by Miss Kitty E

This is the first in a series of gift-fics because I felt a sudden rush of altruism. This is dedicated to Silvia Kundera who is, in fact, one of the coolest people I've met thanks to puppies. Give her some love, she needs and deserves it.
You are so painfully in love with him. You're fifteen and you feel everything to an extreme, you can barely just survive it sometimes. When you're mad, you're more than mad, you hate the world, you hate your mother, you hate the other guys, you hate flowers, trees, dirt, air, and you hate yourself. When you're happy, people find it annoying because you flaunt your pleasure, and you play practical jokes, and you don't like to be quiet, even when you needed to be. Apparently, when you're in love, it consumes you.

You hope all that would mellow out when you become an adult. You don't think you can lead a very long life putting so much energy and feeling into one thing. At this rate, you'd feel sixty when you were thirty, and would be dead by forty.

When you first met Chris you thought he had to be one of the coolest guys on the planet. Like literally the very definition of cool, because he had been places, and done things, and knew people. And he was funny (everyone said so,) and smart, (he had even gone to college). You thought he had the eyes of an intellectual because they focused on a far point when he talked.

He moves in though, and you realize he's really a bit of a dork. He likes to kill jokes with repetition; he says whatever comes to mind, even when it's excessively weird, or mean. He's messy, and hyperactive, and he doesn't get along with many people. He gets along with you though, maybe because you're too busy looking up to him to look down on him like everyone else does. Because he's poor, because he's twenty-five without a real job, because he's short and the girls thought he's a little funny looking.

You don't think he was funny looking. You tell him so, and mean it. His mouth twists in that way of his, not a smile, not a frown and something inside of you kind of twists, too. You realize then maybe things are getting sort of out of hand. For a month, you hold your breath whenever you're with him, afraid he might figure it out and hate you and not want you to be in the really cool group he and Lou were starting up. He never does shrug you off, and one night he brings you to a club to show you and JC off to some of the friends he has in the business.

It feels like one day you go to bed in your own room with your own posters, and your own clothes on the floor, and the next day wake up in Germany. Sometimes you have to take a moment and say, "This is not a hypothetical; I am here." You had never really figured out that this whole group thing wasn't going to end up as just another false lead, and you are actually going to spend years with this really cool guy in this really cool group. Fuckin' A. You spend everyday working and you love it because it's what you do best. You don't like everything about "Tour Life." The bus is way too small, for one, and Germany isn't really like your second home (even though you have to say that at every interview), but that part is easily ignored. You do notice that Chris doesn't give you as much attention as he used to, not when he has JC, Joey, Lance, and the band to bug.

You get used to the bus and the screaming girls and awful food. Germany becomes a familiar place, but never a home. You still can't fall asleep in your bunk for some reason, you don't know why. Most of the time you wake up in the dining booth or on the little couch, taking up precious space with your dead weight. No one ever complains, maybe because you're young and they think you can't take the schedule.

"Let him sleep," they say, maybe, "It's been a long day."

Sometimes when you wake up, looking around wondering, "Where am I? What is this?" You see that Chris is talking someone and the far off spot he's looking at is your knee, or your hand. When you shift, he looks up at your face and smiles like a greeting. When you smile back, you're blushing- you just don't know it.

The nightmares start up in Hamburg, when you've been away from home for a month now. You dream of going home to find nothing there, not even a void where your home used to be. You search the neighborhood through and through for your address but no matter where you look you can't find your house, can't find your room, your friends, your dog, your little brother. You wake up feeling all wrong, like you haven't slept at all, when you have, like you are lost, when you aren't. You know exactly where you are- sort of. You're on the bus, in Germany, with Chris. That's enough.

The first few times it happens you don't tell anyone, because you have silly dreams all the time, how is this any different? But when Chris catches your sleeve and asks, "Are you okay, Justin? You seem... down?" You tell him; admit your nightmares, and the fears that cause them.

