torch, flambeau@strangeplaces.net
November 26 - December 21, 2002

Disclaimer: It wasn't my idea! Written as part of the Don we now our gay apparel secret santa project, for Gale. Title from the Pulp Fan Fiction Project. Thanks to Merry for hand-holding from start to finish, to Kim for special last-minute hand-holding, to ari for German stuff and to Sylvia for even more German stuff on short notice, and the antler hats. And to Georgina and Pet for dwnoga and Gale for the pairing and premise, of course. Do not archive this story without permission.

Jailbait Street

JC didn't like Jägermeister. He thought it tasted like dead fermented Christmas trees. He smiled brightly at all the people in little antlered hats who tried to to hand him another shot glass and pretended that his German was really bad and he didn't understand. Their part of today's show had gone pretty well, and had apparently taped well, and it was nice of the German crew from the radio station he couldn't pronounce to invite them along to the after-party, but a Jägermeister sponsorship was like a punishment from God for even thinking about alcohol.

He sank deeper into his chair and wondered if anyone would notice if he took a nap. Just a short one.

"JC!" Chris popped up out of nowhere and grabbed JC's shoulder. Hard. "We've got a situation here," he hissed, like a character in a movie. "Two situations, actually, so wake up, okay?"

"I'm awake," JC said and tried to pry Chris's fingers off. "What's wrong?"

"The babies are drunk." Chris started to lift JC out of the chair, and JC decided it would be less painful to stand up on his own. "Drunk and in need of rescuing, and you're sleeping on the job, man."

JC looked at Chris and saw that he was half annoyed and half worried, and then he looked across the room to where Justin was deep in conversation with the two youngest and scruffiest sound techs, and to judge by everyone's body language, disagreeing quite emphatically with everything they said. "Oh, shit."

"I'll deal with them," Chris said. "You deal with that," and he jerked his chin towards the far corner, where Lance sat with one of the staid, middle-aged sponsors for the Pop am Berg festival in a much more one-sided conversation.

It seemed way more harmless than Justin's apparent desire to get himself into a fight, but then JC noticed that staid, middle-aged sponsor guy had his hand on Lance's knee and was leaning forward intently. JC narrowed his eyes. "Yeah," he said. "I'm on it. Where's Joey?"

"Joey is talking to Lotte and telling her how great everything went and how we love the venue and love the station and really look forward to our second appearance, and hopefully keeping her from noticing whatever we have to do to get the kids home in one piece."

JC squinted, and saw that yeah, Joey was at the makeshift bar, schmoozing the producer. He was probably pretty sober, too. At least, JC hoped he was. He looked at Chris. "See you at the hotel, then."

Chris nodded and went off on his Justin-mission. JC squared his shoulders, shook his head apologetically at yet another person in a Jägermeister t-shirt and a hat with antlers who was determined to give him a shot glass full of, surprise, Jägermeister, and walked over to the corner. The sponsor was talking a mile a minute, in German, and Lance was nodding vaguely. When JC came up to them, he looked up and grinned. "Hi!"

"Hey, Lance," he said, sitting on the arm of Lance's chair and putting a hand on his shoulder. "Sorry to interrupt, and all, but it's time for us to. You know. We have that other thing."

"We do?" Lance was flushed and a little sleepy-looking, and he stared blankly at JC.

"Yeah, we do." JC looked at sponsor guy, who was from the retail chain with the ugly mascot. About the only good thing that could be said about him was that he wasn't handing out Jägermeister. "Entschuldigung," he said. "Wir müssen jetzt gehen." He looked pointedly at the hand on Lance's knee. "Und dieser Junge spricht kein Deutsch. Er versteht nicht, um." JC gave up on both German and subtlety, and removed the hand.

"Wir haben uns nur unterhalten," sponsor guy said.

JC didn't answer, just stared at him flatly until he shifted in his chair and got up.

"Auf Wiedersehen," Lance said chirpily, which ruined the whole no-German thing, and then he hiccuped. "What other thing, JC?"

"The going back to the hotel thing," JC said. "C'mon, get up. You okay to walk?" Lance nodded. "How many glasses of that stuff did you have?"

"What stuff?" Lance started to get up, wobbled, and sat back down again. "I just had, you know, Coke. That guy got it for me cause I said I didn't want to drink or anything."

JC picked up Lance's glass, sniffed it suspiciously, and took a small sip. Vodka. He looked around the room and saw sponsor guy over by the bar, and stared at him, willing him to turn his head. When he did, JC kept staring. He knew he wasn't scary or intimidating or anything, but when he held the glass up so sponsor guy could see it, sponsor guy got a funny look on his face and headed for the door.

"Where's your jacket?" JC asked Lance. "Did you leave it over there?" Lance nodded. JC patted his shoulder. "Okay, sit here and don't talk to anyone. I'll be right back."

He went over and got Lance's jacket, and his own winter coat. He couldn't see either Chris or Justin anywhere, but Joey was still at the bar with Lotte, so JC waved at him, and then went to collect Lance and stuff Lance into the jacket. For a while, it seemed as though the number of sleeves on the jacket and the number of arms on Lance didn't totally add up, but then it all came together, and JC got Lance upright and out the door without having to stop and say goodbye to more than about fifteen people and fend off three more offers of Jägermeister.

It was cold outside, and their breath clouded the air. Lance shivered. "I wanna go back in."

"Hotel," JC said. "C'mon. We'll walk, it's not that far."

"It's freezing," Lance said.

"Yeah, so maybe you'll sober up a bit." JC turned his collar up. He put an arm around Lance's shoulders and steered him in the right direction. "Cause otherwise Diane's gonna have my head, and then she's gonna have your head, and it's not gonna be fun at all."

Lance walked on, swaying a little. After a while, he said, "That wasn't just Coke?"

"No," JC said.

"Oh." After another block, Lance went on, "But my mom's not here."

"But she'll be back tomorrow."

"But I'm not gonna tell her that, you know. I got drunk by accident."

"If you have a hangover, she's gonna know," JC said. "Moms are like that. They have like ESP about alcohol."

They got back to the hotel, and JC maneuvered Lance up one flight of stairs and into his room and sat him down on the bed and went and got him a large glass of water.

"I'm really not that thirsty," Lance said.

"You will be." JC sat down next to Lance on the bed. "Also, there's. We should talk, because." He tugged at his sleeves. "It's not like you got drunk by whatsit, osmosis. There was vodka in that Coke — did he get you more than one?"

Lance nodded. "Yeah, like two... three, maybe. Or four." He started to count on his fingers, then turned his hand from palm down to palm up and started over.

"Probably more and more vodka in them," JC said. "Was he. Did he touch you like that the whole time?" Lance stared blankly at him. JC put his head in his hands and took a deep breath. "Lance, that guy was trying to get you drunk so he could feel you up and maybe have sex with you. Next time we're at a party, just stick with one of us, okay?"

It occurred to him that maybe he should tell Lance to stick with Justin, even, because that might work out well. Lance would never be cocky enough to get in a fight, and Justin could spot a chickenhawk a mile away. Which was kinda depressing, but it was reassuring, too.

Lance poured the entire glass of water down his throat in one big gulp and blinked. "For real?"

"For real. So don't drink unless you know what's in the glass, stick with us at parties, and don't let creepy people touch you like that, and," JC sighed, "look both ways before you cross the street. And remind me to, like, say this again tomorrow when you're sober." He looked over at Diane's empty bed. "Will you be okay on your own? You feel sick, or anything? I could stay."

Lance shook his head. "'m okay. Sleepy." He looked troubled, but also very tired. "Talk to you tomorrow."

JC nodded. He helped Lance off with his shoes, put the waste basket next to the bed just in case, and went back to his own room. Chris wasn't there, so he was probably either saying sarcastic things to Justin, or coping as best he could with Justin throwing up all over the bathroom. JC felt very grateful that Lance hadn't reached that stage.

He went to bed, read half a page of his German murder mystery, realized he still only understood about every third word, and fell asleep.

Then there was a bright light, and he was yanked into a half-sitting position, and Chris said, "Wake up," in a hard voice.

JC tried to get his eyes to open. "Mmrh?"

"Wake up, you fucker."

That made him sit up for real, because Chris had never talked to him in that voice before. JC looked at Chris and saw that yeah, Chris was angry, really really angry, dark-eyed and scowl-faced. "What's wrong?" JC said. "Wh'appened?"

Chris pressed something cold into his hand. It was a can of Coke, and JC stared at it, confused.

"Drink," Chris said. "I know what you're like when you just woke up. You're gonna be awake for this, and I couldn't get any coffee anywhere. Drink up."

So JC sat cross-legged on the bed and opened the can, fumbling a little because it was slick with condensation, and said, "Okay, okay. But tell me what's wrong."

He started to drink. Chris said, "What's wrong is that Justin just got done telling me how you gave him a blowjob backstage at the Mickey freaking Mouse Club."

