. There didn't seem to be much else to do than mutter, "shower," and get up.

He felt awkward and self-conscious in the unforgiving light, but it was a little late to be shy and coy now, after last night. He was shaky and weak-limbed, but managed not to fall over. Justin curled up around the empty space he'd left, pulled the small towel tighter around himself.

Hot water wasn't next door to heaven, it was heaven itself, and he leaned against the tile wall and closed his eyes. He could stay here, oh, forever and then some, not trying to catalogue the many different pains, just some more of this, maybe never open his eyes again. His eyes burned under their lids and he rubbed his face.

A light, feathery touch on his side, and he had to look. There was Justin next to him, with downcast eyes, and Christ, bruises along his jaw and shoulder and chest, bitemarks outlined in bright blue, deep purple smudges around his eyes, swollen lips. Ill-used was the word that seemed most fitting, and JC wondered if he looked the same. Probably.

Justin didn't speak, and JC couldn't think of anything to say. They leaned against each other in the spray; who held who up didn't matter.

They dried off in weary silence and stumbled to the bedroom. The bedside clock blinked 05.44 in accusing red, and they fell into the bed, forced by lack of space to touch and fit arms and legs around each other, and they still didn't speak, but before he drifted off again, JC felt Justin's mouth against his throat.


There was abrupt movement, a small, localised earthquake in the bed, and something quick on the uptake in his lizard brain somewhere caught on and lashed out a hand and caught Justin by the arm before the rest of his brain had gotten past "huh?"

Justin stared at him with blank fear. "Don't be stupid," JC said. God, he was still tired, and the clock had moved on to 11.23. Justin could just lie still and hold the freak-out for a couple more hours. "Just--" Hmm, yeah. Just lie down and shut up? Just hold me, love me, be mine forever, yadda yadda yadda? How utterly weird that he'd never thought an inch beyond the immediate present. What the hell was he doing, and why was Justin still staring at him with blamelessly wide eyes? "Stay," he said, and Justin fell back down to him. That easy.


13.55, and he really needed to piss. Like, like, like nothing else, ever. Really needed to go, and Justin was asleep again, spread out on top of him now, blanket again, snoring a little, and JC finally had to just push him aside and roll out of bed, because things could get embarrassing otherwise.

Justin was awake when he got back, and he suddenly wished that he'd taken a robe from the bathroom.

"I had to, uh--" he said vaguely and lifted his hand in a gesture that never developed beyond a limp little wave. Yeah, that was completely clear, I'm sure the class could follow you. He crossed his arms in front of him and tried to stop from shivering.

"Right," Justin said quietly. He was looking at JC with sleepy, heavy-lidded eyes. JC tried to shrug off his awkwardness. Incredibly, he was still sleepy, and the promise of soft, warm bed was tempting, tempting. Tempting enough, and he dared return, back to the closeness of Justin's arms and legs and long, naked body.


He had his face pressed flush against Justin's shoulder now, probably drooling a little, too, which wasn't as weird as it should have been. The bed was bathed in a pool of sunlight that poured in through a crack in the curtains. It was tinted soft orange, and it made Justin's skin glow smooth and warm. JC turned around and saw that the time was 15.02, and he still didn't really feel like getting up. Justin muttered something and threw an arm out, blindly, and pulled JC back. Okay. They didn't have anything to do today.


"Are we gonna stay in bed all day?" Justin whispered into his neck sometime later. 15.49. JC thought about it. For quite a while. His brain wasn't too interested in thinking ahead, or about much anything other than Justin's arm that lay heavy on his side, and all of Justin's skin touching his. He realised that he wasn't afraid right now. It didn't feel like the world was hovering over a precipice, ready to end right this second. The absence of fear was like waking to silence when you're expecting the sounds of a city outside your window.

"Yeah," he said and closed his eyes again. As long as they didn't talk too much, maybe. As long as they could stay here and not look too closely at each other, it would be okay. And he thought he could probably turn around and kiss Justin, easily, and not get a punch in the face for it. Almost sure.

He was going to try, he had almost decided, when someone started banging on the door, banging and calling out, Lance's voice, in fact, saying, "JC? JC? Have you seen Justin? He's not in his room. Come on. Is he in there?"

"I have to go. Um. Open it," JC said, and Justin pulled back and released him, burrowed deeper into the bed. JC made sure he was completely hidden under the blankets. "I'm here!" he called to Lance and scurried around looking for something to wear.

