January 20 - February 20, 2003 (March 2003)

Disclaimer: For once, I can truly say that this was not my idea. At all. I own no boybands; this is a work of fiction. Written for We Invented the Remix. Original story by Hayley. Many thanks to Merry for keeping me insane enough to keep going and for beta reading under pressure, and to giddy and Alanna for additional much-needed cheerleading. Do not archive this story without permission.

The Abdul Theory (Extended Behind the Scenes Two-for-the-Price-of-One Rhinestone Romance Remix)

"You're kidding me," Justin said. "Right?"

"No." JC frowned a little. "Why would I be kidding you?"

"Cause I said yesterday that you never get a joke and now you're trying to prove you have a sense of humor?"

"This isn't funny," JC said. He scratched the back of his head, then propped his elbow against the back of the couch. "Okay, it is kind of funny. But I'm not kidding."

"Chris," Justin said.

JC nodded. "Yeah."

"And Lance."

JC nodded again. "Yeah."

The bus engine growled.

"You're kidding me. Right?"

JC sighed. "Yeah. I'm totally making it up that Chris drummed La Cucaracha with a spoon on Lance's knees for ten minutes last night to get him to stop talking on the phone."

"But that was just Chris. He does shit like that. I bet he's drummed on you, too."

"He put those pink hair clips that look like hearts and stars in Lance's hair while he slept, day before yesterday."

"Okay, I know he's messed with your hair while you sleep," Justin said. "And dude, why d'you think I shaved mine off?"

"He gave Lance his last piece of that awful European salt licorice gum."

"Okay. Okay, that's kind of... But seriously, C. Chris."


"And Lance."

JC looked out the bus window. "I think we've been here before. No, wait, it's just you repeating yourself."

"Yeah, but." Justin shifted on the couch to get comfortable, pushing at JC's legs. "Chris and Lance. That's just."

"Cute?" JC offered.

"Pretty sure that's not what I was going to say, no. Move over."

"I'm comfortable."

"I'm not. There's a huge fuckin' lump here. I think the couch's broken."

"I think it's that Darth Vader pez thingy Chris got that he couldn't find yesterday."

"Yeah, whatever." Justin put two large cushions on top of JC and himself on top of the cushions. "Okay, so you're not kidding."

"No," JC said, his voice slightly muffled.


"Chris is on the other bus right now," JC pointed out.

"Well, he said he was gonna go hang with Joey."

JC nodded. "And I said, and Lance, and he said, there is no Lance."

"Chris is getting matrixy about Lance?" Justin shifted. His elbow dug into JC's ribs. "Okay, I'll have to ask him about that."

JC pushed the elbow away. "You'll ask him if he's matrixy?"

"No, dumbass. I'll ask him if he's flirting and if he's planning to make an honest Mississippian outta Lance or what. Don't say it."

"Wasn't gonna." JC moved a bit, settling cushions and Justin a bit better. He closed his eyes. "Just don't make him go all funny about it and stop."

"I'm subtle," Justin said and closed his eyes, too. "I'm way subtle."

JC woke up when the bus took a sharpish curve and pushed Justin onto the floor. "Get up, okay? We're gonna be there soon."

"Up," Justin muttered. "Ow."

"It's a soft floor," JC said. "Mostly."

Justin staggered off towards the bunks. JC looked out the window and smiled to himself.

"Motherfucker!" Justin yelled, but he was laughing, too. He came back into the lounge area, shaking a bundle of soft flannel in his fist. "My Little Pony sheets! My Little Pony pillowcases! My Little Pony fuckin' pajamas — who the hell managed to find My Little Pony pajamas my size?"

"I have no idea," JC said innocently. "Ask Chris."

* * *

Chris bounced all the way through soundcheck, like an overexcited rubber ball. At the end, he snatched JC's trucker hat off his head and Justin's bandanna out of his back pocket and took off, yelling, "I'm the fashion police! I'm saving the world from ugly headgear!"

Lance shook his head. "How come he's not saving the world from ugly facial hair?"

"You're just jealous cause you still look like you're twelve," Joey said with a grin.

"I'll rescue you, bandanna baby! Don't give up hope!" Justin ran after Chris, dodging stagehands and containers and huge dollies full of equipment boxes. He had to stop and wait while most of the lighting rig passed in front of him, and Chris disappeared out of sight, but Anthony grinned at Justin and pointed at an open door.

Justin caught up with Chris in costuming, where he was trying to hide the hat and bandanna in the sleeve of one of Lance's shirts. "Too late!" he said as Justin came up. "You'll never find them!"

"Yeah, no, Lance will find them," Justin said. "You're, like, Captain Evil, kidnapping innocent little hats."

"They were not innocent," Chris said. "They had rhinestones."

"You have bedazzled socks." Justin poked a finger into Chris's stomach. "Joey said, there's a club, you wanna go after the show? Sleep in tomorrow, and everything."

"God, no," Chris said. "I'm old." Justin snorted. "I'm old and I'm gonna go to my hotel room and sleep. Maybe watch a movie or something."

"Yeah?" Justin dodged around Chris and grabbed the shirt. "Anything good?"

"I dunno, whatever's on." Chris tried to grab back, and the hat and bandanna fell on the floor. "You broke Lance's shirt! It's leaking rhinestones!"

"Oops." Justin got the hat, but Chris snatched up the bandanna. "I don't wanna watch a movie."

"Nobody said you had to watch a movie."

"I wanna go out."

"You should go out."

"You should come with."

"I don't wanna."

"Man, you're old." Justin grabbed for the bandanna in Chris's hand. "Why do you wanna watch a movie when you could be going out with the dancing and the girls and stuff?"

"Yeah, cause that's so different from my job," Chris said. "I got a bunch of movies I haven't even watched yet, on the bus? And there's no dancing."

Justin tugged on the bandanna. Chris tugged back. "You've seen all those a million times. Two million times."

"You can watch a masterpiece over and over," Chris said.

"Yeah, till the tape's fucked up," Justin said. "Like Joey's copy of Sassy Sorority Sisters, funny how that burned through at the hot tub scene."

Chris snorted and tugged harder on the bandanna. "Yeah, and funny how you had nothing to do with it. You go out and dance, J, I'm gonna stay in and watch Game of Death or something."

Justin groaned. "You've seen that three million times."

"So? It's cool! Kareem Abdul Jabbar!"

