legalicious disclaimerism Fragile
by Julad

With congrats to Nemo, thanks to Cal (genesis! wheee!), humble bowing to Rhys and kudos to Mia.

I woke up with a war in my head
an old man's grumble
and an extra space in the bed

On his thirtieth birthday, Chris woke up and realised that he was in love with Lance. He'd been hoping for an anticlimactic day.

He should have known, he thought ruefully, deep into a bottle of gin and unable to stop thinking about Lance--Lance's eyes, Lance's ass, Lance's voice, the back of Lance's neck, Lance's incessant knucklecracking, how desperately he wanted to be shocked into wakefulness by Lance's overpowering coffee-breath every single morning... he should have known that thirty was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad age to be.

Since he'd been drunk since ten that morning, Chris made a pass at Lance right after he cut the cake. As he'd blown out the candles, after vowing all day to wish for world peace, he'd prayed to the candle gods for Lance to love him. He was fairly sure, after talking it over with Busta and Korea all day, that Lance had harboured a secret crush on him for years, so his approach was to corner Lance in the kitchen and announce, "I love you and you love me and we will be happy." It didn't have much in the way of poetry, but Chris felt it got the point across quite nicely.

"I love you too!" Lance cried happily, waving his champagne glass.

"No no no," Chris explained. "I love you in a gay way and want to buy you flowers and shit."

"Oh," Lance said, less happily. "Uh." He looked into his glass and frowned. "Hm."

"You're not drunk. I am. Gonna buy you flowers!" Chris wrapped his arms around Lance's waist and sighed blissfully. Lance was warm and solid and smelled so good and was great to squeeze really hard. "Love you so much!"

"I, Chris." Lance unwrapped him and held him at an arm's length. "We need to talk."

"Baby, you can tell me anything. As long as you love me." He might have started singing, then, or maybe the song was playing. It was somewhere in his head, anyway. Howie was around the party someplace; maybe he was the one singing it.

"I love you, Chris," Lance was saying. "Chris? Chris?"

"And I love you," Chris said, angling in for a kiss.

"But," Lance said, pushing him away again, "I can't start a relationship with you."

Ah, Chris thought. That would be the whole thirty-is-a-bad-age thing. He was too old to cry now, and everything. "You don't love me in a gay way?"

Lance patted his back and hugged him and then quickly stepped back. "I do, honest. I'm just like," Lance sighed and drained his glass. "What if you're no good in bed?"

Chris blinked. The floor was swaying. "What if I'm what?"

"If you're no good in bed. I just couldn't deal with it."

"I must be wasted," Chris said. "I'm hearing things you can't possibly be saying. We'll discuss it tomorrow." It came out more like mingcampsayscussamorrow, but Lance nodded and squeezed his shoulder, so Chris figured he'd understood.

Chris figured he'd misunderstood again the next morning, when he staggered downstairs to find Lance gathering up wine glasses and dirty plates in his living room, coffee brewing in the kitchen and Shania Twain whining away on the stereo, and asked Lance to marry him.

"Uh," Lance said.

"I know I made a pass and I wasn't just drunk but it's really funny cause I thought you said I might be bad in bed. What did you really say?"

Lance put the last pile of dishes in the sink and pulled a garbage bag out of the third drawer. "That was what I said."

Chris stuck his little finger in his ear and tried to unblock it. "Say again?"

"Chris," Lance said, rubbing his forehead. "I have to live with you. I have to work with you. If you're no good in bed, it'll screw up everything."

"Let me get this straight. You don't want to start a relationship because you think I might be lousy in the sack. You did just say that, right?"

"Yes!" Lance clapped his hands, looking relieved. "Because it's not like I can say 'I'll call you' and then just forget." He swept briskly around the room, emptying ashtrays and collecting bottles. "No, we'd spend the rest of our lives stuck in the morning after. I'd have to tell you that I wanted to discontinue the relationship because you weren't good enough in bed and I know you, you'd take that the wrong way and then everything would get completely fucked up."