"What?" he said when he opened the door just a crack. Lance was calm and pale and clear-eyed, and said,

"His mother is looking for him."

"He's here."

"Maybe y'all should come downstairs. You know. We're gonna eat lunch." He craned his neck, trying to see past JC. "Is he okay? Where have you been all day?"

"We're fine," JC said. He heard Justin move around behind him, go to the bathroom, click on the lights. Looking for his clothes, probably.

"Good," Lance was saying, "cause we were kinda worried. When you didn't show up at all. And. Yeah."

"We were tired." That sounded like a ridiculous euphemism, JC realised, and it was suddenly hard to keep a straight face. Worried to amused in under five seconds.

Lance must have thought it sounded suspicious, too, because he grinned and said, "Ri-ight. Um, you have a-- heh. Nevermind," and didn't elaborate until Justin showed up behind JC and his eyes widened and he said, "holy fuck, you two."

"What?" Justin said, but Lance didn't answer, because just then, Justin's mother came walking up from the elevators.

"There you are," she said. Her eyes were only a little harried.

"Here we are," Justin said, and JC heard a smile in his voice. Mrs. Harless smiled back at them. Then she stiffened, and the smile froze.

"You--" she said, but closed her mouth around the sentence. "Maybe you want to eat your lunch here," she said then.

"What?" Justin said, "Why? I'm up, I can go downstairs," and clearly he wasn't getting it, but JC did, suddenly, a harsh flash of realisation, and he knew he was blushing, and he expected anger. He supposed he deserved it, but when he looked up, ready for a slap in the face, Mrs. Harless was turning away and her eyes weren't angry, but sad.

JC turned to Justin, looked at his eyes and not the telltale marks that stained his skin and said, "we can stay here," and Justin blinked twice before his eyes cleared.

"oh," he said, in a small voice. "oh."

"You could try being, like, discreet," Lance said. His eyebrows were almost touching his hairline, but there was no judgement in his strange, pale eyes.

"Discreet," JC repeated.

"Yeah. Like, not. Uh. You know."

"We won't," JC said quickly. He wasn't sure what exactly he was promising not to do.

"Okay. uh. Yeah," and Lance walked away, leaving Justin and JC standing frozen and quiet outside the door. JC stared at the migraine-inducing pattern of the carpet.

"So," JC said after a while. When he looked up, Justin was rubbing the side of his jaw with sharp fingers, and his face was completely expressionless. "Justin?"

"I think-- I'll just--" but he didn't get much else out. His skin looked parchment white against the row of bruises on his jaw. He turned sharply and escaped back into the room.

JC followed him, already tensing up in anticipation of a fight. Justin was sitting motionless on the unmade bed.

"Um," JC said. "Uh, how--"

"I'm okay," Justin said, and his voice sounded just a little strangled. "I'm just a little-- you know. My mom."

"Yeah."

"But I'm okay."

"Are you--"

"I'm good," sharply, and JC wondered if he should be doing something. Something. Hand on shoulder, encouraging noises. Maybe Justin wanted to talk about it, maybe he needed to be talked to, maybe he was breaking inside, maybe he wanted to hit something, maybe he was stunned. JC tried to imagine his own mother looking at him like that, looking away like that, and couldn't. Couldn't imagine his own reaction, and while he was thinking, silence crept up on him, on them both.

Silence.

The clock on the bedside table blinked its blind-red message: 16.12.

The silence grew wings and fluttered around the room morosely. 16.13.

Justin sniffed and shrugged. He was twisting his hands in his lap. 16.14.

16.15 and JC gave up. Why was he playing along, anyway? This was stupid. He wasn't sixteen years old anymore, even if Justin was. "I'm gonna--" he started, and lost his courage momentarily, because it was as if his voice had an echo in the room. But it was only Justin straightening up and saying, "I was thinking--"

"You first," they said, confused, simultaneously.

"uh--" "okay--"

JC put his hand on Justin's mouth and said, "You first." Justin laughed when he took his hand away.

"I was going to watch TV. Maybe there's some movie on." The smile stayed, and JC couldn't believe the silence could be that easily fought. It seemed too easy. Like Justin had swallowed it and was just pretending to speak. JC couldn't do anything, though, couldn't think of anything. And he wanted to put his hand back over Justin's mouth and feel the heat of his skin and the softness of his lips again.

"Okay," he said instead, a little light-headed.