"That's like the freakiest fight scene ever," Justin said. "And you've seen it a—"

"You dissing the mighty Kareem Abdul Jabbar? You dissing the mighty Bruce Lee?" Chris yanked on the bandanna, then abruptly let go.

Justin staggered into the clothes rack. "They look funny together is all I'm saying. You showed it to me and said I should look cause it was kind of funny. You said the movie was—"

"Yeah, okay, it's kind of funny." Chris dragged Justin out of the clothes rack by the elbow. "But it works. It's weird and they're totally different and it shouldn't work but it does."

"Yeah, whatever." Justin put the bandanna in his pocket again. "You gonna come with us to the club?"

"It's like, you know, they're so different they complement each other."

"They're not complementing each other, they're fighting each other," Justin said. "Club?"

"Don't be so literal," Chris said. "They, okay, it's like a good match, okay?"

"Chris, it's the worst match ever."

"No, no, no. That's not what I mean. Cause opposites, when they come together, it's really interesting, and it works. It's like dating."

Justin choked. "You think Bruce Lee and Kareem Abdul Jabbar were dating? You're on crack, man."

"No, idiot." Chris punched Justin's shoulder. "I mean it's like with love and dating and stuff, opposites attract, and things work even when you think they shouldn't. Kinda like that fight scene. It's my Abdul theory."

"Your Abdul theory."

Chris nodded. He tugged on Justin's sweatshirt. "I think we're kinda in the way here," he said as the clothes rack began to shift. Chris walked back out, and Justin followed. "Yeah, people who are really different, and they still click, that's, that can really work."

"Aha," Justin said. "Like you and Lance."

Chris stopped very suddenly, and Justin walked into him. "Me and what. Who. What?"

"Lance." Justin hooked an arm around Chris's shoulder and propelled him forward again. "Cause you two are really different."

"We get along fine," Chris said.

"Sure," Justin said, dragging Chris along since Chris seemed to have forgotten how to walk.

"We're not that different."

"Uh huh. Sure you're not."

"We're not — what do you mean, me and Lance?"

"Nothin'," Justin said. "Just you're kinda different, like he's all laid-back and well-mannered and shit, and you're, uh. You."

Chris, apparently regaining the use of his legs, made a flying leap and clung to Justin's back. "What do you mean by that? Are you implying anything about my behavior, huh? Huh? Huh?"

"Leggo my ears, freak," Justin said.

"Who are you calling a freak, freak?"

Chris thwapped Justin's head and dropped down to the floor again, and Justin chased him, trying to smack the backs of Chris's thighs with JC's hat, all the way to the toy room. Chris burst into the room, barrelled into Joey, and started a tickle-fight. Justin abandoned the chase and wandered over to JC and hooked his chin over JC's shoulder. "Okay, you were right," he said.

"Good," JC said. He was playing with a small sheet of gold star stickers. "About what?"

"Chris and Lance. Or Chris, anyway."

JC grinned. "Were you being subtle?"

"Course I was," Justin said. "I wouldn't put ideas into his head or anything. Not me."

"Right." JC stuck a gold star on Justin's nose. "You would never do that. Did you get my hat?"

"Yeah." Justin got the hat from his back pocket and jammed it down on JC's head, pulling the brim down over his eyes. "There ya go."

* * *

After the show, Chris was bouncing and JC was bouncing and Lance was mellow and Justin was thirsty and Joey wanted to go out. Joey talked Lance into going, and JC wanted to go, and Chris said he was staying in and watching movies except somehow he was going, too, and Justin tagged along for the ride. The club was dark and loud and had graffitti'd walls that had probably been halfway cool a hundred years ago. JC hit the dance floor. Justin went to the bar and had about a gallon of bottled water. He took a step towards the dance floor, and Chris appeared out of nowhere and latched on to his arm. "Listen."



"I can't hear you, the music's too loud," Justin said.

Chris hooked an arm around Justin's neck and dragged him sideways and shouted in his ear. "Listen!"

"I can't listen," Justin said. "I'm sayin' bye bye bye to my eardrum."

"Oh, bullshit. Listen. I think you were right."

"Hallelujah." Justin grinned. "Right about what?"

"About, uh. Lemme buy you a drink."

"I don't want a drink. I'm'a go dance now. Buy someone else a drink."

"Look," Chris said, "I'm gonna buy you a drink and make a big emotional confession, and you're gonna be my best friend and shut up and suck it up, okay?"

"Perrier," Justin said. "You can buy me a drink drink after the dancing."

"You're gonna need alcohol for this," Chris said.

"Yeah?" Justin planted his elbows on the bar between a very tall, very thin girl in a velvet top and three guys doing tequila shots. Chris weaseled in next to him. "Then I want a Cosmopolitan."

Chris blinked. "You want a pink, girly drink."


"That you hate."

"Yeah. See, I figure if you actually buy it, I'll know this is serious."

Chris waved at the bartender. "Gimme a Stella, please, and for my insane friend here, a bucketful of Cosmopolitan with extra pink in it."

"Okay, so you're serious." Justin looked at Chris. "What is it?"

"You were right about me and Lance," Chris said.

Justin faked a swoon. "You're right, I need a drink." The bartender put a very large Cosmopolitan in front of him. "I need a different drink. Dude, I don't want to shock you, but me being right about you and Lance being really different, that's not front page news or anything."

Chris poked a hard finger into Justin's solar plexus. "That's not what I meant and you know it. Don't fuck with my big emotional revelation here. Shut up and drink your girly drink."

Justin drank. "You really think that's gonna work, with your whatsit, Abdul theory?"

"Course it is," Chris said.

"It's never gonna work. You're too different. You try this Abdul flirtation thing on Lance and he's just gonna go all polite and confused on yo' ass."

Chris drank, then slammed the bottle down on the bar. "Oh yeah?"

"Oh, yeah." Justin tried his Cosmopolitan again.

"We'll see about that." Chris turned around and yelled. "Lance! Lance!"

"He's not gonna hear you," Justin said.

Chris, when provoked, had the volume and approximate range of an air raid siren. "La-a-a-a-a-ance!"

"Second eardrum," Justin said. "I gotta learn sign language."

"What," Lance said, appearing with Tiny in tow. "Look, he's not dying or anything."

Chris beamed. "Lance! Lend me ten pounds and I'll buy you a drink!"

Lance looked thoughtful. "Chris, you know we use dollars in this country, right?"

