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A certain popular singer was heard having a furious argument via cell phone this week. All we can hope is he’s justified in his accusations.

Chris stares at his cell. Rubbing at his ear, he hits the disconnect button and looks around, making sure no one is staring his way. It’s an ingrained action, born of years of people watching his every move, but there’s no one looking. He didn’t expect there to be, not really, even if every one of Justin’s worried words sounded clear and loud.

Resisting the urge to kick at a tire, Chris pulls open his car door, sliding behind the wheel. It’s warm inside, the late afternoon sun glinting against the mirror, and Chris lets his head tip back, hitting the head-rest with a soft thud. Tempted to just drive home, he flips open his cell instead. He hits Lance’s number, listening to the shrill ring while watching a flock of birds high overhead, black against blue sky.

“Hello.”

Hearing Reichen, Chris hesitates a moment before asking, “Is Lance there?”

“Sure, hold on. Lance, it’s Chris.”

There’s a series of thumps and Chris bites at a hang-nail as he listens to the squeak of bedsprings, the slither of cloth against skin.

“Hey.”

“You’re talking to me naked, aren’t you?”

“I should be disturbed you know that.” Lance laughs, and Chris tugs with his teeth, making blood bead against his nail.

“It’s not rocket science, Bass. You’re with the stud, and the bed’s squeaking. Get a new one if you want to have sex while talking on the phone.”

“One, his name’s Reichen. Two, we’re not having sex.” Lance sounds amused, voice low and slightly rough.

Not picturing Lance having sex at all, Chris schools his voice to the perfect amount of disinterest.

“Good, because that kinky threesome phone sex shit? So not my scene.”

“If you say so.”

Lance is laughing again, and Chris wants to beat Justin around the head. This is all his fault, him with his concerns and PC bullshit.

“I do say so, but as much as I want to discuss phone sex with you, which I have to say is very little, I phoned for something else.” Chris looks at his finger, wipes it dry against the side of his t-shirt, counting the throbbing ache against the sound of Lance’s encouraging hum. “Justin just called. He’s been listening to that show Joe and I did. God knows how, probably downloaded it somewhere. He spends far too much time needing to know everything; it can’t be good for him. But anyway. He seems to think I went too far, which. Hello. Does he even know me? Still. I figured I’d cover all the bases.”

“Are you calling to apologise for all of the gay jokes?” Lance sounds amused.

“Do I need to apologise?” Chris doesn’t think so, but it doesn’t hurt to be sure.

“If I say yes will you give me a heartfelt apology and vow to say nothing about it again?”

“I could try.” And really, Chris would try, but it’s inevitable that he’ll say something. It’s just how he is.

“Then no, why change a lifetime of no apologies now?” There’s underlying laughter and Chris settles into the shared memories of a thousand other jokes and affection- dulled insults. Then the easy silence is suddenly replaced by hastily muffled sharp words.

“Chris, I have to go.” The connection is clear again as Lance speaks. “I’ll call you, okay?”

Chris listens as Lance’s voice drops away and the connection is cut. Clicking shut his cell, he drops it on the dash, starts up his car and finally goes home.

~*~*~*~

Whispers have reached us that the forgotten two-fifths of a washed up boyband drank into the early hours Tuesday night. Guess it’s good to see they’re still in sync, even if nobody knows their names .

He hadn’t expected to see Joey, but Chris turns around and he’s right there, relaxed despite the pressing crowd, his t-shirt glinting with tiny sparkles of light

“Joey! Has Kelly loosened your leash for the night?” Chris makes a whip cracking movement with his hand, grinning up at Joey as he’s gathered into a crushing hug.

“She’s planning something, some house theme kind of thing. She’s got samples everywhere. There’s a giant mushroom on the dining table.”

Joey’s holding tight, his beard tickling against Chris’ neck as he talks. Chris’ fingers are digging hard into Joey’s back, and he lets himself be engulfed in the hug, smiling against Joey’s shoulder before pulling apart with last too-hard slaps against backs.

“You partying solo? Because, between you and me? That’s kind of lame. Not surprising though, if you wear shit like this,” “Chris says, and he brushes his finger-tips across the rhinestones that decorate Joey’s t-shirt. “Admit it, you borrowed it off Lance.”

“Like Lance wears rhinestones.”

Joey sounds serious. Chris puts it down to some rhinestone-related repressed memory, because god knows, they’ve all probably worn their weight in the things.

Obviously anticipating Chris’ protest, Joey holds up a hand. “And even if he did, he doesn’t now. Even if he is gay as a sack-full of monkeys.”

“Did I mention that?”

“Not yet, but give it a few seconds.” Joey rests his hand on Chris’ shoulder and stretches up, looking across the crowd toward the bar. “Come on, I need a beer to wash the taste of straw from my mouth.”

Chris considers asking, but sometimes it’s best to not know. A lesson he learned after the whole JC and rubber conversation.

An unspoken agreement, and they head toward the bar, weaving through a sea of people, glitter and perfume, Joey’s hand against the small of Chris’ back. Heading toward two empty bar-stools, Chris claims one, wrapping his ankles around the cool metal of the legs. Content to watch as Joey waves for service, smile wide as a woman indicates she’ll be over soon.

“So, why monkeys?”

Confused, Joey turns to Chris. “Why monkeys, what?”

“You said as gay as a sack-full of monkeys. I was wondering why monkeys. I wasn’t aware monkeys were particularly gay. It could explain the shit flinging thing though.”

Joey’s eyes widen and his mouth opens then closes. Chris bites back a smile; he loves seeing that reaction, knowing that his friends are floundering for words. It’s something that’s amused him for years.

“There was no…. I mean, it’s an expression. And shit flinging?”

Chris starts to explain, but Joey’s faster, clamping his hand across Chris’ mouth.

“I’m sure it makes sense in your twisted world, but. Shut up, man.” He doesn’t move his hand, which Chris has to admit, is impressive. He wouldn’t be able to order a beer if someone was licking at his palm and sliding their tongue between his fingers.

“What can I get you?”

Chris licks a little harder, but Joey doesn’t flinch, just keeps his hand still as he smiles at the barmaid.

“Two beers, please.”

“You’ve got it.” Bending down for the bottles, she reveals long legs and a generous ass that Chris has to admire. Joey too from the way he’s staring her way.

“Letch.” Chris mouths the word. Wise to mouth against palm translation, Joey glances Chris’ way.

“Look but don’t touch, it’s always the way.”

Chris puffs out his cheeks, blowing on Joey’s palm. It’s his own form of agreement, because it obviously works for Joey and Kelly. For himself too, when he was actually dating someone that mattered.

“Does he want a straw?” The barmaid indicates Chris with the bottle. “You know, so he can drink through your fingers.”

Laughing, Joey looks at Chris. “No, I think he’ll be good.”

Chris nods fast, the curve of his smile peeking from behind Joey’s hand.

“Okay. That’ll be five bucks then.” The bottles clink against the bar when she puts them down. Grabbing one, Chris rolls the neck between his fingers as Joey finally takes away his hand, rubbing his palm down his thigh.

“You’re disgusting, man.” Pulling out his wallet, Joey selects a credit card and hands it over. “Can you set up a tab?”

“Sure.” Taking the card, she moves away, hips swaying as she walks.

“Thanks, sweetheart.” Seating himself on the empty barstool, Joey finally looks at Chris. “Now, she’s fine.”

”Yep,” Chris agrees, and takes a long swallow of cold beer.

Joey drinks too, belching with a satisfied smile.” So, how’s things?”

“Fine. Apart from being read the riot act by Justin.” Chris scowls down at his lap. It’s been days but he can still remember each annoying word as Justin attempted to explain the need for support.

“Lance said you were going to apologise.”

“Yeah, well.” Chris takes another drink, knowing Joey’s shorthand extends to knowing Lance is one of the few where apologies would even be considered.

“Justin’s promoting, you know how it is,” Joey says, and Chris does know. He knows how crazy things get, and how Justin constantly works for perfection. Chris also knows that cracks inevitably appear, and if Justin needs to vent at him to let off steam, well, Chris will take it. To some extent anyway.

“I know.” Chris takes another drink and sets the bottle down on the bar. “Still, I think I’ll go for the wounded, hurt feelings approach next week.”

“Harsh, man. But justified.” Joey taps his finger against his bottle, lips curving upwards. “I’m looking forward to it; we haven’t been together in too long.”

Despite some mixed feelings about the agenda of the meeting, Chris can’t deny he’s looking forward to being part of five again too.

“Are Lance and his stud staying with you?” Foot braced against the floor, Chris twists the stool, quarter turns left and right as Joey sighs.

“Lance is. Reichen’s not. I think….” Joey hesitates and looks at Chris. “I know you’ve got this thing about Lance and his boyfriends, and usually your jealous streak is kind of funny, but they’re having problems, so lay off a bit.”

Indignant, Chris turns so he’s looking right at Joey. “I’ve never been jealous, and I am the epitome of sensitivity.”

Joey’s snort of laughter should be insulting, but Chris shrugs it off, because he knows he’s right. He can be sensitive if needed, just; most times he doesn’t want to. As for being jealous, maybe he thinks Lance is hot, and maybe there were a few kisses back in the day, but jealousy? Joey’s obviously insane.

~*~*~*~

Whispers say a certain ex-boyband has been approached about singing once more. Problem is, one is so famous now, would he really want to go back to four nobodies?

“Chris!”

Chris staggers when arms grab him around the waist. Taking a step forward he braces himself as JC squeezes, his hair tickling against Chris’ cheek. He smells like fresh air and mint. Chris rests his hands against JC’s crossed arms and holds on, tilting his head so he can see the planes of JC’s face, the lines at the corner of his mouth, the crinkles at his eyes as he smiles wide and looks down, dark eyelashes shadowing his cheek.

It’s an attractive sight, and Chris enjoys looking. His shame about being a letch lost long ago with the realisation he was surrounded by hot friends.

“Hi.” JC smiles wider, his eyes glinting as he squeezes one last time before loosening his hold.

“Hi.” Chris waves, grinning when JC immediately waves back.

“I’m glad you came.”

“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” Chris says flatly, and watches as JC’s smile slips away, replaced by an assessing look.

“It’ll be different this time.”

“Maybe.” Chris shrugs, because as much as he wants this, he can’t see it being different at all.

“We’re here aren’t we?”

“Well, we are.” Chris feels compelled to point that out, like JC can’t see they’re the only people standing in the room.

“Justin was catching an early flight, he’ll be here soon, and you saw Joey’s car. So, Lance is here, too.” JC sounds infinitely patient, and he rests his hand against Chris’ arm, patting like he’s some kind of dog. “Go and find them, I’ll bring you a coffee.”

Chris considers refusing just because, but JC looks too happy, humming under his breath as he hurries toward the kitchens. Chris stands and watches him go, fighting a smile as JC walks out of sight.

Despite the size of the compound, Joey’s voice is loud and it doesn’t take long to find him curled up on a sofa, bare feet pressed against Lance’s. Chris leans against the wall, arms and ankles crossed and watches the epic toe wrestling battle. It’s a close run thing, but eventually Lance snatches victory, celebrating with arms held high.

“Three to one, Joey. Admit it, my toes rule.” Lance wiggles them in emphasis, and Chris peels himself from the wall, and doesn’t think about sucking them at all.

“You’re losing at toe wrestling now? Lame, so very lame,” Chris says, and his hair tickles against his neck when he shakes his head. In the seconds it takes to push it back, Joey pounces.

In an impossibly smooth move, he leans over the back of the sofa and grabs Chris’ arm. It only takes one hard pull and Chris is upside down, back painfully bowed and legs flapping in the air. It’s undignified and his face is smashed into Lance’s thigh, but Chris can’t help laughing as he wiggles until he flops into place, Lance’s knee pushed hard into his side, Joey’s sharp elbow against his back.

“You were saying?” Joey says, and Chris can feel his laughter. It’s full bodied -- vibrations and warmth -- and Chris doesn’t even attempt to escape, happy to lie still, trapped in a tangle of arms and legs.

“I think he was saying I’m the toe fight master.” Lance’s hand is against Chris’ side, fingers not quite tickling.

“As if,” Joey says, sounding amused.

“You can’t argue with the evidence, Joey.” Expression smug, Lance extends his leg, wiggling his toes. “You know you’re jealous.”

“Of those things?” Extending his own leg, Joey holds his foot next to Lance’s, so their toes are side-by-side. “Mine are much longer.”

“And have hair.” Lip curled into a grimace, Lance bumps his toes against Joey’s. “You need to wax those things.”

“It’s a sign of vitality, man. Real men have toe hair.”

“I don’t have toe hair and I’m a real man.”

Chris tilts his head back when he hears Justin’s voice. Justin’s got a bag looped over his shoulder and looks tired, shirt rumpled with a cap pulled low over his eyes. He’s also smiling, the small smile, all dazzle stripped away.

“Matter of opinion, J.” Ignoring the grunts of protest, Chris turns around so he’s kneeling on the sofa, elbows braced on the back, his chin resting on his fisted hands. “All that girlie shit you like, it’s a wonder your dick hasn’t shrivelled off.”

