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Walk a Long Road

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Justin was late. He was usually a little late and almost always the last one to report to costume and makeup, but it was twenty minutes before show time and he never cut it this close. Of course, this was the first time Lynn had been off the tour for more than a few days too, but it wasn’t like Justin to be so irresponsible. JC was irritated, and it was even worse when Lance raised his perfectly curved eyebrows at him and asked "Where’s Justin?" in a way calculated to make JC feel responsible for Justin’s failure to appear.

"How am I supposed to know?" he responded in what he thought was the perfect tone of voice -- complete disinterest and with just right touch of sarcasm. "It’s not my day to watch him."

"I thought it was always your day to watch him," Chris muttered from the couch, and ducked reflexively from the magazine JC threw at him. He was already in costume -- the silk Asian outfit covered by the thin white space suit, helmet beside him. He picked up the magazine JC had thrown and started to flip through it. He paused, frowning, and JC wondered how much German he really understood. "Anyway, don’t worry about Justin. He’s just doing some PR." They all snickered at that.

A few more minutes ticked away as Lance finished make-up and JC took his place at the mirror. He was beginning to fidget against his will.

"But will he be here in some sort of timely manner, or will he make us all late?" Joey mused, examining his hair in the brightly lit mirror. "Will he break the world teenager speed-fuck record, or will he insist on learning her name and exchanging phone numbers and asking her to go steady?" Lance laughed and JC shook his head as Joey continued. "More importantly, if I’m going to put that stupid helmet on, why am I worried about my hair? These are the questions that plague me tonight."

"He’ll be here," Chris said. "I mean, he’s sixteen, it’s not like it’s going to take him any time at all . . ." he trailed off and stood, throwing the magazine aside. He pulled the hackey out of JC’s backpack and tossed it up and down. The clock on the wall moved ahead with a loud click that reminded JC of junior high school, the breathless few minutes before class let out for the day. He refused to look at it, carefully applying his foundation.

The clock ticked again. "All right," Joey said from beside him in the big mirror, carefully stroking mascara on. "Who saw him last?"

"You mean since we left him talking to that girl from the meet and greet?" Lance asked innocently. "Or since then?"

Chris snorted from the couch, glancing up at the clock with a smirk. "The real question is who did Lynn specifically ask to keep an eye on him? Hmmm, JC?" he asked, and JC sighed.

He’d seen Justin tangled up with the girl from that afternoon’s meet and greet. "Jail bait," Joey had sing-songed in JC’s ear, and he’d probably been right about that if one thought of Florida laws rather than German ones. She’d been little and cute, wearing a very low-cut red blouse, and a very short black skirt, all dark hair and blue eyes and smooth, creamy skin. They’d all noticed her.

But there was never time for socializing before the show, especially at multi-artist festival shows like the one they were doing. There was a real sound check to do after the meet and greet, there was at least one radio promo spot to do, warm-up, costume and makeup, hackey – it was all timed carefully down to the minute.

But JC had heard the low murmur of Justin’s voice, and the giggling from the dark hallway near where he’d last seen Justin smiling at the dark-haired girl, leaning close as he whispered in her ear. He’d glanced down the hall and caught a glimpse of her backed up against the brick wall, her body arching toward Justin as he’d stepped between her legs and slid a hand up her thigh, disappearing under her criminally short skirt. That had been almost twenty minutes ago, and at the time he’d snickered, amused that Justin was taking advantage of his lack of parental chaperonage so quickly.

But now it was very late, and everyone was dressed and ready for hackey, and Justin’s costume was the only one still hanging on the rack. They did paper rock scissors to decide who would have to go fetch Justin and of course JC lost; he always lost that stupid game, but now there was no time to argue about it. He left the others heading for the backstage wings with the hackey, and when the dark hallway proved to be empty JC continued down the main corridor to the next public men’s room.

Justin was just emerging from the lone stall at the far end of the dimly lit men’s room when JC came through the door, calling his name. JC’s eyebrows rose in speculation and he did a double-take, but Justin was definitely coming out of that stall alone. The fluorescent lights buzzed weakly, giving Justin’s face a faintly yellow tinge. His cheeks were flushed, eyes overly bright and a little frantic, and he was walking stiffly. JC winced in exasperated sympathy; he’d spent too many of his critically formative years sharing living quarters and dressing rooms with two other hormonally charged teenagers to not recognize Justin’s state.

"Hey. Hey, yeah, I know, I’m late, I know, I’m sorry . . ." Justin was breathless and muttering distractedly, and when JC grabbed his shoulder and propelled him down the hallway to their dressing room the skin beneath his thin t shirt was steaming. Justin kept his head down and dove for the dressing room rack, putting it between him and JC. The other guys had already left and JC glanced at the clock. Less than ten minutes.

He turned to get Justin’s makeup and hesitated as Justin bit out a vicious curse from behind him. He watched in the mirror as Justin grabbed the wrong shirt for the opening number and started to put it on over his t shirt. He reached for the correct pants, frowned down at himself for a moment, then looked up at his reflection and flushed darker at the sight of JC, watching him carefully. He looked glassy-eyed and distracted, and was bent over a little like he had a stomachache. His erection was painfully obvious, and he looked tense, frantic, and thoroughly miserable. JC’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully.

"Hey." He moved to the clothing rack and retrieved the correct shirt, handing it to Justin. "This one, huh J?" Justin reached slowly for the shirt and then froze, holding it across his body like he wanted to hide behind it and refusing to meet JC’s eyes. JC felt a surge of amusement and sympathy over his impatience. "Justin. What’s wrong?" He knew exactly what was wrong.


"You can’t tell me what’s wrong?"

If anything, Justin flushed a deeper shade of purple and turned his body away from JC’s in a vain effort to hide his erection. "Fuck you, JC. You know what’s wrong," he hissed through his teeth, and JC smothered his smile.

"What, did she chicken out? Turn you down at the moment of truth?" he asked with amusement and snickered as Justin snarled at him, still struggling with the sleeves of the shirt.

"Why didn’t you just take care of that in the bathroom . . ." JC broke off as Justin threw him a fulminating look.

"I tried," he said, and turned his back on JC, throwing his costume on the couch and pulling his t shirt over his head.

JC checked the clock over the door. Less than nine minutes to show time. The sound of the crowd was a high-pitched buzz even this deep backstage. He watched Justin strip off the wrong shirt, reach for the correct one and try to pull it over his head while the wrong one was still tying up his arms. He struggled for a moment, fumbling, then frantically flapped his arms, throwing the wrong shirt away from him and yanking the right one on. "Fuck!!" he hissed.

JC was torn between sympathy, amusement and mounting concern as the clock continued to tick away. There was no way could Justin go on stage and perform to a crowd of predominantly pre-teenaged girls in this state. No way. It would be criminal. He checked the clock again. Eight minutes, and now Justin couldn’t seem to get his pants buttoned.

JC thought about private pre-performance moments in their old dressing room on the MMC set, Tony and Dale and the sounds of their harsh breathing and his own as they stood in a circle, leaning against each other’s shoulders, eyes half closed and pants half open as they watched themselves and each other, stroking and squeezing . . . He locked the dressing room door.

Justin cursed again and JC moved to him, placing his hands over Justin’s as they fought with the zipper. "Stop it. Justin, slow down," he paused as Justin tried to yank away from him. "Knock it off," he said sharply. "You’re going to rip it." Justin made another frustrated noise, his breath rapid and JC sighed. "Here," he said, quietly. "Come here, Justin. Let me . . ."

Justin turned to marble as JC’s hands gently unknotted the zipper from the flap of Justin’s pants and slid his hand beneath the band of his underwear, scratching easily through the rough hair and wrapping around Justin’s painfully stiff cock. Justin’s eyes were squeezed shut, teeth clenched and JC moved closer to him, murmured soothingly as his thumb found the damp head and flipped across it firmly once, twice, three times. Justin twitched and then trembled hard, dropping his forehead onto JC’s shoulder. He seemed to be holding his breath.

The clock continued to tick, less than eight minutes now. "C’mon," he murmured into Justin’s ear, and on the sixth slow stroke Justin arched, gasping as he shuddered, his hands scrabbling helplessly on JC’s waist. JC stifled his own cock’s growing interest in the proceedings with another glance at the clock, keeping a light pressure until Justin had shivered it all out; then he propped him back against the makeup counter and carefully pulled his hand from Justin’s underwear. He was aware of Justin staring at him and he refused to meet his eyes as he matter-of-factly wiped his hand on a towel and handed it to Justin with a wry smile before turning to wash his hands at the sink.

"Wha . . ?" Justin licked his dry lips and started again. "JC, how did you, I mean, why . . ." He trailed off, blushing red as he busied himself with the towel.

"It’s just not a big deal, Justin. We’ve all been there, you know?" JC handed him his shoes and turned to the makeup table. "Take some deep breaths and concentrate, okay? We’re out of time."

"Right." Justin’s voice was meek behind him. JC watched him in the mirror as he pulled the space suit over his blue silk outfit, his hands still shaking. JC turned him around, smoothing the foundation over Justin’s still-flushed skin. Justin took long, deep breaths, his eyes closed.

"Quickly, quickly," JC muttered and Justin nodded, reaching for the mascara and leaning into the mirror as JC hunted down his shoes.

"Good enough?" Justin’s voice was all business, and JC nodded approvingly.

"Good enough," he said. "A little more eyeliner on your left eye," he added, and Justin bent back to the mirror, his hands now completely steady.

"JC," he said quietly, wiping a q-tip carefully under his right eye to smudge. "Thank you."

JC nodded. "Keep a closer eye on your watch next time."

"No, I mean, you know." Justin took a deep breath, pulling his shoe on while hopping a little on one foot. JC put a hand out to steady him. "For the other thing. I just, you know, she wanted to go fast, and then she wanted to go slow, and I knew there was no time, and I couldn’t, I mean." He switched feet, yanking on the other shoe. "It was stupid," he muttered. "What do I care; I don’t even know her."

"Right," JC said, and the clock ticked again. "We can talk about it later if you want, but now we gotta go."

Justin looked up, his blue eyes wide. "JC, there’s no reason to tell the other guys about this, right?"

JC resisted the urge to tease, glancing at the clock and lunging for the door. "Nope, no reason at all." He hesitated before unlocking the door, just as Chris started pounding on the other side. "Or your mom, either." He smirked as Justin’s head came up in alarm, and was relieved to see him laugh in response. "Seriously, Justin. "Don’t sweat it. What happens on the road stays on the road. Right?"

Justin stared hard at him for a moment, his smile frozen. Then he nodded and dropped his eyes. "Right, right. Let’s go." They left the dressing room at a dead run.

~ ~ ~

At first he hadn’t even wanted to go out tonight. They’d done four large, sold-out shows on four consecutive nights and a whole bunch of promotion in between -- radio promos, television promos, magazine interviews. JC felt like he hadn’t relaxed in weeks, months even, and when the van had deposited them back at their hotel his only thought was a giddy sort of relief that tomorrow was a day off, and he could sleep as long as he wanted.

But Joey was jittery, bouncing up and down in the elevator and talking up a club one of the German security guards had told him about, and Lance was nodding, smiling that wide smile that agreed with Joey’s unspoken wish to go out, get loaded, get laid, blow off some steam. And beneath his own exhaustion JC felt a deep restlessness that simmered low in his stomach, and the thought of drinking, dancing, holding someone else and grinding in a dark and loud club seemed like an excellent idea. Chris was asking Joey where the club was, and slumped in the elevator beside him, Justin was nodding despite his own pallor. So they all quick-changed and now they were here with their watchful security and a whole club full of people who eyed them speculatively as they moved around the open VIP balcony.

JC leaned against the railing and surveyed the scene -- colored lights strobing and an old-fashioned disco ball throwing prisms of light over the undulating mob on the dance floor. It was his favorite kind of club: good music with an inventive DJ, a VIP bar with a pair of generous bartenders, and multi-level flooring that afforded excellent people-watching opportunities. JC took a long pull from his fourth vodka martini, feeling his head spin pleasantly and his stomach burn as he swallowed it down. In a minute he’d go down there and join the bodies sliding against each other, moving and twisting. He closed his eyes, letting the bass throb in his belly as he licked his lips and sighed. In just a minute or two.

"Well of course I can’t take her back to the hotel, Lance." Justin’s voice was dripping with scorn and too close beside him at the railing, and JC pulled his eyes open with an effort. He turned his head in time to see Justin take a big gulp of some cherry-colored liquid in a tall clear glass and wipe the back of his hand across his mouth. "Our hotel -- yeah, fans in the front, fans in the back. There’s no way -- do you think I’m stupid or something?"

Justin was leaning against the railing, his back to the dance floor and the club and apparently having some sort of discussion with Lance, which was odd, because JC could swear that just a moment ago he’d been watching Justin down on that dance floor, grinding close and dirty with a hot brunette in black pants and a skimpy silver halter top. He blinked, looking around. The music was different too. He must’ve zoned out for a minute because this was definitely Justin, cheeks flushed and body steaming with heat, leaning casually against JC’s arm.

Lance made some sort of reply and his deep laugh stuttered down JC’s spine, making him twitch. Justin slid a sideways look at him, his lashes ridiculously long, and he smiled, slowly.

"Nooooo. That’s just tacky," Justin said dismissively. "And gross. Besides, I’m not sure the bathrooms here are safe. Have you been out on the dance floor yet?" He took another pull from his glass and JC reached down for his own drink, frowning at the melted ice. Beside him, Justin was still talking.

"No, no," he said, sounding far too authoritative for seventeen. "You can’t just pick someone up and take them back to our hotel, Lance. It’s bad for the image, and," his voice deepened in an eerie resemblance to Johnny’s, "I shouldn’t have to tell you that image is everything." JC heard Lance laugh again, and smiled, leaning against Justin’s shoulder. "Now, there’s a certain procedure that has to be followed. Lance? Are you listening to me?"

"Yeah, yeah, I’m listenin’. Why don’ you just tell me how it’s done then." Lance was slurring and JC frowned a bit, starting to turn around but Justin’s warm shoulder stopped him. In a minute, he told himself, and let his eyes slip closed again.

"Well okay." Justin’s voice sounded almost professorial, and JC heard Lance stifle another laugh. "Now, the first thing you have to do is pick someone out. Dance with ‘em, buy ‘em a drink." Eyes closed, JC smiled a little at Justin’s diplomatic avoidance of pronouns. "No," he continued on. "You buy ‘em a drink first, see, and if you decide this is the one? Then you move away, come back up here, and tell the bartender to send ‘em another of whatever they’re drinking, and make sure they know who’s buying it."

Lance’s voice rumbled out of the deep bass thudding from the speakers above their heads, and Justin’s shoulder moved as he nodded. "That’s right. You stand right up here where I’m standin’, and wait until they get the drink, so you can nod at ‘em. And if they drink it, you’re in."

"And then what?" JC mumbled, and this time Lance and Justin both laughed.

"He speaks," Lance commented, and Justin leaned over to rub the back of JC’s head affectionately.

"So then, when you’ve picked someone out and you’re ready to go, you talk to Lonnie." Justin’s voice dropped down as the music volume leveled out and Lance leaned closer. "Lonnie’ll go up to ‘em, tell ‘em you’re ready to go, give the invite. So, you leave, take one of the cars to a different hotel. Not the one we’re stayin’ at, you see." Justin paused to take another healthy swallow of his drink, and JC smelled cranberry. "So you and your security go to a hotel, and the driver goes in and gets three rooms, pays cash, uses a fake name, right? And Lonnie meets you there with, you know, whoever you picked out from this railing right here. And you take the middle room, and your security and driver take the rooms on either side, and when you’re, uh, done, Lonnie makes sure your friend gets home okay, and you come back to our hotel." Justin paused. "See, that way you don’t have to be all awkward about them spendin’ the night, or worry about them stealing any of your stuff, right?"

"Right," Lance said seriously, but then he started laughing again as he leaned forward and slapped Justin’s other shoulder. "What I wanna know, Justin, is how old you were when Johnny gave you this particular lecture? ‘Cause I didn’t get it ‘til after I turned 18." He pushed up to the railing on the other side of Justin, calling over him as the music got loud again. "JC? When did you get the picking-up-groupies lecture?"

"Just now," JC informed him seriously, and then grinned when they both laughed. Justin turned around and the three of them looked out over the club. There was a group of girls near the DJ stand, looking up at them and smiling. Justin snickered as Lance waved and they all waved back, beaming and bouncing a little in place.

Lance straightened up and grinned at Justin and JC, levering himself away from the railing.

"Be careful," JC advised him, at the same time Justin said "Go get ‘em!" and Lance waved as he made his way to the stairs.

JC finished his lukewarm drink with Justin in companionable silence beside him. The music had reached that certain decibel level that fuzzed into a soothing white noise, and he felt his eyes sliding closed again, his head nodding slowly to the thudding base.

Justin nudged him sharply and JC jerked his eyes open, looking around wildly before catching Justin’s grin and smiling back.

"What about you?" Justin leaned close to say, and JC frowned.

"What about me? What?"

Justin indicated the club, where Lance’s blond head could be seen at the edge of the dance floor. "See anyone you like tonight?"

JC considered for a moment. There had been a dainty blonde girl he’d danced with when they first arrived, the one with the big brown eyes and the perfect, sparkling white teeth. And there’d been a handsome young man with short brown hair and the cheekbones of a Guess model, who’d made significant eye contact at the downstairs bar a little earlier.

Justin was watching him closely, still smiling but his eyes very intent as JC shrugged. "I guess not," he said slowly, and matched Justin’s smile. "Maybe I’m just too tired to make the effort," he said. "Tonight, anyway."

Justin nodded, his smile falling away as he looked out over the club. "I was thinking the same thing," he said quietly, and JC leaned closer to hear. "I mean, there are dozens of hot people here tonight, but they're all strangers. And I’m just so tired." He quirked a half-smile at JC and shifted so he was angled toward him. "I'm thinking it's too much trouble. I'd rather just go back to my own room, take a shower, watch some porn . . ." He trailed off and seemed to blush a little, but it might’ve been the lights.

JC waited, but Justin kept his eyes on the dance floor and seemed to be done speaking. He pushed himself upright, his shoulder warm and damp from where it had been leaning against Justin’s.

"Well, I’m going to call it a night," he said, setting down his glass. Justin was staring at him, and he felt a self-conscious smile crawl across his own face. "You want to come back with me?"

Justin set his empty glass down beside JC and turned away from the club, his eyes dark and his mouth wet. "Yeah. Yeah, I do."

~ ~ ~

The ride back to the hotel was silent, the back seat quiet and dark and oddly soothing after the lights and blaring music of the club. JC closed his eyes and let his head rest back against the high back seat, relaxing into the easy sway of the car as it made its way through the city streets. It was drizzling, turning the water drops on the back window into smeared beads of light as they passed by the street lamps. His mind was thick and sluggish but his body was still restless, the vague ache in his abdomen making him shift slowly against the seat, making his toes curl in his shoes. He had the random thought that perhaps he should’ve tried to hook up after all, but he was so tired, and the notion flittered across his brain and was gone. He closed his eyes.

Justin murmured something about his ears still buzzing from the decibel level of the club’s speaker system, and JC grunted tiredly in response. Justin was a solid and still presence beside him, humming quietly and drumming his fingers against the seat between their thighs, his fidgets comforting in their annoying familiarity. They both smelled like the inside of the club -- a cloying mixture of cigarette smoke and sweat, but underneath that was the faint scent of the hair gel that Justin used, the cranberry drink he’d just finished. Familiar and comforting. JC smiled a little and his head started to nod in time with Justin’s fingers.

It seemed only a moment later that Justin’s warm hand was on his thigh, shaking him a little. "We’re here, JC, c’mon," he said quietly, and JC sat up straight, sliding out of the back of the car and following Justin toward the service elevator at the back of their hotel. There were a few faint screams from the barricades at the end of the alley, and JC smiled and waved reflexively. He poked Justin’s shoulder and Justin did the same, slowing down and waving both arms over his head. The screams got louder as they ducked into the building with their security, leaving the driver behind.