Chris took a deep breath and realised this conversation had gone a lot better when he was drunk. "Okay, so, A, are you seriously telling me that you couldn't be with somebody who wasn't the Baryshnikov of Gay Sex, and B, is there a right way to take it when you're dumped for your lousy sexual performance, and C, which is the important point here, so I hope you're listening, which is that I am good in bed. Extremely good, in fact. People have been known to see stars when they're in bed with me and don't make that joke because I'll punch your head in."

Lance didn't need to take a breath. "A, I've had enough bad sex in my life and I'm not going back, and B, my point exactly, and C, I don't care, I'm not taking the chance."

Chris rolled up his sleeves. "Okay, A, that's the stupidest thing I ever heard, and B, fuck off, and C, just take off your pants!"

Lance switched on the vacuum cleaner, and that was the end of the conversation.

After ten minutes of coaxing, Chris handed his phone to Lance and announced that it was "Adrian, the Tiger Beat photographer. He's got something to tell you." Lance looked at him with exaggerated blankness; Chris rolled his eyes. "He did the one in New York. With all the blue. And the balloons. Looks like Freddie Mercury."

"I remember who Adrian was, dickwad," Lance said loudly, and then spoke into the phone. "Hey, man, long time! How's it going?"

Chris snuggled up to Lance so he could hear. Lance tried to push him away. Chris got his shoulder under Lance's armpit and latched on tight.

"Lance?" Adrian was saying. "Are you there?"

"Sorry, Chris is being a pain in the ass."

"Not yet I'm not," Chris told him, and snuggled in closer, until his cheek was rubbing against Lance's soft beard-fringe. Lance always smelled great; Chris breathed deeply.

"Don't ask me why," Adrian was saying, "but he wants me to tell you that he's good in bed."

To Chris' disappointment, Lance laughed. "You slept with Chris?"

To Chris' further disappointment, Adrian sighed dramatically. "I certainly did. But I gotta tell you, he is one fine lay."

"You've got to tell me? What's he paying you?"

"Hey!" Chris shouted.

Adrian was laughing now. "No, seriously, he's good. I don't say that about just anybody. Fred Durst, for example, was bad in bed."

"Ha!" Chris shouted.

"So, Chris is better in bed than Fred Durst, and Fred Durst is bad?"

"That's right, sweetie."

Lance sighed loudly. "Thanks, Sugar. Let's keep in touch, okay?"

"Will do," Adrian promised, and they blew phone kisses and Lance hung up.

Chris got up and rubbed his hands together. His birthday wish, finally fulfilled. "Lie back and spread em, baby."

"Chris." Lance looked pained. "Better than bad is not exactly a ringing endorsement."

"Wha--? He said I'm good!"

"Technically, he said you wanted him to say you're good."

"Lance!" On some level he was aware that he was jumping up and down and waving his arms around, but mostly he was still swimming in disbelief at the entire situation. "Cut the crap, man. I've been having sex since you could talk. How could I be bad at it?"

"My mother has been doing needlepoint since before I existed, and she's really bad at it."

"It's not fucking needlepoint!"

Lance smirked.

Chris' urge to beat his head against a wall was overwhelmingly strong. Except that was rather similar to what he was already doing. Perhaps he should be beating Lance's head against a wall. "I know what your problem is!" Chris shouted. "You're a virgin! You're a twenty-one-year-old-virgin and you're terrified of my sixteen years of sexual experience!"

"Oh, fuck off," Lance shouted back, and threw the phone at him.

Lance spent the rest of they day looking thunderous, some Nordic god just itching for a big hammer to smash mountains with. Good, Chris thought. He was lovesick and miserable. He sighed a lot, very loudly, and even sniffled a bit at dinner.

"You getting sick?" Justin said.

"I think he is," Lance said suddenly. "This girl sneezed on him today."

You vindictive little prick, Chris thought ten minutes later, bare ass to the breeze as the tour doctor prepped him for an injection.

"Y'all are gonna start speaking to one another again today," Justin announced, mouth full of cereal.

"Are not," Chris said. "Unless Mr Frigid here gets therapy for whatever childhood trauma is responsible for his fear of sexual intimacy."

"You are so," JC said, "or I'll get all upset and you'll feel mean and horrible."