"Oh, Justin," and it sounds like Chris feels guilty somehow. He tugs your sleeve some more and then, wow, you're being hugged. You put your hands high on Chris' back, and rest your cheek heavily on his shoulder. Chris doesn't really hug much; Joey and Lance hug all the fucking time, even to say hello or good-bye, but Chris keeps his distance from people unless he's in a rough housing mood. And that's different; that's not a hug. Chris wrestling you to the ground and tickling your sides isn't this hug.

You realize, after a long, lovely moment, that you are supposed to let go first, and do. Chris gives you the complimentary 'one last squeeze' and kisses you, half on the mouth, half on the cheek.

What was that? you wonder. You almost ask aloud, but Chris pats you on the back and leaves, heading towards the bathroom.

For the first time since you met him, you think maybe Chris likes you like you like him. Lying in the hotel bed, idly touching yourself, you think you need to wait a little more before you decide.

You try to get him to kiss you again, and you whine a little more than you need to, but even though it makes people start to whisper "Diva," behind your back, it makes Chris smile at you, and say, "Aw, poor baby. You're life in a never ending succession of unbearable tasks, isn't it?"

He always kisses your cheek when you petulantly agree with him.

Chris doesn't kiss you, though, when you are curled up on him trying to take a nap. He sits still for ten minutes and then tries to slip out from under you. You let him go, he wasn't that comfortable to sleep on anyway. You try a few other youthful methods, like staring at his face as he talked to you, willing him to kiss you, sexy clothes, suggestive poses, but none of that seemed to work. You end up doing it yourself one day when Chris gets mad at you for screwing things up with a girl.

All you do was walk up to him and make some crack about "You get those crotch crickets taken care of, Chris?"

When you look up to wink at the girl, she's gone.

Chris snaps at you, "What the fuck, Justin?"

"Hey," you say, defensively. "I was just having fun, you pull that shit on me all the damn time."

"I'm not you, Justin, I don't get chances like this all the time."

You really do feel bad, but you couldn't say you were sorry, because then you would be wrong, and even though you felt bad, you didn't feel wrong. All you did was tease him, and so what if the girl left? She was just this side of skank, anyway.

You can pout a hell of a lot longer than Chris can, but the bus wasn't any fun when Chris was ignoring you, and ignoring everyone else so you couldn't even be entertained by a good show. JC and Joey play a video game on mute because Lance is doing something important with the next venue contract. You stare at Chris, searching for the telltale signs of cracking. Usually it starts with glances your way, then the half-hearted flicking of random small objects at you (last time it was jelly beans), and at first you have to pretend you don't notice, and then, when it's clear he was aiming for your left nostril you can laugh and know that he'll laugh with you.

Only now he's being stubborn, and you don't know how to handle this. You wonder if you've ruined everything and if you'll have to go back to being best friends with JC who didn't like to run around, who liked to sit and talk and do quiet things. Suddenly, saying you're sorry doesn't seem so bad.

Still, it's hard to say it out loud, so you just go and sit next to him, for a moment, under the guise of watching TV. He actually shifts away. Jesus, how angry is he? You press closer and whisper, "I'm sorry," into his ear, and smack your lips against his cheek. You get up mere seconds after you break the contact between balm-softened lips, and stubble-roughened cheek.

The bus pulls into the venue and you can't tell if Chris is still mad at you until after you're in your harness for Sailing and Chris decides to hit you with a running tackle. He holds onto you as you sail back, unable to really fall until you got back the slack. You're his human swing until you both slam into the stage, laughing like idiots.

After that you always apologize with a kiss, even when Chris really isn't mad. You think that maybe, just maybe, Chris pretends to be in a bad mood sometimes just to get them. Of course you can't walk around pissing Chris off all the time, so you only got to kiss that five 'o' clock shadow once in a while, even less when you're both on hiatus. It's sort of frustrating, because even though you have Britney there, and Chris has Dani, there's always those kisses to remind you.

After Chris and Dani break-up, you can't go around bitching about your own troubles because Chris had no appetite for them. And you can't piss him off, even a little, because with Chris in this mood, he might never forgive you. You get sort of impatient for Chris to get back to the goofy, kooky guy he usually is, and you tell JC as much.