It was a long way to the top floor in the utilitarian service elevator, and JC leaned against the back wall and closed his eyes against the harsh, buzzing fluorescent lights. Justin slumped against the wall beside him but seemed to be catching his second wind, talking and laughing with Lonnie, gesturing and nudging JC when JC didn’t respond. He jostled JC again as the elevator pinged, then took his arm, pulling him away from the wall and out into the hallway.

Justin stopped in front of his own room and his voice was very casual as he said, "Hey, if you’re hungry I’m gonna get something from room service. If you want to, uh, come in." His eyes were down, intent on his key card as he slid it carefully into the door and twisted the handle. JC looked at his own door, two down and across the hall, and shrugged.

"Yeah, I’m hungry."

"Good," Justin said, entering his room and holding the door for JC to follow.

Justin’s room was exactly like his own and JC eased down on the small couch under the window. He grabbed the remote and turned the television on, keying the blaring volume down as Justin spoke to the downstairs restaurant in his halting German, his finger on the menu as he carefully sounded the words out. JC closed his eyes and relaxed into the soft cushions, Justin’s familiar voice fading to a far away drone. Dimly he heard Justin replace the receiver and say "twenty minutes, I think," and then the even more distant sound of the shower being turned on.

"JC," Justin said from much closer, and JC pried his eyes open, blinking. Justin was in the process of stripping out of his clothes, unbuttoning his shirt and sliding it off smooth shoulders, toeing out of his shoes. His pants were unzipped. Behind him steam floated lazily out of the open bathroom door. Justin had dark circles of exhaustion under his eyes, but his face was flushed and he glanced at JC almost furtively. JC pulled in a deep breath as Justin bit his lip and gestured at the bathroom, then put his hands on his hips.

"So, shower?" he said softly. Pink stained his cheeks and he was shifting from foot to foot.

JC was suddenly very awake. He tossed the remote aside and stood up slowly, stretching hard. Then he watched Justin’s face as he lifted his hands to the hem of his shirt. "Uh, yeah. Is there time before food?"

Justin nodded quickly and licked his lips. "Yeah, Yeah, I think so. Twenty minutes, right?"

"Yeah. Good." JC’s voice was low and husky, and Justin quirked a smile at him over his shoulder as he stripped off his pants and threw them on the bed, walking naked into the bathroom. JC hesitated for a moment before pulling his shirt over his head and following.

Only the small lamp over the sink was on, casting the bathroom in a murky light through the fog from the hot running water. The shower was in the far corner, a square stall with plain glass walls already opaque from the steam. JC peeled his pants down his thighs and pulled his underwear and socks off with them. He left them in a heap on the counter and glanced at the shower. Justin was already inside the stall, his back to JC and face up to the streaming water.

JC opened the door and hesitated, his eyes on Justin’s long back and curved ass, but Justin said only "hey, shut the door. You’re letting the warm out," so JC stepped in and pulled the door firmly closed behind him.

Justin turned sideways and reached out a large hand, wrapping it around JC’s arm and tugging him gently closer, under the warm spray. His eyes were closed and his mouth was open; there was a smudge of leftover eyeliner under his right eye. JC’s eyes flickered down and Justin’s cock was plump and reaching out from his body a little. His cheeks were flushed and he was breathing shallowly.

The water was the perfect temperature and it streamed warmly over JC’s head, wetting his hair and slicking down his tired body, relaxing and invigorating. "Feels good," he murmured and Justin nodded, turning so he was facing JC and the water hit their shoulders.

"We need more showerheads," he said, and JC smiled briefly. He leaned forward to reach for the soap on the ledge behind Justin, bumping his chest lightly. Justin didn’t move away, and JC caught a flash of blue as Justin’s eyes opened quickly and then dropped shut again. He tilted his head so the spray flattened his hair and streamed down his face. His mouth opened, catching the water and swishing it around, letting it dribble out as JC watched. JC’s hands closed around the soap and he worked it lazily, building a thick lather.

He leaned into Justin again to reach around him and replace the soap but Justin held out his hand and JC passed it carefully to him instead. He hesitated for a moment, his hands full of oatmeal-scented lather, and then he reached out and carefully placed both hands on Justin’s waist.

He wasn’t sure what he expected, but it wasn’t Justin’s deep sigh, or the way he leaned trustingly into JC’s hands. JC blinked water out of his eyes and licked his lips, then slowly slid his hands down the front of Justin’s body, fingertips nudging through the thick hair until they curled around the base of Justin’s cock, now fully engorged and standing out from his body.

Justin inhaled shakily and JC glanced at his face, his fingers stroking lightly down the length. Justin’s eyes were closed, his mouth hanging open. He was still working the bar of soap absently between his hands, rolling it over and over and over.

"Okay?" JC murmured and Justin nodded quickly, inhaling sharply through his mouth.

"Yeah," he said softly, turning to toss the bar of soap onto the ledge behind him. He took half a step closer to JC, his bent head almost bumping JC’s nose, and as JC squeezed his right hand and stroked firmly to the end of Justin’s cock Justin placed his own slick hands around JC’s.

The hot water steam was making him lightheaded, or maybe it was the sudden wash of sensation, lazy with exhaustion but warmly, sweetly luxurious. Justin wrapped both his hands around JC’s cock, stroking slowly and gently from base to tip, hand over hand. JC let his eyes drift shut, sucking in a deep breath as thick pleasure crawled through his abdomen and sparkled along his spine. Justin was rocking slowly into his right hand and JC reached his left around to curve over Justin’s smooth buttock, fingers digging into the soft skin, feeling the long muscles flex, relax, flex, relax.

Justin gasped and leaned a little closer, tilting his head so his warm, damp cheek rested lightly against JC’s cheekbone. Their chests brushed together, sticking a little, and one of Justin’s hands crawled slowly, gently, lower. JC groaned in encouragement and shifted, spreading his legs so Justin’s fingers could scratch lightly around his balls, cupping gently as his other hand tightened and gradually moved faster. JC grunted and reciprocated, his hand encouraging Justin’s hips to move closer to his, for the head of Justin’s dick to bump against the warm skin of JC’s abdomen at the edge of each slow thrust.

"Ohgod" Justin said, his voice breathless.

"More?" JC tightened his grip and Justin nodded wordlessly, his breath quickening.

"Yeah. Please."

For a few moments there was no sound but the hissing of the water and Justin’s breath, gradually growing more ragged in his ear as his hips moved easily, fluidly. JC kept his eyes closed, intent on the incredible pleasure of Justin’s warm hands, his rough cheek scraping against JC’s cheekbone, the feel of Justin’s smooth ass and firm cock in his hands. Justin’s thumb started rubbing over the head of his cock on every other pass, and JC hissed, his neck arching as he shuddered.

"There?" Justin murmured.

"Fuck, yeah." JC gasped. "Little bit harder."

Justin’s breath had settled to a soft rhythmic grunting in his ear, and as JC’s mouth dropped open and he started to shiver Justin leaned sideways and covered his mouth with his own.

JC tilted his head and opened for Justin’s tongue, the smooth and slick warmth of it, the faint prickle of his unshaven face causing goose bumps to break out on his arms and chest. His toes curled and his breath stuttered and the throbbing in his cock echoed deeply in the pounding in his ears. And when Justin broke away and dropped his forehead to JC’s shoulder, groaning as his hips worked urgently, JC rolled his head back and let go.

The water was still warm and they leaned against each other for a minute, gasping. Then JC rinsed his hand and reached again for the soap on the ledge behind Justin. They cleaned and rinsed off quickly and efficiently. JC’s stomach growled audibly and Justin laughed, easy and relaxed.

Room service knocked as they dried off and JC grabbed the hotel robe off the back of the door, wrapping it around his body and belting it securely as he answered. Justin was pulling the cart of food into the room and JC was standing in the doorway signing the check and trying to calculate the tip when Chris and Joey, fresh from the club, came around the corner.

There was a strange moment as Joey took in the sight of JC and Justin in the doorway of Justin’s room, both with wet hair and towels. He did a double-take and then put on the brakes, causing Chris to bump into him from behind and start cursing. Justin froze in the doorway as Chris peered around Joey’s shoulder and his eyebrows rose clear to his hairline. He opened his mouth to say something that JC was certain was going to be unpleasant, but was checked by Joey’s sharp elbow slamming into his stomach. There was a sudden silence and the waiter eyed them all curiously as JC hurriedly finished signing the check and handed it over.

JC made as quick of an assessment as his hungry, exhausted, and sated state of mind would allow in the few seconds he had while the waiter walked away. He risked a fast look over his shoulder at Justin, standing just inside the doorway with one hand on the room service cart and an expression that was somewhere between defiant and embarrassed. He had a towel wrapped around his waist and his hair was wet and dripping onto his shoulders. JC blinked and turned his attention back to Joey and Chris.

Joey was still slack-jawed but starting to grin; Joey wasn’t going to be a problem. Chris looked comically surprised and was showing the first signs of anger. His eyebrows still hadn’t traveled down from his hairline, but his mouth was open and here it came, right on cue and at the decibel level of a landing 747.

"Jesus Christ," he started. "What the fuck are you two . . ." and JC cut him off immediately with a single raised eyebrow and as cold a tone as he could manage.

"Stop right there. There’s no possible way either of you can think this is any of your business," he said. Chris started to sputter in response, gesturing at JC’s wet hair and bare feet, but JC had learned long ago that the key to being heard was to not stop when interrupted. He simply raised his voice and kept right on talking. "No, we’re not going to explain anything, no, we’re not going to talk about it. When I said this isn’t your business I meant that it is in no way, shape or form your business."

There was a muffled sound from Justin that might have been a laugh, and Joey was grinning as he slung an arm around a still-sputtering Chris. "No worries, Chris," he said with an exaggerated Joey-leer at Justin, or JC, or maybe both of them. "It’s just one of those road things, right?" Chris planted his feet and started to resist but Joey clapped a hand over his mouth and towed him easily down the hallway. "Nothing to worry about. Nothing to talk about. Nothing to see." Joey threw another look over his shoulder, and now he was laughing hysterically as Chris squirmed to get away. "Moving along," he called cheerfully. "Moving along, moving along . . ."

They disappeared around the corner and JC let out the breath he’d been holding with a sigh. He turned slowly to face Justin, and for the first time all evening was anxious about what he’d find.

Justin was still standing in the same spot, his hair still damp and dripping onto his bare shoulders, his skin starting to goose bump from the chill in the hallway. His cheeks were still a little pink but his smile was unmistakably broad and a little admiring, and JC felt himself relax as he grinned back.

"That went well," he offered casually, and Justin’s smile burst into a full-blown grin as he laughed.

"Yeah, I guess it did," he said. The grin he flashed made JC’s heart jump a little, even as accustomed to them as he was. "What did Joey say about the road? The road thing?" He jerked his head toward the cart as he pushed it into the room, and JC turned to follow him.

"Oh, you know," JC answered, his mind already on the food. "These things happen on the road, what happens on the road stays on the road, that sort of thing."

Justin turned his back and busied himself with the trays on the cart, rattling the silverware. "Like, what happens on the road doesn’t count?"

"Yeah," JC said with some relief. "It doesn’t count and it doesn’t get discussed."

"Ah," Justin said absently. It sounded like he was already losing interest. "Whatever. Let’s eat," he said, and JC followed him into the room and locked the door securely behind them.

~ ~ ~

It was the middle of the night and JC had reached that odd stage of exhaustion where he was actually too tired to sleep. He couldn’t get comfortable in his bunk, he couldn’t relax, and the bus was silent by the time JC gave up, snapped on his little bunk light, and started looking through his official business folder. He pulled the small pile of papers out of the top envelope and stared at the first one for a moment. Then the smile spread across his face as adrenaline surged, and it was only the fact that Joey and Lance were already snoring in their bunks that kept him from whooping with joy at what he read.

Throwing the curtains to his own bunk open he lunged to his feet in the dim hallway, still clutching the single sheet of paper from the large manilla envelope labeled "JC" in Johnny’s neat block writing. He looked wildly toward the dark and silent lounge in the back of the bus, then headed to the front where he could just hear the dim murmur of voices.

The tiny living room was in darkness and the heavy window blinds blocked the outside world completely. Only the bluish glow from the television against the far wall illuminated the room. There was a video game on the television, beeping quietly, and JC saw Chris and Justin seated side by side on the couch, their faces rapt on the game and hands busy on their joysticks.

"Hey," he stage-whispered. His voice sounded unnaturally loud in the quiet room, and both Justin and Chris jumped.

Chris whipped around with a glare. "Fuck, JC. Way to sneak up on a person, are you trying to give me a . . ." He stopped, looking closely at JC’s grinning face, and a smile started to twitch at his lips even as he frowned in puzzlement. "What?"

JC kept grinning, couldn’t wipe it off his face if he tried. "Dude, dude there’s this thing."

"JC?" Justin had paused the game and stood up, walking toward him. "JC, what is it?"

JC waved the paper and his other empty hand around a little. He struggled to keep his voice low. "It’s this, it’s just, hey. Hey, you guys remember that song? The one we did for the demo?"

"Yeah," Justin nodded encouragingly as Chris leaned forward and made a grab for the paper in JC’s hand. "Which song, C? What is it?"

JC snatched the paper out of Chris’s reach, trying to smother his laugh. He dropped his voice to a whisper. "Okay, this is stupid, but that song, remember that song that we did that that the jazz musician, Chris QUIT IT. The one that that guy wanted to use?"

"The saxophone player?" Chris asked.

"Give In To Me," Justin supplied, and JC nodded emphatically.

"Yeah, that one. It’s just, okay, this is kind of stupid, but that guy, you remember that he took the song, with our vocals . . ."

"With your vocals," Justin interrupted. He was still confused but starting to smile, his eyes glinting in the dim light.

"Our, yeah, whatever." JC waved the paper again, feeling his smile heat up again. "There’s this note in my folder, did you get one too?"

"Jesus Christ, just give me that!" Chris exclaimed, making another grab for the paper. JC held him off, starting to giggle while Justin whispered, "JC? What does it SAY?"

"It says, dude, on the jazz charts? That song is number one." JC let Chris take the paper from him, feeling the grin split his face. "It’s number one, there’s a song with our voices on it, and it’s number one. On the US jazz charts. Do you believe it?"

"Oh my God!" Chris said, his eyes scanning the paper as he reached out to clap JC on the shoulder. "Dude, that song, the vocals were all you, man. They were all you, that is so fucking cool."

JC started to bounce on the balls of his feet, nodding. "Yeah, man, it’s like, those jazz people are hard-core, you know?"

Justin stepped forward and wrapped his arms around JC in mid-bounce, lifting him further off the ground in a hard bear hug. "Chris is right," he said, the smile in his voice warming JC all the way to his toes. "That song is all you, man." He set JC carefully down on his feet and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, squeezing tightly. "We gotta get a copy of that song. Did Johnny put a cd in your folder?"

JC was still a little breathless from the hug. "Uh, I don’t know, I didn’t look. I could go see . . ." But Justin’s arm anchored JC solidly against his side as he turned to Chris, his expression suddenly solemn.

"You know what this calls for?" Justin whispered seriously to Chris, and Chris lifted suddenly intent eyes from the paper to meet Justin’s. JC closed his eyes and winced, waiting.

"Guys," he whispered, "don’t do it, don’t wake them up . . ." It was one of the only cardinal bus rules -- you do not wake the sleeping up unless absolutely necessary.

"SHOTS!!!" Justin and Chris shouted together, and JC groaned. He held his breath as he waited for the irritated shouts from the bunks in the aisle behind them, but Joey and Lance really were sleeping deeply. In the charged silence following the shouts there was nothing but the muted beep of the paused video game, and the muffled sound of the highway unfolding beneath them. JC let his breath out with a relieved sigh and then grunted as Justin squeezed him again, clapping him on the back.

Chris led the way to the kitchen and sorted through the bottles above the small refrigerator, considering and rejecting several before holding the tequila bottle aloft like a trophy. Justin sat JC carefully down on the edge of the corner booth with another affectionate ruffle of his hair and a loud smacking kiss on his forehead. "Number one," he murmured approvingly, making JC blush before he turned to root through the refrigerator. He eventually emerged with a plastic bottle of lemon juice, three shot glasses and a container of salt, setting them neatly on the table while Chris opened the bottle.

The held the glasses aloft. "Number one jazz singer," Chris said, his smile proud, and they clinked glasses and drained them before setting them down simultaneously with a solid clunk.

"Well, you know, that might be an exaggeration --" JC started, and Justin, sitting so close beside him he could feel his heat though two layers of clothing, nudged him sharply as Chris refilled the glasses.

"Number one? No exaggeration there," he admonished him, and JC felt the smile spread over his face again at the approval in Justin’s voice. "It’s awesome, dude. Different and special, and you know, I guess jazz people have, like, really amazing taste," he continued, passing the salt to JC as Chris slid the glasses across the table again and they held them aloft.

"Say it with us now, JC. Number one jazz singer!" and JC did, laughing helplessly as the tequila burned through his system.

There were a number of additional shots and increasingly ridiculous toasts before he found himself standing in the tiny living room, trying to remember the choreography to the song, whispering slurred arguments with Justin about exactly where the turn-to-the-audience-and-wiggle-the-ass moment had come. Chris had shaken his head, taking a seat on the couch and proclaiming that he didn’t remember, he didn’t want to remember, and Justin’s face was tinted pink and sparkling as he took JC’s hands and led him through an impromptu waltz around the tiny floor, humming the song as Chris clapped quietly and pretended to wolf whistle.

Justin was flushed with tequila and breathless with laughter. He held JC close to him in the ridiculous dance and JC was too weak from laughing to push him away. Justin’s arms were warm where they wrapped around JC’s body, making his thin tank top stick moistly to him. He was still grinning, and now making up alternate lyrics where he couldn’t remember the original words, and when he suddenly squeezed JC and whirled him around, whispering "dude! number one!" JC felt a surge of joy and love that almost crippled him. He wrapped his arms around Justin and squeezed back, so grateful to be with people who understood.

Across the room Chris’s attention had been caught by his game controller. "Hey, J?" he asked quietly, narrowing his eyes at the television screen. "Number one jazz stars aside, we have some business to take care of here, if I recall."

Justin waltzed JC down the short aisle toward the back of the bus. "Yeah," he said. "The business of me, like, kicking your fat ass." He grinned at JC as Chris blew a raspberry behind them. "Gimme a minute, okay? I gotta take a leak."

"Yeah, well, hurry up," Chris said, picking up his remote and toggling the controls. "The Jazz Singer can play the winner."

"No, not me, man. I’m going to sleep," JC said, pushing himself reluctantly away from Justin’s comforting warmth and sketching a wave at Chris. Chris nodded, his "congratulations again, man" already distracted as he focused on his game.

JC paused at the opening to his bunk but Justin’s bulk was crowding right behind him, nudging him silently past his bunk and down the dark hallway toward the back lounge.

"What are you doing?" JC whispered and Justin just grinned at him, his teeth bright even in the dark aisle.

"C’mon," he mouthed, pushing JC gently ahead of him until he stepped into the dark room, silent and glowing eerily from the dim light through the thick blinds. JC turned to face Justin and was startled to find himself suddenly flying through the air, landing heavily with an "oomph" as Justin tackled him down onto the long couch.

"What are you doing?" he whispered again, but with much less confusion this time because with Justin sprawled heavily on top of him he could feel the thrumming tension in his body, the insistent bulge at the front of Justin’s sleep shorts. JC raised his eyebrows in mock confusion but couldn’t keep the smile from twitching his mouth as Justin grinned down at him.

"Well, I’m thinking," Justin whispered back. "I’m thinking that we should celebrate."

