Note: this is julad's story. I wrote it, but she's claimed it... and that seems to be that. <g>

It started when Chris cuffed him affectionately round the head, then let his fingers drift down his cheek like they were brushed cotton.

Lance stared at him uncertainly, then twisted his head out the way. "Chris," he said, though there was only the two of them, lagging behind the rest of the production team. "Chris, what the fuck?"

"Experiment," Chris said lightly, dropping his hand and shoving it in his pocket. He peered at something behind Lance, looking alert and then momentarily annoyed, then nodded up the street, thumping Lance on the back with the heel of his other hand. "C'mon, they're getting away. Gonna have to jog; shit, will you manage?"

"I'm not that unfit," Lance grumbled, and it was true, he wasn't, everything still looked right, just he was sleeping more for the same amount of energy.

"You say," Chris grinned, pushing him forward and picking up speed, demonstrating an irritating energy that seemed to press home to Lance that he couldn't even say he was getting too old for this bouncing around shit. Not that he thought he was -- he liked bouncing around. Just it was all he seemed to do, lately. That, and more and more sleep.

The side of his cheek was -- not tingling, but like the skin was tighter or something. "What experiment?" he asked, slightly out of breath, but they'd caught up with the production team and Justin was practically vibrating with euphoria as he waved the shiny Final Fantasy VII case under Chris' nose.

Chris grabbed him and spun him round chanting, "yes, yes, yes, hey yes," and Lance decided not to press the subject.

His cheek had stopped its quasi-tingle, anyway.

It was weird, cooking breakfast with darkness pressing in from the glossy windows, just the faintest tinge of pre-dawn turning the black skies blue.

"Bacon," Chris pronounced happily, holding out his hand to Joey. "I missed bacon. It's like, staple food. We should start taking pigs on the bus with us."

Joey snorted and handed him another large roll, his knife flashing over it briefly, and it unfolded like a smooth white two-petalled flower in Chris' hand. Lance glanced over, lungs blissfully full of excited meaty sizzling, and carried on poking the bacon around the pan.

Chris had gotten his fifth roll slicked up with butter and was arranging dark glistening slices of fried mushroom across it; as Lance watched, he upended the ketchup bottle across the whole lot with satisfaction.

"That stuff ready yet?" JC called, hand over the phone mouthpiece. It was a simple system: the house owner provided the food and the rest of the band cooked it.

"Nearly," Lance called back, then almost jumped as Chris wrapped his arms round him from behind, chin digging into his shoulder.

"The steam's doing great stuff for your hair," Chris told him, breathing in luxuriously, peering into the large pan. "Can I have it yet? I've done the rolls. You sure there's enough?"

Lance looked critically at the bacon, then nodded and flicked off the gas. "Sure," he said, and Chris whooped and hugged him tighter and then whisked the pan away and started spearing the crackly pink sides onto his line of expectant rolls.

Lance waited until he'd finished, then dumped the pan in the sink. He'd get Justin to wash up -- Justin was always pliant after good food. Humming to himself, Chris was cramming the rolls shut, folding an excess of bacon into one of them and setting it judiciously aside.

"Ok," Lance called, and JC said something into the phone and came over to the table, and a moment later they weren't talking at all, just biting into a hot perfect breakfast, the first food since their weird grapefruit-and-oatmeal fare at 2am at the hotel. Chris had, as Lance expected, taken the surreptitiously-bulging end roll.

"What time does she want us?" JC was asking, and Lance chewed and swallowed and shook his head.

"We got til tonight," he said, reaching for his glass. "Being as we had a late night--"

"Early morning," Justin interjected grumpily, taking another bite.

"--she wants us to sleep it off. We got all day."

"Why can't we meet tomorrow, then?" JC frowned, and Justin started chewing furiously like he wanted to answer that.

"Dunno," Lance said. "Schedule?"

"The schedule," Chris said thickly, "should revolve around us, now."

"Mmm," Justin echoed fervently, apparently torn between launching into a belligerent statement on their predicament and finishing off his breakfast.

"Yeah, well," Lance said, yawning, "I don't make the calls," and took another bite, realising Chris was right, he hadn't had bacon in way too long. And mushrooms, slippery and savoury, they were good too.

"This could use some mayo," said Joey, opening his roll and peering at it.

"Fridge, top shelf," said JC, then rolled his eyes when Joey looked at him hopefully, taking a huge bite and hauling himself over to the fridge. "Catch," he called.

Joey grabbed the jar out the air, deftly untwisting the lid with one hand and taking up his knife in the other, happily sinking the blade in deep. "Perfection," he grinned, taking a bite then talking through it. "You wanna catch a movie? I don't feel like sleeping." He glanced around hopefully, swallowing. "Buzzed from the road?"

"A movie before it even gets light?" JC said sceptically, sounding interested nonetheless.

"Some places--"

"I," Chris interrupted, dusting flour off his fingers, "wanna go clubbing."

"It's four AM," Lance pointed out, feeling a mental block shimmy down at the thought of strobe light right now.

"If Fatone can get a movie, I should be able to go clubbing," Chris said firmly, then looked round the table. "How 'bout it? Who's coming with me?"

Joey looked thoughtful, but the rest of the heads were shaking. "Management would kick my ass," Justin said, and Lance thought that pretty much summed it up.

"Guys, c'mon," Chris complained, "we're the band. They can't kick us that hard."

"They so can," Lance said, remembering the high-volume that Management had given him about his red shoes. That'd been tough -- Chris was allowed to prance round in leather but he couldn't go kooky? Unfair.

"Lance, please," Chris said, turning to him, voice going low and private and earnest. "C'mon, come with me. I'll make it worth your while..."

Joey laughed loudest, coming back with, "Yeah, Lance, baby, who can resist Kirkpatrick when he does the famous brown-eyed thing?" and Chris tossed the salt at him with a glare.

"Jealousy," he pronounced loudly, then appeared to reconsider and went after Joey instead, "but hey, Joe, you like the brown-eyed thing? Maybe you should come clubbing with me," and winked slyly, like he sometimes did in bad photos where it looked great in real life but just goofy when it came to print.

This was real life, Lance caught himself thinking. It looked great.

"Where's the other guy gone?" Lance complained, squinting at the screen. Justin sighed theatrically, reaching for the controller, and Lance veered sideways and held it away from him and protested, "hey, no, no, I'm playing, I'm just curious."

"He's part of your band, now," Chris said, leaning forward to tap the screen, "just you can't see him because it'd complicate stuff. When you get in a combat situation, he'll be back."

"I don't see why they'd care about complicating stuff, they seem to like that-- hey, fuck, what?" The picture was spiralling in, then flashed to a new scene, and now his little blond character was flanked by the other guy again, both of them back to looking like regular heroes rather than the weird fat stick figures of the previous scene. Facing them were some big, metallic-looking things with spikes, and a giant spider.

"Combat situation," Chris said, jostling closer and putting his hand over Lance's. "Ok, you see the bar at the bottom, it's loading? When that's full, you can attack -- see, now," and pressed his thumb down on top of Lance's, and blue menus flickered and then they were zooming in again, seeing his little blond guy draw himself up and send a stream of powerful-looking clear "ice" at the metallic things.

Chris let go of the console as one metallic thing flashed red and vaporised, a little number blinking briefly above its head. "Cool," Lance said, and Justin shook his head in mock disgust and left, flicking the light off as he went out the door.

"Fuck," Lance said, blinking to readjust now there was only the light of Final Fantasy VII to guide him by, then watched in horror as the giant spider shot thick wads of white webbing around his little blond, his controls not responding as he pressed all the buttons at once, "Chris, shit, how do I kill it?"

"Slow down," Chris ordered, voice hushed in the darkness. "Wait for the other guy to load that bar, yeah, then choose attack, at the bottom, yeah-- see?"

Lance grinned, satisfied with his successful annihilating, and Chris punched him in the arm.

"Nice one."

Something about his voice made Lance blink, and he remembered the finger against his cheek. "Say," he said, pausing the game and glancing at the other man, "What's this experiment, anyway?"

