he said, 'it's all in your head'
One day, Justin wakes up in what is very much not his bed.
First of all, the sheets are scratchy and plain cotton, not like his nice soft sheets. Second of all, someone who looks like a very thin AJ is staring down at him. Third of all, these aren't the clothes he passed out in last night. Fourthly, there are bars around the windows.
Justin sits up, gingerly, and mutters, "I swear AJ, if we slept together last night and I don't remember, I'm gonna tell everyone on TRL." He rubs his eyes, tries to wake up properly. "And please tell me you don't have a dungeon or something with bars on the window, cause that's just freaky."
Instead of answering, AJ pads over to the door of the room and calls out, "Doctor?"
"Doctor?" Justin echoes, startled. "What the fuck happened to me? Alcohol poisoning? Did someone spike my drink?" Justin looks down at himself, feels his limbs carefully. Nothing seems broken or bruised. Nothing seems wrong with him at all, except the surroundings. Instead of his house, he woke up on the castoff set of 'Girl, Interrupted'.
AJ cranes his neck, staring at Justin. "You're not allowed to drink, Justin."
"What?" Justin stands up, ignoring for the moment his horrible pajamas. "Why, did Johnny find out about my last birthday or something? I swear, half that stuff didn't even happen -- you were there, after all--"
"Justin," a voice says from beyond the door. "You're awake. Good."
Justin opens his mouth to complain, possibly start threatening to sue, when Wade looks around the door. "It's time for your meeting with Dr. Wright."
He's in a waiting room painted the color of hospitals, the color of soothing and institutions and the third floor of JIVE entertainment. Justin sits down, akwardly, and looks around in bewilderment at the plain walls. Things are bound to make more sense eventually, someone is going to tell him what's going on and then the mystery will be solved. Really.
The door to the inner office opens, and Johnny comes in. Only this Johnny has a white coat on, and is frowning. Justin frowns too, asks, "Okay, what's going on, Johnny? What the hell is this?"
Johnny takes Justin's elbow. "Why don't we go into my office," he says in a soothing voice, "and I'll try to explain, Justin."
"Okay, but this is really bad timing for a joke, man, you know that we don't have those steps down yet for the awards show and like, recording starts soon."
Justin follows him and sits down in a chair, across from Johnny's desk. It looks almost the same as usual, except his office is somewhere completely different. "Justin," Johnny starts, "you're in St. Mark's Private Hospital. Do you remember that?"
"What!" Justin starts to rise, but Johnny holds out a hand. Justin sits back, dumbly. "Okay, you're tripping."
"You have a dissociative condition," Johnny starts gently, "wherein, you have spells. You lose sight of reality altogether. It has been going on," Johnny says while Justin sits, his mouth wide open, "for around eight years now. You've been hospitalized for most of those years. Justin," he says, entreating, "please try to remember. We can't help you if you don't remember."
Justin starts laughing. "Is this payback for the time that I toilet papered Lance's house? He still hasn't gotten me back for that."
"Or the time when I glued Chris's braids to JC?"
"--you are a very sick young man, and we want to help you--"
"Or maybe," Justin continues, chuckling, "it was the time that I made the bodyguards jump into that frozen lake by accident? Cause I swear, whatever it was, I don't deserve--"
"--JUSTIN." Johnny coughs. "I assure you, I'm not joking at all."
"this," Justin finishes up lamely, and then stops.
"I swear, Justin," and this is Johnny's sincere, I'm-telling-you-something-for-your-own-good face -- he recognises it from the time that Johnny told him to start dating someone before the rumors got worse. And how can fake psychologist Johnny make real manager Johnny's faces, anyway? Johnny says, "I swear, Justin, I'm not joking."
Justin swallows, purses his lips. "I have to call my mom," he finally replies, faintly. "She wants to hear about the tour."
Johnny looks at him sadly, as he buzzes another orderly in. "Phone privileges are every Friday, seven to eight."
"Oh," Justin answers, just as faintly as before. His face is very pale. He follows the orderly back down the stairs, down the hall and into his room again. AJ is nowhere in sight, which is probably just as well. Apparently, both he and AJ are crazy -- well, AJ is no surprise.
The orderly coughs, and repeats, "Do you need anything?"
"Uh." Justin looks around, wildly. "No, I, I'm okay. I think I might have a nap."
When he wakes up again, he's still in the same uncomfortable hospital bed, but no AJ looking at him. AJ, in fact, is nowhere to be seen. Justin looks down at his clothing, hospital pants and an old gray teeshirt. He must have some track pants or jeans around here somewhere.
Opening the cupboard near his bed reveals clothing -- not his, at least not what he remembers from his closet at home, but better clothing than he's wearing. Changing into a pair of jeans feels a little better, a little more grounded. Justin peers into the top, finds a couple of bandannas. Putting one on to cover up his hair, he almost feels like himself again.
There are two cupboards, two desks, two little locked cabinets. Justin looks at the one right beside his bed, and twists the combination lock experimentally. Nothing. He can't remember the combination.
The desk, after a brief exploration, yields nothing. A few letters from his mom, some random crap. Justin sits down on the desk chair, and looks around. Four white walls, a medium sized window with bars, two single beds.
A knock on the doorframe jolts him out of his thoughts. Wade leans in, saying, "You bored? Time for television, if you want."
"I." Justin blinks. Is he bored? He kind of forgot. "Yeah, I guess."
"Head on into the common room, if you want." Wade leaves, and Justin stands up again, uncertainly. Common room. Where the fuck is that?
After a few aborted attempts, he follows the hallway around and finds a bunch of guys sitting on couches. The TV is on, and some have sandwiches in their hands. The nurse, seeing him approach, hands him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a paper plate. "Here you go, dear," she says, and Justin peers at her suspiciously. She looks a lot like their wardrobe lady, but he can't really tell, because he never really paid that much attention to the random wardrobe ladies even when he wasn't going nuts.
Most of the guys sitting around don't even notice Justin come in. He sits down in an armchair out of the way, and looks around, trying to identify anyone. AJ is in the corner playing with a sock puppet, but Justin doesn't recognise anyone else.
AJ glances up, and sees Justin sitting down. He gets up, saying, "Well, what do we have here -- Justin's out of his room?"
"Yeah," Justin answers. "I guess."
"Oh, honey," and AJ takes the sock puppet off his hand. "It'll be okay. You'll come out of it by tonight, hopefully." AJ sits down without an invitation, and adds, "Can you remember anything?"
"No." Justin stares at his uneaten sandwich. He isn't very hungry. "I can't even open my stupid locker."
"Wade has the combo, if you want it," AJ tells him. "You finally told it to him after you had to ask Dr. Wright like, eight times."
"So," Justin starts, but stops.
AJ grins. "You want to know what happened, right?" Justin nods. "Well, you imagined it all, baby." Justin stares at him. "Ever since you were a little boy, you dreamed about -- anyway. You imagined you were famous. So, in your head, you are." Justin keeps staring at him. AJ adds helpfully, "Look, I think you need this more than I do right now. Catch you later."
He drops the sock puppet in Justin's lap, and takes off. Justin now has a sandwich in one hand, and a rabbit puppet in the other. Taking a thoughtful bite, he maneuvers the puppet onto his hand. "So, what's your name?" Justin says.
The puppet, in Justin's voice, answers, "Well, why don't you name me?"
"That's not how it works," Justin says. He moves his hand, experimentally, and makes the rabbit's ears flop, his mouth smile, then frown.
Justin thinks for a minute. "I'll tell you when I'm ready."
He drops his hand. "Fuck me," Justin says. "I'm talking to a puppet in a loony bin somewhere, I don't know where any of the guys are, my manager is a psych doctor, I'm rooming with AJ McLean, and, and." He looks around the ward floor, ends up staring at his reflection in the mirror.
Justin picks his hand back up, saying to it, "and this is all some big practical joke that they're undoubtedly filming right now, so that on Behind the Music they can unveil my idiocy to the whole world."
The puppet says in comfort, "At least you're still pretty."