JC tried to breathe in and breathe out at the same time, and the Coke went up his nose. It was really painful. He choked and coughed and his eyes watered and he dropped the can and spilled Coke all over his legs. "He said—" He coughed again. "Justin said what?"

"In detail," Chris said, standing over JC like an avenging angel with braces. "Like, how you two had done this skit and you were making fun of it and pretending it was about a bad Disney movie or something? And then, you." Chris made a face.

JC wiped at his Coke-sticky legs with the edge of the covers. "The part about making fun of the skit, that happened. But, um. That was it. There was no." JC thought back and dropped the covers. He remembered hugging Justin's shoulders and ruffling his hair. "That was, Chris, he was twelve then! You really thought I would have, that I'm, that I was—"

Chris sat down on the bed next to JC, avoiding the Coke. "Fuck, I didn't know what to think. I mean, no, I didn't think you would do that. But I didn't think Justin would lie to me, either."

"No," JC said dismally. "You think I have whatsit, dissociative personality disorder or something?"

"No." Chris gave JC the you're-being-an-idiot look. JC felt reassured.

"You think maybe Justin has some weird pathological lying thing that we haven't noticed until now?"

Chris shook his head. "Justin's weird in a lot of ways, but he doesn't just make stuff up for the hell of it. I think you oughtta talk to him tomorrow. He's out like a light now." Chris wiped a little at JC with the covers, too. "It's not that I really thought you were that kind of guy. It's just that he was so damn — I mean, there was a lot of detail."

"Oh." JC picked up the soda can and put it on the nightstand, then turned back to Chris. "Actually, I, um. I might be that kind of guy. Or, no, I don't mean, not that kind of guy. No. But, um."

Chris grinned. "No, no, I get it. You're that kind of guy, but you're not that kind of guy. Tell me something, have you considered getting an actual vocabulary at some point? Cause words, you know? Pretty useful at times."

JC shoved at Chris's shoulder. Chris shoved back. "Anyway," JC said, "if I'm gonna talk to Justin tomorrow, will you take over and talk to Lance? I tried to explain to him tonight about, you know, that guy, but I think maybe he's gonna have a couple questions."

"And I'm sure you'll do a great job, answering them," Chris said. "And you should do something about your bed, there's Coke all over the sheets."

JC grumbled and got out of bed and stripped off everything that was damp and sticky and went to the bathroom and washed himself off. It was like all the bad parts of having a wet dream and none of the good ones. He came back and dug a blanket out of the closet, wrapped himself in the the blanket and the bedspread on a bare mattress, and looked at Chris, who was comfortably in bed with sheets and feather comforters and pillows and stuff. "What's the schedule tomorrow?"

"No rehearsal till twelve. So you've got plenty of time to talk to the babies."

JC sighed and went to sleep.

When he woke up the next morning, Chris had already left the room. There was a large note taped to the door, saying TALK TO THE BABIES in big bright red letters. Stupid Chris.

JC spent more time in the bathroom than he really needed to, grumbling to himself, and then he tore down the note from the door, crumpling it in his hand as he stepped out into the hallway and walked right into Joey. "Morning."

Joey grinned. He looked almost indecently cheerful. "What, not a good morning? Don't tell me you have a hangover, too."

"No, I just." JC made a face. "I have to have a talk with Lance, cause of last night. And then Justin, too." He looked at Joey and decided to try Chris's delegating-responsibility trick. "You can talk to Lance."

Joey held his hands up. "No, no. I don't even know what it's about."

"There was a guy last night, one of the sponsors for the show," JC said, more than happy to share his woes. "He spiked Lance's Coke with vodka and he was feeling him up and stuff."

Joey's brows drew together. "Fucker. Is he okay? Lance, I mean."

"Well, he probably has a hangover," JC said. "You got any aspirin left or anything?"

"Yeah, sure, I'll go get 'em. Meet you there?"

JC nodded. He went over and knocked on Lance's door, waited, knocked again, waited some more, knocked harder. After a while, he heard shuffling sounds on the other side of the door, and it opened a crack, and Lance looked out. "Go 'way. I'm dying."

"Joey's bringing aspirin," JC said, pushing the door open and walking in.

Lance sat down on the bed. His face was, disturbingly, almost the same color as his hair. He looked like he'd already been dead a while and wasn't enjoying the zombie lifestyle much. "You're not Joey, and I don't see any aspirin."

"I'm here to talk to you about, um. Last night." JC sat down next to Lance. "Cause I said last night I would, and. Before your mom gets back and everything?"

Lance winced. "Yeah. Thanks for reminding me."

"You'll feel better when you drink some water," JC said, hoping it was true.

"Don't see how I could feel any worse," Lance said. "And it's weird, I really want french fries, except the idea kind of makes me want to throw up."

JC checked that the wastebasket was still where he left it the night before. "Maybe just start with the water," he suggested.

Joey came sweeping into the room, glass of water in one hand and pills in the other, kicking the door shut behind him. Lance winced again. Joey grinned. "Hey, how you doing, there?"

"Just great," Lance said. "My head's killing me, my mom comes back in an hour, we have rehearsal at noon, and JC's about to give me some kind of lecture."

"Don't forget you look like crap, too," Joey said. "You should put on makeup or something, Diane's gonna think you're dying."

"Great," Lance said. "So I can put on makeup and then she'll be too busy thinking I'm gonna start a career as a drag artist?"

Joey looked at JC. "Okay, now would be a good time for the lecture."

"Not a lecture," JC said. "Exactly. Lance, you remember last night, what I said?"

"No." Lance grabbed the water and the aspirin away from Joey. "Wait, you kept asking me where my jacket was." He gulped down the aspirin. "Joey, you got any more of those? And since I'm sure y'all really wanna tell me, why did I get drunk anyway and what really stupid things did I do?"

Joey shook his head. "No more. I had some, but Justin woke up and he looked like he needed them."

"Good," Lance said and rubbed at his forehead. "In a just world, someone besides me should go through this. Like, say, Justin."

"There was a guy at the party, one of the sponsors for the show," JC said. "Kind of middle-aged, thinnish brown hair. Remember?"

"Vaguely." Lance stared into the empty water glass. "Horst something? Kept buying me Cokes."

"Yeah, only, there was vodka in the Coke." JC thought if he had to say that one more time, he was going to need an aspirin, too. "How come you didn't notice, anyway?"

Lance scowled. "I was tired. Don't know about you, but I'd just spent the whole day singing and dancing and smiling, and I just wanted to go to sleep. And if this Horst guy was trying to make a friendly gesture, I'd just like to say that he'd've made a better impression if he'd told me to go to bed."

"He was. Sort of. He was trying to get you into bed."

"You're kidding," Lance said.

"I'm not kidding. He had his hand on your thigh, Lance, I don't think he was just, um, checking the fabric in your pants."

Joey snickered. "But that was the guy from the men's clothing chain, wasn't it?"

JC rolled his eyes and turned back to Lance. "This is the lecture, okay, it's a lecture, where I tell you not to take drinks from strange guys who look at you like that. Cause, you know, what if we're not there, and what if it's not just vodka, and."

Joey nodded. "You gotta be careful with shit like that. Cause you have, like, that look, you know."

Lance drew his brows together. "What look?"

Joey looked at JC, and JC shook his head. "I'm not touching that one. You said it."

"Me and my big mouth," Joey muttered. He turned back to Lance. "Well, you're kinda... innocent-looking. Cute."

"But not right now," JC added brightly. "Right now, you look really scary. Keep it up."

While Lance was telling Joey what he thought about Joey's looks, behavior, dress sense, and probable genetic heritage, JC got up off the bed, feeling as though he were on his way to the dentist. He patted Joey's shoulder on the way to the door, and Joey gave him a sorrowful look. Tough beans, JC thought. Lima beans, maybe.

JC went back to his room and got Chris's huge plastic mug and filled it with water. He dug through his pockets for change, and then dug through the pockets of Chris's clothes for change, and went to the vending machine by the elevators and got a can of Coke, because it had worked on him. Then he went over to Joey's and Justin's room. He knocked on the door, tried it, and found it wasn't locked.

Justin was sitting up in bed, rubbing at his forehead. There was an empty glass on the bedside table. He waved limply at JC with his free hand. "Hey. Ow. I'm never gonna do that again."

JC handed over the water and, when Justin had downed it in about three seconds, the can of Coke.

"Good," he said. "And speaking of never doing things. Why did you tell Chris that I, um, did things to you back when we were mice?"

Justin downed half the can of Coke, too. No choking, no spilling. "Right, that. See, we were talking about sex. Or I was, anyway." He frowned. "Like, you know, what's sexy and stuff. So I told him about that."

"But Justin!" JC fought the urge to clutch at his hair. "That never happened!"

Justin looked vaguely offended. "Well, but it could have."

"No, it couldn't have! You were eleven!"

"No, I know, I was telling him about my fantasies and stuff. So not me then, me now, only then, see?"

"No. You were telling Chris about," JC grabbed the can of Coke and finished it, because he felt he needed it, "your fantasies?"

"Yeah, because." Justin blinked. "It seemed like a good idea at the time."

