Murder, Part Five
by Julad

This is the end of Murder. There may be another series to follow, but not for some time.

Lance looks up from his laptop when Chris dumps the hat on the table, and knows that it's happening. His stomach clenches, the predictable surge at the sight of Chris tapping his foot impatiently. Chris! his mind shouts, spilling out images tinged red with lust and hard-edged with desire, Chris Chris Chris!, and he clamps it down with bored, ruthless familiarity, and stands up.

He barely notices what he's feeling as Justin comes over (Justin! prettylips hipswaying sexy Justin) or as JC stretches (arms stomach cheeks eye-crinkle-smile want JC!) and sighs (kiss mouth!) and pours himself horizontally from the couch to a chair.

Joey looks up from the Playstation (hug Joey warm chest lick face oh Joey) and says, "Chris, what the fuck?" and Lance is very interested in why Chris is starting the game when Lance was the winner, and hardly aware of the desperate buzz which fills his mind, the soundtrack to every minute of his every day.

"You must have forgotten," he says pointedly, "how quickly Joey murdered your ass, last time."

"Which would make you," Joey adds, giving Chris an idle finger, "not the winner."

Chris, though, has his 'shut up and listen' face on. (sexy! Chris growl please?) "Life changes. The game changes. Doesn't it, C?"

JC nods carefully (wise JC, sweet soulful baby).

Justin folds his arms across his chest. "You can't change the game."

"Why not?" JC says mildly, and Justin stares at him.

"Because!" He looks a little panicked, and Lance sits up straighter. "JC, no. No. You can't change it."

"Chris, what's going on?" Joey says, but Lance knows. Justin is cracking, like a a plastic Mickey Mouse cup under a black booted heel. Hairline fractures are turning all his colours white, pressure is bending him into the wrong shape, and there are ominous signs of an impending fracture which will destroy him forever.

Lance knows this, and he knows JC and Chris know it too, but they're looking at him.

"Why are you doing this?" Justin demands, hands shaking, and Joey puts a hand on his arm.

"It's not just you," he says, but Joey is looking at Chris, who looks startled, but nods.

"It's JC's idea," Chris says to Justin. "We can still play Murder, okay? If you don't like this, we'll still play it. We're just going to try something else for a while." He drops a handful of coloured paper on the table. "Take one white, one blue."

Justin looks like he's going to refuse, and Lance, who is the rightful owner of this round, thinks about joining him.

JC takes his slips, and then Chris does. Neither unfolds them. Joey looks at them all carefully, until JC smiles at him (JC! irresistible!), and then Joey is smiling back and reaching over the table.

And then Lance realises all eyes are on him. He doesn't know what it is he'll get into. He doesn't know what the rules are, what the prize is, what the risks entail, what the cost to him will be.

JC is watching him, worried.

Chris is wavering between I'll-beat-your-ass-if-you-don't and please-Lance-please.

Joey looks calmly expectant.

Justin wants him to refuse. Justin is white in the face.

Justin held an entire stadium hostage last week because he wanted to die, because he needed Lance to kill him. Justin can't stand up to all four of them, but with Lance on his side, he'll win, and they'll play Murder instead of this.

He doesn't know what the cost to him is, but Lance gets up from his corner of the table, extends a hand, and takes two slips, blue and white, leaving two to sit there.

JC pushes them over to Justin, and, betrayal written all over his face, Justin takes them.

"These are the rules," Chris says. "Winner makes the rules and writes the slips. Blue is what you do, white is who you do it to, and you do it in private."

Clever, Lance thinks, mind spinning through the possibilities. Very clever indeed. Very simple, very complex, like Murder. Very Chris.

"And Lance," Chris adds, looking at Justin, "can reinstate Murder whenever he wants."

It's Justin who precipitates the crisis. It's JC's idea to change the game. It's Chris who decides how. It's Lance who can terminate the experiment. It's Joey, therefore, who has to set the standard, and that means Joey has to win this round. Lance doesn't know how he knows this, but it's how they work. They drive a vehicle so huge that only one person can man the brakes, only one person can press the clutch. One for the gearstick, one for the gas pedal, one for the wheel.

All right, Lance thinks, and unfolds the paper. Let's drive.

White is Chris. Good. Lance wants to take out as many as he can before anybody else gets to Joey. Blue is the mystery, and he runs a finger along Chris' careful creases before easing it open.

'Get him a CD he's never heard of, but will love.'

