Scrutiny: 6

by Miss Kitty E

February rolls around and, after an awkward Christmas spent with the family and a slightly blurry New Year's spent trying to be nothing but optimistic, we're recording again. I can't say I'm not glad for it, music is still a good thing, and the process of recording has reminded me that my friendship with the other guys, however often troubles arise, is also a good thing in my life. You'd think we'd get sick of each other, and believe me, sometimes we do, but when you go home and realize that nobody else quite understands you who you are and where you're coming from anymore, and your friends aren't jealous of you because you're better looking or have a better job, they're jealous because you're you, and you're too old to rely on your family to make it all better again, you start to miss them, too. They always know why I'm sulking and they know not to console me with a bunch of useless words and caring, confused expressions, instead they show they care by putting roughly two gallons of Tabasco on my taco and laughing until I can't help but join, tears and all. Sweet distraction. And it helps to know that they need me as much as I need them.

Justin and Britney are fighting again, but this comes as no surprise really, as much as Justin needs her, he's grown to hate her. I don't know how much of it is actually her, Justin has less patience with everybody these days, least of all himself. We all whisper about it, doing what best we can to satisfy the urge to protect him from his own demons while letting him lead his own life. I take back every word I said about Justin not suffering for his fame. I can tell he's going to pay his dues now, I only hope that when he's done there's something left. Chris and Dani are at a crossroads, the one he's been avoiding for a while. Their relationship is no longer fun and games, but that's only natural. It's up to Chris to decide whether this is the first step towards "forever" or the first reason to break up. I don't know what's wrong with JC, or if anything even is, but he's putting every single thing he has into this record. Jokingly, Chris suggested the new title be "JC Chasez and Friends" but in reality, that pretty much sums it up. Still, no one asks him to take a step back, so long as he keeps writing four and five part harmonies better than almost anyone else we've met, we'll let him.

And Joey is Joey. God Bless and Curse him, I need him so bad, but these days that's just a fucking part of me. The friendship, altered now and a little worse for wear, lives on. Sometimes he gets a step too close, but I just take one back, but on some days I take one forward. It all depends, on him, and on me, we'll get the hang of it soon. He even kissed me, on Valentine's Day when we were all a little down. He kissed everybody, on the cheek for JC and me, and right smack on the lips for Justin and Chris because he had to fight them for it. He said we needed them, and we did. I think he did, too. Still, it was awkward and pleasant, teasing and disappointing, and just there for me to remember almost every damn time I see him. I can't say he's changed, he's still having the time of his life, but every now and then there's a glimmer of desperation in his eyes, never enough to worry but always enough to mark.

We're midway through the roster of songs we want to try out, but everything's on hold today, Justin is bickering with JC over a solo, and Chris is in the booth with them, the referee, keeping them from saying anything they won't be able to take back. Which leaves Joey and me to either watch and become distressed, or step out and have to deal with being alone with each other. Joey had left first, me following him because I was getting disgusted. In the lobby like area I find him rooting through his stuff and pull out a water bottle.

"I don't like this," he says softly, twisting off the cap and drinking like it was something harder. "I don't like this shit at all."

"It'll be alright," I say quickly. "Justin's gone a little diva happy, and JC thinks he's the biggest thing to hit music since Elvis. It's just what they do when they record. Once this is over what will they have to fight about?"

He shrugs, still on one knee, and drops the subject. He looks for something to take his mind off of what's going on inside, and spies a small pile of paper beside his bag. "Jesus, another song? How many songs does JC think we can fit on a CD?"

I blink and come to stand over him, looking over his shoulder. "He hasn't said anything to me about a new song. Wait..." I peer at the words at little harder, they're in my handwriting, oh God. "That's mine," I say reaching for them, trying to grab them away before he can read them.

Joey latches on to them, twisting around to keep them from me. "Oh!" he cries, "You wrote a song? Let me see." He stands, and now I'm trying to reach around his thick waist to get the lyrics instead of over his shoulder. He begins reading them aloud, "You don't live life like there's no tomorrow, but like there's no yesterday. Ooh, deep!" I move around him, but he twists again, skipping down a few lines, "I don't know why I even bother, playing a game I can't win." He's walking around now, avoiding my every dive and grab, he laughs, holding them over his head. "Is this about me?"

"No!" Yes. Obviously. "Give them back, Joey, come on."

"Why?" he asks, putting a hand on my shoulder to keep me from jumping up and taking the pages from him. "I mean, I'll end up singing all the words eventually."

