Even in the very beginning, Joey was the one they all came to. He was the one that offered the most non-threatening presence, the one whose hugs were warmer and more caring. Not that the others' hugs weren't caring, but Justin's were too short and hugging JC was like hugging a pole.
And Joey had experience. He'd been around the block; you could tell in his old eyes, in the relaxed way he carried himself that showed he had nothing to prove, that he didn't need to be confrontational because he'd been through it and he knew perfectly well what he was capable of, thank you very much.
So Lance wasn't really that surprised when, not long after he joined 'N Sync, he saw JC coming out of Joey's hotel room one morning. Back then they all shared rooms, but Joey had been rooming with Chris and Lance knew something was up beyond the room-swapping that happened all the time. Lance hadn't thought that JC was into boys, though. For that matter, he hadn't thought Joey was into boys. Joey always flirted with girls, kissed them in clubs, acted like he really enjoyed being with them.
It didn't bother him, though; or rather, it did, but not the fact that Joey liked boys.
He watched quietly while the others took their turns; Chris, rambunctious, climbing all over Joey, sometimes initiating a wrestling match just to get Joey to throw him to the floor; and it was only when Joey started licking Chris's neck, right there in the aisle of the bus, that Lance would realize they were probably getting ready to fuck, and it was time for him to go back in his bunk and put his headphones on loud.
Later, there was Justin, when he was old enough to understand and choose. Not that Lance ever felt he was young enough not to understand; it had never bothered him to see Joey kissing JC tenderly, or to watch his clumsy, laughing (and very halfhearted) rebuffs of Chris's advances. But for some reason it bothered him to see Justin, because Justin was younger than him and dammit, Justin could have his pick of anyone.
He had to stop and laugh at that, because he could have his pick of anyone, too, by then, and the others weren't slouching at all in terms of female admiration. But Justin -- why Justin? Lance thought, and then thought it might be for the same reason that he himself wanted Joey.
Joey wasn't immediately desirable to look at; he was big, not fat, just large. A little thick around the waist, because he was the kind of guy that would never have the rawboned slenderness of JC, or the whipcord-thin body of Justin, or even the mildly snake-hipped shape Lance liked about himself. But Joey was, well, Joey. He was warm and comfortable, he was the perfect friend -- always supportive, never mean, only sharply insightful; and he always seemed to know just what words to say or when a hug was needed or when a companionable silence was better. If you just wanted to be left alone, he could tell whether he should stay anyway or when he should go. Lance didn't blame Justin at all for wanting Joey, for going to him.
Too, the more you looked at Joey, the more attractive he became. His quick, heartfelt smiles or the slow sweet ones; his eyes, fathomless, shining dark with lust or bright and bronze with happiness, and the way he moved, his whole body a seamless flow of motion, through dance routines that just seemed like they should be completely out of his league. And his voice; Lance loved his voice, hated that it got buried in songs sometimes. He could always pick Joey's harmonies out of the mix. He liked Joey's hands, too, though his fingers were a little thick; he liked Joey's big palms, the hairiness of his wrists and the way the muscle wrapped around his bones, how it moved on him. And Joey's lips seemed sensual, especially framed by the short, coarse hairs of his goatee.
Lance thought he might be starting to get obsessed with Joey. He thought maybe that was why it bothered him when Justin started going to him; Justin so quiet and solemn, dark-eyed, going down the hall, slipping into the room, his face grave and deep. Lance would wonder what bothered him so much that only Joey's presence could heal it.
He knew that Chris and JC slept together sometimes, too, and that Justin shared JC's bed once in a while. That Justin's antics with Chris were most often a playful front for the dangerously serious feelings laying just below the surface; Lance heard screams, sometimes, from Justin's room, and knew it was always Chris, always, that made Justin vocalize like nothing any fan would ever hear.
Lance was alone. He wondered if that bothered him most of all, or if it bothered him because they always came back to Joey.
He finally went to Joey on a night when everyone else was busy. Justin had gone off clubbing, two of the bodyguards with him for a protective escort; Chris and JC were arguing about something, which would probably lead to fucking later on if their past arguments were any indication. Lance showered, shaved, thought about putting on cologne and then decided not to; it seemed too much like a date kind of thing to do. And this wasn't a date.