“My dick is fine, thank you very much. Ask Cam, she’ll tell you.”

“Dude! No! Think of Lance, you’ll scar his ears with this girl sex talk.” In seconds Chris has his hands clamped over Lance’s ears. Pressing hard, he can feel soft skin under his fingers, but also a tingling that has to be Lance’s glare in physical form.

“I’m sure my ears will survive.” Lance doesn’t even attempt to push Chris’ hands away, just moves his head enough so he can look up, laughter gleaming behind threat in those huge freaky eyes.

“Mine won’t.” Joey looks mournful as he rubs his ears, only the slight twitch of his mouth giving him away. “Weeks and the first thing he talks about is his dick. Trauma, man. So much trauma.”

“You brought it up,” Justin says, and his bag drops to the floor with a thump. “Incoming!”

Suddenly buried under tons of Timberlake, Chris clings and tries to breathe. They’re all tangled on the sofa, and Chris doesn’t even know who he’s holding on to. He can hear Justin’s dorky laughter, and feel someone’s hand against his back, and someone’s knee is lodged painfully in his side, but it doesn’t matter, because this feels right, especially when he hears you couldn’t have waited? as an increase in weight and limbs shows JC has joined the pile.

It’s inevitable that bodies will meet floor, and Chris finds himself on his back, Justin slumped over him, Lance’s toes poking into his neck. With a snap of teeth he goes to bite, but Lance pulls them away, tucking up his legs and cramming into the corner. Joey’s next to him, JC almost on his lap. Chris shifts so he’s resting against Joey’s legs, JC’s hand warm on his shoulder, Justin’s long gangly legs across his own. All of them content to sit and just be.

It takes Johnny to make them move. Grumbling they detangle as he looks at them, tapping his watch but obviously amused. Chris feels cold when he stands, and needing the caffeine hit, he drains JC’s abandoned coffees, drinking both despite them being cold.

“You ready?”

Lance is waiting at the doorway, and Chris isn’t ready at all. He remembers how much he misses this now, and he’s not ready to give it up again. But it’s inevitable, because they’ve all moved on.

“I guess.”

The problem with having lived with four other people for so long is they all know you too well. Chris knows Lance has picked up on his reluctance, but Lance doesn’t say a word, just nods slightly before walking away, his bare feet padding against the floor.

The meeting is held in the official boardroom. Piles of papers are arranged on the highly-shined table, each one in front of a soft leather chair. The others are already sitting, and Chris is unsurprised to see they’ve taken their usual seats. Prompting layered memories of years before as he sits at his own place, the one furthest away from the pot of coffee and pastries in the corner of the room.

“It’s good to see you all together.” Like all of them, Johnny’s older, more lines in his face, but he seems genuinely pleased as he looks around the room. Settling in his own chair, he fans out the papers in front of him, selecting one from the pile. “I’ve been approached by someone who wants you guys to sing. It’s for a benefit concert here in Orlando, raising money for disadvantaged kids. I know the time hasn’t been right before, but it’s one night only. A few songs and you’re done.”

Chris wonders if Johnny’s left the details vague purposely, dangling the lure in the hope they’ll bite.

“It’s been so long,” Lance says quietly, as if he’s speaking more to himself. He’s sorting through his own papers and pulls one free to read, frowning as he scans down the page.

“Justin’s got his album, JC too. I’ve that thing with Lance, and Chris has his group.” Joey’s addressing Johnny, but the protests sound as if said by rote, his gaze flickering toward the papers spread on the table.

“It’s one night, and the publicity angle would be huge.”

“But it wouldn’t be one night. We’d need rehearsal time.” There are a thousand other things Chris wants to say, but he falls silent, listening to the clack of a nearby keyboard, faint music, the sound of Justin’s fingers drumming against the table.

“I said I wanted to move away from pop.” The beat of Justin’s fingers quickens and Chris taps his foot accordingly as he waits. “If we decide to do this, I want to do something new.”

It’s not what Chris expected Justin to say at all. He’d expected more excuses, truthful lies about different directions and commitments. Not this quick agreement that has them all looking Justin’s way.

“You’d sing?”

Johnny looks surprised, and the papers in his hand drop to the table, sliding across the glossy surface in a wave.

“If the others want to, sure.” Justin leans back in his chair, the crease between his eyes deepening when no one speaks.

“Well, that’s one in.” Johnny finally breaks the silence, and despite the outward stillness it’s obvious that he’s smiling inside. He’s got the right to, because Justin’s the key, has always been the key.

“I’m in too,” JC suddenly says, and he makes no attempt to hide his happiness, beaming at them all. “I’ll have to shuffle some stuff, fit it in with promo, but I can make it work.”

That leaves three, and Chris watches Joey glance at Lance, talking with a series of shrugs and silent words.

“I’m in.”

A brief hesitation, and Lance adds, “me too.”

Twisting his chair, Chris looks down at the table, sees the reflection of someone far too old for a boyband, someone with grey hair and lines. He’s dealt with the pain of losing them once, and singing again seems to be the set up for more. Thing is, despite the negatives, the positives will always be more. He looks up. “Make that five.”

By the time they finish discussing the first tentative details, Chris’ coffee cup has been filled three times. He feels jittery, knee bouncing as he carefully reads through proposals.

“Anything else to add?” Johnny’s leaning back in his chair, relaxed and satisfied.

“I do.” JC sits forward. Energy surrounds him, the intense desire to make music, now. “I’ve got a few songs that would suit us, you know, if we do something new.”

It’s no surprise. It would have been more surprising if he didn’t have anything at all. JC always has songs, good, bad and brilliant; he has to write down the music in his head.

“I’ve got a few, too.”

Justin’s attempting to look nonchalant, like it’s no big deal, but the way he leans in, the way he’s got his fingers pressed against the table, give him away. It’s another repeated memory, but this one is fresh, a new beginning.

“Can I see?” JC turns in his chair, focus directly on Justin.

“I’ll go get my laptop.” Justin stands, his chair spinning behind him as he heads out of the room, then stops dead at the door and looks back. “Unless there’s anything else?”

“I think that’s it.” Johnny looks around for confirmation. Negative replies and Justin is gone, followed seconds later by JC.

“Guess the meeting’s over then.” Joey stretches when he stands, revealing a strip of skin as his t-shirt rides up. “I’m going to see my girls.” He’s already on his cell as he leaves, voice affectionate as he says, “hey, sweetheart.”

Used to the sudden ending of meetings, Johnny gets to his feet. “I’ll set up the next meeting and call you.”

Chris nods, then lets his head fall back against the chair. Eyes closed he listens to the shuffle of papers, the sound of Lance breathing, the squeak of chair that lets him know Lance has moved.

“When I woke up this morning I had no intention of singing again.”

Chris opens his eyes and looks at Lance. He’s perched on the edge of the table and looks bemused. Chris would be concerned but he knows if Lance didn’t want to sing, he wouldn’t have agreed.

“Guess it’s your lucky day then.”

“Stuck between Justin and JC and their inevitable arguments about sound problems only they hear. Junk food and hours in the studio singing the same lines. Yeah, it’s lucky.”

“You know it,” Chris says, easily ignoring Lance’s griping, especially as it’s done with a smile.

“You want to do something? Go out for a drink? Dinner?”

It’s an abrupt change in subject, but Chris prides himself in being adaptable, and jumps to his feet, saying, “if you’re paying, sure.”

~*~*~*~

What cover-boy was seen out on the town again last night? This once closeted man was up close and personal with an ex-bandmate. Whatever would his other-half say?

The coffee shop is small, round tables covered with yellow tablecloths, mismatched chairs and a string of red lights strung along the walls. It smells like sugar, rich coffee and steam, and Chris takes a deep breath when he walks inside, tasting the sweet stickiness of the air.

“They make the best cake in here.” Lance makes his way through the tables, eventually stopping at one pressed up close to the window. Two chairs are pushed under the cloth, one wicker and one painted a faded blue. Sitting at the blue one, Chris looks outside, seeing the bright colours of the coffee-shop reflected over the deserted alley, the small row of shops shut up and dark.

“I’ve never heard of the place.”

Lance picks up the menu, and his knees are so close that Chris can feel each small movement. “I used to come here, before. It’s out of the way, not many customers.”

Looking at the faded walls and smeared windows Chris can understand why, but Lance seems happy as he hands over the menu. “You should try the double chocolate cake. It’s laced with coffee.”

“Chocolate and coffee. You know what I like, Bass.” Chris decides that the cake sounds just fine, and puts the menu back in the plastic coffee-bean shaped holder.

“It’s good. The coffee too.” Lance looks up then and smiles wide when an old woman shuffles toward them. She’s carrying a notebook, a pencil stuck behind her ear, squinting behind small gold glasses when she gets close.

“It’s been years, child.” She lays a winkled hand over Lance’s, flushing slightly when he stands, pulling her into a hug.

“It’s been too long.” Bringing her hand to his lips, Lance kisses it once, holding on when he turns to Chris. “Chris, this is Mrs Unwin, baker of the best cake in the state.”

“Oh hush,” Mrs Unwin says, but it’s obvious she’s pleased as she holds out a hand. “Pleased to meet you, young man.”

“Likewise.” Shaking her hand, Chris feels the strength in her grip, smiling as she squeezes one last time.

“Double mocha cake I imagine.” Mrs Unwin looks at Lance, writing something down in her notebook at his nod. “And your gentleman friend?”

Surprised, Chris realises she means him, and bites back a laugh as Lance shakes his head and smiles. “I’ll have the same as Lance.”

“Good choice.” Quickly writing again, she heads back to the small kitchen, leaving Chris and Lance to sit back down.

“Nice lady.” Chris picks up the sugar shaker, twisting it on the table, making the cloth tighten and shift, round and back as the silence stretches, warm and easy.

“I came here a lot. After recording sessions. It was quiet here.”

Chris nods. He remembers the need for quiet, the nights he escaped into darkness, wound up and edgy. Emotions worn sharp by the constant grind of touring and always climbing expectations. So yeah, he understands the need for solitude and quiet, but still, it doesn’t explain tonight. Why they’re sitting here waiting for cake and coffee.

“I thought all your hang outs were alcohol related.”

“Pot. Kettle” Lance says, one eyebrow raised high.

Chris shrugs, palms out. “Not saying there’s anything wrong with it. Surprised we came here, but I like it,” And he does, he likes the feeling of calm, the soothing sound of frothing milk and Mrs Unwin singing along to the radio.

“Good.” Lance shifts, stretching out his legs, his knee pressed hard against Chris’. “It’s been forever since we were alone.”

It has been forever, years and months and Chris can remember that last time like yesterday. Hands against his sides, lips against his own, laughter as they pulled apart to run on stage, the start of something that fizzled and died.

Mrs Unwin picks that time to serve their food, carefully carrying a loaded tray. Taking it from her, Chris holds it as Lance takes two deep mugs ?" one spotted pink, the other zig-zagged blues ?" and plates containing huge slices of chocolate cake covered with cream.

“Enjoy.”

They’re left to eat, and Chris picks up a mug, taking a sip of coffee. It’s good, strong and frothy, but it needs more. He grabs the sugar shaker, adding plenty, the sugar collapsing the foam until only a ring remains.

“My mama would say you’d get worms.”

“And what would you say?” Chris takes a sip of coffee, smiling around the mug, because it tastes just perfect.

“I’d say you’re a grown man, and if you want to get worms, go for it.”

“Worms?” Chris says slowly. “I know you went to bus school and everything, but worms? Okay, you love your mama, but newsflash. There’s no Easter bunny, sugar doesn’t cause worms, and the stork doesn’t bring babies. Not that you have to worry about that one.”

“Believe me; I know where you came from.” Lance picks up his mug, looking at Chris over the rim and taking a long deliberate drink. “You were hatched by the spawn of hell.”

“Harsh, man. But if it makes you feel better. And then a beautiful white stork brought me cradled in a silken blue shawl.”

“And obviously dropped you on your head on the way.”

”Yeah, into a swarm of sugar eating worms.”

Lance looks at Chris. “I don’t think it’s a swarm of worms. Swarms are flying things.”

“And this matters why?” Chris takes another drink of coffee, reminded just how much of a dork Lance can be.

“Because I want to know.”

Which is the perfect Lance answer, and Chris is beginning to regret bringing this up at all. “You should ask Joey, he knows all kinds of useless shit. Or better still, post on your blog. I’m sure you’ll get a thousand fangirls clamouring to supply the answer.”

“Maybe I will.”

Digging in his jeans pocket, Lance pulls out his cell, and starts to tap at buttons. Chris loses interest after the first few keystrokes. Lance could be texting Joey, or posting a blog via his cell, though that’s unlikely. Whatever it is, eating chocolate cake is a much better option.

“There.” Satisfied, Lance pushes his phone back in his pocket. “So, what’s new?”

“Apart from the fact I’ve stupidly agreed to sing again, putting myself firmly back in the spotlight, not much.” A bell jingles, and Chris looks over his shoulder, watching as a man walks inside. He’s carrying a briefcase, and his shoes squeak as he heads for one of the tables at the far corner of the room.