"The jazz song?" JC said innocently, trying not to squirm beneath Justin’s weight. His own body was starting to hum, the heat of Justin’s hands on his waist and the tequila sending a wave of warmth through his abdomen. "So, you’re thinking, what. Dinner?"

Justin nodded in mock solemnity. "Oh yeah, definitely, JC. We need to all celebrate, do dinner, somewhere you want to go. You know, later." He paused, and licked his lips slowly. JC stared at him, his own smile dropping away. "But what I have in mind right now," Justin continued softly, starting to slide down JC’s body, "is something else."

JC tried to answer but his throat closed up as Justin slowly slithered down the couch, easing JC’s shorts and briefs down as he moved. He smiled with satisfaction as JC’s cock was exposed, half-hard and growing more interested by the second as JC struggled to breathe.

"Justin," he whispered as Justin licked his lips and bent slowly. "Hey, wait, Justin!" he said and Justin paused, peering slyly up at JC through his excessively long lashes. JC gulped.

"You can’t, we can’t do this," he whispered, cursing his apparently inability to move, to push Justin away and tug his shorts back on. "We can’t do this, not here."

Justin tilted his head a bit, seeming to consider that for a moment. "Well, the way I see it," he whispered back, his warm breath making JC’s cock twitch. "You only get a number one jazz single for the first time once, right?" He moved his hands soothingly up JC’s thighs, the fingers of one hand reaching between his legs to scratch lightly over his balls and tease at the base of his cock. He smiled as JC tried to nod and shake his head at the same time. "I’m just thinking this’d be a good way to mark the occasion." Without warning he dropped his head, plunging down and enveloping JC in moist heat, sucking hard.

JC’s fingers curled painfully into the leather seat beneath him; his head jerking to one side as Justin pulled his cock deeper into his mouth. "But, fuck, Justin . . ." He gasped struggling to form coherent words as his heart rate accelerated, echoing deeply in his abdomen. "J, stop. Chris is right down the hall . . ." JC closed his eyes, gritting his teeth as Justin’s tongue rubbed a slick circle on the head of his dick, making his toes curl. He was gasping as Justin’s mouth slowly, slowly released him.

"He won’t hear a thing," Justin said lowly, "if you can be quiet." He bent his head again as his other hand worked its way underneath, squeezing between JC’s ass and the leather couch. The throbbing splintered down his spine and through his abdomen, making him hiss.

"Shhhh," Justin whispered soothingly, but he sounded like he was smiling and JC squirmed desperately. Justin’s hand was kneading his ass with the same rhythm his head was bobbing, encouraging JC to thrust into his mouth.

"God damn it, J, you’re fucking good at this," he gasped. "When did you get so . . ."

"Hush, JC," Justin whispered, his voice low and thick, making JC shudder. He restrained himself from reaching down to cup Justin’s head, to scrape his fingers through the short curls and hold him there. JC was breathing rapidly, his head spinning as he gasped for air. Sensation slammed through him and he shoved one fist desperately to his mouth, biting down hard, his hips struggling to lift and twist and thrust. He tried to slide his foot closer and dig his heels into the couch for leverage, but Justin was a solid weight on his legs, and his knees were hobbled by his shorts and Justin’s hand was huge and hot on his stomach, rubbing through the hair there in shockingly arousing circles as he licked and sucked. His other hand squeezed JC’s ass hard, lifting him into Justin’s mouth, and JC’s orgasm slammed through him so hard he almost passed out.

When he came to Justin was spitting into a paper towel with a sour face that made JC laugh a little as he struggled to pull his shorts up. Justin grinned at him, wiping his mouth in a slow way that made JC’s stomach tingle as he sat up, tucking himself back in and taking a deep breath.

"Hey, I can. Uh, you want me to . . ." he gestured to Justin’s crotch where his erection was still making a slight tent in the front of his sweats. Justin shook his head.

"No, Chris is probably wondering where I am," he whispered, then grinned like a cat that had just eaten a particularly tasty canary. "So, congrats again, man," he murmured and the grin turned into a pleased smirk. "I don’t think you’ll have any problem sleeping now, right?"

JC was too exhausted to argue. "Right," he agreed, and couldn’t help himself from grinning back, wouldn’t even want to try. "Hey, thanks," he whispered, and Justin waggled his eyebrows playfully as he headed for the door.

"My pleasure," he whispered back. "You owe me one."

"At least one," JC murmured quietly, and closed his eyes as utter relaxation and well-being flooded him.

He was already close to sleep when Justin returned a minute later and carefully covered him with an afghan from the foot of the couch. He was dimly aware of Justin watching him silently from beside the couch, then it became part of his dream.

~ ~ ~

"All right. I’m going to bet JC couldn’t get that one."

JC rolled his eyes, taking a long pull of his beer and grimacing a little at the harsh taste. Germany had spoiled him for domestic beer, apparently forever. "You’ve got to be kidding," he said loftily. "You know I don’t play that game anymore."

"Oh, you do so," Chris put in from the other side of the booth, his tone unabashedly scornful. "It’s not like the ice queen ever says anything about it, even if she does find out."

"That’s right," Joey added. "And you know, what happens on the road . . ."

"Stays on the road!" they all said in vigorous unison, even JC. They were like Pavlov’s dogs, he thought in amusement and exasperation as they all leaned forward and clinked their glasses and bottles together. They’d heard it and said it so many times, the response was almost completely automatic. If he closed his eyes he could picture the five of them in any number of clubs, in any number of countries around the world, having almost the exact same conversation.

Justin’s leg nudged against his under the table -- maybe by accident, maybe not.

"And shut up," JC said to Chris, better late than never. He might have responded with more heat, might have defended Bobbie a little more vigorously if he hadn’t just had yet another nasty telephone conversation with her. Instead he shrugged and looked away, his mouth tightening.

"Aw, c’mon, JC." Justin sidled closer, his leg jittering with energy and heat against JC’s under the table. "It’ll take your mind off of things and seriously, just look at her." Justin’s eyes were hard and shiny in the strobing club lights. His mouth lifted in a smirk that held no warmth. "It’s not like you’d get anywhere with that one anyway. She’s so far out of your league, there’s just no way."

Justin was blatantly and transparently pushing all his competitive buttons, and JC met his eyes for a long moment. He thought about Bobbie, about the vicious tone she’d used just before hanging up on him again a few hours ago, about the three times he’d called her since then when she’d refused to answer. He let the helpless rage flood through him again as he stared into Justin’s blue eyes. "Which one?" he asked quietly, and Justin smiled a little.

"That one, in the reddish, the burgundy shirt. With the brown hair." Justin’s voice was a little breathless; he was leaning close to JC’s ear but talking too loudly. JC wondered how many he’d already had. He looked across the club at the girl Justin had pointed out, his stomach already tightening a little in anticipation. Of course, she was everything he liked -- petite but curvy and not shy about showing it, long brown hair, perfect skin, full lips, white teeth. She was dancing at the edge of the floor with two other girls, but the way her body was angled made it obvious that she knew she had an audience. He leveled his gaze back around the table.

"I really can’t believe that you guys still play these games."

JC tried hard for a lofty and disapproving tone, but he couldn’t even convince himself that he really felt that way and from Justin’s grin, Joey’s innocently raised eyebrows, and the muffled laughter of Chris and Lance on the other side of the table, they didn’t buy it either. It was but a token protest, one he made out of respect to his strict upbringing, the distaste and disappointment he knew his parents would feel if they knew about such immature and morally decadent behavior, and the little voice inside his head that told him he was a very, very bad person for treating people this way, even if they asked for it. He took another long look at the brunette in time to see her raise her arms over her head and shimmy her trim hips in lazy circles as she danced. He felt a shiver of anticipation join the hard knot of anger in his belly as he drained his beer, watching her dance.

"Okay," he said finally, and there was a collective wave of approval and anticipation from the rest of the table as he set his empty bottle down and Lance gestured for another round. "So, who am I picking for?" he asked.

"Justin’s the only one left," Lance said slyly, and JC waited for Justin to cite his loyalty to Britney and assert his abstinence from the game. But Justin just looked expectantly at JC and said nothing. Beyond him JC saw Joey make an exaggeratedly surprised face at Chris, who shook his head, warning him into silence. Justin’s edgy and ugly mood this entire day suddenly made a little more sense, and JC nodded wryly before looking back at the club, stretching up in his seat to get a better view.

"All right then," he murmured, and narrowed his eyes, looking for exactly the right person. The view from their VIP table was pretty good, the raised platform allowed for decent visibility, but the flashing lights made it harder to see clearly. He needed someone who would present a challenge, someone that Justin would have to really work for. He wondered cynically if such a person could even be found here in this club; or in any club for that matter.

As he concentrated he was aware of the brunette, his own target, watching him carefully out of the corner of her eye. He risked a smile, making certain she knew it was aimed at her. It was against the rules to make contact before the clock started, but they all cheated when they thought they could get away with it. And she was gorgeous and utterly confident, giving him a sly half-smile before letting her thick hair slide down to cover her face. He let his eyes travel down her body.

But Justin, someone for Justin, who hadn’t played the game in weeks and weeks either. Justin had levered himself up beside JC, sitting on his own foot as he stretched his neck up to see where JC was looking.

"Pick me a good one, C," he murmured into JC’s ear, and JC shivered a little as his mind supplied a picture of Justin stretched out with a nameless woman in a featureless hotel room, his naked body moving rhythmically, the sounds he knew Justin made when he was about to come. He grinned, reaching for the full bottle Lance had placed in front of him.

"Justin, you sit your scrawny ass down," Chris said sharply from the other side of the table. "No coaching." He balled up a piece of wet napkin and flicked it at him.

"Let’s go, JC," Joey said, beating a rhythm on the table. "Time marches on, man."

"Yeah, yeah," JC answered absently, his eyes narrowing. There was a girl dancing near JC’s own target, taller and less curvaceous but with gorgeous honey-toned skin and a sleek dark bob that looked like silk. She looked several years older than Justin and was almost too angular and thin, but then she turned toward JC’s brunette and slid close to her, dropping an arm across the other woman’s shoulders and moving her hips closer, closer, closer. JC smiled and sat back in his seat. She was perfect.

He pointed her out and they all craned their necks to look. "She looks more interested in your girl, JC," Joey said with a laugh.

"How appropriate. And convenient," Lance said dryly. He and Chris put their heads together and snickered evilly. Justin and JC absolutely ignored them.

"Right let’s go then." Joey slapped the table and consulted his watch. "12:40," he said, and they all reflexively looked at their watches as they drained their drinks and rose from the table.

~ ~ ~

He was almost disappointed at how easy it was. While the others had headed immediately for the floor or the downstairs bar, JC had simply moved to the rail of the VIP section, training his eyes intently on the brunette until he’d made eye contact. After a few moments she’d walked off the dance floor with a studied casualness, and JC had sent the closest waiter to her with a drink. She’d smiled up at him as she’d accepted, her face fierce with excitement as she made a little show of sipping through the long red straw and slowly licking her lips. He was cynically amused to watch her give a rude and very cold shoulder to a handsome young man who approached and tried to introduce himself. And after that he hadn’t even needed to speak to her, simply sent his bodyguard to her, watching her hide triumph and glee under an arrogant sophistication as he escorted her to the door. Lonnie gave him a subtle thumbs-up, and they both automatically checked their watches.

JC tossed back his last beer and hesitated before following. The adrenaline of the short competition and his lingering anger at his absent girlfriend were already draining out of him, leaving him feeling weary and annoyed. He headed to the discreet exit behind the VIP lounge, wondering why he’d even let himself be goaded into participating tonight. The game was tired; after almost three years on the road and nights in clubs like this one there was just no challenge to it anymore, at least with women.

He was jostled at the doorway as he waited for his car, and JC felt his mouth drop open as he glanced back to see Justin crowding him closely on the wide sidewalk outside of the VIP entrance.

"Hey, what happened?" he asked with more than a little surprise. "Don’t tell me she turned you down."

Justin’s smile was slow and wide, his eyes sparkling dangerously. "Would you?" he asked with mock innocence, and laughed when JC blinked at him. He suddenly felt much more awake.

"Actually," Justin continued, "she’s on her way to the hotel." His smile grew and his voice lowered as he leaned closer to JC. "With your girl," he added, and JC felt his breath hitch as his heart stuttered a little in his chest.

"Is that right?" he murmured. He couldn’t keep the smile from flirting with the edges of his mouth as Justin leaned even closer.

"I was in the mood for something a little different." His sideways glance at JC was sly, amused. "I thought you might be too." Justin raised an eyebrow and smiled slowly, leaning closer.

"So I sent them there together," he whispered, his voice rough in JC’s ear. "They’ll be waiting for us there."

~ ~ ~

Well, this was different, JC thought half an hour later.

Not the hotel room, although it was a step or two below the places they were becoming accustomed to. This one was plain but large and clean, and the slightly garish colors were muted by the very dim light of the single lamp by the door. It smelled vaguely like lemon air freshener.

Not the girl either, who was much like pick-ups everywhere these days. She hadn’t even introduced herself, had been full throttle into her seduction routine the moment he’d come through the door. And now she was spread over him as he half-reclined on the bed, all moist lips and creamy skin, smiling as she mouthed her way down his chest, slowly unbuttoning his shirt as she went. Her eyes glinted slyly, and even as his body reacted to the amount of cleavage she displayed as she artfully let her shirt slip off one shoulder, he felt a vicious flash of contempt for her that almost made his lip curl. If he’d been a check-out clerk at the local grocery store, he thought cynically, this girl wouldn’t have given him a second look no matter how many drinks he bought her. He didn’t even know her name, but he didn’t have to. There were dozens of her, everywhere he went.

Ah, but this was different, he thought as the brunette worked her way down his body and bent her face to his stomach. He glanced over her head at the long couch on the opposite wall, where the soft light from the door showed Justin easing his hands under the other girl’s tight black blouse, his palms filling with her breasts, kneading gently before moving down to smooth over her small waist. He caught a glimpse of the slick glide of tongue as they kissed, watched Justin’s hands move to her lower back and into the waist band of her low pants, fingertips curling under the strap of a light blue thong. He tugged gently at it and she undulated like a snake, groaning softly into Justin’s mouth. JC was breathing in time with her gasping moans; she was the only one in the room making any noise.

The brunette on top of him had reached his waistband and he lifted up a little as she unbuttoned and unzipped, smiling up at her and pulling her mouth to his with a hand on the back of her neck as she pulled them down over his hips. She offered her tongue immediately, tasting of cigarettes and alcohol and excited nerves just hiding under a veneer of peppermint. He spread his fingers around her head as he kissed her deeply and just a little rough, and she moaned and closed her eyes, scratching her nails up and down his bare chest. He moved his palms to the points of her shoulders and eased the other strap down so the shirt draped across her chest, clinging precariously to the tips of her bare breasts. He reached for them but she leaned back, teasingly out of his reach, and he laid back to watch her work.

She was blocking his view of the couch but he could just hear the other girl whispering to Justin between sighs and breathy little moans, and JC tilted his head to see. She was sitting on Justin’s lap and facing him, legs on either side of his, head tilted back and her firm ass grinding down in a slow rhythm that made JC’s breath hitch a little. Justin’s hands looked very white against her black pants as he shaped them around her ass. Her shirt was hiked up under her armpits and as JC watched Justin’s hands slid up to wrap firmly around her ribs, lifting her up and toward him. He couldn’t see Justin’s face but he could imagine what he was doing, his tongue laving gently -- Justin was always gentle -- over her nipple, full, soft lips closing around the tight bud and sucking, sucking . . .

JC hissed sharply as his cock was suddenly enveloped in moist heat, the sensation curling through his abdomen and rolling heavily up his spine as the girl’s tongue swirled around and around the head. The sound cut through the almost silent room and JC heard the faint sounds of rustling material from the couch, and the sound of a sliding zipper. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, his hands finding the brunette’s head and encouraging her up, down, up, down. She was peeling his pants farther down his legs and he twisted a little until he could kick them free.

For a long time there was just the slick pull of lips and tongue on his dick, fingers stroking up and down, not quite hard enough even when he murmured "harder." His own heartbeat was growing gradually louder in his ears. The lamp in the corner hummed softly, and from the couch there was a soft female question followed by Justin’s low "no, we’re fine here. C’mon."

JC pried his eyes open as the brunette stopped sucking and leaned back to admire her work, her mouth full and soft-looking, her fist still stroking slowly as she licked her lips and looked up at him. For a moment he was struck by her resemblance to Bobbie and he wondered dimly if that was why Justin had picked her out of the crowd for him, but he pushed that quickly out of his head. He sat up and reached for her, wrapping his arms around her waist and pulling her down on top of him, kissing her deeply as she squirmed. He stroked his hands down her smooth back, pushing her top down to pool at her waist, groaning a little as her breasts pressed firmly against his chest and her mouth opened on the side of his neck. JC could hear Justin hiss from the couch, a low sound that brought a vision of Justin with his head tossed back on the backrest, his mouth open while he panted, and for a moment he was distracted. Then the brunette moved to straddle his hips and he didn’t want to wait anymore; he placed his hands on the outsides of her smooth, warm thighs and stroked them slowly up under her short skirt.

She leaned down to open her mouth on his earlobe and he tilted his head so she could reach. Down the length of her bare back he could see Justin closely watching the slow path of JC’s hands up the brunette’s legs, his mouth red and wet, face flushed. The girl on his lap had moved to her knees on the floor in front of him; JC could just see the top of her head bobbing steadily. He waited until he caught Justin’s eyes and grinned at him as he moved his hands over the brunette’s ass, squeezing firmly and sliding together until his fingertips met at her center. Justin grinned back at him and waggled his eyebrows in a comically young expression; but as JC’s fingers moved his face fell slack. His mouth opened and he licked his lips, his eyes intent.

JC’s heart was stuttering and his breath was coming faster and faster as the girl gasped in his ear, a warm exhalation that made him shiver. His eyes slid half-closed but he could still feel Justin’s eyes, like a bright and hot light trained right where his hands were working. His arousal was a painful, burning thing, his cock straining upward as his hands cupped the warm skin under her skirt and he fought the urge to grasp and start stroking himself, conscious of Justin’s eyes. The brunette arched her back and leaned up to kiss him, her hands combing through his hair and he urged her down, closer. She spread her knees wider and rolled her hips slowly, teasing. His fingers flirted with the soft elastic of something thin and lacy stretching down the cleft of her ass and hooked one finger underneath it, slowly, slowly following it forward.

She moaned breathlessly and dropped her head to his shoulder, her breasts brushing his chest as she rocked against his fingers and heaved for breath. Her hair was thick and soft, tickling his chest and shoulder and smelling faintly like cigarette smoke and oranges. She squirmed deliciously against him, slick and moist, and he closed his eyes and grit his teeth, concentrating on going slow and from across the room he heard Justin’s voice whispering "fuck, yeah, like that. Fuck."

JC rolled his head to the side to see but the brunette was in a hurry now, sitting up after just a few minutes and reaching for the bedside table. She pulled the wrapper apart while he moved his hands up to her breasts and filled his hands with them. Large and round, with mesmerizingly soft skin but too firm to be real and obviously not very sensitive; he was disappointed. He closed his eyes and kneaded them gently anyway. There was a series of low moans from the couch behind her and wondered foggily how Justin’s view was as the brunette rolled the condom down his cock and arched her back, positioning herself over him.

The skirt dropped down over her upper thighs as she reached down and moved her thong aside, biting her lower lip as she eased herself slowly down on him. It was good, it was better than good and he clenched his teeth against the flood of sensation, curling his toes as he struggled to stay still while she adjusted. She moved experimentally up and down a few times and he let her do that, get accustomed to him while he smoothed his palms up her waist and over her shoulders and back to her breasts. She settled into a slow, smooth rhythm and he tugged her forward, mouth reaching for a distended nipple.

She moaned softly and rotated her hips as he started to thrust, one hand going down to keep the condom secure. She braced her hands on the headboard and started to move more vigorously, arching down to encourage him to suck on her nipple, gasping when he bit down gently. She rocked faster, pumping up and down in a gradually increasing rhythm.