He knocked on Joey's door. Joey's eyes betrayed bemusement when he answered, as if he hadn't been expecting Lance. It wasn't that they never hung, but they did so less often lately, what with Lance always buried in paperwork for the lawsuit and his own management company. "Hey," Joey said, blinking. He was wearing a muscle shirt and boxers, and his hair was a little rumpled.
"Did I wake you up?" Lance asked.
"Yeah, um. Sort of. I was watching TV. Something up?" Joey said.
"Kinda. Was wondering if we could hang out," Lance said.
"Um. Now's not really a great time," Joey said, and behind him there was a movement, rustling of fabric: the bedsheets. Lance felt a cold place open up inside himself.
"I see. Never mind," he said. "Catch you later," and went back to his room and jerked off furiously, thinking about Joey and the girl together, Joey fucking her, no, Joey fucking him.
He came hard and fast. Afterwards, he felt dirty.
The next day, Joey stopped Lance in the hall when they were headed down to the buses.
"Nothing to apologize for," Lance said, feeling almost like he meant it. He felt guilty enough about fantasizing about Joey and his faceless hook-up.
"No, I mean. If you want to come over tonight," Joey said softly.
"Forget it," Lance said. He jerked his suitcase down the hall, leaving Joey behind him.
He went to Joey's room that night anyway, and felt stupidly happy when Joey greeted him with a warm smile. Tonight Joey was showered, wearing sweats and his "I do not masturbate" shirt, which made Lance wince again, and his goatee neatly trimmed.
"So what's on the agenda?" he asked Lance.
"Don't know," Lance said. "Figured we could watch movies or something. MST them, if they're really bad."
They laid together on one of the two big beds, and while Lance kept to his own side at first, Joey reached over about twenty minutes into the first movie and pulled him over, curling him into Joey's warmth. When Lance looked up at Joey, raising a sharp eyebrow, Joey looked back down at him as if to say this wasn't what you wanted?
Lance had become very good at lying, but he couldn't lie to himself, so he just settled into Joey and watched television from across the slope of Joey's chest. After a while, he grew aware of Joey's hand moving slowly through his hair, sorting the fine strands, and he arched into the touch, making a soft "mm" of approval.
He raised his head, and Joey kissed him, just like that. Lance had been expecting it, but it still threw him off, and it took him a moment to sink into the kiss, to relax, open his mouth to Joey's tongue. Joey licked into his mouth, exploring, pressing deep, and Lance climbed up on him a little, smiling when Joey's hands moved down to his waist to rest there, waiting, ready.
He took his shirt off first, then pulled off Joey's, excited when Joey let him do it, lay back and let him do what he wanted. He didn't know where to touch him; he had to stop, calm down for a moment before he continued, consumed by the heat and smell and taste of Joey, Joey's hands hot and smooth on his back, the fingerpads rough, knuckles a little callused from his drumsticks; Joey's chest hairy, big but in a way that made him want to touch it, running his fingers over the springy hair, brushing the nipples and smiling when Joey moaned and closed his eyes.
He put his mouth there, one and then the other, using his tongue, his teeth, wildly turned on. Joey put a hand over the back of Lance's head, cupping the nape of his neck, and held him there while he made his way down Joey's stomach, the soft curve of belly, blowing at the sensitive hairs to made Joey laugh.
When he started pulling off Joey's sweats, Joey tugged at his shoulders as if trying to stop him, but Lance looked up and shook his head.
"You don't have to," Joey said.
"I want to," Lance said, and Joey, bemused, said no more, only closed his eyes, mewling when Lance lowered his mouth to the jutting erection and sucked hard.
Joey tasted much like he'd thought he would, like salt and spice, snips and snails and puppydogs' tails he thought, squeezing the base of Joey's cock, gulping hard when Joey came all at once with a sudden strangled cry.
"I want to fuck you," Lance said when he came back up, without preamble, and Joey didn't even bat an eyelash, just started to roll over. "No," Lance said, pulling Joey back. "Want to see your face."