Chris, you god damn son of a motherfucking bitch, Lance thinks. This game isn't going to be easy.

He keeps his face blank. Chris is grinning. He, of course, has something in mind for every possible combination. The winner has all the advantages here, and that's something Chris loves in a game. Lance will have to move fast to get to him.

JC looks happy enough, and Lance can't help smiling about that. JC's no strategist, but he loves everybody to be happy. Losers are winners too, he can hear JC saying. It's JC's kind of game, too.

Joey is smirking. This is the kind of thing Joey is very, very good at.

Justin looks confused. This is the kind of thing Justin is very, very bad at, and Justin won't tolerate being bad at anything. Chris grows again in Lance's estimation. (devious! hot!)

"Good challenge, huh?" Joey nudges Justin carefully, and Justin squeals and hides his slips from Joey's roving eyes. Joey laughs, JC rolls his eyes, and Chris claps his hands.

"Hang on to your slips. Winner takes all. We're going to stick them up somewhere, children, to keep certain people," he mock-glares at Lance, "from lying about how often they win."

"Aha, now the truth comes out!" Lance shouts, putting the slips of paper into his pocket. "Chris wants to cover up all his previous failures!"

"Silence!" Chris shouts back. "Group meeting dismissed!" Justin sends a catcall after him as Chris runs out the door. Lance sits down to his correspondence, but his mind is no longer on contracts and tours and performances.

It's a full moon tonight, and Lance finds his tired eyes drawn over and over to the bus window, to watch silvery-grey suburbs and wilds glide past in alternating sections. There's a melody to it, an almost orchestral movement of houses and gently glowing gas stations reaching crescendo in a garishly lit shopping complex perched beside the freeway, with skyscrapers like faint brass in the distance. Minutes later the movement has glided back down to pianissimo, trees, like woodwind and strings, cradling the odd house, the occasional roadside diner. Upstate Pennsylvania flows past his encapsulated life in a neverending stream, until it feels, not like he is travelling from New Jersey to Baltimore, but like the world is rotating beneath him, bringing Baltimore around until it is directly beneath his bus.

Lance ponders the physics of this, but then shakes his head to clear it and returns to his laptop and its infuriatingly slow internet connection.

He's been up all night trying to find the perfect CD for Chris. It'll be hard to find something he hasn't heard of--Chris is crazy about music, utterly insane for all kinds from all eras--but if he knows Lance went to a lot of effort, he'll love it no matter what it is.

Clever, clever, clever, Lance thinks. So he still has to go to a lot of effort. What a lovely catch 22.

The problem is time--he'll have to get it tomorrow, in the two-hour window between end of soundcheck and the lockdown before the show. It will have to be something easily found in a suburban shopping mall, because he won't be able to search for long before crowds become a problem.

Lance is quickly forming a list of possibilities - Siobahn O'Lachlan was an old Irish torch singer who died while they were in Britain in '96. Lance was stuck in the hotel with the flu while it was on the news, so Chris may not have heard of her. Chris loves Bif Naked, and Lance saw her play in Toronto in the spring, and a band called Mondo Garbage were the support act. They didn't have a record out at the time, but they do now. There's a Nashville singer Lance heard last week who plays acoustic guitar like an angel but sings like the devil, and if Lance told Chris it was folk music, he'd like it just fine.

Knowing Chris, though, he's probably heard of all three. He probably already has all the albums. If he doesn't, they're hardly going to be in stock at Best Buy on Main Street, Dullsville.

Very clever indeed.

Lance starts running through movie soundtracks, tv soundtracks... musicals? Last year there was a "Rocky Horror Does Jesus Christ Superstar" playing off-off-off-Broadway, and no doubt Chris would adore it. There's no time to get it, though. He could just walk into a store and pick something, a Baltimore indie band or something, but Chris is too smart for that. He'll ask Lance who they are and how long have they been together and is this their first album and who have they toured with... he'll never let him get away with it.

Napster? Napster! But burning a compilation is too easy, Chris won't grant it. A soundtrack to something - a favourite comic? Lance would have to steal it to study the plot, and if he got caught he'd ruin the surprise.

He could burn something else, though, Lance thinks, and the blood starts throbbing in his veins. It's... 2 a.m. now, and he'll have to spend all night, but it's going to be worth it.

Winning is always worth it. Beating Chris at his own game is especially sweet.

The CD is burned, and the label and cover are designed, but he doesn't have a printer with his laptop so he'll have to wait until they get to the hotel before he can finish it. Dawn is lightening the sky to the east, and Lance watches the colours seep into it and considers going to bed for an hour or two.