"Great. Chris thought it actually happened, you know. I'm lucky he didn't smother me in my sleep." JC sighed and sat down on Justin's feet. Justin squeaked and moved them. "Maybe you should hold up a sign next time, like, caution, overactive imagination at work, or something. Or, you know, not tell him." JC paused. "You have sexual fantasies about me?"

Justin nodded. "Lots of them," he said, grabbed the Coke back and shook it to see if there was any more left. "That one's my favorite, though."

JC stared at Justin, who looked just like any other early-morning Justin, with curls spiked every which way from yesterday's hair gel and slightly bleary eyes, but who was clearly a pod-person replacement from the planet of sexually precocious teenagers.

"You. Um." He cleared his throat. "What?"

"I wanna have sex with you," Justin said. "I was gonna tell you."

JC really wished he'd asked Joey for some aspirin for himself, too. "Well. Now you've told me. And Chris."

"Well, I don't wanna have sex with Chris," Justin said, brushing this aside. "But you, I mean, yeah, you know, absolutely. So. You wanna?"

"Justin, I can't have sex with you," JC said. "And besides, you. Do you even. Have you ever, um."

Justin shook his head. "Nope."

"Oh."

Justin smiled. "We could start now," he said, leaning forward towards JC. "Bed, locked room, me, you, nothing till twelve, right?"

JC shook his head and leaned back. "No. I mean, no."

"No, we don't have anything till twelve?"

"No, we're not gonna have sex," JC said desperately. He decided he was not going to fall off the bed just because Justin was looking at him like that. He sat up straight and put a hand on Justin's chest and pushed him back.

Justin frowned. "We're not?"

"We're not."

Justin looked down at his hands. Then he looked up through his lashes. "I see. So you want my first time to be with some stranger, some guy I go out and pick up after a show?" Justin licked his lips. "You want it to be someone I've never even met before who gets to touch me like that and kiss me and suck me and—"

JC put his hands over his ears. Then he changed his mind, and put a hand over Justin's mouth instead.

"No, no, I don't — I think you're too young to do any of that with anyone, Justin."

Justin pulled JC's hand away and held it between his own. "Too young, how? If you mean physically, you know, I've got all the parts and they seem to work okay. Legally, hey, I'm legal in Germany. Way past legal. So I guess you mean that you think I'm, what, immature?"

JC wanted to say yes, he really did. The problem was that Justin had always been older than his years; he was the only person JC knew who had hit middle age before he was old enough to drive. JC was very happy that Justin and Chris had found each other, as they both seemed determined to have a second childhood together and make it as much fun as possible, but it didn't change the fact that Justin worked and worried as much as, more than, any adult JC knew.

That left him unfortunately short of convincing arguments.

"Well, you're not legal in Florida, and that's where you live, and your mom—"

"Hello, neither are you. Or anyone. With guys, I mean. And we're in Germany now, it's not like we can keep following Florida laws, like you're gonna go out and make a right turn on red and say it's okay where you come from?"

"That's different," JC said, because it was, and at least he was on firm ground there.

Justin slumped down. "Yeah, no, never mind. The thing is. I want to have sex with you. That's, like, the baseline here. I want to have sex, and I want to have it with you. And you just spent a whole lotta time saying no, so okay, I guess not."

JC nodded. "I'm glad you accept—"

"Except I don't think you really mean it," Justin said. "So I'm gonna keep asking."

JC groaned. He looked at Justin. "You haven't thought that maybe, well, maybe I just don't want you?"

"No," Justin said, and grinned.

JC checked his watch. "You'd better hurry up if you want any breakfast," he said.

Justin made a face. "They don't have any good cereal."

"Lance was saying he wants french fries. We should get you some, too, maybe."

"Uh, no. But, okay. Getting up." Justin pushed the covers off and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He was only wearing a pair of washed-out boxerbriefs, with a stray thread trailing from the inside seam on—

"I'll see you downstairs, then," JC said, standing up. Running around, talking to people, and he still hadn't had any breakfast himself. He was really kind of hungry.

"Okay, yeah." Justin stood up, too. He put a hand on JC's arm. "Or you could scrub my back in the shower?"

JC really, really wanted an aspirin.

"Justin." He stared at Justin's ear, because Justin usually didn't wear any clothes on his ear, so that was familiar. "Like, I said no? And, but, even apart from that, do you even know about this thing called being subtle?"

"Sure I do." Justin inched a little closer. "That's what I was being up until twenty minutes ago, and apparently you never noticed anything, so I think I'm gonna stick with straightforward from now on." He put a hand on JC's chest.

JC picked the hand off. "Have fun in the shower," he said and went towards the door. Behind him, Justin snickered. "I didn't mean it like that!"

"Think about it," Justin called after him, and JC closed the door.

He went along the hallway, down the stairs, through the lobby, and into the dining room, all the time not thinking at all about Justin and what Justin might be doing in the shower. Nothing to it. In the dining room, JC saw Lance and Joey at a table and went over to join them. "Hey. Lance, feeling better?"

"He seemed to get more peppy after he threw up," Joey said.

Lance, nibbling on a little bread, gave Joey a look that could have felled an elephant at fifty yards. Joey just beamed. JC grabbed a roll and started to hunt through the little packets of jam to see if there was any strawberry left. Apricot, apricot, raspberry, blackcurrant, Nutella, ick.

"I'll just tell my mom I was up too late," Lance said.

"Have some coffee," Joey said. "Unless it'll make you throw up again."

"No," Lance said from between clenched teeth.

JC found strawberry jam and spread it happily on his roll. While he ate, he kept an eye on the doorway. After a while, Joey smacked him on the back of the head. "Are you on the run from the police and you didn't tell us about it?"

"What?" JC blinked, and choked on a few crumbs.

"You're on the edge of your seat and you're watching the door. I'm worried you're gonna jump out the window if I cough too loud."

"What, no," JC said. "I'm just thinking about. Stuff."

He bit into his roll again. Justin came into the dining room.

JC looked at the window. It was closed. People in movies always jumped through windows and the glass shattered prettily and didn't hurt anyone, but he had a feeling he'd probably end up slicing his nose off or something, and that would be bad.

Justin came over and sat down, smiling brightly at all of them. "Morning," he said. "Hey, Lance, how're you feeling?"

"Just peachy," Lance muttered, taking a careful sip of coffee.

"Yeah, me too," Justin said, making a sympathy gesture of implied head pain. Then he turned to JC. "But hey, I took your advice about the shower, and it made me feel a lot better."

"There aren't any croissants," JC said stiffly. "I'll go and. Um. Get some."

"No, I'll do it, cause I ate 'em all," Joey said. "I need to catch up with Chris before we start rehearsing, and try to keep Diane away from that piece of human wreckage over there as long as possible. I'll tell the kitchen you want croissants and, Justin, you like that chocolate stuff, don't you?"

Justin nodded. It seemed very clear to JC that anyone who was prepared to eat Nutella on a split roll — or pieces of croissant dipped in Nutella, as was sometimes the case — could not be suffering any particular hangover pains. Lance was starting to get a little color back, too. He wasn't so much night of the living dead any more, more like morning of the recently resurrected.

JC ate his roll in silence.

A waiter brought croissants and a few fresh rolls, and Justin started to spread a thick layer of chocolatey goo on a piece of croissant. Lance turned faintly green. "I think I'm gonna go back up to my room," he said.

JC stood up. "I'll walk you there. You don't look so good."

Justin looked up and pouted at JC, a smear of Nutella on his lower lip, then looked more soberly at Lance. "Yeah, try and see if you can get some more sleep, maybe?"

"If my mom will let me," Lance said.

"You can crash in our room," JC suggested. "C'mon." He put an arm around Lance's shoulders and walked him out of the dining room and over to the elevators. The nearest elevator dinged, the doors opened, and they were face to face with Chris.

"You don't wanna go up there," he said, looking critically at Lance. "Diane's back and she's looking for you, and you're not at your best right now."

"He really needs to lie down for a while," JC said. "Can we get him into our room?"

"Okay," Chris said and ushered them into the elevator. "Let's try it. Where's Justin?"

"Breakfast."

"Did you talk to him?"

"Yes."

"Is there a problem?"

"No. I, what. What makes you think that?"

"Cause I can hear you grinding your teeth," Chris said with a grin. The elevator came to a halt. "Okay, Joey's with Diane in your room, let's just rush across the hallway and hope for the best."

They made it into Chris and JC's room without being seen, and JC deposited Lance on Chris's bed, which had actual bedding and didn't smell of spilled Coke. Chris handed him the wastebasket, and once again he put it by Lance's head. "You want me to stay here with you?" he asked.

"No," Lance said. "Really, I just need to sleep some more, is all. I'll be fine."

"You sure? Cause it's no trouble, really."

"I'm sure," Lance said.

"He's sure," Chris said. "Come on. I wanna talk to you, anyway."

JC sighed and followed Chris out of the room. At least the hallway was empty. "If it's about Justin, I talked to him and it's fine and I don't wanna talk about it."