Chris' eyes glinted. "Reporters," he said, with quiet enthusiasm. "I wanna. Okay, so I wanna see how long it takes for them to click we're gay."

Say what? "We're not gay," he pointed out quickly.

The glinty eyes went huge and innocent. "And?"

"Chris... what? We're not gay, we're not, can you see a problem here? And, like, if you can't, why the hell not?"

"Reputation is a tool of consensus," Chris murmured, then quirked an eyebrow. "I'm only gonna fuel their suspicions. Don't worry, I'm not gonna jump your bones or anything."

"No you're fucking not," Lance agreed loudly, then suddenly thought he sounded like some violated virgin and dropped his voice again, "but why? I don't -- just, what the hell's going on in your head?"

Chris shrugged. "I'm sick of all the hacks getting up my ass all the time. Especially when it's mostly such bullshit. So," he said, drawing out the word, "I thought I'd give them something more... meaty to talk about."

"Ew," Lance said distinctly, staring at him blankly. His mind was racing wildly, but none of the thoughts lingered long enough for him to get a handle.

"Yeah, well. So that's the plan," he said cheerfully, plucking the console out Lance's fingers, "you playing this? Can I have a go?"

Lance grabbed it back. "It's not a plan," he said firmly, and was left with an expectant Chris waiting for him to carry on. "Well, why me?" he asked eventually, feeling sulky.

Chris laughed. "What, I'd go for one of the others? No chance. Lance, you're... well, you're fem, for one."

Lance gave a strangled, incredulous laugh, shaking his head. "No, no, no way am I gonna pretend to be with you because you say I'm fem," he said, and it was louder than he'd expected, "just forget it, Chris, seriously, just let the whole idea wander right back out your head and--"

"You're hot, Lance," Chris interrupted, a slightly challenging look on his face. "So shut up and play computer games with me."

"Hot," Lance said, hearing his heart go loud. "Are you hitting on me?"

"You are slow," Chris said, sounding amazed that anyone could be as slow as Lance, as if it was criminal, "listen to me, okay? Not hitting on you. Not saying you're camp. Just, fuck, can't a guy suggest to another guy that they should pretend to date to piss off some journalists anymore?" He was grinning. "What's the world coming to, I ask ya."

Lance knew he was being played like a cheap date, but couldn't deny that he felt better. Mollified, kinda. Chris said he was hot -- he kinda liked hearing that. "I don't know. It could go wrong."

"What, you think we'll get gaybashed?" Chris said, mocking in his voice, "Trust me, they'll love it, the media'll just lap it up." He leaned into Lance so their heads were close and made a frame of his fingers, holding it at arms length that anyone on the ceiling would see them like a Polaroid. "Chris Kirkpatrick gets it on with prime boyband steak."

Lance burst out laughing, shaking his head and levering Chris out his personal space. "You should use Justin, then they'll talk about jailbait too."

Chris shook his head. "Justin's no good: I want you."

"don't I get a say in this?"

"Well, no."

"I won't play."

"You don't have to play. I'll play, and the papers can make up their own minds." He leaned pressuringly close, smiling slyly up into Lance's face. "They'll think you're just better at hiding your luuurve for me..."

"I'll play," Lance said quickly, to get him to back off. His collar felt tight. "But management will freak."

Chris winked approvingly, then shrugged. "If management freak, it'll have worked, and we won't do it any more," he said pragmatically, then his eyes glinted once more, and a silver trickle of heat found its way into Lance's chest. "Lots of fun to be had meanwhile, though." Then he leaned forward and switched the game in the Playstation. "You know Tekken?"

"That wasn't saved," Lance protested.

"C'mon. You haven't lived 'til you've played Tekken."


They'd beaten each other up ferociously a while, and then they'd swapped back because Lance was better at it.

"Not that I don't like the panda," he'd been protesting, and Chris had laughed and thrown the console at him.

"You're a Final Fantasy addict, face it; took me less than an hour to get you hooked," he crowed, and Lance shrugged and grinned and did not notice the pressure of Chris' thigh when he sat back down next to him, oh no, no he did not.


"How far'd you get?" Justin asked, and Chris leered.

"Second base..."

"In the game, fuckhead," Justin shot back, and Lance realised his ears felt hot, and had to concentrate to remember last night in terms of pixels.

"The second bomb thing," he said, "I dismantled it."

Justin pursed his lips, considering. "Not bad," he said. "Unless -- did Chris do all the hard stuff?"

"No way," Chris protested, and Lance shook his head.

"Not after the beginning. He helped with a couple of battles."

"Pretty good, then," Justin said, nodding. "Did you save it?"

"Nope," Lance said, throwing a glare at Chris.

Justin rolled his eyes. "Why the hell not? Now you'll have to go through the whole thing again."

That wouldn't be so terrible, Lance thought.


It was weird, in public, with Chris constantly jostling him and hugging him and breaking into play-fights, and letting the backs of their knuckles brush as they walked through carparks, and using his hand for leverage when they were getting out the limo and Lance had had to bring along a bag of extra shoes.

It was even weirder when he felt Chris' fingertips skate the small of his back when he went through a door first. And when he fucked up the choreography because Chris had sent him a smouldering look for the benefit of a dancer who'd come in late. And when he'd choked, and Chris had thumped him cheerfully on the back, and then his hand had lingered there to make small circles even after the rest of the group had established he wasn't dead and moved on.

Weird, but. Well. Not weird in a bad way.


The sun was heavy on his forehead and hot in his eyes, but the photographer had oozed daggers when Joey had suggested aviators, and Lance had to agree with him, aviators made them look like extras from a Barbie-Ken Camouflage movie, so they'd been squinting away all afternoon and he was beginning to get used to it.

"Let's move," the photographer said, herding them down the hillside like so many khaki-clad sheep. "Ok, this is good. River shots. Justin, on that rock, rest of you get round him, take your shoes off."

Justin got on the rock, squawking indignantly when Chris skimmed a fine spray of water over him with a well-aimed foot, and Lance shucked his sneakers and socks and rolled up his pants and stepped into the water, reaching for Joey in alarm when cold mud wriggled between his toes.

The photographer had no soul, he decided, as they relocated again and again, plus he was unprofessional, only bringing one towel that got muddy so fast Lance seriously considered looking for a handful of leaves. He said as much to Chris, who nodded thoughtfully and then grinned at him wolfishly and edged closer.

Unprofessional, Lance thought: bingo. Chris' perfect opportunity, start radiating vibes and the guy'll even catch it on camera.

Just pretending, though, just pretending, but it was difficult to keep his thoughts in those boundaries when Chris bounded onto his back and slung his arm round his neck at the photo shoot for the third time, kissing his cheek and making him laugh and stagger and reach out for Justin for support.

They were good pictures. He kept a set.

"Lazy bastard," Chris said, poking him in the stomach with a playful scowl, which turned into a comic pleasantly-surprised face as his finger jarred. He made a show of stroking his fingers over the muscle above Lance's waistband. "Hey, what'cha packing down here? How come I never notice this?"

"Because I don't wear flaunty open shirts like Justin, idiot," Lance shot back, hoping Chris wouldn't look for anything else he was packing, hoping Chris would back off before his dick had done more than simply stir.

He was getting better at Final Fantasy, to Chris' delight and JC's exasperation at them hogging the console. It was pretty fun, actually. He definitely found himself leaning into the blows, panicking when he couldn't afford good armour. And it was weird, because when he'd picked up the female character he felt incredibly protective.

"She's got magic," Chris said, for the third time, "she's got combat magic, so use it--"

"She can still use it if I station her at the back," Lance said reasonably, then grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, okay, and more out the range of enemy firepower."

"Wuss," Chris pronounced.

The battles were more difficult in later levels. "It's okay," Chris said loudly, grabbing his wrists and leaning over him, "see? he's not dead, he's just reached his limit -- and limit means now he's got mega-power, see, so if you wait one second, that's it, here now we can-- okay! Consider its scaly green ass nuked," and pressing the buttons with him again, like back when he'd never known what to do, and Lance stared at the back of his neck and felt the weight of Chris' elbow on his hip like a fire. Then the screen was clear and they were totting up points, and his blond had gone up another experience level, and so had the girl.