Joey seemed bemused by that, too, but he took Lance's kiss, sucking on Lance's tongue, while Lance unbuttoned his jeans, got them off; then Joey went and fumbled in his bag for supplies, and when Lance sat back down, Joey leaned over and touched Lance. Lance closed his eyes, letting the sensations shiver through him while Joey's hand moved over his back, his chest, plucking at a nipple, traveling over his thigh and spiking up the hairs on his leg. When the big palm closed around his dick and tugged gently, Lance choked out a groan.
"Come on," Joey said, and Lance took the condom Joey pressed into his hand, slid it on, let Joey slather the lube onto him. Even though he was the one moving on top of Joey, bracing himself over Joey's burning-hot skin, it felt like Joey was the one in control; Joey the one whose hand led his cock below and between, Joey the one whose hands guided his hips as he pushed in for the first time.
Joey was always warm. Now he was hot, scorching, everywhere Lance touched him, but most especially there, most importantly where Lance's stiff cock sunk into his body, into his welcoming dark center. Joey tightened, hips lurching underneath him, and Lance held still for a long pregnant moment before Joey relaxed, smiling up at him, and Lance slid all the way in, flush against Joey's body, and cried out, stuttering and loud, couldn't help it. "Feel so fucking good," he breathed, slipping out and pushing in again.
It was slow and hot and powerful, mind-blowing. Lance thought he would die more than once, drunk on Joey's scent, Joey's sharp shuddering breaths and moans. He put one hand down between his hip and Joey's thigh, lifting Joey's leg up, and there, God, deeper in, Joey shuddering and mewling, the fuck so long and slow that Joey's cock hardened again between them, until Lance couldn't restrain himself any longer. He let Joey's leg down, put his hands on Joey's hips, gripped hard, and changed up the rhythm, pounded, groaned, came in waves.
Joey growled and arched beneath him, stickiness spilling between them moments later. He had some vague impression of Joey cleaning him up, but it was more or less lost in the half-doze that claimed him almost immediately after orgasm. When he woke, later, the room was dark, and Joey was curled up behind him, one leg thrown over his, anchoring him.
He slipped out of Joey's embrace, put on his clothes, and made it back to his room undetected.
After that, it became part of the routine. Once Justin angled a look at him, the look on his face almost an 'are you in the club?' kind of question. Lance raised an eyebrow, and Justin looked away.
He thought about what sex would be like with JC -- all bony, sharp edges, or would JC be pliable and soft beneath him? He didn't think he'd mind kissing JC, but JC didn't seem interested, and Lance didn't really feel like pushing it. As for Chris -- well, he got along with Chris all right, but their friendship didn't, he thought, extend to bedroom relations.
He found himself proved surprisingly wrong a couple of weeks after he'd first slept with Joey. Chris came into his room while he was getting ready for bed. Afterwards, he was glad he'd just brushed his teeth, because Chris said, "so, you finally broke down and got with Joey?"
That was an interesting way to put it. "Yeah, I guess you could say so."
"You with all of us now, or just him?"
Lance shrugged. "I didn't know sleeping with everyone had to be a requirement. I mean, if it does--"
"If it does," Chris said, leaning up into Lance's face, "will you have a problem with that?"
"Well, I don't know if I really feel like having sex with Justin, so--"
"How about me?" Chris said, and kissed Lance. They fell back on the bed into a pile of folded shirts about which Lance abruptly forgot to care.
So he had sex with Chris, and that was interesting, too, a lot different from Joey because Chris liked to be on top and have high-energy, loud, draining sex. Lance understood why Justin screamed, then, and mornings after, he and Justin would smile sympathetically at each other regardless of who had been with Chris the night before. One thing he could say about it was that sex with Chris was never boring.
He wound up in bed with JC one night after an after party for some awards show or other. JC had had way too many drinks and was bemoaning the fact that he'd been dumped yet again by Bobbie, and Lance took him back in the limo. While they were alone back there, JC pressed himself on Lance, said, "You're cuter than she ever was," and kissed him.
