Justin told Nick early on that he knew Chris. That yeah, knowing him in a relationship would be different, but that in the essentials he knew Chris, so that he really was only going to have to get to know Nick.
It turns out, totally inadvertently, that he lied to Nick. Lied like Lance. Oh, he knew Chris, had known him for seven years, give or take, and they'd been best friends for much of that time. But his Chris was blunt and talkative and would tell you exactly what he thought of everything you did, everything about you. He'd bluntly told Justin, back when they were first starting and Justin didn't really like Lance, didn't get him and made mean jokes about him, to "Shut up about him, Curly. He's a good kid and we need him. And damn, he can be funny." His Chris didn't let things go unsaid.
So it was quite a shock to discover he was dating pod!Chris, who didn't talk about his feelings or his thoughts, seemed to barely give a clue about what was going on in his head. Chris talked, boy did he talk, but it was generally jokes and quips and around the issues, and never, never through. Justin now understood some of the comments Dani had made a while back. He was tempted to call her, ask for advice. You'd think he would talk to Nick about it—after all, they were dating too.
But frankly and, he admitted, unfairly, he sort of blamed Nick for Chris turning into a pod person. It turned out Nick was not a talkative guy. And for all his verbal fumblings in interviews, he was surprisingly thoughtful before he spoke to them, he worked hard to make sure they got what he was saying. Justin spent a lot of time goading him because then he got uncalculated reactions. Plus it was just plain fun.
Either way, deliberation and silence or talking around, Justin didn't get it. He was a graduate of the Britney Spears' School of Relationships, where every issue and item was discussed to death. On the one hand, it was nice not to have to constantly be ready to talk about his feelings. On the other, though, he spent a lot of time having no idea where he stood. It was frustrating as hell and made him feel insecure, which he hated. Justin Timberlake was not comfortable with insecurity, and didn't like being on speaking terms with the word. This had the effect of making him a bitch to live with; he teased and taunted, usually Nick. It was really a surprise when Chris took him aside and told him, blunt as ever, to lay off Nick.
"Try to remember that he's your fucking boyfriend, ok, Jup."
Justin had wanted to scream that he had no idea what the fuck that meant. To demand that Chris explain why he could scold Justin, but not just tell him things. Instead, he nodded and said, a bit sulky, "Yeah. I'll try."
Having won that concession from him, Chris began to tickle him mercilessly. By the time Nick arrived to join in, the laughs were becoming moans. 'Ok, yeah, boyfriend...' thought Justin, before he lost all coherent brainpower.
Later though, after Justin tried again to figure out what was going on and failed, he decided that desperate times called for desperate measures. He'd have to go to the guys. His guys. Early on, Nick's had, all four, made it very clear to him that they didn't like or approve of the shift in Nick's and Chris' relationship and that they blamed him. He'd been told that they were watching him and that if he hurt Nick in any way they'd render his bones to jelly. AJ really didn't have a problem with making his feelings known, something to keep in mind if he struck out with the last three-fifths of NSYNC.
He went to JC first. JC was a pretty good listener, generally, and sometimes had good advice. Plus, he always had good food at his house and at the moment Nick was on a diet so he wasn't allowed to keep Fritos at his. It totally bit.
He made his first big mistake in not calling first. But he figured he could wake JC up if he was sleeping, he knew all the tricks. JC wasn't sleeping, which might have been easier. Instead, it was much worse; he was laying down a new track in the new studio in his house. Justin knew they should have fought harder against that. They'd never see JC in the light of day again.
As was usual for when he was recording, JC was pretty much deaf to anything else that was going on, and all of Justin's attempts to talk about his relationship troubles were met with vagueness and blinks and a few, "Well's." By the time he left he wanted to smack JC. It was, he reflected moodily in the car, a victory that he hadn't committed bodily harm.
He munched on stolen Fritos while pondering his next move.
He decided to try Joey next because even if Joey was no help, he could at least play with Brianna, who was toddling around trying to talk these days, a little adorable bundle of fun. He hit the jackpot at Joey's—Lance had shown up, tired of his hideout in scary Floribama and looking for all Orlando had to offer. Justin made fun of him, but only a little.
Justin was playing some puzzle game with Brianna, who was trying very hard to get the square block to get into the round hole, despite his attempts to guide her to the square one, when Joey, exchanging glances with Lance over his head, asked, "Not that I mind, Jup, but to what do I owe the honor of a solo visit from the Great Timberlake?"
Lance sniggered. Justin scowled. "I don't go everywhere with him."
"You pretty much do, Jup, but that's not the point. What's up?"
"I— " sigh. "I need some advice. Dating advice."