Justin spends the remainder of the morning sitting in his chair and occasionally talking to the rabbit. Guys come and go, most of them between twenty and thirty. He thinks AJ goes past the hallways once or twice, hands covered in glue and feathers, and once, he thinks he sees the back of Howie's head.
Wade brings him a book, after he asks, and so Justin passes another hour rereading part of "Catcher in the Rye". It's boring, because he already read it for school, and also weird, because Justin keeps looking up, thinking he saw something or someone he recognises.
About one thirty, Wade comes around and tells Justin that it's lunchtime. He brings AJ over, who plops down beside Justin on the floor, and sighs. "It's meatloaf again." He closes his eyes. "I hate meatloaf."
"Oh." Justin looks around. Still no one familiar except AJ. "Why?"
"Nicky loved it." Justin nods, carefully. Nicky. If the only people he know in this place end up being AJ and Nick Carter, he'll cry. AJ opens his eyes. "You don't know what I'm talking about, do you? Fuck you, man, you've forgotten everything again. Dammit. Well, I'm not telling you again."
He gets up, holds a hand out to Justin. Justin stands up without AJ's help. "Okay, man," Justin says. As an afterthought, he adds, "I'm sorry."
"Whatever. It's lunch time."
As they go into the cafeteria ("they call it the cafeteria, even though it's just a big dining room"), Justin halts. There are a few more people here, but not many. Justin frowns. "Is it just our, our floor, that eat together?"
"Yeah." AJ hauls him into line, gets him a tray, and pulls him through the lineup before Justin can blink. Once he has a full tray, AJ pulls him to a table. "Okay. This is the part where you eat something. If you don't, they'll get pissed off."
Justin absently spoons disgusting looking meatloaf into his mouth and drinks his water while surveying the faces. Someone looking suspiciously like Lonnie has a pair of bunny ears on his head, and is sipping milk through a straw.
He's half done when four other guys came in.
"Oh," AJ says conversationally. "Here they are. The rest of the little gang is back from town, finally."
Justin stares. The rest of the guys are there, right in front of him, bitching about dinner and looking normal, even healthy against this backdrop. "Ohhh," Justin says. A lightbulb goes off, somewhere over his head. "This is the part where Steve comes out and they pull out the camcorder, right? Look, I swear, it wasn't my fault, whatever it was--"
The four of them give no notice, getting into line and falling quiet as they get their food. Justin watches them suspiciously, up until they actually sit down at the table that he and AJ are at. Lance pushes the food around his plate; Chris tosses a piece of broccoli on the floor and ignores the rest of it. JC starts eating, tearing into his food and inhaling it. Joey, after glancing around, drops a piece of broccoli too, and then starts eating the same way JC is.
Justin waves a hand in front of their faces, one by one. Lance and Chris ignore him. Joey waves back. JC grabs his hand, crushing his fingers. Justin says, annoyed, "Okay, the joke's over guys. And let me tell you, it wasn't very funny the first time, all right? Especially Wade trying to give me a shot in the ass--"
His voice dies off as Chris starts chuckling. "Oh, he's back?"
AJ nods. "This morning. Can't remember a goddamned thing, and it's someone else's turn to fill him in. I've got therepy tonight, and I'm tired as it is."
JC looks up from licking his plate to cut in, "You're always tired."
"Whatever," AJ answers, haughtily. "I'm going to therepy and then I'm going to nap." To Justin he adds, "I'll take you to group this evening. Be quiet when you come back to the room."
Joey mumbles, "Be quiet when you come back to the room."
Justin slams his hand down on the table, rattling his water glass. "This isn't fucking funny. Y'all know how much I hated 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'. Quit it, okay? I want to go home."
Joey says quietly, "I want to go home," and Chris pats his hand.
Lance sighs, leaving his food untouched. "Come on," and he pulls Justin out of his seat, hand tight around Justin's wrist. "Let's go visit Mr. Reality for a while."
They leave, JC bashing his tray against the table, Joey copying him but only making a small tapping sound.
Justin trails after Lance, sticking his hand in his pocket. He finds the rabbit puppet, squashed up, and puts it on. As they go into his room, he looks at the puppet. The puppet looks back forlornly. Justin moves his hand, experimentally, and then hides it behind his back in case anyone sees him.
"This is you."
Justin snorts in frustration. "I know that. Look," and he runs a hand through his hair, "I'd really just like to go home, okay?" He pulls his knees up to his chest. "Really a lot. You guys aren't fucking funny, and I don't like any of this."
Lance holds a hand out, the hand holding the photograph. He looks down at it. "This is my hand. This is you."
Justin blinks, looking at Lance's face then back down to the photograph. "Who's the other kid?"
"A cousin I think." Lance drops his hand. "I don't remember."
Justin gulps. "I thought that was my line."
The rabbit puppet becomes something of an embarrassment, as people start noticing its fixture to Justin's arm.
Justin doesn't talk about it, even though he spends a lot of time under his bedcovers, whispering things in its little fuzzy ear. AJ started calling it foo-foo, but stopped when mashed potatoes landed in his hair at dinner. Unfortunately it wasn't before everyone else heard, and now everyone but Lance has adopted the name.
Chris even sets a place out for it at the table. He'll make elaborate sculptures out of mashed potatos for it, which JC then flattens with the palm of his hand. Justin can't imagine what thing has happened to JC to turn him from that person he knew, to this man that doesn't know how to create things -- instead, flattens everything in his wake.
"You used to room with JC," Chris says, popping out of the woodwork while Justin is watching TV that evening.
Justin blinks. "I did? What happened?"
"Johnny moved you," Chris says quietly. He fiddles with his shoelace. Justin can't get a handle on Chris, because Chris is the one that's the most normal, probably. Joey is completely gone, JC is scary, and Lance is a shadow -- but Chris has completely lucid moments that seem to bleed into manic phases.
Justin asks, "Why'd he move me?"
Chris shrugs. "He thought it might help."
"Help what?" and it's one of those questions that Justin isn't sure he wants answered, because when the tape's released to MTV he doesn't want to be shown buying into this.
"You know," and Chris snaps his fingers, purses his lips, makes a sad face. "Like, if you saw us less maybe you'd stay, here, more."
"Oh." Justin thinks about it for a minute, pictures rooming with such a violent JC, one they say got put in restraints only last week and can't be given anything sharp. He asks in a small voice, "Did it work?"
"Uh." Chris shrugs again. "Y'know."
Justin watches Chris's hands move about, indicating something. Indicating something about him. He still isn't sure where the camera crew is, but each minute that ticks away makes it less likely to appear.
They hand him two little pills before bed.
He raises an eyebrow. Wade, who's been there with him just about the whole day, smiles at him brightly. "It's okay, Justin. They're your prescribed meds."
He looks at the two pills in his hand. They look like candy, Sweettarts or Smarties, sugar coated.
Wade adds encouragingly, "they've helped keep the hallucinations under control before."
Justin says, hesitantly, "This isn't some Alice in Wonderland thing, right? No through the looking glass?" Wade looks confused, and Justin says hastily, "nevermind," because he doesn't want to find out that the Matrix is yet another one of those things his mind has created.
He looks down at his palm once more. It's pretty obvious Wade's not going anywhere until he swallows them, makes sure they go down easy. Wade stands there, watching him.
He doesn't even get a choice, the white rabbit's long gone before he ever has a chance to follow. Justin throws them into his mouth and takes a big gulp of water, washes them both down at once.
That night, he dreams Chris and Joey throw a tea party, Chris curtsying and bobbing his hat to everyone around the table. Since he's not wearing a hat, Joey's motions are akward, copying Chris, as so many of Joey's movements are.
At one point, Justin clearly sees JC walking around with a big axe on his shoulder. Instead of threatening people with it, however, he merely waves it around, talking about roses. His next thought is, 'I'm in a dream, this is a dream,' and the clarity this brings is no more settling than JC swinging an axe.
Sipping his tea, Justin also keeps seeing Lance out of the corner of his eye. But every time he turns to look, to examine, to say something, Lance is gone, only the shadow of his curved lips remaining.