Joey's steady breathing has been the soundtrack to his labours all night, and eventually Lance moves to sit on the floor by Joey's bunk, where he can hear him better but still see the sunrise. It's peaceful, down there on the carpet, and despite the caffeine still jerking through his veins, Lance feels relaxed, accomplished, in control.

His mind drifts, inevitably, towards Joey and tonight, when Joey came up and hugged him from behind before he went to bed. He can feel the shivers on his skin like it's happening again, but the shivers now are colder than warm. Chris, who stays far away from him now, but Chris pressed up against him as they smiled for the cameras, Chris studying him over his glasses as they both did paperwork on a folding table in a studio. The crisp waft of cologne, which is strong when Lance stands behind him but vanishes when Chris steps away. JC, who seems to know when Lance wants to put his arms around somebody, who came up to him yesterday and took his wrists and wrapped them around his tiny waist and then leaned on him gratefully, as if it were Lance doing JC the favour.

Earlier, before the show, Justin came and sat by him on the couch, looking as small and wide-eyed as Lance remembered him in their first meeting. Lance had sized him up as he'd sized up each new kid who joined the show choir, and thought, "bold but clingy." He'd been right in theory--Justin turned out to be a guy who'd stop at nothing to get approval, but time revealed that the kid had a staggering ability to get that approval, and then keep it after he'd moved on to the next conquest. But last night Justin was brittle and hurting and avoiding Joey and JC and Chris, so Lance had taken a deep breath and put an arm around him, and after a minute Justin had relaxed against his side. JC and Chris were inseparable lately, and even though his distance from Chris was his own making, Lance was pained by any closeness that excluded him, and Justin felt exclusion worse than the rest of them put together.

And that's the problem, Lance sighs to himself and the silent bus, with wanting them all. Justin is too clingy, and always has been, and Chris is too possessive, and JC hides his hurt too well, and Joey's too eager to be trampled for the group's sake, as if his only value is as the dumping ground for all their assorted crap. Wanting any of them is crazy, Lance knows, because it hurts the rest, and wanting all of them is downright dangerous, a web of insanity and consequences which has bound his wrists and ankles. Studying his wrist idly, Lance imagines that he can see the invisible silky strands.

He leans his head on the wall and remembers what it was like to be confused, once. Remembers waking up gasping and sweating, blonde hair and bared breasts and shy smiles kaleidoscoping across his mind with other images, sculpted pecs and square jaws hosting hungry mouths. He remembers the desperate, mortified despair which followed him into the bathroom when Joey, the tired and grumpy stranger in the next bed, muttered, "fucking teenagers". Lance has tried for a long time to recapture that confusion, but it slipped further from his fingers every time he gripped a cock which wanted nothing but the four people in the world he can't have, shouldn't desire, mustn't think about.

These days, he believes that you have to face facts before you can deal with them. So what, so Lou was stripping their skin from their bodies and lining his coat with it, so what. They dealt with him, they got what was theirs, and if Lou got his fat pink fingers all over it first, then they paid for a lesson they learned hard and well. So what, so they're flying high in a jet plane which is rapidly running out of fuel, so what. They're dealing with it, they're packing their parachutes while they try to refuel in mid-air and land it safely at the same time, and if that takes everything they've got and more, then that's what it takes.

And so what, so fucking what if he's so fucking lonely for warmth and intimacy that he's gone and fallen in love with the only people on hand to give it to him. His heart has seized careless hugs and enforced closeness and tried to make them into his salvation, like a drowning man clinging to broken pieces of the ship which brought him to the middle of the ocean and then disintegrated, stranding him.

The sky glows gentle orange and Lance's heart is starting to twist painfully inside his chest, and he stops that train of thought and gets a grip on himself. So what, so fucking what? He's here now. Getting upset won't change it, so it doesn't matter.

Moving to stretch his numb legs, Lance concentrates on Joey's breathing and patterns his own on it. Minutes pass, and he rides it through the hitches and starts as Joey stirs and rolls over and then goes deep again. It's easy for a singer-dancer to impose a foreign rhythm on his air supply and feel it as natural. Eventually a body learns to take what oxygen it gets, and make do with it.

Lance is good at it. He is, because he has to be.