Chris looked suspicious. "If it's fine, how come you don't wanna talk about it?"

"I just spent my whole morning talking about it, and talking to Lance about stuff, and. I don't wanna talk to anyone about anything, okay? For about two weeks, I think."

Chris grinned. "Well, okay. I just wanna know that, like, you two aren't being weird or anything."

The elevators dinged again, and Justin came out. He went over to them and put an arm around JC's shoulders and started licking Nutella from the fingers of his free hand. "Hey."

"No, everything's fine," JC said, wondering if yanking Justin's hand away from his mouth would count as being weird.

"That's good." Chris poked Justin in the stomach. "Don't make me strangle JC in the middle of the night again, okay?"

"I'm sorry," Justin said and stopped licking. JC breathed a sigh of relief. "I was kinda, well, a little drunk, I guess, and I didn't realize there would be a big misunderstanding."

"Well, you gotta understand," Chris said. "You're like my kid brother. I'm not gonna let anything bad happen to you." He scratched his head. "Have happened to you. Whatever."

Justin grinned. "Don't worry," he said. "Ain't nothing gonna happen to me that I don't want to happen." His arm slid down around JC's waist.

JC gave serious thought to leaving the hallway. Or the hotel. Or possibly the country. He looked sideways at Justin, who was plastered to him like a starlet to a millionaire. "Don't you have homework or something?"

"History," Chris said, who had a much better memory for Justin's and Lance's study schedules than they had themselves, not that that was really very difficult. "Off you go, kid."

"Okay," Justin said, surprisingly biddable. "See you later, then." He unwound himself from JC and went to his room.

"C'mon," Chris said. "Let's go talk to Diane and tell her Lance sadly got kidnapped by the German mafia or something."

So they did. JC had a feeling that Diane knew very well that they were covering for Lance, but she was sweet to them all the same. A while later, Chris sneaked off to wake Lance, and they all went to rehearsal in somebody's cousin's dance studio that was closed for the week because the cousin was getting married. Lance looked much better after the extra sleep. Justin was wearing a very thin tank top that clung to him as he started to sweat. JC tried not to look at him at all, and ended up sidestepping into Joey, twice.

They took a water break, and JC attached himself to Joey's side and apologized. "Hey, no, it's okay," Joey said. "You look kinda tired, though."

JC nodded. "That's from Chris waking me up and trying to kill me in the middle of the night," he said with a half-hearted smile.

Joey grinned. "He does get kinda crazy from time to time," he agreed.

JC drank some water and didn't look at Justin, who was apparently stretching the backs of his thighs by bending forward from the waist and putting his hands on the floor. "Mm."

"You know what, I can swap with you," Joey said. "I'll take Chris, I'm used to him. You can share with Justin and get some sleep."

JC looked up, alarmed. "No, Joey, you don't have to—"

"Hey, it's not a problem." Joey patted his back. "You look like you need a break. C'mon, back to the grind, now."

The rest of the afternoon went a lot faster than JC was really prepared to deal with. The new stuff went pretty well after he stopped walking into Joey the whole time, the old stuff went smoothly, and while they rehearsed, Justin was nothing but professional, concentrating with his usual intensity on getting everything right, until JC relaxed and started to get into the groove, too. They were good. They were really pretty good, and he thought the next show was going to rock.

Diane came by later with her arms full of takeout boxes, and stayed to watch after their dinner break. JC didn't mind. She was a quiet, almost invisible audience, unlike Lynn, who'd get so into things that she'd clap and call out comments and be really distracting to everyone except Justin, who was used to it and didn't understand at all why anyone else would mind. They had to be out of the studio before the alarm system switched on at nine, so at eight forty-five they packed up their stuff, wiped down with towels and put on warmer sweats. It had been JC's idea that they would go back to the hotel and shower there, and not waste any of their studio time on it.

They all trooped downstairs and piled into the minivan, and JC looked through the window at the frost-rimed streets and wondered what he'd done to deserve a friend as kind and considerate as Joey. Killed puppies in a previous life, maybe.

Back at the hotel, Joey headed for the room that JC had shared with Chris, and gave JC a push towards the one that Joey had shared with Justin. "You really don't have to," JC said.

"Go on," Joey said, "we all know you need your sleep. I can cope with Chris, don't worry about that." He grabbed Chris and gave him a noogie. "First shower's mine!"

"Hey, I have seniority," Chris said, wriggling and kicking. "And room seniority. That was my bathroom way before it was your bathroom!"

"But Joey smells worse," Lance tossed over his shoulder.

JC sighed and went across the hallway to room 315. Justin was already stripping out of his sweatshirt and tank top. He looked up as JC came in. "Hey," he said, a little questioningly.

"Joey swapped with me," JC said and watched Justin's face light up. "Cause he thinks I need more sleep."

"Oh." Justin toned his smile down a little, from a thousand watt to maybe nine hundred. He turned his tank top over in his hands. "Do you want the first shower?"

"No, you go," JC said. Justin might catch cold, standing around like that.

"Okay." Justin started to strip off his sweatpants.

"I forgot to get my stuff from the other room," JC said. "I'll, um. Go do that now."

"Okay," Justin said again, still smiling the same blinding smile, straightening up and dropping the sweatpants on the floor and standing there in nothing but socks and the boxerbriefs.

JC picked up Joey's bag and fled.

Going into room 312, he found that Joey had apparently won first shower rights. Chris, in boxers, one sock, and a floppy hat, was sitting cross-legged at the foot of his bed, leafing through a three-month-old TIME magazine. He looked up as JC came in. "Sorry, we're full up. Try across the hall."

JC dropped Joey's bag on the floor. "I just came to get my stuff. I think maybe Joey got the impression that you try to strangle me every night between two and three."

"I do," Chris said. "You just never noticed before. Seriously, C, sorry about that. I talked to Justin before, and he explained the whole thing to me."

"He did?" JC looked nervously at Chris. "Um."

"Yeah, so I'm wondering now if having two of you come out to me one after the other is like my daily quota, or if Joey's gonna pop out of the shower and say he has something to tell me."

JC had to grin a little. "I really don't think so."

"Nah, me either. So anyway, we're cool. Except I'm gonna have to strangle you again if you fuck up and break his heart in a horrible and painful way or anything like that."

"No," JC said really quickly. "I'm not gonna, I mean, no. Nothing. Really."

Chris raised an eyebrow, barely visible under the hat. "Nothing, really, what?"

"Me and Justin. It's not, there's not gonna." JC picked up his bag. "I mean, I already told you I didn't. Wouldn't."

"Well, when he was like ten, yeah. Then I'd've peeled the skin off you with a rusty spork."

"I don't think sporks rust," JC said.

"Whatever." Chris shrugged dismissively. "Kid's not ten any more." He tossed the magazine aside. "Can I borrow that mystery off you? You never read it anyway."

"I read it," JC said, and Joey came out of the shower in a cloud of steam. "I'm reading it. Joey, I brought your bag over."

"Thanks, man!" Joey grinned. "You're the best."

Chris took his hat off and threw it at the bedside lamp. "That seems to be a popular opinion. Is there something you wanna tell me, Joey? Just asking."

"I'll see you tomorrow," JC said and left the room.

Justin was still in the shower, which didn't surprise him. Justin loved long showers, especially in cold weather. JC went through his bag for clean sweats to wear after he'd showered, and then he flopped down on the bed he was taking over from Joey and closed his eyes.

Some time later, someone poked his stomach. JC cracked one eye open.

"Your turn," Justin said. He was sitting on the edge of the bed, wearing a towel and a few artfully placed drops of water.

"Mmm," JC said and closed his eyes again.

Justin poked him again. "C'mon. You're all gross."

"Maybe it's a plan," JC muttered, but he really did feel kind of gross, so he yawned and blinked and sat up. "Do you still have that oatmeal soap your mom gave you?"

"Yeah." Justin shifted over to make room for JC to sit on the edge of the bed. "And you can use my scrub thingy if you want."

"Thanks." JC rubbed at his eyes. "I think I'm just gonna crash after this."

"It's not even ten yet," Justin said. "Is it okay if I watch a movie?"

"Sure," JC said and patted Justin's shoulder, which was bare and damp and warm and he turned away and grabbed his clean sweats and got to his feet and stumbled towards the bathroom.

Everything was steamed up, and he couldn't even see himself in the mirror. JC stripped down and got into the shower and used the oatmeal soap, which was really very nice, and the scrub thingy, and Justin's shampoo because his was still in the other bathroom. And so was his toothbrush, he realized.

It felt really good to be all clean, and he put on his sweats and yawned until his jaw made clicky noises. And it turned out Justin had a spare toothbrush in with his stuff, so JC appropriated it. He could pick up his stuff some other time, when he was more awake and Chris wouldn't be saying weird things to him. JC paused in his tooth-brushing. Well, when he was more awake, anyway.

Justin was watching something with Bruce Willis and explosions. He looked over his shoulder when JC came out of the bathroom. "Want me to turn it down?"