The white rabbit makes an appearance too. Of course, it has his face, his hair from around the No Strings Attached tour -- only Justin remembers clearly, in the dream, thinking that NSA never happened, and the person he was following aimlessly, the Justin in floppy ears with a tail stuck to his jeans, he doesn't exist, he never did.
Around every corner, Lance's smile follows behind, and as Justin the rabbit puts his fingers to his lips and says, "sssshhhhh," Justin wakes up in fright.
There is terror in his chest, of course, and he wakes up in a cold sweat, terrified like he hasn't been since he was a small child and had nightmares daily. He has terror in his chest, and his heart is pounding painfully.
sweet fix of a daydream of a boy
Every time Justin wakes up, he expects to find a guitar in his bedroom. Every time he gets up and sees AJ instead, it's a tight sensation in his chest, a tight sensation that doesn't go away for hours during the day. All week through his therepy sessions he feels that hot band around his lungs, squeezing, as if by the simple lack of a guitar his whole world has crumbled in.
Justin reaches out blindly with one hand from under the covers. When his hand touches smooth wood and sharp strings, he plucks one hesitantly. Hearing a perfectly tuned G, Justin opens his eyes.
The first thing Justin does is pick up his phone. Then he stares at it, receiver cradled in his hand, the sleek black of it, the heady weight of it. He cautiously presses speed dial #1, which is marked as Chris.
"yo, whattafuckissatime?" is the first thing he hears.
"Oh," and Justin falls back onto his bed, heavily. "Oh. Oh." He sits there, dumbly, and then adds, "hi."
"Justin?" and there's a muffled bump, some swearing. "It's -- where are you? It's like eight thirty."
Justin gulps. Says, "I just wanted to, talk to you. It's."
Chris's voice sounds a little more coherent. "Um, are you okay?"
His eyes close, against the bedroom he remembers oh so well. "No."
For two whole hours he wanders around his house and touches everything in it. Then he has a shower, and calls Chris back. He needs evidence of this reversal, he needs to figure out what's wrong. Things are solid here, he can feel the smooth glide of the marble mantlepiece, the rough texture of his carpet. He can feel everything clearly except the touch of his own skin, which is cold and kind of numb. After about ten minutes, he finds the air conditioning controls and turns them off, and blood starts flowing to his fingers.
They get together for lunch, just the five of them, because Justin asks and anyway, they're in the studio later that week anyway to lay some more tracks for the new album. Justin knows he looks awful, looks pale and wrung out and grim, can tell each time he goes past a window and the glass reflects his appearance back at him.
Joey chatters on, and Justin watches his mouth. He watches Joey's mouth, conversing, and Joey's hands. Not once do they mimic or imitate. He also watches JC, the gentleness with which he pulls his chair out, picks up his cutlery, like everything he touches is nice and needs to be taken care of.
Lance is fairly quiet, laughing like normal and the smile on his face is so alien Justin almost slips and asks how therepy is going once or twice, because of it. He keeps still instead, trying to soak up as much of them as he can.
About halfway through their meal, JC leans over and says quietly, "What's up with you, Justin? You're miles away."
"No!" and he rubs his eyes. "No, I'm right here. I know I'm right here."
The conversation around the table dies, and Justin clenches a fist under the table. Chris asks, in a funny voice, "So, care to qualify that Mr. Timberlake?"
They call it Chris's interview voice. Justin spears another piece of lettuce carefully. "Not really," with a fake smile. This is the part he remembers.
He tries to tell Chris about it, about what's going on. Chris drives him home, and Justin starts, three times, to tell him.
He gets to, "This morning, I," and has to stop.
Chris notices, nonetheless, and tells him, "Whatever, man, it'll turn out okay." Justin knows that Chris probably thinks he and Britney aren't getting along, or that Justin's worried about the new album and the press and everything. Justin's mostly worried about what day it is, what time it is, where he's imagined himself.
Three days go by, and he can barely sleep, can't force himself to lose consciousness. Each time he dozes off, he has weirder and weirder dreams. In one, Lonnie's wearing glasses and bunny ears, holding a clock; another, JC has a chainsaw and is chasing them around. He wakes up from that one paralyzed with fear, sweating and gasping for breath.
"It's not funny," he says to his bedroom. "It's not funny at all."
During the day is a bit of a haze. He follows the guys around, aimlessly, does what he's told and laughs where he's supposed to. Justin starts to lose pieces of the hospital, and what's left over is a vague fear, a nagging doubt. The memory of AJ blurs, the image of the institution fades and fuzzes, like a film all out of focus, but it doesn't make it any easier to sleep.
He drags Lance out for dinner, even though Lance has a thousand and one things to do before he starts shooting his movie. Justin asks Lance to drive.
They're in the car and Lance says quietly, "So this is new," and Justin pauses for a second. He could have sworn it wasn't. He thinks -- was thinking -- that this was something they'd done before, him and Lance and dinner.
Justin says, "Yeah, I."
Lance is almost smiling. "If I knew all I had to do was wear this shirt to get you to ask me out to dinner--"
It's not really time for that, and Justin clears his throat. "Okay. here's the thing. I've got this." He squeezes his eyes closed tight. "I think I'm going crazy."
He expects Lance to choke, or maybe sit there tight lipped, knuckles going white. He maybe expects Lance to laugh -- he would laugh. And Lance does laugh, but it's gentle, and Justin grins, feels a little better. "You think so?" Lance asks, mostly seriously, a little joking.
"Um. See." But Justin's grinning, and Lance is smiling at him as the red light changes to green so he feels normal and safe and good. They've done this before, this is real. Justin is sure. Or, if they never have, he always wanted to.
In the studio, Chris starts doing this little fancy dance. Joey gets behind him, and copies it, pulling the same faces as Chris and making the same goofy hand motions. Justin stumbles, has to lean against the wall to keep upright.
Lance comes over to him. "You okay?"
Justin closes his eyes. This is the only thing that grounds him, eyes closed so he can't tell where he is and people are just voices. The world goes away when he closes his eyes.
Lance doesn't. He pulls Justin against him, and Justin goes willingly. Lance murmurs, "You're not okay. Look, we'll cover for you. It'll be fine, it'll be fine."
He says, "Lance, do you ever get a feeling like, you're watching all of this? Like, your life is so unreal you can't, you can't believe it's happening."
"Well." Lance is still holding Justin against his shoulder, still petting him. "Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes it's like I'm watching it all happen to someone else."
Justin swallows around the painful burning in his throat, and fists his hands in Lance's shirt.
He dreams about falling, onstage.
Justin wakes up, heart racing, and his shaky hands reach immediately for the phone. Lance picks up on the third ring. "Hi, what," and Lance yawns. "Hi."
Justin takes a breath. "Hi."
"You," Lance starts. "What can I do? What's up?"
Justin laughs, giggles almost, but it's shaky and not comfortable at all. "I, okay." He runs a hand through his hair. "This is totally stupid. I had a nightmare."
"Yeah," Lance says agreeably. "That's pretty stupid. What happened?"
"Fuck off!" But already the dream is fading, and Justin lets it go gladly. "I don't even remember." He rolls over in bed, spreads out on his king-sized mattress. "You know, you're better at this than Chris."
"Well, he's never awake himself in the middle of the night," Lance answers, and Justin knows he's grinning.
He also knows that Lance is about to ask him what's wrong, and Justin can't answer that, he can't tell Lance or anyone. Before that happens, Justin says quietly, "I, had a really good time the other night."
"Yeah, me too."
Lance is casual, and it takes everything in Justin to reply, "Yeah. Um. I kinda," he chuckles nervously. "I've wanted to do that for a while. A long while."
"Really?" Lance sounds pleased. Justin tilts his head back, smiles into the dark.
Justin is more himself the next day, he feels more on top of his game. He jokes around with Chris, feels more in control. About halfway through the day, he realizes with a start that this isn't real, none of this is real, and he can do anything.
This particular realization comes right as they're about to do a taped phone-in piece with MTV. Justin takes the phone, giggling to himself. This might not work, he might be on the label blacklist for years for this, but if there's a quicker way to figure out whether it's all in his head or not, he can't come up with it. And anyway, this plan holds a certain twisted appeal. "I have something to tell you."
