When the Tables Are Turned

by Miss Kitty E

Lance was the problem solver, said so right in his bio, only the PR people had changed it to "business minded." Either way it was one of the truer things written on that little slip of paper they gave to the magazines, because when something went wrong Lance would sit down, analyze it, choose the best course of action, then follow it through. Worked every time, which was all fine and dandy for Lance, but it was Justin who had the problem. He had tried to do it Lance's way, he had sat down and thought about it, just like Lance, only his thoughts would go in ever widening circles and he would get too frustrated to sit still anymore. Hours later, he'd find himself driving, or fucking Britney, or playing basketball, still without a solution to his problem, and it was a very big problem indeed. Joey was in love with him.

He wasn't entirely sure, of course, because Joey hadn't done anything weird like sit him down for a frank discussion on his newfound feelings of attraction towards him, which is what Lance would have done. Or stupid like walk up to him one day and kiss him, which is what Justin probably would have done in this situation. What he would have done if he was attracted to Joey, but he wasn't. And that was a huge part of his huge problem. If it were a girl, he could have just said the truth, told her what's what, but he couldn't, not to Joey. It wasn't that Joey would be particularly hurt, or would even hold it against him, but to say it, "I just don't think I'll ever feel that way about you, Joe, sorry," would be too much. It was unfair, everything Joey had done for him /deserved/ to be repaid now with a shy smile and an easily surrendered kiss, because Justin was still grateful for all he had done.

Justin was still grateful, for Germany, when Joey's concern and comfort was sort of the only thing that made him feel better. Better than Chris who was too short and teasing, better than JC who was too skinny and prying, better than Lance who simply didn't do it, Joey could gather him, laying his arms loosely around his shoulders, and make him feel whatever he needed to feel. Safe, small, loved, placated, it was all the same, and Joey never let go too soon. He waited until Justin could bear to look at them all again, until he was ready to stand on his own two feet. For that Justin was the most grateful, grateful that Joey knew that if he let go too soon, it would only hurt somehow, making Justin feel as if he were just a nuisance and the embrace had been given just to shut him up. Joey never made him feel that way, and so Justin had sought him and his comfort out whenever he needed, once in a while settling his cheek against the warm, fleshy firmness of Joey's shoulder when one embrace was just not enough. And Joey gave himself freely, without question, and sometimes, without thought.

Like when he had kissed him, so lightly to this day Justin was /really/ sure it had happened. If it did, it had happened after that girl- Justin had never liked her, and she'd never come around enough to force him to learn her name -had dumped Joey. He and Chris had monitored the quiet phone conversation as if it were background noise, watching the smile fade, listening to his increasingly hopeless pleas. Joey had hung up on her, having heard all he needed, said all that he could. He'd looked at them, saw that they knew, and just got up without a word, making his way back to the bunks. Justin had waited only a moment to follow him, intent on repaying just one of the times he'd laid his head on Joey's shoulder by offering his own. Selfishly, he was pleased when Joey had accepted it, pressed his face into Justin's chest and grabbed fistfuls of his sweater. Justin had only stared down into the red dyed tips and black roots of Joey's hair, stroking his temples gently under his thumbs, patiently waiting for that moment when he could let go. Before it came, Joey had sat up a little more on the bunk, and the rough-soft of chapped lips had been pressed to his base of his neck for a moment, and then taken away.

And maybe it was Justin's fault for not saying anything then, for not freaking out, or discouraging him, but he hadn't known there was any reason he should. Rather, he had smiled down at Joey and given him one last squeeze, leaving him to the quiet rest that he knew Joey needed then. Maybe if he had known, known that Joey was just as into guys as he was girls, the whole mess could have been avoided, but that little revelation had come later. It still embarrassed him, how long he'd been in the dark when there'd be no effort at all to obscure the truth.

"How come you don't bring around your friends any more?" he'd asked Joey. An idle question, asked because he was bored and Joey's friends had always been fun, eager to do anything, acting as if they barely knew what to do with themselves when they found themselves on the bus, or in a booth with "'N Sync."

Joey had looked at him strangely, "What do you mean?"

"You know? Those guys, Mike and... Greg? Those /guys,/ remember?"

Joey did seem to understand, but had struggled on how to answer. "Oh. Well, I... I don't think Amanda would really like that, Justin."