He got the hang of battles pretty quickly, once he'd worked out the logistics. But Chris didn't need to know that.

"Well, Justin, obviously, but Lance has a great body too," Chris assured the interviewer, then leaned forwards conspiratorially and told the camera, "but he mostly keeps it under wraps, you know -- not just anyone gets to see."

The next day, It's Bliss wanted Lance to do a feature with strategically placed CD cases and clipboards, and Chris grinned and said "see what the spoken word can do?" And Lance did it and casually mentioned it was gonna be in the March issue and tried not to wonder if Chris would buy one.

There was one shot of him rolled over on his stomach on red silk, and the line from his shoulder to his ankle was long and curving and smooth, and he especially tried not to wonder what Chris would think of that one.

They didn't even get a look in at the Brit Awards, not being Brits and all, but they did get drunk, and Chris' hand did fall on his thigh when he threw his head back and laughed at JC's impression of Baby Spice, and shivers did lace up Lance's spine and dance in the pit of his stomach like the first deep mouthful of white wine over and over again.

The strobe of flashbulbs told him the hand on his thigh hadn't gone unnoticed, and he kindof admired Chris for retaining his prime objective even when completely wasted.

"Um," Justin asked one day. "Are you two like, going out?"

Chris grinned and flashed his eyebrows, leaving it to Lance to deny it. "No," he said, hoping it sounded like denial. "No! Course not."

"Oh," Justin said, then glanced at the ceiling. "Just, you know. You could tell us, type thing. Should tell us, too."

"We're not," Lance said, but he couldn't bring himself to ask why they'd thought that, because it was obvious, really, wasn't it?

"You okay?" Justin asked, and Lance was about to say of course he was when he realised it was directed at Chris, not him. Shaking Chris. Chris who'd stuffed half his fist into his mouth and turned away, shoulders jerking, until Justin touched his back and he sortof unfolded into this delighted laughter, which turned into a little dance of whoops and punches thrown at the air.

"We got you guys?" he asked incredulously, then threw his arms round Lance and swayed him joyously back and forth. "Damn, we are good!"

Justin laughed, kinda nervously, "what? Chris, what you on about? I don't -- Lance?"

Lance answered slowly, not sure how to play it. "Chris' been trying to convince, like, the media. That we're together."

Justin laughed again, all confusion. "What the fuck?"

"Okay," Chris said, getting his breath back and letting Lance go, "you know how everyone thinks Lance goes for guys?"

"Mmm," Justin said, nodding, "but so?"

"Hey!" Lance protested, and Justin glanced at him, slightly apologetically.

"Get with it, they do," he shrugged, then made a prompting gesture at Chris, "but not you, man -- not that I've heard, anyway."

"That's the point," Chris said happily, "I wanted to see if they'd buy it. If we could convince them, you know, hint them in the right direction."

Justin nodded, then shook his head like to clear it and fixed him with a mock-angry glare. "You fucking convinced me, you prick," he growled, then clapped him on the back. "Jesus -- nice work. I was seriously doubting you guys' sexuality."

So was I, Lance thought.

Chris slid an arm round his waist, leaning his head on his shoulder. "Don't we make a cute couple?" he purred, and Justin mimed taking pictures.

"Do the others think we are, too?" Lance asked abruptly, and Justin paused and looked thoughtful.

"Not sure," he said. "I think Joey's like, suspicious and shit, but JC? No idea."

"Don't tell them," Chris pleaded, and Lance hated himself for savouring the firm heat of his arm. "I wanna see if we can fool everyone."

"Plus it looks better if the others don't look like they're in on the joke," Lance heard himself say.

Chris nodded enthusiastically, leaning into him. "See, more reasons I picked you -- cute and fem, and smart with it--"

"Fem," Lance deadpanned, calmly unhooking Chris' arm and putting some space between them. Justin smothered a laugh behind his hand, and Lance knew Chris was just trying to get to him, knew it was all there to get under his skin and cause a response, but damnit, there was only so much humiliation-lust a guy could handle in one day, and he'd reached his limit.

Chris batted his eyelids. "Aw, c'mon, honey, don't be like that," he crooned, and Lance grinned like malleable glass and clamped down on the urge to punch him.

At limit, a character does most damage, he heard Chris murmur in his ear, breath a shade too warm to tickle.

Damage to who, Lance wondered sharply. He left them to it.

He idly picked up a magazine and then admitted to himself it wasn't that random after all -- it was the photo shoot from the river, where they'd ended up sprawled out on the grass in makeshit covert ops poses. Snap after snap, picking up grass stains, Chris' thigh pressing hard across his legs as they crawled haphazardly and then JC'd managed to dig the heel of his hand into an ants' nest and they'd had to bolt upright and somehow in the laughing confusion Chris had hooked into Lance's waistband to lever himself up, and the memory of cool tough fingers against his hot skin had left Lance shivering and nervous even after the ants were gone.

That had also been the day the photographer had said, "c'mon, now, sex it up, I wanna see smouldering, imagine like the camera's the hottest thing you've ever seen," and Lance had imagined Chris grabbing him and sinking fists into his hair and some other stuff he'd had to cut off sharply because he didn't wanna make the teenies panic with a hard-on, now, did he?

And now just the feeling of too-bright sun in his eyes made him think of that day, but seeing the pictures was even worse. Or better. Or something.

The others had gone ahead, and Lance been dumb enough to forget you couldn't wait behind to chat at the airport without having to face the crowds alone on your way back to the hotel.

The screaming was like a swarm of flies, getting in his mouth and seething across his skin and just too, too close and suffocating for words. His headache was rotten with it, foul and aching and animated behind his eyes.

Lance quickened his pace, almost stepping on the bodyguard's heels, and had a moment's hysterical fantasy about being bitch-slapped into the crowd because Mr. Black thought he was a vagrant over-enthused teenie.

Because popstars didn't hurry; they were supposed to thrive on this stuff, right?

He got to the hotel steps and didn't know he was scowling until Chris saw him through the glass doors and pushed through and strode down to him protectively, scowling right back at him. Lance took his hand, let Chris guide him up the rest of the steps. "Hey," he ordered, and Lance stopped and blinked. The squeals faded in the background, a muting gauze falling over them at the sound of Chris' voice. "I waited. You okay?"

"Headache," Lance said, suddenly finding the energy to take the deep breath it felt like he'd been waiting years for. He pinched the bridge of his nose, feeling the thin slime of stage makeup melt a little more beneath his fingers.

Cameras were flashing.

"Hey," Chris said again, softer, and then he was up close and reaching with both hands to tilt Lance's head so he wasn't looking at the bright light -- why hadn't he thought of that? -- and stroking his temples gently.

Lance dropped his hands, not caring that it didn't help the pain at all.

"Justin's gonna try and make you go out, okay," Chris said quietly, and his lips flickered wryly, "you know, first night in a new city, all that shit." His fingers stopped stroking, slid down to just cup his face, holding him directly in Chris' eyeline. "You need to rest. Don't go."

Lance tried to laugh, tried to suggest they go inside, break this tableau of intimacy that was making the ache in his head thrill exquisitely, frantic needling pain thundering against his scull. Everything was going liquid, a sliding sunspot apart from Chris' eyes. They were dark, dark brown. Captivating, he'd heard them described as once. "Well--"

"Don't go," Chris repeated, lips barely moving to release the soft, silken warning, and then he nodded efficiently once and dropped his hands, slipping an arm round his shoulders and guiding him through the hotel door.

As the glass closed like a spacecraft's seal behind them, the screaming was blocked out for real -- instead of being muffled by insignificance, his senses swamped by Chris' proximity. Lance blinked, watching Chris go towards the reception to check him in. Unless he was way off course, this was getting outa hand.

"Lance!" Justin yelled, careening across the plush red lobby and then skittering to a halt in front of Chris. Lance blinked again; Chris could move fast. "Hey, I'm just gonna," Justin said, looking down at Chris in confusion, then he said, "oh, ok," and glanced over, concerned and wide-eyed.

Lance smiled tiredly. "I'm ok," he insisted. "Just the screaming kinda. you know. Got to me."