Chris and Joey look at each other. Carson says, "oh?"
Justin replies, "Yes. Yes I do. I have something to get off my chest." Justin, squeezing his eyes closed tightly, says very fast, "I had a date with a boy the other night. In fact, that's all I've ever done, date boys. Date men."
Carson's voice is thick with syrup. "I'm gonna have to put you guys on hold for a second, I think there's a technical problem or something out here."
Chris takes the receiver from Justin's hand quietly. None of the guys look at him, and none of the guys say anything to him. JC speaks into Lance's ear briefly, but what he says, Justin doesn't know. For a moment, he flinches, expecting a smack, or a punch thrown -- then JC looks up, eyes full of concern and no madness. Justin winces, realizing that he forgot for a moment where he was.
Johnny takes the phone from Chris and walks out of the room.
That piece doesn't air, instead they play one of their videos in the middle of the segment. It was taped, so that's possible. No one mentions it, but Justin feels like a weight has been lifted off him. He's said it, and that makes it true.
Justin kisses Lance desperately in the car back to the studio. Lance looks at him, confusion written all over his face. But it's emotion, it's something, it's a reaction. Justin kisses him, doesn't let go of his hand. He's had a crush on Lance since they were kids, in a way, and Lance's lips are real, they are. He can feel them. Justin can feel everything.
Justin doesn't wonder whether his mind's come up with this scenario before, and can't remember. Not because the thought doesn't cross his mind, but because it's a little too depressing.
To make up for the phone-in piece, TRL is set down on their timetable for the next afternoon. Justin is dreading every single fucking minute. He never thought it was possible to hate Carson Daly more than he already did. But looking at his face all through the taping, all through the interview and all through everything else, he gets a flash of Johnny in a lab coat, pen sticking out of his pocket and glasses on his face, saying, "Everything there is a construct of your own imagination, Justin."
He also remembers flipping to MTV, his half an hour allotted time for television a day, and it happening to be TRL. Dave Bruback or whatsshisface was reading out the top ten videos, and no one heard of Carson.
A revelation came upon Justin at that moment. A revelation which went something like: he hated himself. He had to, or why did Carson Daly exist?
All through the taping, he's tired, so tired he can barely keep his eyes open. And when asked during a commercial break, Justin says he didn't sleep well. That might be the understatement of his year so far. Justin hasn't slept at all.
In the car, even though he desperately tries to keep his eyes open to listen to the radio and the top forty -- because he has to remember, to try and separate fact from fiction, whenever he can decide what fact from fiction means. Even though he listens to the radio, trying desperately to keep his eyes open, somewhere around 52nd street they close.
A tap wakes him, finally, and Justin says, "Please don't be Wade," in a pleading voice.
He doesn't even know who he's pleading to anymore, but when Lance says "Don't worry, we're at the hotel," Justin almost cries out in relief.
The guys all worry about him. They guys say they're worried about him and how much sleep he's not getting, how much weight he seems to have lost. Justin thinks, the fake guys are worried, and then looks at Lance, amends, no, they're worried.
They're in New York for a week, and each morning his chest feels tight, hot, a pain right beneath his breastbone.
Lance notices, tells him, "You should get that looked at. That's how heart attacks start."
Justin says, "I guess I'm just about due for heart problems."
Lance replies, "It's not something you can schedule." He doesn't smile when he says it.
That night, Justin, who can't help but try and clutch onto something that doesn't smell like antiseptic, knocks on Lance's door at midnight, and says, "I can't. I can't, I can'tIcan'ticant."
Lance lets him in. He falls asleep, holding onto Lance's hand tightly, happy for the first time in days.
Justin wakes up crying again.
He's in his own bed, he's sure of that, but just not where. It's dark, full night time, the middle of the night probably. Lance, he thinks stupidly, me and Lance, his mind chants. So where did he go?
There is no sign of Lance. Justin knows he's back in the institution.
His grief falls onto his chest, a heavy weight like always. Like milk into a bowl, splashing over the side and dribbling -- sticky later, but right now, splashing and messy, like water.
Milk. There should be a glass of milk on the table, a glass of milk that he's sure Lance brought him last night, before they curled up to go to sleep. The loss of that drink possibly hits him harder than the realization that he's crazy again. His body is ahead of him. He woke up crying, mourning the eventual, inevitable loss even in his sleep.
A whole new weight settles on him in the morning. It's AJ, sitting on him and poking him with a pencil.
AJ says, "get up, you've missed breakfast, it's already time for group, your first meeting in a while so you can't be late."
Justin covers his eyes with the sheet clutched in his hand. After a moment he shoves AJ to the floor. "Get out."
"All right, but you have to be there in ten minutes. Better leave time enough for a decent shower, if you know what I--"
"Get out." His voice is wet and ragged, and Justin adds, "please."
The first time Justin goes to group therepy is that morning, and it's a sucker punch in his stomach.
AJ, hand on Justin's shoulder, propels him into the room even though what Justin wants to do more than anything is go back into his room and never come out again. The two women sitting at the head of the circle of chairs are unmistakeable. One, a curly blond haired woman with a wide smile, says, "It's good to see you again, Justin. Been a while since you've been to group."
AJ says, "He just woke up again. Practically had to drag his ass outta bed."
The other, with darker hair and a sweet smile, answers AJ. "It's okay, we know all about it. Do you remember anything?"
Justin closes his eyes, mutters a "no".
Of all the things he cannot accept about the place he's ended up, this is the most painful. The rest of the guys file in as he's staring at his shoes. Not expensive Nikes, not Adidas, not one of the many pairs he recognises as his own. A pair of cheap Keds with a hole in the toe.
He hears Lance and Chris muttering to one side of him, and Chris's high pitched, "Hi Diane."
Lance adds, "We saved you some carrot cake, Lynn. I know you like seconds."
It cannot be. Justin will not accept it. If he keeps his eyes closed, he will wake up a different person, in a different place.
However, Diane says, "Well, so it's Justin's first time back in a while, why don't we let him start today. Justin?'
He opens his eyes, slowly, and finally raises them to her face. He can't quite look at Lynn. A panicked, shaky breath, and he looks around. Everyone has the same expectant look on their face, and yet Justin has no idea what's expected of him or what he's supposed to be doing at this moment. He has very little idea what he's supposed to be doing at any moment. What he knew as yesterday was autumn in New York City and now he's somewhere outside Memphis, on medication.
JC finally mutters, "He's not quite himself yet." Justin gives him a grateful grin, which JC doesn't return.
Lynn says, quietly, "Are you all right, Justin?" He nods, unable to answer her. "All right then. Why don't we let JC start?"
Justin can't look at anything at the room. He can't look at JC's angry face, his tight lips. He can't look at Chris's nervous jittering, or Joey's faint rhythmic tapping, that echoes Chris's hyper-activity and yet dims it to a muted level. He can't look at Lance's carefully blank face, or any of the other faces in the room. He's afraid he'll recognise all of them.
He especially can't look at Lynn, at his mother who turned out to be no one but a case worker. His mother, his best friend and one of the people he loved most in the world up until twenty minutes ago when he walked into that room and found out she was nothing more than a psychologist. At that moment, the moment he saw her, part of him hated her for it, for not being real.
JC talks in a flat tone about all the people that used to hit him, abuse him. Justin knows in a way that this is for him, so that he's brought into the present, up to speed with everyone in the room. It feels like he's starting from scratch -- everyone knows the reality of all the people here, and all he has is faces, and words. He still can't open his locker.
When it's AJ's turn, he says, "Why do I have to do this every time Justin wakes up, over and over again?"
Justin's about to speak up, say really, everyone else can go ahead and he'll catch up. As if he were Lance, in rehearsal, as if he'd be able to sit up nights, study long enough and finally learn all the steps to this particular dance.
Lynn cuts AJ off. "No, AJ, if you still can't talk about it, there's a problem, and we need to work on it regardless. Tell us what happened."
AJ talks directly to Justin, scowl on his face. He doesn't pretend this is anything but a session to fill Justin in, the gaps in his memory. And Justin's finally, slowly, accepting that maybe there are gaps there. Gaps that should be full of institution, not record sales.