They watched the last fifteen minutes of The Lion King, and Justin read the subtitles aloud and they laughed. JC tried to sing along, but he couldn't remember the lyrics or the melody, so it went off-key every once in a while, and Justin clapped his hands over his ears and rolled his eyes. After that, they watched an episode of a German soap opera. Then a van Damme movie, a Behind the Scenes special, half an hour or MTV before Justin switched to Viva2 in disgust, because at least you expected them to play sucky German music.

They ordered food, and ate soggy fries and lukewarm burgers in front of the Wheel Of Fortune. It wasn't without merit when watched in German.

"Ha!" Justin said through a mouthful of fries. "Herbert Groenemeyer-- uh, something, something. Easy. They're all morons."

"Yeah," JC said. He didn't know who Herbert Groenemeyer was.

"Are you gonna finish that?"

"No," JC said and handed over the rest of his fries.

"Dude, I'm bored," Justin said when the food was gone. "Can we go out?"

"Um--" and he was still looking for words, something that would bring up ... things, things like the bruises on Justin's face, like the look on Lynn Harless' face, without actually mentioning them, something that would be easy to say, when Justin said,

"--nevermind," and leaned in and kissed him. That worked, too.

They stayed like that for a long time, necking like kids in front of the TV, hands staying chastely on neck, shoulder, sides, and JC thought it was a pretty good way to spend an evening, even though it felt like he and Justin were stuck inside a bubble of silence, and it might pop at any moment now, they'd have to talk about stuff, they'd have to go outside this room sometime. But it seemed like it could be ... normal. For a while.

***

It wasn't exactly normal when Lynn Harless caught him alone two days later and said, without meeting his eyes, "you're. I've always. I do ... trust you. But are you sure he's okay? I hope, hope he's okay," and then didn't say anything more, but JC saw her eyes before she turned to leave, and they were wide and glittering wet. He leaned against the wall and stayed there until his kneecaps stopped shaking. He didn't think he'd ever tell Justin about that.


Maybe we don't need to talk about it, JC thought when Justin woke him up at five am one morning and wanted to suck his dick. We can just do ... this and not ask questions.

They didn't talk, but they lay curled around each other afterwards, and Justin was warm and heavy and safe when he was asleep. In the bus that day, on their way to yet another town, in Holland now, Justin sat next to Chris and they talked about German beer. JC tuned them out after a while and tried to sleep. We're okay, he thought, not believing himself entirely, he's okay. It's normal.


JC watched Joey and Lance a lot. When Justin was ignoring him and he didn't feel like talking to anyone, and Joey was sitting next to Lance and copping random feels every once in a while as if he couldn't help himself, and Lance smiled back at him.

Then Justin walked in and said, sourly, "freaks," and walked out again.

"What's with him?" Joey said.

"Jealous," Lance said, but JC figured Justin was just being pissy because they'd overslept that morning and Andreas had called Justin a pampered little brat. Justin didn't like being called a brat.

"We're not freaks," Joey said, and kissed Lance. JC looked away because it was private, but looked back again after a couple of beats. They were doing it right in front of him, after all.

He kissed Justin like that, later, in his room, when it was dark outside and they were tired of not touching.


He caught Justin sneaking out, dressed in ripped jeans that had been tight last year. He blocked his way, held his arm. Hard, until his knuckles were white and ached, but he held on stubbornly, even when Justin tried to jerk his arm loose.

"Let me go," Justin snarled and pushed him against the wall so hard JC bit his tongue.

"You don't need to--" JC hissed, angrier than he thought he'd be. A lot angrier, afraid too, but mostly just angry. "Fuck you, you have-- We're. You can fuck me instead--" which sounded slutty and cheap, but it was true, after all, and Justin narrowed his eyes but didn't argue, and they ended up back in JC's room, and the next morning not even Lance would look at them.


Five days without speaking a word, and still Justin slept in his bed every night, breathing in his ear. Even angry, Justin was cuddly in sleep.

"Are you ever gonna talk to him again?" Joey asked, and JC said he didn't know, because he didn't.

They spoke after five days, yelled in fact, because JC spilled coke on Justin's shirt thirty minutes before they were going onstage, and Justin called JC a useless loser moron, and shook him until he lashed out and hit him on the side of the face. Joey and Chris broke them up, and Justin spat in JC's face. "Bitch," he said, and JC wished they'd decided to have this fight somewhere else, somewhere in private.