"No you won't, it's not for 'Nsync," I dig my fingers into his sides, and he doubles over, trying to jump away, but I manage to get a hand on the notes. He holds tight, and now we're playing tug of war, twisting the papers, waiting for them to tear. "It's just some crappy country song, give it back!"

He relents, letting go suddenly, and I tumble back into the coffee table. "It's not crappy. I'm flattered."

"I bet," I say, rolling my eyes, smoothing out the paper. A moment later I remember to add, "It's not about you, anyway."

"Right, right." He's smiling suspiciously, creeping forward. "But if that's true, then why can't I read it?"

I put them behind my back, "Because. It's just a dumb song, wouldn't even give it to one of my clients. Just forget about it." It is a bad song, even if it wasn't about Joey, why flash around my tale of unrequited love only to have it blown away by one of JC's rejects?

"You're being too hard on yourself," he's really close now. "I'll show you!" He goes for the papers, and I try to run but he tackles me. Down I go, hard onto my knees, I try to fight back instead of break free, which was dumb, because he's taller and heavier than me, and it never takes him more than seven seconds to have me pinned. "Give them to me," he demands, but they're still clutched behind my back with one hand that he can't get free unless he uses both of his hands, losing the hold on me.

"Fuck no," I try to kick free of his legs, to get some leverage, but he presses down harder on me with his hips. "Joey, come on, just let me up."

"Not until you give them to me," he crows, like a fucking eight-year-old boy.

It's getting harder to pretend that we're young enough to get away with this, and not adults lying on the floor of a fucking studio, pressed against each other and breathing hard. I just want this to stop, "Joey, seriously, do not push me. Let me up."

He doesn't listen, but is sobered, "No, just show me the song, dammit."

"Joey if you don't fucking get off of me, I'm going to kiss you." Maybe if he just understands what this is doing to me he'll stop.

"No."

Well, fuck, I told him not to push me. With my free hand, I reach and grab a fistful of hair- black these days, jet-black and so soft ľand tug him down. I smash our lips together, angry and frustrated, and let go of him a second after, waiting for him to get off of me and start dealing with what's between us like fucking adults. But he doesn't get off, just does it back to me, crushing his lips to mine, my ribcage under his. Well, what would you have done? Pushed him away, talked about sensible choices? Fuck no. I wrapped my arms- well, one arm anyway, the other was still trapped beneath me and was none too happy about it ľand my right leg around him, and let him do what he wants. Right now that seems to involve tasting my tonsils, but so what?

He makes this noise, half impassioned moan, half pained whimper and when I answer with some sort of throaty rumble that sounds like purring, he pulls away. I blink my eyes open to find him staring down at me like he's never met me before, and it's not his saliva at the corner of my mouth that I'm licking away.

"Shit."

He scrambles off of me, and I wrench my arm from under me at last. Rubbing it I sit up and try to reassemble enough of the shattered bits of my brain to form a sentence. "What the fuck, Joey?" I ask, still breathing hard. I stand up, and take a step towards him, "What the fuck!" I push him as hard as I can, and I'm not sorry when he bangs the same coffee table I tripped over hard enough to nearly tip it over. I'm glad.

The vase on top of it tips over and shatters, and the other guys appear quickly, but I don't see them until later. "What the fuck are you trying to do to me?" I should tell myself to stop yelling, screaming actually, but I can't, it hurts too much. Every place he touched me is burning now, and my eyes sting from tears I won't admit to, I want to just curl up and die so I don't have to feel anything at all. "Why are you fucking doing this to me?"

Joey doesn't say anything, and the silence that follows hurts me, too. He storms out, one leg taking most of the weight for the injured other. He leaves through the back door, slamming it, and I just stand there for a minute, staring at the spot where he had been. Stay or run after him? Stay or run after him? I'm already moving. In just a few angry, quick steps, I'm at the back door ready to follow him, because I need him, and I could kill him right now. When I fling open the door, he's right there, just sitting on the steps with his head in his hands. A lot of the anger drains out of me then, just to see him looking so small for once, and so unhappy. When I close the door I give the guys a look to let them know they are not to follow, and sit next to him.

"I'm sorry," I say first. I am, I'm sick to my stomach that I tried to hurt him, and was glad when I did. "I just-" I stop, I shouldn't even try to explain it, it defies all reason. "Joey, tell me why."