"Are not," Lance said, the tone of creaking ice, "because Mr Complete Asshole has no respect for my personal boundaries."

"Are so," Joey said sweetly, running a huge hand down Lance's back. "Or I'm gonna spank your ass until you do."

"Shake hands," Justin told them. "You're friends again."

Lance's hand was soft and warm and felt wonderful, and he yanked it away when Chris tried to kiss it.

I fall for you
Like a doll from a tree
I keep a straight stitched face
As the ground makes a bed for me

Chris showed up at Lance's door with a basket of cold chicken and salad and wine.

"In spite of the fact that you're a motherfucking prick," he announced when Lance opened the door, "and insane, I'm taking you on a romantic picnic lunch."

"Wow," Lance said, looking fabulous and glamourous and edible, as was usual for him these days. "How did you ever get dates, before you were rich and famous?"

Chris rolled his eyes and got to his knees. "As a token of my sincere apology for doing all the awful things I did, like trying to love you and getting stabbed in the ass for it, I would like to show you my apology by. Apologising." He stood up again. "Come to the damn picnic, Lance!"

"You want to show me your apology," Lance repeated, and then laughed, white teeth flashing between red lips, eyes glittering, smooth silky skin glowing in the light reflecting from his glossy tiled floor. Chris sighed in ecstatic misery. Lance swung the door open and stepped back. "I've got a conference call in twenty minutes, but we can eat by the pool."

Lance's lawn was green and velvety; the water sparkled immaculately in the sunshine. Chris felt like he was sitting in one of Lance's Vogue Living magazines, which he probably was. He didn't really belong here, he supposed, but when the phone rang, Lance came back down with a sixpack and mouthed, "won't be long." Twenty minutes later, he came back, sans phone, and pushed Chris into the pool.

"You prick!" Chris shouted, and Lance dive-bombed in next to him. Then they played Nintendo and watched Manga and Chris thought maybe there was a place for him here after all.

Chris sat down with a new notebook that night, to figure out strategy, because the bad-in-bed thing was turning out to be serious obstacle to his future happiness. He wrote "CHRIS LOVES LANCE" on the cover and then put his feet on the table to think.

It had been a long time, Chris thought, tapping the pen against the blank paper, since Lance had had a boyfriend, but he was sure Lance had complained about some of them. That one the year before last, not the sound guy who tried to sell his story to The Star, not the one who cheated on him with that red-haired teamster, the one before that... Shawn, maybe. The one with the crack problem, Chris was sure, had been bad in bed. He remembered Lance, very drunk in a New York bar, eyes red and head lolled against Joey's shoulder, blurting that--oh, Shane--that Shane gave lousy head anyway.

Joey had kissed his forehead and told him not to put up with that shit.

Joey, Chris thought, had a lot to answer for.

And the one before that, yeah, he'd been bad in bed too. Terry had actually been dead cool, an out-and-proud kind of guy who'd made Lance smile, but Lance had joked about taking him to a tantric sex workshop to get help for his premature ejaculation. Chris wrote "Terry" on the notepad, and then crossed it out, because Lance went silent at the mention of his name. It was a shame about Terry, really, because Lance had loved him, but he'd ended it for the same reasons Dani had, and Lance didn't even get the luxury of complaining about the price of fame in interviews.

So, maybe they'd all been bad in bed, Chris reasoned, but most of them were assholes, too. Also, they'd been a long time ago, and Lance only had one night stands these days. It didn't help his case much.

He stared at the blank page for a few more minutes and then phoned Dani. After all, she knew he was good in bed.

"Hey," she said, exotic sounds of office clicks and rings and door slams in the background.

"I don't remember," he said, "but on my birthday, I might have talked to you about Lance."

"You mean when you crawled into my lap and cried because he didn't love you?"

He cringed. "I guess I did."

"And you wanted me to tell him you were good in bed?"

Chris brightened. "Oh, did I? What did you say?"

Dani blew an exasperated breath into the speaker. "Honey, I said that what works on a pussy doesn't work on a cock."

"Oh. Damn." He could hear Jerome and Katie singing along to the radio in the background, and Calista yelling at them to shut up.

