by Miss Kitty E

The first brick that was laid down winding, twisting, made-no- sense-road Chris found himself on was put there because he could see the writing on the wall. The jealousy, the fighting, the choosing of sides, all because Joey obviously didn't have any fucking common sense. Of all the stupid things to do really, to go and start a relationship- volatile, transient, unpredictable as Joey knew they were -within a group that needed to last years to even fucking be worth it. Oh, but then of course it must have made sense when you were only just coming down from your sexual peak and were enchanted by innocent eyes, but Chris could see that it wasn't all fun and games like Joey said.

Lance wasn't easy, if Joey had wanted easy there were other places to go. No, it had taken time, time spent taking a special interest in Lance, listening to his stories, paying sole attention to him, murmuring away insecurities by promising Lance he was his favorite. Time spent waiting for the perfect opportunity to touch Lance in such a way that his baby-fat cheeks would flush pink and the little choirboy would think sinful thoughts on his own. Neck rubs, and teasing kisses on the cheek before the final step, the real one, with open mouths and intruding tongues and a little sigh that wasn't Joey's. When God's hand didn't come down and cast them into the fire, Lance surrendered completely.

But that didn't mean they were entirely serious either, even though Joey called Lance "baby" all the damn time, bought him gifts, and would beat the ire out of anybody who messed with Lance a little too much. Entwined fingers, whispered three word phrases, nights spent wrapped around each other were all well and good, but Joey wasn't about to bring Lance home to his nice Catholic family to ask if he could keep him. Chris suspected Lance was thinking the same thing in the back of his practical little mind. And yeah, things were good now, when all it took was a certain grin and Lance would glide over, trance-like, to Joey, waiting for his kisses. And they were attached at the hip but in harmony, laughing and playing and enjoying their youth, making all kinds of concessions to each other to avoid a fight. But Jesus, it was only the first month, and the days were being counted down before the first fight, the first fork in the road.

Beyond that even, the giggly, enthusiastic make out sessions in the corner were bound to start pissing somebody off. JC was already starting to withdraw and Chris just knew it was because that "initial crush" JC'd had on Lance wasn't really so short-lived. And Justin hated being in the room with them sometimes, because he was sixteen and jealous of the relationship, not the people involved in it. Chris knew something had to be done, he explained as much to Joey one night.

It was only afterwards, as Joey was tugging his shirt back on that Chris could admit that he had been jealous too.

The fight after was really awful. Lance, true to his Southern temperament, sustained his anger for hours, brooding and lashing out until finally Joey just held on tight while Lance beat his small hands against Joey's chest. Held him there until Lance was exhausted and Joey had ugly purple bruises. He whispered then, in Lance's ear, while the blonde sniffled pathetically and Chris watched.

"Didn't wanna let you go, baby, still my baby, but we gotta share. We still have something just for us, but the guys need something, too. Better this way, baby, Lance. Baby. Didn't wanna hurt you, but it made so much sense."

Lance didn't know what else to do except forgive him, he looked at Chris as he slipped his arms around Joey's neck, red- rimmed, green eyes but Chris couldn't decipher the emotion there before they closed and Lance buried his face in Joey's neck. Later, he would be questioned by them, while Joey slept with Tiger Balm slathered across his chest Lance pinned those same eyes on Chris and demanded to know everything.

"Why did you do this?" he asked finally, all quiet as he stroked Joey's hair.

"For exactly what he told you. Lance, you knew it was a bad idea."

Lance nodded but he didn't look like he believed it. It was a long time before Chris could even approach Lance, long after JC had knocked on Lance's door and shown him the perks of the new deal.

Justin wandered in one day and wanted to be a part of it too, but he didn't really know how it worked because this is one thing he has no example to work off of. At first Chris just thought he was scared, maybe a little put out, asking what Chris thought of it all.

"I dunno. It's just the new deal, it's how things work now." He looked at Justin and thought he was too young to be in the middle of all this. "What do you think of it?"

"It's weird." Then Justin touched him, reached out with one hand to touch his cheek, and lightly, oh so lightly, trail fingers down his neck. He looked at Justin, thinking maybe, but he still looked scared, young.