“I was surprised you said yes to be honest. You’ve been off the radar a long time.”

Attention brought back to Lance, Chris has to agree. He was surprised he’d agreed too, but it wasn’t like he could say no. “Well, unlike some people I know. I don’t go to the opening of an envelope. Talking of which. Where’s the stud?”

“Reichen, Chris. I know you know his name. And he’s staying with friends right now, not me.”

The emphasis is impossible to ignore. But despite Joey mentioning problems, Chris can’t reconcile that with the reports he’s read in the trades, the pictures he’s seen and Lance’s own phone calls from only weeks before. “I thought you guys were the new Tom and Katie?”

“Hardly. I guess.” Lance glances over to Mrs Unwin, who’s taking an order from the new customer. “It isn’t easy living up to an image. You know that.”

Chris does know. He also knows there’s no advice he can give that Lance needs. The relationship will either work or it won’t.

“I hope you can work it out.” It’s a sincere statement. Chris wants Lance to be happy and if that means attending book tours, all the while attached to Reichen’s hip, well, Chris is all for it. Problem is, Lance doesn’t look happy now, hunched over, his mouth drooping at the corners.

“Me too, but it’s up to him. There’s only so much I can change.” As if he’s said too much, Lance grabs his mug and takes a drink. When he places it back on the table his shoulders are straight, his mouth quirked in a smile. “So, I see the Steelers are getting stuffed again.”

~*~*~*~*~

What diva is insisting it’s his way or no way? Guess the sounds around him won’t be love related right now.

Chris slumps back further on the sofa, head full of fragments of songs, disjointed lyrics and random beats that combine into one huge headache.

“I think they’ve been taken over by pod people.” Joey looks over his shoulder at Chris, before looking back into the recording booth. “It’s unnatural. They’d usually be arguing well before now.”

“Are they still sitting comparing notes?”

“Yeah,” Joey says slowly. “It’s all kinds of wrong.”

Chris has to agree. Justin and JC never behave like this in the studio. Normally they’re the centre of a storm, now they’re calmness itself. It’s unnerving.

“It won’t last,” Joey says decisively, and steps away from the window. “They’ll be name calling soon. I want to see if JC’s improved his vocabulary anyway. Remember that one time? You’re an idiot Timberlake, A tone-deaf wouldn’t-know-a-good-song-if-it hit-you-in-the-nuts, tiny-minded, woolly-headed, lame brained, certifiable idiot.”

Joey flails his arms and his voice rises with each word. Chris laughs delightedly, remembering Justin’s stunned expression back then, and the way JC apologised to a background of their laughter.

Chris wipes at his eyes with the back of his hand. “He’s probably working up to that. I hope so anyway, it’ll be better than this syrupy niceness they’ve got going on.”

“I tell you, it’s just not right.” A last look into the studio, and Joey picks up his bag. “I need to go. Tell Lance I’ll see him later.”

Left alone, Chris rummages through the pile of magazines on the coffee table. Selecting an old Tiger Beat -- which he hopes is there because Johnny subscribes to every magazine on the planet, and not that someone actually reads the things -- he takes his place back on the sofa, slouching in the corner, feet up as he reads.

The magazine is as bad as Chris remembers, catering to teen hormones with idiotic questions and glossy posters, the interviews as predictable as ever. Reaching an article about Triple Dee, he’s reading about the difficulties about being an openly gay rapper when the door opens.

“Do you know Triple Dee prefers boxers to briefs.”

“He’s more a going commando guy if you ask me.”

Chris looks up. “Well I didn’t ask, but now I’m intrigued. You know this how?”

“Because I’ve fucked him of course, how else would I know?” Sharply sarcastic, Lance’s mouth is a thin line as he shoves his cell into his pocket and sits down, making Chris hurriedly move his feet. “You know, I haven’t actually slept with half the male population of America.”

“Never said you did,” Chris points out, deliberately using the toe of his boot to poke at Lance’s thigh.

Lance says nothing, even when Chris pokes harder, trying to provoke a reaction. It’s wrong seeing him so still. Chris is used to seeing him focussed intently on work, or lounging in that loose Lance-like way, but this is different, as if he’s lost in his thoughts.

“Lance. Lance. Lance!”

Yelling the last, Chris is pleased when Lance finally scowls, snapping, “What!?”

“Want to go out somewhere? We can hit a club, or your coffee place.”

“I’m not really in the mood,” Lance says. He looks at the magazine Chris is holding, staring at the picture of Triple Dee, shirtless and smiling bright. “I wonder if he’s as happy as he looks?”

“No one can be that happy, not without the good drugs anyway.” Chris knows he sounds cynical, but he spent years playing the game, plastering on a smile as the camera went click. “Come to my place then, I’ll make you dinner and we can watch TV.”

“Live the rockstar lifestyle, yeah?”

“You know it.” Rolling up the magazine, Chris keeps hold of it as he stands and moves toward the door. “Dinner and TV, Lance. You know you want to.”

There’s a moment when Chris thinks Lance is going to refuse again, then he’s standing, following Chris toward the door. “I’m picking what we watch. You’ve no taste.”

“Like you can talk, Mr Degrassi lover.”

“It’s good.” Lance doesn’t even attempt to justify his love for the show, which sucks, because Chris likes nothing more than poking fun at his friends. He likes to think it’s how they know he cares.

“Whatever.” Pouring scorn into the reply, Chris heads outside, holding up a hand when Lance makes for his own car. “You might as well come with me. It’ll save gas.”

It’s easy to read Lance’s expression ?" are you nuts? Like we can’t afford gas money ?" but he changes direction without a word, climbing into Chris’ car.

“You know, you could clean this out once in a while.” Papers rustle and shift under Lance’s feet as he fastens his seatbelt and gets comfortable.

Chris doesn’t even look up, just keeps clicking through the CD changer. “I swear, I thought Justin was in my car there.”

“Like he’d even get into your car in this state.”

“Justin’s neuroses would keep a shrink happy for years, we know this. You, however, are supposedly normal, so, quiet.”

Selecting a CD, Chris starts to drive, drumming a beat against the steering wheel as music fills the car. Five minutes and he’s singing along, harmonising with the song.

“You miss it don’t you?” Lance has shifted in his seat, twisting round so he can look at Chris.

“It’s not like I stopped. I like singing,” Chris says simply, and he does, it’s the things attached to the singing that get him down at times.

“I didn’t think I did. Miss it I mean.” Lance hesitates, looking out the side window. “I believed it too.”

“Yeah?” Chris prompts.

“Yeah.”

“Remember that when JC’s making you sing your line for the hundredth time.” Pulling up at a stop light, Chris stretches, his fingers brushing against the roof. “It wouldn’t have been the same without you.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d have thought you’d missed me.” Lance grins when Chris shakes his head, amusement shown in the slight upturn of his lips.

“As if.”

The lights change, and Chris pulls away. He’s enjoying the drive and the comfortable silence. They’re almost home when Lance first starts to sing along. Random words, so low they’re almost lost in the sound of the road, but they’re there, and Chris delights in hearing them. Instinctively he joins in, singing softly, effortlessly harmonising as they pull into his drive.

Parking in front of his house, Chris steps outside. He squints, shading his eyes against the low sun that makes everything bleed with light, creating shadows that creep long and dark against the ground.

“You’re sounding good.”

“Thanks.” Lance looks across the car roof to Chris. “Now, didn’t you mention food?”

“So demanding.” Chris locks his car and walks to the front door. “Youngsters today, no respect.”

“Feed me and my respect will come back.”

Hesitating, key held against the lock, Chris looks back at Lance. “I feed you and I get respect. What do I get if I give you a drink too?”

Head tilted to one side, Lance taps his fingers against his thigh. “I’ll let you chose what we watch.”

“And yet I was going to do that anyway.” Grinning, Chris walks inside. “You’ll need to do better than that.”

“How about you get the drinks, and I’ll help you cook?”

Dropping his keys onto the hall table, Chris pretends to consider. “Done. Now come on, I’m hungry.”

It doesn’t take long to throw together dinner. Lance is an able assistant, beating eggs like a pro, though Chris has to stop him adding pineapple to the mixture ?" heathen boy doesn’t understand that omelettes and fruit just don’t mix.

Apron wrapped around his waist, Chris shakes the pan, making the wiggle extend down his body until he’s enthusiastically swaying his ass. He gives an extra shake when Lance starts to laugh and do his own version of impromptu dance, forks held in each hand as he moves them up and down. It’s surprising the omelette isn’t black when Chris finally slides it onto the plate. Instead it’s a dark brown, and he pushes it toward Lance with a bright smile. Chris likes to be a generous host, always feeding his guests first. Especially if the cooking has been a little… experimental.

“Thanks, Chris.” Lance dubiously pokes at his omelette, but it obviously passes inspection because he grabs two bottles of water from the fridge, then sits at the kitchen table to eat.

“Okay?” Chris takes a step back when he tips the remaining egg mixture into the pan, making it spit and sizzle.

“It’ll give my teeth a good work out at least.”

Seeing Lance is happily eating, Chris shakes the pan, expertly flipping his omelette over. It lands with a hiss, and he gives it a minute to brown before sliding it onto a plate and sitting down opposite Lance.

Hungry after a day at the compound, they eat in silence, saying nothing until Lance finishes his last bite and pushes away his plate.

“Thanks.”

Chewing, Chris nods an acknowledgement, concentrating on eating when Lance’s cell beeps. Pulling it from his pocket, Lance frowns when he checks the display.

“Everything okay?” Resting his fork on his plate, Chris waits for Lance to reply.

“Not really.” Lance stands, chair scraping across the floor as he picks up his plate. Taking it to the sink, he runs it under the water, back to Chris as he talks. “Reichen and I had another fight.”

Chris hates the curve of Lance’s back, the way his head falls forward as he twists his plate for too long under the stream. “I’m sorry.”

“Me too.” Turning off the faucet, Lance places his plate in the sink. “But, what can you do?” Turning, hip resting against the counter, he looks at Chris. “I’ll go and turn on the TV.”

“My choice, Bass!” Stuffing the last of his omelette in his mouth, Chris abandons his dirty plate, hurrying to catch up to Lance before he gets control of the TV.

~*~*~*~

Which ex-mouse is worried he’s lost his song-writing ability? Of course, the better question is, why did he think he had any to start with?

“I think we should try this one.”

Chris doesn’t bother looking up from his magazine, the techniques of rag-rolling a wall more interesting than seeing Justin shoot down another of JC’s suggested songs.

“Gotta Have It is okay. I like the bridge and there’s a strong verse for us all, but come on, ‘Hit me, spank me, call me yours. Stroke me, whip me, I’m on all fours.’ It’s not an Nsync song is it?”

“Like you can talk. What is it again? Whip me if I misbehave.”

“That’s different.” Justin turns toward Lance, about to explain.

“And it’s not like we’ve never sung about sex before.” Defensive, JC crosses his arms, glaring at Justin.

“Yeah, but you have to admit, C. It’s not the same,” Joey says, looking at JC. “ Digital Getdown’s the equivalent of one of the soft porn mags, Gotta Have It? Totally one of the hard-core titles. It’s like comparing Penthouse and Snatch and Catch Monthly. They’re totally different things.”

Chris puts his magazine to one side, enjoying the sight of a staring Justin, his mouth slightly open.

“Snatch and Catch?” Justin holds up a hand when it looks like Joey’s going to explain. “No, it’s okay. I don’t want to know.”

“I do.” JC looks intrigued, twisting in his seat so he’s facing Joey. “That’s the one with the ping-pong balls, right?”

“Yep. I tell you, those girls have skill. Some of them can hit twenty feet.” Joey holds his hands apart in example. “And the catchers? Whoa!”

Justin interrupts. “What about If You’ll Be Mine?”

JC glances at Justin, then winks at Chris before looking back to Joey. “Have you seen the video? It’s something.”

“Is it on Porntube?” Joey asks. “I’ve seen a few on there.”

Star Bright then.” Justin frowns when he’s ignored. “Look, we need to pick a song.”

“Lighten up, J. You’ve been looking through those things for hours now.” Chris pats the space next to him on the sofa. “Come and sit next to Uncle Chris, tell me what’s up.”

“Okay, that’s all kinds of wrong.” Justin screws up his nose, but still gets up, stepping over JC’s legs and flopping down between Chris and Lance. It’s a tight fit, but sharing personal space is still second nature, even if that means being so close they can feel each other breathe.

Chris rests his arm along the back of the sofa, his fingers ending up brushing against the soft skin of Lance’s neck, prompting minuscule tremors that Chris doesn’t enjoy at all. “Seriously, what’s the problem? It shouldn’t take this long to pick a song.”

“It’s just…” Justin pauses, as if he’s unsure if he should go on. “This has to be perfect; I don’t want anyone pulling us down.”

“That’s going to happen anyway.” There’s a shift and Lance rests his arm on top of Chris’, his hand against Justin’s shoulder. “Someone will hate us and hate what we’re doing. It’s inevitable.”