"So, was there anything else?" Dani said. "Cause it's kind of--"

"Yeah, no, it's okay." Fuck, he missed her. He was going to cry again. Nothing was fair.

She seemed to know what he was thinking. "Just keep at it, sweetie. Persistence, remember?"

Chris found himself smiling at the memory. "Because it worked on you."

"You'll wear him down eventually," and he could hear her smile back as she hung up.

"I'm getting a little impatient with these misunderstandings," Lance said, in his polite ball-busting way, as Chris snuck into his room. He paused, and then realised Lance was on the phone. He stayed still, wondering if it was worth his life to interrupt Lance in mean money-man mood.

"Actually, if you'd checked your figures, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

Chris laid the flowers on the chair by the door and backed out slowly.

"Before three, or I'll make other arrangements." Lance looked up, eyes trailing over the flowers and Chris, who froze in terror. Lance gave a strained little half-smile and then turned his eyes back to his paperwork.

"That's very accomodating of you," he was saying, as Chris closed the door behind him.

The next time they were in LA, Lance slept with Fred Durst.

"You fucking what?"

"He was. Bad." Lance took another handful of peanuts. "He was really bad, actually."

"Yeah, duh. Adrian told you that."

"Well, I mean. It was Fred Durst. He called me a dickless faggot in Rolling Stone. I had to know for myself, didn't I?"

"Aha!" Chris said, ignoring the very ignorable fact that Lance had just slept with Fred Durst. "So you're not averse to bad sex?"

"Not when it's Fred Durst, no." Indeed, Lance looked delighted to have had really bad sex with Fred Durst. He was practically glowing.

"But you are averse to bad sex with me."


"And you are also averse to good sex with me."

"Not at all."

"You're being completely irrational!"

"I'm being perfectly rational. You're the one who wants to risk the entire group because you can't stand to be told that you're bad in bed."

"Lance. Read my lips." Chris grabbed Lance's head and put his mouth to Lance's ear and shouted it at the top of his voice: "I am not bad in bed!"

"You see?" Lance shouted back, shoving him off him. "You're fucking postal and I haven't even slept with you yet."

"Oh, fuck you!" Chris opened the fridge and then slammed it shut. "and how did you get Fred Durst into bed anyway? He knows you keyed his Mercedes, and he already hated you before that."

Lance rolled his eyes and held out the peanut bowl. "How do you think? I told him I was dying for a good lay and that everybody said he was dynamite in the sack."

"And he believed you?"

The look Lance gave him was very pointed. "I guess everybody told him that."

Chris got Lance drunk at DisneyWorld on New Year's Eve. Tremendously, magnificently, stunningly intoxicated. Lance climbed a large tree beside the Thunder Mountain queue and sang the opening number from Joseph and His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat to the crowd which had gathered. After Chris got him back to his place, and in his bed, and naked, Lance threw up for three hours.

In the morning, Lance said faintly, "if you ever do that again," and Chris, on the phone trying to find an industrial cleaning service, promised fervently that he wouldn't.

They were touring again; they were always touring again, and it always seemed like they might not survive it this time. In the dressing room for a costume change, Lance was hunched at the shoulders, breathing shallowly.

"Lance?" Joey said, holding out water. Lance's hands, as he opened a pill bottle, were shaking.

"His heart?" JC whispered.

"I'm fine," Lance snapped, when Joey placed a hand on each pale cheek. He threw the water aside and stripped off his shirt.

At the door, Justin caught his elbow. "Sit out for a few."

Lance's eyes seemed to stare right through him. "I'm fine."

After, Justin screamed himself hoarse at Lance, calling him stupid and selfish and a fuckhead who deserved to die and nobody would cry when he did. Lance sat through it, stone-faced. Justin always freaked. Lance always said he was fine, and Chris had to admit, he always was. So, it took Chris an hour to work himself up to saying sonething. "You should sit out, if you have to. We could--"

"It's my problem," Lance interrupted flatly. "I'm taking care of it."

Chris put on his most threatening face. "If you die, I'll tell everyone we've been together for ten years, and you won't be around to deny it."

For a minute, it seemed like Lance was going to smile.

"I've decided," Chris said, "that I don't want to sleep with you any more."