"Let's get comfortable with this first," Chris said, wrapping one arm around Justin's waist and pulling until Justin relaxed against him, breathing. It wasn't too long before Justin could pin him to the bus floor, laughing, then lean down to try and suck out his tonsils. Chris had worried about it for a while, that Justin would get a crush on someone and want to own them, but he was sixteen and the sex was free, Justin did the best out of all them.

It was good. Fuckloads better than before, right? Because now everybody touched everybody and everybody had fucking fantastic memories and attachments to everybody, and nobody ever felt lonely. It didn't matter if you were in the middle of nowhere because you were always with four other guys and at least one of them was thinking the same thing. Sure everybody had a favorite, and one they were favored by, but it worked somehow. Maybe it was part of the lucky streak they were on, that it all worked out so that nobody could pair up and leave the others behind. Not any more.

Lou flipped when he found out but there was nothing he could do except scream about it. And in between sighing and shaking their heads the publicists were a little bit pleased because Lance went and got a girlfriend, wanting someone only for himself, and Chris did the same, but sometimes he wondered how that had happened. Pretty soon they all had girls, and "the fucking" just kind of stopped, petered out slowly and became a part of the past. The more time he put between himself and that the more Chris wondered how he had ever done it. Normal people just didn't do that, did they? They didn't fuck best friends in dressing rooms, they didn't go down on their best friends as the ultimate apologetic gesture. Or did they? It had been so long since he could honestly say "I'm an average kind of guy."

It wasn't until after Dani left him that he missed it, that he ever thought about going back. They couldn't do it now, he couldn't walk up to Lance and say, "Hey, you wanna go in back?" because Lance would think Chris wanted to talk with him, or show him something. And even if Chris explained, Lance would probably look at him funny. He'd still say "Sure," but the funny look defeated the entire purpose. It wasn't normal, it wasn't alright. It wasn't something they could go back to. And besides, Joey had a kid. A fucking kid. He couldn't do that shit anymore, and Justin wouldn't want to, not really.

Chris felt lonely for the first time in years.

One night he sat down next to Lance on the bus. No reason, really, Lance was just the only one who wasn't asleep or on the phone, and Chris didn't want to sit alone.

Absinthe eyes focused on him, and gently asked, "How ya holding up?"

Chris was drunk, not very, more than he should be considering the beer in the little fridge was for all of them. Still he could tell what Lance really wanted to know. "As well as I'm able." He shrugged, "I miss her a lot."

Joey laughed somewhere in the background, and said, "Bye, baby." Lance looked off somewhere behind Chris for a while.

"Do you ever miss it?" Chris asked suddenly, because he wanted to know.

Lance shook his head, and Chris wasn't surprised. "I miss him sometimes, though," he said really softly, so Joey wouldn't hear as he made himself a sandwich. "A little. He was good to me."

Chris nodded and didn't say anything for a while, Lance has had a string of bad relationships, catty little bitches- even the men -that were using him as a way into the biz. "I'm sorry," Chris said suddenly, because he was. His mind doesn't seem to want to take the time to review his impulses, he just says whatever comes to mind. "Just didn't seem fair that he had you." What Chris had meant to say was the 'that you and he had somebody,' but he realized as he reviewed his statement that what he'd said was also true. Joey's somebody was Lance, and Chris thought that maybe that was made the situation less irksome and more intolerable.

Lance looked surprised, "Me?"

Chris shrugged. "Yeah, it was wrong of me, but I didn't- I was jealous. Selfish."

Like that, he was forgiven. Lance suddenly had sympathy for him and shook his head sadly, "It's not like me and Joey were longed for forever. It was better this way."

Chris wasn't sure that made it right.

And later the guilt was compounded when Lance followed Chris to his hotel room and kissed him. It felt good, Chris hadn't kissed anybody he cared about in months. He latched onto Lance and they fell asleep on top of the sheets, just kissing. The next morning he thought he might give it a try, and he wrapped his arms around Lance waist, called him, "Baby." He stayed there, watching him shave, teasing Lance as he shaped his glorified chin scruff but when Lance was done he rubbed his palm over it and smiled.