After breakfast Lance slips Lonnie fifty bucks and asks to be put in a car alone with Chris. Lonnie palms it with a blank face and a twinkle in his eye; over the past three years he's made hundreds of dollars from Lance and Murder, and nobody knows it but them. Unless, of course, he's also taking money from the others, but Lance watches the games closely, and he's pretty sure that he's the only one to use the absurdly simple tactic of paying other people to do his dirty work for him. JC and Joey lack the imagination to think of it, and Chris and Justin the subtlety to get away with it.

"Want a cookie?" Chris says as Lance slides in next to him. He holds out a bag, munching loudly, even though they just ate. Lance pulls the door shut, and Chris starts violently.

"Where are the others?" he demands.

Lance shrugs and leans back into his seat. "We need two cars later." He doesn't plan to make his move until the last minute, because he doesn't want to give Chris time to ponder the driving arrangements which cost him the game.

"Ah," Chris says, eyeing him carefully.

"Dude, relax. You practically telegraphed that you've got JC," Lance tells him. "You've been trying to get him alone all morning."

"Ah," Chris says again, and resumes chewing. "You are very wise, Grasshopper."

Slowly, the car edges into morning traffic.

"What do you think of the game?" Chris asks suddenly, staring out the window. Lance shifts and stares out the other one. Talking about it, by some unwritten and unspoken rule, is forbidden.

Lance thinks it's a good game, a very good one, but he's not convinced that it's the cure for what ails Justin. He's not sure anything is. He's not sure Justin is a problem they have the capacity to fix, anymore.

"It's interesting," he says, watching all the people in business suits scurrying along the sidewalks, congesting at the intersections as they crawl past. So many people, living ordinary lives, doing the same thing at every time on every day. They seem alien to him, ants in their black armour, scurrying about to some internalised pattern he can't comprehend. Some wave and nod to each other as they pass, and Lance tries to imagine what it's like to stay in one place and see the same faces in a crowd, day after day.

It could be nice, he supposes. You could have all your friends in one place, and all your belongings in one house, and when you were at work you'd have your printer and your filing cabinet and everything right next to you, and when you were at home the fridge would be full of whatever you wanted the last time you went grocery shopping, not the same few things every time because it was written down on a list somewhere that you like smooth peanut butter and green apples and Dr Pepper.

Traffic is thinning rapidly, and they'll be there sooner than he thought. Lance digs in his backpack, and tosses the CD into Chris' lap. Chris grabs it, startled, flips it over and reads the cover with darkly narrowed eyes: FuMan Skeeto Catwalk Noise.

"You filthy scheming bastard, Lance."

"Thought you'd like it," Lance says, feeling smug and satisfied.

Chris studies the playlist and strokes his chin. "You vile and cretinous monster."

"Pretty good, huh."

"You lowdown dirty coldhearted son of a bitch. I had JC, I had him!"

"Yup," Lance says, blood surging in waves of relief-success-relief, but already tensing in anticipation of the next challenge. "So tell me what to do to him, already."

Chris digs out his wallet and flicks the slips of paper in Lance's direction. He ignores the white and unfolds the blue. 'An autographed photo of an idol he hasn't met.'

"I had one of the Dalai Lama," Chris says glumly. "It's probably a fake but I paid eighty frigging bucks for it."

An idol JC hasn't met. Lance throws back his head and laughs. He and Joey spent a whole week with Al Green, and JC, stuck in the Orlando studio, nearly died of envy. While Chris watches suspiciously, Lance takes out his phone. He calls his mother, and looking down at Chris' scrawly writing on bright blue paper, asks her to take down the latest picture on his memorabilia wall at home, and send it by urgent courier to one Joshua Scott Chasez.

"Your Al Green picture? Are you insane?" Chris demands, but Lance bats his fluttering hands away.

"Mom, just do it!" he has to yell, eventually, and then hangs up before she can keep arguing. The phone rings a second later, and he rolls his eyes and turns it off.

"I know you're all tough and ruthless and into winning at all costs," Chris shouts, eyes wide, "but are you insane?"

"Yup," Lance says. After a moment's consideration, he texts his mother's cellphone. I'M NOT KIDDING MOM DO IT NOW.

"You're insane. You're out of your head. I'm worried about you, Pussycat." Lance stretches his arms luxuriantly, and Chris shakes his head and holds out the bag of cookies. "You sure you don't want some? They're really good."

"JC's birthday soon," Lance says, taking one and biting into it. It is really good, just the right combination of crunchy and crumbly and moist. "You can give him the Dalai Lama then. If it's real."

Chris grins. "I'll give it to him anyway. It's the thought that counts with JC."

