To Go Too Far: 7

by Miss Kitty E

He really did love Dani, so much so he almost cried the first time he told her so, and it both broke and mended his heart to know that it was really true. He loved her for the obvious reasons, she was smart, and pretty, and had a rather amazing ability to endure him. He loved her because she hadn't thought Fumanskeeto was a stupid idea, and because she had a way of being simultaneously proud of and embarrassed by him. And he loved her because she didn't pull the usual crap women did; when she wanted him to romance her she told him to, and when she didn't feel appreciated, she made that clear without the usual fanfare and tears other women did. She made things easy, even though every other woman (or man) Chris had been with had only served to make his life more complicated.

There were some days, a lot of them in fact, when he thought he might really be content. It was a strange feeling for him because so much of his life, over two decades anyway, had been spent working for something, and now that he had it he didn't really know what to do. If you caught him on an honest day, Chris would admit that money was one of the reasons he had been so good about keeping things between him and Justin smooth, all the money they were getting, all the money they should have been getting. But it was also a little because he was stubborn and spiteful. None of that spite was for Justin, it was reserved for Lou Pearlman who Chris sincerely hoped would keel over dead on some magical day- maybe the day they won a Grammy or something ľall because they'd done it without him.

But mostly, deep down inside, Chris desperately wanted them both to be able to look back at everything- their relationship, the break-up, and the friendship after -as worth it. It was more than a mildly disturbing proposition to have contributed to, or to even be, one of the biggest mistakes of someone's early life, so Chris did his best to make sure that he wasn't. It wasn't easy at first; Justin had a hard time getting into the new groove of things, maybe because he didn't want to. Eventually, they could talk to each other, look each other in the eye, without wanting to apologize. Things were good, even if they weren't perfect. That didn't mean he could deny what had once been there, but he could live with it. Most of the time.

He just didn't really think it was fair that Justin would start to grow his hair out only after Chris could no longer touch it. He spent a lot of the time they were together making a conscious effort not to look at those curls, not to think about them. He kept his hands busy, and teased Justin gently about them until he put on a bandanna or a hat, and generally out of sight really did mean out of mind. Sometimes though, they were just there, and Chris had never understood how some people could fixate on hair until he was forced to sit next to Justin like he was one night, on a couch watching a movie they had never seen but that was familiar just the same.

Maybe it would have been alright if the sun hadn't been streaming in from behind, the golden rays of the late-afternoon light adding color to the curls that sometimes reminded Chris of wood shavings from a chisel, only softer, thicker. Every time he shifted, to tuck one foot under a knee, to pull both legs up from the floor, to wedge himself into the corner of the small couch, he snuck another glance at them. Every time, Justin laughed, made a comment, or got up to refresh their drinks, he stared for as long as Justin was distracted. Finally, towards the end of the movie, he raised one hand and touched them. Touching just one thick, loose curl first which he gently pulled straight to watch it bounce back into the rest. Justin didn't look at him, but it was clear he wasn't watching the movie anymore.

A little bolder he laced his fingers into Justin's hair until rested his palm flat on the scalp, almost cupping it but not quite as he pulled as much sensation as he could through his skin in a vain attempt to end his curiosity. 'Thirty seconds,' he told himself, just thirty seconds to pull his fingers through those curls, and pet him like a fucking cat. Justin's eyes were closed by the time Chris stopped, neck limp and depending almost fully upon the support of Chris' hand. He let his head loll once, then blinked, looking at Chris with wet, worried eyes.

And then Chris was being bent over his knees, hips still in the same spot, but shoulders drawn closer by two big hands. He worried there would be a kiss at the end of this embrace but did nothing to stop his forward momentum. There was no kiss and would be none, Justin's breath was coming out in intermittent, quiet, half-sobs. For a sad, scary moment he wondered if Justin was about to reveal how badly he was broken, that now would be the time Chris was told how much and how negatively their relationship really had affected him.

"I was so sure you..." Justin tried to speak even as a sob forced air into his lungs, and he ended up hiccupping pathetically. "I mean why wouldn't you? I wanted you to, dammit, I wanted you to be mad enough to- but you just fucking let me and-"

"Shh, Justin, listen," Chris didn't want to hear everything that Justin had ever meant to say, didn't want to say everything that he had always wanted to; things were too close to being stable to fuck up now. It was hard not touch Justin again as he sought the right words to say now, but he kept his hands on his knees. "It's all done and behind us, but we're still here."

Justin nodded, "But-"

"It's all that matters. Jesus, Justin, I care about you so fucking much, enough to let you do your own thing. You understand?"

A slow crash of bodies followed that question as Justin leaned forward, defeated, and Chris leaned back, relieved. On the too-small couch they arranged their legs, arms, and hips so that everything found a place.