And Chris understood why Joey had gone and taken such a risk. Lance had a way of spreading your heart wide open and making himself at home there. He'd talk, endlessly if he had to, to get Chris to open up and share things, and he never made Chris regret it. He followed Chris to his grandmother's house for Christmas, laughing and cooing over the children, never once acting like he didn't belong. Chris was surprised his family bought it, but they did, never questioning, never fighting. And he slept around you like a pet boa constrictor, needing to be cuddled and reassured, until you said, "Baby, I love you so much," so many times you couldn't help but believe it.

And that wasn't a bad thing, because Lance was sweet and thoughtful, buying Chris things he didn't even know he wanted until he'd unwrapped them, vintage records, promotional shit for Hong Kong action flicks, video games that weren't even released in the states. Lance was big on acts of service, organizing Chris financial business, cooking him dinner, but he never seemed to expect it in return.

He was hot, too. Fucking scorching, making noises in the back of his throat, not deep and purring, but a little high, completely unconscious, like it was just so good he couldn't hold it back, wasn't thinking. He had gotten over himself, too, and could admit that sex could be recreational as well as serious and didn't always need candles and moods and shit like that. Sometimes, in a meeting, Lance would lean over and whisper in his ear, and Chris never knew if he would hear "Management's fucking us over again," or a story about bathroom stalls, and necktie gags, and "fucking you so hard your feet don't touch the floor." Lance never actually did it, to Chris' extreme disappointment, but he would say it all again when they got back to the house.

Chris tried to keep it a secret, not knowing why really, except he was sure he didn't want to share. Share Lance, share how it made it him feel, anything. Justin eventually found out, in the sweetest possibly way, just sensing it, knowing Chris well enough to see it in the way he walked. But Justin told JC, and JC brought it out in the open, talking about it like it was a casual thing. Joey didn't really think it was cool, but he didn't say anything, just kind of looked at Chris and for weeks Chris couldn't even look up when Joey was in the room for fear of seeing that same expression again. JC wanted to know if the "old rules" were back, Chris looked at Lance, knowing that the answer would be somewhere on his face.

"Um, I-"

"Cause you know it doesn't work the other way," JC offered.

Chris nodded, and tried to delay it for as long as could. He kept Lance busy for three days. On the third night he couldn't find him, he didn't even ask around. Just went and sat down in the little niche they had every forty feet in the corridor for windows. Chris sat on that little lounge they had there under the window, staring at JC's door for an hour, not even moving really, a monumental feat for someone like him. Someone like him, yeah, that was his excuse for everything. He didn't really think about anything, except for the exciting twenty minutes where he was annoyed by the squeak-squeak- stop of the maid's little cart. She didn't knock on JC's door; there was a Do Not Disturb sign on the handle and everything.

Lance shuffled out a while later, sleepy and physically sated. He looked at Chris and knew that things were not alright. He sat next to Chris, scooting down far enough to put his head on Chris' shoulder, press his lips to Chris' neck. "What's wrong, baby?"

"I didn't..." Chris sighed, trying to force it all out of him, all the hurt and jealousy and the selfishness, the whiney, little voice screaming, 'Mine, mine. Not his, not fucking anybody's now. Mine.' "I don't know. I just don't think I can do this."

"Do what?" Lance asked, sweet and na´ve. He thought about it for a while, "You mean JC?"

"I mean them all."

"Why? What's different now?"

Chris thought about for a while, touching Lance's face and neck as if he could smooth JC's and Joey's and, fuck, Justin's and that girl who had almost managed to marry him, and all of Lance's loser boyfriends' touches away, wipe him clean. "Cause now you're mine."

Lance knew all about ownership, knew the he couldn't be mostly Chris' and partly everybody else's. It hadn't worked with Joey- and God, Lance had wanted it to. "Wait then."


Lance nodded, pushing his face a little further into Chris' shoulder because he didn't want to look up just yet. "Cause there's no way now that it could be just you and me, but if you waited... until all this was over, or maybe just beginning of the end."

"I'm not patient," Chris said, his hands were still moving, now up and down Lance's back.

"For me?"

Chris shrugged his agreement, then felt bad about it, because it wasn't that he didn't care, he just didn't want to agree. So he kissed Lance hard and said, "Yes." He could, because Lance was the condition that made all things possible.

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