"Good," Lance said. "Thank you."

Chris threw a cushion at him, and it bounced off Lance's head to leave a sticking-up tuft of frost-tipped hair. It looked adorable, of course. "Aren't you going to ask me why?"

"Are you going to pester me until I do?"

"Because," Chris said smugly, "I can't take the risk that you might be bad in bed."

"But I'm not bad in bed," Lance said.

"Aha! Aha! But how do you know that?"

"Because I was sleeping with half the football team in Clinton."

Chris folded his arms and glared. "So what? Maybe the cheerleaders weren't putting out."

"I was sleeping with the cheerleaders too."

"Well, maybe they all just wanted you because you were easy."

"The quarterback asked me to the prom."

"For fuck's sake!" Chris shouted. "You're making this up."

"Scout's honor," Lance said, face solemn, eyes crinkling at the corners-- his checkmate face. "I still have the letter he wrote me. He was too scared to ask in person. He typed it up on his Mom's typewriter. He spelled 'sincerely' wrong."

Chris folded his arms and glared. "You're full of shit."

"If you don't believe me, ask Joey."

"How would Joey know if a quarterback asked you to the prom?"

"He wouldn't, fuckwit." Lance threw the cushion back and it hit Chris squarely in the face. "He knows that I'm good in bed."

"Oh, God, yeah," Joey said three days later when Chris finally caved and asked him. "Best blowjob of my life, man. I thought my hair was on fire. I was seeing sta--"

"Okay, enough, I get it!" Chris stopped waving his hands and dropped his head into them. "Lance Bass is the cruelest, most devious man in the universe."

"And good in bed," Joey said, taking another bite of his KFC.

"What if I went down on you?" Chris said to Joey another three days later. "Then you could tell Lance that I'm good in bed."

"Nope," Joey said.

"Why not? He'd believe it from you!"

"Yeah," Joey said, chewing on a fry, "but what if you weren't any good? Then I'd have to tell Lance that, and I know you, you'd take it really badly."

"Okay," Chris said to Joey another three days later, when JC had started wandering around with sad, misty eyes, and he'd been forced to speak to him again. "What if I went down on you and we both swear that you're never gonna tell Lance anything about it and then when you know I'm good we can do it again and you can tell him everything."

Joey put down the burger and looked at him with an expression that resembled pain. It was odd, Chris thought, how many people looked at him like that lately. "But what if you're bad?" Joey said. "I won't want to do it again, and you'll take it badly and everything will be horrible and the group will split up and it will all be my fault for sleeping with you."

"Am I the only person on this planet," Chris demanded, "who is not insane? It's a blowjob! It can't be that bad! And even if it could be, I'm good at it!"

"They used to never be bad, but--"

"Let me guess: you can't go back again?"

Joey shrugged. "Not after Lance, man. Sorry."

"Man, you gotta sleep with me so I can sleep with Lance," Chris said to JC.

"Joey said you might come to me next," JC said, headphones still on, not looking up from the keyboard.

"No way in hell," Justin said, one hand over the phone, when Chris stuck his head into his room. "Just give up, okay?"

"If you don't sleep with me right this minute, I'll quit the group."

Lance turned the page of his newspaper. "Please do."

Chris found Justin in the Toy Room, playing the new Tomb Raider.

"Make Lance sleep with me, or I'll quit the group."

Justin looked up at him, unconcerned. "Joey does your parts better than he does Lance's."

"Fuck!" Chris kicked JC's teddy bear across the room. "Some friend you are! Help me out here!"

Justin shrugged. "What am I supposed to say? It's Lance. Why would you bother? He's an emotional iceberg, the Titanic-sinking kind."

"I want him to be my emotional iceberg!"

"Dude. Seriously." Justin rolled over onto his stomach and stared up. "Has it ever occured to you that he might be out of your reach?"

Chris stared down at him, confused.

Justin shook his head and laughed. "Never mind. Forgot who I was talking to."

"He's not even attractive, baby."

Korea squirmed in his lap.

"And he has stupid taste in music. And he's got wonky eyes. Shut up, I do not have a weird face. And he ignores me when he's got accounting to do."