She sounded like she’d watched too many porn movies, he thought inanely, and buried his face between her breasts to hide his smile. He pulled her forward and brushed her hair out of his face, putting his hands on her hips and dragging the material of her skirt up so the view from behind wouldn’t be blocked. He widened his legs, nudging her knees farther apart as she rocked against him, rubbing and squirming as she sank deeper and he started to move in earnest. She sat up, flipped her hair back and giving him an eyeful of her full breasts as her body trembled, absorbing his sharp thrusts. His breath grew shorter as sensation rolled heavily up his spine and he sat up a little, dragging her with him. She braced her hands on his shoulders and moved up and down, her thigh muscles working smoothly.

Every time she sank down he had a clear view over her shoulder of Justin and the other girl, still on her knees on the floor. Justin was facing him, reclined back in unconscious mimicry of JC’s position on the bed. His hands scooped restlessly through the girl’s silky black hair, stroking down her neck to her shoulders and back up. Her shirt was gone, the muscles of her lean back flexing as she worked Justin’s cock and stroked his bare thighs. Justin was gasping, his face flushed and his eyes fixed intently, unblinkingly on JC.

JC felt a surge of arousal that had him digging his fingers desperately into the brunette’s hips, holding her down hard on him as he held his breath and pumped rapidly against her. She was making a lot of noise now, gasping and moaning and he felt a flash of irritation as she tossed her head back and her body stiffened dramatically under his hands. She was faking it, and she’d been so good at everything she’d done so far that it surprised him what a poor actress she was. Dimly he heard Justin smother a laugh under a transparently loud and mocking moan and JC bit on his own lip to keep from bursting into laughter. This was different; this was fun.

The brunette was still doing a series of mock shudders above him, her eyes closed and mouth open in supposed ecstasy. He didn’t wait for the performance to be over, just folded her closer and pushed smoothly forward until she was on her back. He resituated himself between her legs and immediately went deep, settling into a steady rhythm. Her eyes were wide open and rapt on his face, her hands gripping his arms and reaching down to slide over his ass. He resisted the urge to look up and see what Justin was doing, letting his eyes drift closed instead as he concentrated on the sensations rolling through his body, the delicious heaviness in his balls and the tingling beginning in his abdomen, the firm friction on his cock and the sound of Justin’s soft and rhythmic grunts from the couch almost lost in the slap of skin and the brunette’s steadily building gasps.

JC opened his eyes and looked down at her. She’d reached one of her hands between their bodies, stroking jerkily at his balls and at herself; her face and chest were heavily flushed and her eyes were going glassy. He kept his pace steady and went just a little harder, catching her left knee and pressing it back toward her body, angling himself lower and deeper. Soon, he thought, biting down on his desperate need to come, determined to make her do it first.

Her other hand was fisting into the bedspread beside her. He watched her head start to thrash back and forth and grit his teeth, started to twist his hips at the end of each thrust. Her mouth dropped open and she gaped silently, and as she started to shudder -- for real this time -- he shook the sweat out of his eyes and glanced up to see Justin leaning forward on the couch, his hands fisted together and his mouth open as he watched. There was no sign of the other girl.

The brunette was thrashing and heaving beneath him but for a moment she seemed something dim and far away, just another girl like hundreds of other girls in hundreds of faceless hotel rooms in hundreds of cities on thousands of bleak, featureless nights. But in the low light Justin’s face suddenly was vividly real, and he was staring at JC with wide, intent eyes. His licked his lips and his mouth curved a little, accepting, approving. Admiring.

The girl was panting and exhausted beneath him but JC continued to thrust, squirming against her lax body, his eyes held by Justin’s even as the girl pulled him to her, imploring him to c’mon, c’mon. He kept thrusting as her legs slid lower and she stopped talking, exhaling sharply in time with his surges. He watched as Justin’s smile faded and his mouth dropped open, as his eyes skipped down JC’s body and over the girl’s, then flickered back up to meet JC’s. He leaned back against the couch, his blue eyes steady and then the girl beneath JC was pushing against him, her heels digging into the top of the bed as she twisted away.

"Enough," she gasped. "Stop, enough, god, stop," and JC did. He pulled out immediately and sat back on his heels, stifling the groan caused by his painfully engorged and protesting cock. Justin’s eyes were heating up his skin as the girl wriggled from him, backing away and sitting up. Her top was still tangled around her waist, damp with sweat. Her eyes flickered down to his cock, still stiff and encased in latex, and she bit her lip, her cheeks staining a deep and unbecoming red. She reached out a hand, hesitantly.

"Do you want me to . . ." her voice was low and rough. She flushed deeper, humiliated, and she suddenly seemed much less sure of herself.

She jumped a little at the sound of Justin’s voice, soft and low from the couch. JC wondered incredulously if she had somehow forgotten he was there. He hadn’t -- not for a single second.

"JC. Send her away," Justin said quietly, his southern accent thick, and JC nodded slowly, unable to tear his eyes away from Justin’s. Dimly he was aware of the girl hesitating before she scrambled off the bed and hurriedly pulled her clothes together. The lamp hummed as they stared at each other. A few moments later the door closed behind her with a quiet click.

Justin’s eyes were so warm. "I think we’re done here," he said, and JC raised an eyebrow. "What do you say?"

"Here?" he said. "Yeah, definitely," and drank in Justin’s smile.

"Good," Justin said, climbing to his feet and zipping up his cargo pants while JC watched. His cock looked to be in the same condition as JC’s.

"What happened to your girl?" JC asked, his voice barely above a whisper. His own erection was slowly starting to ease and he stripped the condom off as Justin pulled on his shirt and moved toward him.

"She was distracting me," he murmured, and JC stood up to face him. "You’re so . . . well, fuck. JC."

JC slanted a sideways look at him and took a couple of deep breaths. His body was still thrumming and the condom was slick and greasy in his hand; he was impatient to get rid of it and the smell of the girl on his skin. Justin’s body heat was like a lure, drawing him closer. It was a huge effort to move around him without touching on his way to the small bathroom. He didn’t turn on the light, just flushed the condom and washed his hands, taking deep even breaths. When he came out Justin had laid his clothes out and was sitting on the edge of the bed, tying his own shoes with hands that fumbled a little. He was still flushed, and when JC walked naked out of the bathroom he thought Justin’s eyes might scorch his skin.

"Let’s go," Justin said. He watched carefully as JC eased himself back into his jeans, hissing a little as he zipped them up gingerly. "I want . . . you’re going to let me take care of that, right?"

JC hesitated briefly, one arm in and one arm out of his shirt. He debated bringing up whatever was on Justin’s mind about Britney, or whatever was on his own mind with his own girlfriend, for that matter. He thought of the last forty-five minutes in this hotel room and realized he would’ve been ashamed of himself if Justin hadn’t been there too. He didn’t know what to think about that; he shelved it for the time being and finished dressing, concentrating on the things he wanted right now.

"I’m going to want a shower first," he said as he toed into his shoes. He looked up and met Justin’s gaze, took a quick inventory of his features, the lines of his body, all known and trusted and loved.

"I’m going to want one of those too," Justin said, and there was nothing in his voice but anticipation.

When JC stood up Justin was there, right there beside him and smelling like sex and sweat and Justin, and his mouth watered. "Let’s go," he murmured.

~ ~ ~

The ride back to their hotel was made in a thick silence. They sat close together in the back of the SUV, legs and shoulders pressed firmly together. They looked out opposite windows and did not speak.

"Who won?" Justin finally asked Lonnie, just before they pulled up to the hotel. He said he didn’t know, but that the others were still back at the other hotel. "Good," Justin murmured. His thigh was a firm and heated weight against JC’s, and he closed his eyes and thought about the look on Justin’s face as he’d watched JC while the nameless girl had blown him. The dark car seemed suddenly closed and airless and he inhaled sharply, fighting the heat that crawled through him.

It wasn’t even 2:30 but it seemed as if hours had passed since they’d left the club, and days since the concert they’d finished earlier that night and the fights with Bobbie that preceded and followed. JC felt the fatigue starting to tug at his limbs even as he twitched with the after effects of frustration. When the elevator door opened on their floor Justin didn’t wait for the bodyguards to disappear down the other corridor before taking his hand. JC already had his key card out, fumbling with it as Justin crowded into the doorway with him, his hand moving restlessly on JC’s hip.

They almost fell into the room when the door opened and Justin headed immediately for the shower, shedding clothes like a trail as JC closed and secured the door. "Follow me," he tossed over his shoulder, and JC kicked his untied shoes off and did.

By the time he’d peeled out of the rest of his clothes Justin had the water running and was standing naked in front of the stall, testing the temperature. His other hand reached out to JC’s, braiding their fingers together as he adjusted the knobs. JC stared at their hands and didn’t think about anything at all. His cock was already filling painfully.

"Perfect," Justin whispered and stepped in, coaxing JC in behind him. His skin was pale and smooth and JC reached for him without hesitation, wrapping his arms around Justin’s waist and sighing with contentment as Justin leaned into him, kissing his shoulder, nuzzling into his neck.

"Uck," Justin murmured, and pulled JC directly under the spray, wetting his hair and blasting water on his face and shoulders. JC sputtered and wiped his face, and Justin smiled beautifully at him as he slid an arm around his waist and lined their bodies up in a way that made them both grunt.

"She used the same perfume as Bobbie," Justin said and JC snorted a little as Justin started to wipe at his chest with a soapy washcloth. He hadn’t even noticed.

It was tempting to linger under the warm water, and JC let his eyes drop closed as Justin’s hands stroked soothingly up and down his sides. He hugged him and dropped brief kisses on the places he could reach -- the freckle on Justin’s right shoulder, the base of his throat, the gentle fingertips that brushed JC’s dripping hair out of his face. Justin was moving languidly, his hands heavy against JC’s body as he stroked and smoothed. He was as tired as JC was.

JC turned the warm water off before they both became hypnotized and grabbed two of the oversized towels. They dried themselves efficiently and JC forced himself not to wonder what would happen next, where it would happen, why. He slid into his bed without turning on a light, naked, and wasn’t surprised to feel Justin’s weight dip on the other side, or his hear his whispered "C?" in the darkness.

"Yeah," he whispered back. "God, yeah. Come here." He slid into Justin’s familiar and welcoming arms and twined their legs together, feeling their erections ease against each others' stomachs with a delicious shiver. He wrapped his arms around Justin and arched his neck against Justin’s mouth as they settled into rhythm, and it took no time at all. Their bodies knew each other that well.

~ ~ ~

It had been a long and painfully numbing sort of day. JC had arrived in New York late, far later than he’d meant or wanted to, pushing back his departure from Los Angeles from noon to three to four-thirty to seven to ten to midnight as his telephone conversations with Bobbie disintegrated and went from bad to worse.

It finally took a private jet to get him there on time, and he was still upset about the amount of money that was going to cost him, even though it was saving him much needed time. He badly needed to sleep but for once had been unable to do so on the plane. He tried to read and listen to music and refused to check his cell phone for messages, defiantly turning it off and leaving it off for the duration of the flight. His still-simmering anger didn’t keep him from immediately keying it on and listening to his messages as soon as he’d landed, and despite his exhaustion his heart pounded as he saw the five messages that had come in while he crossed the continent in the middle of the night. It was still possible that she’d changed her mind, that there would be one from her saying she was sorry for the awful things she’d said to him, and that she was on her way.

Instead there was Johnny, leaving instructions to call as soon as he landed; his brother, confirming JC’s canceled dinner plans with him, and his assistant confirming transportation instructions and tomorrow’s schedule. And book-ending these were messages from Justin.

The first one had come in shortly after he’d turned the phone off in California just before boarding the plane. Justin’s voice was almost obscured by the loud music and voices behind him; clearly he was at some sort of pre-VMA party. "Hey man, just checking in, nobody seems to know when you’re getting here. So, yeah, give me a call when you do, we’re at this party and you’re missing out . . ." Justin’s voice had disappeared under a blur of static and bad reception; JC deleted it.

His final message was Justin again, and by tiredly doing the math JC figured it had come in less than an hour before he’d landed. "Okay, so Johnny says you’re on your way, and uh, yeah, that’s good. I’m going to sleep, but we’ll see you when you get here, right? All right. G’night." Despite his weariness and depression and still-seething anger, the message had made JC laugh a little. Justin sounded completely wasted and JC knew from experience that he wouldn’t even remember making that call after a few hours of sleep.

He got to the hotel just as dawn was breaking in the east, and he felt like he’d been awake for at least four days and without the benefit of chemicals. The hallway seemed almost too long to traverse, he slumped wearily against the door as he fit his card key in, and all he wanted to do was sleep for a day and forget about the last week. The week of almost-vacation, of spending quality time with his girlfriend, of relaxing and regrouping. Instead there had been stress, and fighting, and dramatics and ultimatums, and even thinking about it made him angry all over again.

JC sighed, glancing at the hotel clock as he dropped his bag at the foot of the bed. He had less than four hours before the first obligation of the day, and then it was going to be non-stop for the next forty-eight hours. He sighed again as he stripped off his clothes and crawled into the bed. Three hours of sleep wasn’t going to be enough, but it was better than nothing.

~ ~ ~

Of course he barely slept at all, and a full band meeting at breakfast was almost more than he could take. Chris was jittery and babbling, excited about the voice work he was doing for a cartoon and already over-amped about the VMA performance and the AIDS benefit project. Joey and Lance couldn’t seem to stop talking about their movie and Lance was on JC about it as soon as he trudged into the room. He wanted to talk about the soundtrack, the video, when would JC have time to do some studio work and JC was hard-pressed to formulate any answers right now. All he wanted to do was close his eyes and hide for a couple of weeks.

Justin’s cell phone seemed to be ringing constantly, and the breakfast room filled with a steady crescendo of noise that gradually blurred into a soothing and familiar murmur as people moved and talked and laughed around him. It wasn’t until Johnny’s folder landed on the table in front of him with a loud slap that JC realized he’d been drifting to sleep over his breakfast burrito. He jerked himself upright and rubbed his face, taking a desperate gulp of his coffee. Justin was off of his cell phone and watching him closely from across the table, his face serious and his eyes sober and sympathetic. He quirked a smile at JC, and JC smiled ruefully back.

Once the folders were out business didn’t take too long, and JC winced at the schedule for the next two days. VMA weekend was always insane, but this seemed even more so than last year’s. Promotions, rehearsals, press, tribute concerts, benefit recordings, and parties that were supposed to be fun but were actually just more work. His phone buzzed in his pocket and he grabbed for it, checking the incoming number. It wasn’t her, and for a bleak moment he was relieved that the next few days would be so busy, because he thought it was really and truly over this time.

JC sleepwalked through two radio interviews and a wardrobe meeting, and napped for real in a seat inside Radio Music Hall while they were waiting their turn to practice their VMA performance. He was jolted awake by someone dropping heavily into the seat beside him, and he blinked dopily as Justin shoved half a turkey sandwich and can of Red Bull into his hand.

"They say we have at least forty-five minutes, so eat it," Justin said, one hand squeezing JC’s shoulder as he leaned close to his ear. JC opened the sandwich suspiciously and then smiled -- Justin had had them substitute sprouts for lettuce, and there were extra tomatoes, just the way he liked it. He bit into it gratefully and with his other hand reflexively reached for his cell phone. Justin leaned forward in the seat beside him, watching closely as JC keyed through his messages and then put the phone away, his face grim.

"So, what’s up?" he asked quietly, and JC shrugged, too dispirited to get into it. Justin nodded, waiting silently while he finished his sandwich before asking, "She’s not coming to New York?"

JC made a face, refusing to remember the last thing she’d said to him, the bitterness and anger in her tone. "Nope," he said quietly.

Justin regarded him thoughtfully as he calmly finished his sandwich and took a healthy gulp of his drink. "You going to be okay?"

"Of course," JC said with some spirit, and then sighed, slumping into his seat. "Yeah," he added more quietly. "It helps that we’re so busy this week, you know?"

Justin nodded. "But you miss her," he said.

"Well," JC said with a shrug and a bitter twist to his mouth, "it’s not like I’m used to her being around much anyway."

"Yeah, but I’m thinking that’s kind of a good thing." Justin’s voice was almost inaudible, his profile somber. "It’s not like you’re ever home at the same time, or used to being on the road with her, or having her on the road with you." He rubbed his hand slowly over the crown of his head, the stubble making a soft scratching sound. "And sometimes that’s good, sometimes it’s a lot harder having her around," he continued, and JC looked at him sharply. Justin looked as weary as JC felt, and he wondered exactly who Justin was talking about.

Before he could formulate the question Melinda appeared at the side of the stage, waving energetically to them. They both sighed heavily as they got to their feet and headed up the aisle, bumping each other companionably.

"Thanks," JC said softly, and he didn’t mean just the sandwich. Justin smiled and him and put his hands on JC’s shoulders, shaking him slightly as they headed down the aisle. There was comfort there, warm and familiar, and JC let the feeling carry him through the rest of the interminable day.

~ ~ ~

Clive Davis’s party had been . . . interesting. Being there without Bobbie on his arm or holding his hand had left him exposed to an astonishing number of propositions. It was the same as when he’d go out to clubs, but seemed somehow more surprising and a little alarming when the people doing the propositioning were dressed in formal clothing. And when he wasn’t on the road. And when there were mothers around.

Not his own mother this time, but Justin’s had been there, sitting beside a sullen-looking Britney. Britney had been roundly ridiculed by a member of the press, as well as Joey and Justin and Chris, for not knowing who Yoko Ono was. Her brown eyes were full of petulant resentment.

Justin, by contrast, had seemed to be having a wonderful time. Laughing and talking, jumping on stage for impromptu jam sessions. He seemed to only became more cheerful when Britney left the party early, pleading a headache.

Lance had disappeared rather early too, and Joey was on his best behavior tonight, squiring Kelly around like a prom queen. Chris and JC had done some hard drinking at the bar, hooting enthusiastically for Justin on the stage. It was nice in a way -- Chris had loathed Bobbie and had made no secret about it in the past; now he didn’t even ask about her unexpected and largely unexplained absence.

The parties would go on all night but JC was done. Tomorrow was the VMAs, where he needed to find the energy to do red carpet interviews as well as look alert during a long awards show and, of course, perform. He needed sleep, quality sleep, and as he made his way down the endless corridor at the New York Plaza JC was afraid that he’d reached that desperate point of exhaustion where he was too tired to get it.

Across from his door Justin was hesitating in his own doorway, fidgeting with his room key. He waited until the security personnel passed them both by, then half-turned as JC passed him and stopped in front of his own suite.

"Hey," he said quietly, and JC paused, looking over his shoulder.

"Hey," he said in the same low tone of voice, and something deep inside of him flickered a little, an awareness that he squashed before he was forced to acknowledge it.

"Uh, so. What are you doing, are you going back out?"

"Are you kidding?" JC mumbled, flipping his key card through his fingers. "I’m just hoping I’m not too tired to sleep," he continued. "I feel like death warmed over."

"If it’s any consolation," Justin said slowly, "you don’t look like death warmed over." JC glanced up at him in amusement -- Justin’s smile was sheepish, but his eyes were hot, burning like lasers as they traveled down JC’s tux-clad form.

"Gee, I bet you say that to all the girls," he mocked, and Justin’s leer transformed itself into a real laugh as he pushed away from his own door and stepped further into that hallway toward JC. His eyes were bright as he smiled, and JC smiled back. After a week of Bobbie, it was such a relief to be with someone who was honestly glad to see him.

"So, you wanna come in?" Justin said, and now he was avoiding JC’s eyes, his face staining a little red across the cheeks. "I’m just going to get some food and, you know . . ." He trailed off and shrugged a little. "I mean," he continued. "You can eat something, have some tea, and, you know, relax. It’ll help you sleep."