It was pretty much as nice as Lance thought it would be. And JC was pliable, soft, wonderfully compliant in bed. Lance could press him back into the mattress, face down or however, fuck him hard if he wanted, tie him up, whatever; JC never seemed to mind. If anything, it only made him more sweetly kittenish afterwards, and when Lance pressed his face into the back of JC's hair before falling asleep, he often thought he heard JC purring.
And Lance didn't really even mind when Justin came over to his house one night while they were on a tour break, bringing a case of beer and some microwave pizza, which Lance loved even more than hot fresh right-to-your-door pizza, and after they'd drunk most of the case and eaten all the pizza, they laid out in the backyard and counted stars. Justin began to sing something Lance didn't recognize; before too long, he slid over, held himself above Justin, and swallowed the song in a kiss. They fucked on the grass, which wasn't as romantic as it might have been since Justin ended up with mosquito bites on his ass and Lance had twigs and rocks poking him on the back, but at the time they didn't notice it.
He liked being with the others, but he liked being with Joey best of all.
"Why did you wait so long?" Joey asked him once, after they'd had sex in the shower and were drying off, panting in the close, humid bathroom.
"For what?" Lance asked.
"You know. For this."
"I don't know," Lance said. He was glad when Joey just nodded and rubbed his hair, tossed the towel at the bathtub.
"Come on, we have an hour. Nap."
Lance liked sleeping with Joey. Literally sleeping with him, because even though Joey tended to pull you tight against him and sometimes squeeze you a little hard when he was dreaming, it was still nice because you were surrounded by him. It was a lot better than Lance had ever imagined it.
When they went to Toronto for filming, they kept up, because they didn't really know a lot of people up there and it was easy, comfortable, to be in one hotel room at night. Joey still went out occasionally and found a girl to bring back, always to his own room, and Lance told himself he didn't care.
He didn't go out looking for guys, though. He felt better when they went back to Florida to start working on recording. Then Joey wasn't focused on him all the time, and he wasn't focused on Joey. It was better that way.
He had to stop when he realized that he was actually falling in love with Joey.
That realization hit rather abruptly one day in the studio. Joey was recording his part on "Celebrity", Lance sitting in the booth watching him, and when Joey flashed Lance an unexpected grin, Lance felt the bottom of his stomach drop out.
He called JC that night and asked him to come over to his house, and he tried to lose himself in the sex, but somewhere in the middle of it JC murmured something heartfelt and sweet and Lance broke down, startled and sobbing, hating the weakness that made him collapse. JC held him, stroking his hair, listening to him babble about Joey. Lance gave some vague consideration to shooting himself, but even afterwards, when they'd more or less recaptured the mood and JC sucked him off (which definitely did take his mind off of things, however briefly), Lance could only lay there and wonder when he'd let himself get distracted enough to fall.
Obviously, he didn't have enough to do in his life. That must be it, he thought, and fell asleep with JC's mouth pressed, half-open, to his nape.
"Where you been?" Joey asked about a week and a half later, flopping down next to him in the tiny eating area of their bus.
"Been?" Lance asked blankly, eyes fixed on his laptop's screen. "What do you mean?"
"You haven't been by."
"Oh." Lance shrugged. "Been tired, you know. Busy." He met Joey's gaze, his own eyes cool. Joey looked back at him for a few seconds, his eyes sharp and discerning and for a hidden, panicked beat, Lance was afraid Joey would see through the façade, figure out the truth. But then Joey just shrugged.
"Okay, well. We don't have to do anything," he said. "Just, you know. We can hang out, or just sleep, whatever."
It was only after Joey got up and went back to his bunk that it occurred to Lance: Joey never approached anyone. They all went to him. And there was never just hanging out, never just sleeping.
"Oh," Lance said quietly.
His heart thudded hard inside his chest. He had to figure out how to use this.
After the show that night, Lance slipped into Joey's room unannounced. He'd talked JC out of visiting Joey by convincing him to go clubbing with Justin instead, made sure Chris would be otherwise occupied. He didn't want anyone witnessing this potential disaster.
"Yeah!" Joey yelled from the shower when Lance knocked on the closed bathroom door.