Chris wanted to touch Justin's hair again, stroke it or do something soothing like that, but he placed his frail fingers on Justin's shoulder instead. "Was this a good thing?" he asked. "Are you gonna leave here thinking things are better than they were?"

"Yeah," Justin said. "I think so."

~~~~~~~~

And they fell asleep like that, so what? Long before there was anything between them they'd shared a room- all five of them when things got tight -buses, vans, dressing rooms, they knew how to sleep when pressed against someone maybe a little too close for comfort. Sometimes, especially for Justin, it was the easiest way to cure insomnia. When Chris woke up he heard soft voices talking, and the rise and fall of a chest against his. He knew at once from the weight and heat that it wasn't Danielle, but that wasn't enough to alarm him. He listened to the voices.

"-know all about you," he knew that voice, knew that tone. Dani.

"You don't know shit," he knew that voice even better, and knew it was time to stop it from saying anymore.

He sat up, forcing Justin to do the same. He scratched the back of his neck and yawned, "I forgot I was a sleepy-drunk." He looked up at Dani and smiled, but she only looked away.

Justin got up quickly, "'S late... I should go."

Chris nodded, "Okay. Later, man."

"Yeah," as Justin went to put on his jacket, Dani threw her keys onto the table and made her way up the stairs. Chris didn't follow right away, even if there was no point in trying to maintain normalcy in front of Justin. He turned off the TV and said a soft good-bye. Sighing softly, he then made his way up the stairs.

Dani was already in bed, light flicked on and casting a yellow glow over her and the book she'd been reading for almost a month.

He started to undo his shirt, then just stopped. "What is it? What I do? Why are you mad?"

Dani pressed her lips together, "Why shouldn't I be? I'm sorry, Chris, I just don't think it's that unreasonable to come home and not be thrilled to find my boyfriend asleep on the same couch as his ex. I don't see what's so hard to understand about that."

Chris shook his head, "It's not like that, Dani, you know it's not like that."

"How, Chris?" she threw down her book now, and looked at him, not like she was angry, but like he was stupid. "How the hell do I know you didn't kiss him goodnight? How do I know when you hang out with him you aren't fucking him... or letting him fuck you, whatever you guys did."

"Don't," Chris said sharply. "You say another word like that and I won't be able to forgive you."

"You? You forgive me? Jesus Christ, Chris-"

"He's my friend, Dani."

"What does that even mean?"

"It means you're asking too much when you want me to cut him out of my life. I'm only just able to really-"

Dani buried her face in her hands, raising her knees a little as she took a moment to calm herself. "I'm asking too much?" she asked, softly. "Chris, do you even know what you're asking of me? You want me to just let you maintain this closeness and-and this sense of obligation to that spoiled brat and it makes me think that anytime he decides he wants you back you'd go."

"Dani-"

"Chris, do you have any idea how it feels to be the stand in? I keep-" she sighed tersely. "You make me feel like Justin is your one true love and I'm just keep his seat warm."

"That's not true."

"But it's how you make me feel. And you won't do anything to show me different."

Chris rubbed his eyes tiredly, "Dani, I do love you."

"Great. Thank you. That's just so comforting, Chris."

Chris rubbed his hands over his sweats, "Dani-"

"Just forget it," she looked up at him again. "I'm not so much mad as... afraid."

"You don't have to be, Dani." He put one knee up on the bed experimentally, and was not rebuffed. "I don't know how I can make this clear."

Pushing a few blonde strands behind her ear, Dani studied him for a moment. She smiled weakly, and touched his face lightly, "I don't know either, babe."

Chris didn't know if she had really meant that to be comforting, but Dani was drawing him forward, pressing him to her chest, and he just let himself go, and hoped things were be better in the morning.

~~~~~~~~

Maybe it was a little na´ve of Chris to think that things could go back to the way they were, maybe Dani gave too much thought on the good times to ever be able to really leave, but together they drug the relationship on months after it wasn't there anymore. Until finally, they just made it official, it hurt, but not as much as it should have, even though Dani cried and Chris was angry at himself and at her, and Justin, and even God, a little. He would lie awake at night waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Busta to run away, or his mother to get sick, or for some miscellaneous woman from Germany to show up in the National Enquirer with "Chris Kirkpatrick, Jr." It never did, though, and in the end he was kind of disappointed; he didn't have the right to be so pissed off anymore.

He tried to be excited about recording, but it wasn't really within him and whenever he forced it he ended up freaking out Justin and offending JC. He tried to enjoy his and Dani's friendship, but it felt strange, awkward and weighed down by regrets and touchy subjects. His life wasn't a void, far from it, but he liked it less and didn't know why.

Some days he thought he knew the answer, but most days he hoped to God he didn't.

Part Eight - Fic Index - Main