JC regarded him silently, pushing away how badly he wanted to cross the corridor and do exactly that -- eat something light while watching ESPN and talking quietly to Justin, drink tea, strip out of his formal clothes and stretch out on Justin’s bed and forget everything that was on his mind. He could trust Justin to take care of him. For a moment he wanted it more than anything else in the whole world.

"Where’s Britney?" he said instead, and tiredly cursed himself.

Justin shrugged, elaborately casual. "Getting her beauty rest, I guess. She’s not even staying here," he added. "All her people are at another hotel. And," he continued with a glimmer of a smile that was utterly humorless, "she’s not exactly pleased with me right now anyway."

JC considered that, feeling a low-level simmer deep in his belly as he took a step toward Justin. "I don’t know man," he said, and he couldn’t even make himself sound reluctant. "It’s not like we’re on tour or anything. It’s kind of against the rules."

Justin shrugged, taking a slow step that brought him right into JC’s personal space. The black of his suit coat made his eyes a brilliant blue, and JC stared as he licked his lips. "Well, it’s still kind of being on the road," Justin pointed out, and now he was smiling. "I mean, neither of us is at home, if you know what I mean."

"Hmmm," JC said consideringly, but he was already persuaded and they both knew it. Justin took another small step toward him.

"Come on, JC," Justin said, his voice barely above a whisper. "I know you’re really tired. Just, I don’t know, just relax and let me take care of you. Okay?" His hand reached out slowly, and with a grateful sigh JC slid his into it. Justin stepped backwards, tugging him gently, and JC followed.

~ ~ ~

JC’s backyard was bathed in warm sunlight when he stepped through the sliding glass door and took a deep breath of the humid air. The tall trees circling the property created a deep, cool shade and the pool in the center of the yard sparkled blue. The lake beyond the sloping lawn was a calm and flat green. There was the drone of a motor boat in the distance; other than that the neighborhood was silent and drowsy. He squinted at the sky and adjusted his sunglasses and hat. It seemed unseasonably warm for January, even in Orlando.

It was odd, JC thought as he wandered around the edge of the pool and threw himself down in a lounge chair. For months they’d been on the road, the tour criss-crossing the continent in a way that had forced them to spend the majority of nights sleeping on the bus. For months he’d looked forward to spending some quality time at his own home, sleeping in his own bed, rising on his own time schedule or sleeping all day if he wanted. And now he was finally home and had several weeks in which to do nothing other than exactly what he wanted to do, and he couldn’t settle down. He was restless and antsy, and last night he hadn’t been able to sleep at all.

It wasn’t that his bed wasn’t comfortable; it was. He’d picked it out himself, along with most of the rest of the house’s furnishings, before they’d left on the last tour. The linens were smooth and cool, the pillows perfect. But he wasn’t able to get comfortable and had risen in the middle of the night after hours of tossing and turning to wander the rooms. He’d left the lights off, not wanting to disturb his brother who was getting ready for his final exams and needed his sleep, and it had been a strange and surreal trip though his own house. He’d moved quietly from room to room, trailing his hand over furniture that he remembered more clearly from store showrooms than from his own living room, had opened cupboards in the kitchen and seen pots and pans that were well-used, but not by him. In the dark it had all seemed so odd, silent and unfamiliar. It felt more like his brother’s home than his own.

He sighed and stretched, closing his eyes and trying to relax. The tiredness was bone-deep, as deep as his restlessness and inability to settle down. It had been the same over the holidays, visiting with family in Maryland, which seemed familiar but was not, and his parents’ new home outside of Chicago, which was completely strange even though they had a bedroom for him and had done everything possible to make him feel as if it was still the family home, and that he had a place there.

It was stupid and neurotic to feel more at ease on a cramped, smelly and always-moving bus than he was in his own home, he told himself sternly. He looked around his peaceful and pristine back yard again. This was all his, he reminded himself. This was his home. He was home. He closed his eyes and commanded himself to take a nap.

He sighed in irritation as the sliding glass door opened with a loud whoosh and a slam. He looked up sharply, ready to complain, and froze at the sight of Justin sauntering toward him.

"Lazy ass," was Justin’s greeting, and he grinned hugely from behind his mirrored sunglasses as JC answered with a long, slow middle finger. Justin was wearing a loose pair of cargo shorts, a thin and tight t shirt, and he carried two open bottles of beer from JC’s own refrigerator.

"Fuck you," JC muttered half-heartedly, but he couldn’t help the smile from creeping across his face as he accepted one of the cold bottles and lazily clinked it against Justin’s. It had been less than a week since he’d seen him, but with his odd and unsettled state of mind just seeing Justin here in his back yard made JC feel inexplicably better. He took a long gulp of the icy cold liquid and sighed with pleasure as it burned down his throat. Then he checked his watch. "Dude," he said. "It’s not even 11:00."

"Yeah, well," Justin said, settling into the lounge chair beside him with a grunt. "I say we’ve crossed enough time zones in the last couple of months that it doesn’t matter anymore."

The silence settled over them and JC closed his eyes and rested his head against the back of his lounge chair. He was sharply aware of Justin’s warmth beside him, warmer than the late morning sun. He drew in a deep breath and caught the faint and familiar smell of Justin’s aftershave.

"So, how did you get in?" he asked. He didn’t want to know yet why Justin had come.

"Oh, yeah, so Tyler let me in on his way out," Justin said, shifting in his chair. "At first he just waved me through the gates and makes like he’s gonna just drive off, and dude, my windows are tinted and I could’ve been anybody." JC snorted -- Justin had always disapproved of Tyler’s relaxed attitude toward their fame. Justin took another gulp from his bottle then grinned and nudged JC’s bare leg with his sandaled foot. "But he stopped, said hi. And he said he had something, a study session? Anyway, he said he won’t be back until after dinner. And that you were out by the pool, moping."

JC turned his head and stared at him for a moment. "He did not say that."

Justin took another pull from his bottle and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Moping. Yep, he said it."

"Well, I’m not moping," JC said firmly. "I’m just relaxing." He stretched long and hard to prove it, more aware than he should be of Justin’s eyes on his body from behind his mirrored sunglasses.

"Whatever, JC," Justin said serenely, and settled further into his chair. For a moment there was silence but tension stuttered through JC’s body and he couldn’t close his eyes. He still didn’t want to ask Justin what he was doing here, disturbing the peace of JC’s backyard.

Except he really wasn’t disturbing it; Justin had gone quiet and still with a deep sigh, letting his head loll against the high-backed lounge chair. JC couldn’t tell if his eyes were closed, but his body was loose and relaxed, the cold bottle of beer nestled between his thighs. He wasn’t even fidgeting.

"Nice here," Justin commented quietly, and JC grunted in response.

"Your own house is probably quieter," he added, and was surprised when Justin snorted with laughter and rolled his head to face JC with a lazy grin.

"Are you kidding? Half of the state of Tennessee is at my house. My parents and the whole extended family’s there. They say it was to surprise me, but I think they all just wanted to go on vacation." He made a face of mock pain and JC grinned. "And get this -- they’re staying until my birthday."

"God," JC said. "Another whole week?"

"Yep," Justin said cheerfully. "Today the cousins decided they wanted to go to Epcot and said I had to go with ‘em." He shuddered in exaggerated horror and JC winced in sympathy.

"A fate worse than death," he muttered, and Justin nodded vigorously.

"I told ‘em I was sorry, but I had work to do." Justin tipped back his bottle and drained the last of his beer while JC eyed him speculatively.

"Do you?" he asked.

Justin grinned at him as he got slowly to his feet. ‘Nope," he said cheerfully, and gestured at the bottle in JC’s hand. "You want another one?" he asked.

"Another bottle of my brother’s beer?" JC asked wryly. "Sure, Justin, that’d be great." He watched as Justin stretched slowly to his feet and reached his arms overhead, flexing his long fingers. His shirt rode up as he leaned from side to side, and he rubbed a hand absently across his flat stomach. Or maybe not so absently, JC thought, and shifted a little in his chair.

Justin paused, the empty bottles in this hands. "Is it your brother’s beer? I thought it was yours."

"Nothing in this house is mine," JC muttered, and looked up as Justin laughed.

"Moping, moping moping," he mocked. He crouched down to dip a hand in the pool and flicked cool water at JC.

"Hey," he said sharply, but Justin’s lean form was already disappearing into the house.

JC closed his eyes and leaned back in his chair. His skin was goose bumped, although the water hitting his sun-warmed body had not been that cold. He took a long, deep breath and then took another and another until they were steady. Tension curled slyly through his stomach and slid lower, and when he heard the sliding glass door open again he abruptly gave up. Standing suddenly he pulled off his hat, tugged his shirt over his head, and threw himself headfirst into the pool.

The water was the perfect temperature, cool enough to be refreshing but not cold enough to be unpleasant on his overheated body. JC slid smoothly through the silent water, stroking determinedly for the far deep end. Not until he was rising slowly toward the surface did he look up at the watery reflection of Justin, standing by the side of the pool.

His back was turned when JC quietly surfaced, bending down to place the bottle on the table near JC’s chair. When he straightened up and walked to the edge of the pool, looking down at JC as he treaded water, JC couldn’t read his expression at all.

The silence stretched oddly between them, and JC took another deep breath. He didn’t seem capable of simply asking Justin why he was here today -- was he afraid of what the answer would be? Why did it matter? It occurred to him that he’d never once, in all the years he and Justin had been sliding in and out of each other’s spaces, thought this hard about it.

Justin was standing patiently beside the pool and watching JC with a quiet, almost serious expression. The unspoken thing between seemed like a suddenly complicated chess game, and it was without a doubt JC’s turn to make some sort of a move.

JC shook the wet hair out of his eyes. "If you’re going to hang around here," he said carefully, "you should probably put some sun screen on." It was the best he could do.

They stared at each other for a long moment and then Justin gave him a gorgeous smile. "You got some that’s waterproof?" he asked, and didn’t wait for JC to answer before striding quickly back into the house. When he returned he was shirtless and barefoot, his shorts unbuttoned and hanging precariously around his hips. He carried a spray bottle in his hand that he’d probably pilfered from Tyler’s bathroom.

JC turned and back stroked toward the diving board on the far end of the pool, his eyes on the clear and deep blue of the sky. But his heart jumped when he heard the heavy splash behind him as Justin joined him in the pool. The splashing got closer and JC picked up speed, feeling a thrill as he anticipated the heavy hand on his leg. But he had always been a stronger swimmer than Justin, and he made it to the far edge with room to spare. This gave him time to take several deep breaths and relax his face as Justin splashed noisily up and grabbed the edge beside him.

He was too close and there was far too much of his skin showing -- JC had the stray thought that Justin was naked under the water and he squashed it firmly before he’d even allow himself to look. But he moved away from the edge and looked away from Justin, reaching up to grasp the side of the diving board and letting himself dangle deliciously in the cool water.

He didn’t need the dip of the board under his hands to know that Justin had followed him, was dangling from the other side in mirror imitation just two feet away. JC felt the very air and water surrounding him change, become thicker. The faint neighborhood sounds, the birds, even the noisy boat on the lake faded away and he was hyper aware of Justin’s slightly quickened breathing, the flow of the water as he kicked his feet. His heart pounding, JC opened his eyes.

Justin’s eyes were intent and very blue, and the seriousness in them didn’t seem to go with the half-smile lifting the corner of his mouth. Water beaded on his face and streamed down his shoulders; the muscles in his upper arms flexed as he adjusted his grip on the diving board. It was JC’s turn and he took a deep breath and curled his toes.

"So, what brings you here today?" he said quietly, and watched Justin’s face closely as he dropped his eyes and lifted a shoulder, elaborately casual.

"Like I said," Justin answered lazily. "I was just looking for some peace and quiet."

JC watched him silently until Justin nodded. "Okay, yeah, there was a lot of commotion at my house and I just needed to relax, you know?" He hesitated and his voice dropped. "And I wanted to see you, see how you were doing."

JC felt warmth spread from the inside and realized he was smiling so big that his cheeks hurt a little. Justin grinned back at him and swiped playfully at JC’s legs with his feet. JC gripped the board tightly and struggled for the leverage to leg wrestle properly, but Justin gave up quickly. His eyes skimmed over JC’s arms and shoulders and he licked his lips as he regarded JC steadily.

It was JC’s turn again and he took a deep breath. "Well, okay. I’m glad you’re here," he said quietly, and felt something tight in him relax as Justin’s grin turned into a softer smile. It almost looked hopeful.

"You don’t look like you’ve slept," Justin observed quietly.

"No, I didn’t," JC acknowledged, just as soft. "Not very much."

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah," JC said. He hesitated, then reached forward with both feet, sliding them slowly up Justin’s left calf, feeling the hair rasp gently against his insteps. Justin stayed still, encouraging him. "Just, you know, trying to adjust."

Justin smiled at him and tangled his feet with his own, scraping a big toe against the bottom of JC’s foot and making him shiver a little. "Adjust to what? Being home?"

"It sort of doesn’t feel like home," JC confessed. His shoulders were starting to ache and his hands were tired, so he let go of the diving board and let the water pull him down. Justin did the same and for a moment they stared at each other under the water. When they came up they were both in the shadow of the diving board and much closer together.

Justin shook the water from his eyes and focused them on JC. "Do you miss it?" he asked a little breathlessly, his voice barely above a whisper. "The road, I mean."

JC stared back at him and moved infinitesimally closer, forcing Justin to turn in a circle as he treaded the water. "I didn’t think I would," he said slowly. "But yeah. I guess I do." JC watched Justin carefully and added, "some parts of it, anyway." Justin gulped and licked at his wet lips; JC felt his own part in unconscious response. "You?" he asked.

"Miss the road? Yeah," Justin answered immediately, and JC fought a smile. Justin was breathless and seemed almost shy, but now that JC was absolutely sure of why he was here, he was much less tentative. He moved a little closer, easing slowly through the cool water, aware of Justin’s eyes on him.

"Do you want to tell me what you miss about it?" JC asked silkily, and watched as Justin’s smile faded, his eyes growing dark.

"I’ll show you what I miss," Justin murmured. JC smiled as he moved closer and Justin met him in the middle, a surge of warm skin replacing the cool water as he wrapped his long arms around JC’s body and pulled him closer, bringing their mouths together.

The slick slide of Justin’s tongue across his lower lip was a heated contrast to the cool water and JC closed his eyes at the warmth that surged through his abdomen, making his heart stutter. He was aware of Justin’s hands spreading over his lower back, pulling JC closer even as his feet kicked him away in an effort to keep them both afloat. JC wrapped his hands around Justin’s ribs, careful to avoid each of his ticklish spots. He opened his mouth for Justin’s tongue and started to push him backwards, toward the side of the pool.

Justin’s back bumped gently into the pool’s wall and he gave a soft grunt of surprise. His eyes opened and he blinked slowly at JC, his eyes blurry and his mouth red. JC grabbed the edge of the pool with both arms and leaned in to kiss him again and Justin’s arms tightened, gathering JC’s body greedily to him. JC tangled his legs with Justin’s and let him cling to him, luxuriating in the feel of his mouth, now opening on the side JC’s jaw, and the strong hands grasping tightly at his shoulders. His body was steaming heat, solid and heavy and familiar even in the weightless water.

Justin broke away with a moan that was part impatience and part laughter, a sound as familiar to JC as his own voice. "Let’s get out," he whispered, his breath short. His hands moved heavily down JC’s torso to the waistband of his swim trunks, fingers flirting with the knot on the drawstring. "Whattayasay?" His smile was slow and JC felt the tangle of tension, the vague discomfort and discontent deep inside start to loosen and give way.

He leaned in to kiss Justin again and Justin angled his head for it, his mouth opening sweetly as his legs wrapped around one of JC’s and ground purposefully into him. JC let go of the edge with one hand and slid it slowly down Justin’s long, elegant torso -- over his shoulder and down his back, curving around to his ribs and easing slowly down, and as Justin’s waist turned to hip JC felt nothing but smooth skin. He dug his fingers into the firm flesh and Justin gasped, the long muscles clenching under JC’s fingers. JC leaned forward and sank his teeth into Justin’s earlobe and this time Justin moaned, a strangled and needy sound that made JC flush with heat.

"Or," he whispered low into Justin’s ear, "I could just give you what you came for. Right now."

Justin shuddered against him. "Here?" he asked hoarsely, and JC smiled.

"Why not?" he murmured. His left hand was still gripping the edge of the pool and his arm -- the only thing keeping them afloat -- was starting to shake with strain. But he felt another surge of heat that made him stiffen as he felt Justin’s hands fumble with the drawstring of his swim shorts, and he nudged his hips forward to make Justin feel it.

"Well," Justin said breathlessly. "We’re not exactly private here."

JC raised his head and glanced around his bright, silent back yard. "Yeah, you’re right. Much more private at, you know, a public hotel. Or on the fucking bus," he said dryly. He curled his fingers into the crease between Justin’s ass and his thigh and nestled him closer, watching Justin bite his lip and suck in a quick breath. "Maybe we should just stop."

Justin blinked. "Or, you know," he said, giving up on the JC’s drawstring knot and rubbing a hand purposefully down the front of his shorts. "We could just go inside. If you want."

"Ahh," JC murmured. "So it’s about what I want now?" His arm was really starting to shake, but he wasn’t ready to get out just yet. He tilted his head back so Justin could mouth the soft skin above his collarbone.

"Well, yeah," Justin said between kisses. He hooked his free hand over JC’s shoulder, grasping the edge of the pool and helping to brace them in the water. His lips and teeth were doing something incredibly hot and trashy to JC’s neck and he felt his toes curl in response. "I mean, JC. You’re the one moping around here, looking like you’ve lost your last friend when you’re supposed to be relaxing. I’m just trying to help you out."

"Oh, that’s really," he broke off with a gasp as Justin’s slick mouth moved up the side of his neck and his hand curled around his cock. "Um, kind," JC managed, working a knee in between Justin’s and grunting a little at the surge of his hips, the hardness pressed against his leg. "Of course, there’s no way we can call the pool in my back yard The Road."

Justin went still, his cheek pressed warmly against JC’s and his breath ragged in his ear. JC took a stronger grip on the side of the pool and moved his free hand slowly, slowly over the gorgeous curve of Justin’s bare ass. His heart galloped in his chest as he waited for Justin to respond.

"No, we can’t," Justin said slowly. He leaned back a little and looked into JC’s eyes, tightening his legs around JC’s for leverage. "That’s why," he whispered, "I think we should take this inside."

It didn’t make any sense whatsoever, and JC didn’t care. "Yeah," he murmured, swiping his tongue across Justin’s lips. "Let’s go."

~ ~ ~

JC headed straight up the stairs to his bedroom, hastily toweling the worst of the water from his body, his attention focused on Justin following right on his heels. It was dark and cool inside after the brightness of the pool and the backyard, and JC felt goose bumps rise on his body that had nothing to do with the temperature and everything to do with Justin’s hands reaching out to touch him as they crossed the threshold and JC closed his bedroom door behind them.

Justin had wrapped a towel around his nakedness when they’d climbed out the pool and now JC reached for it, pulling at where it tucked against the smooth skin of his waist. Justin’s hands covered his as they curled around the fold of the towel, stilling his fingers as he stepped closer, his mouth angling for JC’s, kissing him long and sweet and hot. Their tongues pressed against each other for a moment and then JC relaxed against Justin’s warm, familiar body and closed his eyes. Justin wanted to go slow, and that was more than fine with him.

Justin didn’t seem to want to take charge, though, and after the intense making-out in the pool and the hurried trip into the house and up the stairs it seemed almost silly to stand in JC’s bedroom and kiss like teenagers. But that’s what they were doing -- deep, slow, luxurious kisses that quietly soothed the tension from JC’s body and replaced it with an arousal as sweet and thick as honey. Justin’s hands smoothed over his shoulders and up and down his chest, easing away the goose bumps and bringing a flush of warmth to JC’s skin as his mouth pressed slow kisses all over JC’s face. JC closed his eyes and breathed Justin in, hugging him close as his fingers leisurely explored each familiar curve and plane of his upper body.