He tried to kiss her nose, but she wriggled and he got her mouth.

"He counts his money twice a day. I can't be with somebody like that. Shut up, I only do it twice a week. There's a song about this, I know there's a song about this, what the hell is it? Le le le laaah, la la le le le lo..."

It turned out to be a Shania Twain song, which, Chris thought, pretty much summed up the entire situation.

Chris noticed that Lance kept getting mail at breakfast, which he threw out straight away. Phone messages where he rolled his eyes and deleted. Flowers somehow made their way past security and into Lance's rooms and into their stage rooms and rehearsal rooms and green rooms. They all said 'Lance--call me'. Increasingly irritated, Lance swept around any room they entered, throwing all the flowers in the trash.

"Look, uh," Chris said finally. "It's not me."

Lance paused, two dozen pink roses about to get mulched. "Huh?"

"It's not me sending the flowers," he explained. "So you might want to, like. Not throw them out. Or whatever."

"Oh, right, no," Lance said, gesturing with the dewy-fresh, pink-ribboned bouquet. "I knew that. These are from Fred Durst."

"Oh!" Chris said, and took the flowers out of Lance's hand. "In that case, why don't you let me take care of it?" He did a tremendous wind-up pitch and hurled the flowers in the trash. The impact left them standing in a cloud of shimmering pink rose petals, drifting down like snow.

Lance brushed petals from his shoulders and hair. "Er, thanks, Chris."

At least, Chris told himself, Lance wanted Fred's love even less than he wanted Chris'. He kissed the tip of his tanned little nose. "My pleasure."

Lance was out on the hotel balcony with his breakfast, and Chris paused in the doorway.

"Hey," Lance said. "We got a good review of last night." He held up the paper, and Chris put his tray down and read where Lance was pointing. It was a good review.

"They even spelled all our names right," Lance said, sipping coffee, looking at peace with the world.

"Lance, my man, they mentioned our names. I'm not even caring about the spelling, you know?"

Lance grinned at him. They were in soft, fluffy hotel bathrobes, had a wide view of the harbor, and a five star breakfast, and Lance was breeze-ruffled and looked delicious. And, Chris had to admit, getting his name spelled right was pretty nice, too. He felt like bursting into song.

"I got canned peaches," Lance said, passing over a bowl.

"You are my hero," Chris said, and spooned them over his cereal. "Real ones just don't taste the same."

"Nope," Lance agreed, shaking his head sadly.

Chris sat there and pretended they were on honeymoon until Lance asked him what he was grinning about, and then stormed off when Chris told him.

At the VMA after-party, Fred Durst tried to get Lance alone. Chris, who was trying to get Lance alone too, got very territorial, very fast.

"What is your motherfucking problem?" Fred said, staring down at him. He reached out a hand to push Chris aside. Lance hastily stepped between them.

"Listen, you big fat goober," Chris shouted over Lance's shoulder, standing on his toes. "Lance doesn't do relationships and if he did, he'd be doing one with me. So you can just fuck off."

"Yeah." Lance folded his arms and glared at Fred. "What he said."

Chris did a little victory dance of glee.

"I know you don't want a fucking relationship," Fred said to Lance. "I wanna fuck again. So lose the little troll, already."

Chris held his breath, terrified. If Lance had bad sex with Fred Durst twice, all the unfairness in the world wouldn't be as unfair as that.

"Oh, hey!" Lance called over Fred's shoulder. "Howie! Honey!" Howie bounced over, squealing. They traded air kisses and then tongue kisses and skipped off arm in arm, leaving Chris and Fred facing one another.

Fred sighed. "I don't suppose--"

"Not if you were the last man on earth!"

"--Justin sucks dick?" Fred finished.

Lance was a gay man, Chris reasoned. If he didn't get laid every other day, he'd be desperate in a week; perhaps even frantic enough to take a chance on a bandmate. He'd blown Joey, after all, and Chris was willing to wager as much as his financial advisor deemed adequate that when it came to boy-on-boy cocksucking, Joey wasn't the reciprocating type.