He's quiet for too long, and I close my eyes, sighing. "I've been nothing but honest with you, Joey, I want the same from you. Whatever it is, we'll deal with it. Just tell me."

He snorts softly, as if I could barely comprehend what he's hiding from me, as if it's for my own good that he's not telling me what he feels. Whatever, if I can hurt him, he can hurt me. "Tell me," I insist.

Joey shifts now, crossing his arms over his knees, he stares straight ahead at the empty lot in front of us. "When was the first time you realized you liked a guy, Lance?" I roll my eyes, but he continues, "No, tell me, it's important."

Sighing, I shrug and begin digging through my mind. Eventually, I find it, the little moment my brain said, 'hey, I know something you don't know.' "Sixth grade. Got hard thinking about I boy I knew at school, and thought 'that ain't right.' Then I just fought with it all until it made sense."

He smiles, then gives his own tired sigh. "I'll tell you a secret." He looks at me, now, in a quick, darting way. "I was a late bloomer."

I blink, "What?"

He smiles briefly, and shrugs, "I didn't even think about sex until I made it to high school, really, and it was kinda hard not to because everyone was talking about it. I hung out with the guys I wanted to be like, the guys who were popular, and got the girls, who were never messed with. They used to tease me about theatre, saying I spent too much time with fags, and I said they were just being stupid, nobody was gay in my class. They had to fucking point him out to me, Kyle, and instead of being, I don't know, disgusted, I just kept thinking about it, what he did with other guys, what he did with me. We got close," he pauses, and looks at me again. "You and me kind of close, and one night, after rehearsal, he took me home, and," he huffs. "He kissed me, and I just let him. We did other stuff, too, and it felt... good. But the next day I was so fucked up, I didn't know what was going on with me.

"I talked to Kyle but it was hard, he just didn't understand, thought I was just afraid to date someone. He was older than me, by a year and a half, and I just couldn't admit that I wasn't as sure about myself as he was. I told him I didn't ever want it to happen again, but I did. I didn't who else to talk to after that, so I went to the school counselor." He laughs bitterly, "God, you should have seen him, that guy was about as open-minded as Hitler. He said it was low self-esteem, that I was just desperate for attention cause I felt bad about myself and all I had to do was get 'positive' attention, attention from my parents, my friends, girls, all that. It was such bullshit, but it was an answer." He swallows hard, "It was better than being a fag."

"Joe," I say softly. Nothing more, just reminding him I'm there.

He sighs, and shrugs, having come to the end of his story. "So I did what he said. Every time I wanted to be with Kyle, I flirted with a girl. After a while, it just became second nature, like when you're dancing on a sprained ankle, the pain is there but you don't think about it. I barely ever thought about it. Until, I joined up with you guys. Four other guys, always around, close and touching," he frowns. "Jesus, I mean, you are like my brothers, but I can't- I can't-" I put my arm around him, tight. He turns into me, pressing his forehead to my shoulder, curling up as if he could hide from himself in me. "I can't fucking help it, can't fucking ignore it. I-"

"It's alright," I say, stopping his words. "It alright, Joe. I'm sorry." Sorry he had to hide, sorry I had to expose him. "Jesus, Joe, I'm just so sorry."

He shakes his head, but doesn't say anything, just too weary to care now. Time ticks by slowly, and eventually he sits up, his eyes are wet, but the tears remain unshed. "What happens now? What do we do now?"

I keep one arm around him, and shrug, "It's not for me to say, Joe. I know what I want, I know who I am, you don't. We can't figure anything out until you do."

"I like being with you," he says softly, brow pursed in thought.

"But you don't like that you do." With one hand on his cheek, I turn his face, kissing the corner of his mouth, watching his eyes fall half closed. I pull away, "I don't want to be the guy you experiment with, Joe. I can't..." I struggle with words now. "Do that... not if I think you're gonna wake up one morning and decide you don't... want it anymore. And I can't promise I want to wait around until you've accepted yourself."

I stand up now, squeezing his shoulder softly, "It'll be alright, Joe. Take all the time you need to think, but don't- don't think of me." I swallow painfully, taking a deep breath to ease the tightening of my throat, "I'll go tell the guys the Cliffnotes version of what's happened."

The recording session is definitely over tonight, and I'm going to force JC to give us all the day off tomorrow. I leave Joey there, staring at the softly swaying weeds, lost like I am, only he doesn't even have a map. I wish I could make it better, Joey, but it's out of my hands now.

Part Seven - Fic Index - Main