"Oh," Justin said, and nodded vaguely. "Yeah." Then he perked up. "Well, I'm gonna go check the others, see if anyone will come play with me tonight," he said, sounding like a cheerful martyr, and span on his heel to race back across the lobby. "Hold that," he hollered, and the guy in the elevator stared at him and slapped the wall just in time for Justin to squeeze in.

Lance watched affectionately, realising screaming had never got to Justin: screaming was what made it worthwhile, and the knowledge they could expect it any day they walked outside could wipe out Justin's darkest moods. He closed his eyes for a second, then blinked them open again when he felt a touch to his shoulder.

"C'mon," Chris said, pointing to the other elevator. "You gotta get some aspirin."

"Morphine," Lance muttered, getting into the elevator and seeing them reflected back on all sides, and Chris threw him a grin from three different directions and pressed the button to the top floor.


"Have you seen this?" Chris demanded, kicking the door shut behind him with a loud -- achingly loud -- bang and snapping on the light.

Lance squinted, "fuck," and burrowed so his arm was over his eyes, blocking out the glare. Better.

"No, no, hey; get up," Chris said, irritation in his voice. "C'mon."

Lance made a complaining noise in his throat, rolled over. "Can't it wait? Like, are we at seven AM yet? I think not."

There was a blessed pause, then the covers were ripped off and light spilt painfully into the back of his brain. "Fuck off," he insisted, glaring at Chris and blinking furiously. The covers were twisted hard around one foot, but other than that they'd crumpled devastatingly out of reach.

"Look," Chris said, pushing his legs blithely onto a cold area of the sheets, irritably untwisting the covers and letting them slither onto the floor, and scooting up next to him to wave a magazine in his face. "Look at this."

Lance hauled his pillow up behind him and shuffled back, trying not to notice as his knee slid against warm Chris-fabric. "Ok, ok," he said, taking the magazine and straightening it, trying to work out what had turned Chris into the alarm clock from hell.

Justin and Joey. Big deal. It was only one page, an amateur picture surrounded by type he couldn't focus on yet-- "See that?" Chris demanded.

"What, feeling left out? You wanna be in it?" It was a cute picture, actually, Justin giggling and falling almost horizontal on Joey, Joey grinning evilly and tickling him. Lance could sympathise with Justin -- his ribs had been on the receiving end of Joey's whimsy before, and he'd ached for a week.

"I wanted us to be in it," Chris growled, snatching the magazine away and scrutinising it. "And I don't get what they've done special here -- we've done stuff like this, no one gave a shit--"

"No one gives a shit about this," Lance said, feeling a soft welling of irritation moving up his body. He was cold, too -- Chris woke him up to steal his covers and bitch about some teenie mag? Prick. And why did he look good in the mornings? Something else to hate him for. "What's the article, huh? Tales of sordid affairs?"

"No," Chris admitted, face briefly blank, then scowled again, "but it doesn't matter -- we've given them way better material, this is just, just... The doorway yesterday, see, that was so fucking perfect, and I know cameras were going for it, they did, and who do they choose for their feature, is it us? Noooo."

"Sorry, I probably didn't turn right," Lance said, trying to keep his voice neutral, no bitterness. "I had a headache." His mouth felt stiff, un-smilable.

"No, they were great pictures, I made sure of it," Chris said distractedly, then froze in the act of stuffing the magazine back in his bag, glancing at him. "Uh," he said, voice cautious. "How's, uh, how's your head now?"

He made sure of it, great, that's perfect. Business as usual. "Yeah, it's okay," Lance said, scratching the base of his neck, hearing his voice suspiciously light and strained. He examined his fingers, carefully not frowning, then looked back at Chris, wondering why the pissed-off-ness felt like it had hardened into something dense and stone-heavy.

Chris was watching him cautiously.

Lance stared back, silence curling up into an uncomfortable fog, then shrugged diffidently and quirked his mouth. "It's fine."

There was another pause. "It is," he added.

Chris leaned forward, one hand falling on either side of Lance's body, and peered up at him. "I didn't just wait because I figured we'd get good pictures."

Lance kept his breathing silent, seriously aware of his personal space and the thoughtlessly invasive way Chris was crowding him. The resentment was fading too-- well. Not so much fading as mutating. Stone heating restlessly. "No. Yeah," he said, voice catching in his throat, and if he sat up sharply their mouths would clash together but there weren't any photographers in the hotel room so it'd be pointless, right?

Fuck. Even the voice in his head sounded croaky and turned-on.

Chris held his gaze for another three seconds, then grinned like Puck and fell sideways-back, so he was lying diagonally across his chest and staring at the ceiling. "Cool," he said, wriggling slightly, and his body heat was deadly, glowing heavily over his skin. He felt simultaneously furious and euphorically relieved that Chris wasn't lying on his dick.

"Um. Can I have my bed back?" Lance asked, figuring it was fine to sound breathless now because hello? he had Chris draped across him and Chris wasn't light, ok?

Chris shook his head vigorously, sending thick tingling trails across his chest. "I like it here. Comfy. I think I'll stay."

There'll be rent demands to be filled, y'know. Naked ones. "Well," Lance said, forcing his hands to wriggle impatiently under Chris' shoulders rather than creep round his neck and throttle or caress, "can you get room service to bring me some coffee?"

Chris slanted a look up at him, wounded-diva. "I said I'm comfy here," he whined, then rolled his eyes. "Fine, fine; I'll go track down some minion," he said, showing no indication of moving whatsoever.

Lance got a palm under Chris' shoulderblade -- cotton-warm, heavy, definition sliding against his palm -- and nudged insistently. "And the rest, Kirkpatrick-- I'm wanting full breakfast," he prompted, and Chris groaned loudly and hauled himself to his feet. "You woke me up -- I deserve some compensation..."

"Bitch bitch bitch," Chris muttered, then bent with an elaborate bow to nab Lance's covers and cast them aggressively back over him. "Bitch," he added, with a final glare before he hopped back out the room.

Lance shivered, cool cotton ghosting against his hyper-aware skin.


Chris' arm felt tighter around his neck as they walked through the theater lobby, but nothing else Chris did felt unwieldy or weird, so Lance ignored it until Chris turned in faux-drunken glee near the door and kissed him on the mouth.

Lance froze, thinking fuck fuck fuck, tasting slick warm mint because Chris had spat his gum in the trash when they'd walked out the men's room just a couple of minutes ago.

The world went red, his eyes falling closed on stunned automatic, and Chris' tongue swirled round his mouth and Lance almost swayed with it and had to concentrate to keep his feet steady.

Had to concentrate like fuck to even feel his feet at all.

"Hey," he heard loudly, almost instantly, and Chris' hand on his hip tightened and pulled him closer closer endlessly closer wetter hotter, and he could feel Chris smiling against his mouth.

"Chris! Lance? Guys, what the fuck--"

Lance blinked, breaking off abruptly because shit, they were in a theatre foyer, and just because Chris'd apparently decided this was a good moment to go public didn't mean it was.

Joey and JC were staring at them, along with a stream of people frozen in their path from the stairs to the bar. Chris' hand slithered from his waist to his wrist, then tugged him forward.

"We gonna see this movie, then?" he asked innocently, and then Justin had bounded up, taken one look at the whole group and then a longer one at Chris and Lance, and made his mouth into a small 'o'.

"Chris," said Joey sharply, and the rest of the crowd had started edging forwards again, tangled tendrils of conversation batting at Lance from all sides.

Wasn't that-- Did you see-- Hey, I didn't know-- Fucking boybands-- Wow, they sure are brave-- I don't believe they-- Was I dreaming?

Chris' fingers threaded through his own, warm and tight and very very real. "Joey," Chris was mimicking, throwing his other hand wide in innocent defence, and JC was shaking his head, looking round nervously like he expected Lou to swoop down from his meeting in NY and throw cloaks over their heads and hurry their camouflaged asses away.

"Show's startin," Justin interrupted, coming round on Lance's other side and leaning in and poking him and muttering, "look less dazed, y'hear me?"

