March 10 - April 24, 2003

Disclaimer: What is truth? Not this, anyway. Written for Allecto's crossover challenge. Thanks to Merry for all kinds of stuff. Do not archive this story without permission.


Justin turned over, scrunched his face into the pillow, and tried to go back to sleep. His bladder had other ideas, and he made a displeased sound and stumbled out of bed with his eyes mostly closed, heading for the bathroom. He walked smack into the wall.


Blinking, he adjusted his course. That was a wall, not the bathroom door. This was the bathroom door. This was the bathroom. Justin peed and flushed and walked straight into the shower. He used something citrusy that he was pretty sure was a shower gel, and scrubbed himself all over with a nubby washcloth. Slippery tiles. Bathroom mat. Towel.

He tugged on track pants and a loose t-shirt and went out of the bedroom, turned right, and stubbed his toes on a low table. The tall, spindly plant on the table rocked, and he caught it with one hand, steadying it while he wiggled his toes and decided they weren't broken.

Justin went downstairs and looked outside. The sun glittered off the water. He put on sunglasses, went into the kitchen, and turned on the tv, flipping through channels while he got out the cereal. Weather, Nick Carter on some talk show, CNN, commercial, rerun of McGyver, golf, cheating husbands revealed, back to Nick Carter who was going to do something with April Lavigne on MTV. Justin poured milk on his cereal and turned around to see Nick smile sunnily and say, "No, I don't think, we haven't talked about working together or anything like that. We both kinda have a rock vibe, but she's doing her thing and I'm doing my thing, you know?"

"What about dating? People have been saying that you two—"

Nick ducked his head and smiled again. Justin knew smiles like that, inside and out. "Nah, man, we're just friends, you know? We hang out."

"Right," Justin said, plunking his cereal bowl down on the kitchen table and plunking himself down on a kitchen chair.

Spooning cereal into his mouth kept him busy for a while. When he paused in his methodical crunching of Apple Jacks, Nick-Carter-on-tv said, "I don't think, there's no rivalry, it's not like you can really compare, we're really different. We're doing different things, like, you know, he's aiming for more on an r-n-b sound and I think that's really cool."

Justin changed over to MTV and finished his cereal. He beatboxed to Aaliyah while he rinsed out the bowl, and then he tried to beatbox to Do I Have To Cry For You, but that didn't really work.

The front door opened. Justin hit mute on the remote. "Hello?"

Howie came into the kitchen and set a bag on the counter. "They didn't have that omelette stuff," he said. "I got you a chocolate chip bagel, is that okay?"

Justin blinked. He glanced at the sink and then quickly back at Howie. "Uh, yeah."

Howie smiled. "Or if you already had cereal, I could keep the bagel for myself."

"No, that's okay," Justin said and stretched his hand out. "Seeing as how you went to all that trouble, it would be rude of me not to eat the bagel."

"And you're such a polite young man," Howie agreed. He took out the bagel, handed it to Justin, and kissed Justin's cheek.

"I totally am," Justin said with his mouth full of bagel.

Howie poured himself a glass of orange juice from the fridge, got a brioche from the bag, and sat down next to Justin. He smelled of citrusy shower gel and fresh bread. Justin leaned in closer and sniffed Howie's neck, and Howie swatted him very gently on the nose. "Hey, which one of us was the vampire here?"

"Mm." Justin licked a stripe under Howie's ear, and sat back and ate his bagel.

A slice of sunshine cut across the kitchen floor, and Justin pushed his bare feet into it, stretching his legs. After finishing the orange juice and the brioche, Howie leaned back in his chair and looked at Justin. "If you want, I can go with you to New York tomorrow."

"Yeah?" Justin frowned. "But you have that thing, with the Foundation."

Howie shook his head and held up his cell phone. "Moved to next week. Or hopefully next week, anyway. Two researchers, keynote speakers, are stuck in Italy. Air controller strike."

"Oh." Justin smiled. "In that case, I want." He slid his fingers in under the soft curls at the back of Howie's neck. "Can we go back to bed now?"

Howie looked amused. "Is that what you want to do with your day off?"

"Can you think of anything better?" Justin leaned in and kissed the corner of Howie's mouth. "New York tomorrow, MTV tomorrow, tour arrangements tomorrow, interviews tomorrow. Sex now."

Howie tipped his head back into Justin's hand. "Sex now," he agreed. "In the bedroom? I'm not sure I want to do it in front of Eminem."

Justin glanced at the tv and laughed. "You don't think he'd appreciate it? He doesn't know what he's missing."

"I'm pretty sure I'd like to keep it that way," Howie said, turning his head to place an open-mouthed kiss on the inside of Justin's arm.

Justin stood up and brushed bagel crumbs off his legs. He tugged Howie upright, pulled him in close, and kissed him. When they broke the kiss, Justin blinked, dazed. "I seriously wouldn't care if Eminem was right here in the kitchen."

