JC bought a lot of strange shit on the late night Wal-Mart runs – Justin suspected that was because he was freshly woken up for a lot of them – but his really took the cake.
"You don't buy household equipment in the middle of the tour, C. You just don't."
"But it's pretty," JC breathed, looking pleading. "And shiny and retro –"
"Fla-aming," Chris sing-songed behind them, pushing his cart past. Justin flipped him off, but JC didn't even notice.
" – and look, J." JC pointed at a large streak of wax rising up in one lamp, floating and wafting inside the glass.
Justin sighed. It was as good as bought anyway, since there was no way he'd be able to deny JC anything when he was like this. Besides, the faster JC was allowed to chose one, the sooner they could move on. Somehow this display of dozens of lava lamps stacked neatly beside each other like tiny space rockets ready to take off and conquer the world – which was stupid, of course – made Justin nervous.
"Put it in the cart already. But just one."
JC lit up like one of the lamps beside him and for a second it looked like he wanted to hug Justin. "Thank you." After a minute of inner debates and much lip-biting, JC finally chose one with pink liquid – didn't it just figure – and purple wax. He didn't put it in the cart but palmed it all the way to the checkout where Chris laughed at Justin for being so compliant – again.
Justin didn't see JC much the next few days. Well, he saw him on the bus and for the concerts, but other than that, JC seemed to spend a lot of time alone in his hotel room. They all got to this point at least once during a tour, when they just couldn't stand being around each other 24/7 any more. Justin didn't see anything unusual in it. Until he found JC standing outside his own hotel room door, knocking cautiously.
"Boo," Justin said behind him.
JC jumped about a mile high. "Oh, hi. Justin." He sounded even more nervous than he looked.
"You might wanna try 'Open Sesame'," Justin suggested. "Or, you know, your keycard."
"Yeah, I know. It's just –" JC ran a hand through his disheveled hair.
"You locked yourself out again? Want me to call the front de—"
"No!" JC suddenly seemed downright panicked. "That's really not necessary." He lowered his voice. "He's in there, just – We had a fight."
Justin frowned. "Who, Chris? 'Cause I told him to leave you alone. Your hair's your own business, yo. Like he's one to talk anyway."
"No, not Chris, it's –"
There was a crash from inside the door, and JC, wide-eyed, finally got out his keycard and unlocked the door. He slipped inside and pressed it close again before Justin could have a look.
JC changed after that. He seemed to spend even more time in his room than before, and he was a lot more easily frightened. Chris amused himself for a few days with sneaking up on him and poking him in the ribs, scaring JC half to death, until Justin told him to cut it out.
The weirdest thing was, however, than nobody saw the lava lamp anymore. In the beginning, JC had shown it off proudly, switching it on whenever he'd had the chance. Lance had dubbed the lamp Apollo, which he found a suitable name for a lamp that looked like a rocket. Justin wasn't even sure if JC had it anymore – sometimes his early fascination with shiny things didn't last very long.
Then JC missed a soundcheck and Justin personally went to chew him out. Because there might be some strange stuff going on in JC's life right now, but there was no reason to be unprofessional.
JC opened the door carefully, his eyes tired and red. Justin, who'd already been about to say, "What the fuck were you thinking?" instantly softened and asked instead, "What's up?"
JC didn't say anything, just opened the door a little wider and ushered Justin inside. The room was a mess. There were clothes strewn everywhere, the covers were all tangled up on the bed. Apollo was sitting on the bedside table, bubbling.
"JC, what the –"
JC pressed a finger over his lips, then whispered, "Can you do me a favor, J? Please?" He looked so miserable that Justin would've done anything. He nodded. "Can you take this," JC pointed at Apollo glowing pink and purple, "and keep it?" The lamp went out with a quiet pop. Probably burned out or something.
"Sure," Justin said slowly. He didn't really see what this had to do with JC's present state or why JC didn't just pick it up and hand it over but watched from a safe distance as Justin unplugged it and rolled up the cord, but whatever. If JC had suddenly come to his senses considering what was retro and what was just crap, Justin certainly wasn't going to complain.
"Thank you," JC breathed, visibly relieved, and oh God, were those tears in the corners of JC's eyes? Justin grabbed the lamp and hurried out before he did something embarrassing like wrap his arms around JC and cry along – even if he didn't know why.
It was like... well, a switch being flipped after that. JC got back to his old cheerful – if slightly spacey – self in no time, and he never once mentioned the lava lamp, that was safely tucked away on the bottom of Justin's bag now.
Instead now Justin started sleeping badly, and when he did, he dreamed in pink and purple colors. He got uneasy whenever he was in his hotel room – whenever he was around that bag, actually. He kept thinking about Apollo, lying in its nest of socks and t-shirts, all alone. It was stupid; lamps didn't feel lonely, or sad, or anything. Still he woke up sometimes during the night with his own name still ringing in his ears, sounding faint and desperate and ... glassy.
Justin needed to get rid of this lamp as soon as possible.
He tried smuggling it into Chris' bag, but Chris must've noticed, because the next day it showed up between Justin's underwear again. He tried leaving it in his hotel room, but Lance apparently checked the rooms and put it back into Justin's bag. He gave it to a fan who'd managed to sneak up to their floor, but she started crying, the lamp slipping, and Justin rescued it before it could crash to the floor.
After a week of unsuccessful trying Justin set Apollo up on the desk in his room, plugged it in and watched it.
"What am I gonna do with you?" he muttered
He didn't expect Apollo to answer, of course, but the lamp blew a little streak of wax anyway.
After a while, it got hypnotizing, Justin realized, watching the bubbles rise and fall. He felt his fingers being drawn to the glass, wanting to touch it, stroke it...
Justin jerked his hand back. What the fuck was he doing, fondling the glass, for fuck's sake. The lamp released a flurry of little bubbles all at once.
"I can't," Justin gasped. "I'm sor—" Way to say goodbye to his sanity, talking with a lava lamp. Wait, had the cord just crept closer to his wrist? Justin stumbled away from the table, tripping over his chair that sent him sprawling on the floor. Over the edge of the desk he could see a large bubble forming at the bottom of the lamp, rising slowly.
It hit him just then that he had never replaced the bulb. He watched in horror as the bubble grew larger and larger and the lamp seemed to come closer and closer to the edge of the table.
The bubble popped.
"Justin, are you okay?"
Justin blinked up into Joey's worried face. Was he okay? What kind of stupid question was this? He felt fantastic. As long as he had Apollo in his arms – dark now, but still so warm – everything was just fine. Justin petted him a bit.
"We heard you screaming," JC said. JC, oh JC. How could he have given away something so precious? Justin scowled at him.
"I'm good, guys," he said. "Really. Bad dream, 's all."
"Splendid," Chris said cheerfully. "'Cause Lord knows I have better things to do than watching Timberlake lying on the floor." He left, dragging Joey and Lance with him.
When they were alone, JC helped Justin up. "God, Justin," he choked. "I'm so sorry."
Justin frowned. Sorry? For what? JC might never know what a gift he'd given Justin, what an addition to his life.
"C, hey. No, it's all right. Thank you." Justin leaned in carefully and kissed him quickly. Apollo heated up a little in his hands, and Justin tickled his cord soothingly. There was no need to be jealous – Justin had all he'd ever wanted now.