“I know.” Justin’s looking down, as if fascinated in the weave of his jeans. “I know that. But. If I make a mistake it’ll affect more than me.”

“Do you want to stop this?” Uncurling from his easy chair, JC sits forward. “Because if you do, just say.”

“No,” Justin says immediately, shaking his head for emphasis. “I want to do this.”

“In that case, let’s pick a song already.” Picking up the stack of paper, Joey looks through them, pulling one free. “I like Phoenix Fire.”

“Me too.” Chris agrees, because a song about rebirth may be clichéd, but for a boyband, for them, it’s perfect.”

“Me three.” Holding out his hand, Lance takes the sheet from Joey. “There’s fire.”

“Pyromaniac, much?”

“Annoying, much?” Lance shoots back, inexplicably able to expertly flick Chris’ ear despite it being hidden behind Justin’s head.

“It would sound cool a cappella.” Justin takes hold of Lance’s wrist, tugging so he can see the song-sheet. “It’s a bit cheesy though.”

“We’re founded on cheese. Admit that fact and you’ll be happier.”

Expression serious, JC looks over at Joey. “Speak for yourself; I consider myself part of a vocal harmony group. There’s nothing cheesy about it.”

There’s dead silence, then JC’s braying laugher fills the room, and a rain of screwed up song-sheets fly through the air. Collapsed back in his chair, JC holds out his hands, warding off the attack and laughing as wadded paper bounces off his nose.

“Okay, I give. We’re cheesy, cheesy to the core. Cut us open and you’ll find Cheez Whiz.” Red-faced and eyes glinting with laughter, JC hauls himself upward, paper balls scattering at his feet. “But cheesy or not, we can make the song work.”

“Course we can. We’re amazingly talented. Well, apart from Joey, he kinda sucks.” Squirming from under Justin, Chris avoids Joey’s swiping hand. “Hey now, no hitting.”

“So, this is the one?” JC finds the crumpled copy of Phoenix Fire and smooths it straight.

“Why don’t we try it and see?” Chris looks around the others, and knows they agree. “Let’s go sing.”

Five stools are set up around the piano. Sitting on the one nearest the door, Chris takes a song-sheet from Lance. It feels crisp, JC’s scrawl copied onto snowy white paper. Despite knowing the lyrics already, Chris reads them anyway, imagining their voices wrapped around the words.

“I thought Joey could have the first verse, then me, Justin, Chris then Lance.”

“Wait. You want me to have a solo?” Lance sounds surprised, and a little unnerved.

“Sure, this is an Nsync song. We all sing.”

“Not solos though,” Lance points out, and he frowns down at his own copy of the song.

“You’ll be fine.” Waving his version of the song, JC stands in front of the stools and waits until everyone is looking at him. “Joey, are you ready?”

It’s a significant question, and they all know it. National anthem aside, this is the first time they’ve sung together in years, and there’s an air of expectation as Joey looks at his sheet and clears his throat.

“So long, lost in the storm.”

Haltingly at first, Joey sings. The song-sheet crumples between his fingers as he puts his all into his verse. They all do, never stopping despite the mistakes, the fumbles over words and beat.

~*~*~*~

It seems it’s the end for the darlings of the gay world. Who’ll wear the crown of c-list gay poster-couple now?

“Sure you don’t want to come back to my place? You can fix my mascara and I’ll curl your hair.” Chris tugs at one of his curls for example, adding a flutter of eyelashes just because.

“Tempting as that is, I’ll pass. I haven’t seen Kelly and Bri for days and you’re coming over later anyway.” Getting into his car and closing the door, Lance opens the window and looks out at Chris. “Kelly said she was going to start charging hotel rates if all I was going to do was eat, sleep then leave. I don’t think she was joking either.”

Chris believes it; Kelly’s tough when she wants to be. “You’d better go then. I’ll go back to my lonely house and watch TV on my own. I’ll console myself with Dog and a frozen dinner.”

“Have fun with that.” Turning on the engine, Lance pulls away. “I’ll see you at Joey’s.”

With a last wave he drives off. Chris watches him go, jumping when arms suddenly circle him from behind.

“You’re so cute.” JC’s chin digs into Chris’ neck as he clings on, arms wrapped tight.

“I always have been, is there any reason you needed to tell me this now?”

JC hums in Chris’ ear, a soft breath of sound before he speaks. “The way you’re watching him. It’s cute.”

“You’ve already said that.” Relaxing into JC’s hold, Chris considers denial, but there’s no point. JC’s so sharp that any lies would be nothing but empty words.

“I thought I was over it.”

“Crushes are like that. You think they’re gone, but they’re like worms, burrowing in and emerging years later.”

“What is it with you guys and worms?” Chris mutters. JC makes a questioning noise, but Chris doesn’t reply, just stands still, JC breathing against his ear, watching the distant blob that’s Lance’s car. “It might be a crush.”

It’s an admission Chris doesn’t want to make, even to himself. Because as much as he can ignore it when he’s with Lance, when they’re eating in his kitchen or watching late night TV, the fact remains Lance is with someone else.

“I’m sorry.” Whisper soft, JC squeezes tight and plants a kiss against Chris’ neck.

“Yeah, me too.” Needing to move, Chris squirms out of JC’s hold. “I’d better get home, make myself beautiful for later.”

“Good luck with that.” Grin wide, JC steps back, uncaring of Chris’ mock scowl. “I’ll see you there.”

Chris walks to his own car, waiting for JC to pull out before following him down the road. They separate at the gates of the compound, JC pulling away with a blast of horn.

Enjoying the beautiful evening, the way the sun washes the buildings with gold, Chris steers one handed and switches on the CD player. He frowns when Kelly Clarkson’s voice fills his car, lamenting about someone being gone. Quickly changing to radio, Chris wonders if he can ditch the CD without Lance realising, but Lance always seems psychic about things like that, and Chris eventually decides to compromise by burying it in the glove-box as soon as he gets home.

Passing a 7-11, Chris decides to stop, pulling into a space in front of the store. There’s a group of kids in a loose huddle to the left of the entrance. They’re kneeling down, showing off brightly coloured cards that they throw onto a pile. None look up as Chris walks by, and yet again he enjoys feeling anonymous as he strolls through the store, selecting a soda, the bottle cold in his palm as he waits in line.

The clerk’s gaze slides over him, disinterested as he scans and hands back the soda when Chris pays. Taking it he goes back outside, leaning against his car as he twists open the bottle and takes a long drink.

It tastes good, ice-cold and sweet, and Chris takes another drink before unlocking his car, putting the half empty bottle inside.

Getting inside himself, he pulls away, heading for home once more. It takes five minutes to get there, and a couple more to hide Lance’s disc under the first-aid kit and an assortment of papers. Satisfied that it won’t be found, he goes inside, wanting a shower and something to eat before going to Joey’s for the impromptu celebration for finally choosing their new song.

~*~*~*~

It doesn’t take long to shower.

One towel wrapped around his neck, Chris uses another to scrub himself dry as he wanders to his closet to look at his clothes. Deciding on jeans and a Steelers shirt ?" not that they deserve the support right now -- he grabs his chosen outfit and lets the towel drop to the floor. Dressing quickly, he leaves his hair to dry naturally after a quick rub over with the smaller towel.

Glancing at his watch, he sees that it’s too early to go to Joe’s. Not without looking sad anyway, or even worse, arriving in time to help with the food prep. Joey’s an easy going guy, but put him in a kitchen and he’ll have you peeling thousands of vegetables, all the time hefting a vicious looking knife.

Grabbing a handful of the cookies Lance brought over the night before, Chris sighs at the sight of raisins and bran. Cookies should be chocolate, with a side of chocolate chips, not a raisin in sight. He takes a bite of one regardless, he’s hungry, and anyway, it’ll be worth it for the look on Lance’s face when he sees they’re gone.

Cookies in one hand and milk in the other, Chris heads for his study, trying not to think of how much he misses Lance being around. Because really, that’s all kinds of pathetic.

Cookies and milk safely to one side, Chris switches on his computer, twisting his chair side to side as he waits for it to load. As always he grins when the wallpaper appears, Justin looking far from his best, face screwed up and hair creeping down his neck. Chris loves that picture a lot.

Selecting his mail program, Chris swears when hundreds of messages start to download. He’s sure it hasn’t been that long since he checked them, but the evidence states otherwise, the mails scrolling down the page, from Johnny, his sisters, his friends, his mom. Gulping at the last, he clicks on the envelope, reading the everyday news and loving threats about keeping in touch.

Replying with his own news -- some of it at least -- he moves onto the next email, quickly settling into a rhythm.

That rhythm comes crashing to a halt when he reaches a mail from Lance. It’s not from his regular account, but sent from his MySpace, another of those bulletins that he loves so much. Expecting some trivial nonsense, Chris has to read twice before the content sinks in. That he’s actually admitted to having problems with his relationship with Reichen. Which Chris knew anyway, but going public adds a new level to the whole situation, one that he didn’t expect at all.

Tempted to call Lance, he pulls out his cell. Then lets it drop to his desk. Some conversations need to take place in person.

Looking around for his sneakers, Chris pushes his feet into them, laces trailing as he leaves for Joey’s, leaving the milk and half eaten cookies behind.

It usually takes twenty minutes to get to Joey’s. Today it takes ten. Chris needs to talk to Lance, ask him why he said nothing about making his problems official. It’s not like he didn’t have the opportunity after all.

Joey’s house smells like tomatoes and the sharp scent of onions. Using his nose as a guide, Chris finds Lance in the kitchen. He’s chopping onions at the island, red-eyed with streaks of tears down his face. Joey’s standing at the oven, stirring a huge pot that bubbles and steams. His face is red but he smiles when Chris walks into view, his grin widening when Briahna suddenly appears, yelling a hello as she hurtles herself at Chris, hugging him around his waist.

“Hi!”

“Hi, Bree.” Chris waits until Briahna loosens her hold, then bends down, scooping her up and twirling her around. “You’re getting big.”

“That’s because I am big.” Briahna informs him, and she’s looking up at him with an adorable mini version of Joey’s smile.

“You going somewhere cool?” Chris asks, seeing Kelly approach holding Bri’s coat.

“We’re going shopping, them mom’s taking me to see Happy Feet.” She stretches up on tiptoes, whispering when Chris bends down to hear. “It’s a kid’s movie really, but mom likes penguins.”

Chris knows Briahna does too, but he understands the need to appear cool, and winks back at her. “Gotcha.”

“Hey, Chris.” Handing Briahna her coat, Kelly kisses Chris on the cheek then takes a step back so she can look him in the eye. “When I come back I want to see my dogs the same colour as when I left, the furniture in the same place, and Joey sober enough to stand. I just managed to get the stain out after last time.”

She doesn’t say what stain and Chris doesn’t ask, warned off by the flush of Joey’s neck and the way Kelly is looking at him, all-seeing mom eyes only emphasised by the smile.

A last warning look, and she walks to Joey, stretching up for a kiss. “Have fun.”

“We’ll try.” His hands resting against her back, Joey softly kisses Kelly’s lips, lingering until Briahna tugs on his arm, urging him to crouch down so she can kiss him soundly on the cheek before pulling Kelly from the room.

So pussy whipped.”

“I heard that!”

Chris whirls around, looking guiltily at the door, waving meekly when Kelly looks briefly back into the room.

“You were saying?” Joey grins, and holds out the spoon, red sauce dripping onto the stove. “Can you stir this? I need to get changed.”

“Five minutes and you’re got me doing something. It has to be a new record.” Chris walks over to Joey, and takes the spoon, putting it into the pan as he stirs.

“If it wasn’t for Kelly and Bri, it would have been sooner.” Joey watches for a moment, making sure Chris is stirring correctly, then nods his approval before leaving the room.

Stirring slowly, Chris turns so he can see Lance who’s wiping at his eyes with his sleeve.

“Funny thing,” Chris says, waiting until Lance looks at him. “I was at home and I went to check my mail. One of them was from you, one of those bulletins you send. Guess what it said?”

“You knew we were having problems.” Lance says simply, and he picks up another onion, savagely cutting it up.

“Yeah, I did, but I didn’t know thousands of fans knew too.”

“The rumours were getting out of hand. I needed to address them somehow.” Lance slices the last part of the onion and pushes it to the side.

“So you decided to use MySpace?” Chris can’t understand that, unable to see the appeal of sharing so much of yourself online.

“It seemed like a good idea at the time.” There’s one onion left. Picking it up, Lance begins to chop, knife thudding against the board as he slices. “I don’t tell them everything. They don’t know we’re officially split up.”

“What?” Surprised, Chris almost drops the spoon into the pan, then drops it anyway when Lance curses and brings his finger to his mouth. “What have you done?”

“Nicked my finger.” Lance pulls his finger from his mouth, holding it out as blood drips from the tip down onto the counter.

Abandoning the spoon, Chris turns off the burner and opens a drawer, pulling out a clean tea-towel.

“Let me see.” Taking Lance’s wrist, he carefully looks at the cut, relieved when he sees it’s deep but small. “Here, put pressure on it.” Giving Lance the towel, Chris looks in the cupboards until he finds the first-aid box. It’s well stocked, and Chris is glad to see two boxes of band-aids. One set plain, the others covered with bright pink ponies. He takes the pony box.