"Huh? She won't let you have friends, or something?"

"Special friends, anyway," Chris had said under his breath, smirking.

Justin hadn't even looked at him, watching Joey, "What? We're not special?"

Joey had laughed like he got the joke, trailing off when Justin just continued to stare at him, confused. "Justin, uh... they were dates."


He had nodded and smiled nervously, looking at Chris as if for help. "Yeah, I'm bi and-"

"Bi?" Justin really didn't know what kind of game they were trying to play. Joey's bi, yeah right. Justin blinked because Joey was trying to hide a smile, but watching him with concern. It did explain a lot of things, all the guys he met and brought over and introduced with first names only, the affection level he had with these "friends" that was just a step above the one Joey had with the guys... the one he had with Justin. "Oh," he'd said softly. Laughing, "Oh god, duh!"

Joey had smiled then, "It's okay with you then? I'll be straight with you, if you have, you know, any questions."

He grimaced, "No thanks. That's a mystery I'd prefer unsolved."

But that must have been a lie because he thought about it a lot after that day. Not constantly by any means, but whenever it was brought up, he'd spend a few minutes trying to figure out why "big manly Joey" would get a rise out of cuddling with a guy. He understood it when it was some limp-wristed, glitter wearing fairy, but Joey? Trying to understand that, had led to trying to picture it and had led to a few uncomfortable situations, so Justin stopped thinking about it all together.

After the first piece of the puzzle had been set down, the others just kinda fell into place. He would have thought that if Joey were going to do something dumb like fall in love with a band member, it would be with one of the girly ones, Lance if he was going by the face, JC if he was going by the body type. But the longer Justin lived knowing what he did about Joey, the more apparent the truth became. Joey's secret glances suddenly weren't so secret, and his little slip-ups weren't so easily missed or explained away. It wasn't that unpleasant, really; the unease and guilt was just a trimming on the warm feeling Justin got when he was reminded that somebody cared for him like Joey did.

He didn't like- in fact, he hated -that after Amanda dumped him, Joey swore off "banshees" for a while and started bringing home guys. He saw them leaving the hotels in the morning with cab money and sleepy grins; Joey was classy like that. And he was no stranger to casual sex, so he wasn't hurting himself, but that didn't mean he was happy either, and Justin tried to pretend that he couldn't help that, tried to pretend that he didn't want to. Joey would stop trying to replace him in his own time, and meanwhile, Justin would continue pretending not to see.

But Joey didn't stop, and Justin never really stopped feeling guilty for it so one day he made up his mind to set things right. He got so excited about finally solving the problem- even if it was Lance's lame ass "discussion" solution -that, late as it was, he went to find Joey just as soon as he figured out what he would say.

The door was open, the strap of Joey's bag having caught the corner. Justin walked into the room quickly, Joey's name on the tip of his tongue, and stopped; stopped moving, stopped breathing, stopped thinking. He went from this state of complete stillness, complete silence, to hurried action and angered sound in an instant. "Fuck!" he spun around and left the room.

What he had seen followed him out, banging around in his mind, giving him a fast headache. Joey kissing someone, some /guy/, the same guy as the night before, and two weeks ago in Chicago, and maybe back in Cleveland. Legs drawn across his lap, one arm snaking around a slim waist, ending with a hand that had slipped into the loosened jeans even as he watched, the other was lost somewhere in the maze of entwined limbs and mouths. Justin didn't know exactly what but something beautiful was now ugly, cheap, and all fucking wrong. He sat on his hotel bed, burying his face into his hands. So Joey wasn't pining over him, wasn't brooding like some storm about to break; that the pressure was off, that he wouldn't have to say it, did not make him happy.

Joey knocked, but pushed open the door without waiting for the invite. "Justin?"

"Not now," he dropped his hands and they just hung limply between his knees.

"Yes, now. If you can interrupt me I can sure as hell interrupt you," he didn't really sound angry, so Justin didn't feel guilty.

"I'm sorry," he said anyway. "I didn't mean to-"

"Why did it freak you out like that I thought you were cool with me being-"

Justin frowned tightly and snapped, "It's not that. You just... fuck Joey, you weren't supposed to-"

It seemed impossible to for either of them to let the other finish his sentence, as if they both wanted to be done with this perfunctory discussion. "I was safe," Joey insisted, cutting him off. "I was careful. Nothing's gonna leak out and damage your rep, okay?" Now Joey did sound angry, offended.