AJ says, "Do you remember Nick?" Justin shakes his head. "I'm not really surprised. Nick wasn't your problem. Nick was mine."
When nothing else comes out of AJ's mouth, Diane says, "Who was Nick to you?"
"Nick was my best friend, and he died," AJ says to Justin. After a minute, he adds, "And I had a hard time with it."
As Justin looks, he sees AJ, stripped bare and laid out, trauma on the table for everyone to see. Part of him is shocked that anyone would say such a thing to strangers, and the part of him is sad and full of sorrow -- not only for what AJ said, but for the fact that he is the only stranger in the room. Everyone else knows him, everyone else knows each other. Justin is the only one that isn't family here.
Johnny sits him down for a session alone, and Justin chews his cuticles, nibbles at his fingers while he's waiting. His fingernails are already bitten down to the bone, practically.
Johnny doesn't hesitate. "Do you know why I don't usually see you privately, Justin?" Head shakes. "It's because," and Johnny sits down, looks for all the world professional, but he sighs, looks upset. "It's because. I can't do anything for you until you've got more awareness of your current surroundings."
Justin nods, opens his mouth to answer. But there's isn't an answer.
Johnny takes off his glasses. "Now, the meds are helping some -- wouldn't you say?" Justin stares mutely, because what's helping? Johnny adds, "I wanted to meet with you because I want you to have a hand in your treatment, Justin, I want you involved."
Justin keep staring. Finally, he mumbles, "okay," hoping it will get him off the hook.
"Now," and Johnny coughs. "You've said you've remembered more, these last few episodes. I think it may be the new combination of meds, so I'm going to keep you on those and see how it goes, okay?"
He says again, "okay," and it's quiet and numb and yesterday, he remembers -- Justin remembers clearly kissing Lance, kissing Lance and now Lance is going around with that little vacant stare. Lance is going around with that little vacant stare that says 'am I seeing these things from within or without?' and Justin can't take that, would rather curl up in bed.
"Justin?" Johnny says, and it's a question, one he can't answer. "All right. Let's go over it again. You remember your hallucinations from yesterday, so let's start with those."
He swallows. "They were, it was." He's whispering and it will never be quiet enough. "It was more of the same."
"All right," and Johnny consults a chart, furrows his brows. Justin wonders if, by simply not taking his meds, palming or throwing them up, could he possibly go back, maybe he'd end up back there. He formulates this plan while Johnny discusses treatments and diet plans and more sessions with Lynn. Please, Justin thinks. Please let it work.
He throws up after bed three nights running, four, then five. AJ shakes his head each time, says, "You're getting worse."
Every time Johnny or Lynn talk about his hallucinations, they use the word "lost". That Justin was lost to them, that he was lost, adrift. The thing he hates about it is, 'lost' isn't something you can be on purpose; it's not somewhere you get by looking.
He keeps looking anyway.
Justin spends a lot of time in his room, in bed, and daydreaming about Lance and the tour bus. Lance and their hotel room. Lance bringing him flowers and then maybe whisking him away somewhere exotic.
AJ says to him, one dreary Monday, "you're never going to get better like this."
Justin considers pointing out that AJ still carries a picture of Nick around in his pocket, and all AJ has to do to get better is start getting over it -- Justin has to deal with chemicals in his fucking brain every day. But then AJ told a group of strangers that Nick died and Justin can't even tell one person, not even Lynn, that he's daydreaming about kissing.
Instead he tells AJ, "don't you have somewhere to be?"
Justin shifts around under his blankets. "I'm here."
Johnny threatens to start taking away things, if Justin doesn't participate. So Justin starts participating. He makes up stuff, lets Johnny dig around in his fake memories to guard his present. He keeps throwing up his meds and sleeps less and less.
The new project on everyone's mind is 'crafts hour'.
Justin sighs, sticking more paper mache to his balloon. He mutters to Chris, "I'm over twenty one -- at least they tell me I am. Why are we doing this?"
Chris splatters clay all over the table, enthusiastically. It's not really sculpting but then, Justin has a feeling that Chris is aiming more for an art nouveau project, the art being in the process itself and how many people he confuses in the attempt. The clay's form, then, means nothing, only the faces of the nurses and aides watching them.
He says, "Because we need a creative outlet for our lunacy."
Justin secretly likes the feel of wallpaper paste between his fingers. "I'm feeling pretty sane. I feel so sane, in fact, that I'm confident to say, making a bunch of grown men play with glue and wallpaper paste is crazy."
Chris squishes red clay between his fingers, mushes a lump up all nice and wet. Justin pauses to watch him, as Chris leans down and oh so carefully places a handprint on the floor. Justin shakes his head, says, "You have a very art noveau lifestyle."
"You're the one that thinks you're famous, smartass." Chris leans across to the next table and places his other hand rather messily on JC's back. "I just work here."
Justin's bark of laughter is inappropriate to the joke, and he draws the attention of a couple of nurses. "Oh Chris," one says, disappointed. "What are you doing?"
Chris draws lines on his face with the mud, very carefully underlining his eyes in red. He squints at Justin, baring his teeth. "Art."
Justin slathers more wallpaper paste on his balloon. It's the first time he's been out of bed in almost a week, and he came only because Johnny himself asked, not so politely. Laying in bed didn't seem to trigger anything, Justin thought, except misery.
Joey is sitting at the table across from them, with Lance and JC. JC has a lump of clay, as well, but instead of making a mess like Chris, he's delicately shaping birds. Chris notices Justin watching him. "Last time it was dolphins," Chris says. "Always an animal."
"What does he do with them?"
"You don't remember anything, do you?" Justin shakes his head. "We don't really know," Chris says, shrugging. "They're not in his room. We never see them once he's done."
Justin stares at his pathetic slimy mess, and then at JC's hands. He puts his balloon, half covered in newsprint, down, and sits back. "I'm finished."
Though Johnny asks, practically begs, each time they stick Justin in the crafts room with anything at all, he just stares at all the supplies. They try clay, and paints, and markers, and everything, anything to get him to participate.
He doesn't think they understand. It's not that he won't participate, necessarily, but that would mean knowing how to begin.
Chris is too boisterous a friend. Lynn told him that he and Chris were close, as close as they could get anyway. And he and JC were, for a while. Chris is too energetic, and JC is too far away.
Lance sits down next to him at dinner. "You're quieter than usual. Usually you babble all the time."
Lance nods. "I can't believe nothing's come back to you yet. It's been weeks."
"Maybe I." Justin stops, mid sentence, shrugs.
"And that, too," Lance adds. "You never do that, just stop in the middle of a sentence."
"Oh," Justin replies. "Sorry."
He and Lance eat for almost a minute, in silence, and then Lance says slowly, "I don't know which would be worse." Justin waits. Lance hasn't said much, period. In fact, he and Joey seem the farthest from themselves, and not just from his image of them. They seem the two who are most fragmented. Lance says, "Whether, you wake up and all of a sudden you're not real."
Lance eats another bite, chews slowly. Justin finally has to prod him, says, "Or?"
He swallows. "Or, knowing you're not real all the time." Lance puts the fork down. "I see a fork. I see myself holding a fork. Am I?"
"Is, do people get better? from that."
Lance shrugs. "Been here long as you."
"Oh," Justin says. Justin is quite positive that making a move on this Lance would be wrong, wrong and probably really stupid. This Lance goes around in a haze, and Justin is lucid all the time, just delusional and a lot of other things. "Um," he says. "I think you've got it worse."
Lance smiles. "How come you're sadder then?"
Justin says, "um," again. He puts his fork down too, and they stare at their plates.
Really, it's a valid question, why is he sadder. Justin decides the next morning to go and ask Johnny what's wrong with him. Fill in some gaps.
It takes him half an hour to get out of bed, and AJ finally has to haul the covers off. But he's up and out, and Justin says to Johnny, "Okay. Tell me."
There's a lot of history to go through, so Johnny gives him a quick and dirty run through right away. In choreography, he would have said marking the steps, but this isn't choreography, oh no.
