One month later:
"Alright boys, saddle up," Lance announced, dumping a hat on the table.
"Woohoo!" Chris shouted. "This time your ass is mine."
Joey leapt up. Last time, he'd been killed even before JC--gone back to his room five minutes after the draw and found Justin behind the door, fingers outstretched. "I owe you big, Timberlake," he said, reaching into the hat.
Lance slapped his hand away. "Wait, I've got a new rule," he said.
"No fair," Justin said. "How come only the winner makes the rules?"
"Because winners are grinners," Chris said, holding an L to his forehead and sneering at Justin. Chris had been one to make up the rule that the winner made the rules.
"It's called Exhibitionism." Lance shook the hat above his head. "Once you kill somebody, you can kill your next victim in front of them."
Chris clapped. "Ooh, I like it."
JC was sitting at the table, looking very pleased. "Congratulations, JC," Joey told him. "You might actually see some action, this time."
"A Joey-joke that was almost clever, I don't believe it," JC said. Joey flipped him off.
"Okay, losers first," Lance announced, holding the hat out to JC. JC grinned and took a piece of paper, read it, and chewed it up. Justin was next, then Joey took his--"Chris" in Lance's big round handwriting. Chris read his slip and smiled (probably JC, then), and Lance flicked his eyes over his victim's name without his face showing a thing.
Joey crumpled up his slip and put it in his mouth. Lance actually folded his first. They chewed for a minute, and Joey felt a rush of affection for Lance--the big sap had bought mint-flavoured paper.
"Okay, where?" Justin said, mouth full. Lance pointed at Chris, who yelled and ducked, and they all spat.
Chris choked on his own paper, spat it out on the table as he brushed chewed paper off his clothes. "You're dead, asshole!"
"Love you too, sweetheart," Lance said, leaned in and kissed Chris on the mouth.
"Ew!" Chris wiped his mouth and looked down at the white mess all over him. "Can this day get any grosser?"
It wasn't so much that Joey decided anything. The Coke was sitting right there on the table, Chris asked the question, and sometimes Joey's thought processes bypassed his brain altogether. He grabbed, shook and sprayed. Chris screamed loud enough to shatter glass.
"Hey!" Justin caught the tail-end of the shower.
JC had it on his face, wiped his eyes and blinked. "That was nice, Joe. Real nice." But he was laughing. Joey looked around for Lance. Fizzy cold poured down his back, and there was the fucker, bottle in hand.
"This is war," Chris declared, going for the third Coke. Joey dropped his empty and lunged for the fourth. JC got the last one, and Justin was left defenceless, and soaked.
They were too paranoid to shower separately, so while room service cleaned up the walls and the ceilings and the table and the carpet, they went and splashed in the pool in their clothes, and argued about whether trashing a room with Coke and spitballs was rock-pig enough to make it onto MTV news.
Joey loved the first night of a Murder, because nobody wanted to be alone. They wound up in JC's room, Letterman on with the sound down, the room bathed in soft voices. He and JC and Chris had sprawled on the floor writing silly song lyrics to piss off Lance, a country song about a guy whose wife left him and he couldn't do his own ironing so everyone who saw his crumpled clothes knew he wasn't loved. Somehow, though, they'd gotten serious about the song, and were talking about who could sing it with the right amount of irony and apathy.
After six months of pretending it wasn't serious, Justin was pouring his heart out to Lance about Britney, and Lance was listening, because he was good at that. Every now and then Lance would say something like, "do you really want her to change?", and Justin would sigh and say, "I don't know." They were all harmonising, Joey realised with a weird rush of closeness--Lance's mmm's and m-hmm's were the counterpoint in Justin's slow, rhythmic Confusion in D Minor; the three of them were talking the melody, Chris saying "I still don't like it, that's still too strong," and on the next bar JC murmuring "okay, okay, how does 'worn' sound?" and Joey felt himself come in on the overlapping beat, a descending octave of "yeah, worn, yeah." It made him want to get them all together and crush them to mush with a hug.
Then JC pulled the cushions off the couch and curled up on them, and Justin got sick of girl-talk and switched to cars, which bored Lance and distracted Chris, so they swapped places.
Joey tossed Lance the song. "Sign somebody cool enough to sing it, and it's yours."
Lance read the lyrics and laughed. "It's clever, I like it." He stretched out his legs and lay back on the carpet. "There was a guy in New Orleans could do this."
"Then it's our gift to you."