Howie laced their fingers together and they went upstairs, slowly because Justin kept trying to nibble at the back of Howie's neck. At the top of the stairs, Justin turned right to go into the bedroom, and walked into the wall again. "Ow. Fuck."

"Are you okay?" Howie touched him with warm, concerned hands.

"I'm fine," Justin said, getting his bearings and walking through the bedroom door. "Probably won't even bruise."

"No, I mean, are you okay?" Howie reached up to feel Justin's forehead. "You just walked into a wall in your own house."

Justin dragged Howie's hand away from his forehead and kissed the palm. "Really," he said. "Honestly." He pirouetted slowly, working his hips. "I'm fine."

"Mm." Howie's eyes darkened and he stepped in close and put his hands on Justin's hips, shifted him two quick steps this way and three that way and Justin could hear the rhythm in his head. "You are."

Justin spun out where Howie's touch sent him and landed on the bed. He stretched his arms over his head and felt his t-shirt ride up to the edge of his ribs. "C'mere."

Howie crawled up over Justin's legs and began to strip him. He kissed Justin's stomach and licked slowly up the center of his chest, revealed gradually as the t-shirt was pushed higher and higher. When it caught under his arms, Justin reached down to pull it off. Howie sat back for a moment, then leaned in and pushed Justin's t-shirt-tangled hands out of the way. He kissed Justin's shoulder, his neck, his ear. "After last night," he said softly, "I owe you a little attention. Just lie still for a while and let me play with you."

"I want to touch you," Justin said, looking at the candy sweetness of Howie's mouth, the intoxicating sheen of melted sugar on his skin.

Howie smiled. "I know."

He covered the insides of Justin's arms with kisses, soothing Justin with soft strokes of his tongue and rousing him to shivers with sharp little bites. He tongued the line of Justin's jaw and mouthed delicately at the soft skin of Justin's belly, just beneath the ribs. He ran his nails down Justin's arms, and across the armpits, too firmly to tickle. Neither his hands nor his mouth strayed lower than Justin's navel.

"You could, you know," Justin said.

Howie nodded. "I could. Turn over."

Howie didn't move, and so Justin turned over slowly, grinding up against Howie as thoroughly as he could. Howie stroked his back with warm, steady hands, and Justin came close to purring. Closing his eyes, Justin concentrated on Howie's hands, and then Howie's mouth in the small of his back, whispering a secret message into his skin before starting to trail kisses along the lowest part of his spine. The pillow under his cheek smelled of detergent, of sleep, and of Howie. Howie pushed Justin's sweatpants down maybe half an inch, and licked at the bared skin.

Another half inch, and more licking. Justin lifted his hips into the touch of Howie's hands, and Howie eased the track pants down bit by bit, biting gently at the curve of Justin's ass, flicking his tongue lower and lower past the end of Justin's spine. Justin knew what was coming, but he couldn't hold back a soft sound of not-quite-shock when Howie put firm hands on Justin's ass, without bothering to push the track pants any lower, and spread him open, held him steady for the touch of Howie's sweet, wicked tongue.

"Ohgodfuck," Justin said, all in one breath, and then he couldn't find any other words. He twisted and rocked, any way but away from Howie's mouth. The mattress rocked with him, but Howie's hands were steady, and Justin knew he would never twist out of Howie's grip. He bit into the pillow, every breath a moan, and felt the heat of Howie's tongue drive a spike of mercury higher and higher along his spine.

Justin fucked the air, fucked the mattress, arched into tension again and again, until Howie's tongue pressed into him and pressed him into orgasm. His shivery cry was muffled by the pillow.

"Sweetness," Howie murmured, kissing Justin's shoulder, nudging him to roll over. "Sweet, lovely, precious, beautiful..."

Justin turned. He tugged at Howie's clothing with clumsy fingers, unfastened Howie's pants and slid down in the bed to kiss the slick, velvety head of Howie's cock. "Fuck my mouth," he said. "Please."

"Sweetness," Howie said again, his voice like fine sandpaper. Justin opened his mouth to Howie's cock, and Howie's hand curved around the back of Justin's head.

Justin breathed deeply and closed his eyes. He put a hand on Howie's hip, but didn't try to control or guide the pace of Howie's thrusts. He hollowed his cheeks and breathed through his nose and listened to Howie's breathing grow louder, felt Howie's fingers grip more tightly. Justin moaned low in his throat, and Howie came, salt that tasted like sugar.

"Sweetness." Justin said it back, licking Howie, licking his lips. He crawled up to wrap his arms around Howie. "And I was thinking slow and mellow. You know you still have all your clothes on?"

"I love you," Howie said and kissed him.

They showered again, together this time, and Justin washed Howie's hair. He worked his fingers in small circles over Howie's scalp, and Howie leaned his head back against Justin's shoulder and sighed with pleasure.