"--can't know what you're doing," Joey was saying, voice checked into a soft-spoken growl, jaw hard and eyes flinty.

Chris leaned close to Joey, half-twisting Lance's hand. "Take it up with me later, right?" Lance heard, an almost-breathy threat, then Chris came back to him and grinned and kissed the corner of his mouth again. "C'mon -- we moving, or gonna stand and gawk at the carpet all day?" he demanded, starting purposefully across towards the theater doors.

His thumb swept lightly, intimately across Lance's palm, then his grip tightened, and his whole body swayed closer, letting Lance set the pace. Lance swallowed and sped up, stunningly viscerally aware that Chris was holding his hand, holding it like a date, was this a date? and then they were inside the theater and looking for their seats and Chris let go when he was taking off his coat and didn't take up the hand-holding after, all through the movie. Their thighs were still pressed together, though, and since this was a big expensive cinema with lots of legroom, Lance didn't know what to think about that either.


"It was a joke, okay?" Chris was growling, and Joey laughed in disbelief and shook his head.

"You've got a fucking twisted sense of humour, you know that?"

"It was a joke," Lance said, with a little shrug. He'd ridden with Justin back to the house, and Justin had grinned and poked him some more and then dropped the subject, chattering instead about how the guy'd got back to them and they could have holster's for the microphones if they could just convince set design the wires wouldn't tangle.

They'd gone to JC's again, on promise of more food. The phone was ringing -- Chris' phone, Lance realised, when Chris cursed and dug around in his jacket, then headed for the hall.

"What the hell kinda joke is that?" Joey demanded, and Lance gave up trying to listen into Chris' conversation. Only Management would call him this late.

"It's a joke on the press," Lance said, looking around for comprehension. "Like, you know how they're always digging for dirt? We thought we'd give them some."

JC looked incredulous. "By... you two?" he asked, pointing from one to the other, "like, making out in public? That's your idea of subtle?"

"We tried subtle," Lance said, then frowned, "and that wasn't making out. That was like, one kiss."

Justin snorted. "Fuck off, it was making out -- you two were way into it. Took us like, three hours to get your attention."

Lance laughed shortly. "Yeah, right," he scoffed, thinking, fuck, three hours? what he wouldn't give for three hours, "You weren't even there, Timberlake, so now who's--"

"It's over, anyhow," Chris called, flat and irate. The phone clattered back in its cradle, and he stalked through to the kitchen, calling over his shoulder, "you got any booze, JC? I'm needing me a stiff drink as soon as--"

"Shelf above sink," JC called.

"Why's it over?" Lance asked, trying to sound like huh, it's off, oh well, no biggie. Who cares. Not him.

"Fucking deliberate media blackout," Chris spat, grabbing a glass and pouring a long shot of something into the bottom.

Media what? Lance stared at him. "They won't report it?"

Chris smirked, raising the glass to his lips, "They will if we push it," and tilting it back. "And then we get in trouble."

"You pushed it," Joey called, "you are not telling me you didn't push it--"

"Yeah, tonight was," Chris admitted, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, and paused. Good, Lance thought. "pretty blatant," Chris said, then shrugged, scratched his jaw moodily. "They want me to retract it."

"Retract it," Lance said, then felt paranoid he sounded like someone's girlfriend, just repeating shit like some lame starstruck fool. JC'd been out with this chick they'd dubbed The Parrot, once.

Chris was pouring another drink. He looked up. "Well, you know. It was all a joke, yadda yadda. We're just friends really."

Lance forced a laugh. "Shit, so for once they'll be reporting something that's actually true."

"Whoa," chimed JC and Joey, in perfect synchronised incredulity, and that was incredibly funny, intensely bitterly funny, because Chris' game made sense to them now, granting the band a shiny happy victory. Playing the media wasn't about spinning lies, it was about forcing them to print a truth they didn't believe and didn't want. This was the band's victory, because now the media was frustrated and the beauty of it was they don't have to hide anything, worry their cover's gonna be blown, any of that shit.

Because of course Lance didn't wanna be sleeping with Chris, right? Ludicrous thought.

What a neat fucking package, Lance thought, and enough of his brain was still detached enough to hope no one heard the edge of desperation as he started laughing with the rest of them. And it's all been for nothing, he added, crumpling in hard shuddering laughter with stinging eyes and gasping for breath, reaching gratefully for the beer that was suddenly being passed round.

"All those reporters out there, seething they're not allowed to print their long-lensed smut they know they could get hold of," JC giggled, and Lance opened his mouth to say something about poetic justice when he caught Chris' eye, who wasn't laughing, and found the words had misted away.

"There's no way the people who saw you guys together'll buy it, either," Justin was grinning, throwing an arm round Lance's neck and barraging into Chris. "Not after the show you two put on--"

Lance laughed again, though it felt like sawdust in his throat, and heard Chris say, on the other side of Justin, "Yeah, well, they'll have to."


He kept expecting someone to do a followup story, like, to investigate and shit. But no -- the next scepticism in the press was as to whether Brit was cheating on Justin, and the only pictures of him and Chris were labelled "best buddies" or something, except for a nasty little thing headed with the question as to whether they'd be such good friends after 'nsync broke up.

He stopped looking, after that. There wasn't gonna be a scandal, certainly, and when he'd been called to back Chris up on the 'fess up to the joke thing, he'd laughed and waved it aside and been wickedly blasť, and Management had nodded pointedly and basically patted them on the heads.

Apparently, it was true -- gay stories didn't sell, ignorance was fucking bliss, and the screaming masses really didn't want to know.

They were going to stop, Lance realised, because it hadn't worked, they hadn't shocked anyone, and everyone thought it was a joke, and this was good, right? No more pretending, and no more fear that Chris was gonna take it too far.

It was gonna be safe again, normal again. He wouldn't have to be on edge, wondering if he was throwing the right vibes around, if Chris was gonna grope him, gonna kiss him.

And... he didn't want to.

Justin talking about himself... well, it got boring. And the studio lights were too hot. Lance leaned forwards and surreptitiously stole Chris' glass of water, laughing when Chris noticed and growled sharply and semi-pounced on him.

"Guys, hey," he heard the lame-ass kodak-grin presenter protest distantly, but he was irritating as hell, and Chris didn't seem to care he was roughing Lance up on air, and it was good to feel Chris touch him even if it was only tickling, so he pretended he hadn't heard.

"Help," he managed, breathlessly, a moment later, figuring he'd better make like he wanted to be rescued.

Then Chris yelped and his strength hitched and failed, and he twisted away from Lance's body -- never underestimate the strength of Justin seeking the limelight. Lance was, he guessed, pretty much saved.

The sense of disappointment was embarrassingly strong.

"You guys sure have got a load of energy!" the presenter told them, sharing a knowing grin with the camera, then turned back to Justin with an encouraging smile, "so yeah, you were saying, you might be branching out into darker blues now you're coming up to your birthday?"

"He's coming of age," Chris trumpeted, executing an intricate little fanfare through his fist, and Joey leaned over and kissed Justin thoroughly on the cheek, sliding a proprietary hand down his chest.

Justin grinned and preened, then appeared to catch on to something and flicked a sultry little sneer at Chris, "rack off, y'all -- I been of age since like," spreading his arms wide and leaning smugly back in his chair, "for-ev-er," and Lance hoped the camera wouldn't pick up on the lack of easy familiarity coming from his corner.

It wasn't that he felt uncomfortable, same way he hadn't felt uncomfortable when the picture had come out of Joey sticking his tongue playfully in JC's ear in an outtake from a photoshoot where they were all dressed up as sailors -- because it didn't matter, it was normal, right?

Okay, so watching the others he couldn't help but think that there was the fucking gay vibes, that nothing Chris'd done to him was any worse except maybe the kiss, that the kiss had been extreme anyway and they'd all known it. The rest of it? All just fucking run-of-the-mill day-to-day boyband antics.

So obviously he didn't feel uncomfortable.

It was just weird sitting in the middle of this stuff, all the good-natured groping and blatant playful subtext he'd never noticed until Chris wasn't touching him intently anymore.