Justin sagged even further, and squeezing his eyes shut and knitting his brow as he tried to find words that could cancel out Joey's. "You don't get it," he said softly. "You aren't supposed to want to kiss some... just some guy, Joe, you're supposed to..." he sighed and gathered up the courage to say the truth no matter how weird it sounded. Once it was out in the open, they could make sense of it together. "You were supposed to wanna kiss me, fuck, don't you see how it's all wrong?"

Joey was quiet for a long time, and Justin could feel his eyes roaming over him, from his face, to his hands, to his feet. "You want me to kiss you?"

"No," he said automatically. Because he was pretty sure that he didn't. "It's not like that, but... it took me a while to get used to you being in love with me, and I guess it'll take a while for me to get used to you... not being in love with me. I think it was just nice-" Justin dared to glance up at Joey's concerned face, "Just nice to know that no matter what I did, where I went, someone cared..." If he had anything more to say he forgot it when a hand came to rest on his cheek, thumb stroking just under his eye, brushing the lashes. Justin was completely still again for Joey as he leaned forward and gave him a kiss like you saw in the movies. Or at least it felt like those looked, because Justin had his eyes closed.

It wasn't like Justin's eyes were being opened for the very first time, or his heart was being broken down and then reconstructed, he was just being given the final piece of the puzzle. Things made sense, and the really great thing was the score was even now. Joey pulled away and Justin found that he'd put his arms around his neck. He didn't let them fall.

"Are you happy now?"

Justin hid his face, bowing it a little so Joey couldn't see his eyes, "Maybe."

Two fingers lifted his chin and suddenly Justin was beginning to feel anxious, but he didn't know why. Joey was quiet for a long time, eyes never lingering for long on any one spot on Justin's face, "I know you need time to think-"

Justin shook his head, freeing it from Joey's grasp, "I've been thinking about it for a while now."

Joey sat down next to him on the bed, "About what exactly?"

"You being in love with me."

"I'm not in love with you," he said uncomfortably, looking away.

Justin frowned, "Oh." First, he wanted to die, then he wanted to argue, "I saw you looking at me though."

"Justin, you were looking at me."

"I was not!" Well, he he was, but to look for the signs. That's all.

Joey shook his head, "Fine. I just... don't get it. You and Britney, you and heterosexuality, you and that kiss- one of those things is not like the others, if you get what I mean."

"So if I dumped Britney, it'd be okay?" Justin was really quite willing to do it.

"Don't dump Britney."

Justin rolled his eyes, wasn't Joey a saint now? Maybe it was hard for him to understand, but to Justin it made perfect sense, he had wanted Britney so he had got her, now he wanted Joey because he finally understood why he hated it when someone else had him. He was being a brat, he knew it, desperately wanting because he couldn't have. Because it wasn't just there for him anymore. Had never been. "Listen, Joey, tell me this- honestly, would it hurt you to walk out and pretend it never happened?"

"No," it seemed like it Joey resented saying it.

Well, Justin resented the answer, too. "It would hurt me." Was the whole goddamned world was upside down? Because it was Justin getting hurt, and it was starting to sound like /he/ was in love with Joey, not the other way round.

"Listen, Justin-"

"Just shut up," Justin had said it before he even realized Joey was speaking. He'd just heard the sound disrupting his quiet and silenced it. He curled up on his side now, kicking Joey when he brought up legs. He didn't apologize.

He closed his eyes and waited for Joey to leave, but instead Joey touched him, carefully smoothing down his hair.

"I wish you weren't taking this so bad." Justin didn't understand what that meant until Joey kissed his cheek softly and settled beside him. Joey felt as if he were being muscled into this by Justin's sheer force of will, but it was Joey's choice, wasn't it? If Joey couldn't walk away knowing he'd hurt Justin, that was his own problem. All this was Joey's fault anyway, maybe not for being in love with him, but at least making Justin think that he was. He was definitely responsible for making Justin fall in love with him. Pulling all the comforting shit, making him think about Joey in the context of sex, making him feel, you know, loved and cared for even when he technically wasn't. Justin laced their fingers together and didn't say a word of apology.

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