Johnny looks pleased to see him.
"You started having vivid hallucinations around the age of twelve. Your mother, who couldn't afford proper treatment, tried to deal with it as best she could; eventually, you were committed here when you were fourteen."
Justin nods. Fourteen. Germany.
"For a few years it seemed like things were getting better, that you were improving little by little." Johnny's face is full of sorrow, Justin knows. Things from the early years were always a little muddled; he figured it was just his memory playing tricks on him.
"Then, around your seventeenth birthday, we lost you for over a month. You had to be fed intravenously; nothing seemed to work."
Seventeen. The lawsuit. Justin nods again, his head bobs up and down. "What, brought me back?"
Johnny clasps his hands on his desk. He tells Justin, "I, honestly, I don't know. You snapped out of it, suddenly, and for quite a while, would fade in and out of consciousness at random. While you were here, you were lucid; otherwise you were in a catatonic state. We couldn't predict what would send you into these fits or what would bring you out of them."
"When," and Justin swallows. "When was Chris committed?"
Johnny hesitates, for the first time ever in therepy. He says quietly, "right before you."
"And Joey? And JC?"
Johnny looks down. "JC, right after you. Joey, a few weeks later."
"Oh. What about Lance?"
"Please, Justin," Johnny says, entreats him. Justin isn't listening anymore, doesn't hear anything past the "please" and his name.
Justin has a lot of difficulty separating fact from fiction; he can't quite get a handle on what his mind has made up and what's actually there. For example, when he and AJ are playing trivia, a question comes up about a Humphrey Bogart movie that Justin's sworn he's seen, but when he says the title no one knows the movie. It doesn't bother him for a while, but after looking for days he can't find any evidence at all that the movie exists.
"Why would my brain make up something as goofy as a fake movie?" he asks Johnny, disgruntled. AJ won the game, and each time Justin pulled a random fact out of his memory he got the answer wrong. The capital of Spain isn't Madrid, and they never hosted the Olympics -- but he's sure he saw some special on television.
"It might not be made up," Johnny tells him. This is the thing; he has no idea whether, in his mind he's seen these things, he knows them to be true, or whether he just has a bad memory and the thing he actually saw about Madrid was really Barcelona, or Rome, or something. Everything is so hazy.
"I can't stand this," Justin says to Johnny. "I feel like an idiot just because I can remember seeing Rocky IV and I know that Adrienne dies, but."
Johnny smiles at him. "This is a good sign, I promise you. You're starting to question what you see, what you know is truth. This means you're on your way to accepting that the things you see when you're--" he hesitates, "gone, aren't real."
Justin leaves the meeting, his third that week, with mixed feelings. Ambivalent feelings, even. Very ambivalent. No one, and he thinks this quietly even, never says it aloud because he doesn't want the answer, no one wants to be sick. No one wants to be sick.
"I don't want to be sick," Justin tells his mirror. "Seriously, I don't."
He palms his meds and lays in bed for hours, staring at the ceiling and thinking about Lance kissing him in a limo. Yearning for Lance kissing him in a limo. AJ is long asleep; Justin decides to ask Johnny for a room change. He doesn't know whether the scene in that movie, whether the scene is real or not where Winonna Ryder says "Ambivalent. It's my new word. It means I don't give a fuck" and the therepist answers, "oh, no, it means you care too much. Two strong emotions in opposition. No, I think it suits you."
Ambivalent. Justin isn't even sure he knows the true meaning of the word. He closes his eyes, and hopes.
looking for a strand to climb
"Mmmmmm. Sleepy." Justin resists against the insistent tugging on his sheets -- Wade will go away eventually, he doesn't have to take meds for another hour and group isn't until three today -- when something moist and shivery starts moving gently against his neck. It sends goosebumps up and down his arms and legs, and effectively bars Justin for sleep for good.
"Mmm." reluctantly he opens an eye, and stares right into Lance's face. "Hi."
"Oh," and Lance sits up, scratches his chest which is -- naked? "Hi, um."
Lance is going incredibly pink. Justin rubs his eyes, glances down at his watch to notice that no, in fact, he's not wearing anything either. "Huh." No watch, either. "So."
"Okay." Lance fidgets. "Um. Morning."
And then Justin opens his eyes fully and recognises his mansion back in L.A.
"So," Lance says over coffee. "You don't remember any of it?" He laughs, kind of sadly. "You must have been really drunk."
"I'm sure I--"
"I didn't really notice."
"Lance, I," and Justin swallows hot scalding coffee. He really really really doesn't want to say the wrong thing here, because even if this is just in his head, he and Lance still apparently just slept together and in his crazy crazy head, Lance is this thing he wants. "I really wish I could remember. Really really a lot." Little rueful grin. "Because if we never get together again and I can't remember? That would kill me."
Lance is watching and waiting and every piece of Justin is on display. Justin can feel the ceramics burning his palm. "You." He can see Lance's adam's apple bobbing. "You wanna maybe get together again?"
Justin is surging up out of his stool before he can stop himself. "Yes," he's saying "yes" over and over again. Lance is almost knocked over by the force of the kiss. He needs Lance, needs him right now and urgently, right now. Lance goes willingly, and Justin is lost.
There's a shower with a door instead of a stained plastic curtain and a bar of dirty soap, and another round of coffee. And Justin thinks, maybe, that if he can just keep Lance wrapped around him like this, it'll never get blurry again. The line of Lance's hand on his thigh is so sharp it could draw blood except it's wonderful and warm and if Lance could just stay right here forever --
"Lord, I have a meeting in forty-five minutes, I gotta go," Lance says.
"Don't, stay here, don't go to the meeting." Justin is already feeling like things are slipping away, going, and maybe gone.
Lance kneads his fingers into Justin's thigh. "I could come back when I'm finished."
Justin is clutching his hands together. "You could not leave at all."
"I'll come back."
"What if I'm not here when you come back?"
"You got plans?" Lance, casually, but there's genuine question there and Justin has hope. Maybe something will come of this, maybe there's hope.
Of course, tomorrow he could have a sock puppet on his arm again, and he can feel his knuckles squeezing together. Justin says, "What if it's not me?"
Lance, worried. "Justin, what are you talking about? Are you, are you sick?"
"You know, that therapist. The one Johnny told us we could call and she wouldn't tell anyone?"
"The one JC calls to interpret his dreams sometimes, on tour?"
"Yeah, that one." He's not losing Lance. "Do you have the number?"
"I think it's in my Palm, but why?"
Babbling, almost, anything, just. "I had a dream about a rabbit, I was just--"
"You could ask JC," and Justin can hear the grin in Lance's voice. "I think he has the symbols memorized."
"Just, you know," Justin looks down at his feet, rehearses a smile, "give me the number." He looks up, ready. "And get on to your meeting." Leans forward, kisses Lance, once, twice. That desperation, same as always. "And then come back."
The therepist is in a 'session', so Justin leaves his cell phone number and has her call him back. He sits in his house, and then absently flips through his date book. The entries don't make sense, and Justin stares at each page, trying to make the little numbers swimming hold still.
It's spring, he thinks, spring here or fall. Spring and fall. In his fridge there's a big jug of milk, expiring tomorrow. He pulls the jug out, stares at the 'due date'. April ninteenth, and that means nothing, nothing at all and the jug sits on the counter, staring at him.
The phone jolts him out of a deep trance.
He tells the doctor, "I need to ask you something," but then can't.
"Anything you tell me, Mr. Timberlake," she says in a soothing voice, "won't leave my confidence. You have my word."
Justin is impatient. "No, I know that, all about that." The milk jug is full, maybe half a glass gone, and that's right, Lance takes milk in his coffee, he opened the jug this morning. White and creamy. "I think I'm going crazy," Justin blurts out, and really, that doesn't get any easier to say.
"What makes you say that?" she asks him. Justin goes to flop down on the couch, the couch that he and Lance fooled around on this morning.
Justin closes his eyes. He launches into a very truncated version of the story, tells her quickly about the delusions he's had about the hospital and the diagnosis Johnny gave him, the meds he was on there, the everything and the where and the who. She doesn't interrupt him, and clicks her tongue when he finishes.
