torch, flambeau@strangeplaces.net
October 9 (November 2002)

Disclaimer: this may not be the best way to cure a cold. For Merry, who was all pitiful. Thanks to Shoshanna for the editing. Do not archive this story without permission.

Sickroom

"You forgot to put the cap on the toothpaste," Lance said. He sat on his bed and felt it sag in the middle.

Justin sighed. "So what?" he said without looking up from some German teen mag that Lance knew perfectly well Justin couldn't read a word of. "Did it get all dry and icky in the ten seconds between when I went out of the bathroom and you went in?"

"No." Lance scowled. "You put your completely unnecessary shaving kit down on it, so most of it was all over the sink."

Justin sighed again, even more deeply. "I'll buy some more tomorrow, okay? Or do I have to run out right now in my pajamas and get you some toothpaste?" Lance didn't answer. Justin sat up in bed. "Wait, you don't trust German toothpaste because you think it's poisoned or something. Okay. I'll call my mom. No, I'll call your mom and tell her baby Lance can't use the toothpaste they sell in Germany even though it's the same stupid brand, so can she please send—"

Lance threw his pillow at Justin. "It doesn't taste the same," he said.

"It's the water that tastes different." Justin tucked Lance's pillow behind his back and settled against it. There was a knock on the door.

"Hey," Lance said, and then, "You get that."

"No, you get that."

"No, you—"

The door opened and JC came in.

"I thought you locked that," Justin said.

"No, you were gonna lock it," Lance said.

"No, you—"

"Are you two bickering again?" JC sat on the foot of Lance's bed. He looked tired.

"No," Lance said.

Justin made a sound that Lance had only heard from almost-empty ketchup bottles. "Bickering? Bickering?"

Lance didn't want to grin, but he grinned. "We're not bickering," he said earnestly. "We wouldn't do that."

"No, you're definitely bickering," JC said. "I'm going to have to separate you. One of you, go to the other room." He looked at Lance, at Justin, and at Lance again. "Please."

"No way," Justin said. "I'm not spending the night with Chris and his germs. The way he's coughing, it's not like anyone can sleep in the same — oh."

"Oh," JC agreed. There were dark smudges under his eyes, Lance saw.

Justin dropped his magazine on the floor. "What about Joey?"

"Joey's got company," Lance said. He'd seen the girl from the ice cream parlor across the street sneak upstairs when he'd gone to see if he could get more clean towels.

JC nodded. "And I wouldn't ask you guys, either, except." He drooped a little where he sat. "Just the one night."

"Sure," Justin said, and grinned at Lance. "Lance has been dying to get away from me anyway. You and I can have a Mouseketeer sleepover."

Lance swung his legs over the side of the bed. "Does your bed have pillows?"

JC looked confused. "Yes."

"Good." Lance got up. "Give me the key, then. And tell me where you keep the ear plugs."

"Left outside pocket of my black bag," JC said, dropping the key in Lance's outstretched hand. "And thanks."

"Don't thank me," Lance said. "Justin is gonna try to keep you up all night."

"Oh, no, he's not," JC said, with something very determined in his voice. "Justin, give me the pillow."

"Make me," Justin said.

Lance grinned and walked out of the room.

He wondered, as he unlocked the door across the corridor, how long it would take before they'd get out of these tiny family hotels with keys instead of keycards and carpeting so worn down you could barely see what color it had been. He couldn't wait.

He also hoped no one had seen him cross the corridor in his striped flannel pajamas. Lance slipped inside, closed the door, and put his hands over his ears. Chris was coughing.

Chris was lying in the exact middle of the very large bed, wrapped up in all the covers and propped up against all the pillows. The very large bed was also the only bed; it took up about half the room, and the floor around it was covered in used tissues. Chris had apparently built a JC-trap out of his luggage right in front of the bathroom door.

Lance thought about going back and killing JC. Just a little bit. But no, that wasn't fair; he'd known this was the room with the double bed, because he and Justin had narrowly escaped being put in it. Besides, if he killed JC, Justin would kill him, and with two group members dead and one in prison, there wouldn't be much left of Chris' hope for a successful musical group.

There probably wasn't much left of Chris, either. "Haven't you lost about half your body weight in mucus by now?" Lance asked, stepping away from the door and approaching the bed with care.

Chris blew his nose and glared. "Why are you over here modelling your sleepwear and not over in your room in bed like a good boy?"