"No, it's fine," JC said. He was pretty sure he'd slept through worse, most of it coming from Justin. Or Chris. Or a combination of the two. He pulled the covers down and got into bed, leaning back against the headboard and watching the back of Justin's head and what he could see of the TV screen. "Thanks for letting me use the soap."

"No problem."

JC opened up his mystery and started to read again. He'd been pretty sure he knew who'd been killed, anyway, but now it seemed that the dead person was walking around and talking to people again. Either it was a flashback or there'd been a marketing error somewhere; he checked the cover again to see if there was anything on it that might be interpreted as "horror."

He was sleepy, anyway. JC put the book down and turned out the bedside lamp. "Good night."

"Night," Justin said. "You're sure the TV is okay? Not too loud?"

JC propped himself up on one elbow and turned the bedside lamp back on again. "I knew this kid called Justin once who painted my toenails green while I slept and woke me up by blowing a noisemaker in my ear. You, you're some kind of Stepford Justin."

Justin grinned. "Sorry. Or, um, not sorry? Go to sleep and I'll turn the sound up and put toothpaste on your nose or something. I just thought." He broke off.

JC twisted a corner of the pillowcase between his fingers. "I'm not gonna have sex with you just because you're polite," he said.

"Not because I'm polite," Justin said. "I mean. I hope there are sexier things about me. But I thought it couldn't hurt."

"You should always be polite," JC said seriously, and then he giggled a bit, and Justin giggled, too. "But this, Justin, it's not about that."

Justin scooted over from the foot of his bed to the side of JC's, putting an arm on the bed and leaning his head on it. He was very close, suddenly; JC could have counted his eyelashes. "Can I ask you something?" He held up a hand quickly. "Not about us having sex."

"Okay," JC said and grinned a little.

"How old were you the first time?" Justin grinned a little, too. "See, not asking about us."

JC closed his eyes. "Justin. That's private."

"Yeah, but, you know. Cause you think I'm too young, so I just wanna know what you think is right."

JC thought very seriously about lying. Except he was really bad at it, he knew — unlike Justin, who could tell the most amazing whoppers with blithe, angel-faced confidence.

"That's not the same thing," JC said instead. "I mean, people are different, and, you know, maybe I shouldn't have, maybe I didn't do the right thing. Plus, you know, it depends a bit on what you, um, how you define it."

Justin poked a finger into JC's chest. "When you think it counted. How old?"

"Fourteen," he mumbled.

Justin snorted incredulously. "Fourteen? And you think I'm too young?"

JC considered putting the pillow over his head and just pretending that he wasn't there. Or that Justin wasn't there. "Well, it wouldn't have killed me to wait a couple years."

"Relatively speaking, I have waited a couple years," Justin said. "And, what, you're saying you regret it? For real?"

"Not regret exactly." JC played with the edge of the comforter. "I mean, no."

Justin scratched at his nose. "So this isn't about how you think I should wait until I'm like twenty or married or something."

"Well, it could be a marketing thing," JC said. "You'd be our pretty young virgin, and all the girls would hope that they'd get to be the one, you know."

"Yeah, and then there'd be a write-in competition," Justin said. "Win a night with Justin Timberlake." He made a face. "I just wanna decide for myself, C."

"I get that," JC said. "Like, really, I do. But you don't get to decide for me."

"No, okay." Justin looked down and then up again, and smiled. "But I can try to persuade you, right?"

"Oh, go away," JC said and put the pillow over his head.

Justin squeezed his shoulder and said good night, although JC barely heard him through the pillow, and turned out the lamp.

JC kept his eyes firmly shut under the pillow, but it took a long while before he fell asleep.

The next morning when he woke up, Justin was already heading for the shower. JC thumped his alarm and yawned and stretched. He and Justin stumbled past each other in room and bathroom, familiarly morning-grumpy, and got dressed and down to breakfast without saying much more than "Rrrr" to each other.

JC didn't look too closely at whatever Justin was getting up to with his breakfast, and Justin didn't say anything particularly suggestive. They had rehearsals from eight to one, and in the car on the way back to the dance studio, Justin put his head on JC's shoulder and closed his eyes, and JC leaned his cheek against the top of Justin's head and closed his eyes, too. Chris shook them awake when the car stopped, looking amused. "C'mon, guys. No sleep-dancing allowed."

"Bet I could do it with my eyes closed," Justin mumbled.

"Bet you can't," Chris said instantly. "Bet you my last bottle of rootbeer."

"I hate rootbeer."

They got out of the car and went up to the studio, and Justin and Chris apparently decided the terms of their bet while JC was changing his shoes, because when they started their first routine Justin did, in fact, dance with his eyes closed. He started out well enough, but misstepped on the first turn and crashed into Joey, and they both went down in a heap. There was an irate choreographer shout, and Justin kept his eyes open the rest of the time.

During a water break around eleven, Joey came up and put an arm around JC and grinned at him. "So did J try to strangle you in your sleep this time, or is there another reason why you still look like a sleepwalker?"

JC shook his head and leaned into Joey's comfortable body-heat. "Just having a slow day," he said.

"It's kinda grey," Joey agreed, looking at the window.

"But, yeah, I slept fine." When he'd managed to fall asleep, anyway.

"That's good." Joey smiled, big and warm. "I shoulda realized you two would want to stay together." He ruffled JC's hair and went over to snap the elastic on Lance's sweatpants.

JC took a long drink of water.

The rest of the rehearsal went well, if not spectacularly, and when they broke at one JC felt pretty sure that they'd put on a good performance that night. It was the last night of Pop am Berg, so there'd be a bigger crowd this time, but no TV cameras and no radio. They would be on. JC thought maybe he needed a bit more sleep first, though. Joey was usually a good judge of these things.

Lunch was a sandwich on the way back. JC wasn't really hungry, he never was right after dancing, but he chewed and swallowed. Justin and Chris kept poking each other and laughing. Back at the hotel, it turned out that Justin's lost bet involved running from floor to floor of the hotel and knocking on certain doors and running away or singing something or... JC lost track. He yawned.

"I'm gonna go rest for a while," he said to no one in particular, and went to room 312 and stretched out on his bed. Mm, pillow.

A while later, the bed dipped, and JC shifted in response.

"Are you awake?" Justin asked.

"No." It should be obvious. His eyes were closed. He was sleeping.

"Okay." The mattress moved, and then Justin was lying next to him, head tucked against JC's shoulder. "I think I'm gonna be not awake for a while, too."

"Mm," JC said and drifted off again.

He woke up feeling warm, and edged away a little from Justin, who always turned into a starfish when he slept, with arms and legs sprawled in all directions. JC blinked and yawned and checked the time and settled back down comfortably again. People looked soft when they slept, JC thought, almost like their faces might change into a different shape, although they never did. He ran a finger along Justin's nose and up over the arc of a cheekbone. They stayed the same.

Justin opened one eye a tiny bit. "You're petting me," he said.

"Well."

Justin closed his eye again. "You could keep doing it."

JC threaded his fingers through Justin's hair and stroked slowly from the hairline towards the nape, rubbing deep, making little circles against Justin's scalp. Justin made a sound of sleepy bliss.

"Your roots are growing out," JC said. He twisted a curl around his index finger. "You gonna bleach again?"

"I suppose." Justin kept his eyes closed. "You gonna kiss me?"

"No."

"Well, you should."

"No, I shouldn't." JC stroked Justin's hair again. It was soothing.

"And then we should have sex," Justin went on.

"No, we shouldn't." JC rubbed his fingertip over Justin's earlobe, to see if he could feel the hole. He couldn't.

"But I really want to have sex with you," Justin said, eyes still closed. "I'm just saying. In case you missed it the first fifteen times."

"Uh, no. Not deaf, here." JC drew his thumb along the edge of Justin's jaw. "But I think maybe you are, a bit. And, um, I think you're building this up in your head to be, to be this thing."

"Well, I want it to be a thing. A sex thing."

"No, I mean yeah, but. It might be really bad." JC tried the soft curve of Justin's bottom lip.

Justin blinked. "What, you're telling me that you're, um, bad? In bed? At sex? What?" He kept his eyes open now, fixed on JC.

JC wondered why the earth never opened up and swallowed you when you really needed it. He took his hand away from Justin's face. "People don't always click," he said. "Like, physically. And your first time with someone, I don't want—"

"You're just scared," Justin said, sounding inordinately happy about it. "It's not gonna be bad. Really, it's not."

"It's not gonna happen," JC said.

"And I want it to be you, okay?" Justin went on, ignoring him. "And what are the odds I'd click with some random German stranger, anyway?"

"Well, you might."

"Well, I don't care." Justin looked mulish. "Why would I start looking for other people when I want you and you're right here?"

"Justin, there are reasons."

"I've heard your reasons. They suck." Justin had a very square chin. JC decided not to pet it. Not right then, anyway. "Like, nothing you've said makes me think that we shouldn't be having sex right now."

"How about we have to be down in the lobby in fifteen minutes," JC said.