With that in mind, it seemed like a good idea to disrupt the relentless flow of men from nightclub dancefloors to Lance's bed. He tried getting to the cutest ones before Lance did, but after sleeping with fifteen men in four days, a young Brad Pitt lookalike stumbled into the common room, "looking for Room 2711," and Chris was too exhausted to even point to the wrong door. He decked out Lance's bed in handcuffs and leather whips and feather boas, and then had to spend the night listening to Lance and two male cheerleaders making the most of them. He got room service to deliver fried chicken wings to Lance's room at fifteen-minute intervals all night. Lance had the entire entourage's room service accounts cancelled, and the roadies glared murderously whenever Chris walked by.

He told all Britney's dancers that Lance had crabs. Lance punched him in the gut, and then kicked him in the balls for good measure. Joey, Justin and JC stood beside him, arms folded, as Lance delivered a hellfire-and-brimstone sermon on Chris' multitude of sins, and then elaborated in visceral detail the kind of apocalypse coming for him if he didn't change his ways. Failed Solo Album, Bankruptcy, Heroin Addiction and Death stared coldly down at him as he writhed on the carpet, clutching his groin.

For the first time in thirty years and eleven months, Chris gave up.

Wrote down what I think
On the head of a matchstick
Wrote it all, short and sweet,
All that made sense to me.

"You can't understand my pain," Chris told Busta, who was mostly ignoring him. "You've got Korea." Busta scratched his back with his hind leg. "Okay, I know you didn't choose her, you got stuck with her, but still. You're happy, right?" In the kitchen, Korea was trying to get into the garbage. Busta lifted his head and then dropped it again. "Okay, yeah, but you get along more than you fight. That's something." Korea found her chewbone under a kitchen chair and took it into the living room. "Hey, get your hairy ass off my sofa!" Busta scrambled out of Chris' lap and jumped up onto it with her. "Off! Get down!" They settled down together with the bone, and snarled in unison when Chris tried to shove them onto the carpet.

Chris sighed. Busta was getting fat and lazy as he got older. Korea was getting agressive and high-strung. It should have been inspiring, but it wasn't.

On his thirty-first birthday, Chris woke up and realised he was still in love with Lance, even though Lance was a cold-hearted, mean-spirited, mentally unbalanced bitch, and that, as a consequence, his life sucked.

He realised at eleven that night that he'd passed out at midday, and missed Lance's birthday call.

"I guess you're, um. Doing something," Lance had said to his voicemail while Chris lay face-down on the carpet a few feet away. "Or not up yet. Or whatever. But you can call me and we can. Um. I don't know. Seeya." There was another one at eight. "Hey, we're. Um. Waiting for you here. I guess you got held up. But we might be going to Starlight instead of Serenity so call first and check where we are."

Chris curled up on the couch with another beer and replayed them over and over. He couldn't read anything into them.

The next morning, Lance came over. Two in the morning, to be precise. Chris was still awake and mostly sober, and had a headache that could cut through concrete.

"I couldn't sleep," Lance said, and then held out a shiny package. "I was worried."

"Happy Birthday to me," Chris said, and put the package on the hallstand.

"Hey, no," Lance said. "Open it now."

"No, that's okay. I'm just gonna go to bed." He tried to close the door, but Lance blocked him.

"I love you," Lance blurted, looking like he was about to cry.

"No, you don't," Chris told him. "You just had to make up some bullshit story instead of admitting you've never wanted me."

Lance looked at his hands. "That's not true."

"Fuck you," Chris said, and shoved Lance out the door.

"I want you," Lance insisted faintly, and as Chris closed the door on him, it finally came to his attention that Lance was drunk--not Andrew Lloyd Weber Drunk, but quietly, desolately, wasted. He hesitated with his hand on the chain, and a second later Lance was back inside, pushing Chris against the wall and kissing him fervently.

"Don't leave me," Lance gasped, eyes hazed and glittering, when Chris hauled him off to breathe. "Promise you'll never leave me."

"I won't," Chris promised, and kicked the door shut behind them.

"It's not-- I'm," Chris said, pulling blankets up around him and wishing his head would stop hurting.

"It's okay," Lance said, sucking his shoulder sloppily. "It's late. You're hungover. It happens."