"Because JC's over in my room in bed like a good boy," Lance said. He sat down on the bed and found that it dipped just as badly as his previous one. "Give me one of those pillows."

"I've coughed on them," Chris said, but he pulled a pillow free and tossed it at Lance. "I suppose you'll want covers, too."

"Yes," Lance said, and shoved a bit at Chris's legs.

"So JC wimped out." Chris dropped his used-up tissue over the side of the bed. "Those pansy-ass wanna-be pop stars have no stamina. I bet he climbed into bed with Justin with his tail between his legs."

Lance dropped the pillow he was fluffing. "Say what?"

"Nothing," Chris said quickly. "Absolutely nothing. I wouldn't dream of insinuating any of the things that I didn't just insinuate, especially not to a good Southern Baptist boy like you."

"Thank God," Lance said fervently, just as a good Southern Baptist boy should. "Does this mean I can stop sharing a room with Justin?" He looked hopefully at Chris, who blinked. "I don't really mind so much that he keeps messing up my toothpaste, but whenever he talks about JC, he ends up locking himself in the bathroom for hours. I had to run downstairs and use the toilet in the lobby yesterday."

Chris burst out laughing. It turned into coughing after about two seconds, and he doubled over and made sounds suggestive of an early grave, or at least that Lance wouldn't get much sleep. He was starting to understand why JC had looked so harrowed.

Of course, it didn't seem as though JC would be getting much sleep now, either.

When Chris could breathe again, he said, "Did you know that the Egyptian embalmers used to pull out the brains of the bodies they embalmed through the nose with little hooks?"

Lance made a face. "I didn't know you could get the Discovery channel here. Maybe you should try watching the daytime soaps instead."

"Except," Chris went on, undeterred, "in the case of those who died by coughing their brains out their nose in the first place. I'm just saying, if you see pink and grey stuff on the sheets—"

"I think I'm gonna go out and sleep in the corridor," Lance said.

"There's probably a bed free in your room," Chris said and waggled his eyebrows.

Lance pulled his legs up and wrapped his arms around his knees. "Like I said, corridor."

Chris grabbed another tissue and shifted over about two inches. "Are you okay with that?"

"With sleeping in the corridor? Not really, no."

"No, you weird albino freak. With the JC and Justin thing."

"Oh." Lance tugged at a corner of the covers. Flannel pajamas or no flannel pajamas, he was starting to feel cold. "Sure."

Chris held fast to the covers. "You don't think they're going to burn in hell for all eternity in a lake of fire and brimstone?"

"Well, I'm pretty sure Justin is," Lance said. "But not because of the JC thing. And I'm also pretty sure that there's a special corner of hell for people who let their fellow pop singers freeze to death on cold nights in Germany."

Chris let go, and Lance fell backwards. "Okay, then," he said, pausing to hack out a cough in the middle. "I don't want you to think that I was saying that you're narrow-minded or anything, because apparently you're not narrow-minded at all, but it's just that you're still pretty young and when you're young it's kind of easy to be narrow-minded, and you just seem so, um—"

"Narrow-minded?" Lance suggested dryly.

"Virginal," Chris said.

Lance felt the backs of his ears heat up, and tried to pretend it wasn't happening. "Do you know where JC's black bag is?" he asked. "He said I could use the earplugs."

"Aw, you don't need earplugs," Chris said, and coughed like a minor avalanche. "Let's just get all cosy under the covers and talk about boys. I mean girls."

"How about we don't and just say we did," Lance said. He looked around for JC's bag, but didn't see it, so he lay down and pulled the covers over himself as best he could. "Whatever JC and Justin are up to, I really don't want to talk about it. Or think about it."

"Ah ha!" Chris said, stabbing a finger at Lance. "I knew it! I knew you were—"

"Look, I am not narrow-"

"—virginal!" Chris poked Lance's shoulder. "You are, aren't you? A virgin? Well, aren't you?"

"Shut up," Lance said, which was probably the worst comeback ever in the history of the world. He pulled the covers higher.

"Hey, that's nothing to be embarrassed about," Chris said, which would have been more convincing if he hadn't been grinning like a maniac. "Everyone was a virgin at some point. Though I guess maybe Justin isn't one any longer, round about now."

Lance blinked. "I've only been in here twenty minutes. Not even Justin could jump JC that fast."

"He's just a kid," Chris said. "He'll probably pop if JC just breathes on him."

"JC really wanted to sleep," Lance said. Chris looked blank. "I mean, JC really wanted to sleep. He had that look."