"Well." Justin scrunched his nose up. "Okay. But we're gonna talk about this again, you know."

"Well, I'd guessed, yeah," JC said dryly. He ruffled Justin's hair one last time and then rolled off the bed and headed into the bathroom.

In the car, they sang California Girls and then, because it followed naturally to someone like Chris, Back in the USSR, even though Justin could never seem to learn the words. Joey tickled Lance, and Justin and Chris got into a heated argument about whether what Justin had done on the sixth floor had really been according to the terms of the bet, and JC shut them up by singing Please Don't Go until they joined in, because they always did.

When they arrived, there was a whirl of clothes and makeup and eighteen different people who all thought they were in charge, and lots of other performers that they were sorta starting to get to know, and Chris kept Justin well away from those sound techs. JC tried to practice his German on a local popgirl, and she tried to practice her English on him, which was a little confusing. Lance put his jacket down somewhere and then couldn't find it again, and Chris kept drinking Coke and Joey kept telling him that he'd pee his pants onstage.

JC found the jacket. Justin got out the hacky. Then they were on, and they were on, as JC had known they would be. He barely remembered to put his feet down when he danced, and the girls screamed, and everything was just fine.

They tumbled offstage, and JC high-fived the popgirl, who was on next. He put an arm around Justin and squeezed him affectionately, and Joey tackled Lance and Chris into a wall. They didn't bother going back their dressing room, since they were going back on for the not-so-grand finale in not too long. A makeup person swept through, wiping them with towels and patting them with more powder. The popgirl sang something shrill and catchy, and Chris started to do some fake Irish dancing to it, jigging around and laughing and yelling for the others to join in.

Justin put his head on JC's shoulder. "So I hear you think I'm immature," he said.

"No!" JC said, still looking at Chris. Then he looked at Justin instead. "No."

"Oh, but that's what I've heard, you know? And unattractive." Justin batted his lashes.

JC sighed. "Oh, yeah. And here's another thing, there's also the part where you're totally jailbait." JC held his hand up. "I know, not here, but. Where I come from. We come from. And you tell your mom everything, and."

"You like my mom," Justin said.

"Yeah." Well, of course he did. "But, don't take this the wrong way, remember when she faced down Lou about giving us a day off? Your mom is great. She should be a lion-tamer."

"I'll protect you," Justin said and grinned. Then he caught Chris as Chris came sprinting by, and waltzed with him all the way down the open backstage area and up again, getting in everybody's way.

"Maybe just a little immature," JC muttered to himself.

After the popgirl finished her set, which was also pretty short, there was a lull as everyone collected backstage. Lance and Joey came over to JC. Lance was rubbing his shoulder and glaring at Joey. "I'm never gonna drink beer again," Joey said, sniffing the air. "Man, it stinks in here."

"Might be your feet," Lance suggested, and prudently moved behind JC.

Chris and Justin were still careening around and making nuisances of themselves, but when it got more crowded, they slowed down and came over to the others. Everyone was herded into tidy lines by harried-looking assistants and they went back onstage. The mayor held a speech about festivals and youth culture and popular music and how the city approved of all these things, or at least that was what JC got out of it. Microphones were handed around, and JC smiled at the remaining crowd while Joey and Chris said something complimentary, in painstaking German, about the city and the festival and how much they had enjoyed performing.

There was clapping, and more platitudes, and then they trooped off the stage and crowded into their tiny dressingroom, grabbing for towels and water bottles almost out of sheer reflex. JC tilted his head back for a long slow drink.

"That was so pointless," Justin muttered. "We could have been out of here an hour ago. More than an hour."

Chris tickled him. "What's your hurry?"

"I'm hungry." Justin ducked behind JC, and Chris tickled JC, who was still drinking and choked and spat water all over Chris.

"Euw!" Chris snatched JC's towel away from him and started to wipe himself dry. "JC, that's disgusting."

JC coughed. "Your own fault," he said and coughed again. Justin pounded on JC's back, and JC folded over and nearly brained himself on the dressing table. "Don't help," he wheezed.

"Sorry." Justin's hands shifted into a comforting stroke.

"Don't break him!" Joey said. "Cause then I might have to be the jock, and that would be bad."

"Yeah, because JC's so convincing," Lance said.

"Well." Chris looked JC up and down, mostly down, since JC was still bent in half. "He's pretty athletic."

"Flexible," Justin suggested.

"We could have a whole new spin on our show." Joey poked at JC's shoulder. "JC the amazing human pretzel. Hey, JC, can you put a foot behind your neck and still sing?"

The honest answer to that was probably, but JC straightened up and whapped his towel in Joey's direction and managed to hit Lance's thigh. "Shut up."

"Gotta admire those witty comebacks," Chris said and scrubbed his damp towel over JC's face. "C'mon, hurry up, let's get out of here. Tiny Tim, I mean Tiny Timberlake, is hungry."

"And I'm not eating any more sauerkraut," Justin said, kicking half-heartedly in Chris's general direction.

"Well, it's free," JC said. "Sauerkraut and three kinds of sausage and I think they had—"

"Fried potatoes," Joey and Lance said, then looked at each other and grinned.

JC actually liked fried potatoes, and most of the something-or-other-wursts, though not with the kind of mustard that made him feel as though his nose was about to fall off. It didn't seem worth arguing about, though, so they ended up going to the nearest Pizza Hut, which had an all you can eat special during the festival, and one of the waitresses recognized them from two nights earlier and seated them ahead of everyone else. Justin and Chris and Joey were already over at the buffet, probably making bets about who could eat the most pizza. JC and Lance ordered drinks, two beers and three Pepsis, because they both knew Joey hadn't meant it, and Lance leaned back in his chair and toyed with his napkin and looked at JC.

JC smiled. "Did your mom give you a hard time about the hangover?"

"Not really." Lance shrugged. "She asked me if I did anything stupid."

"Well. Could've been worse?" JC offered.

"I told her I have you guys looking after me." Lance looked up as the waitress came back with a tray. "Danke schön. Und können wir auch etwas, um, garlic bread haben, bitte?"

"Uh, not for me," JC said, holding up a warding hand.

"Well, I'm sure Justin will have some, so you might as well," Lance said as the waitress walked away. "You know he loves garlic bread."

JC nearly overset his Pepsi glass. "I. What?"

"Nothing." Lance got up. "I'm gonna go get some pizza, tell those guys to stop hogging the buffet table."

JC took a too-large gulp of Pepsi and swallowed painfully. He wasn't having any luck with carbonated drinks these days. He should have stuck to water. While he worked his throat to make sure he hadn't permanently damaged his adam's apple, the waitress came zipping back with a huge basket of garlic bread, which JC figured she had to have taken from some other customer's order because there was no way theirs could have been ready that fast. The perks of very nearly being famous, JC thought, apparently included garlic bread whenever you wanted it. He smiled at the waitress, took a piece of garlic bread and bit into it.

Joey came back with a full plate and sat down. "Hey, you got me beer."

"There's garlic bread," JC said, pointing at it. "I'm gonna get some, um. Pizza." He got up and went to the buffet, steering left around a few crowded tables so as to avoid running into Chris and Justin, who were just coming back, too. The pizza on Chris's plate appeared to be three slices deep.

Lance was just leaving the buffet when JC got there. "I got the last of the pepperoni," he said unapologetically. "I'm sure they'll bring out more any minute."

JC looked at the buffet table. Two slices of the all-veggie one, and a whole lot of slices with some kind of tuna topping. He poked half-heartedly at the veggie slices, trying to see if they were really all onion or if they just looked that way. JC was about to take a slice, because onion and garlic in combination might make a good Justin-repellent, when the waitress came zipping by again.

"You were right," JC said to Lance when he came back to the table. "They did bring out more."

"Hey." Chris leaned over to stare at JC's plate. "Is that chicken? We didn't get any chicken."

"Too bad." JC picked up his half-eaten slice of garlic bread and bit into it.

They talked about the show, in detail. Chris ordered more beer, and Joey went to get more pizza. JC looked along the table to see Justin look at him, look at the piece of garlic bread in his hand, and grab two pieces of his own.

"Dude, there are other people at this table," Chris said. "Save some of that for us."

JC asked the waitress to bring Justin more Pepsi.

Lance looked at JC over the rim of his Pepsi glass and winked.

"We should go out," Chris said, waving a pizza slice for emphasis. "Some more beer, and um, dancing, maybe."

"I don't think so," Lance said. "I think I've kinda had enough of partying for this week. And dancing. But I think someone said there was an after-party at the," he drew his brows together, "the Roxy? Or something that sounded like it, anyway."

"Ask the waitress," JC suggested.

Yes, the waitress knew where the Roxy was, and she was just about to head that way, actually, after her shift ended in another ten minutes. "Y'all should go, then." Lance arranged his knife and fork neatly on his plate.

JC poked with a garlic bread crust at a strand of coagulated cheese. "I think I'll pass. I need more sleep."