Chris opens the box, looking for a finger sized band-aid. “You know, your announcement was dramatic enough, you didn’t need to chop off your finger, too.”

“I didn’t mean to, and it’s still there.” Lance wiggles his finger, wincing when Chris gently removes the towel, watching to ensure the bleeding has stopped.

“So I see.” Unwrapping the band-aid, Chris smooths it over Lance’s finger, then slides his hand down so he’s holding Lance’s wrist, keeping his hand still as he makes sure there’s no more blood. “It’s really over?”

“Reichen and me?”

“No, Bert and Ernie’s red hot affair.”

“Nobody cares about Bert and Ernie anymore. I told you, it’s Big Bird you have to watch. Those big feet? Surely they tell you something?”

“They tell me you’re wrong and disturbed,” Chris says, grinning wide. “But seriously, you guys split up officially?”

“It wasn’t working out. Something had to give.” Lance shrugs, and Chris holds on, fingers tight around Lance’s wrist. “I’ve missed him these last few weeks, but not in the right way.”

There’s a moment when Chris thinks Lance is going to say more, when he’s looking directly at Chris, nervously licking his lips and about to talk.

Except Joey has the worst timing ever.

“Where’s the spoon, Chris? You dropped it in the pan didn’t you?” About to complain more, he double takes when he sees the spots of blood on the counter, the way Chris is still holding onto Lance’s wrist.

“I’m okay. It’s only a cut on my finger,” Lance says, understanding the dawning concern in Joey’s expression.

“I hope you didn’t bleed on the onions.” Joey sounds stern, but he’s anything but as he carefully places his hand under Lance’s fingers. “We do have normal band-aids.”

“I know.” Leaving go of Lance’s wrist, Chris tries to ignore how cold his palm feels as he uses a fork to try and scoop the spoon from the pan.

“You’ll live.” Picking up the bloody towel, Joey uses it to wipe the counter before throwing it into the trash.

“Glad you think so.”

Showing he’s just fine, Lance carefully checks the chopped onions. Seeing they’re blood free, he uses a clean knife to sweep them into a bowl, then drops them into the pan where Chris has finally managed to fish out the spoon.

Sauce covered spoon held between thumb and finger, Chris drops it into the sink and allows himself to be shooed away when Joey turns the burner back on.

“Go on. Go. Get a DVD ready, JC and Justin will be here soon, and no way am I sitting through another showing of Brokeback Mountain.”

Chris has to agree. JC loves the movie, raving about the touching love story and stunning scenery, but Chris is fine with never seeing it again. There’s only so many times he can make the excuse that there’s something in his eye.

Taking the six-pack that Lance shoves into his arms, Chris heads for the den. For once Joey’s house is quiet, muted, as late evening sun floods through the windows, tingeing the walls with golden red.

The den is strictly family only. The sofas are huge and covered with throws. Bean bags are thrown into the corner of the room, and the floor is carpeted with a thick pile that covers your toes. It’s a room made for comfort, a place where spills don’t matter and bookshelves filled with board games and well loved books line the walls. A blue fluffy teddy bear lies on one of the sofas, black eyes shining. Chris picks it up, propping it against a cushion.

Carrying bags of chips, Lance walks into the room, dropping the bags next to the bear. “You brought your own cuddle date, cute.”

“Isn’t he?” Chris gives the bear a last pat on the head, then looks at the pile of chips, realising just how many bags Lance has brought. “Sure you’ve got enough?”

“For now. You know how JC gets when he’s drinking.”

Chris knows all too well. It’s been a matter of annoyance for years, that JC can eat like he does and not put on weight.

“Have you picked a movie yet? Or have you been too busy with your new date?”

Eyebrow raised, Chris looks at Lance. “Bert and Ernie, now the teddy bear. Admit it; you’ve been visiting those sites JC told you about.”

“You know it.” Lance grins wide and holds up his hand, fingers up in devil horns.

“Told you they’d start without us.”

Turning around, Chris sees Justin standing in the doorway. He’s wearing flowery oven-gloves and holding a huge bowl, steam drifting from the contents towards the ceiling. Just behind him, JC peers over his shoulder, grinning a greeting as they walk into the room.

“Joey says put this on the table.”

Taking the heat-resistant mat from JC, Chris clears off the coffee table, moving Briahna’s collection of dolls and a pile of magazines to the floor.

Carefully putting down the bowl, Justin starts to pull off a glove.

“Nice gloves, J. I’m surprised you can fit those mutant hands into them though.”

Ducking, Chris manages to avoid a glove in the eye, but, buoyed with his own success, he doesn’t see the second one until too late, a flowery glove hits him full in the face.

Immediately, Chris picks it up, throwing it back at Justin.

“Watch the face! You know it sells records.”

“No, that’s JC. His face, your body.” Grinning, Chris inches back when Justin picks up the glove, holding it threateningly. “As for me, I have the sparkling wit that wins over the crowd. So, no hitting!”

Justin ignores him, just like Chris knew he would. Soon they’re circling around the sofa, holding an oven-glove each, jabbing at thin air whenever they get close. It’s an evenly matched battle. Justin has the reach, but Chris fights dirty, prepared to use JC as a shield.

“Do I need to send you to your rooms?”

“We haven’t got rooms here,” Chris points out, looking over his shoulder at Joey.

“So I’ll send you to Lance’s room.”

“Hey now. I don’t want them in my room.” Lance holds out his hand, looking significantly between Chris and Justin until they put the gloves into it.

“You need to teach me how to do that.” Impressed, Joey walks between Justin and Chris, placing the bowls he’s holding onto the table. “Rolls and spoons are in the kitchen.”

Taking the hint, JC and Justin head off for supplies, leaving Joey to ladle out the chilli.

“Here.” Filling a bowl, Joey hands it to Lance. “You bled for this meal, you get first serving.”

“Thanks.” Bowl held in his cupped hands, Lance sits on the sofa, blowing at the chilli to cool it down. The next bowl is Chris’ and he takes it and sits between Lance and the bear, enjoying the warmth against his hands as he waits for Justin and JC to bring the spoons.

Which they do in minutes, and soon the room is filled with the sound of spoons against bowls, the soft tear of crusty rolls being pulled apart.

Mopping bread around his bowl, Justin sitting at his feet, Lance curled in the corner of the couch, Chris knows they look nothing like the polished boyband they’ve strived to be. To him, they look better.

“Did you pick a movie?” Stacking bowls, Joey looks at Lance, who nods and heaves himself off the sofa.

“I’ll put it in.” Kneeling in front of the entertainment system, he looks at the cabinet of movies, selecting one and putting it in the player. Chris isn’t surprised when the The Goonies starts to play. It’s one of Lance’s favorite movies, and there’s always the bonus of Joey doing the truffle shuffle, something he tends to do a few beers down the line.

“Goonies, excellent!” Smiling wide, JC slides off his chair onto the floor, somehow landing with his legs crossed Indian style. He reaches for the bag he brought with him, opening it to reveal an impressive number of bottles. None of which have names Chris recognises.

“You hinting that I don’t provide enough alcohol?” Joey sounds amused, stopping collecting dirty dishes long enough to pick up one of the bottles. “Blastin’ Bazooka?”

“It’s good, and goes great in cocktails.”

JC keeps unpacking bottles, and soon there’s a line of them on the coffee-table, contents ranging from neon pink to a sludgy green.

“Earls Head Blast?” Chris picks up a bottle, tipping it up so the liquid slides slowly to the side. “Is this stuff even legal?”

“Sure. Tyler buys it at this great warehouse.” Taking a box out of the bag, JC puts it on the floor, but not before Chris sees it’s packed with fluffy stirrers and tiny umbrellas tucked up tight.

Lance leans forward and pulls free a flamingo-shaped stick. “You brought your own garnishes?”

“Well yeah. Cocktails need garnishes,” JC says, like it’s the most obvious thing ever, and to him it probably is. He’s weird like that at times.

“Tyler and I created this great drink last time. Joey, can you get five glasses, big ones.” Peering at the bottles, JC selects three, putting them next to him on the floor.

Hands full of dirty bowls, Joey shoots JC a look. Chris stands and goes for the glasses himself, despite being dubious about drinking anything that was invented by Tyler.

“If I get alcohol poisoning, tell Kelly to blame JC.”

“You got it.” Chris follows Joey to the kitchen, gathering five glasses that he takes back to the den. When he gets there, Lance is sitting next to JC, looking interested as he points at the bottles, seemingly explaining the recipe.

“….see, you add a bit of this, then two shots of the green, and five of the red. I know it sounds like a lot but it’s good. Ask Justin, I made it for him and Cameron when they were over last.”

There’s a choking sound and Chris looks at Justin, wondering why he’s suddenly gone bright red, looking anywhere but at JC.

“He didn’t poison you?” Lance is looking at Justin too, eyes slightly narrowed as he examines his reaction.

“No. They were good. I think.” The last is said so quietly that Chris hardly hears it, but he does, and vows to interrogate Justin the first chance he gets.

“See, told you.” JC beams, and holds out his hand for a glass.

It seems in JC’s world measures are arbitrary. Mixing five cocktails, the only common factor of which seems they all have a combination of the pink, blue and sludgy green drink, he hands one to Lance, who takes one drink and starts coughing violently, his cheeks and neck flushed crimson.

It’s a bad sign, and Chris peers at his own drink, sure he saw the liquid move independently. His eyes water when he takes a sniff, but JC’s looking at him expectantly. Chris takes a drink.

Heat floods his body, boiling the tips of his ears, his fingers and toes. He wants to cough, but can’t seem to breathe. Then Chris manages a gasping breath, pulling air over his burning tongue.

“Good isn’t it?” Laughing, JC hands out drinks to Joey and Justin and keeps one for himself. Holding it out, he looks around, emotions bared -- pride and friendship and love -- as he lifts up his glass. “To Nsync, to us.”

Chris holds up his glass, then takes another drink. He’s better prepared this time and the burn isn’t quite as bad, though it still leaves him glassy eyed and gasping. Which is still better than Justin, who’s lying flat out on the floor, mouth wide open after swallowing half his drink in one go.

Lance uses his toe to prod Justin’s side. “Do you think he’s dead?”

“No, he’s breathing.” Sure that Justin hasn’t breathed his last, Chris reclaims his former spot, prodding Lance until he moves over slightly. Still, they remain pressed close, and Chris totally blames the bear. It’s taking so much room that Lance has to be plastered against Chris’ side, warm and there, and Chris can’t help resting his hand against one solid thigh.

Taking a cautious sip of his drink, Lance smiles briefly, settling down with his head against Chris’ shoulder as the movie starts.

The next hours fly past. Chris remembers drinking one cocktail, then refusing more. Laughing as Joey did the shuffle truffle, his t-shirt hitched high. JC mixing more drinks and sharing them with Justin until they both became giggly, collapsed on the floor.

Pushing himself upright, Chris rubs at his eyes, surprised to find Lance’s hand heavy against his stomach, and their legs tangled together, half on half off the sofa. Chris looks down at Justin and JC. They’re sleeping spooned together, surrounded by empty bottles and scattered chips, one of the flowery oven-gloves propped on Justin’s crotch.

“Joey did it.” Chris jumps when Lance speaks and sits forward, listing slightly as he moves. “He seemed to think Justin’s dick was cold. Why, I don’t know.”

“Where is Joey?” Chris looks around the room, trying to see if Joey’s hidden in a shadowy corner somewhere.

“Kelly took him to bed. She said if he pukes in there JC’s footing the cleaning bill.” Lance starts to laugh, but cuts himself off, clutching at his head.

“You okay?” Chris asks, the room spinning as he forces himself to move.

“I’m going to kill, JC.” Lance groans and tips to the side when he indicates JC and Justin. “At least I only had two; they’re going to hurt in the morning.”

“Good.” Chris feels a distinct lack of sympathy, especially when the walls seem to dance in front of his eyes. “I’m going to sleep here.”

Chris starts to detangle himself, taking the opportunity to ‘accidentally’ brush his fingers across Lance’s chest as he pulls at the throw, then stops when Lance lays a hand on his arm. “My bed’s better. I mean…” He hesitates before going on in a rush. “You can come and sleep with me.”

Surprised, Chris slides his hand upwards, fingers caressing Lance’s neck. “Are you sure?”

“I’m sure.” Lance ducks his head, allowing Chris to cup his jaw and cheek.

It’s all the invitation Chris needs. “Let’s go.”

Lance smiles, something small and sweet. Chris blames the alcohol for the warmth he feels inside, the way he shivers when Lance takes his hand, their fingers entwined as they head upstairs.

“Chris.” Lance has stopped outside his room. Raising his hand, he rests it briefly against Chris’ cheek, his thumb gently stroking across Chris’ lips. “I just want you to know. I’m not drunk. Not enough to blame alcohol for this anyway.”

“I know,” Chris says, taking a half step toward Lance.

Lance leans in, so close that Chris can feel the hint of stubble against his own face, rasping against his skin as Lance closes that last tiny distance to brush a kiss against his lips.