Chris grinned slowly. They all knew that look. "Okay, then I'm willing to give Justin's boyish innocence the benefit of the doubt until about eight tomorrow morning. So, what about you, then?"

"What about me?" Lance asked warily.

"Well, are you waiting for marriage, or something? Cause if you are, that's totally okay, but you've probably noticed that the rest of us aren't. So it would be — I mean, it's not as if we'd look at you funny if you decided to. Have sex."

Lance put the pillow over his head. "Would you look at me funny if I died of embarrassment?"

Chris took the pillow away. "Yes."

Lance took the pillow back. "I wouldn't care, because I'd be dead."

"Seriously," Chris said. "Your mom isn't keeping a watchful eye on you any more, and you're sort of very nearly almost kind of a pop star, and you're not that bad-looking. Are you waiting for marriage?"

"No," Lance said, since Chris seemed to be waiting for an answer.

"Well, then." Chris poked his shoulder. "Go out and sleep around, young man." He blew his nose. "Live it up, before you get sick and old, like me."

Lance sighed. He put the pillow under his head instead, and tugged the covers around his shoulders. "I'm gonna go to sleep now."

"That's what you think," Chris said and coughed. "That girl in the ice cream parlor across the road? She was totally looking at you."

"No, she was totally looking at Joey," Lance said. "And right now she's in Joey's room, with Joey, looking at even more of Joey than she was looking at before."

"Oh." Chris sniffled. "You don't have a thing for Joey, do you? Cause that would be—"

"No," Lance said, with emphasis. "No. I mean, really, no. I mean, I like Joey, but I don't like him, like him."

"Good." Chris sniffled some more. "Cause that way lies heartbreak, I'm pretty sure." He sniffled again.

"Oh, for — just blow your nose already," Lance said. "That's disgusting."

Chris blew his nose. "I thought maybe it was less noisy. But you like guys, right?" Lance put the pillow over his head again. "C'mon, Bass. You acted all cool about Justin and JC, and now you're like a little girl."

"I'm not the one who wants to lie awake all night and talk about boys," Lance said under the pillow.

"Well, I'd talk about girls, but you don't seem all that interested." Chris blew his nose again, with more emphasis. "That lighting tech Saturday? He was kind of cute."

"I got his phone number," Lance said. "Do you want it?"

"Do I want — why haven't you called him?" Chris tugged at the pillow. "He was cute and he gave you his phone number, what more do you want, a sign that says THIS WAY TO GET LAID, LANCE BASS?"

Lance sighed again. He thought maybe he'd caught the habit from Justin. "You're gonna make fun of me," he said.

"I always make fun of you," Chris said. "So tell me."

"I just. I don't wanna go out and have sex for the first time with a total stranger. It just seems... I don't wanna do that. I mean, Justin's gonna be with JC, and that's great, he's known JC for years and been in love with him since he was twelve or whatever. But I just, with someone I don't know, I can't."

"I see," Chris said. "Well, then, you can have sex with me."

"What?"

"Well, it was either that, or tell you that you really are a little girl." Chris coughed. "So how about it?"

"I am not going to have sex with you," Lance said. "Your nose is dripping and you smell like cough syrup. Plus you'd probably start coughing and die."

"Now, yeah. But in a few days I'll be my sexy self again." Chris reached for another tissue. "And you know me, right? I mean, not since you were twelve or anything, but still. And I've had sex before, so I'm pretty sure I know how it works. And—"

"Chris." Lance looked out from under the pillow. "Is there any chance that you will, at some point during this night, shut up?"

"Tell me I get to ravish you later," Chris said, grinning, "and I'll let you sleep."

"This must be the dangerous musician lifestyle I've heard so much about." Lance yawned. "Okay."

Chris blinked. "What?"

"Okay." Lance made himself comfortable. "You get to ravish me later. I get to sleep now."

Chris grinned. "Cool." He put a hand on Lance's shoulder, quite carefully. "My very own virgin."

"Not for long," Lance said, and Chris burst out laughing, and coughing.

When Chris had stopped coughing, he reached out and turned off the bedside lamp. He turned back, without coughing, and slipped his hand into Lance's. Lance laced their fingers together.

"Good night," Chris said.

Lance nodded in the dark. "Good night."

He closed his eyes. This had gone very well. He still wasn't feeling entirely charitable towards Justin, but maybe he'd have to do something nice for him tomorrow. Maybe.

* * *

The other room

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