"Wimps," Joey said. "Come on, guys. Lance, you can't just go home. Diane knows you're with us. Couple hours, and we'll bring you back totally sober."

"Well, maybe," Lance said.

"All right!" Chris wiped his hands on Joey's napkin. "Come on, then. We'll drop JC off back at the hotel and get going."

"Just gotta wait for Maria," Joey said, but right then the waitress came back in jeans and a low-cut red top.

They paid up and left and piled into the minivan, with Maria the waitress sitting mostly on Joey's lap. It wasn't far back to the hotel, and when they got there JC grabbed his jacket, which he hadn't bothered to put on, and said, "Okay, good night, I guess. Have fun."

He scrambled out of the van, turned around to say good night again, and nearly smacked into Justin, who was getting out right behind him. Justin smiled a little. "I don't really feel like going out," he said. "Night, guys!"

The minivan drove off. JC looked at Justin. "So you're, what, you're tired?"

Justin shrugged and turned around. "Maybe," he said and walked into the hotel.

JC kicked at a paving stone for a while. It was a cold night, though. He couldn't think of anywhere to go but into the hotel, and inside the hotel he couldn't think of anywhere to go but the room. He opened the door cautiously and found that Justin was in the bathroom. JC turned the tv on and turned it off again. He sat at the foot of his bed and waited.

Ten minutes later, Justin came back out. He'd washed his face completely clean of all traces of stage makeup and was wearing a loose, shapeless sweater. JC leaned back on his hands and looked Justin up and down. "You look a little tired," he said hopefully.

"I'm not," Justin said. "I think we should have sex now."

"No," JC said, but Justin went over to him and sat down astride his legs, putting his hands on JC's shoulders. JC had to look up to meet Justin's eyes. "Justin."

"I think it would be a great idea." Justin's hands moved on JC's shoulders, not quite kneading, but far from still.

JC flexed his legs under Justin's weight. "You don't know."

Justin leaned forward. "I know you want to," he said and brushed his mouth against JC's, kissed the corner of his mouth and all along his jaw and right underneath his ear.

JC felt his skin prickle. He put his left hand on Justin's arm and stroked up, over the shoulder, to the back of the neck. "Yes," he said.

When he turned his head, Justin's mouth was right there, waiting for him, soft and sweet and a little clumsy. JC licked at Justin's lower lip and tugged at it with his teeth, not hard, just enough to make Justin open his mouth. Tongue. Yes. So very, very sweet.

JC put his hands on the backs of Justin's thighs and hitched them both higher on the bed. He wanted to flip them over, to stretch Justin out on the bedspread and lean over him, but Justin grinned and wrestled and squirmed, hands everywhere. "You're not kissing me," Justin said.

"I can't kiss you if you don't hold still."

Justin wriggled. "You hold still," he said, and then JC was lying flat on his back and Justin was leaning over him, draped warmly all along JC's side, one leg pushing in between JC's. The kiss, when it came, was very gentle, and JC strained up into it, tilting his head and raising his chin. One of Justin's hands was in JC's hair, the other at his waist, and JC felt Justin's fingers edge slowly under the hem of JC's shirt.

He held still. When Justin drew back a little, JC looked up into Justin's eyes and said, "You can do anything you want. Anything you like."

Justin's hand curved more firmly around JC's waist, under the shirt. "Good," he said.

Justin, it turned out, liked kissing. He kept his hand steady at JC's waist, only moving his thumb in a light stroke that didn't quite tickle, but made JC shift in response all the same. JC ran his hands up under Justin's loose sweater and stroked all along Justin's back, feeling the curves of muscle to either side of the spine, and the shoulder blades moving under the skin like tiny trapped wings.

When JC broke away from Justin's mouth, turning his head to one side, Justin bent down and mouthed along JC's jaw all the way to his ear. Justin sucked on JC's earlobe, and then the spot just beneath the ear. "Mm," JC said, baring his throat encouragingly.

Justin licked and sucked all the way down to the collar of JC's shirt, very slowly. Justin's hand moved even more slowly up over JC's stomach, onto his chest, thumb brushing along the dip of the breastbone and then the whole hand spreading out, with one of the fingers lying right over JC's nipple.

JC squirmed, and Justin kissed him again, but didn't move his hand. JC brought his left hand to his mouth and licked his thumb in the middle of the kiss, which made Justin giggle into his mouth. He worked his hand in under Justin's sweater again, stroking up Justin's chest as best he could, pushing and shifting until he could rub his wet thumb over Justin's right nipple. Justin gasped and broke the kiss.

"What," he said.

JC stroked some more with the edge of his thumb, and Justin pulled back abruptly, sitting up. He looked down, and JC looked back up, and then Justin pulled his sweater over his head and threw it to one side. He was winter-pale, taut with muscle right under the skin, and JC wanted to touch him. Badly. JC put his hands around Justin's wrists, smoothed his thumbs up the insides of Justin's arms all the way until he could grasp Justin's shoulders and tug him down. "Let me," he said, and Justin nodded and they rolled over.

JC licked the hollow above Justin's collarbone, and the hollow just below it. He bit the curve of Justin's bicep just to feel the firm, reluctant yield of muscle under his teeth. Justin squirmed, and JC shifted, resting most of his weight on his elbows and a bit on Justin's hipbone, which was digging into him in a rather painful place, and licked right next to Justin's nipple, right over it and right under it. He couldn't quite draw a full circle before his tongue-tip went dry. He licked his index finger and rubbed, listening to Justin's breathing, and then he bent down and sucked the nipple into his mouth, against the edge of his teeth.

"I like that," Justin said breathlessly, digging his fingers into the back of JC's neck. "And the other one, now, please—"

Shifting over, JC breathed on the other nipple, brushed it with his closed mouth, his slightly chapped lips, before pushing at it with the tip of his tongue. Justin made a sound between his teeth and shivered. JC moved, nudging with his whole body, until he could lie between Justin's legs and lick at one nipple and finger the other one, switching back and forth while Justin tried to pull his spine out through his skin. He could feel, against his stomach, just how hard Justin was.

When Justin made a different sound and pushed JC away just a little, JC kissed his way randomly down Justin's chest, and then lower, mouthing at the stomach muscles, feeling them move against his lips in time with Justin's breathing. He blew a raspberry into Justin's navel, and Justin convulsed with laughter, thumping his hands against JC's shoulders in protest. JC kissed the soft hair trailing down from Justin's navel, and licked a line right above the waistband of Justin's pants. Then he paused.

"You know, we can stop," JC said, and Justin sat up and started to yank at JC's shirt.

"Take your clothes off," he said. "Now."

"Okay," JC said and pulled off his shirt. He kicked off his shoes and took off his socks, and then he looked at Justin. "It's gonna get cold, we should get under the covers."

Justin wadded his socks up and threw them across the room. "But I wanna see you."

JC leaned in behind Justin and licked the back of his neck. "Well, I don't wanna freeze my ass off." He put his hands on Justin's stomach, feeling it ripple, and walked his fingers down the ridges to unzip Justin's pants.

Justin batted his hands away. "Don't, let me."

JC got up, instead, and switched on the bedside lamps and went to the door and turned off the harsh overhead light. While he was there, he checked that the door had locked properly. When he turned back, Justin had turned down the covers and was sitting naked in the middle of the bed, one leg drawn up and the other folded sideways. JC almost fell over his own feet, trying to walk back to the bed and strip out of his jeans at the same time. He shoved his jeans down and walked them off and crawled onto the bed and onto Justin, moving his mouth blindly over Justin's skin until he could silence Justin's muttered protest with a kiss.

"I can see you with my fingers," JC said into Justin's neck. He stroked his hand along the warm line of Justin's back, and kept going as far down as he could reach. They settled against each other, mouth to mouth and chest to chest and cock to cock, God. Justin's breathing stuttered. JC couldn't stop touching. Kissing.

They rocked together, softly and slowly. JC licked at Justin's throat and jaw, the crazy tiny loops and whorls of Justin's ear, and Justin's short fingernails dragged shivers up and down JC's spine.

"Let me," Justin said, drawing away from JC's mouth. He wiggled free of JC's arms, and JC had already said Justin could do anything, anything at all, so he just nodded and lay back. The pillows had been pushed to the floor somehow, so he put his crossed wrists behind his head so he could see a little better, see Justin, see what Justin would do.

Justin drew his fingers down the inside of JC's left arm so lightly that JC had to bite his lip to keep from squirming, pressed a little more firmly over the armpit, then used both hands to smooth over JC's chest. JC breathed slowly and steadily as Justin's thumbs traced his collarbones. Justin leaned forward and licked very softly at JC's nipple, or not even really licked, even, more like very tentative lapping, like he was trying a new flavor of ice cream that he wasn't really sure about. Then he was licking the edge of JC's ribs instead, and smoothing a palm over his hipbone and down along his thigh.

It felt good, and the underside of Justin's arm was not-quite-touching JC's cock, heat and a brush of air with every movement. But Justin shifted and sat up, moving down on the bed and shoving the covers out of the way. JC resigned himself to being cold. Justin stroked JC's feet, over the arch, down under the sole, and JC twitched. "Ticklish," he said quietly, and Justin touched more firmly.