"Yeah, I've worn Justin's clothes a couple times," JC was nodding, a crooked grin making his face look sharper, more predatory than usual. "Just, you know. The bus, things get messed up, all sorts of things get in the wrong places."

Lance took his cue from Joey, who was chuckling, and spread a grin deliberately across his face, because Joey was still normal and knew what was funny and when to laugh.


He had a dream he was going down on Chris in the hotel elevator, and it was weird because they'd moved on and gone through two cities since then, and still something in his subconscious had him sitting back on his ankles on the sleek red carpeting, eyes huge and gleaming, watching himself lick Chris' dick slowly in the mirror, seeing his own blond head dip a thousand refracted times.


"Hey," Lance said, sounding casual as casual be and strung tauter than the first time he'd stepped onstage. "I was thinking," he began, and part of him hated himself for saying it but his dick was there going, hey, the end of Chris-gropes justifies the means of being really truly pathetic, "shouldn't we keep doing it? Like, the public stuff -- won't it look suspicious if we just stop?"

He almost added, cold turkey, but caught himself in time because Chris was already shaking his head.

"Get on the clue bus, baby. Nothing looks suspicious." He quirked a grin. "I mean, between PR and media conspiracy and wilful blindness and total frigging apathy, there is nothing we could do that would make a difference."

Lance blinked, then nodded understandingly, like it had been an academic question. "Oh."


He hadn't gotten socks. He'd grabbed clothes and blundered them on hastily, stuffing his feet into the first pair of sneakers he could find and hitting the corridor running. JC'd almost collided with him at the corridor, and they'd exchanged terrified grins over the jarring clamour of the alarm and grabbed hands and practically flown down the stairs, because JC had just the same fear of fire Lance had.

He'd never been able to do the single-file thing comfortably in fire drills, always fidgeting and scuffing around and wanting nothing more than to get the fuck out.

Crowded on the pavement, though, looking up at a building with no obvious signs of fire whatsoever, Lance began to wish he'd taken the time to get socks. There was grit, meandering leisurely over his toes, and there was a spreading stain of coldness where street water was seeping in through old seams.

JC's hand was warm in his, but not very, so he grinned a little shyly because he was still used to feeling weird about excess affection and pressed closer, gathering JC's lean, warm body against him in the dark.

See, not so bad, nothing sexy about this, he told himself, and that was true until Chris came up and enfolded them both in a tight hug from behind, because then he could feel Chris' warm body pressed all up and down his leg and fuck, that was different, that was immeasurably less sound.

Then he thought Chris was flirting, because Chris' hand was kneading its determined way up and down his arm, and then he realised Chris was not only doing exactly the same thing to JC but also was resting his head on JC's shoulder, and Lance swallowed and tried to spot Justin and Joey in the crowd.

"Dude," Chris said sadly, when Justin turned up with bedhead from hell, "you need to start dating hairstylists. Please. For the love of god."

Justin scrubbed his hair irritably, then growled and thumped Chris in the stomach, and Chris laughed and struggled away from Lance and JC to defend himself, and Lance felt a sheet of cold sweep all down the ex-points of contact.

Joey arrived eventually, and he'd been screwing a receptionist who knew a quicker way out the hotel so he'd had time to grab two thick, fleecy sweaters, and he was the biggest anyway which equated to about five times a normal guy's body heat, so when he looped an arm round Lance's neck and almost suffocated him in heavy hot fabric, Lance wasn't gonna complain.

Joey's hand was warm on his stomach, too, while Chris and Justin wrestled their excess adrenaline away and JC went off in search of the thermos they'd heard rumours of.

Lance leaned back into him, exhaustion and self-pity simmering icily beneath his skin.


Chris had gotten cold and mean, and Justin was sulking because Chris had brushed him off. Lance felt inconceivably heavy and dumb; his thoughts were wound tight in swaddling clothes, vague and insubstantial beneath ambling fog.

It was like, they jacked it up right but nobody cared, it was all just completely normal boyish highspirited nsync behaviour. And he couldn't help but feel viciously angry about that, that Chris had messed him around, and also feel helpless and forlorn because actually the chances were high that Chris hadn't noticed shit but himself since the beginning.

"Hey," said JC, and he was an angel because he'd found the thermos and brought it back half-full, and it had soup in.

"No flames yet," Lance said, watching the loom of the hotel against the too-pre-dawn sky.

If the official version was for real, if it'd all been a joke, they'd been acting pretty extreme... but then, this was Chris, who'd stayed up all night to glue Justin's pendant to his chest, who'd limped for days after falling out a tree where he'd been hiding from Joey-and-his-freshly-blue-stubble, who'd only do a joke if it was done right and well, so that argument didn't hold up to inspection. Fucker.

They were going in again, steered to the front of the shivering crowd by sickeningly deferential sleepy-eyed porters.

The floor manager looked terrified -- but then, faced with Chris glaring like a terrier, that wasn't majorly surprising. "Sorry," he started, grimacing with apology, "sorry, we had a temp in -- he was smoking in the employee lounge."

Chris made him suffer for a full thirty seconds that left Lance feeling vaguely squeamish, then winked broadly and grinned. "No worries," he said, casting a sly glance round at JC, "it was cold a while, yeah, but then we got an eyeful of the firemen... and volunteered to keep them occupied since you guys had no use for the hoses."


Ok, so he'd done it; ok? He'd jerked off because, when poking his head round Chris' dressing room after a rehearsal, Chris had his back to him and was stripping off his joggers and wasn't -- oh lord -- wearing anything underneath. Lance blinked but it didn't clear his vision -- he could only see creamy skin and smooth, tempting curves, and shit, he was staring at Chris' ass and Chris had a mirror, Chris'd be able to see him--

Chris dropped to a crouch, making the blood seize in Lance's veins, and fished some dark combats off the floor, standing again to step into them.

Screw the message about new shoes, Lance thought loudly, turning silently and fleeing.

So yeah, he'd done it. Far from distancing himself and staying impartial, now he'd gone and compromised his work-contract-rehearsal-conscence by scampering away and jerking off like he was Justin or something.

And now Chris was wanting to know why Lance hadn't told him, didn't Lance know rubber soles left black streaks on the new plas-tech dancefloor? and what was that, he did know, he'd just had to go have a shower instead of telling him and jesus chris, Lance, wasn't there a limit to the Mr. Clean stuff? For fuck's sake, a bit of sweat wouldn't kill him, contrary to what he apparently thought.

Lance thought to himself that feeling clean really, really wasn't the problem.


Maybe, in rehearsal, Chris did wear boxers but had just hooked them down with his pants when he got changed. Yeah.

He decided that was true.

(It was either that or quit dancing.)


He watched Chris winding his way through the crowd for another drink, then caught himself watching and looked determinedly at the podium dancer instead. She was thin and not wearing much and flinging her hair around, and Lance guessed she was cute, but he couldn't see properly, and anyway, c'mon, be honest, he was too used to checking out Chris to remember what he looked for in girls.

Not wearing much and cute, that sounded good, right?

He watched as she tossed her head back and bit her lip like she was lost in the music, frowning in gorgeous artifice-- and it was suddenly such a caricature, such a fucking transparent farce, this club and his own fake enjoyment and all the twisting sweaty bodies dancing and doing nothing for him. And some of them even had black spiky hair.

He looked back to the bar, and Chris was laughing, flirting with the guy behind the bar and the girl next to him at once, and another girl was leaning over her friend's shoulder trying desperately to join in.

Lance looked down at his drink and considered leaving, then considered swallowing the rest of it quickly so he could go get a refill while Chris was still there. Maybe someone would jostle him and they'd get pressed together, crowded hot and tight. Maybe Chris would buy him a drink, fingers touching as he handed it over.

Whoa, the last train to loserville left three minutes ago -- you'll have to run to catch up.

He downed the rest of his beer, then set off determinedly in the other direction. He'd go dance a while, find someone who interested him. He looked up at the podium dancer as he passed and the light slashed down on her hair and made it shine like glass, and she really wasn't wearing much, was she? and then his legs had carried him onwards, through a door, into the little bar where they still served food and let people sit down.