Justin hummed with pleasure and contentment, his breath warm in JC’s ear as JC opened his mouth to taste the warm skin on his neck and his fingers slid slowly down Justin’s sides to the edge of the towel, still firmly knotted around his hips. Justin tilted his hips encouragingly and JC was too distracted by the taste of the skin on his shoulders and the contrast of his warm skin against the roughness of the towel as he worked it loose to notice that Justin had easily stripped his own wet shorts from his hips. They dropped quietly around his ankles, and JC moaned at the feel of Justin’s large, warm hands on his damp skin.

It wasn’t as if he hadn’t seen Justin’s naked body many, many times over the years, but the afternoon sun made a marked contrast to the dark bus bunks and dimly lit hotel rooms where most of their encounters had taken place. Justin’s skin was smooth and winter-pale in the mid-afternoon brightness of JC’s bedroom but he felt the same, warm and solid and familiar under JC’s hands.

And Justin was stepping up the pace now that they were both naked, his hands moving more urgently down JC’s back and curving over his ass, bending at the knee and sliding slowly up, creating a delicious friction in all the right places and making JC murmur encouragingly. Justin nudged him toward the bed and JC took his hand to lead him there.

But Justin hesitated at the side of the bed, tugging on JC’s hand to make him turn around and face him.

"Um, we should get the stuff, you know. Before we get horizontal." His lips quirked in a little bit of a smile and JC hesitated, blinking.

"Stuff," he repeated slowly, and Justin nodded and gestured vaguely toward the bathroom. "Oh," JC said. "Oh, so you want to go there."

Justin looked at him, his smile sweet and open. His hips bumped distractingly against JC’s. "Don’t you?" he asked simply, and his smile grew as JC nodded hastily.

"Well, yeah," JC said. "I mean, yeah, but we’ve never, um . . ."

"Gone there," Justin supplied helpfully. "I know. But you have stuff, right?" His fingers were still tangled with JC’s and his free hand ran up and down over JC’s hip and ass in a way that was slowly scrambling JC’s brain. He struggled to concentrate.

"Yeah, of course," he said automatically, and then frowned. His memory of what was in this house, what was in his house in Los Angeles, what was still in his unpacked luggage blurred and for a moment he was confused. Then Justin’s hands stroked over his shoulder and he leaned in to kiss him, deeply and thoroughly, taking his time. JC grunted and wrapped his arms around Justin’s waist, sliding their bodies together. Arousal moved sluggishly through his abdomen, sweet and slow as Justin flexed his hips against JC’s.

They pulled apart with a gasp. "So, go get it," Justin suggested in a whisper, and JC nodded and moved reluctantly away from Justin’s body, walking naked into his bathroom.

Once there he avoided his looking at his reflection in the huge mirror and frowned at the drawers. He opened and closed three of them as well as the medicine cabinet, smiling when he heard Justin’s snort of laughter from the bedroom, before finally finding what he was looking for. The tube was unopened and he squinted carefully at the expiration date on the condoms before gathering up several foil squares and the tube and turning back to his bedroom.

He hesitated in the doorway -- Justin had pulled the bedspread and covers down to the foot of the bed and was stretched out on his back, legs spread, one hand behind his head and one hand languidly stroking his cock. JC’s brain stuttered and his breath hitched but he paused, his mind skipping erratically over what they were doing, what they were about to do.

"Hey," he started, and his eyes skittered away from the lean body sprawled on his bed like some sort of sacrifice. "Justin, what are we doing here?"

Justin’s smile was fond, amused. "Well, shit. I’m trying to seduce you, JC, but if you haven’t figured that out yet than I must be doing a pretty piss poor job of it," he admonished lightly, and JC felt an answering grin spread across his face.

"Uh, no," he said, and let his smile fade, forced himself to meet Justin’s eyes. "You’re not. I was just thinking that this is way, way out of the . . ." he paused, groping for the words. "Uh, realm of the road thing, don’t you think?"

Justin’s eyes were steady and his hand never stopped its slow, measured movements. "It is," he agreed softly, and shifted on the sheet, his buttocks flexing and making his hips roll slowly. JC felt his throat go dry. "But I still, you know, want to." His gaze flickered over JC’s naked form and his smile grew. "And I know you do. So, unless there’s some sort of problem . . ." His hand moved again, stroking up and twisting a bit, and JC felt dizzy.

"I don’t have a problem," he said slowly. His hand was trembling and he determinedly pushed the lurking question of Britney away. She was probably on the road herself, he thought wryly, and then dismissed her from his mind. She had no place here.

Justin was still smiling, his face flushed and his eyes intent. JC walked across the room and crawled up on the bed and over Justin’s body without pausing. He tossed the lube and condoms onto the sheet beside them as Justin reached up and wrapped both arms around JC’s body, pulling him down to rest against him as his mouth opened for JC’s.

JC shuddered at the heat and hardness of Justin’s long, smooth body, flexing his hips and inhaling sharply as rolling waves of sensation made him squirm. Justin grunted beneath him, spreading his legs and sliding his hands down to wrap around JC’s hips, settling him between his legs and bending one knee, angling his groin in precisely the right way. For long moments they moved slowly together, stroking hands over each other’s bodies and kissing lazily. JC waited for Justin to take charge, to wrap him in his arms and roll them both over, but Justin seemed content to relax back against the sheets, to stroke JC’s back and tangle their legs together, to smile as their bodies surged against each other.

JC angled his head and slid his tongue slowly into Justin’s mouth and felt heat spread through his body as Justin’s tongue tangled with his, as his breath shuddered and his dark blue eyes slid closed. He reached down, bracing his knees and sliding a hand underneath Justin’s body, palming the soft curve of his ass. He squeezed gently because that was the way Justin liked it best, hitching him closer and rolling his hips.

Justin moaned and his hands tightened on JC’s hips, bucking helplessly for a few seconds before he drew a deep breath and held it, his hands spreading urgently over JC’s lower back. His eyes opened, blurry and dazed and hungry. "Get the stuff," he muttered into JC’s mouth.

JC smiled, feeling joy simmer beneath the building arousal. He’d missed this, he realized. Missed him. "Are we in a hurry?" he murmured, angling his hips to spread Justin’s legs wider and flexing his hips, feeling Justin tremble. "We have all day."

"All day, yeah. C’mon," Justin said disjointedly. His arms were like steel, banding low around JC’s hips as they squirmed and rocked deliciously together. JC’s eyes dropped closed and he arched his neck, feeling heat surge heavily through his groin, his balls tightening. "Fuck, the stuff," Justin said desperately, and he released JC, pushing him up with one hand as his other hand scrabbled for the tube.

JC sat back, his heart pounding heavily in his chest and his body flushed with heat. His arousal pounded painfully through his body and he sank his teeth into his lip, pushing it back. Justin twisted to reach across the bed for the tube and the foil packet and JC leaned down and took a mouthful of Justin’s hard cock, rolling his tongue around the head to taste the pre-come and sucking gently. Justin gasped and swore helplessly, his heels drumming on the mattress. He grabbed one of JC’s hands and slapped the plastic tube into it, laying back and bending his knees. He reached behind him to bunch a pillow under his head, his eyes avid on JC’s body.

Justin’s face and chest were heavily flushed and there was a sheen of moisture on his skin that made JC’s mouth water as he thumbed open the tube and reached between Justin’s spread legs. Justin twitched sharply as he worked his way slowly, gently inside and JC hesitated, watching his face closely.

"You okay?" he asked quietly, and smiled a little as Justin frowned impatiently and his eyes fluttered open.

"Don’t I look okay?" he countered with a cocky smile that made JC grin.

"You look better than okay," he said with honest appreciation, and slowly twisted his fingers, watching as Justin’s mouth dropped open and he moaned a little, his eyes half-closed and his chest rising and falling rapidly.

"C’mon, C," he said, half-breathless and half-impatient, rolling his hips invitingly. But JC kept his pace killingly slow and deliberate, making sure and double sure that Justin was ready, working his fingers smoothly in and out, leaning down to mouth Justin’s leaking cock. It wasn’t until Justin’s demands became mostly incoherent pleas that he smoothed the condom over his own painfully hard cock and eased slowly, slowly inside.

Justin’s body tensed and JC froze, his arms and legs shaking as he struggled for control. Justin’s hands scrabbled against his shoulders, his fingers digging bruises into the skin of his upper arms and his long neck arched hard. Fresh sweat broke out on his forehead and chest and JC bit his lip, panting desperately as he fought to keep his hips still.

"J," he said, his voice hoarse even to his own ears. "J, are you . . . You’ve done this before, right?"

Justin’s eyes opened and he looked up with dazed eyes. "Yeah, yeah," he said breathlessly, and the fingers digging gouges into JC’s arms loosened, started to stroke. He flashed a bit of a smile and licked his lips, his breathing starting to steady. "Just, ah, go easy. Okay?"

JC looked down into his face, taking in the sweet red lips and the ridiculously long lashes as Justin started to stroke his fingers up and down his back. "Okay," he whispered, and without moving his lower body he leaned down to kiss him.

Justin opened his mouth eagerly, lifting his head from the pillow and angling to pull JC’s tongue in and curl around it with his own. His big hands slid slowly, slowly down JC’s rigid back and lower, his palms curving over the warm flesh. JC felt Justin sink his teeth into JC’s lower lip at the same time his hands smoothed lazily over his ass and he held his breath and carefully, carefully squirmed, inching slowly deeper. Justin moaned encouragingly and JC closed his eyes, sweat trickling down his temple as he grit his teeth and forced himself to go slow. Just a little bit more, just a little bit more . . .

Justin was starting to move beneath him and JC grappled for control as the hands on his body encouraged him to move. Another fraction of an inch and Justin gasped, his face going slack and his fingers curving into JC’s body, pulling him closer, deeper. JC watched his face and slowly tilted his hips, changing angles, nudging deeper, pulling back, nudging slowly forward, and right there.

Justin gasped harshly, his eyes flying open wide, and JC grinned and did it again. "Ohgod," Justin muttered, and now his hands were stroking demands against his skin. JC shook the sweat out of his eyes and eased into motion, short, smooth strokes that made Justin shudder beneath him. It was torture, he wanted to go harder and faster, wanted to close his eyes and brace his knees and pound into Justin’s body, but Justin wanted to go slow, and he needed to make it good for him, if he could just make it good . . .

Without pausing or changing angles JC shifted his weight to one arm and slowly dragged his free hand down Justin’s damp body, circling his erect nipple and making Justin tremble before continuing down and wrapping his hand firmly around Justin’s cock. Justin’s mouth opened on a long and low groan and his hips twisted and flexed desperately. His fingers dug hard into JC’s hips and his heels beat on his back and JC widened his knees and made his thrusts a little sharper and harder. Justin arched his neck and grit his teeth over a hiss that might’ve been JC’s name and suddenly JC’s fist was full of Justin’s come. He kept it wrapped tight around Justin’s cock as he shuddered beneath him and let his hips move harder, deeper into that agonizing heat and tightness. His breath hitched and his balls burned and his groan scraped through his throat as he arched his neck and let it come.

He collapsed onto Justin’s chest, their damp skin sealing them together in the warm room. Justin was gasping for breath and his hands smoothed easily over JC’s back and shoulders, welcoming his weight. Justin hummed contentedly, the low vibration tickling JC’s eardrum where it lay flat on Justin’s chest and making him smile.

"Well," JC murmured, arching his neck as Justin’s fingertips stroked through his damp hair. "I guess that was better than being dragged to Epcot," he continued, and grinned as Justin laughed.

"Oh yeah. Better than moping alone in your back yard, too," Justin teased, his voice lazy and low. He sounded like he was smiling, and his body shifted a little under JC’s cheek as he raised his head and looked around the bedroom. "I like it here," he said, and let his head fall back on the pillow with a thump. "Better than any hotel."

"Or the bus," JC mumbled. Justin’s chest shook as he laughed, and JC smiled. He felt, for the first time since arriving home, utterly relaxed and at peace.

"God, those fucking bunks," Justin said, and laughed again, lazy, at ease. His hips flexed and JC hissed, his ass tightening as residual sensation surged. Then he levered himself up, carefully holding the edge of the condom and pulling slowly out, frowning in sympathy as Justin tensed and grimaced.

"Sorry," he offered softly, and Justin smiled at him as he pulled the condom off and made a face at it.

"Toss it, and come back here," he suggested, and JC did, crawling right back on to the bed and sinking down onto Justin’s warm body with a grunt. Justin’s fingers worked lazily at the tired tendons in his neck and he sighed deeply with contentment.

"I’m glad you came over, J," he mumbled into the skin of Justin’s chest. His eyelids were starting to droop. "You made me feel better."

Justin’s voice was soft, almost absent as his hands stroked and soothed. "Good," he said. "You made me feel better too." He reached down and grabbed the end of the light sheet, pulling it over their cooling bodies. "You always make me feel better."

~ ~ ~

It seemed odd that Britney was present for the beginning of their tour, especially since all she seemed to do was complain about how busy she was promoting her movie, how little time she had. She’d appeared before sound check at the first venue with Justin’s hand clasped tightly between both of hers, in full make-up and dressed like the cover of a men’s magazine, greeting them all with exuberant hugs and squeals of joy that did not reach her eyes. It had been months and months since JC had seen her, but she seemed even more brittle, her smile was too big and glittering, her laugh too loud, and every facial expression painfully over-exaggerated. She seemed, JC thought, like a delicate glass figurine about to shatter into a million pieces. He didn’t know what was going on, but there was something vicious in her rigid smile when she looked at him, and he was careful to keep his distance.

By contrast, Justin seemed almost painfully subdued, his smile bland and his eyes carefully blank. He allowed Britney to hang on him and responded when she spoke directly to him; other than that, he was unnaturally quiet and passive.

Justin was the sort who only wanted to talk about his relationship with his girlfriend when things were going well, and JC knew better than to ask now. But it didn’t keep him from paying close attention when Chris did, in the quiet room half an hour before the second show of their tour.

"What is going on with you two?" Chris burst out with his usual lack of preamble. "Just being in the same room with her is making the hair on my neck stand up. Jesus."

Justin’s carefully raised brow gave nothing away. "Not a thing," he answered briefly, and deliberately returned his attention to the plate of food in front of him. Half an apple, two slices of cheese and a small pile of crackers, JC noted. Just enough to get him through the show, not enough to make him sick. He’d be starving afterwards.

Chris didn’t like that answer, and he spent some time frowning at Justin’s bent head before shrugging and moving across the room toward the ping pong table. When Justin finished his food he stood up to join him, glancing sharply at JC as he did so.

"I’m not even going to ask," JC murmured, shaking his head as he made a small sandwich out of the contents of his own plate.

"Thanks," Justin said quietly, and for a moment his face was lined with strain. He looked far older than his years, exhausted and furious, with tension sparking from every line of his body. And then JC blinked and it was just Justin again, young and strong and starting to gear up for the coming concert. He gave JC the first real smile he’d seen from him all week and walked over to join in the steadily escalating ping pong game.

The show had gone like clockwork, and Britney was waiting backstage, quickly whisking Justin away in a separate van before the band had even stopped playing. They didn’t see either of them again for the rest of the night, but the next morning Justin entered the lobby of the hotel and quietly boarded the bus alone. Britney was nowhere to be found, and Justin didn’t offer a single word of explanation.

"What’s going on?" Lance asked sotto voce when Justin left the game room in search of a bathroom. JC shrugged and left Chris to answer for them both, but Chris didn’t know any more than he did.

"He spent most of the bus ride on his cell," Chris told Joey and Lance. "I thought he was talking to Brit, but I think he was talking to his mom."

"Neither of them seemed too happy," Joey observed.

"Hmmm," Lance drawled. "Maybe she got used to having J to herself, and she’s not happy about him going back on the road." There was an emphasis on the last word that made JC look sharply at him, but Lance was still looking enquiringly at Chris.

"Did they finally break up? You think?" Joey asked, and this time Chris shrugged.

"Why don’t you ask him," he said, and Joey stepped back and held up his hands.

"No way," he said. "I am not bringing it up. It’s none of my business." Joey slid a sidelong glance at JC and raised his eyebrows. "There are lots of things that aren’t my business."

JC continued calmly checking his email. "That’s right," he said quietly, and there was silence as Justin re-entered the room.

"So," Justin blurted out as soon as the door closed behind him. "Uh, I guess you guys should know. Brit and I broke up." He stood tensely beside the couch and stuffed his hands in the pockets of his track pants, and for a moment there was silence.

"I’m sorry, J," Lance said quietly. Justin nodded, his mouth twisting unhappily. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah," he said, then pulled his hands back out of his pocket and made a weary gesture as he sat down on the couch beside Chris. "It’s fucked up, but you know. It, uh, has to be this way."

"Well, shit. You wanna talk about it?" This from Joey, who only moments before had professed his intention of not bringing it up.

"You know, I so don’t," Justin said, and his weary tone made JC wince in sympathy. "It’s just, she’s gone to Germany to promote her movie and it’s bound to hit the press soon, and I figured you guys should know."

"Did you tell Johnny?" Justin nodded and looked down. "How about your mom?"

Justin snorted and rolled his eyes. "Yeah, of course. Shit, Chris."

"Wow, okay. So it’s really over, huh?" Chris asked, and Justin nodded, his eyes on the floor. "Well, you want us to beat her up for you?" Chris asked, and they all laughed a little as Justin cracked a smile.

"At least you’ll be too busy to dwell on it, right J?" Lance’s voice was sympathetic and Justin smiled a wry little smile, nodding. They all got to their feet and headed for the door, where the faint sounds of the sound check party crowd were beginning to filter in from the hallway. JC paused to let Justin precede him out the door, and was faintly surprised when Justin waited for him instead of jogging ahead to keep up with Chris and Joey.

"You okay?" he asked quietly, and Justin nodded, smiling wanly and bumping his shoulder as they followed the others. He stayed close beside JC all the way to the stage.

~ ~ ~

The show had gone off without a hitch, and Justin had brushed off Chris and Joey’s determined efforts to get him to go out afterwards. "No, you guys don’t get it," he’d said. "I haven’t slept. I just want to shower and eat and crash until tomorrow afternoon."

"We’re in San Francisco," Chris had said. "There are a million things to do, J, stuff to take your mind off shit. C’mon." But Justin had shaken his head and Chris had thrown up his hands and left with Joey and Lance. The three of them paused when JC announced his intention to stay at the hotel too, Joey and Lance exchanging significant looks and Chris narrowing his dark eyes sharply at him. JC stared back, daring him to say it, but Chris looked away first, shrugging and rolling his eyes as he turned away.

He watched them go, hearing Lance say "and it’s only, what, the third day?" as they rounded the corner and moved out of sight and earshot. And now JC was outside of Justin’s hotel room door, biting his lip and trying to decide whether or not to knock.

It seemed to him that Justin had always been pretty private about his relationship with Britney, probably as a result of seeing so much of it splashed across tabloids. And he’d said he didn’t want to talk about it. On the other hand, JC and Justin had always had a good rapport, and he hadn’t forgotten all the times Justin had been such a good friend and listener when he’d been having his problems with Bobbie, and before her, Nikki.

And they were on tour. They were on the road, and JC didn’t know if that complicated things or made them easier.

Detouring from Justin’s door, JC headed around the corner and hunted up Lonnie. "Has J eaten?" he asked, and Lonnie shook his head.

"Said he was going to get something from room service," Lonnie said. "But nothing’s come up from the kitchen yet."

JC nodded and retraced his steps back to Justin’s door. This time he had a reason to knock, and when Justin opened the door and smiled at him, a real smile as he reached out a big hand to pull JC inside, he knew he’d done the right thing.

Justin ushered him in and shut the door firmly behind them without letting go of JC’s arm. "Dude," he said by way of greeting. "Dude, just hang on, I’m talking to my mom."