They went onstage, and it felt like the girls screamed louder than usual, and it was a lot like being high. Andreas clapped JC on the back after the show and said, grinning so wide he looked like a computer manipulation, "like that, boys, like that you do it every night!" but JC saw Chris and Joey and Lance looking at him with small identical frowns. It annoyed him, because he figured he was doing what they wanted him to do. Justin was staying in a lot more now.


And one night, on a last-minute quest for condoms, he was digging through Justin's bag, too, because he had to have some there, even though he'd said he didn't think so, because Justin was a fucking Boy Scout about that stuff, always ready to go, stashing rubbers in every available pocket. He found a pair of his own underwear tucked into a side compartment. He hadn't seen those in ... a long time. Not since. Oh. They were still unwashed. He pulled them out gingerly; the only other thing there was a slightly flattened stuffed toy, a small, ratty penguin Justin had had since he was a toddler.

He found rubbers in the compartment on the other side, and he put the shorts back where he found them, on top of the penguin - what was it called again? Snappy came to mind - and pulled the zipper back.


He was thinking about writing again, and he sat in the hotel bar, playing with his pen. Justin would be back by now, most likely. He'd had a photo shoot, just him. Probably drove the make up artist to distraction, what with the bruise on his cheekbone.

Maybe a song about fighting. Not too graphic, Lou wouldn't like that, and what was the point in writing songs for the desk drawer. JC's drawers were brimming with songs written in notebooks, on blank paper, on the back of napkins and receipts.

Chris sat down in front of him. He was wearing his serious face.

"You need to cut it off," he said. "It's not working."

"This is-- what are you saying?"

Chris scowled at him, knee bouncing under the table. "You gotta stop it. We're going back home in like a month, you can't be fucking around like this."

"Stop what? Stop... this? But--" and then he wasn't confused anymore, just pissed off, because he got it. Even if he thought he'd been doing a pretty good job under the circumstances, he still should have seen this coming. "Look--" he tried, but true to his style, Chris wasn't going to let him finish a sentence.

"You're gonna fucking kill each other," he said. "I don't know what the hell you're doing, but you're not getting it right. Y'all need therapy."

Funny, how anger could be this calm, just like a layer of ice over everything. He felt almost serene. If he hadn't been so angry. He thought about hitting Chris, but his knuckles still hurt after the fight with Justin. Instead he said, "It was your idea, Chris."

"Not to punch each other's lights out every chance you get, I never suggested--"

"Fuck you, Chris," he said mildly.

"JC, don't be stupid." Chris was trying to stare him down, what a surprise. JC turned his head away, but it didn't feel like he was losing anything.

"I'm gonna go," he said.

"You don't know what you're doing," Chris said.

"I don't," JC said, thinking about writing a song and calling it None Of Your Business. "But you don't know what you're talking about."

"Look, I know plenty. Joey and Lance didn't--"

"We're not Joey and Lance," JC said tightly, because he damn well knew that Joey and Lance were the cutest fucking couple since Adam and Eve. "We're enough, though. So shove it, okay? It's none of your business."

And he got up and walked out of the bar, down the hall, up the stairs, down another hall. Justin sat outside his room, and JC felt the same relief he always felt, every time Justin came back to him. Relief and a quick, painful tightening in his chest.

"Hey," Justin said, not angrily.

"Hey," JC said. It was enough. They went inside and turned on the TV, because that's what they did.

Viva2 was playing the greatest hits of the eighties. Love is a battlefield, Pat Benatar proclaimed, and JC giggled a little shrilly. Justin just made a face and said, "Eighties music, man. What the fuck," but he was smiling when he pulled JC into his lap and kissed him. JC touched his cheekbone and the bruise hidden under a layer of concealer, and Justin's hands tightened around him.

"Yeah, what the fuck," JC said.

***

Nobody does it better
Makes me feel sad for the rest
Nobody does it half as good as you
Baby you're the best

I wasn't looking but somehow you found me
I tried to hide from your love light
But like heaven above me, the spy who loved me
Is keeping all my secrets safe tonight

And nobody does it better
Sometimes I wish someone would
Nobody does it half as good as you
Why'd you have to be so good

The way that you hold me, whenever you hold me
There's some kind of magic inside you
That keeps me from running, but just keep it coming
How'd you learn to do the things you do

And nobody does it better
Makes me feel sad for the rest
Nobody does it quite the way you do
Baby, baby. Baby, you're the best.

(Carole Bayer Sager)