"I'm'a go dance while I can still hear the music," Justin said, gulped down the rest of his Cosmopolitan, and went to the dance floor.

* * *


JC ducked, and a small yellow rubber duck sailed through the air over his head and hit the back of Lance's head. Lance turned around and scowled. "The hell?"

"Duck," Chris said, grinning. "I named him Lancelot after you. Look, he's got your eyes!"

Lance picked up the rubber duck. JC got out of the line of fire. "Small and black and painted on. Yeah. I can see that."

"Maybe I should have called him Lancelittle," Chris said. "Anyway, this hotel has the greatest whirlpool and sauna and stuff. We should go frolic! With Lancelot. Little."

"I gotta work," Lance said, pointing to his laptop.

"I know you're young and all, so maybe no one's told you," Chris said. "Work is overrated. And you type better when your fingers are all pruned up, anyway. C'mon. Joey and C are coming, aren't you?"

"Sure," Joey said, slinging an arm around Lance's neck and tugging him away from the laptop. "C'mon."

"In a minute," JC said. "I'll just wait for Justin, tell him where we are."

"You could leave a note," Lance said.

"You know Justin can't read," Chris said.

"You could leave me."

Chris took the rubber duck and waggled it in front of Lance. "Are you gonna make Lancelittle cry? C'mon!" He grabbed Lance's arm and dragged him and Joey from the room.

A couple of minutes later Justin came in, rubbing a towel over his head. "You seen my blue track pants?"

"There." JC pointed. "You know, I think Lance is a bit. Confused."

"Lance?" Justin wrinkled his nose. He picked the track pants up and put them on. "Lance is like the least confused person in the world. Lance is like, um, you can wake him up at three in the morning and ask him who's president and how many decimals of pi does he know and he'll have you killed and buried in fifteen minutes without breaking a sweat."

JC rolled his eyes. "Yeah, but Chris is throwing rubber ducks at him."

"Huh." Justin picked up a t-shirt, looked at it, sniffed it, and put it on. "Chris and romance, oil and water. Like, how did he ever get to date anyone, ever?"

"Shock tactics," JC said, thinking about it. "It's, you know, he'll say all this crazy stuff to people, and then sneak in with do they want to go out with him and they say yeah just from shock that he said something they understood."

"Well, that's not gonna work with Lance." Justin sat down to put his socks on. "Not even if he's throwing rubber ducks." He snapped the sock elastic against his leg a couple of times in a thoughtful manner. "Hey, remember that time when Lance ate snails cause I told him he wouldn't like them?"

"It's not like I could forget," JC said. "I liked that jacket."

Justin grinned. "He paid for the dry cleaning." He shoved his feet into the nearest pair of unlaced sneakers. "Anyway, are you pondering what I'm pondering?"

"No." JC picked up the wet towel off the floor. "Okay, yeah, but the whole snail metaphor is, you know. Maybe not that good. Cause you were right, he did hate them."

"Yeah, but he doesn't hate Chris." Justin stood and stretched. "Least, not in a projectile vomiting kind of way. Where is everyone, anyway?"

"Hotel pool," JC said. "There's a whirlpool, and Chris bought Lance a rubber duck."

"Fuck, I just got dry and dressed," Justin said. "You wanna go?"

JC shrugged. "It might be nice."

"Yeah, okay. Might be fun to get a look at Lance with the rubber duck. You know where my swim trunks are?"

JC pointed.

* * *

After an epic rubber duck battle, they ended up in Joey's room, channel surfing and ordering one room service item after another. "And onion rings!" Chris said. "We gotta have onion rings!"

Justin turned the menu this way and that. "They don't have onion rings."

Chris looked stunned. "How can they not have onion rings? What kind of un-American hotel is this?" He clutched his chest dramatically. "No onion rings! I'm gonna waste away, here!"

Joey poked Chris's stomach. "No, you're not."

"Chris," Lance said. "You know if you stick your head out the door and say you want onion rings, about seven people will fall over themselves to get them for you."

Chris beamed. "I knew there was a reason you're my favorite person ever, Lance-not-little. Course, I'm all faint with hunger, so I don't know if I'll even make it to the door." Joey poked Chris's stomach again, and Chris hid behind Lance, holding on to Lance's shoulders when Lance tried to get out of the way. "Save me, Sir Lance-not-little!"

JC started to unfold himself from the floor. "I'll go."

"No, I'll go," Justin said. "I need a sweatshirt, anyway." He wandered out into the hallway and relayed Chris's request for onion rings, then went to his own room.

He was looking in the closet to see if someone had unpacked for him when the door opened and Lance came in. "Justin."


"I figure if anyone knows, you know. What is going on with Chris?"

Justin pulled out a grey hoodie. It wasn't the one he wanted. "Uh, he's short and weird? He's hungry and he wants onion rings? Any of that ring a bell?"

"You know what I'm talking about," Lance said. "He's being funny around me. Like, I dunno, either he's trying to give me a nervous breakdown or he broke something expensive and is trying to keep me from noticing?"

"He's flirting," Justin said.

"Or he's flirting, right." Lance shook his head, looking exasperated. "So what did he do? Teleport to Floribama and burn my house down?"

"No, he's flirting." Justin pulled out a second grey hoodie, which wasn't the right one, either. "He's just not very good at it."

Lance blinked. "But," he said.

Justin pulled out a third hoodie, looked at it, and threw all three of them onto a chair. He patted Lance's shoulder. "I know, I know," he said, "it's kind of scary."

"I'm not even up to scary yet," Lance said. "I'm kinda stuck at huh. I mean. Chris?"

"Yeah, it's wacky. Like, seriously, you two are a worse match than Bruce Lee and Kareem Abdul Jabbar." Justin waved a hand in a half-assed fight move. "There's just nothing, I mean, everyone except Chris knows you two are way too different. It'd never work." He turned back to the closet. "Have you seen my grey hoodie?"

"Yes. All three of them," Lance said.

"No, the other one." Justin turned back. "Anyway, don't worry 'bout it. He'll stop sooner or later when he realizes there's no point."

Lance's eyes narrowed. "No point, huh?"

"Seriously. I mean—" Justin broke off as the door opened and Chris came in. "Hey, Chris, have you seen my grey hoodie?"

"JC's wearing it, stupid. Where are my onion rings? You went for onion rings and Lance went to get you and now I'm here to get Lance, it's like a horror movie, like both of you were whacked by some delivery guy in a ski mask and I'm never gonna get any onion rings ever."