"Tell her I said hi," JC said as Justin picked up his cell phone and spoke into it.

"JC says hi," he said and then waved at JC as Lynn apparently returned the greeting. "No, no, they went out," Justin said, and raised his eyes at JC. "Didn’t they?" JC nodded and Justin returned to his call. "No, I don’t feel like it. You know. But I will. I will, JC’s here," he said, and JC politely turned his back, walking to the window to inspect Justin’s view. "We’ll get something, I promise," he heard Justin say, and a moment later he said goodbye and appeared next to JC at the window, heaving a heavy sigh.

Justin looked tired and pale, and JC considered and discarded half a dozen things before settling on "I’m starving. You want to go get something to eat?" Justin turned to him and again his smile told JC that it had been the right thing to say.

"Can we do it without being seen?" Justin asked. He was standing close and as JC nodded he leaned a little and bumped against JC’s shoulder. "I don’t want to be hassled, but I don’t want to stay here either."

"I’m sure there’s somewhere we can go," JC said. He curled his arm around Justin in a loose, casual hug, feeling the way Justin leaned into his body like he was seeking comfort. "Let’s ask Lonnie. Do you want to go now?"

"I’m ready," Justin said.

~ ~ ~

It was in the car on the way to the very discreet restaurant that the concierge had made arrangements at that Justin finally spoke.

"You know," he said quietly, leaning close to JC’s ear. "She cheated on me. With Wade."

JC knew he should feel surprise, some sort of shock or anger, but all he could summon was a sad and tired sort of pity. "I’m sorry, J," he said slowly, and realized he really, really meant it. "Was it the first time?"

Justin shrugged, his mouth twisting. "So she says," he murmured. He shrugged. "First time that counted for anything, I mean."

There was a hard knot in JC’s chest, a pain he didn’t want to acknowledge right now. "This life, you know," he waves a hand vaguely around the chauffeured suburban, the security, the unfamiliar city. "It’s tough on monogamy, I guess."

Justin nodded. "Yeah, it sucks," he said softly, turning to look out the window. His eyes were dry.

The restaurant had a quiet and relatively private back room, and the food was excellent. Justin followed JC into the booth and sat close enough to talk without having to raise his voice, but there was no more discussion of the break up as they carefully kept to neutral topics. After dinner JC offered to hunt up the others, join them at whatever club they were at, but Justin shrugged.

"I’m really not feeling up to it," he said. "I just. I don’t feel like having strangers stare at me tonight. You go, if you want." The blue eyes he raised to JC’s were startlingly clear, and he seemed to be holding his breath.

"No, I’ll go back with you," JC said, and when Justin smiled with relief he knew he’d made another right choice.

"You’re not just staying in to make me feel better, right?"

JC hesitated. "Sure I am," he said softly, and allowed his feelings to surge through him as he smiled, leaning closer and coaxing Justin to smile back. "That’s what we do for each other, isn’t it?"

Justin paused for a long moment before his expression folded into a returning smile that lit up his whole face. "Yeah, it is. Yeah."

~ ~ ~

Justin followed him without further question or comment into JC’s hotel room and later, as the hotel’s air conditioning cooled the sweat from their bodies JC stroked Justin’s back and felt him finally, finally relax into sleep.

He closed his eyes, letting his mind drift sluggishly over the previous year, the nightmarish trip to New York for the VMAs with Bobbie’s bitter and ugly words still ringing in his ears, the solace Justin had offered him then, and all the other times over the years when Justin had been there for him when he’d really needed him.

He didn’t know if this was an opportunity for him to return Justin’s many favors, or perhaps something more. It was a newish sort of idea, one that had been lurking in the back of his mind since the visit Justin had made to his house six weeks previously, and now his brain skittered away from really thinking about it too deeply. It was a short tour, just two months long, but maybe, JC thought as he began to follow Justin into sleep, maybe these upcoming weeks might present an opportunity to find out.

~ ~ ~

If one had to wake up in the morning, JC thought fuzzily, it should always be like this. He drifted peacefully and very slowly out of his dreams, coaxed to wakefulness by the large, warm hand smoothing gently over his body. Up the outside of his arm, over his shoulder, slowly down his side and hip all the way down his thigh to his knee and slowly, slowly back up. Justin was a mesmerizing warmth curled up right behind him in the large hotel room bed, his breath slow and deep on the nape of JC’s neck, his hand continuing its light and relaxing strokes. JC sighed and shifted back a little, leaning against Justin’s body and nestling closer.

"You’d better not be teasing me," he mumbled without opening his eyes.

"I never tease," Justin mumbled in response. His voice was gravelly with sleep and JC smiled as Justin’s hand slid slowly over his hip and spread against his belly, easing him closer.

"Mmmmm," he murmured in sleepy encouragement as Justin’s hand inched lower and his fingertips scratched through his hair and curled warmly around his already-awake dick. For a few dreamy moments there was only the darkness and luxurious contentment; Justin’s soft lips and gradually deepening breath on the back of his neck, the heat of his body curled around JC, the cleverness of his hand and fingers as he slowly, slowly woke JC up. When Justin’s mouth opened on his neck and he felt teeth, JC blinked his eyes open and rolled over to face him.

Only a narrow sliver of blue showed from between Justin’s mostly-closed eyelids, but he gave JC a lazy smile as JC curled closer and rubbed his nose with his own. His hand resumed its slow stroking of JC’s dick and JC moved his own hand up Justin’s leg and over his hip, reaching for his erection.

"You too," he whispered and Justin made a small, negative grunt.

"No way," he mumbled, his eyes closing but the little smile still in place. "I got nothing, man. You wore me out last night."

JC’s hand curled around Justin’s alert dick and he smiled as he began to stroke, mirroring Justin’s steady, gentle movements. "Oh bullshit," he said.

Justin’s nose scrunched up and he inched lower on the pillow they shared without opening his eyes, easing closer and burying his face into JC’s throat. "Morning breath," he mumbled pitifully, and JC’s snicker was breathless. His body was humming, the entire world narrowing down to the warm nest of his bed, the pulsing skin under his hands, the heavy pounding of his own heart, the heat that slithered down his spine as Justin’s mouth opened wetly on his throat.

"We got time for this?" he gasped harshly, his hips rocking and his toes starting to curl.

"No," Justin whispered, and JC shuddered as he felt teeth nip at the thin skin over his collar bone. "We have to hurry."

Justin’s hips were already moving steadily, following JC’s fist as he squeezed and stroked. JC switched hands and slid his free one up the back of Justin’s thigh and right to the cleft of his ass, lightly stroking over the warm, puckered skin, up and down, up and down. Justin’s breath caught and he shuddered hard, his hand tightening on JC’s dick, speeding up. Tension crawled through JC’s belly and he grunted, rolling his hips. Here it came, here it came . . .

He crooked his finger and eased the very tip into Justin’s opening, holding it there as Justin moaned and squirmed. His legs jerked and JC’s hand was just getting slick when his own orgasm rolled over him like a wave, making white lights sparkle behind his closed eyes for long, breathless moments before he relaxed.

He slid down the pillow to kiss Justin, uncaring about morning breath, and found Justin’s mouth already on its way to meet him. Their tongues tangled lazily and the alarm went off right on cue, bringing the real world in far too soon. But Justin was still smiling as he rolled away and stretched hard before throwing back the covers and climbing out of the bed. JC watched with interest, utterly boneless with contentment.

"Get your sweet ass up," Justin advised. "I’m not going down to breakfast by myself."

JC sighed and stretched, arching his back and pointing his toes as he yawned. He sat up slowly and blinked at the clock, trying to process the earliness of the hour as Justin started opening and closing dresser drawers. He was still naked.

"Shower?" JC asked.

"You can go first, if you want," Justin said as he rooted through a pile of clean shirts. JC watched him for a moment. Anytime they were in a hotel for more than one night Justin insisted on unpacking enough clothes to wear until they had to leave again. He said living out of a suitcase depressed him.

"What do we have this morning again?" JC asked as he climbed out of the bed, and Justin snickered at him.

"Good morning America," he said and turned to face JC with a smile. "Dude, I was the one out late last night, and you were way asleep when I got back here. Why are you the one so out of it this morning?"

JC kept walking until he was right up into Justin’s space and Justin watched him approach with a gradually widening smile. "Maybe," JC said quietly when they were almost nose to nose, "it was because my good night’s sleep got interrupted by someone who was too worked up to wait until morning." He leaned closer, putting his hands on Justin’s naked hips and gently sinking his teeth into the side of his neck. Justin gulped and stepped closer.

"You know, we could save time," he suggested breathlessly as JC tongued his ear, "and share the shower."

"I thought you were all worn out," JC teased, allowing Justin’s hands pull him closer.

"You’re, um. Persuasive," Justin said, and then cursed as the phone rang shrilly. "And there’s the wake up call," he said. "Shit." His hand lingered on JC’s hip as they stepped away from each other. JC moved to his suitcase to pull out clean clothes as Justin picked up and then slammed down the phone.

"Are we late now?" JC asked as he grabbed clean clothes and headed to the bathroom, Justin right behind him.

"There’s still time for breakfast if we hurry," Justin answered, and he smacked JC’s ass lightly as he leaned in to turn on the shower spray. "No fun in the shower this morning."

"No fun," JC echoed distractedly. He glanced at his reflection in the mirror as Justin moved away to get clean towels, and paused to make a face at himself. It was ridiculous to be smiling that big so early in the morning.

~ ~ ~

"Oh, there they are," Joey sang out as JC followed Justin into the breakfast room. "All bright-eyed and bushy tailed, ready to start the day . . ."

Justin grunted in irritation and headed directly for the cereal, and JC squinted balefully at Joey. "Fuck, Joe. Take it down a couple of notches, okay?"

Joey sat down beside Lance and grinned as he dug into his pancakes. Lance had the paper open and was in the middle of a conversation with Chris; JC tuned in in time to hear, "so they bring out whipped cream, you know, the kind in the bottle that squirts and makes the loud noise? Justin starts cracking up and says it sounds like a fart noise, and the girl hands him the bottle . . ." From the buffet table behind him JC heard Justin snort with laughter.

"Whipped cream," Chris said skeptically.

"Yeah, man, and here it is, in the paper already." Lance, already done with his breakfast, handed the newspaper across the table to Chris as JC sat down next to him and reached for the coffee.

"Jesus," Chris said, shaking his head and skimming the gossip page. "Strippers and whipped cream and why do these things never happen when I go out with you guys?"

Justin slid onto the chair beside JC with what looked like a mixing bowl full of cereal. "That place was wild," he commented before taking a big bite and beginning to crunch noisily. JC handed him a coffee mug and he grunted his thanks.

"Yeah," Lance said, grinning. "Good music, good alcohol, and all these gorgeous, naked people crawling all over us and offering up the whipped cream. I could’ve stayed longer," he said as Joey started to laugh. "In fact, I could’ve maybe spent the rest of my life right there, but Justin was all antsy to get back to the hotel." His green eyes slid over the two of them, amused. "Couldn’t even wait for last call."

Justin’s face was tinted pink but he kept his eyes on his cereal as Chris started to laugh and read the gossip column out loud. His elbow nudged JC in the ribs. "Eat something," he muttered and JC reached across the table for a blueberry muffin. "Something more than that," Justin added.

Lance and Joey started to tease Justin and JC rose from the table and walked to the buffet to hide his smile. Six weeks into the tour and there was only one explanation for how light he felt this morning, how relaxed and content. He was happy.

~ ~ ~

"I’m just saying that maybe if you talked to her, you could sort this out." Lance’s voice was quiet. "I mean, I’m on your side, J, and it’s crappy that she slept with Wade, but seriously. You’ve been cheating on her, too. For years."

JC stopped just out of sight of the open doorway and held his breath. Justin’s voice, when it came, was surprised.

"Dude, I never cheated on her. What are you talking about?"

Lance’s very silence screamed incredulity. "Justin. You and JC, all this time -- I mean, it’s been happening for years. Do you think she didn’t know that? You think it didn’t piss her off?"

"Oh, well. That’s different," Justin said loftily, and JC heard the couch squeak loudly as Justin presumably threw himself down on to it.

"How?" Lance persisted. "How is it different? Because I really don’t understand your definitions of cheating and monogamy if what you do is okay and what she did isn’t."

"Look," Justin said, and now he was up again, and it sounded like he was pacing. "You know how it is, and what it’s like when you’re on tour. She cheated on me with someone who’s -- who was -- a good friend of mine."

"Oh, yeah," Lance said skeptically. "Right, and since JC is a total stranger . . ."

"That’s not what I mean," Justin interrupted with some exasperation. "The point is, she slept with him while she was at home. She wasn’t on tour, I wasn’t on tour, she was home."

Lance was silent for a minute. "So if she’d been on tour . . ." he started slowly.

"Yeah, you know, what happens on the road doesn’t count." Justin sighed with exasperation and JC could picture him shrugging. "Sometimes it’s all that keeps you sane, you know how it is."

"So, this thing you and JC do, have been doing . . ."

JC was already backing silently away as Justin responded, his voice cold and remote. "It’s just a road thing, man," he said quietly. "It’s not real. You know that. Everyone knows that."

~ ~ ~

These things happened on the road. What happened on the road stayed on the road, and that was just the way it was, the way it has always been. A necessity and a convenience, a way to give and receive comfort with someone trusted and familiar, to burn off energy and to alleviate boredom. And none of that had changed.

But things were different now, JC thought disjointedly as Justin’s hands eased him down to his bed and stroked slowly down the length of his body. He watched with as much detachment as possible as Justin’s warm mouth slowly followed his hands, unerringly hitting each of JC’s hot spots -- the side of his neck, the pulse between his collar bones, the crease beside his hipbone, each of them making his body surge with heat. He watched Justin smile with pleasure and anticipation, felt his heartbeat accelerate as Justin curved his hands under JC’s body and lifted him to his mouth. He closed his eyes and tipped his head back and let his body respond in the way it always responded to Justin, had always responded to him. It was everything it had been, and it was so, so good, so delicious and satisfying.

But it wasn’t enough anymore.

~ ~ ~

"Oh yes you are." It was a rare occasion when Joey’s voice slid into humorless and uncompromising, but apparently he’d reached the end of his considerable rope with JC. JC sighed wearily. "I don’t care how busy you are," Joey continued. "You’re right here in town, and J’s been asking Lance if you were coming with us, and you are, okay? You just are."

"Look," he tried again. "It’s not that I don’t want to go . . ."

"Excellent," Joey interrupted. "That’s good to know. I’d hate to think that you were avoiding Justin. It’s bad enough that Chris is giving him such shit. He doesn’t need it from you too."

JC switched his cell phone to his other ear. "I really don’t think . . ." and Joey cut him off with a snort of exasperation.

"JC, look. We don’t care what you think, either. We’re picking you up in half an hour, and you’re coming with us. Now stop being such a fucking asshole." The phone clicked dead and JC stared at it in surprise and consternation for several seconds before sighing and putting it back into his pocket.

He checked his watch as he walked from his deck to his house. Okay, it wasn’t that big of a deal. He’d wanted to see Justin’s show again and had been toying with going tonight anyway. It wasn’t a big deal; the Los Angeles show would be mobbed with VIPs and it would be easy to avoid having any private words with Justin. JC rubbed his hand across his jaw and examined his reflection in the mirror. He would have to hurry if he was going to change his clothes, and maybe he should shave too.

But why should he do that? There was no need to dress up; his clothes were clean and he’d showered that morning, and he felt strangely reluctant to make any sort of effort. Then he turned away from his mirror with an annoyed grunt. Why hadn’t he gone to Orlando this week, like he’d considered? Then he wouldn’t have to be going through this.

The car was a few minutes early, but JC was ready and despite himself his spirits lifted when he saw Joey and Lance. They were already slightly tipsy but smiling and laughing, having a great time and as pleased to see JC as he was to see them. JC’s initial reluctance faded over his second glass of whatever it was that Lance handed him, and by the time they reached the backstage area he was flushed and happy and couldn’t quite wipe the smile off his face.

Lynn greeted him with a cry of delight and a bone-squeezing hug, and he laughed as he held her and grinned over her shoulder at Joey’s brother, at Trace, so many members of Justin’s crew that he recognized. It was like old home week.

"Honey," Lynn said in his ear, her voice almost drowned out by the steadily rising noise as more and more people crowded into the room. "Justin’s in his quiet room, but he said if I saw you before the show that you should go on back." She beamed at him and patted his face, and JC kept his smile in place for her, not letting it drop away until he turned away.

He continued to greet people and make conversation as his mind spun furiously. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see Justin. In fact, the opposite was true. There were times when he missed all of them desperately, missed the life that had been theirs for years and years, missed being with people who really, truly understood and had been beside him through the good and bad times of it all. But missing Justin was more complicated; it went deeper for him than missing friends and band mates.

For him, he reminded himself as he hugged old friends and drank another glass of something Lance handed him. It went deeper for him, and for him alone.

With that firmly in mind, there was no reason not to pop his head into Justin’s quiet room and wish him well. He glanced at the clock; there was very little time before Justin was due on stage. This was good -- his visit would be necessarily short.

Justin had apparently left word with his security to admit JC. Eric broke into a huge welcoming grin when he saw him and slapped him heartily on the back, almost sending JC into the wall. He tapped a complicated little rhythm on the door before opening it for JC and standing back. The door shut behind him and JC blinked, momentarily blinded by the dim light in the quiet room.

"Dude!" Justin’s voice was full of happiness as he set aside his guitar and jumped up from the couch, and JC couldn’t help but return his smile as Justin headed toward him. He opened his arms and prepared for a generic hug, complete with the requisite back-slapping, but Justin wound his long arms around JC’s torso and held on tight, squeezing like he wasn’t ever going to let go. JC felt his own arms tighten helplessly around Justin’s lanky form, and he closed his eyes and indulged himself in a long, deep breath. Justin.

"Man, I thought maybe you weren’t going to come," Justin said quietly, his voice a little muffled as he pressed his face into JC’s shoulder. "I mean, I didn’t know if you were out of town or something," he amended hastily, and he leaned back to look into JC’s face, his eyes questioning, hopeful. "You suck at returning messages, you know," he chided, and JC forced himself to swallow past the lump in his throat and to speak. He had a bunch of choices here -- he could be honest, he could be puzzled, he could be evasive, he could make excuses. The alcohol and Justin’s nearness made his very sound reasons for avoiding him fuzzy and incomprehensible, and he laughed uneasily, dropping his eyes.

"Well, I know that you’ve been busy," he said, and immediately changed the subject, asking Justin about the tour. Justin allowed the distraction, but his eyes measured JC carefully as they made small talk.

He was still standing too close, his hand warm on JC’s shoulder, but JC didn’t have the will to move away. Everything about Justin looked good -- his cropped hair, his wide and clear eyes, his beautiful mouth. He even smelled good, and JC felt the hurt of missing him slowly sap away the joy of seeing him. Now he just felt sad and despairing and a little bit angry, and he had to sharply remind himself of the conversation he’d overheard between Lance and Justin, over a year ago now, to keep from stepping closer and pulling Justin back into his arms. Still, the desire was strong and he bit his lip and stuffed his hands into his pockets to keep himself from reaching out.

"Look," Justin said tentatively, and he tilted his head a little, forcing JC to meet his eyes. "There’s this show tonight, you know, and then this thing at the House of Blues afterward, did you hear about that?"

"Yeah," JC said, nodding slowly, and Justin’s hand tightened a little.

"Well, you should come, you know. And maybe afterward we could do something, get some take-out and go back to my house?" His smile widened, sparkled, invited. "Something?"