"Not to me, it doesn't!"

Lance crawled on top of him and dragged him back down under the covers. "Hey. Don't worry about it." Chris could feel Lance's cock throbbing gently against his thigh, already half-hard again. Lance put his head on Chris' chest and started humming Everything's Alright.

Chris waited until Lance was asleep, then went downstairs. His stomach felt cold, his legs numb. There didn't even seem any point in getting drunk again. Well, there did, but he'd run out of stuff to drink. He wandered around the house, huge kitchen and plush carpets and potted plants, and ended up settling on the floor in front of the sliding glass doors, looking out over the pool. Morning was breaking, a watery haze of colour in the east. Busta skittered sleepily over, Korea ambling after, and he hauled them up into his lap.

"Babies," he informed them, "I'm thirty-one and I'm bad in bed." Busta yawned. Chris pressed his forehead against the cool glass. "He'll never love me." Korea nuzzled his elbow, and he rubbed her ears sadly. "Let's face it, I'm gonna be alone forever."

"What the hell are you talking about?"

Chris didn't bother to look up. "It's okay. You can go home."

Lance kicked him in the leg until Chris looked up from his toes to his face. Lance had bedhead and sheetmarks on his cheek, and bitemarks on his neck. Somehow, he looked well-fucked. "Moron," he said, yawning, "open your fucking present."

Chris shook his head, unable to bear it any longer. Lance's feet disappeared, and shortly reappeared, and tanned fingers placed the silver-wrapped present in his lap.

"You know, I'm gonna be in deep shit with the guys," Lance said conversationally, folding himself down into a lotus crouch next to Chris. "They're expecting us to show up hand-in-hand."

Chris toyed with the ribbon. "Why's that?"

"I've been told," Lance blinked, slow Southern style, and then smiled, "that if I don't get over my stupid-ass personal issues, JC's gonna look sad, and Joey's gonna spank my ass."

There was a half-smile tugging at the corner of Chris' lips. "I kinda like the spankings," he said, "but JC..."

"Yeah," Lance sighed. "So. I've been an ass, and all that." He leaned in and kissed Chris, and Chris felt his mouth open in shock. Lance licked inside it, lewdly, and withdrew. "Open your present."

"That's okay," Chris said distantly, reaching for the ties on Lance's robe. "We can just go upstairs and--"

Lance pushed him away. "The sooner you do it, the sooner we... do it."

As Lance's jokes went, it was.... wonderful. Chris's heart was beating at his chest, the blood in his veins thudding NowNowNow, but looking at the gift, he couldn't bring himself to tear the paper off. He eased the ribbon from one corner, then another, and then put it aside. He peeled back the tape and unfolded the ends of the paper and then stole a look at Lance, who was studying his hands. Chris looked closer. Lance was blushing.

"Oh my god!" he crowed. "It's handcuffs, isn't it? Your stupid-ass personal issue is that you need to be--"

Lance started laughing.

"Oh, it's not?" Chris eased up the other end of the paper and carefully pulled away the last piece of tape. "I know, it's girl's underwear! Do I have to wear them?" Lance was shaking his head, laughing hard. "Oooh, it's a collar! That's okay, honey, I'll wear your collar, if you get a tattoo." The paper fell away--a wooden box. Chris found the latch and lifted the lid; Lance stopped laughing.

Nestled in red velvet was something transparent; Chris lifted it out carefully. A glass heart, blown so fine that it was barely there.

Lance cleared his throat. "I. uh."

The soft light of dawn bounced through it and back, refracting endlessly. He turned it over in his hands, mesmerised. "No fucking way."

"Because, ah. It's."

"It's perfect," Chris said, the tense knot in his chest dissolving, leaving fizzing, tingling warmth. "I fucking love you."

Lance cleared his throat again. "I'm, um. I." He was pale now.

"No longer drunk?" Chris said, raising an eyebrow.

"Something like that, yeah."

"Come on," Chris said, standing up. He didn't wait to see if Lance followed; he marched into his trophy room and placed the heart right next to his Grammy.

When he turned around, Lance was right beside him.

Lyrics: You Am I - Damage.

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