“We need to take this inside.”

Chris has seen the room before, but it looks different tonight. Moonlight has stripped away any color, turning the bed silver, the walls a sheen of grey. Lance himself looks ghostly, skin pale and eyes dark as he closes the door.

“So, we’re doing this now?”

“Yeah. Now.”

It’s that simple, and Lance seems to agree as he suddenly moves, all confined energy and intent, capturing Chris’ gaze with his own. He’s suddenly closer, and the backs of Chris’ legs hit the bed, as Lance’s warmth and hardness drive the breath from his body.

Trapped, hands resting easily on Lance’s waist, his fingers pressed against bare skin, Chris moves in for a kiss. Lance’s mouth opens under his own, and Chris takes full advantage, using his tongue to explore hard teeth, to slide across the dry skin of Lance’s lower lip, back inside, the sweet stickiness of the cocktails against his own tongue.

Lance gasps when Chris pulls away, his fingers digging into Chris’ arm, encircling each wrist and holding on when Chris licks along the rough skin of Lance’s jaw, down behind his ear, nipping gently at the lobe.

“You’re good at this.”

Lance sounds breathless, and Chris loves that he can do that, cause Lance to frantically pull at his own shirt. Fumbling at buttons as Chris nibbles at the cord of his neck, scattering tiny kisses down his collar bone then back. Sucking on the skin stretched tight across Lance’s shoulder, tracing the freckles with his tongue.

“Chris.” Lance cups his hand over Chris’ jaw, holding him still as he pushes the hockey shirt aside, touching, maddening strokes down Chris’ sides, harder strokes that linger on the curve of his back.

“You want me to stop?” Chris teases. He smooths up his hands, over Lance’s ribs, causing his shirt to fall open and expose an expanse of skin that Chris needs to kiss. Breaking Lance’s hold, Chris sits back on the bed. Looking up he watches Lance, his eyes closed, his hands clenching into fists as Chris explores. He rests his hands on the flat of Lance’s stomach, using his thumbs to stroke an arc, thumb tips brushing under the waistband of Lance’s pants.

There’s so much to touch. Chris knows Lance’s body, has seen him naked or walking around in little more than a towel, but he’s never been able to explore, to investigate hard abs and cause Lance to exhale sharply, a needy sound pulled from low in his throat as Chris slowly unbuttons and unzips, letting Lance’s pants fall to the floor.

Chris rests his cheek against Lance’s stomach, loving the feel of his skin, the scent of arousal as he moves lower, wanting to touch, to taste. He slides his hands, over Lance’s legs, down then up until he’s got a handful of ass, kneading while mouthing down the line of muscle that leads into Lance’s boxers. Licking a trail as Lance moans, hips moving so it’s impossible to miss how hard he is, how much he’s turned on.

A last teasing touch, and Chris hooks his thumbs into the band of Lance’s boxers, tugging quickly so they slide to the floor. Lance responds with a soft moan, and the sound travels through Chris’ body like electricity, making him rock forward, hands against Lance’s legs. Desperate, Chris clumsily unzips his pants, wiggling them down and jacking himself to the rhythm of Lance’s moans.

“Please?” Lance is begging, unable to stand still, and Chris loves seeing his face so flushed, the shadows cast across his skin as Lance tilts back his head, mouth open and lips damp.

Image seared into his memory, Chris has to taste. Touch light, he licks across the head of Lance’s dick, a teasing pressure that makes Lance gasp and surge forward. Needing more, Chris licks again, a slow swipe up so he can circle the head with his tongue. The next touch is faster, more confident making Lance curse. He breathes hard as Chris switches from licking, his spare hand caressing the crease of Lance’s groin and thigh, his cheeks hollowing as he takes Lance’s dick in his mouth. Sucking while teasing with his tongue, increasing the pressure when Lance thrusts his hips forward as Chris ups the pace.

Heat pools and surges, and Chris grips hard as Lance whimpers and tries to pull back.

“Gonna come.”

Chris doesn’t want to let him go, but Lance is insistent and Chris switches his mouth for the hand that he’s not using to jerk himself off, kissing across the hard muscles of Lance’s stomach. Grip tight, he strokes hard, pushing the pace, his own arousal increasing with each hitch of Lance’s breath.

“Chris.” A harsh inhalation, and Lance is tense under Chris’ hand, balls drawn tight as he gasps, the sensation of wet heat tipping Chris over the edge, his own climax sudden and fierce.

“God.” Lance shivers and Chris can’t look away from his flushed face, the dampness of Lance’s skin, his shirt falling off his shoulders, pants and boxers pooled around his feet. “Did you?”

“I did.” Chris grins, loving how Lance’s blush deepens. Pressing one last kiss against Lance’s stomach, Chris sits back, waiting as Lance kicks off his shoes, leaving his boxers and pants on the floor before suddenly grabbing Chris’ hand.

“Come on.” Lance tugs. “We need to wash up, and that means it’s my turn.”

Allowing Lance to pull him to his feet, Chris can’t see a problem with that at all.

~*~*~*~

When Chris wakes there’re confused seconds wondering where he is that’s so dark and warm. Groping with one hand, he pats bare skin, and his thoughts finally catch up with his body when he realises he’s buried under a blanket, his face squashed against Lance’s side.

“Quit that.” Lance’s voice is rough, low and laden with sleep as he puts his hand on top of Chris’, stopping him moving it around.

Squirming upwards, Chris squints when Lance suddenly lifts the blanket, eyes half closed as he looks at Chris.

“Morning.” Lance yawns and lets the blanket drop when Chris finally has his head on the pillow. “I have a headache like you wouldn’t believe.”

“Just think how much worse JC and Justin will feel.”

That thought seems to cheer Lance up, and he smiles, wide and sly. “There is that.”

“I’m guessing we’re not rehearsing today.” Without glasses or contacts, Chris’ watch is nothing but a blur, but he can see the sunshine flooding the room, and suspects it has to be well past midday.

“I hope not.” Lance turns onto his side. Propped up on one elbow, haloed in sunlight, the blanket pulled low on his thigh, and with the worst case of bed-head ever, Lance rests his hand on Chris’ stomach. “I think we should stay in bed all day.”

“You’re a silky talker, Bass.” Chris grins and kicks at the blankets until they fall in a slither of fabric. “I’m all yours, come and get me.”

Needing no other invitation, Lance pounces, and Chris finds himself with an arm-full of naked Bass, which has to be the best way to wake up in the morning.

“I have you. What now?” Leaning in, Lance kisses the tip of Chris’ nose. “You want a kiss there? Or here?” The next kiss lands on Chris’ ear, complete with a wet lick and a careful tug of his earrings.

“I was thinking, more like here.” Pointing to his mouth, Chris purses his lips, then collapses back on the pillow, heart thundering when the bedroom door opens and Joey walks into the room.

“Kelly wants to know if you want breakfast. I want to know if you’ll help me kill JC.” Joey’s wearing a short pink robe that has to be Kelly’s, his eyes little more than slits, which explains why he’s almost to the bed before he realises that Lance isn’t alone. “Okay, I’m going to pretend that I didn’t actually see that. See me walk from the room. Right now, before I’m even more scarred than I am now.”

Chris snorts. He knows the possibility of Joey being scarred by this is zero. Something Joey proves himself when he doesn’t actually leave the room. Instead he walks even closer, and Chris has the sudden fear Joey’s going to sit on the side of the bed to talk or even ask to join in.

“Not that I’m not happy or anything. Though, Lance, I still. Chris? But it’s not like I’m surprised, and I really hope you’re going to wash those sheets.”

Trying to keep up makes Chris’ head spin. It’s like listening to himself talk, and that’s never good, especially when Lance is lying on him, heavy and tempting, his fingers in the wild tangle of Chris’ hair.

“I need coffee. Two coffees even.” Finally Joey walks away, hand firmly pressed across his forehead and eyes.

“That really is a pathetic sight.”

Lance laughs an agreement, the sound vibrating through Chris’ chest. “I’m surprised he’s even upright yet. JC persuaded him to try one of his ‘boom boom specials’.”

Chris searches through his memory, JC doling out drinks, eating chips while watching the movie, getting upstairs and blowing Lance’s mind, but there’s no ‘boom boom special’. “I don’t remember that.”

“You’d fallen asleep by then. JC was down to the dregs in most of the bottles, I’m sure he just mixed them up and gave them to Joe.”

“And he drank it?”

“You know, Joey. A few drinks and he’ll do anything.” Lance clasps his fingers together, pulling at Chris’ hair. “But enough about Joey. You were showing me where you wanted the next kiss.

Joey forgotten about, Chris pulls Lance close, reminding him just where they left off.

~*~*~*~

“Chris! I’m so happy for you.”

Considering he was comatose the night before, JC looks amazingly perky as he jumps up and gathers Chris into a hug. He smells lemon fresh, hair slightly damp and wearing what has to be one of Joey’s t-shirts, because, personal preferences aside, Chris can’t see JC buying anything that says Boobies Make Me Smile.

“Lance!”

Released with a last pat against his back, Chris steps aside so Lance can enjoy the full JC hug experience. Leaving them to it, Chris tries to investigate breakfast options, but doesn’t even get through the kitchen door when Justin pounces, grabbing at his arm then towing Chris toward the breakfast table.

“I have been here before, I can find the table myself,” Chris points out, but years of exposure means Justin easily ignores the sarcasm as he pulls out a chair.

“I need to talk to you.”

Justin sounds serious which is always a bad sign, but he doesn’t have the tightness in his shoulders that would suggest problems with work, and there’s no crease of brow, the one right in the middle that’s always associated with Lynn.

So, nothing too serious then, but still, Chris needs caffeine at least before he starts this talk. “Can I get some coffee first?”

“I guess.”

A last look, and Justin heads toward the coffee machine, quickly filling two mugs, adding cream and sugar to one.

“Here.” Handing over a mug, Justin sits down, taking the chair opposite Chris’.

Chris takes a sip, enjoying the double hit of sugar and strong coffee. “What’s up?”

“Joey said he found you in bed with Lance.”

“Joey’s got a big mouth.” Chris puts down the mug, tapping his fingernails against its side as he wonders where this is going. “Well?” He prompts when it looks like Justin’s going to just sit there, staring off into space.

“I was thinking.” Justin cuts himself off. “No, I was worried. A few weeks ago Reichen and Lance were making like they were joined at the hip. Now he’s out of the picture and you’re with Lance. Are you sure he’s not on the rebound?”

“A few years with Cameron doesn’t make you a dating guru.” Justin doesn’t react, just drinks his coffee until Chris sighs. “He’s not rebounding. This isn’t new, J.”

“I know you had a thing, but I thought it was the thing you have for us all. You’re pretty touchy-feely for a guy.”

It’s too early for this, and Chris resists the urge to bang his head on the table.

“I’m in a boyband, it’s part of the job description to be touchy-feely. And believe me; your skanky ass holds no appeal.”

“You’re missing out.”

“On what?”

“On my ass. I have it on good authority that it’s fine.” Justin nods slightly, looking smug.

“You know, me sleeping with Lance isn’t the precedent for me sleeping my way through the group.” Chris looks over his shoulder, at Joey propped against a wall, bare legs sticking out from under the short pink robe. At JC, hands moving as he talks to Lance.

“If you ever change your mind….”

Gaze whipping from Lance to Justin, Chris glares when Justin immediately starts laughing.

“Your face.” Justin bangs his mutant hand on the table, making coffee slop down the sides of the mugs, and really, he seems far too amused by the whole situation. “Kissing you would be like kissing my mom.”

“Believe me, Justin. I’ve got no plans to kiss you,” Chris says. He picks up his mug and takes a drink of the remaining coffee, giving Justin a minute to stop laughing. After that, Chris is going to kick his ass, hard.

“Sorry. It’s just, you looked so…” A giggle starts to escape, but Justin bites it back and schools his face, expression serious apart from his eyes that still dance with laughter. “I hope he isn’t rebounding, you’ll be good together.”

“Thank you for your vote of confidence, o’ great gay guru.” Standing, Chris looks down at Justin. “Anything else? Or are you assured of my emotional well-being?”

“Hey man, I’m just watching out for the group. We’ve just got back together; I don’t want any Beatles shit going on.”

“Considering that George never slept with Ringo, I don’t think that example actually fits.” Chris smiles slightly, because as annoying as Justin is, it’s good to know he cares. Not that Chris would ever admit that.

“Whatever.” Waving his hand in dismissal, Justin stands too. “Come on, you can get Lance to make breakfast. Use your seduction powers for good.”

“You think I’m easy enough to blow Lance for eggs?”

“I think you’d blow me for eggs.” Serious expression slipping away, Justin dissolves into laughter again, and really, all Chris can do this time is join in.

~*~*~*~

It seems a new come-back kid is sewing his oats once more. A few weeks and his former SO is nothing but a memory. How quickly they forget.

Chris hasn’t missed the grind of promotion, the endless cycles of answering questions, ninety percent of which are variations of the same. Chewing on a pen, he looks at the piles of papers that are stacked in front of him, requests from magazines and TV shows, all of which want exclusives about Nsync returning to the stage.