His hand was sliding up and down JC’s upper arm now and oh god, the temptation was simply overwhelming. It was a painful struggle to remind himself that Justin didn’t love him, to tamp down on the bitter resentment that surged through him at Justin’s casual invitation. It wasn’t Justin’s fault, he reminded himself for the millionth time since their last tour had ended. It was the way life on the road was, and they way they’d always treated it and the way it had been between them. It wasn’t Justin’s fault that JC couldn’t play it that way anymore. It wasn’t Justin’s fault that JC had lost sight of the rules of the road. It wasn’t Justin’s fault that JC had fallen in love with him.

But he held Justin’s eyes for a moment and almost against his will allowed himself to imagine it -- post-concert and over-adrenalized Justin, the privacy of his house in the Hollywood hills, warmth and familiarity and passion and Justin, who he loved. Loved so much. Had loved for so very long.

But he stepped back, forcing his features into a casual smile as Justin’s hand dropped slowly away. "Oh, c’mon," he said with a laugh that actually hurt his chest. "You know it totally doesn’t count as the road here, not when we both live here. Not when only one of us is actually, you know, on the road."

There was a long, thick moment where Justin didn’t react in any way. His hand froze in the air over JC’s arm, looking odd and vulnerable, and his eyes blinked hard before narrowing thoughtfully.

"JC," he started, and behind him JC heard the knock on the door that meant time was up. And just in the nick of time, JC thought with relief. He knew the beginning of a Justin Persuasion Speech when he heard one, and he knew, honestly, that he didn’t have the strength to fight one for long.

"Shit," Justin muttered, and then he stepped away, grabbing his guitar as the knock came again. "Look, JC," he said, rapidly. "I just . . . just think about it, okay?" He was moving toward the door now, but his eyes were sharp and clear on J’s face. "Seriously, just think about it. And I’ll catch up with you later."

~ ~ ~

There absolutely would not be a later. JC watched the show from the comfort and anonymity of one of the luxury sky boxes and sobered up enough to deliberately miss all the vans taking friends and family members across town to the House of Blues. He pushed aside the memory of the look in Justin’s eyes and reminded himself of the rules of the road, and took a cab back home. When he got there he locked his door, turned his cell phone off, and left it off until Justin’s tour had left Los Angeles.

~ ~ ~

JC wanted a shower; he hated doing the quick towel-off he’d been forced to do after his show, and the post-show adrenaline still thumping through his body made him feel grimy under his clean clothes. But there were people he was obligated to see in the VIP section upstairs, and he had to be careful about press and goodwill now. He was out of the habit, he realized as he grimaced and pulled his clean shirt away from slightly sticky body. It had been quite awhile since he’d had to care about that sort of thing.

It’d been awhile for a lot of things -- performing live, being part of a group, doing PR. His tour was on a much smaller scale than anything he’d done recently, but it felt good to be performing again, good to be physically and mentally tired, good to be creative. It was good.

PR dispensed with, JC headed upstairs to the labyrinth of VIP rooms at the House of Blues. JC was expecting to see Lance, who’d left a message on his cell that he would be upstairs after the show for awhile if he wanted to say hi, but it was a very happy surprise to find Chris sitting at the bar with a huge beer in front of him, talking animatedly to several people and looking relaxed and cheerful.

Chris grinned when he saw JC approaching, but stopped him from hugging him with a hand in the air and a sniff of disgust. "Dude," he said incredulously. "Don’t you shower after shows anymore? What the hell?"

JC laughed too hard, choking a little on the water he’d been guzzling and Chris reluctantly left his barstool to beat him on the back as he coughed. "Well," he said with a smile as JC gasped. "It’s nice to see you too, JC. Always a pleasure to have your friends almost choke to death when they first lay eyes on you. Reactions like this are my life’s ambition, you know."

It was so good to see him. JC led him through the crowd to one of the smaller rooms at the back of VIP as Chris explained that Lance had to leave early because "he had a hot date," and had left Chris there to convey his congratulations "which, you know, I am doing just by being here and talking to your scrawny ass." Yes, it was good to see Chris.

VIP was mobbed but security at the door discouraged visitors and gawkers, and JC sank into one of the overstuffed chairs with a relief that made him groan. Chris grinned at him from his chair and put his feet up on the table between them, and they caught up on family and friend news with an ease that JC felt had been missing from his daily interactions.

"So, Chris said, cocking an eyebrow and taking a big bite of his nachos. "Did you even know Justin was here tonight? Or are we purposely not talking about him?"

JC stared at him, his smile fading. "No, he wasn’t here. Lynn was here, I talked to her before. You’re mistaken."

"Yeah, because they look so much alike." Chris rolled his eyes. "No, he was here, hiding in the back and skipping out before the encore so you wouldn’t see him." He shook his head and reached for more food, which gave J a chance to get his face under control. "I thought you knew, man. He told me yesterday he was going to come."


"Yeah, I saw Justin yesterday. We played golf."

All feelings of ease and relaxation had drained from JC like the air out of popped balloon and he sat up, tense. "Oh," he said uncomfortably, and reached forward for a handful of chips. "That’s good. I mean, I’m glad you’re hanging with him again."

"Hmm," Chris said, narrowing his dark eyes and he crunched and swallowed. "What interests me is that, apparently, you aren’t."

JC shifted in his chair. "What do you mean?" he said. "I’ve seen him."

Chris raised the other eyebrow and sat back in his chair. "Really? Because J says he hasn’t talked to you, really talked to you, for awhile. Like, months."

"Now that’s not true," JC said, defensive. I talked to him, like, I don’t know, six weeks ago. And I saw him right before that, at some thing."

"Yeah, that sounds about right," Chris said, and leaned forward. "I have to tell you, JC," he said quietly. "All those years touring, you and Justin made me pretty nervous, the way you were. You know what I mean?"

"No, I don’t," JC said, and realized his teeth were clenched and his fingers were digging into the soft upholstery.

"Sure you do," Chris jeered softly. "I was always worried in the back of my mind that something would go bad, that it would implode on us all in some huge, ugly, behind the music sort of way."

"What, like you thought we’d get caught?"

"Nooo, I never really worried about that," Chris said slowly, his eyes too dark and too knowing. "I was more worried about one of you taking the whole road thing too seriously, you know? Not seeing it for what it was." He cocked his head a little, watching JC too closely.

"Well, as you can see, there was no reason for you to worry about it," JC said stiffly. "We both knew what it was. We knew it wasn’t anything real." He paused and tried to calm his rage, his fury at Chris for making him think about this, resentment at Justin for saying the things he’d said to Lance all that time ago and hurting his feelings, and mostly his rage at himself for falling right into the trap that Chris had so neatly outlined.

"Yeah, I can see that," Chris said sardonically, and JC glared at him as he calmly took another handful of chips and stuffed them in his mouth. "I will say," he mumbled over a mouthful of nacho, "that both of you were a lot less nasty when you were, uh, doing your road thing."

Exasperation filled JC and he shifted impatiently, most of his good will toward Chris now gone. "What the fuck are you talking about now?"

"What I just said," Chris said blandly. "I spent yesterday with Justin, who was in the foulest of foul moods over absolutely nothing and jibbering about your show tonight. Should he go. Should he not go. And now I’m sitting here talking to you, and I’m saying that you were both a lot easier to be around when you were fucking each other." He shrugged. "Can’t put it much plainer than that. Now, is there somewhere around here where we can get some real food? Those nachos sucked ass, man."

~ ~ ~

He’d been in his studio since sometime late the previous night or perhaps early that morning, and if he hadn’t been so hungry and tired and distracted he probably wouldn’t have even picked up the land line ringing in his hallway.

He cursed himself when he heard Justin’s voice on the other end. He’d grown dependent on his cell phone’s caller ID function, which his regular house phone didn’t have. Yet.

JC had worked hard over the last few months to bury his feelings for Justin and to get back on a friendly track with him, to treat him as the old friend and former co-worker and still-business-partner that he was. Justin didn’t need to know that he’d broken JC’s heart, he told himself sternly as he fought the urge to pretend the call hadn’t connected, to hang the phone up. It wasn’t Justin’s fault.

Justin’s voice was airy, elaborately casual. "Hey man," he said by way of greeting. "What’s going on?"

"Hey," JC said, and hated himself for the warmth in his tone, hated himself for the way Justin’s voice still, after all this time, made his stomach turn over. "I’ve been in the studio, just realized I was starving. What’s up with you?"

"You’re starving?" Justin asked alertly. "Well, call me psychic, then, JC. Because I’m calling to invite you over for dinner."

There was a large mirror in the hallway and JC watched his own reflection go utterly still, his free hand clench into a fist.

"Dinner," he repeated slowly, and heard Justin laugh.

"Yeeeeeah, dinner," Justin said. "You know, that meal that in the south happens in the middle of the day, and here on the west coast happens around sundown. One of three that you’re supposed to have each day and which I’m almost certain that you, JC, have not even thought about today." He paused and in the background JC heard a sliding door and then birds and running water as Justin presumably paced his yard. "You haven’t really seen the house since I moved in, you know. I got stuff hooked up and put away and I just. You know, dinner."

In the mirror JC watched himself fidget and his forehead crease. The last conversation he’d had with Justin had been a few weeks ago, when Justin had said something garbled about a special room just for playing Xbox. "You mean you got your game room going?" he asked with some confusion. "With the chairs?"

"Well, sure," Justin said slowly. "You can come see it, if you like."

"Uh, okay," JC said, and cursed himself for his incoherency. "Sure. You want me to bring something? Beer?"

Justin laughed, a simple and happy sound that made JC smile. "No, dude. I’m inviting you over for dinner. Like, for real."

JC watched his reflection flush, his eyes go wide, and he yanked himself back to reality. "Oh for real," he teased, and this was easier, this was more like normal. "You mean we’re going to use real plates? And not sit on the floor in front of the television?"

Justin laughed again and JC relaxed. "Yeah, man. For real. Just, come over, okay?"

"Well," JC said, determinedly turning his back on his own reflection, refusing to look at his face. "Okay."

~ ~ ~

JC was glad he still had his sunglasses on when Justin opened his front door. It was easy to keep his expression relaxed but he would’ve have been unable to hide his wide eyes, or their rapid blinking. Justin was dressed casually in jeans and a t shirt, but the shirt was a soft, strokable cotton and ribbed so that it clung to his upper body with a snugness that was just criminal. The jeans were loose, and low. His feet were bare. Yes, the sunglasses were an excellent idea, and JC wondered if he could leave them on the entire time he was there.

Justin greeted him with a huge smile and a tight hug, more than the casual hug he’d braced himself for, less than the full-body tight hug he’d both wished for and dreaded. For a moment he wondered desperately when he’d stop feeling this way about Justin, when this would just end, and then he pushed it away. He would think about that later.

"You’re late," Justin accused cheerfully, and JC sighed as he reached over and plucked his sunglasses off his face.

"I know, I’m sorry," he started, and Justin just shook his head, grinning as he pulled JC into the foyer.

"No, I’m just giving you shit, man," he said. "I know how you are when you’re working."

JC said nothing to that because he hadn’t been working; he’d spent the last two hours since Justin’s telephone call showering, deciding what to wear, and hating himself for fretting about it. Justin was one of his oldest friends, he reminded himself firmly. Their road thing was far in the past now, they were just friends and he could handle this. He could.

Justin was leading him through the downstairs, waving at things and talking a mile a minute, and JC struggled to keep up. The house was beautiful and it was furnished simply and comfortably, but something seemed off.

He finally realized what it was. "Hey," he said, interrupting Justin’s monologue about the antique living room table. "Where is everyone?" JC couldn’t remember ever, ever being at one of Justin’s residences without people around. Members of his family, members of his security, assistants, friends. Suddenly it seemed too quiet and intimate.

Justin chuckled. "I know what you mean, man," he said ruefully, leading JC toward what seemed to be the kitchen. "I kind of got sick of the crowd, you know? And this place is private enough that I don’t feel like I need to have security on-site." He paused and glanced at JC, his eyes brilliant and clear. "I want my home to be quieter. Remember how I used to come to your house all the time? Back home?"

"Home? You mean in Florida?"

Justin nodded, tilting his head a little. A smile flirted on his full lips, inviting JC to remember intimacies that he most definitely did not want to remember, not right now. "Yeah."

JC nodded slowly and against his will met Justin’s smile with one of his own. "Of course I remember," he said quietly. Justin smiled at him, open and sweet, and then turned away. "Check out the kitchen," he threw over his shoulder. The moment was broken and JC sighed with what he thought was relief.

~ ~ ~

And it was fine. Justin seemed utterly relaxed and that made JC relax too, along with the two glasses of wine he had before dinner. The wine itself had been a bit of a surprise; JC had always thought of Justin as a strictly beer guy. They exchanged news about common friends and acquaintances, caught each other up on family gossip, and argued cheerfully about basketball. And JC was almost completely relaxed when Justin sat him firmly at his new dining room table and bustled into the kitchen to serve their dinner.

The table was large and bulky, made of a smoothly finished knotty pine that went perfectly with the adobe walls and wood trim of the dining room. The table was completely and perfectly set except for the dinner plates. JC expected pizza and he couldn’t help but gawk when Justin set a plate of what looked like perfectly cooked chicken cacciatore in front of him, complete with salad and a little piece of parsley on the side of the china plate. Justin set a similar plate in front of his own chair and whipped off the hot mitts, tossing them to the end of the table. But when he stood to light the candles in their tall, silver tapers in the center of the table it was just too much, and Justin froze in mid-light as JC collapsed back in his chair and burst into laughter.

"What’s so funny?" Justin challenged in mock offense. He started to grin as JC waved helplessly at his plate, the candles, the place settings and the whole room. "What?"

JC struggled to catch his breath. It felt so good to laugh, to be able to relax in Justin’s company, to have that grin trained on him. "Dude," he started, and sat up, still shaking a little. "Honestly, man. Since when have I rated all this?"

Justin’s grin faded into a warm smile, secret and sweet. He carefully finished lighting the candles and blew out the match before meeting JC’s eyes as he seated himself across from him. "Since you started running away from me," he said simply, and he did not look away.

JC felt the laughter drain slowly away, but here in Justin’s house, with Justin’s eyes steady and clear on his, he felt an odd calm instead of the usual tension and residual anger.

"Sooo, we’re going to talk about this," he said carefully, and Justin’s smile glimmered in the flickering candlelight.

"I think it’s time, JC. Don’t you?"

JC sighed and shifted forward, leaning against the table, his food for the moment forgotten. "Well, you know it’s not that I was running away, J. Not really." He paused searching for the right words. "I just really -- the last thing I wanted to do was trap you in something that had, you know, run its course."

Justin picked up his silverware and cut into his pasta. "Run its course," he mused quietly. "And what about what I wanted?" He took a bite of his food and looked at JC, his eyebrows raised politely. He looked for all the world like they were discussing any number of neutral and not completely interesting topics, and JC blinked at him in mounting confusion.

"What do you mean?" he countered. "It was the end of the road, J." It hurt to say it, but he forced himself. "You and I both knew that it was what it was, that it wasn’t something real."

Justin stared at him for a long, hard moment.  "Eat your dinner," he said crisply, stabbing his fork in the direction of JC’s plate. "I’ve been slaving over a hot stove all fucking day."

"Justin you have not, I saw the take out containers on the counter . . ."

"JC, just, whatever, okay? Eat your food!" And okay, it seemed Justin wasn’t as calm as he’d thought and why was that? JC felt his own tension level start to rise. He couldn’t believe he was here, he couldn’t believe he was having this conversation, he should’ve listened to his better judgment and found a way to cancel . . .

"You’re doing it again," Justin said, eyeing JC darkly.

"Doing what?!"

"Oh, you know, thinking and overthinking and making assumptions about things that concern me without discussing them with me." Justin took another vicious mouthful of his food, chewed and swallowed. "You always do that," he continued. "I hate it when you do that."

JC set his fork down and scowled at him. "Look apparently you have something to say. You invited me over to bust my balls about something, so why don’t you just get on with it?"

Justin scowled back for a moment and then sighed, setting his fork down and rubbing a hand over his face. "Look," he started quietly. "This is so not the way I wanted this to go. I’m sorry, I guess I have some, uh, resentment."

JC stared at him. "You have some resentment," he repeated stupidly, and Justin nodded.

"Yeah, man, I know that you just thought all those years we, uh, did stuff," and was Justin blushing? It was hard to tell in the candlelight. "I know you thought that that wasn’t real, that it didn’t mean anything. I mean, I knew how you felt." Justin shrugged and made a wry face. "I just, you know, wasn’t ready for it to be over, and it pissed me off the way you just disappeared." His smile was a little wan. "It took me awhile to figure it out, but I guess, for me, it wasn’t really about nothing. You know?"

JC sat back in his chair, his eyes wide and his mind spinning. "I thought that was the way you wanted it," he said slowly. "I overheard you talking to Lance one day, toward the end of the last tour. I heard you say that it wasn’t real, that it didn’t mean anything."

Justin blinked a couple of times and wet his lips, an insanely distracting thing in the flickering candlelight. "Well, that’s what I knew I was supposed to say," he said slowly. "I knew that’s what it was supposed to be." His eyes met JC’s bravely. "But really, it was never how I felt."

JC studied his plate. "You never said anything," he said quietly.

"Neither did you." Justin’s voice was just as quiet, and the silence stretched between them, thick and smothering. JC thought back over the years, the countless times Justin had been there for him without being asked, unquestioning. He thought of all the times he’d gone to Justin for the simple reason that he’d wanted to be close to him, to share his company, to make him feel better. He thought of the times since the last tour, when the pain of missing Justin had made him toss and turn all night, the times when the sadness had weighed him down and made getting up in the morning an impossible task.

"It was real to me," JC finally said, his voice soft. "I don’t know at what point it started to be that way, but when I heard you say that it wasn’t real and it didn’t mean anything, it . . . well, it hurt." He lifted his eyes to Justin’s and tried a smile. "It hurt a lot, way more than it would have if none of it meant anything. That’s why I pulled away, I guess."

Justin’s eyes were wide on his; he seemed to be almost holding his breath. "Not just because we weren’t on the road together anymore?" he asked.

JC shook his head, slowly. "I’d sort of been ignoring the rules of the fucking road for a long time by then," he admitted ruefully.

Justin took a deep, careful breath, his body vibrating with tension. "Okay. Okay, um. And what about now?"

JC watched him closely. "What about it?"

Justin huffed out a breath and laughed a little. "Fuck, JC. One of us has to go out on a limb here, you see what I’m saying?" He pushed his barely-touched plate aside and leaned on the table, his hand clasping his elbows tightly. "Okay, so. When the last tour ended we were both feeling like what we had going on was more than just a road thing. But we didn’t talk to each other about it, which was just fucking stupid, JC, you know?"

JC nodded. He could feel his mouth starting to curve, a smile bursting to be free. Justin watched his face closely, his eyes alight.

"So, JC. I want you to tell me how you feel about it now." He took a quick, light breath. "How you feel about me."

JC tilted his head, the smile spreading over his face. The tension was gone, replaced with a sweet joy blooming deep inside him, making his heart pound and his pulse throb. "I feel about you now like I felt then," he said quietly. "I think maybe it’s how I’ve always felt about you."

Justin nodded quickly, his face flushed and his eyes bright. "Okay, yeah. I feel that way too. I do."

It was now torture to remain in his chair, to keep himself from jumping to his feet and grabbing Justin, running his hands over him and kissing him and making it real. "Are we going to say the sappy girl words?" he asked him, and grinned as Justin threw his head back and laughed.

"Maybe later," Justin said, and now he was getting to his feet and JC found himself standing, turning from his chair as Justin walked around the table and stood before him, reaching out and gathering him into his arms.

JC buried his face into Justin’s neck and breathed deep, squeezing as hard as he could, overwhelmed with the comfort and joy of Justin’s presence, the luxury of having him close. "So where do we go from here?" he asked, and felt only a pleased anticipation as he waited for Justin’s answer.

Justin was already tugging him away from the dining room and toward the stairs leading to his bedroom. "Uh, wherever the road takes us, I guess," he said, and JC laughed as Justin blew out the candles and took his hand.

~ End