"I don't know if Chris can really be like that anymore, Justin."

That's just stupid, you've knew Chris way, way, way before Dani and that was the real Chris, not this whiney, mopey, pissy creature he is now. He seems convinced that Dani is absolutely essential to his happiness, but she isn't. You remember vividly years and years of perfectly happy, perfectly unattached Chris. What's different now that she's gone? JC doesn't know and doesn't seem to want to talk about it.

Chris was free now. Free to spend time with you again, free to scope out new girls, free from long and schmoopy phone conversations every other night, free for everything. You just don't know how to tell him all that, because it's hard to be articulate around this new and slightly spiteful Chris, you felt stupid now when you talk to him. Not grown up, not mature.

The car companies love you, and send you tons of catalogs to your fake last name. One is a motorcycle magazine and on the cover is some sleek, blue and white blur of a bike with the caption, "Freedom on the Open Road," or something like that. It's such a perfect movie-style sign that you have to follow it. You drive over to Chris' house even though you live a fucking block away, and present it to him.

"Sweet," Chris says, looking mildly surprised. "I didn't know you rode."

"It's for you," you say, you give him the helmet, but stupidly keep the keys in your hand.

"For me?" Chris looks at the bike again, with new eyes. He looks up at you and says, "I can buy my own fucking bike, Justin."

This isn't really what you were expecting and you fumble for something to say back to that. "I know," you say, quickly, because you aren't stupid, you know Chris could afford just about everything you can. "I just... I wanted to. I can give you a gift, if I want to."

"This is a pretty lame attempt at cheering someone up, Justin."

"Jesus fucking Christ, Chris. I didn't think- it's not the money, okay. It's not the shine. It's what it fucking stands for."

"What does it stand for?"

"It means what you want it to. Keep it, sell it, drive it off a cliff." You were never graceful in defeat. But you do know how to make a scene. You walk home.

You don't really know what to do when you get there. You can't sit because you just stew about how mad you are at Chris, and you can't do anything because you have no concentration. You fidget for twenty minutes, rearranging your CD collection even though it made you sort of sad. Mixed in with all the hip-hop is 70s and 80s music that hanging around Chris had made you like, too.

You hear the rumble of the motorcycle gradually reach the crescendo of pulling into your driveway. You're still a little mad, but also relieved. You refuse to go out and see him, making him come and ring the doorbell.

You can't look at Chris right away when you open the door, so instead you look at the expensive tile you'd had laid down in the foyer. You can't think of a day or a moment where you have enjoyed it, you forget it's there most of the time. You forget a lot of your house existed sometimes. It's strange. And unimportant.

"Thanks." Chris kisses your forehead because it's the only part of you that he can readily reach with your face down turned.

You look up sharply, because frankly, it surprises the hell out of you. Chris has kissed you before and he isn't particularly unkind. He comforted when comfort was needed, sure. He forgave rather than hold a grudge against someone he cared for, of course. But he wasn't much for gratitude beyond his mother. Very, very few people had ever given Chris something that he felt no one else could, that he felt he couldn't have gotten on his own.

Chris looks back at you and there is something there beyond the usual, beyond jet black and... interesting hair, and wide, sardonic eyes, and a unique face. Something has changed. You think you know what.

Still, you wait just a while, because you firmly believe that things have to be done right. You don't do it your first time in the back of a car, and you don't just walk up to someone and kiss them. It had to be when you felt it in your head, your heart, down to your toes. Good timing didn't always mean good circumstances, and you finally feel the overwhelming need to hold Chris still and really, actually, truthfully kiss him one day while he's making a sandwich. Nothing had happened that morning, nothing had happened the night previous; it just feels good, and domestic, and normal, to watch someone you love make a sandwich.

Chris looks kind of startled when he squirms away from you. You aren't worried at all that he pulled away, because even though he was acting like he didn't know what to do at all now that you had kissed him, when you lean in he falls right into it; puts his hands on your waist, closes his eyes, tilts his head back just far enough for you to kiss him for real.

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