"Standing right here," Lance said, waving a hand. "Justin's having a fashion crisis, is all."

"Not any more I'm not," Justin said.

"Anyway." Lance looked down, then up again. "Hey, Chris, you wanna go out and catch a movie or something?"

Chris scratched the back of his neck. "Well, I dunno, I think everyone's pretty much set on staying in."

"I'm not talking about everyone. I'm asking you."

"You're asking me?" Chris stared. "Are you asking me on a date?"

"Yup." Lance frowned. "Are you gonna say something? Like, yes would be good."

Chris grinned. "Yes!" He bounced on the balls of his feet. "Yes, yes! What do you want to see? Do you have a movie listing? I think you should choose the movie, cause no one sane ever lets me choose the movie. I think—"

"C'mon," Lance said, herding Chris out of the room. "Let's go find a paper or something."

Justin grinned. He picked up one of the three grey hoodies in the chair and went back to Joey's room. JC was sprawled in front of the tv, and Justin plopped down next to him. "You stole my hoodie."

"I like this hoodie," JC said, tugging at the slightly worn cuffs. "It's warm."

Justin sighed mournfully. "Yeah. Hey, listen, Lance asked Chris on a date."

"Really?" JC smiled. "Like, now?"

"Yeah. They're going to the movies."

"Well." JC's smile grew wider. "That's really nice." He looked sideways at Justin. "Feel like a movie?"

Justin grinned back. "Absolutely."

* * *

Tiny kept rumbling with laughter. JC elbowed him, but not very hard. "Stop that, they're gonna hear us."

"Not over all this noise," Justin said, but he tugged his hoodie forward over his face until only the tip of his nose showed. "You want popcorn, C?"


"I want popcorn."

"Well, you can't get any popcorn. Not right now." JC watched Lance buy popcorn and Chris do the interpretive dance of lots of extra butter, please. "We gotta be inconspicuous."

"Right." Justin snorted. "That's why we brought a bodyguard."

"He kind of brought himself," JC said, trying to glare up at Tiny.

"Well, I gotta see this," Tiny said. "You think they're gonna hold hands?"

"I don't see how we're gonna find out," Justin said. "It's not like we can walk up to them in the middle of the movie and shine a flashlight or something."

"Look, they're going in." JC pointed discreetly.

"Popcorn!" Justin said. "You got the tickets, right?"

"I thought you got the tickets."

"I was keeping a low profile!"

They turned and looked at Tiny. He shook his head. "Nobody told me to get tickets, guys." He waved a hand at the other end of the foyer. "It's sold out."

"Fuck." Justin kicked at the floor. "We suck at this."

"Good thing we haven't quit our day jobs," JC said. He squinted across the foyer. "We could see something else."

"I'm not really here for the movie," Justin said.

"We could wait in the coffee shop across the street and catch them when they come back out."

"But then we're not gonna know if they held hands in there."

"We're not gonna know that anyway, really," JC pointed out.

"We're gonna be real inconspicuous with a bodyguard in a coffee shop," Justin said.

"We're only trying to hide from Chris and Lance, not the whole world."

Tiny checked his watch. "If it looks okay, I can leave you there and come back later."

Justin looked mournful. "I'm not getting any popcorn."

"I said we could see another movie. With popcorn." JC kicked at the toes of Justin's sneakers. "Gotta be something shorter, though."

"Nah, coffee's good."

They went across the street. The coffee shop was small and not very well lit and nearly empty. It smelled of cinnamon and wet raincoats. Tiny nodded. "You don't have to come back," JC said.

"C'mon, man," Justin said. "He wants to see the show. Can you blame him?"

JC grinned. "I guess not."

They got lattes, and Justin bought cinnamon buns and chocolate eclairs and a large slice of apple pie with ice cream. "Here," Justin said, handing JC a fork. "Eat."

"You bought it." JC picked up a chocolate eclair and watched Justin eat ice cream. Then he looked across the street at the movie theater. "Did you want to see a movie?"

"Not really." Justin had pie voice, full of apple and crumbs. He swallowed. "I just wanna see the show, too. Is it just me, or does Chris sort of turn into Chris cubed around Lance?"

JC grinned. "It's not just you," he said.

The pie and the eclairs and the buns and the lattes and the other lattes they got after that lasted them through the first hour, and after that they played hangman on napkins, and a stirring game of tic-tac-toe. "I bet," Justin said, picking chocolate crumbs off the plate, "I bet people would be amazed at the glamorous and exciting life international pop idols have."

"Dude, we've got chocolate and espionage," JC said. "We're really cool."

Tiny came back and squeezed into the booth next to JC, grinned hugely, and handed each of them a small pair of binoculars.

"Are these like Bond gadgets?" Justin turned them over. "Do they shoot darts, can we drug Chris and Lance and put them on a plane to Switzerland or something?"

"We've got a show tomorrow," JC said. "I think people would notice if they were missing."

"I was joking," Justin said. "I was being funny."

JC looked at him. "Well. I couldn't tell."

"You're never gonna let me forget that, are you?"

"No." JC pointed across the street. "Look, I think the movie's over." He squinted through his binoculars. People began to come outside.

"I don't see them," Justin said. "They're too fucking short. Wait, there's Lance, you see them?"

"Yeah." JC angled his head to the left. "Chris is bouncing."

"Lance looks." Justin paused. "He doesn't look homicidal or anything."

"They're talking... no, they're moving now. They're by that blue car. They're." JC lowered the binoculars. "They're crossing the street."

"They're coming here," Justin said. "Fuck." He put his elbow in the plate that had smears of melted ice cream. "Fuck."

Tiny stood up and dragged JC along. JC grabbed Justin's arm and dragged him along, too. "Tell me we're not gonna hide in the bathroom," JC said, and then they were crowding into the bathroom. "Oh, this is just great."

Justin wiped at the ice cream stain with a paper towel. "We're not cool any more. And you know fucking Chris has a bladder like a pregnant lady."

Tiny and JC started laughing at the same time. Justin elbowed them into silence, distributing ice cream stains along the way.

Chris and Lance only stayed for espresso, though. They left, and JC and Justin and Tiny got out of the bathroom, and because Tiny drove like a maniac, they got back to the hotel first.

Tiny took up a position near the elevators, hands clasped behind his back, and gave JC and Justin a friendly and slightly smug smile.