"Uh, I'll be--" Lance started to say.
"Hey, come in," Joey called.
"No, I'll wait," Lance replied, and retreated to one of the beds, flipping channels until Joey came out of the shower, rubbing his hair with a towel, another towel wrapped around his waist. His skin was still damp, glistening faintly from his shower, and he smiled at Lance as he tossed the towel in his hands aside.
"You wanted to do something?" Joey asked.
Lance turned down the volume on the television, leaning back on his hands. He'd just thrown on a t-shirt and jeans, determined not to make any kind of event out of this. "Um, I was thinking about what you said on the bus," he said. "About how we could, you know, just hang out."
"Yeah, that's cool," Joey said. He grabbed a pair of boxer-briefs out of his bag, dropped his other towel and slid the undergarments on. "You're not going out with Justin?"
"Changed my mind, JC's going instead. Maybe Chris, I don't know." Lance turned his gaze back to the television; casual, keep it casual, Bass. Then again, he hadn't yet figured out how to be casual while telling one's bandmate that one was in love with said bandmate.
"Lance," Joey said, interrupting his chain of thought, sitting down next to him on the bed. He rubbed one large hand over Lance's back, and Lance's eyes half-closed instinctively as he leaned into the touch.
"You know, the others talk," Joey murmured.
Lance nodded. "Talk about what?" he asked, light tone, casual, cool, cool.
"Oh, this and that. Like how Chris isn't spending any time with JC lately, and how he's getting all jealous whenever Justin stays over with me or you."
"Really," Lance said, amused. It fit that Joey would be the source of gossip, he thought, but this sounded like a damn soap opera. "You think he's in love with Justin or something?"
"Maybe," Joey said. "Then again, I'm not sure. I'm not really sure what it's supposed to look like, or feel like, you know?"
"Don't you love Kelly?"
The question was almost absent, but Joey hummed, his hand steady and smooth on Lance's lower back, his hips, the base of his spine. "Yeah, I guess. Sort of. Not the way I used to. It's different with her. More like friendship, kinda, I mean, you know?"
"Yeah," Lance said amenably. If Joey was softening him up for sex, he was probably going to give in, he thought. He didn't mind. He'd started to think that it was better to just have Joey in whatever way he could.
"I know that I love Brianna," Joey went on. His voice was soft, thoughtful. "And I think I know what it's like, cause I think I'm falling in love with someone else."
Lance's breath stopped. Then he fought to take another one, forcing his body to remain in the limp half-slump into which Joey had lulled him. He can't mean. He doesn't.
"Met someone? You keeping it a secret from us?" Lance managed in a teasing tone.
"Sort of." Joey's hand stilled on Lance's back. Lance glanced up, eyebrows narrowing in curiosity. The naked look of need on Joey's face took his breath away.
"Joey, I don't know--"
"You do," Joey said. "And I'm sorry. I mean, I know this isn't what you wanted, but I had to tell you. It doesn't have to change anything."
Lance bit back his immediate reply -- yes it does, it changes everything -- and ran a hand through his hair instead, evaluating, processing.
"I need to go," Lance said, and stood up.
"Don't." Joey reached out, caught one of Lance's hands in his.
And I came here to tell him I love him. How fucked up is this? "It does change everything," he finally said, resorting to blunt emotion. "It changes everything, because I'm in love with you, and the others won't want to stop sleeping with you, and--"
"Lance--" Joey's voice was hot, hoarse.
"--and I can't deal with that, so it's just better if we let it go, just leave it, all right?" Lance pulled his hand out of Joey's clasp.
"Don't do this, Lance," Joey said, his tone begging. "Don't fucking overanalyze it so much. It doesn't--"
"It does," Lance said, and fled.
He went to Chris the next morning and begged him to switch buses. Chris told him to fuck off, so he asked JC instead. JC shrugged amenably and went to get his bag.
Joey found him while he was throwing his things into a spare bunk on the other bus. "Look, about last night--"
"Nothing to say," Lance said, and almost laughed; they'd had this conversation before.
"Lance," Joey said. His voice hurt, laced with fear and strain. "Why are you doing this?"