“Someone wants to know how we got the name Nsync.” JC looks up from reading through the questions submitted for approval. “Why? Why!?” He bangs his head against the table, forehead meeting wood with a dull thump.

“They want to know my favourite color.” Looking torn between amusement and scorn, Justin drops his pen and leans back in his chair with a groan.

“They asked me if I think antigay discrimination violates the Constitution.”

“On reflection,” Justin looks across to Lance then, sits up to scribble something down. “Baby blue.”

“You could ignore that one.” Joey puts one of his completed question sheets to one side, taking another as he looks at Lance.

“I could, but I want to answer. I’ve got a voice, it’s my duty to use it.”

Swinging his seat around, Chris is unsurprised to see Lance has signed up for the full interview. “I see you’re taking the political ground.”

“You know it.” Lance spins around his chair, bumping Chris’ leg with his foot. “Someone has to be out there making our voices heard.”

“Converting the world, one teenie at a time.” Chris holds up his hand when Lance starts to scowl. “No, dude. Wave your rainbow flag high.”

“I intend to.” Capping his pen, Lance rolls back his chair. “First though, I’m going to get a soda. Want to come along?”

“What? You can’t carry them yourself?” Deliberately filling in another question, Chris lets his pen drop when Lance takes hold of his seat, spinning it around.

“No. Now, come on.”

Ignoring the catcalls of the others, Chris jumps up and follows Lance to the compound’s huge kitchen. He’s amused when Lance displays his multitasking abilities by kicking shut the door and pushing Chris back against the counter at the same time.

“Politics get you horny? I’ll have to remember that.”

“No, you get me horny.” Hands tangled in Chris’ hair, Lance leans in for a kiss, his tongue a teasing touch as Chris opens his mouth, sighing at the feel of Lance’s hands, sliding up and under the layers of Chris’ shirts, spanning his sides and across, trailing over Chris’ spine.

One hand presses against Chris’ chest, fingers spanned over his heart, and Chris is arching into the touch, back pressed painfully against the counter ledge as Lance trails his fingers lower, teasing touches that criss-cross his body with fire.

“Tonight. I’m going to fuck you.”

The words are low, breathed almost into Chris’ ear, making him shiver at the touch of each one.

“And I might let you.” Chris grinds against Lance, small frustrating movements that leave him needing more. Except Lance is a teasing bastard who takes delight in kissing Chris soundly, sucking on his bottom lip, nibbling along his jawbone, making heat rear and pool. Then he steps away.

“You want one?” Unashamedly palming his dick through his pants, Lance calmly opens the fridge.

“I want to you to finish what you started.”

“We need to get back.” Peering around the fridge door, Lance winks and looks altogether too satisfied. “We’ll finish later.”

“You bet your life we will.” Chris catches the can Lance throws his way. Rolling it between his palms, he hopes the icy shock will distract from his poor neglected dick. It doesn’t, and Chris scowls as Lance grabs his own soda, slapping Chris’ ass hard as he walks past.

“Come on. The sooner we get this done the sooner we can go home.”

That seems like a perfect plan to Chris, and he hurries after Lance, letting the inevitable mockery slide from his shoulders as he carefully sits down and nods a greeting to Johnny who’s sitting across the table.

“Lance, Chris.” Johnny opens a folder and quickly reads through a letter before looking up. “I need to know a headcount for tonight.”

Chris sighs, having forgotten about the charity appearance they’re attending. It means hours of small talk and dressing up, when all he wants to do is spend time at home with Lance. It also means calling around his friends, finding a date that doesn’t mind the late notice.

“Joey, I know you’re taking Kelly. What about the rest of you?”

“I’ve got someone lined up.” JC sits forward, eyes crinkled into a smile. “She’s cool, you’ll like her.”

Which Chris thinks is a matter of opinion as JC’s dates go either one of two ways. The utter crack pots or the boringly sane.

“Justin?”

“Cam’s flying in. She’ll be here in a few hours.”

Nodding, Johnny writes something down, then looks at Chris.

“I’ll ring around, see who can come.” Lance’s intake of breath is audible. Chris looks at him, puzzled when he sees Lance staring at him. “What’s up?”

“I thought… I mean.” Groping for words, Lance keeps staring, his eyes wide. “You’re taking a date?”

“Well, yeah. It’s what I usually do,” Chris says, and feels sick when realisation begins to dawn. “You thought… I mean….”

“No,” Lance interrupts, and his expression is blank now, all emotion smoothed away. “It’s my mistake; obviously you’ll take a date. I will too, Johnny, put me down for two.”

“Fine, I’ll let them know.” Looking between Chris and Lance, Johnny looks like he’s about to speak. He doesn’t, just stands and leaves the room.

“I need to go remind Kelly that we’re going.” Standing abruptly, Joey pats Lance on the shoulder, waiting for Justin and JC who are making moves about leaving too.

“Yeah, I need to phone Lotta, tell her when I’m picking her up.”

“I’m going for Cameron.”

Chris watches the door swing shut. “I didn’t think they possessed that much tact.” Then he turns to Lance. “I’m sorry, I didn’t think.”

“No, like I said. I shouldn’t have assumed.” Head in his hands, Lance stares down at the glossy surface of the table. “I never thought. I mean, it’s been so good this last week, but we’ve never been anywhere but here or at home, and it’s just. I enjoyed not pretending.”

Chris doesn’t know what to say. Making this better is beyond him right now. All he can do is sit, and watch as Lance walks away.


~*~*~*~

What pop boy was seen in a clinch with a new beau? This comeback king is still hanging on for romance, despite recent disappointments.

The club is one of the new names in town. Made of glass and polished steel, it’s the place to be seen.

Paparazzi cameras flash as the limos pull up close to the red carpet. Looking out at the sea of people, all Chris wants to do is go home. He hasn’t even seen Lance since the meeting, instead getting a message that Lance had gone back to Joey’s to change. Now he’s stuck in this limo with Emma, his friend-come-date, while Lance is in the other with someone else, Chris doesn’t even know who.

Suddenly the privacy screen rolls down, and their driver looks over his shoulder. “They’re pulling up with the other limo first. You guys can get out when they’re done.”

“Okay. Thank you.” Justin flashes a smile at the driver then sits forward, looking out at the crowd. “You’d think someone famous was coming.” He laughs at his own joke, Cameron joining in. They look disgustingly happy, hand in hand and looking perfect, Justin’s shirt setting her dress off beautifully.

“There’s so many people.” JC’s date, Lotta, has her nose and hands pressed against the glass. Chris liked her from the moment she went to shake his hand and tripped over her own dress. He hopes JC keeps her around; he needs someone who’s unafraid to laugh at themselves.

“The other limo has stopped.” Lotta cranes her neck, her blonde hair flattening against the window. “Wait. Is that Triple Dee? I didn’t know he was coming.”

Chris leaps forward, crouching next to Lotta, his legs pressed against Justin’s knees as he watches as the others exit the first limo. Kelly arm-in-arm with Joey, Lance, and yeah. Triple Dee.

“Is Lance’s date Triple Dee?” Chris turns to Justin, then across to JC, waiting for one of them to answer.

“They’ve been talking for a while, you know this, you also knew he was bringing a date,” Justin points out, looking steadily back at Chris.

“Yeah, talking, not dating.”

“Get your head out of your ass and chill,” JC says. “What did you expect him to do? Turn up with his mom?”

“He could have.” Defensive, Chris sits back. He’s being unreasonable and knows it, because he did know Lance was bringing a date, but he expected someone different, someone normal, not someone like Triple Dee.

“Triple Dee’s cute.” Lotta takes her seat again, leaning into JC. “His songs are great too.”

“Have you heard Slam the Man?” Still holding onto Justin’s hand, Cameron turns so she can see Emma and Lotta. “The song is so good.”

“Oh god, yes.” Lotta’s hands are pressed against her chest. “Do you think he’ll give me an autograph?”

“I don’t see why not. He’s supposed to be a great guy.”

Chris glares at Justin, trying to remind him of his loyalties by mind power alone. It doesn’t work, and all Justin does is stare levelly back at him.

“We’re up.” JC runs his hands over his hair and fusses with his tie, making sure it’s straight.

“Let’s do this then.” Giving Cameron a kiss on the cheek, Justin steps out first, offering her his hand as she follows him outside. Cameras flash instantly, the paparazzi yelling as Justin slips an arm around Cameron, posing together with ease.

“Remember to smile,” JC reminds Chris, then he’s gone, helping Lotta out of the car. Chris watches as they pose, both of their smiles blinding as they face the cameras. Then it’s Chris’ turn. Emma’s hand tight in his own, he plasters on a smile, waving as he steps out of the limo. Immediately the lights flash, lightening up the darkness as they walk together as a group, heading toward the others who wait on the pale white steps of the club.

“How does it feel to represent gay America? Tell us about the new song? Are you going to marry Cameron? How does it feel being the oldest boyband member? Have you anything to say to those that say pop is dead? How’s Briahna?”

The questions go on, a blur of noise that no one replies to. Instead they wave and walk inside.

Aware of the glass walls, Chris turns and blinks as his eyes adjust to the light. Except turning has left him facing Lance, and he’s forced to acknowledge the fact that, one, Triple Dee is cute, and buff. And tall. And two, that he’s got his arm around Lance’s shoulders, one huge hand nestled comfortably against his back as they answer the questions of some press hack.

Chris jumps when Emma stands on his foot, one high sharp heel digging into his toes. “You’re scowling.”

“Am not,” Chris says, despite knowing it’s a lie. He can feel the scowl, is unable to stop it deepening when Triple Dee laughs at one of Lance’s jokes, revealing perfect white teeth.

“Your face will get stuck like that.”

Kelly has moved so she’s standing next to Chris. She looks hot, hair up and wearing a dress scooped low at the front, but she also sounds like a mom, repeating something he’s heard her say to Briahna hundreds of times.

“Look at how he’s hanging over him. It’s supposed to be pretend.”

“It is pretend.” Lowering her voice, Kelly glances at Joey. “I know what it’s like. I spent years watching him with other women. But Lance needed a date, and you wouldn’t do it. So.”

Chris knows she’s right, but he can’t help the pangs of jealousy each time he sees Lance close to Triple Dee. The way they talk and laugh, the casual way they touch, unconcerned about the open stares thrown their way.

“He’s an ass.” It’s something Chris is convinced of, especially when Triple Dee moves his hand so it’s resting at the small of Lance’s back. “He’s using Lance for publicity.”

“Like he needs to.” Intent on glaring at Triple Dee, Chris jumps when Joey clasps a hand on his shoulder. “If anything, Lance’ll get publicity through him.”

“Sure, because dating a rapper is so great. What’s Lance going to do, become part of his posse? Triple Dee and his boy Poofu kid. I’m sure he’ll fit right in.”

“Jealously isn’t a good look on you.” Joey’s hand tightens on Chris’ shoulder. “Go and talk to them, you’ll find out he’s a good guy.”

“I’ll pass. I wouldn’t want to interrupt.” Inhaling sharply when Triple Dee leans down to say something into Lance’s ear, Chris forces himself to look away and take Emma’s hand. “Come on, I’ll buy you a drink.”

These types of appearances involve nothing more than making small talk and occasionally circling the room, which is good, because Chris spends most of his time leaning against the bar. Drinking enough to make the evening tolerable and dampen down his seething anger.

“Hey.” Lance stands close, using his body to block the sight of his hand against Chris’ back. “I’ve missed you tonight.”

“Yeah?” Chris questions, words spilling out even as he tells himself to shut up. “It doesn’t look like it. You and your boy looked cosy over there.”

“Joey warned me but I didn’t believe him.” Lance rubs his hand over his eyes, then he looks up and his eyes are dark, showing anger even as he leans against the bar, composed and controlled. “What do you expect me to do? Play at being celibate as you party with your date? Screw that, Chris. There’s only so much I’m willing to pretend.”

Lance’s hand is curled into a fist against Chris’ back. “I’m going to go talk to Dee. You stay here, and do, whatever.” Without a backward glance, he walks away.

Wild anger rages through Chris. He deliberately turns his back to the room, from the sight of Lance talking to Joey while JC and Justin discuss something with Triple Dee. They’re close together, laughing, and Justin’s gestures are loose and relaxed and obviously comfortable, in a way he hardly ever is with strangers.

“Double vodka, please.”

Taking the drink, Chris knocks it back in one, then pushes back his glass, saying, “And again.”

The burn of alcohol rides over simmering anger, stoking up the heat until Chris’ shoulders ache; his fingers blanching white around the glass.

“You should come over; Dee’s telling us all about Eminem.” JC appears next to Chris, smile wide and easy, leaning in and uncaring that Chris isn’t acknowledging him at all. “He’s got all these ideas, Dee not Eminem, though he’s got ideas too, about using music to spread his message.”

“What’s that? That rappers can sleep with men too?”

With the ease of long practice, JC ignores the biting delivery. “Well no. More that everyone is equal.”