"We could pretend to play hotel soccer with a cushion in the hallway," Justin said.

JC rolled his eyes. "Chris would join in. That is not the way to romance, dude."

So they left JC's door ajar just a tiny bit, with the lights off, and waited and watched. Chris and Lance weren't more than a couple of minutes behind. "They're not holding hands," Justin whispered.

JC pinched Justin's leg. "Ssssh!"

Outside Lance's door, Chris and Lance stopped and looked at each other. JC felt Justin draw breath, and slapped his hand firmly over Justin's mouth. Chris got a certain look in his eyes, Lance looked a little stunned, and then they were kissing.

Down by the elevators, Tiny grinned and made a victory sign in the direction of JC's door.

Lance and Chris broke apart, Lance stumbled into his room, and Chris smiled happily to himself and went to his own door.

Justin pulled JC's hand away. "We rock!"

"No," JC said, "we pop."

* * *

"They need to spend more time together," Justin said.

"They are spending a lot of time together," JC said.

Justin bit into his bagel and got cream cheese on his chin. He stole JC's napkin. "I mean real time time. Not stage time or soundcheck time." Justin wiped his chin and put the napkin back by JC's plate.

JC balled the napkin up and threw it at Justin. "They go on dates."

"Yeah, yeah." Justin grinned. "Hey, you think they're having sex yet?"

"I have no idea," JC said primly.

"Yeah, I don't think so either." Justin pried his bagel apart and took out an offending slice of tomato. "I know what Chris looks like when he's gotten laid, and — and shit, C, get that look off your face, I don't know like that!"

Justin looked horrified. JC smiled. "You're pretty close," he said. "You and Chris."

"There's close and there's close. Listen, I think—" Justin broke off and stared over JC's shoulder. "Whoa," he said.

Chris and Lance came into the room. Chris was shining like the sun at high noon, and Lance had the sleek look of a cat basking in the sunshine. JC looked at Justin. "That's the look?"

"Oh, yeah." Justin bit into the bagel again, hiding his smile.

Joey slouched in and got coffee. "Why is this muffin orange?"

"Carrots," Justin said. "I think. Or something."

Joey dropped the muffin. "Thanks for the warning."

"Try the banana cranberry," Justin suggested. "Uh, Joey, you don't mind sharing a bus with me instead of Lance, do you?"

"Huh?" Joey turned around. "I mean, no. But why?"

"Cause I think he needs to spend more time with his boytoy," Justin said and ducked even before Chris lobbed a danish at him. "Or the other way around, whatever."

"Whoa." Joey looked from Chris to Lance and then back at Justin. "Yeah, sure. That okay with you, C?"

JC opened his mouth. Justin kicked him under the table. "It's fine with him."

"It's fine with me," JC said a little sourly, and stole the rest of Justin's bagel.

"Okay," Joey said. He opened his mouth, closed it again, and sat down with his banana cranberry muffin and read the paper.

When Lance and Chris got way too involved in sharing a chocolate danish, JC leaned in closer to Justin. "You think they need a chaperone, or what?"

"Someone's gotta keep an eye on them," Justin said. "I mean, they're closer, but they're not. They're not really there yet."

"I notice you didn't volunteer, with the eye-keeping."

"Course not," Justin said. "Seriously, you know if I'm there it's just gonna be all Playstation and shit."

"And what am I, romantic background music?"

Justin grinned. "About a billion teenage girls would say yes."

* * *

"Did you and C have a fight or something?"

Justin blinked and stopped channel-surfing. "What. No?"

"Oh, okay." Joey scratched at his chin. "I just thought. Never mind."

"No, really, we're good," Justin said.


"Really. We just, it's this thing."


Justin changed the channel another seven times. "You think he's mad at me or something? Like, does it look to you like he's mad at me? Cause we're not, you know, there was no fight."

"Okay." Joey grabbed for the remote. "C'mon, you're giving me epilepsy here. I wanna watch that movie with the train."

"Yeah, okay. Sure." Justin changed the channel another three times. "Seriously, you think we had a fight? Cause we didn't."

"Well, good. Great."

Justin frowned. "I think maybe I did something."

Joey sighed and settled back on the couch. "Like what?"

"I don't know, man. I just." He changed the channel another six times. "Is that your movie?"

"Yeah." Joey settled back into the cushions and slung an arm around Justin and pulled him closer until Justin was leaning against him. "You gotta tell me who you think is the murderer, okay?"

"Okay," Justin said.

Joey turned the volume up so they could hear the dialogue over the bus engine. Justin leaned his head against Joey's shoulder.

When the movie was over, Joey flipped to MTV and hit mute. "You didn't guess."

"No, I. Uh." Justin sat up a bit. "I want oreos. You think we can stop someplace that has oreos?"

"I'm pretty sure, yeah," Joey said, and rubbed a large hand over Justin's head before going up to talk to the driver.

The other bus stopped, too, and they all got out into a rainy Wal-Mart Supercenter parking lot and went in, with Tiny and Mike bringing up the rear. Justin looked at Chris and Lance, who were smiling at each other, and JC, who looked sleepy and barely there, and went straight for the cookies.

He picked up two bags of oreos and two bags of Pepperidge Farm soft-baked chocolate chunk, and then Chris came up to him. "Hey."

"Hey." Justin shifted from one foot to the other. "Everything good on the bus of boyband romance?"

"It's not, really," Chris said, and got some oreos, too.

"It's not good?" Justin frowned. "What happened?"

"No, I didn't mean that. We're good," Chris said.

"Okay, good."

"We're great. What, you think we're not great?" Chris poked Justin in the chest. "Of course we're great. It's me and Lance. We're buddies. Except we're really different and I don't know what the hell he's doing with me, but. Just fine!"

He walked away. Justin looked after him and picked up another bag of oreos, and went to find the milk.

Lance was standing in front of the low-fat yoghurt, staring at it with his arms crossed. Justin walked up and poked his shoulder. "I don't think you're gonna win a staring contest with a dairy product."

"This is crazy," Lance said. "I mean."

"Yeah," Justin agreed. "Just back away from the yoghurt, man."

"I don't know why we're even." Lance was apparently talking to the fat-free raspberry. "I mean, it's all so. And he's gonna get bored."

"He likes you," Justin said.

"Yeah?" Lance blinked a couple of times, still not looking at Justin.

"Yeah." Justin shoved a bag of oreos into Lance's hands and went to pick up a quart of milk. Then he put it down and picked up a gallon instead.