"Because we can't have it, so there's not really much point in trying, is there?" Lance turned, giving Joey his coolest, most closed-off gaze. "Is there?" he repeated. "I mean, come on, Joey. The others won't want to stop fucking you. And why should they? And maybe I don't want to stop sleeping with them, either."
He hated himself for the flinch that rippled through Joey at that. He went on anyway. "Besides, it's all supposed to be for fun, anyway, right? What happens when the group falls apart and we all go our separate ways?"
"It doesn't have to fucking be like that," Joey hissed.
"No, but it will be. I mean, be honest," Lance said. "I don't want to lie to myself."
"So you'll just lie to me instead?" Joey grabbed Lance's shoulder, put his mouth down hard on Lance's, an almost savage kiss. Lance fought, managed -- barely -- to keep from responding to it. When Joey released him, Lance gave Joey a languid, bored look.
"Fuck you," Joey swore, and stomped off the bus. Lance climbed into his bunk and put his face into his pillow, fighting the feeling that he was going to cry, because he fucking hated to cry.
"Joey's fuckin' pissed at you," Chris commented.
"Yeah," Lance said, turning the page of his newspaper.
"Did you hear me?"
"I heard you fine, Chris. Joey's fuckin' pissed at me. Big deal. He'll get over it."
"What the fuck is your problem?"
"You," Lance said, and wasn't surprised when Chris brought his hand down in the middle of the paper, smashing it to the table.
"Fuck off, Kirkpatrick."
"Not until you get a goddamn clue about whatever the hell you're doing with Joey. Because it's not funny anymore."
"I never said it was." Lance yanked at the paper. Chris's hand remained flat in the midst of the crushed newsprint. "Come on, Chris."
"Are you scared?"
Fuck. Lance met Chris's eyes with an equally annoyed glare. "What the fuck would I be scared of?" he asked, keeping his tone low and calm.
"That you finally found someone you love and you don't know what the fuck to do about it."
"And why in the world would I come to you for romantic advice?" Lance fired back.
"At least I had a relationship," Chris pointed out, his eyes flashing, and Lance realized he'd forgotten just how nasty Chris could get sometimes. "One that lasted for three years, may I add, and which definitely didn't end because I didn't love her enough."
Lance could have said any number of things, but one truth was that he did respect Dani; and even though it had been months since the breakup, Chris still didn't seem to be recovering from it well. He doubted it would do him much good to antagonize Chris further, especially when Chris was trying to help.
He closed his eyes, and when Chris let go of the paper, he picked it up and let his eyes focus on it, but he didn't turn the page for twenty minutes.
Justin knocked on his door that night, and they never even made it to the bed. Justin let him fuck him, which was a first for them, and it was more intense than he'd dreamed it would be. At least, that was what he blamed the tears afterwards on.
"Shh, baby, it's okay," Justin said, holding him, and Lance let Justin pretend he was Britney or whatever, because Justin's big hand smoothing his hair was actually kind of nice, and if he closed his eyes and pressed his cheek to Justin's shoulder, he could pretend that Justin was Joey.
He thought that the whole thing was pretty fucked up, but he didn't really care at that point.
"I have to stop," he murmured, later, when Justin had wrapped a heavy arm over his shoulders and started to fall asleep.
"What?" Justin lifted his head, blinking at Lance. "what do you mean?"
"I can't do this anymore," Lance said.
"Did I do something wrong?"
Lance couldn't help but smile a little. Justin may have been the most egotistical out of them -- and it wasn't his fault, really, it was more the eight years of living in a fishbowl and being told by everyone he knew that the world revolved around him -- but he also had a distressing tendency to take things to heart, compulsively blaming himself when things weren't necessarily his fault.
"No, it's not you." He ran a hand over the elegant curve of Justin's head, so clear now. The short hairs ruffled under his touch, and Justin half-closed his eyes, enjoying the sensation. "No," Lance said. "It's. I have this thing I have to deal with."
"You and Joey, huh?" Justin's eyes had closed all the way. Lance was grateful for that, because it meant that Justin didn't see the wince.