Justin curled around to kiss and lick at JC's ankle, sucking at the knob of bone, and JC felt a slow wave of dizzy heat surge through him. Kisses along his shin. Tongue on the inside of his knee, mm, and then that tongue pushed rhythmically into the crease at the back of the knee and the next wave rocked his entire body. He didn't resist at all as Justin shoved his legs apart to lie between them, and he liked kisses on the insides of his thighs, yes, and those light grazes of teeth that weren't anything like bites.

JC didn't know he'd closed his eyes until he opened them wide again when Justin breathed on his balls. No tongue, just warm breath and then lips and fingertips and very lightly scratching nails. It felt good. It felt really good. He could feel a wet patch low on his stomach where the head of his cock shifted against the skin.

It seemed like forever before Justin shifted up again, bracing himself on one elbow next to JC's hip and wrapping his other hand around the base of JC's cock. JC didn't know what he was expecting, but not for Justin to slick his tongue all around the head, to suck on it carefully like a piece of candy. JC gripped his own wrists so hard it hurt while Justin's tongue moved slowly, slowly, tentative and sweet and nearly unbearable.

Then it stopped. Justin pulled away, pushing himself up. "Could you," he said and cleared his throat. "Could you maybe sit on the edge of the bed?"

JC blinked. "What."

Justin blushed a little, but he said it again. "On the edge of the bed. Like, um, like this." He slid off the bed and onto his knees, and tugged at JC's legs. "You said," Justin went on when JC couldn't quite make himself respond at first. "You said I could do anything I want."

"Yes," JC said, because he had said that, so he moved, until he sat there leaning back on his hands, with Justin kneeling between his legs, looking up at him. Oh, God, JC thought, and then tried to unthink it, because he didn't want to do anything that might draw God's attention to him right then.

Justin had both hands free now, and he wrapped one of them right back around JC's shaft and palmed his balls with the other one, rolling, stroking, rubbing with his thumb right at the very root. JC twisted his fingers securely into the bedding. Justin licked along JC's cock, mouthing at it, moving the suction of his mouth up and down the shaft. When he got to the head, he slid his tongue all around it, tracing the edge and the slit and the slight ridge on the underside and JC's eyes started to roll back in his head. Justin sucked the head into his mouth. He took in more, sucked JC in deeper, but then he stopped and worked his mouth back up again, swirling his tongue around and around.

JC couldn't look. He felt. Felt Justin's tongue, moving a little too fast and aimlessly but still so very good, felt a finger press right behind his balls, felt Justin urge him forward, closer to the edge of the bed. He moved. Justin started to jack his cock instead of just holding it steady. Less tongue, more sucking. And that finger moved, slid back to brush against his hole, light flicks and then a steadier pressure and then Justin stopped sucking.

"Is this okay?" Justin asked, pressing a little harder.

"Yes," JC panted, and then again, to be on the safe side, "yes."

Justin smiled and bent his head again. This was the wettest, sloppiest blowjob ever, and JC was going to die. Justin's finger pressed in a slow rhythm, just enough to push against the muscle, not hard enough to breach it. JC felt his thighs quiver. He wanted to push deeper into Justin's mouth, but he barely moved at all, the tiniest of rocking motions. Justin flattened his tongue, pressing up against the underside, right there, there. His finger pressed harder, fingertip pushing in, fractionally, and JC tried to say something, he really did. There was a stutter, something running through his whole body from head to toe, like a false start, maybe, like a match scraping against the side of the box without lighting. Almost like that. He dropped his head back, nearly dislocated his neck, and came in Justin's mouth.

Slumped back on the bed, JC felt like a tuning fork slammed against the edge of a table. After a while, his bones stopped humming, and he looked at Justin, who was wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Justin looked back, dragged his hand across his mouth one last time, and smiled a little, looking equal parts shy and smug. "Are you, um." He draped himself over JC, rubbing his face against JC's chest. "Was that okay?"

"Mm," JC said, feeling so limp he was practically dead. "Yeah. Oh, yeah."

"Yeah? With the finger and stuff?" Justin licked at JC's breastbone. "Cause I do that to myself, but I wasn't sure if you'd like it."

JC realized that no, he was not entirely dead after all, because the idea of Justin doing that to himself set off a faint fizz and pop inside his head, and in a few other places. He tugged at Justin. "C'mere," he said, scooting back onto the bed. "I liked it. A lot."

Justin crawled up over JC, miraculously not putting elbows or knees anywhere it would really hurt. JC kissed him. Justin rocked against JC's hip, hard and wanting. JC rolled them over and tucked his cold feet under the covers. He felt lazy and slow, like he could just lick Justin all night, but that would be mean. Pushing Justin a little higher on the bed, he shifted down and took Justin's cock into his mouth, sucked it down and down and down, and Justin gasped and thumped his head against the mattress.

Easing back a bit, JC sucked his index finger sloppy-wet, testing the nail with his tongue to check for ragged edges. Then he went down on Justin again, loving the hard hot pulse against his tongue, and started to work his finger into Justin, short twists and pushes.

"Oh, God," Justin said, and Justin's legs spread and Justin's hips came off the bed and JC grinned. "Oh, God, that's so good, that's, fuck, oh please—" JC locked his free hand into one of Justin's. He stroked his finger in deeper, pressing up, and Justin just said "oh!" over and over, panting it, squeezing JC's hand.

That was nice, even if Justin had a grip that felt like it could crack JC's knuckles like walnuts. JC sucked on just the head for a while, looked up and met Justin's eyes, made sure Justin was watching as Justin's cock slid deeper into JC's mouth again. Justin wailed, rocking his hips between JC's mouth and his finger. JC swallowed hard, and then again, and Justin panted faster and faster, and when JC put a little more pressure into the finger-fucking, Justin came.

He tasted a little salty, but nothing like tears.

JC eased his finger out and kissed the head of Justin's cock very lightly, and kept kissing up along stomach, chest, throat, chin. Mouth. Justin's mouth was still very soft and very sweet. Justin kissed with his eyes closed, lying limp as a ragdoll, not even twitching. JC smiled, and kissed the corner of Justin's mouth, and pushed himself up and off the bed. Justin made a sound. "Bathroom," JC said. "I won't be a minute."

He went to the bathroom and washed his hands, and brushed his teeth while he was there, and peed, and washed his hands again. When he went back, Justin was asleep. JC got into bed and tugged the covers up around them, and hesitated for about two seconds before putting his arm around Justin and tucking his face into the crook of Justin's neck. Justin smelled really, really nice.

JC sighed. He'd forgotten to turn off the bedside lamp, so he rolled back and did it, and then he wrapped himself around Justin again. Justin smelled nice, and he tasted good, and now that JC had touched Justin, he never, ever wanted to stop. He pressed a kiss behind Justin's ear, a light one that wouldn't wake Justin up. He couldn't hold on to Justin like this, he shouldn't hold on to Justin at all, but it would be okay just for tonight. And his body was happy, still humming faintly, like an echo of the clearest, cleanest note ever.

He closed his eyes and laced his fingers through Justin's. JC's last conscious thought was that his feet weren't cold, either.

Waking up was confusing. JC blinked and flailed when Justin climbed over him and left the bed. He rolled into the warm covers and curled up, sinking back into sleep; then he heard a toilet flush in the distance, and moments later Justin climbed back again and tugged at the covers and wormed his way in right next to JC, arm around his waist and head against his shoulder. "You awake?"

"Mm," JC said. "No."

"Okay." Justin breathed little kisses against JC's throat. "So was that the bad first-time sex you kept talking about? Cause I kinda think if that was bad, when it gets good it might kill me."

JC realized that his arms were around Justin, too, and did not appear to be letting go any time soon. He thought seriously about it while trailing his fingers up and down Justin's spine, which was nice and bumpy and he really should have licked it at some point. "Um," he said. "Well, it doesn't have to be bad."

"Uh huh." There was a smile in Justin's voice. "I noticed." He flicked his tongue over JC's pulse point, and JC shivered. "So, can we do that again? Like, a lot?"

"I don't know if that's a good idea," JC said. He tipped his head back as Justin sucked gently at his throat. "I mean. You're so young, and you haven't. And you shouldn't feel like you're, like we're." He knew exactly what he wanted to say, but somehow, the words kept slipping away from him.

"Like what?" Justin lifted his head and looked at JC, serious and smiling at the same time.

JC stroked his fingers over the back of Justin's neck. "Like it's a thing, like you're. With me, um. Like you can't be with someone else." He still wasn't sure he was making his point very clearly. "It's not like we're gonna be boyfriends or anything."

The words hung in the air for a moment.

"Oh. Okay. I get it." Justin looked at JC sideways, lashes veiling his eyes for a moment.

"Good," JC said. Because it was, absolutely.

"Only I don't think you really mean it," Justin said. "So I'm gonna keep asking."

* * *

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