Justin caught up with JC by the hickory-smoked almonds. He poked JC's shoulder, too, and JC jumped and scattered five tins of almonds across the floor. "Oh, it's you."

"You broke them," Justin said.

JC nudged a tin with his foot. "I don't think they're really broken."

Justin rolled his eyes. "No, stupid. Chris and Lance. They're being all weird."

"Oh, like Chris was never weird before," JC said.

"Well, now he's a different kind of weird." Justin put the gallon of milk down between his feet. "Aren't they getting along, or what? They had a fight?"

"Not that I've seen."

"Oh." Justin switched the oreos from one hand to the other. "Joey thinks you and I had a fight."

"Oh." JC picked up one of the tins of almonds. "Well, we didn't."

"No." Justin looked at JC. "We didn't, right? I mean, we didn't have a fight and I missed it?"

"No. And Lance and Chris, man, they're just. They're all over each other, and Chris watches tv lying on Lance's chest, and stuff. There's no fight."

"Okay." Justin rubbed at the back of his head. "They're still being all weird. You'd think if they're being all cute and cuddling on the couch and shit, they'd notice they're in love."

"You'd think," JC said.

Back on the bus, Justin ripped open the first package of chocolate chunk cookies and ate one cookie on his way from the bus door to the couch. He looked up at Joey. "I need a glass. For the milk."

"I'll get it," Joey said, steadying himself as the bus turned out of the parking lot.

Joey came back with a glass, poured it full of milk, and sat on the couch. Justin leaned against him. "Thanks."

"Just don't tell anyone I'm pretending to be your mom." Joey put his arm around Justin's shoulders. "J?"

"I think maybe we did have a fight," Justin said. He ate another cookie. "But I don't know what it was about."

"Don't worry 'bout it," Joey said. "You will."

* * *

"JC!" Chris leaned out of the door and waved his hand. "I need your help."

"Um," JC said. "What is that on your head?"

"It's a hat," Chris said. "I just need you to stand here—"

"It's like a cat in the hat hat," JC said. He walked closer. "And you're wearing that red. Thing. Necktie."

"Yeah, yeah. Just stand there and make sure Lance doesn't—"

JC looked over Chris's shoulder. "Are those Grinch candles? I didn't know you could get Grinch candles."

"I'll give you one later if you listen to me now," Chris said. "I'm not totally set up here and I want you to stand outside and make sure Lance doesn't come in too soon."

"Okay," JC said. "Did you have those napkins made special?"

"Nah, I ordered them from this web site."

"Uh huh. What about the food?"

"Fish," Chris said. "Not actually red and blue and stuff, cause the hotel cook refused to deal with the food dye, but they're gonna be wrapped in like, colored tinfoil. Present wrap, really, I guess." He looked at JC. "Is this the stupidest idea ever?"

JC smiled. "Lance is gonna love it," he said. "You want me to stand out here and keep watch?"

"Wow, and I only said that half an hour ago."

JC patted Chris's shoulder. "No problem. And really, he's gonna love it."

"I hope so," Chris muttered and closed the door.

JC leaned back against the wall and hummed to himself. Lance came out of his room and walked towards Chris's door. "Hey, C."

JC stretched an arm out across the door, blocking it. "Hey. Um, listen, I wanna talk to you."

"I'm not sure I have time right now," Lance said. "I'm kind of, um, I'm here to. What do you want to talk about?"

"I wanna talk about how you actually have the time right now." JC grinned. "You can't go in there yet."

Lance frowned. "Why not?"

"Chris isn't done putting his nail polish on." Lance moved forward, and JC stuck one leg across the doorway as well. "No, seriously, you can't go in there yet. Just hang out here for a while and talk to me. We can talk about the weather."

"I don't wanna talk about the weather." Lance looked at JC. "Did you have a fight with Justin?"


"Joey thinks you had a fight with Justin."

"Well, he's wrong."

"Justin thinks you had a fight with Justin."

"Well, he's wrong, too." JC heard Chris drop something behind the closed door. "You and Chris, you're good, right?"

"Yeah. I think. Maybe." Lance looked at the wall. Then he looked at JC. "He looked kind of funny when he asked me to come here."

"Well, it's Chris," JC said. "Like, funny costume type funny?"

"No," Lance said in a very Lance kind of voice. "More like, we need to talk it's not you it's me, funny."

"That's not really funny," JC said. "That's something else that's really pretty far from funny, and also, it's wrong and you shouldn't worry about it."

"Right," Lance said. "Cause you heard him when he said it and you're an expert."

"Cause I heard him when he was talking to me just now, and." JC rubbed the back of his neck, and then he wrapped his hand around Lance's biceps and squeezed a bit. "You gotta have faith, dude."

The door opened behind JC, and he nearly fell backwards. Chris pushed him out of the way. "Lance-not-little! Ignore the skinny freak, he's my doorman. Come on in! I, um, I got something special for you."

"Okay," Lance said, looking at Chris in the hat, and then he glanced at JC. JC nodded. "Okay." Lance's smile for Chris was slow, but warm.

The door closed behind Chris and Lance. JC walked into the next room over and poked a finger into Joey's stomach. "You can't go 'round telling people I've had a fight with Justin."

Joey poked back. "What, it's a state secret?"

"No!" JC sat down on the couch and propped his elbows on his knees. "There's no fight, we haven't had a fight."

"Justin thinks so." Joey sat down, too. "He thinks something is wrong."

"That's not really the same thing," JC said. "And anyway, nothing is wrong. It's just something that isn't quite right."

"Mm hm." Joey shook his head. "Did that make sense to you?" JC nodded. "Well, I'm glad it worked for one of us."

* * *

Justin came into the game room, which was empty except for JC sitting in a chair playing with a koosh ball. He sat at JC's feet and leaned his head against JC's knee. After a while he said, "Did we have a fight?"


"Okay." Justin drummed his fingers against the carpet. "Are you sure?"

"Justin, we didn't have a fight. Wouldn't you know if we had a fight? You'd pretty much have to be there for it."

"Yeah. It's just." Justin twisted his neck so he could look up at JC. "If we hadn't had a fight, you'd be rubbing the back of my neck right now."

"Listen," JC said. "Justin."

The door opened and Chris ran inside, followed by Lance, who was wielding a padded clotheshanger in a menacing manner.