"Hmm. He wrote all his own stuff, though." But he looked thoughtful. While Lance was staring at the words, Joey took the chance to stare uninterrupted. His hair had faded to a pale, icy colour. He was making noises about going green next, and The Powers had said no, but Joey was urging him on shamelessly.
Joey was denying to himself that he looked at the blue-hair polaroids before going to bed, and denying that ten minutes later his hand drifted downwards as he thought about them, and even when he admitted to himself that he was jerking off over pictures of Lance, he was denying that it felt so fucking hot that he was sometimes worried his hair would catch on fire when he came.
An hour later, squished up between Justin and Chris in JC's bed, he was denying that he was jealous of the easy way Lance had kissed Chris. He could replay it in slow motion in his head: the twitch of Lance's lips, the flash in his eyes, the casual turn of his head and the natural slope of his shoulders, the utter ease with which he had leaned in and pressed his open lips to a bandmate's mouth. It was a part, Joey reflected, of the utter ease with which Lance did an awful lot of really gay things--so smoothly and unselfconsciously that it was impossible to believe that he had any idea how gay he was being, and somehow that made it seem like Lance couldn't be gay at all.
Joey studied Chris out of the corner of his eye, the funny guy with his weird face and his hair that looked like nice hair but kinda smelled. Lance had kissed him. No fucking fair. And Chris hadn't even liked it. Some people just sucked. Joey shifted in the bed and shoved his elbow into Chris' gut. Chris grunted, but stayed fast asleep. And Joey thought, great, fucker sleeps like the dead, but then remembered Chris' name on that piece of paper and thought, oh-ho-ho, Duuude. Tomorrow night, you're so dead.
He didn't get a chance the next night, what with the Sony party and the club and the two hours sleep and it just not being worth it. Or the night after that, either, even though he set his alarm for four in the morning. It had gone off, but Joey had rubbed his gritty, tired eyes, slapped it off again and rolled over. The night after that, they had off, and wound up in Justin's room, drinking beer and playing Chris' hand-drawn Brothel Monopoly. Lance, who could now rival Lou for twisted business ethics, was happily squeezing Chris dry, while Joey sulked about handing over Latino Sizzle to pay for landing on Justin's Horny Swedish Teenagers with four whores.
Justin rolled, and moved eight spaces. Geriatric Goodtime Girls. "I am not paying for it. That's too disgusting for words."
"Oooh, JuJu, they'll be fighting over your tender little ass," JC laughed. JC had gone bankrupt three rounds ago, after a truly pathetic performance.
"Four hundred and fifty." Lance rubbed his hands.
"But I sold it to you!" Justin cried.
"'Cause you're a sucker," Lance smirked. "Pay up."
Grumbling, Justin did, and Lance used the cash to put extra hookers on his gay brothels. "They're the best," he announced happily.
Joey took his turn, and landed on one of them. Justin and Chris nearly wet themselves laughing, snorting and dribbling beer on themselves.
"I rest my case."
It wasn't fair, Joey grumbled to himself, that Lance could be so god damn gay and not be. Especially when the way he did it was so fucking sexy. Especially when Joey wasn't. Gay. He wasn't. What he would want with three male prostitutes in a night, he didn't know, and the fact that he was paying Lance to have it off with men made it seem that much more unfair. Sighing, he handed over his precious Busty Blondes and declared himself broke.
"Beer run?" JC suggested, and Joey nodded and got up.
In the middle of the liquor store, JC went, "oh, um, wait," and Joey looked up, and JC put two fingers to his forehead and looked kind of surprised at himself. "You're dead."
"Shit," Joey said. He bought a bottle of vodka, too. He wasn't having a good night.
By the time they got back, Chris had taken out Justin, made sets of the Latinos, the Asians, and the Leather Dungeons, and was praying for jail to keep himself out of Lance's well-staffed perversions, which covered the cheap half of the board.
The next morning after breakfast, Justin went off to call Britney, and Lance went shoe shopping. "When do we have to be back?" Chris asked nobody in particular.
"Bang," JC said, and blew imaginary smoke from his fingers.
"You're kidding me, right?" Chris said, raising an eyebrow. Joey shook his head sadly. Chris banged his head on the table. "Killed by the biggest loser of them all! I'll never live it down!"
"You're not the only one," Joey said. "Who's next?"
"I had JC. The girls must have each other. You've got it easy, now, C." If you killed your own murderer, everybody else was fair game.
JC sighed and shook his head. "I'm not even trying."