"I think," this therepist says slowly. "I think that perhaps you're under a great deal of stress, Mr. Timberlake. Do you have any time off coming up?"
He snorts. Time off. "Not really. But, really, I'm not stressed out. We're recording, it's laid back and not rushed at all. It's good." He thinks about how Lance licked his neck, softly, right on the same couch cushion he's sitting on now, and says again, "It's really good."
"Has anything in your life changed?"
The blanket they curled up in is still thrown over the back of the couch. Justin wraps it around himself. "Not really."
"Then," she replies, "I have to tell you honestly, Mr. Timberlake, that you're probably suffering from some kind of internal stress. I suggest some relaxation, meditation."
Justin says, puzzled, "But, didn't you hear me? I like, I'm seeing things. I'm blacking out."
"The thing is, you must understand," she says, patiently, "is that people who have dissociative disorders aren't aware of their dissociation."
Justin starts to tremble. "Come again?"
"Nobody self-diagnoses themselves as dissociative, Mr. Timberlake. No one." She pauses, and adds gently, "Would you like me to schedule a real appointment, we can talk about all of this? My office is in Hollywood, so--"
"No," and he bites his tongue. "Sorry, no, thank you. That's. Thank you. I'm fine."
Hanging up, Justin looks around. He can't be imagining all of this, because if he is, there's no way he'd know. It has to be real. He naps on the couch for two hours, only a little afraid he won't see Lance back from his meeting. Lance might not come back. It's to the spare key in his front door that he wakes up, and Lance stepping through the threshold. That pretty much seals it. Justin's beaten the game.
They eat dinner, take-out, quietly. Lance starts to ask him something once or twice, but when Justin looks up, Lance doesn't look into his face and stops speaking. Over ice cream, Justin finally has to say something. "My milk's gonna go bad." He plays with his spoon. "So, we'll have to get some tomorrow. If you want coffee tomorrow?"
The last word is a question, voice upraising and eyes looking down. Lance really doesn't know who he is and Justin doesn't know what to believe, where to believe.
"We can go get some tomorrow morning, we're not in the studio till one," Lance finally says, and there, that's something to believe.
They sit. Lance is gathering for something, some question. Justin has pretty much resolved to answer anything, he's promised himself and Lance silently too, he's promised he's going to be honest. When Lance asks, "What's up with you, Justin?" he's caught off guard.
"First of all, this wouldn't have happened six months ago. We wouldn't have happened six months ago."
Justin starts to get that panicky feeling again. Lance's tone is the same kind of tone that he heard in each consecutive session with Johnny, the same repeated patterns in Johnny's voice. The same symptoms on his chart and still no reason why. He says, "Well, maybe we wouldn't have happened six months ago but this isn't six months ago. And we're happening now."
Light chuckling. "That makes no sense, you know."
"Just," and Justin swallows. "This is now. We're here now. You know how much I wanted you, right?" And maybe, it wasn't true before but it is now, because Justin looks at him and believes he might be able to stay.
"I." Lance fiddles with his thumbs, his sleeves. "Me too. For a long while."
A breath. He has to be honest. He has to tell the truth, Justin, and so he says, "Lance, I have to tell you something, and I want you to take me seriously."
"Of course. I always take you seriously."
Justin says, "I think I'm going crazy. I think I'm crazy."
Lance, probably expecting something else, says, "Okay. Tell me why you think that."
"If I tell you this, you have to promise me, absolutely promise, that you're not gonna tell anyone. Not the guys, not even for my own good." Because to begin with it was kind of funny, the idea that everything here was just made-up, but now he never wants to go back because it'll mean losing grasp of Lance.
"Okay, I won't. But if there's something that we can do to help you, you should probably tell the guys, regardless." Justin nods and Lance accepts this, because Justin's the kind of sensible that will take that advice after only a little coaxing, whereas Chris would fight for years. He probably did.
"I've been having flashes. Spells."
Lance starts to look a little more concerned. "Flashes of what?"
Justin can't look at him, because he has no idea what triggers him going back and forth, and he thinks maybe, maybe if I look at him if I say this, I'll wake up and have made some big breakthrough and won't be able to come back. He remembers the doctor on the phone, and replies, "I've been kinda having flashes where I wake up, and I'm somewhere else."
"Where do you wake up?"
Justin says, "a private hospital."
Lance's face, meanwhile, is closed off. "A private hospital?"
Justin says in a small voice, "psych ward."
The clock on Justin's tastefully decorated mantlepiece says close to midnight, they've been sitting and cuddling most of the night and he didn't notice, Lance reading and Justin just laying down, remembering things one by one. The way that Lance, in the hospital, used to look at him first, the way that he sat beside Lance day after day and watched television sanctioned by the nurses.
This Lance asks quietly, "Have you talked to anyone about this?"
"Yeah, I mean, no." Justin closes his eyes. "I called the therepist today."
"What did she say?"
"That I can't be crazy, because if I was, she said, I wouldn't know." Saying it out loud, hearing it in his voice, actually hearing the words, puts the whole thing in a bit more perspective. "I guess. You think I'm stupid, don't you."
Lance leans down, kisses his forehead softly. Justin can feel it even though his eyes are closed, and he can picture Lance doing it perfectly, can see it in his mind's eye.
"Lance, what are we. I mean."
Lance's lips stay on Justin's forehead. "We'll talk about it tomorrow, okay?"
A feeling of immediacy has punctuated every moment of Justin's life, especially lately. But, as far back as he can remember, it's been hovering over his shoulder -- do it now, get it now, because maybe tomorrow you won't be able to. He says, "promise?" eyes clenched shut tight.
Justin believes him.
I said, 'So's everything'
One magazine interview Justin gave, they asked him whether he had any problems sleeping. He answered honestly, said that often he couldn't sleep, but that he ran with it because you have to go with the flow of your own life, or something stupid like that. The words came out wrong but that's exactly how he lives life, he just goes with it and tries to deal.
At least, that's how he thought he lived life. Opening his eyes and reconfirming that everything he and Lance did was simply a dream, a kind of extended fantasy, Justin knows otherwise.
"Time to get up, J," Wade says kindly. "You have group this morning."
Justin's head is foggy, stuffed up and heavy and full of cotton. "Fuck group," and he rolls over, puts the pillow over his head. He just has to concentrate hard enough; that's what Lou always told them in rehearsals. If he concentrates hard enough and works hard enough he'll get what he wants.
"Up and at'em, sleepyhead," and Wade pulls on his covers insistently. "Justin, come on. Justin." Another tug on his blankets. "You have to get up."
Work hard at it.
Justin sits in an armchair, pretending to watch television and actually thinking about Lance, about this Lance, and how he's the only person that seems quiet enough to listen to anyone, here. Justin's supposed to be writing things down, it's his new therepy. It seems that, no matter what's wrong with someone, the same three treatments are utilized: talk about it, engage in some kind of creative activity, or write it down. Justin is starting to think, maybe, that the doctors here don't know much more about how to get better than the patients do.
He wants to know what's wrong with him.
"This is a big step, Justin," and he sees hope on Johny's face for the first time since he found himself in the hospital. A pang of guilt, then, the thought of seeing Lance happy again, and Justin nods firmly. "Let's get started."
They have three sessions in as many days, and finally, Justin gets up the courage to touch upon what he really doesn't want to know. He says, "Johnny, where do you think the hallucinations I have come from? Typically speaking, do the things that happen tend to happen because, of things in the real world? Or do you think that they influence things here instead?"
"What do you mean?"
Justin, who's never been a very good liar, "Say someone you know shows up in both. Say someone in my condition latches onto someone from the real world. Is it more likely that the person, are they more likely to influence about how they feel in the real world or do they stem from things you're not willing to admit to yourself?"
Johnny, with a puzzled frown, says, "Well, maybe if you explain the situation."
"No, nevermind. It doesn't matter." Lance, happy. His house in Los Angeles. Hard work and he'll get back there, something Johnny knows will help.