"We should call out for something," Justin said. "Food. Lunch. Sushi, maybe, or those weird salads with the seafood stuff, I liked those."

Howie tipped his head back under the spray of water. "You don't want to go out?"

"Not today." Justin thought about it. "Not now, anyway."

Dressed, they left the bedroom again, and Justin didn't stub his toes on anything. He straightened one of the platinum records above the low table, lining Millennium up with Black and Blue. They went down into the kitchen and Howie called out for food. He made iced tea for Justin and sliced most of a lime into a bottle of cherry Clearly Canadian for himself, and they sat on the deck and watched the water, and Justin toyed with Howie's hair as it dried into springy curls.

"I don't miss mine," Justin said. "But I kinda miss the way you used to touch it."

Howie smiled. "I can think of lots of ways to touch you."

Justin smiled back. "I bet."

Their food arrived: two weird salads, one with seafood and one with chicken, and large pieces of fresh focaccia. Howie ate all of Justin's mussels, and Justin ate about half of Howie's chicken. Then he licked seafood salad dressing off Howie's fingertips.

"I need to catch up on some stuff," Howie said, drying his fingers on a napkin. "Before we go to New York."

"Mm. Gonna make some noise, I think, that okay?"

Howie nodded, and Justin went inside and picked up some stuff, a guitar, a notebook. He passed through the kitchen and saw that the tv was still on, and turned the sound back on just in time to hear Carson say that Do I Have To Cry For You was at #2, and then he turned the tv off. Justin took an orange from the bowl on the counter and went back outside. He sat down on the deck, not far from Howie's chair, and strummed a few idle chords. Then he beatboxed a bit and tried to layer a melody over it, a few notes at a time.

His phone rang.

"Yeah. Uh huh? Okay. Okay, yeah. I don't know, I still think - yeah, that's what we said back then. I know. Yeah, tomorrow at two. No, yeah. See you then."

He turned the phone off and put it aside. Howie looked up from his reading. "What's up?"

Justin shrugged. "Down to #73, gonna get questions tomorrow about what was I thinking with the disco revival stuff, and I should let someone do a rockier remix of Like I Love You."

Howie shrugged, too. "Might be interesting to hear what that would sound like." He smiled.

"Yeah, I guess." Justin worried a cuticle with his teeth.

"Well, you know." Howie's fingers skimmed lightly down Justin's cheek, along his jaw. "You already did it for you, the way you wanted. That's not gonna go away."

Justin pressed a kiss into Howie's palm. "Mm. No." He ran his tongue along one of the lines. Life, maybe. Love. "No, I guess not."

Justin watched the water for a while, humming to himself as Howie sat back and went on reading. Then he lay down flat and stared up into the sky, where wisps of cloud were painted on the blue. He closed his eyes. The sun soaked him through and through. He slept.

* * *

Justin turned over and slammed the alarm with the palm of his hand and scrunched his face into the pillow again. He wasn't sure if he'd hit snooze or off, though, and the uncertainty kept him awake. He stretched his arms and legs out. The bed was empty. After a while, he got up and walked into the bathroom with his eyes still mostly closed.

He peed and flushed and walked straight into the shower. The washcloth smelled of something cool and minty, and he scrubbed himself all over, trying to slough off sleep. Justin rubbed a hand over his chin, looked at himself in the steamed-up mirror, and decided not to shave.

Too tired to make decisions, he put on yesterday's track pants and the first clean t-shirt he found. Justin went out of the bedroom, turned right, and went down the stairs. He heard voices from the back somewhere, and tv sounds from the kitchen. Outside, the sprinklers were turning in the garden, hissing and spitting. Justin tried to remember if his first phone-in interview was at nine or nine fifteen.

Trace was in the kitchen, watching tv and eating french toast. Justin got himself a bowl of cereal and rummaged in the fridge for milk, nearly overturning last night's Thai takeout boxes. "Morning," he said into the milk carton, and Trace mumbled something in reply. Justin poured milk on his cereal and drank some straight out of the carton, and it was so cold it made his teeth ache.

He closed the fridge door again and noticed that someone had put the latest Billboard chart on it with a horseshoe-shaped magnet, drawing a line in pink highlighter very close to the top. Justin scratched the back of his neck. It itched the way day-old sunburn would.

"They couriered in an info package about that presentation on Thursday," Trace said. "It's on the table in the hall."

"Kay." Justin went over and sat down. "Whatcha watching?"

"Nothing. MTV." Trace shrugged and pointed at the screen, where a sunlit Nick Carter was grinning and waving his hands around in a Making the Rerun. "I can't believe that guy. His stuff tanked, and okay, this is old, but he's still smiling like that, for real. I mean, what's up with that?"

Justin chewed cereal and watched as Nick, distant and happy, flung his arms around Howie, who had come to show his love. "I don't know," he said, clanking his spoon against the edge of the bowl as he chased an elusive froot loop. "I have no idea, man."

* * *

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