A hand reached over his shoulder, nabbed a fry. "Hey," Lance protested vaguely, twisting his head back, then saw JC's dark eyes sparkling down at him and guessed he could spare a few fries.

"Hey yourself," JC said, squeezing in behind him and dragging up a seat. "Why no dancing?"

"Tired," Lance lied, feeling intensely wide awake and moody as fuck. "Hey," he protested, when JC grabbed a sachet of ketchup and squeezed it all over the fries. "There was already loads--"

"You're too conservative," JC said pleasantly; "just ask Joey. He knows you can never have too much sauce."

There were a few ways he could interpret that, Lance thought wryly, but he just shrugged and wrinkled his nose. "Joey doesn't know shit."

JC paused in chewing. "Joey's scored twice, and they're both sticking with him," he said, then grinned and swallowed, "so he's got a formula that works, he knows that much."

"How're you going?"

"Pretty good. Gonna get out there again. Chris' looking for you, by the way."

Lance raised his eyebrows. "Yeah?"

"Said you ran off when his back's turned," JC said vaguely, eyes scanning the crowd. "Something about beer. And fish."

"Huh," Lance said, then, before he could help it, "Where is he?"

JC got up, eyes fixed on something behind Lance's head, an oddly predatory expression in his eye. "Over by the other bar, the big one. With some chick-- yeah, he said you should go find him." He patted Lance on the shoulder, easing back past him, "see ya later," and moved off through the crowd.

"Bye," Lance said to his fries, looking at the damage done to them, then thought desultorily about getting another drink. Or, he could go find Chris, get back into the party mood and watch him pick up chicks.



"What's up, kiddo?" Chris asked, flopping down next to him on the couch. "Man, am I beat."

They were staying at Joey's, just stumbled in from the club, but Joey had taken the podium dancer upstairs and Lance didn't feel like sneaking past in the dark to listen to one of his best friends screwing in one room while Chris slept the sleep of the just in another.

He opened his mouth to say something like that, some edited version, then closed it again. "Just getting up the energy to go upstairs." He wondered where JC and Justin had got to -- last he'd seen, they'd been hopping around improvising routines to imaginary music -- they apparently both heard it, never missing a beat -- and tumbling into a cab, yelling, "wusses," out the window. Breakfast Club, he guessed.

"Where'd you get to? I turn round, you'd swam off."

"Yeah, I. Stuff to do."

"No problem. You want cocoa?"

Lance laughed, tiredly. "Nah." His feet were cold, and he rubbed them together with vague thoughts of friction and stuff. He looked across. "And you shouldn't have it either -- sugar at night, Chris? Not a good plan."

"Lemme make up my own plans," Chris said cheerfully, sinking to his knees and clattering around in Joey's cupboards. Lance winced, imagining a mid-coital Joey coming to investigate.

"Make your plans quieter, huh?" he called softly, then hoped he didn't catch his breath audibly when Chris looked round, eyes hard and luminous over the cupboard door, somehow pinning him where he stood. Blood was pooling down, down. But it was dark; he was okay. Yeah, used to this. Okay.

"C'mere," Chris said, voice dark and rich with sex, and then he rocked back on his heels and stood up, one hand splayed on the counter, the other one curled in the air. Lance watched the hand in the air, watched two fingertips nudge an inch like a summons towards Chris, and took a slow breath.

"What," he said, and he intended to finish that sentence, yes he did, just as soon as his lexis came back online.

Chris lifted his chin, a shade of defiance hardening in his stance. "Lance," he said, and Lance thought blankly, that's an unnecessary use of my name, "if you wanna have a conversation, you better get your ass in the kitchen." Then he shrugged, mouth quirking, dropping his hand. "Hey, you're the one that doesn't wanna bother loverboy with his racket."

Confusion strobed through Lance's body, overwriting everything else. Conversation? That's what this was about? He was overreacting. He was imagining things. Or Chris was fucking with him. Or Chris was just as exhausted as he was.

Conversation, that was gonna be fun when he couldn't think of shit to say.

"Yeah, okay," he agreed, raking a hand through his hair before he'd thought about it, finding it that much too solid to work. Ah, yeah, late night, just home. He needed to shower.

"I need to shower," he said, moving forward into Joey's kitchen, instantly distracted by the flashing light on the microwave. Four AM, jesus. They needed to get to bed. "The gel in my hair's gone weird. And it's four AM, we've gotta get--"

"Hey," Chris said, turning him and pressing him against the fridge and he was still wearing shoes, proper clunky Chris shoes, and that put them on almost the same height, Chris just tilting his head up slightly.

"Uh, hey," Lance managed, feeling like the pit of his stomach had transformed into a pool of molten rock. Chris gave him a crooked grin, again with the sparky eyes, then took his face in both cool strong hands and licked his mouth, once. His tongue was authoritative and firm and wet, making the heat swamp up through Lance's body like a tidal wave. Lance's head fell back.

"Hey," he tried again, feeling his hands solidify into fists, pressing hard into the cool fridge enamel.

"You really think," Chris said softly, but it wasn't really a soft voice, just quiet, like quiet grit being compressed by a quiet Ferrari tire, "I give a shit what the media thinks?"

One of his hands went between Lance's legs and lifted, wrist rubbing hard against his dick, fingers curling up cruelly to make Lance squirm with mindless pleasure flashing hot and bright through his balls.

"Yeah, no, fuck," he heard himself breathe, and breathing, that was a good one, that was funny right now, that was, in fact, the most fucking hilarious thing this century because how the fuck was he gonna survive on the oxygen provided by the crappy little panting noises he was making right now?

"I'm gonna finish this here," Chris promised him, starting a slow grinding rhythm against his dick, his other hand anchored at Lance's hipbone. "See Joey's up there, going at it with some chick and thinking he's got the patent on good fucking tonight, but he doesn't know I've got you down here, doesn't know what I'm gonna do to you, what you're letting me do--"

He twisted, his hip replacing his hand in the keep-Lance-pinned-to-the-fridge stakes, and the hand moved to Lance's belt, prying it open and swiping at the blunt head of his cock as a sideline.

Lance gasped, and fuck, he was gasping now? that was so predictable. But then actually Lance figured that, at this moment, let any man loose under the fingers of Chris Kirkpatrick and you'd get pretty much the same reaction.

"And I could've done this any time, couldn't I?" Chris was whispering, hot breath in his ear. "Any time I wanted since I put the idea in your head, just taken you aside and," he dipped his hand in Lance's boxers, fingers closing round his dick and making the heat in his stomach seize up and then race about, "done this, right? Stuck my hand down your pants and jerked you off and heard you saying my name over and over when you came."

"Fuck," Lance managed, the black glossy world swimming behind his eyes, because he'd never imagined Chris as a talker, though it made sense when you thought about it, but he'd always imagined Chris as kinda domineering and silent, making you guess and work for it.

"Yeah, some time when I'm not busy against a kitchen appliance," Chris said, and it took Lance a moment to get the reference, and then his head was full of it, of Chris turning him round and spreading him and pushing his dick up his ass, and he felt warm wetness spring up around the head of his cock and imagined using that too.

Okay, so the domineering thing, he definitely had that going on.

"Yeah," he agreed, hips starting to nudge in Chris' grasp, the long slow curl of pleasure tightening behind his balls. "Aw, fuck," he managed, then hissed at the flick of his thumb and said "c'mon, c'mon..."

"Fuck, Lance," Chris said, then he was hard against him and sort of curtly frantic, pinning him full-body against Joey's fridge and biting his neck until Lance had to go, "stop, stop," because surely it was gonna mark.

"Shut up, maybe I like you in turtlenecks," Chris muttered, but he stopped with the teeth and nipped at his ear instead, and the hand on his cock jerked twice before leaving him to the air.

What the fuck, Lance wanted to ask, but then his hips were swayed forwards by competent hands and then his ass was bare, swaying back against the fridge with his pants round his knees, and Chris' hands were working yet more fabric noises, and then there was a flash of intense fucking heat because that was Chris' dick coming to press skin-on-skin against his own. Lance sucked in a long breath, almost dying with the slippery-sticky feel of it.