Johnny says slowly, "Well there've been cases where people who experience delusions about people within their life have such a hard time snapping out of the delusion that they have trouble differentiating who is who, whether it's part of their delusion or reality. Even if they're in a lucid state where they know reality from delusion, people sometimes blur."
"In a word," Johnny says, "I don't know. No one's really sure where emotional attachments come from, in a patient's delusion. It's possible that someone may confuse their imagined view of a person with the real one, even though the patient themself is in a lucid, aware state."
"I could be making it up."
Johnny holds his hands out, in a placating gesture. Justin shakes his head, and Johnny subsides. Blurred lines. Lance, even depressed crazy Lance was attractive, nice and Justin had been thinking about him all morning. It was real, it is.
His knees up to his chest, Justin asks in that same little whisper, "I'm making it up?" Johnny looks at him, and flips through a folder. He does this, helplessly, until their time is up.
After that particular interview, Justin drops life on its head.
The only way they get him out of his room is the threat to feed him intravenously if he doesn't come down to dinner. In the cafeteria, though, instead of the usual make-up, Chris and Joey sit on their own in the corner. AJ's doing nothing but outpatient therepy -- Justin's missed his whole recovery. JC's in a different ward for reevaluation. His violence, normally a thing of concern and pity, has become something of a thing of fear.
It's just Justin wolfing down some dinner each night on one side of the room, and Chris and Joey watching him on the other. He hasn't seen Lance since he woke up.
He goes to bed at nine each night, and gets up at almost noon, sleeps for fifteen hours and naps as well. While he's laying in his bed the fantasy almost feels real, but every time Wade gets him up to eat something or go talk to Johnny it slips away. Justin hates Wade a lot.
They excuse him from group because the few times they forced him to go he sat there and said nothing anyway. Johnny finally decides it's detrimental to try and force him to do something he won't. "Slow steps," Johnny says. For the second session running Justin won't tell him what he's dreaming.
They never seem to talk about what the delusions actually are, what Justin sees, what the world is like inside his head. Johnny asks sometimes, but lately Justin hasn't felt much like sharing. It's strange, that -- from the sound of it he used to spout off about it like he thought everyone actually cared how he saw the world.
Love then, he thinks cautiously, has got in the way and somehow slowed down his recovery process. It would figure.
"You want to know," Johnny says, "you want to know whether the feelings you feel for people are real or not." Justin nods. "Well, what kind of feelings are they?"
Justin shakes his head, small little twitches. He can see Johnny getting inwardly frustrated. "Listen, I can't help you if you don't tell me."
Justin finally says, "romantic feelings."
When it's obvious he's not getting anything else out of Justin he asks, "Romantic feelings you feel both in your delusions and in the real world?"
Justin's nod is so small that if Johnny wasn't looking right at him he would have missed it completely.
Johnny's verdict is inconclusive. The source of these feelings, whether it's simply a desire to connect with someone within his delusional world and spilling over into his reality until the two are muddy, or whether the feelings are so deeply submerged within his subconscious that they manifest themselves only in his delusions, Johnny doesn't know.
It doesn't make Justin feel any better. Nothing seems to make Justin feel any better so he says to Wade later, "Why haven't I seen Lance around?"
"Lance has been undergoing intensive therepy, because he tried to kill himself last week. At least, he wanted to. He saved his pills up for the three weeks you were out and tried to swallow them all at once."
Wade of course, stopped him halfway through and they took him away. "Is. Has he done that before?"
Strange how Wade won't look at him. "I'm not supposed to discuss other patients."
"Come on, tell me," and at least one thing is the same between here and his dreams, because a winning smile and Wade is caving.
"A couple of times," and when Justin asks when, Wade confirms what Justin's been thinking. "While you were, lost."
While he was lost, Lance was gone. Maybe the romantic night with Lance in his house, maybe the takeout, maybe the sex was all in his head. Maybe he's crazy.
Justin says, "Can I see him?"
The answer is no.
Justin doesn't take it well, and they start the IVs up.
JC moves in with him, only temporarily. Apparently JC has never been violent towards Justin, and since Justin isn't moving much they figure that nothing he does can provoke JC. JC says very little and Justin thinks that's fine, that's perfectly fine since he wants to say nothing at all.
He dreams about falling, again, that night, and the next, and the one after. It gets so he can recognise the nightmare before it's even happening, and yet is helpless to wake.
JC tells him, at one point, "You should really get into your locker, man."
Justin puts it off for days, but finally, when Wade comes to check on him, gets the combination. There's nothing but a stack of cheap notebooks in it, and as Justin pulls them out, startled, he recognises his own handwriting.
These are the sum total of his recovery, Justin realizes. He picks up the first book, IV line tangling briefly -- but instead of reading it, just runs his hands over the covers. The next one, the same thing. Justin kind of recognises some of it, some of it's familiar but he doesn't care. None of it is going to say what he wants to hear.
"None of it's gonna have what you want," JC says from the doorway, echoing his thoughts. "You've reread them a thousand times."
Justin nods, dully, and JC moves into the room, sits on his bed. "I'm stupid, aren't I?" Justin says.
JC shrugs. "We're all pretty stupid."
The books go back in his safe. Justin leaves the door open. "What do they say?"
"Oh, stuff about us. Stuff about you." JC's voice is hollow and sharp at the same time. "You already know."
"Probably." JC stretches out. "You like him."
"Does he like me?"
JC doesn't answer, but Justin thinks maybe it's because the answer is 'yes' and JC, bitter and angry and a little jealous, doesn't want to say it.
They put him in a private room, eventually, because he keeps pulling the IV out. A private room, with restraints. This isn't living, and inside his head, Justin is thinking all these ironic thoughts while on the outside, he's not doing much of anything. He's sure that if he can just, reconcile this Lance with his Lance, if he can just settle something in his mind, the rest will follow. But Lance is gone and he can't find any release from anything.
Justin hates the restraints a lot, and the sedatives too. But the doctors aren't taking his concerns into consideration much anymore.
Someone is singing to him. Slowly, Justin comes to, hearing some lullaby, gospel in Lance's deep voice. There's a break. "Welcome back."
"Where." Justin is suddenly aware of stiffness in all his joints, and bonds around his wrists. His limbs are sleepy, deadened. "What?" Raises his head with effort, and his surroundings come back. "Oh. Right."
"Yeah." Justin can just barely see Lance's face in the window of his door, peering in. "They restrained you cause you kept taking out your IV?"
Justin doesn't want to talk about that. "I was dreaming," he says to Lance sleepily. "What're you doing here?"
"No!" It's a little more forceful than Justin intended. "Stay. Please."
Lance's face disappears from view, and Justin calls his name out, frantically. It pops back up, briefly, and Lance says, "I'm just sitting down. Okay?"
"I wish I could go out there."
"Can you get the restraints off?"
Justin struggles, briefly, with the cuffs holding him down to the bed, but gives up. "No. Guess not."
"It's okay. I'll." Lance's voice sounds a little muffled through the thin door, but it's okay because he's here. "I'll stay for a while."
"Lance, do you want to get better?"
"What--" Fear, and Justin closes his eyes. "I dunno," Lance says finally. "I don't know what better would feel like. I don't know what I would feel like, better. Whether anything, whether I'd be."
"It's okay," Justin cuts in. "Sorry."
Softly, Lance asks, "do you?"
Justin starts to say something, starts to answer, and then stops. Better. What's better than this? The doctors have him in therepy, have him working to control his imagination, Lynn and Diane have him examining himself from all angles. He's written thousands of pages about how he feels and none of it is better, none of it is better than hearing Lance sing gospel, or Lance in his bed, or whereever and whatever.
"No," Justin replies. "No, I don't think so."
"Even though it's all in your head?"
"Well, everything," Justin pauses. "Everything is in our heads, right? We're sick, we're insane, but that doesn't mean." Justin relaxes a little. "That doesn't mean we can get better."
Lance doesn't reply for a long time. Finally, as Justin hears 'swing low, sweet chariot' in the bass that sounds exactly like his dream, Justin lets out a cracked, "I love you."
Lance stops singing for a minute, and Justin can see his face grinning through the little window in the door. Lance says "you're crazy," and goes back to the song.