"Save me!" Chris yelled and threw himself at Justin. "He's evil! JC, throw the koosh ball of righteous justice at him!"

"Oof." Justin shifted Chris's knees and elbows and leaned forward. Lance got him in the head with the clothes hanger.

"Sorry," Lance said. "I was aiming for the short, crazy one."

Justin looked at the door to the quiet room, and up at JC, but JC was grinning and lobbing the koosh ball at Lance's head. Lance ducked and the ball hit Joey, and Justin tickled Chris's knees, and Chris rolled across the floor and screamed about suing for workplace harassment. Then he wrapped himself around Lance's legs and started to gnaw on his ankle.

Joey shook his head. "Someone forgot to feed him again? Lance, you know you can't keep pets if you don't know how to care for them."

"It's not that complicated," Lance said. "Give him lots of sugar every two hours and wear a hard hat at all times."

"And apparently combat boots," Justin said. "Chris, stop eating the ankle that feeds you."

Lance poked at Chris with the clotheshanger, and Chris grabbed Lance's wrist and pulled him down to the floor. "I've got you where I want you now, Lance-not-little!"

"I'm too young to see this," Justin said and hid his face behind JC's knee.

JC put a hand on the back of Justin's neck and rubbed his thumb behind Justin's ear. Justin smiled, resting his forehead against the beaded seam of JC's jeans.

Joey laughed. "Just remember if you break him, you have to pay for him."

"I'm not gonna break him," Chris said, and his voice sounded like Justin had never heard Chris's voice sound before, exultant and terrified and sure.

"I could get one of those padded suits," Lance said, laughing, out of breath. "I'd be like the Michelin man."

Justin lifted his head and looked. Lance was lying flat on his back, grinning up at Chris, who sat with his knees clamped around Lance's ribs. They looked at each other, and Chris put a careful hand on the side of Lance's face.

Then Joey picked up the koosh ball of righteous justice and lobbed it at Chris's head, and Chris launched himself at Joey with a traditional Kirkpatrick war cry ("Grrraaaaaaaiiiiiiiiirrrrgh!"), and Lance came to Joey's defence and Justin came to Chris's, and JC giggled until he slipped out of the chair and lay on the floor, clutching his stomach and wheezing.

They did a good show, that night.

Afterwards, Justin stumbled onto the bus and drank a lot of water and stumbled towards his bunk, and then he stopped and went back and gave Joey a hug. "Love you, man," he said.

"Did you figure it out?" Joey said.

"No. But I will." Justin fell into his bunk and slept.

* * *

JC braced himself with one hip against the counter in the bus kitchen and put a pop tart in the toaster. Blueberry, no frosting.

"Coffee," Chris said behind him.

JC turned his head. "Pop tarts."

"Coffee," Chris insisted.

"You could at least say please," Lance said, slinging an arm around Chris's shoulders. "I hear it works on some people."

Chris grinned. "Does it work on you?"

"I like it when you say it, anyway," Lance said, and Chris leaned in and licked the tip of Lance's nose.

"You two are so cute," JC said, getting his pop tart from the toaster. "Ow, ow, ow." He balanced it on the tips of his fingers. "Like, you always were, but now you're even cuter."

"Of course I was always cute," Chris said. "I was born cute. But this one," he licked Lance's nose again, "was born a freaky Mississippi albino. He's improved, though."

JC bit into his pop tart and snorted crumbs. "Right," he said indistinctly. "That's why you made googly eyes at him back in Germany, even."

Chris froze. "I did not."

"Did, too."

"Did not — look, googly eyes? What do you mean, googly eyes?"

JC looked from Chris to Lance and back again. "Well, the two of you were just. You always had this way of looking at each other, you know?"

"He's makin' this up," Lance said. "There wasn't any of that, that stuff."

"I know that! I was there! At least, I never did anything like that."

"What, you think I did?"

JC munched on his pop tart, watching them. "And squabbling," he said. "Like you weren't happy unless you could get each other's attention somehow."

"You're making this up," Chris said. He turned to Lance. "He's making this up."

Lance nodded. "Maybe we haven't been paying enough attention to him."

"I'm not making it up. Back when we did that thing with the—"

"You're delusional," Chris said firmly.

"You don't even know what I was going to say," JC said.

"No, but I know delusional when I see it."

JC snorted. "Fine. See if you get any pop tarts."

"I got one already," Lance said, deadpan. Two seconds later he was fleeing towards the back of the bus with Chris in hot pursuit.

JC got a nectarine out of the fridge and started warming it between his hands. When it was just the right temperature to eat, Chris came running back with Lance following, and they both stumbled into JC and he dropped the nectarine on the bus floor. "Hey!"

"He's evil," Chris said, pointing at Lance. "He is completely evil, and I don't know him."

"Is that so," Lance said. "So that wasn't you half an hour ago with your tongue in my—"

Chris clapped his hand over Lance's mouth. "Sssh, dude, remember JC's virgin ears! Just cause he's a delusional freak is no reason to offend his modesty."

"His what?"

"My what? And I'm not delusional. You two had a thing going since forever, you were just slow to figure it out. And I'm glad you did, cause you're cute," JC grinned, "you're good together, okay?"

Lance tugged Chris's hand away from his mouth. "Yeah," he said, sounding pleased. "We are."

"But you're still a delusional freak," Chris added.

JC sighed and scrubbed at his hair. "Okay, I'm tired of you casting whatsit, aspersions on my, my truthfulness. And you made me drop my nectarine. I'm switching buses."

"Aw, no," Chris said. He picked up the nectarine and tried to blow the carpet lint off it. "Here! Good as new!"

"Nope," JC said gravely. "You wounded me too deeply. Plus it drives me crazy to sleep with earplugs."

Lance coughed, and Chris turned a fetching shade of pink. JC went up to speak to the driver, and ten minutes later they pulled into a rest stop by the side of the road and he got off the bus, stretched and breathed, and jogged over to the other bus.

"Hey, C," Joey said, stretching out a welcoming hand and hauling him up the steps. "Chris driving you crazy?"

"I want breakfast," JC said plaintively.

Joey was still in boxers and a threadbare t-shirt, sleep-wear. He made toast with honey, and JC found a perfect red apple, no spots, smooth and glossy. "Thanks," JC said and hugged Joey, taking care not to get honey in Joey's hair.

When Joey went to get dressed, JC sprawled on the couch and ate his apple. He heard a low murmur of conversation from the back of the bus, and then Justin slouched by, sweatpants and grumpy morning face, going straight for the cereal.