Leaning his head back against the soft leather seats, Lance thinks, yeah. JC would be thrilled with a fake Dalai Lama autograph, just because when Chris got it for him he thought it was real.

Dark little quicksilver devious Chris. Lovely, lovely, beautiful JC.

The next morning Justin appears wearing a baby blue t-shirt with a picture of Britney on it, and JC tries pathetically to hide his joy when he sees it on him. Justin grins back, apparently carefree this morning.

That's two down, Lance thinks. He's told everyone on their staff who could possibly need to know that the package from Freelance must to go immediately to JC, but can't help tapping his fingers on his thigh impatiently. How long how long how long until it gets here?

In the afternoon, JC slips into the quiet room, and shuts the door behind him, and Lance's heart skips a beat. Too slow, he thinks. Too damn slow.

JC hands him two slips with something which suspiciously resembles glee.

Cook him his favourite meal, and, Joey.

Jeez, Lance thinks. There I was, thinking I'd lose this one on purpose.

"Good luck!" JC chirps, and Lance hits him over the head with the magazine he's reading, and they settle down on the couch together.

After a while, JC takes an unsteady breath. "I'm giving it back to you." he says. "It's. That's precious, Lance."

"So are you," Lance says, touching his hair. "That's why you should have it."

"Oh my god. I can't believe it. Thank you so much," JC sighs. He kisses Lance soundly on the cheek, and settles his arms around Lance's waist, and promptly falls asleep.

Chris, Lance thinks, breathing shallowly so as not to wake up the bundle of joy sprawled across him, you're my fucking hero.

At dinner, JC looks from Lance to Joey and from Lance to Joey's plate and from Joey to Lance and from Lance to the bustle of the venue kitchen, until Lance has to kick him under the table. Chris has already caught on, though, and starts laughing.

"What?" Justin says, and when Chris whispers in his ear, Justin starts laughing too. "Oh, man. Oh, man, that's fucking priceless!"

Lance kicks Chris under the table, hard, and Chris shouts "ow!" at the top of his voice. JC giggles so much that he chokes on a pea, and Chris and Justin leap up and pound his back enthusiastically. Lance slumps in defeat.

Joey watches them all and eats on, unconcerned.

When Lance gets back to his room the next night, Joey is sitting on his bed. "Surprise," Joey says, and hands him a battered copy of Sun Tzu's Art of War, wrapped in a red ribbon.

"A book I always wanted to read but never got around to?" Lance guesses, and Joey beams.

"Had to be a collector's edition," he adds, and opens the cover to reveal an old-fashioned library card pocket. "It was stolen from Harvard, because--" he points to a name on the card. W. H. Gates, #55648, due 10/12/73. "I figure that's pretty special."

Lance's mind races to a conclusion, and his jaw drops. "Is that Bill Gates? This copy was read by Bill Gates?"

Joey nods earnestly. "Guy in the bookstore said he checked it out, and he seemed legit, so."

Lance tackles him, squealing, and Joey hugs him, a Joey-hug, long and hard.

"I was letting you win," Joey says into his hair, "because it was meant to be your turn and everything, but you didn't get me and--"

"I had to cook for you," Lance blurts, suddenly ashamed by the fact that he's never learned to do something that everyone else on the planet takes for granted. "I was-- I couldn't--"

Joey starts laughing. "Chris is an evil little man."

"So, um. yeah," Lance says, tucking his head under Joey's chin. "You win."

Now that the game's over, Lance suddenly realises he's sprawled full-length against Joey's warm body, Joey's hands drifting up and down his back in leisurely caresses. He can feel his mind start to shriek and clamor: Joey Joey hold me touch me fuck me oh god Joey please, until he has to clamp down on it hard.

Ten more seconds and then you've got to pull away, he tells himself, and counts it down slowly, absorbing as much of it as he can into his skin before Joey pushes him, like Chris did, too far.

"I'm tired," he says, at six, five, four, and Joey lets him go. Three, two, and Lance kisses Joey on the nose as a guilty little treat for himself, and then gets up.

"Night," Joey says. He gets up too, kissing Lance back quickly, and leaves through the connecting door.

Lance makes a mental note to check Joey's source of influence on the room arrangements, and then crawls onto the warmth left by Joey's body on the bedcover, pulling it tightly around him before it can escape.

They're back in Orlando for a week, and Lance can't get his mind off the idea that Joey missed out on losing. At first he tells himself that, hello? Joey got to win, but by the second day he knows he's not convinced. He phones Joey and says, idly, "I'm bored, you doing anything?"

