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Until Now

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Until Now
by Pet

Joey was caught, arrested, frozen mid-step. Held still and solid in place by a smile not even directed his way, a casual professional smile for the camera, the red carpet under their feet, the screaming crowd yards away. Green eyes open wide and guileless, smile promising everything, but Joey knew better, knew in the part of him that was holding him motionless, knew that the promise was nothing at all. Lance turned away, reached to shake another hand and answer another question, and Joey could breathe again. He felt dizzy and lightheaded, as if he couldn't quite get enough air, but when Chris asked if he was feeling all right, he simply nodded.

The night was long and strange, heated with tension and glittering with stars and artificial smiles and false enthusiasm, but he found himself looking at Lance intently, time and time again. Questioning this sudden tickle of awareness. Wondering when Lance had changed, become this beautiful stranger, and why it had taken him until now to notice. Lance caught him once, returned his stare coolly, quirking one brow, and then moved away, head bent attentively to his date. Joey shook himself like a dog, and smiled for MTV.

Lance had been all eyes and ears and teeth just yesterday. Hadn't he? Not a handsome boy, not even pretty, but Joey hadn't minded that. He'd liked Lance's shy giggle, his awkward dancing, the way he'd always slanted his eyes at Joey just before the punchline of a joke, to see if Joey was laughing yet. He hadn't minded that Lance's hands were delicate, like a girl's. Or that his hips were too wide, or his skin too fair. He just hadn't noticed. They'd moved through their crazy lives, hip to hip, closer then friends, closer than brothers, doing what they had to do, and doing it well. Lance had grown up lovely, and Joey hadn't even realized. Too close to see, until now.

Now...out of the limousine, home to the hotel. Lance slid out of the seat, graceful with the new heaviness of muscle that Joey could see under his fine silk shirt. It clung to the dip of his waist, tucked neatly into the low belt of leather pants that were probably, Joey thought, a little too tight for comfort. He could not stop staring, and let JC and Justin crawl over him to get out the door first.

He could still see the sway of Lance's hips as they walked into the elevator. Dancer's grace, that made Joey's stomach clench and his fingertips tingle. Chris's laughter was harsh in his ears, JC's presence a burn at his side.

He settled against the wall for the long ride to the penthouse, eyes on the parquet floor, tracing angles and joints, unwilling to raise them and see himself reflected infinitely in cold mirrors.

"Joey?" His eyes snapped up, Justin was looking at him questioningly. "Me an' Lance an' Chris are going out. You wanna come?"

Lance's eyes were cool and green and level, waiting. Not offering anything. Joey looked away.

"Uh, I think I'll stay in." He couldn't think of a reason why, so he just shrugged.

"OK, man." They let him slip back into his silence.

The feeling was too big. Too new and strange, and Joey was crying, holding the television remote as he sat curled on the bed, before he even knew what was happening. Everything ached. His heart, his head. He sighed into his pillow, and let the tears fall until he ran out. He felt old, dry as a bone.

It had been so long that when the knock came, he did not recognize it, and almost pretended not to hear. But maybe JC was lonely or needed someone to sing to. Maybe Justin needed a hug, after another fight with Chris over some girl neither of them cared about. When Lance stood in the open doorway, calm and poised, he almost shut the door again.

"Joey." Question and acknowledgement, all in one, and Joey could not resist. He lifted a slow hand, let a finger trail down Lance's soft cheek, catch on the unfamiliar burn of stubble at his jaw. Lance almost smiled, he thought, and moved inside, shutting the door behind him.

"We aren't doing this any more." As if Joey needed the reminder. He couldn't speak, just looked back. "We talked about this months ago. You agreed. You know I want to see other people."

Joey nodded. He knew. Lance had been very clear. And Joey just didn't do open relationships. But his throat was tight and painful, now, and he couldn't remember why that was. He'd shrugged, he'd moved on, Lance had moved on. And until tonight, until that smile, everything had been ok. He hadn't been heartbroken. Until now.

"All the pretty people out there..." His voice was a whisper.

Lance frowned slightly, a line appearing between his eyes, but nodded. "Right. Joey, what's wrong? What's going on, here?" He reached out, wrapped a hand around Joey's forearm, close enough now that Joey could smell the whiskeysmokesweat of the club on his skin, in his hair. Joey leaned into the touch.

"The pretty people come and go. Believe me, Lance, I KNOW. And I just...I mean...I want you to know. If you want me, I'll be here. I'm just. I'm here for you, ok?" It was the closest he could come to sliding down Lance's body to his knees, lowering his head, and begging to be taken back, to be taken to bed, to be loved in that long slow thorough way that Lance had. The closest he would allow himself to come. He caught himself, before his legs could bend.

The little furrow was still there. Joey kept his eyes wide, drinking in the closeness, the fine old gold of Lance's skin, the huge heavy-lidded eyes, the fall of disarranged hair across his brow. Something in him eased, as if an old pain he'd almost forgotten about had been suddenly relieved.

"I know, Joey. You've always been there for me." Lance still looked puzzled. Lance didn't GET it. Joey sighed.

"I love you, you know that?" So simple, said so many times, but he had to be sure Lance knew.

"Joe...of course." Lance smiled, now, and came up on his tiptoes to brush a kiss against the corner of Joey's mouth. Whisper-kiss. "I love you too." Still smiling as he let go of Joey's arm, and why had Joey never noticed the brightness and beauty of that smile before? "I've got to go. There's- Are you ok? Really?"

Joey nodded, mute. "Lance." Torn out of his throat, as Lance opened the door. He caught the surprised arch of a brow as Lance turned back, before his face smoothed back into polite inquiry.

"Someday." He had to make this clear. Had to get it out. The huge weight in his chest wouldn't release him until he did. "Someday. Do you think. Maybe. We could...try again? For real, this time?"

Lance stood still, staring back at him. Eyes no longer cool, body no longer poised, and the slender hand on the doorknob was clenched too tight. The silence stretched, painful and slow. Longer. Joey's own words echoed in his ears until they no longer made sense to him. And when Lance spoke, it was so low and quiet that Joey almost missed it.

"Maybe." He paused. "Just...maybe, Joey." The door shut behind him, and he was gone.

[end]