Chris made a low cut-off humming noise, fingers finding Lance's waist and digging in hard, jerking them together over and over until Lance couldn't stand it, couldn't stand it, couldn't stand the flash-flood-fire of it, and came.

"Shit," he said eventually, hands unwilling to uncurl from their fists, opening his eyes to see Chris watching him possessively. "Okay, that was, um."

"Don't talk," Chris murmured, and Lance realised abruptly he hadn't come, he was standing there up close and personal and jerking off slowly, watching him.

Something to be said for the age-equals-stamina routine, he thought, but didn't say it, watching Chris' hand move like something out a porn film.

He wanted to taste it, he thought clearly, reaching blindly for the towel by the sink and rubbing distractedly at his stomach. "Let me," he started, dropping the towel and feeling like he was sleepwalking.

Chris froze, then carried on, a smile at the corner of his lips. "What." His voice sounded like he'd just finished a ten-year vow of silence.

"I want to blow you," Lance said, tasting the words coming out his mouth, watching Chris look totally blissed out for a moment and then, amazingly, shake his head.

"Hey, no, you haven't done this before."

"You don't know that."

Chris looked aggrieved. "You haven't."

"Yeah, but I wanna."

"Yeah, but it's--"

"I wanna--"


"Fuck me," Lance threw out, and Chris groaned and closed his eyes like he was in pain, hand speeding on his dick, breath coming harshly as he--

Lance grabbed his wrist and Chris' eyes went huge, "Fuck me."

"No way," Chris said, sounding like his teeth were gritted, and Lance laughed softly and worked his fingers down Chris' arm to close around his cock.

"Then let me suck you," he murmured, sinking to his knees, and Chris exhaled loudly and rocked on his feet, then swayed forwards to lean on the fridge with one outstretched hand.

"Yeah, okay," he said, and Lance leaned up and licked and bit at Chris' fingers until he let go, hand hovering at the base of his neck instead. "Fuck, yeah. But... mm. Never mind."

Lance grinned and tightened his fist round the base of Chris' cock, then licked it carefully, blinking as the sultry-hot-salt of it hit him like the sun in a desert. He closed his eyes again quickly, tilting his head delicately to slide his tongue right down to the base, feeling almost surprise when he licked his own fingers. They tasted salty. Chris was sighing and moaning, only just audible.

Lance started sucking, feeling the blood race beneath his tongue in fitful surges, and had just started teasing in earnest when Chris thrust viciously against his grip and shuddered hard, that when Lance licked his way up to the head of his cock there was only a trace of musk-salt left to taste.

"Shit," Chris was whispering, gasping against the fridge, "Fuck, Lance, don't do the thing with the balls, not when I'm not ready," and Lance wondered what the hell it was he'd done.

"Uh, yeah, sorry," he said, getting up, finding his knees had started aching.

Chris turned and glared at him. "Don't you ever apologise for giving great head, you hear?" he said, and Lance laughed softly and then shivered, and did up his pants.

"Can we go to bed?" he asked, noticing the way Chris was quick to follow his dressing-example.

"Sure," Chris said, reaching for the towel Lance had discarded and mopping it around on the floor.

"Uh, the fridge, too," Lance pointed out, feeling vaguely diffident, and Chris snorted.

"Ah, yeah, the fridge... Joey so doesn't hear about this, right?"

"Right," Lance agreed, watching him toss the towel in the trash, wondering if he really was grinning like a fool. He had a feeling he was.

"You coming?" Chris asked, and there was that same grin. Jesus.

"Man. I've never seen a guy argues so much before a blowjob," Lance whispered, climbing the stairs.

"Lance, baby -- you've never seen a guy before a blowjob at all," Chris shot back, then covered Lance's mouth with two fingers and escorted him past Joey's room in silence.

"I've seen me before a blowjob, and I sure don't argue," Lance said, closing the door to their room behind him. There was a pale, watery dawn coming through the window, and a chill in the air. He didn't bother turning on the light.

"I'm gonna have to investigate that," Chris said, a promise in his voice, then cocked his head and nodded. "Sounds like Fatone's exhausted himself," he muttered, sounding pleased.

Lance stretched, eyeing the two beds. "You exhausted me," he admitted, and Chris grinned at him, a flicker of something in his eyes that Lance couldn't properly make out in the half-light.

"Well, you know. I aim to please. I... which bed do you want?"

Lance paused, then shrugged. "Yours," he said clearly, hoping he wasn't making a mistake; to his relief, Chris grinned again, and made a beeline for the furthest one.

"Heyyy, electric blanket," he purred, falling onto it and leaning over to click on the heat.

"Isn't it dangerous to have those things on all night?"

"Yeah, well." Chris reached for him, started undressing him. "It's just gonna start taking the chill off things while I do... this..."

Lance closed his eyes and exhaled softly, feeling the luxuriously soft burr of Chris' tongue against his lips, and opened his mouth to let it slip inside, sucking just enough to make Chris sigh.

His hands carried on working to ease Chris' clothes out the way, until he could stroke the rich smooth warmth of his back, slide his hands down his sides and make him shiver and squirm.

"In," Chris said vaguely, tugging him over to sit on the bed, dragging off his shoes and pants and dropping them in a haphazard tangle for Lance to trip over when he woke up.

Woke up with Chris, he thought. Sounded good. Waking up with him, getting all frantic and sweaty again. Maybe, he thought, slipping into bed and grinning at the happy noise Chris made as he stretched the length of the electric blanket, maybe waking up and crawling over to the other bed for the sheer dirty thrill of mussing up nursemaid-crisp sheets.

"Oh," he said, letting Chris shove him over affectionately, liking his strength, "should we make the other bed look slept in?"

Chris settled long and silky-warm against him. "Nah," he said, warm fingers idly stroking his stomach. "Serve Joey right to see for himself -- teach him to take a joke."

Lance grinned. "Even though it wasn't a joke," he said redundantly, just for the excited twitch in his stomach every time his nerves realised Chris was for real.

"Yeah, well. If it had been a joke, he'd have taken it fucking badly, so he still... needs... to learn. Um. Sleeping, now."

Lance nodded and closed his eyes, feeling the subtle swell of Chris' chest next to him each time he inhaled. Practically silent, he noticed, realising disjointedly that probably Justin, then, was the snorer on the bus. Self-important partial asphyxiation, he thought amusedly, and realised he really was fucking tired, plus the bets were even that the alcohol wasn't fully out his system yet.

Images bloomed in his mind, indiscriminate fantasies of sitting in laps at hotel breakfasts and dirty wet kisses before going onstage, and making out in one of the tiny bunks on the bus, squirming round and pressed together so they both fit in.

And beaming lazily at security cameras, letting Chris feel him up from behind. And... oh. Getting the phonecalls, the complaint phonecalls, expecting them every fucking night.

"Management is gonna freak," he muttered, feeling the heat of the electric blanket sidle over him, and reached down distractedly to click off the power.

Chris wriggled against him, pressing a kiss into his collarbone. "Management already has the cover story stitched up," he said, taking a satisfied deep breath and letting it out slowly. "And we already know no one else is allowed to believe it."

Lance chuckled. "You're a sneaky bastard, you know that," he said.

Chris nodded. "That's why you let me have my way with you."

There's more than one reason, Lance thought, stretching his legs down and falling towards sleep. He yawned hugely, silently, which made his whole body tremble happily and then relax-slide deep deep all over. Lots of reasons why to be with Chris -- things he hadn't a hope in hell of enunciating when he felt stoned with sleepiness and residual sex and alcohol, but maybe tomorrow, when they'd told the others and gotten some food and been to the stupidass interview with the Rosie Show editor, maybe then he'd see about telling Chris a few of the other reasons.

Or maybe they'd cut straight to more sex, given the reasons were pretty well established while the naked stuff? they needed lots more time on that.


slow learner: I know, I know, if Lance had got far enough in Final Fantasy VI to get the other guy in his band, he'd know how to fight. but hey.

fashion don't: find lance's red shoes here.

incongruous detour: no, I don't know who Lance was chatting to at the airport. umm, maybe he saw Ricky or something. who knows.

chameleon: has anyone else noticed how JC's eyes change colour?