"Nah," Joey says, "wanna come over?"

"You come here," Lance tells him, grinning on the inside, "but give me a few hours to get some work done, okay?" When he hangs up, he wonders what he's just let himself in for.

He has to rush out of his car at an intersection to buy a recipe book, shouting "double parked!" to the girls who try to stop him for an autograph. Once safely home again, he begs his retired neighbour to go buy the ingredients. Tom was a Colonel in the Air Force and feels sorry for Lance's weirdly insular life, so he agrees. Lance suspects he's bored out of his mind most of the time anyway, and he's considering breaking his own lawn mower, just so he can let Tom fix it.

When Tom drops off the bags of groceries, he tells Lance that a rich young guy like him should have a pretty girlfriend to cook for him. Lance doesn't try to explain the million reasons why that's not going to happen, just shrugs and thanks him.

By the time Joey buzzes the security system, Lance has called his mother three times and his sister twice, and had to raid Tom's kitchen for a seive and olive oil and a measuring jug, and he's made a bigger mess of his huge kitchen than he thought was possible, but there's a lasagne in the oven which looks not too bad, and smells pretty damn good. He's absurdly proud himself--not even the divine mystery that is bechemel sauce can get between Lance Bass and what Lance Bass wants.

"What is that smell?" Joey demands as the door opens, and Lance feels his face fall before he can stop it. "What?" Joey says, confused, and then sees the kitchen. "Oh! Holy shit, Lance, you're kidding me." He dumps a sixpack on the flour-covered bench and peers through the oven door. "Oh, wow."

"Yup," Lance says, relieved and delighted, "but it's not ready for another hour." It occurs to him, belatedly, that ten past four in the afternoon is probably not the best time for lasagne to be ready, but Joey doesn't seem to notice. Joey, in fact, is grinning wide enough to split his face open.

"You did it! You really did it!"

Oddly moved, Lance can only nod.

They pass the time drinking by the pool. "Since you are such a good loser," Joey tells him after they've finished the sixpack and started on the JB, "I'm going to tell you a secret."

"Ooooh," Lance says, squinting at Joey through his sunglasses. He looks good. Really good. Edible, even. Jooeeeey, his mind sighs, but he ignores it.

"A big secret. A really big one."

"Ooooh! Tell me!"

"I'm thinking I'll start the next game this week."

"Oooh." Lance raises his eyebrows. He can feel that one eyebrow isn't going as high as the other, and tries to bring them into line, but his sunglasses slide off the end of his nose and Joey is laughing at him.

"You're such a fucking freak."

"Are you going to tell me what the blue slips are?"

"No, no, not a chance." Joey fishes out more icecubes from the mostly-melted slop in the bucket and drops them in his drink.

Lance is outraged. "And why the hell not?"

Joey looks embarrassed. "I haven't thought of any good ones yet."

"What are you talking about?" Lance squints at him, and Joey shrugs. "Are you crazy? You'll think of the best ones ever!"

"Like what?" Joey says, leaning forward.

"Like, I don't know. Fun stuff. Murder wasn't fun anymore. Like, 'put salt in his sugar', except I suck at this. Or 'put a kick-me sign on his back'. I don't know."

"Ohhhh," Joey breathes, leaning back in his deck chair. "Fun. Like, 'tie pink toilet paper trails to the back of his macho-man SUV'."

"Yes!" Lance shouts, clapping his hands. "Fun!"

"Like, 'hide his car keys in the dishwasher' and 'change his voicemail message to the first song he ever wrote' and 'take his yappy little dogs to the beauty parlor for a makeover'."

"Yeah!" Lance waves his drink around in sincere appreciation. "Like, 'plant a big ugly garden gnome in his front yard.'"

"Yeah," Joey shouts, "or those disgusting pink flamingoes! A whole row of them!"

"No no no," Lance says, envisioning Justin's grand lawn and imposing gates. "K-mart Christmas decorations!"

Joey howls. "Fake snow in July!"

"Plastic holly wreaths on the fenceposts!"

"Christmas carols playing in the trees."

"And a huge flashing Santa Claus on the roof."

"You're saying this now," Joey says, pointing accusingly at him with a wobbly finger, "but somebody's gonna do this stuff to you, and then you'll be sorry."

From inside the house, the over timer starts buzzing. "No they won't." Lance adjusts his sunglasses and smiles widely. "Not if I decide to get them first."