"Ooooh, sounds serious, Jup." Lance was looking smug and amused. Bastard.
"Fuck you, Lance."
"Sorry, Joey." He tickled Brianna to make up for it. She giggled, then pushed his hand away, not to be distracted from her game. "I just. I'm. I don't know what's going on."
They had the grace to look concerned, which made Justin feel better. "What do you mean?"
He sighed, trying to figure out how to explain. "They don't. I. I never really know where I stand. They don't talk. I mean, they do, Chris is always talking, but he won't tell me what's going on in his head, you know? He doesn't talk about how he feels about the three of us, or anything. And I know he must feel something, but he just won't..."
He trailed off as Joey and Lance burst into hysterical laughter above his head. Brianna, hearing and not understanding, joined in anyway. She liked to laugh a lot. The fact that the baby was laughing at him along with two of his best friends did not help his mood, though. "What? What's your problem, guys? I'm glad you think my pain is so fucking—" "Language!" "funny!"
Lance recovered first, his laughter stopping, but his eyes still twinkling and a grin broad on his face. "Well, well, well. How long I have waited for true confirmation of this. Joe," and he turned to Joey, who was still laughing, though more quietly, "it is my duty to tell you that Justin Timberlake is, in fact, a girl."
At Justin's high-pitched screech, Joey just laughed harder. Brianna turned and put her little hand over Justin's mouth. "—ite!" she said imperiously, and Joey, cracking up, swung her into his arms and started blowing raspberries on her tummy.
Lance grinning at them, said, "I have the smartest goddaughter ever."
Justin watched the giggle twins, annoyed. He stood up with great dignity and started to say "I'm leaving," when Lance cut him off, telling him, "If you leave now you are even a bigger girl than you just proved to be with that 'talk about your feelings' crap. Do you even have a dick any more?"
Thankfully Brianna was there and they were all saved from Justin just whipping it out. But he did sputter a bit while Joey's eyes bulged and his whole body shook and he had to sit on the couch, then lay down, still cradling Brianna, because he was laughing so hard.
Finally, finally the hilarity slowed down and Joey was able to regain something resembling gross motor control. Justin had been standing in the middle of the room, trying for outraged dignity, but Lance's little snipes were pushing him into fighting back. Now Joey spoke up and said, "Justin, that was the funniest thing I have heard in a long time. Excellent."
Somewhere Justin knew this was the wrong thing to say, but he didn't give a shit any more. "Look. I'm glad, you know, that my pain is amusing to you. But I really need advice. This is. Look, when I was dating Britney I always knew exactly how she felt about everything. I mean, I might not have always understood why she was angry, but I knew she was. Nick just shuts down, and Chris can talk for ever and not ever get to the point and it's driving me nuts!" He slumped onto the couch beside Joey and picked up Brianna, cuddling her in his lap. "What do I do?"
Lance looked like he might say something else along the 'Justin is a girl' line, so Joey jumped in. "Look dude, I know that Brit got you young and warped your world view, but there's a reason guys are considered bad at communicating. It's because we are. We can say ten things with a grunt and a scratch. Maybe you just need to study up how to understand guys."
Justin glared at him. "I understand guys just fine. But I thought gay guys were like, more sensitive and crap. Like we could skip over all that caveman bull."
Lance managed not to laugh, and he answered, "Justin, gay guys are worse! We're catty and vicious and still don't say things that need to be said. Are you sure you like dick?"
Joey intervened before Justin's foul mouth could start corrupting his daughter. "Language! And look, Jup, Lance is right. They aren't going to just talk about their feelings. Not unless maybe you sit on them. Or catch them post-sex? Have you tried that?"
"There's nothing wrong after sex."
"Because sex is the great relationship bandaid." Lance's voice was dry.
Justin growled. "They just don't. I. I try to explain, and they don't really seem to listen, and then everything wrong gets talked around and then ignored and sometimes it seems like they fixed things and I don't know how or what happened and I'm like, totally on edge here guys."
As he talked he'd pulled Brianna closer and closer, and she gave a little cry now, wiggling and trying to get away.
Joey looked over at Lance and then reached over and hugged Justin, getting him to loosen his hold on Brianna at the same time. When he let go, Lance was looking thoughtful, and Justin felt a bit of hope. Lance sometimes gave good advice. When he wasn't being a snarky bitch, that is.
"Look , Justin, I don't know what's wrong and stuff. But maybe you should try listening to the silence, ok?"
Justin blinked and revised his opinion, thinking that that was the stupidest advice he'd ever heard. But Joey was nodding, so he nodded too and didn't say that to Lance.