Justin chuckled, low and rippling in the dark quiet of the room. "More or less. You guys need to do whatever works out for you. Make yourselves happy, 'cause it's gonna mess everything up if you don't."
"Yeah, but. You know, what if we want to be exclusive?"
Justin shrugged, rested his head on the pillow again. Lance put his own head back down so that he could lay on his side and look at Justin.
"There's still JC and Chris. And, I mean. It's not like Joey and I ever slept together that much anyway."
True. Lance sighed and rolled onto his back, folding his hands over his stomach. He was tired, but now he didn't think he could sleep. He hadn't expected Justin to be amenable to the suggestion, or even to have any kind of awareness of the situation. You're buying into his image, he told himself, smiling.
Justin's voice was sleepy when he spoke again. "Talk to him," he said, and dropped his arm over Lance's waist once more.
"I will," Lance said, absently.
He didn't think it would be taken as a promise, but apparently Justin did indeed think it was, because he followed Lance around for three days, or at least that was what it seemed like. "Did you talk to him?" Justin kept asking, until Lance finally snapped and said,
"Look, when I fucking talk to him, you'll fucking know,"
and Justin smirked. "Just go and fucking do it then, already," he said, waving an arm at the dressing room door. Joey was the only one in there right now; Chris and JC were chasing each other around on razor scooters, and the stylists had been delayed by some supply emergency, so Lance knew they'd have some privacy, at least for a little bit.
"Watch the door," he said, and went in.
Joey was sitting on the couch, partially dressed in his first outfit for the night; his chest was bare, though, his shirt on the arm of the couch beside him. He looked up when Lance came in.
"Hey," he said, his voice taut with the barest edges of civility. It had been like that between them ever since that day on the bus; three days, Lance thought, that felt like a lifetime. "Um. Can. can I talk to you?"
Joey shrugged, waved an arm towards the unoccupied section of the couch. Lance sat down, putting himself into the corner of back and arm.
"So. First of all, I guess. I wanted to say that I'm sorry, because I didn't know what I was doing and I hurt you, and I never wanted to do that."
Joey nodded, his eyes fixed on the floor. "Okay. You kinda did, though," he said.
"I know." Lance shook his head, stuck a hand through his hair. "It was. It was stupid, and wrong, and I've been beating myself up over it, so. I really would like it if I could do something to make you forgive me. Because I miss being your friend."
"You were scared," Joey commented. "I can understand. I was kinda scared, too."
"I was," Lance agreed, jumping on that. "Fuck, I've never been in love before, and everything's so weird, because of, you know, the way we're all sleeping together."
"it doesn't exactly make for a romantic courtship," Joey said softly.
Lance smiled. "No. Especially when you have to tell all your other suitors that you're not interested in them anymore, and it's nothing personal, and fuck, I thought JC was going to cry."
"Well, he might have. I don't know. But he's okay with it."
"What are you saying, Lance?" Joey looked up at him, the hurt in his eyes hitting Lance like a tidal wave. Lance flinched.
"I don't know," Lance said. "I'm just. Gonna say that I love you, and I have for a while, and I want to be with you. And I'm not sleeping with the others anymore. So. You don't have to do anything, or -- whatever, I just. Decided that if you want, that I want to try."
"A relationship," Joey stated, as if confirming the point of Lance's rambling thoughts.
Lance nodded, and Joey's gaze dropped back to the floor again.
"You're serious, this isn't just you fucking me around for whatever reason."
"I never--" Fuck, Lance thought, and took a deep breath. "I didn't do it on purpose. I'm sorry."
"I know you are," Joey said.
"I should go," Lance said, and stood up. "I said what I wanted to say."
"wait," Joey said. Lance turned to look at him, eyebrows raised. "Look. It's not. It's just not. I can't just put it aside like that, okay? I know you're sorry and it still, I just still have to get through it. All right?"
"Sure," Lance said. "Um. You know where I am, if you want to. Talk. or whatever."
Joey nodded, and Lance retreated, feeling like a coward. Outside, he promptly met Justin's curious gaze.
"So?" he asked.
"We talked," Lance said tersely, stalking off and nearly colliding with Chris on a scooter.