“Okay, I get it.” Putting down his glass, Chris turns and looks at JC. “He’s amazing, hot, writes great music while waving the gay rights flag. Justin obviously loves him and you think he’s a musical genius. He’s probably great at sex too; I’ll have to ask Lance tomorrow.”

Struggling to contain red hot anger, Chris looks around the room, snarling when he sees Triple Dee surrounded by yet more people listening to his every word.

“Tell Emma I’ve gone home.”

“Wait.”

JC starts to follow, but Chris quickens his pace, hurrying for the exit, needing to get away.

~*~*~*~

What singing star went home with his movie star girlfriend and the girlfriend of one his bandmates? Reports state the threesome looked very cosy together as they headed for home.

Chris sits still for a few minutes before getting out of his car. Despite being up for almost an hour, his head still pounds. Fighting against the rolling of his stomach, he stands, squinting despite the sunglasses that hide his eyes.

It feels like he has to walk for miles to get inside, and he’s sweating when he finally stands in the cool shade of the doorway. Swearing off drink yet again, he carefully walks toward the rehearsal studio, wincing at the clack of computer keys and the muted sound of music.

“You look like shit.”

“I feel worse,” Chris admits, looking over at Lance. He’s standing at the kitchen door, looking awake despite the shadows that line his eyes. Probably put there by a night of not sleeping with Triple Dee.

“I’ll make you some toast.”

Chris doesn’t really want anything to eat, he especially doesn’t want to listen to Lance tell him how great Triple Dee is, as that has to lead to the inevitable, ‘better being friends’ conversation that Chris really doesn’t want to hear.

“Sit.”

“I’m not a dog you know.” Still, Chris sits, watching as Lance cuts bread and slides it into the toaster.

“I am so incredibly mad at you right now.” Wiping up crumbs, Lance scoops them into his hand and throws them into the sink. Outwardly he doesn’t look angry at all, but each swipe of his hand, each jerky movement shows otherwise. “Emma went home with Justin and Cameron. In case you were wondering.”

Guilt flairs, because none of this is Emma’s fault, still, Chris can’t help his own rush of anger. “I suppose you were too busy to take her home.”

“You’re such a fucking ass, Chris.” Clattering the knife into the sink, Lance turns and takes a step forward. “Yes, I like Dee. I think he’s a great guy, did I sleep with him? No, I didn’t, and it pisses me off that you think I would. We spent the night talking, that’s all.”

The toast pops, and Lance turns, ripping it out to put on a plate, which he drops in front of Chris. “I’m not a whore, whatever you think.”

“I don’t think that.” Chris tears at a slice of toast. “It’s just. You were all over the news this morning, with him. The papers too.”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Anger simmering, Lance looks at Chris. “Wait here.”

He hurries out of the room, leaving Chris to pick at his toast. He’s eaten half a slice when a newspaper is suddenly placed over the plate.

“Did you mean that?” Lance points to an article headed by a picture of him and Triple Dee.

“Yeah.”

“You’re a moron. Seriously.” Lance sits down, leaning over so he can unfold the paper and point out a story further down the page. “Did you see this? About how Justin had a threesome with Cameron and Emma.”

“Yeah, I skimmed though, it’s the usual crap.”

“And yet you believe the one about me?” Taking the newspaper, Lance crumples it up and throws it toward the trash, missing it completely.

“You looked good together, and everyone liked him.”

“He’s a great guy. I’ll probably ask him to be my date again.” Chris bites back a sarcastic remark, but Lance can obviously hear it anyway. Anger draining fully away as he says, “we need to talk.”

“I know,” Chris says, and he pushes away the shredded toast as Lance looks down at the table, searching for words.

“I’m not going to change. I’m at a good place in my life. A place where I can be me, no more pretending.”

“I’m….”

Lance holds out a hand, interrupting Chris before he can go on. “Before you say something noble or more likely, stupid. I still want to be with you, that’s not going to change either.”

“I’m not going to come out publicly, so isn’t that a contradiction?” Chris can’t figure out where Lance is going with this at all.

“I know you can’t….”

“No,” Chris interrupts, needing to tell the truth. “It’s not can’t. It’s won’t. I’m selfish, Lance. I don’t want the publicity, or to be labelled more than I am already. I’m the poor one, the old one. I don’t want to be the other gay one.”

“That’s honesty, not being selfish.” Lance reaches across the table, resting his fingers against Chris’ hand. “But it doesn’t matter anyway. I was trying to tell you. I talked to Joey last night. He reminded me Reichen started off a secret boyfriend, Jesse too, and it’s not ideal, but, I guess you’re worth it.”

“You think?”

“You’re high maintenance and annoying and jealous, but, yeah.”

For the first time in almost a day, Chris feels like smiling. He knows the situation isn’t fair to Lance, but all they can do is try.

~*~*~*~

He said pop was in his past, but what singer has gone back on his word? Big time.

The venue is small compared to what they used to play, but still, it’s bigger than anywhere Chris has sung for years. Sitting on the edge of the stage, looking out at the rows of empty seats, he imagines them full of people, every one of them looking his way.

“Nervous?”

Chris listens as Lance walks close, looks up and watches as he folds himself down so he’s sitting by Chris’ side, their legs hanging into space.

“No. Just thinking.” Chris says nothing more, just keeps looking at the empty seats.

“I am,” Lance admits, and when he puts his hand on Chris’ leg, Chris places his own hand on top, tightening his grip and holding on.

“Chris?” Lance sounds surprised, but he’s smiling, mouth curled at the corner.

“I was never ashamed of being with you.” Chris runs his thumb over the back of Lance’s hand, finding it easy to talk in this place, where the words are absorbed into the still air.

“I know.”

Lance’s eyes are shining, and Chris can’t resist leaning over for a quick kiss, pressing his mouth against Lance’s cheek.

“Hey now, no P.D.As on the stage!” Justin yells, as usual showing perfectly annoying timing. Chris flips him off without bothering to look around.

“Lance! Chris is being mean to me!” Justin is yelling louder now, and the theatre echoes with the sound of his voice, which is impressive, but also, needs to stop. Scrambling onto his feet, Chris looks for Justin and charges.

Unfortunately, Justin is younger and fitter than Chris, and easily evades his attempts at capture. Until he runs past Lance, who strikes, deadly and silent, causing all three of them to tumble to the floor.

“No fair.” Justin is laughing, squirming to get free, but Chris and Lance make a formidable team, and soon they’re sitting on Justin’s legs, pinning him to the ground.

“Come on. Two against one isn’t right.”

Chris looks down at Justin, considering. “You know, you’re right. JC! Joey! We need you.”

“Oh hey, no!” Realising his fate, Justin starts to struggle in earnest, but his continuing laughter makes him weak, and soon JC and Joey are holding an arm each, and all Justin can do is lie still, resigned to his fate.

“After you.” Chris waves an arm, urging the others to start. A quick look between them and Joey leans over, honing in on Justin’s ticklish spots with an air of years of practice. He tickles until Justin is red-faced, then Lance takes his turn, taking over as Justin vows retribution. JC changes things around, deciding to use mouth raspberries on Justin’s stomach, which is new, but still, Chris understands that change is good. Which is why Chris decides to change his mode of attack too. Really, there’s only one thing to do. Leaning forward, he grins as Justin’s eyes widen.

“Chris. What?...”

Chris licks a wet stripe across Justin’s cheek and over his ear, making him squirm and screw up his face.

“I don’t believe you did that.” Justin is staring at Chris as the others finally let him loose. “You really are a strange little man.”

“Less of the little, thank you.” Chris stands up, and holds out a hand, pulling Justin to his feet. “I’ll have you know….”

“Don’t even.” Justin points a finger at Chris, pulling it back when Chris snaps at it. “I know what you’re going to say, and don’t. That goes for you, too.”

Lance raises an eyebrow, looking smug and satisfied in a way that makes Justin throw up his hands in dismay.

“Guys.”

They all look over at the stage manager. He’s looking at his watch and studying a clipboard, and Chris knows it’s almost time. They’ve sung this song at the compound repeatedly, and he knows they sound good. But it’s different here, knowing the song is about to be shared with the world, even if it’s only a few people this first time.

They walk to their places on the stage.

“Ready?” Chris asks. Looking at one another, it feels like they’re starting again.

They start to sing.

~*~*~*~

Tickets for a show they’re performing in sold out in less than a minute. It seems Nsync’s popularity hasn’t Nsunk. Lets just hope their new song doesn’t Nsuck.

You’ve told us what’s going on professionally, what about personally?” Jay looks deliberately at them all as the audience whoops in approval. “Come on, spill. Any romantic interests we should know about? Justin, what about you?”

Justin shoots a look at the audience, owning them completely with his wide smile. Pretending modesty as he looks back at Jay. “Well, you know, I’ve been seeing Cameron for a while.”

“And how’s that going?”

“It’s going great. We understand each other.” This time the smile is smaller, some of the real Justin leaking through.

“That’s great, and what about you, JC? Any special ladies?”

“Not right now. I’m broadening my horizons, taking each day as it comes. Why limit yourself to one experience? Life is for living, for trying new things.”

Joey leans forward, his hands on JC’s shoulders. “JC’s a player. The ladies love him.”

“Is that true?”

“What can I say? I do alright.” Laughing, JC turns, catching Joey mugging it up for the viewers by licking his finger and making a sizzling noise. “Now Joey here, he’s a total family man. He has slippers and everything.” Sticking out his feet, JC wiggles them to demonstrate.

“I get cold feet.” Arms wide, Joey grins as he appeals to the audience. “You get cold feet, you get slippers.”

“Joey’s got Superman slippers.” Leaning forward in his chair, Chris talks to the audience. “See, he saw these slippers in the mall. Except they were for kids. So, Joey went out and got adult sized replicas done.”

“Hey now, don’t be letting out all my secrets.”

“At least I didn’t tell them about the pyjamas with the detachable cape. Oh, wait….” Hamming it up with a wide-eyed stare, Chris puts his hands over his mouth, loving the laughter that fills the studio.

Letting the laughter die down, Jay turns to Lance. “What about you, Lance? Any young men in your life? I heard rumours that you and Triple Dee had a thing going.”

Outwardly Lance’s expression remains the same, but Chris can feel the slight tension, the way he concocting plausible half truths.

“We’re friends, nothing more. I’m concentrating on work right now. We’re so busy with rehearsing for the show I’ve had no time for dating, so no. No one special”

The lie is perfect, and it should be, because Lance spent years practicing it, and with that denial, Lance has circled back to where he was before.

“And you, Chris?”

Chris knows suddenly exactly what he has to do.

“Between you and me, I have an exclusive for you.” Chris sits forward in his chair, ignoring the way Lance’s knee bumps against his own. “See, I told people this before, and they didn’t believe me for some reason, but the thing is, I’m dating Lance.”

“And does Lance know that?” Smile wide, as if expecting a joke, Jay looks at Chris.

“I sure hope so, considering we’re dating and all.” Chris grins and rests his hand on his own chest. “See, the truth is. I’m gay. So very gay. Gay gay gay. As gay as a sack-full of pink monkeys. As two sacks-full of pink monkeys.”

Expression pained, Jay makes a face as he addresses the audience. “So there you have it. Justin’s with Cameron. Joey’s a family man complete with Superman slippers and jammies. JC’s a player, Lance is single, and apparently Chris is gay.”

“As two tree-full of monkeys,” Chris interjects, grinning wide.

“Thanks for that, Chris.” Rolling his eyes, Jay starts to speak again. “Tickets went on sale last week for tonight’s one night only charity performance. They sold out in less than a minute, so, if you wanted one. You’re out of luck.” He turns to look at them. “It’s good to see you back.”

The audience explodes with noise, standing on their feet and applauding as they leave the stage. As soon as they’re out of sight, Justin, JC and Joey show that bizarre tact again, peeling off to do their own things, and Chris is left alone with Lance, both of them silent as their microphones are taken off, so they can walk back to their dressing room.

Inside, they stand close, Lance’s hand on Chris’ arm, holding tight.

“You didn’t have to do that.”

“I know.” Chris leans in, brushing a soft kiss against Lance’s smile. “But I wanted to.”


~*~*~*~

It seems gay is the new black in the celebrity world.

Announcing he’s dating his bandmate, Lance Bass, on their Late Show appearance Chris Fitzpatrick later assured us that he was sincere in his claims of being gay as a pink sack of monkeys. Fitzpatrick has a history of doing things his own way, not least still singing in the boyband Nsync despite his advancing years. Still, at least he has his own poptart to keep him warm at nights.

All we can say is, good on you Chris. May you, Lance and the monkeys be happy together.

“They spelled my name wrong again, and advancing years?!”

“At least they wished us well.” Sitting on the sofa, Lance takes the newspaper from Chris’ hands, dropping it to the ground where it adds to the pile that’s rapidly spreading across the floor.

“True.” Shifting until they’re comfortable together, Chris enjoys the silence, the luxury of hearing nothing but Lance’s breathing, then sighs when the phones rings again.

“It’s your turn.”

“Slavedriver,” Chris says, but he’s smiling at Lance as he picks up the phone, ready to explain that yes, he was serious, once again.