Justin wandered back in. "We doing anything this morning?"
Joey and Chris exchanged glances. They looked at JC. "Um," JC said. Justin came around and peered over JC's shoulder at the paper. Rolling his eyes, JC shot him right in the middle of the forehead.
"Bullshit," Justin shouted.
"Bullseye," JC replied calmly, turning to the Business section.
"You did not kill these two already."
"He did," Joey informed him.
Justin sat down and poured himself a third bowl of cereal. "Well, too bad. I'm already dead."
"So, Lance it is." JC sat back in his chair and looked thoughtful. "He'll go after you two." He gestured to Joey and Chris. "He won't think it's me."
"Woohoo!" Chris applauded. "Lance is a fucking dead man. Long live JC!"
Now, Joey thought, this hadn't turned out such a bad game after all. Lance would come for him. He just had to be ready.
Chris got an ingrown toenail, and he showed them at soundcheck. It was the vilest thing any of them had ever seen.
"Is it infectious?" Justin asked, staring at the puffy purple thing that had once been Chris' toe.
"I don't think so," Lance said. "But perhaps you should disinfect it."
"It really hurts," Chris said faintly, leaning on JC with his foot up on an amplifier, not even bothering to swear.
"I'll call my mom and ask," Justin offered. But Joey didn't want him to leave the room, because then JC could kill Lance.
"You can get gangrene from those," he said, even though it probably wasn't true. "If it gets really bad. You have to go to a doctor."
Lance perked up. "I'll drive you."
"You will not," Chris said, hopping down and pulling his sock back on. "Joey can drive me."
"But you can come too," Joey offered, and laughed at Lance's backpedalling.
They switched dance routines while Chris limped about with 'a twisted ankle from abseiling', and Lance had to do the flip thing over Joey's shoulders. He kept screwing it up.
"Sorry," he said for the tenth time, as they picked themselves up off the mat. "I don't know what's wrong with me.
"Don't stress it," Joey said, getting back into position. His back was killing him, but he'd been groping Lance's arms for nearly an hour, feeling the muscles twitch and then clench and then the ever-so-deliberate wobble in the arc before they crashed down again, all over one another, slick arms and legs tangling and Lance's bare chest against his back. He didn't mind the pain a bit.
Finally, the other guys got sick of waiting, and left. "One more time," Lance promised, and Joey decided not to make it easy. He crouched again, reached up his hands for Lance's arms.
"Um, Joey?" Lance said.
Joey flopped down onto his back and stared up at him, at the tanned skin and mussed dark and light of his hair, and the young, sweaty body. He took a mental snapshot of it. "Yeah?"
"I'm such an asshole," Lance confessed, sinking into crossed legs.
"I know." Joey stretched out his arms and twisted his back gently, trying to get the kinks out of it.
"It's not you, is it?" Lance said.
"Nope," Joey said cheerfully. "I got killed ages ago."
"Why'd you let me do it, then?" Lance looked so forlorn, Joey had to laugh at him.
"So you'd owe me a really good massage," and damn if it wasn't the truth.
"You're a prick," Lance said. "Roll over."
And it wasn't, Joey told himself as Lance straddled his thighs, as though this was something Lance wouldn't normally do anyway. If he hadn't been tricked into it. Fingers dug into his spine, burning up the pain until his muscles tingled, and he groaned out loud. If anybody wanted a massage from Lance, all they had to do was rub a muscle like it hurt, and Lance would jump up and put his hands all over them.
So it wasn't, he realised with a sinking feeling, much of a victory, then. Joey put his head on his folded arms and tried to relax. What did it take to get Lance to lean in and kiss somebody? A joking kiss, a teasing one, a sweet one? And what did somebody have to be before Lance would reach for him with passion? Some strange, unfathomable thing, no doubt, complicated in a way Joey knew he'd never be able to work out, when he couldn't even work out if Lance was more innocent of his innuendo, or more sly with his smokescreen, than anybody dared gave him credit for.
JC came in. "You done yet?" He looked at Joey, not Lance, when he asked it.
Guilt and shame and disappointment rolled gently over him. "Yeah," Joey said. "I'm done." He rolled over and dislodged Lance, grabbed his towel, headed for a shower.
Behind him, he heard the inevitable "bang," and Lance's undignified suprise.
"There's a first time for everything, baby boy," JC laughed, and then there were thuds of flesh on flesh, and Lance's camp laughter.
"Don't I know it," Lance said coyly, and Joey couldn't work out what that meant, either.