Joey didn't say anything at all to him for nearly a week, outside of the most terse, civil comments, or when they were doing interviews or whatever and he acted like everything was normal. Even then, Lance thought it had to be glaringly obvious, the way he would drape himself on Justin or fiddle with JC's hair, never once looking at Lance.
Lance shut himself down. He thought that was the best way to deal. Joey didn't want to talk to him or touch him or look at him or anything, that was fine, just fine. He ignored Justin's worried glances, JC's casual inquiries, brushing off their questions about him by saying that he was great, just busy with FreeLance and Meredith and Happy Place and everything. He took to sitting in the shower with the water pouring down on him, so that he wouldn't have to hear anyone if they came in and tried to be concerned at him.
Eight days, and he thought he was going to go crazy if Joey didn't say something soon. He was getting ready for bed that night, brushing his teeth, when there was a knock on the door. Before he could say "go away" or anything, it opened; spare key, he thought with a grimace, hating the very concept of the spare key at the moment, and looked out of the bathroom.
"Hey," Joey said. "I'll wait," when a startled Lance pointed at his mouth, full of toothpaste and brush.
Lance finished brushing, rinsed, gargled, his heart racing. By the time he emerged from the bathroom, he was feeling a little more calm, but still slightly nervous.
Joey was standing by the desk, one hand tracing aimlessly over a magazine advertising the tourist atractions of San Diego. He looked up at Lance, and Lance saw, for the first time, the tiredness in him, the weariness in the slope of his shoulders, the set of his bones. Something trembled, fluttered inside him, something he was afraid to acknowledge.
"Hey," he said, leaning on the wall by the bed. "So what's up?"
"I, uh." Joey smiled faintly, a quirk of warm humor in his eyes. "Thought you might like to know that I'm not sleeping with the others anymore."
"Really?" Hope surged, unbidden, in Lance's chest. He tamped it down, trying to convince himself it didn't necessarily mean anything, anything at all. "What did they say?"
"Well, Justin wasn't even that surprised." Joey smirked a little, and Lance felt his heart drop in his chest, as if he'd just lost the ability to breathe. "JC was, you know. Kind of bothered, but I think he'll deal okay. And Chris just told me to treat you good."
"He said that, huh?" Lance couldn't help but smile. "He's good with sticking his nose where it doesn't belong."
"Yeah," Joey chuckled. "I guess it's been pretty obvious to everyone but us, huh?"
Lance ducked his head at that, nodding. "I. I'm kind of. I don't know what to say," he said finally, looking at his hands where they were joined, fingers crossed over his waist. He heard Joey move across the room, felt Joey's hand touch his shoulder, slide down over the bicep -- all over bare skin, Lance was only wearing boxers, since he'd been about to go to bed -- and then tug his hands apart, tangling wider, square fingers in his own. Lance looked up at Joey's eyes, almost afraid to see what was there.
But Joey was smiling, a bit sadly, and it made Lance want to reassure him somehow. Since his hands were in Joey's grasp, he did the next thing that came to mind, leaned up and kissed him. It was a long, quiet moment, Joey's mouth warm and smooth on his, and he was definitely out of breath at the end of it. He rocked back a little, smiling.
"What's wrong, Joe?" he asked, still feeling tender and cautious.
"Just, I guess, sorry that we danced around for so long, put each other through so much crap before we could get to this point."
"That we had to make it so complicated," Lance said, and Joey nodded. "But maybe it doesn't have to be. Maybe it can be simple."
"Just like that?" Joey smiled. "You're optimistic all of a sudden."
"I'm, I'm happy," Lance gulped, and realized as he said it that it was true.
"Me too," Joey said. Bent down to kiss him again, and this time Lance disengaged his hands from Joey's, slid them around his waist, pressing himself against Joey.
"Missed you," he said into the kiss. "Don't want to be without you again."
"You won't," and Joey's whisper was as solemn as a promise. Lance closed his eyes and leaned into Joey's warmth, dizzy and relieved with joy, knowing that it had all been well worth it so that they could get to this point, this moment, now, and it really was as simple as that.