JC bit into his apple and smiled.

* * *

Justin tipped the cereal bowl to get the last sugary milk into his spoon. He put the bowl away and turned around and saw JC on the couch. "Hey." He blinked. "You weren't here before."

"I am now," JC said.

"Okay." Justin went over to flop down on the couch, too, draping himself across JC's chest and tucking his head under JC's chin. "I'm'a go back to sleep now."

JC's hand settled on Justin's shoulder, warm against bare skin. "It's morning, J. You had breakfast and everything."

"Yeah, but." Justin closed his eyes and worked an arm in under JC's back. "Haven't done this in a while, you were on that other bus. How come you're not on that other bus any more?"

"They were kinda loud," JC said.

Justin thought about that for a moment. "Oh."

"They're good," JC said. "They got it."

"Good." Justin tucked his free hand under JC's hip. "C?"


"We didn't have a fight."


"Good." The bus drove over an uneven patch of road, and they were jostled together. "So it's okay if I sleep on you for a while?"

"Yeah." JC's thumb rubbed across the point of Justin's shoulder. "If that's what you want."

"I wanna know what it was we didn't have a fight about, is what I want. I thought you were okay with that whole bus switch thing. I just wanted to get Chris and Lance to spend more time together, so they'd realize—" Justin broke off. He lifted his head. "C?"




"Oh." Justin blinked. He tilted his head to one side, slowly, and then JC's hand curved around the back of his neck and JC kissed him.

Justin tried to say that he got it now, but JC's tongue was in his mouth. JC's other hand was in the small of Justin's back, fingertips resting warm and sure in the dip of Justin's spine. Justin smiled into the kiss.

"You want some more toast, C? Or maybe — whoa!" Joey stared down at them. "Okay. Um."

Justin looked up at Joey and kept smiling. "We didn't have a fight," he said.

"Yeah, I get that. Are you, you know, planning on not-fighting on the couch for a while there?"

"I think I'll pass on the toast," JC said. His fingers crept down under the waist of Justin's sweatpants.

"Okay. Right. Know what, I think I'll be in my bunk. With my CD player and my headphones. Turned up real loud." Joey turned away. "Real loud," he said over his shoulder.

"I should lend him my ear plugs," JC said.

Justin worked his hand up under JC's shirt. "Later," he said, kissing the corner of JC's mouth.

* * *

JC dozed for a while. He woke up when the bus slowed and stopped. Justin slept, breathing steadily against the hollow of JC's throat. The whole length of his warm, heavy, naked body was pressed against JC's.

When the sound of the bus engine died down to an idle hum, JC could hear tinny music coming from Joey's bunk.

The bus door opened and closed.

"Bring out your dead!" Chris shouted. "Or bring out your Timberlakes, cause you're a dead man, J, with your—"

"Holy shit," Lance said.

JC smiled at them both over Justin's shoulder. "Hey, guys. What's up?"

"Well, I was gonna kick Justin's ass," Chris said. "Now I'm mostly worried that I'm gonna be looking at it if that throw slips any lower."

Justin yawned against JC's collarbone. "Hey, Chris. Hey, Lance."

The bus started moving again, and Chris and Lance staggered, clutched at each other, and sat down. Lance had a red mark on his throat, right under his ear. JC smiled. "Go get Joey out of his bunk," he said. "He can make some more toast."

"Good idea. 'm hungry," Justin said.

"You're naked," Chris said.

"I'm not naked." Justin paused. "No, wait, I am naked. But I'm okay with that."

"I'm not," Chris said. "You should be more upright and less naked when I'm talking to you."

"How come you're only picking on me? There's two of us here, you know." Justin looked at JC.

"Yeah, but he's not being all—" Chris narrowed his eyes. "No, wait, he is. C, knock it off with the smug smile."

JC tried to hide his smile in Justin's shoulder. He licked the salt-sweaty skin pressed against his mouth, and Justin squirmed.

Lance scowled at both of them. "Stop it. More dressed and less obviously post-orgasmic would be good."

Justin twisted around and looked at Lance. He grinned. "This from the guy with a big ol' hickey on his neck."

Lance glared at Justin. Then he turned his head and glared at Chris, who was grinning, too. "I'm gonna go get Joey," Lance said.

"I'm gonna stare out the window and whistle," Chris said, pointedly turning his back.

Justin kissed JC's chin and sat up and fumbled for his sweatpants. JC found his shirt on the floor and his jeans hanging off the edge of the couch. He smoothed a hand over Justin's back, and Justin turned his head with a soft look in his eyes, and JC kissed him.

"I thought you said it was safe to come out here," Joey said.

"Well, at least they're dressed now," Lance said.

Joey nodded. "Nobody told me this was gonna be the Mostly Naked tour."

"It's the Lance Has Hickeys tour," Justin said.

"You two could be naked onstage," Chris suggested. "Imagine the screams."

"You could go be naked with your boyfriend and stop buggin' us," Justin said. "You're like a really black pot throwing stones at a kettle in a glass house, here."

Chris shook his head. "I'm here to kick your ass, cause you're manipulative and sneaky."

"No, I'm gonna kick his ass," Lance said. "It was my idea. You're just along for support and cheerleading."

"Well, I thought I'd be a good boyfriend and do it for you," Chris said.

"That's romantic," Joey said. "I think."

Justin leaned back on the couch, stretched his legs out and crossed them at the ankle. "If it weren't for me, you wouldn't have a boyfriend. Either one of you. I think you should buy me something really expensive."

"I think we should all buy Joey earplugs," JC said.

"We're not that loud," Chris said. "And we're on another bus."

"Yeah," Joey said, "and sometimes you're in another hotel room."

Lance sat down next to Chris. "Are you saying people can hear us from the next room?"

Justin laughed. "Dude, they can probably hear you in the next city." He pointed at Lance. "You're gonna kick my ass cause I made you ask Chris out on a date and now you're all happy? Is that how the kids say thank you these days?"

"Thank you, Justin, you manipulative bastard," Lance said. He grinned. "Really. Thank you."

"I'm kind of impressed, actually," Chris said. "I didn't think you had it in you to be that sneaky. Or that observant."

"Well, actually," Justin said, looking at JC.

JC put a hand over Justin's mouth. "Well, you know, he's just smart like that," JC said. "Sometimes."

* * *

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