Later, Lance was grateful for the small miracle of not saying it himself. Even weeks later, after the memory of the first panicked hour, day, however long, faded into just a fuzzy memory, Lance knew he'd never forget those five words, the impatience with which they were lightly tossed aside.
Joey said, "Where the fuck is Justin?"
And then, Lance's phone rang. "Yes?"
Lance could barely make out Justin's whisper. "I'm in Kevin's trunk! You gotta save me! He's crazy and he wants my songs!"
Lance laughed. "Why the hell would our band leader want YOUR songs?"
"No!" Justin said a little louder. "Richardson! He's kidnapped me, put me in freezer ties and the whole bit, because he wants me to write some hit songs for the Backstreet Boys."
The other guys raised an eyebrow. Joey asked, "Did Justin forget his keys again?"
Justin, apparently hearing Joey through the phone, snapped, "I'm seriously kidnapped! Look, the car's stopping, I gotta go-- get me the fuck outta here, Lance. Kevin's creepy."
Justin hung up, abruptly, and Lance blinked. "Um, does anyone know where Justin was supposed to be this morning?"
JC frowned. "With his mom, I think."
After calling Lynn and finding out that yes, Justin did in fact stand Lynn up, JC and Joey started to panic. Lance almost slapped JC, to stop the hysteria. "It's okay. I'll sort it out."
Joey, holding JC's hand for support, grimaced. "What the hell are we gonna tell Chris?"
It was Chris's idea to perform some kind of trade. It wasn't his first idea, but after Johnny waylaid the idea of beating the fuck out of Kevin's family, Chris suggested they find someone and swap them for Justin.
Lance, already hip deep in calls, furrowed his brows. "I'll get on it."
He made a call.
Dan should have known that no good news ever came on Wednesdays. He never got laid on Wednesdays, Jacob brought the monkey home on a Wednesday, his last boyfriend J.D. broke up with him on a Wednesday to date a computer nerd. He should have known.
He didn't, of course, but he should have.
"So what if it's the Monkey awards for lifetime achievement? It's a serious magazine! There are gonna be girls there, man!" Trevor beamed at the rest of the guys. "We gotta go!"
Jacob grimaced. "I don't know that we should lower ourselves to this, man. I mean."
He didn't come right out and say it, but Dan knew that Jacob was silently trying to explain that this was all bullshit and they sucked so they had to practice. Dan tended to agree, except that he didn't care about practising enough to really do it. He said, "It's important and all to recognise everyone who likes us, but do you think we can do the rehearsals too?"
The Mikes gave their okay, and much like a queen, once they okay'ed something their consent became their command. Trevor was ecstatic; he loved Atlantic City. Ashley and Erik were planning on getting the honeymoon suite. Jacob had tried to bring the monkey and ended up bringing his guitar, so Dan refused to bunk with him.
He should have known, as they pulled up to a house in the Orlando suburbs instead of the airport, that it was all bullshit. But he had no idea. Who the fuck would want to kidnap O-Town anyway?
"You can't leak a story that Justin's recording a solo album up in Virginia!" Lance scoffed, as Johnny tried to conclude their press meeting, which Lance had mentally subtitled 'What the Fuck to Tell Everyone About Justin Missing That Isn't Going to Lead to Rumors of Rehab'. "No one would believe it."
Chris said defensively, "Hey, he could do a really good album on his own. People have been saying that he could do good work for--"
"No," JC interrupted, "he means like, who the fuck goes to Virginia to record?"
Johnny stared at him. "Who the fuck is going to ask that?"
JC crossed his arms over his chest. "I did."
Johnny closed the folder with a snap. "Right. We're done here, unless there's anything else?" His tone of voice dared anyone to argue, but he stood up before anyone could actually say anything.
Outside his office, Chris muttered, "We're gonna have to get J back on our own."
Lance smirked at him as he listened to someone on the other end of his cell phone. Chris heard 'they arrived, they have no idea,' and then Lance hung up. "Already on it. I just gotta get back to my place and make a call."
It wasn't going well, however.
Lance snarled into his phone, "Come on Kevin, give me a break. This is a fabulous fucking deal -- five for one -- and I'm throwing in that gift basket too. It's a choice basket! Gimme back our singer."
Lance could hear the smirk in Kevin's voice. "What the hell do I want with those rejects?"
He glanced over at O-Town. Trevor was trying unsuccessfully to chat up Wendy, who'd stopped over to drop something off, Ashley and Erik were sitting, wide-eyed, together on the sofa, and Jacob was playing with a notebook. Dan was staring back at him. Lance sighed. "Fine, a gift basket AND a new toaster."
Kevin was crazed, he was sure of it. "You couldn't PAY me to take those losers! What the hell would I do with O-Town man!" The problem, Lance thought as he snapped his phone shut angrily, was that Kevin was crazed, but not stupid.
Ashley called out, "So, when are the awards again?"
Lance sighed, and pinched the bridge of his nose. Maybe he should have gassed them.
"You have it under control, huh?" Chris followed Lance down into his basement a few days later, past the locked door, carrying a tray of hot dogs. "You'll take care of it, huh?"
Lance held his hand up. "Shut. Up. I'm working on it."
The two of them got to the bottom of the stairs, and beheld O-Town arguing about whether to watch 'Survivor' or 'American Gladiators'. Chris gave Lance a nasty look, and dumped the tray on Lance's free arm. "You're working on it."
Trevor called out, "awesome, food! Thanks Lance."
Chris shook his head, and fled upstairs, calling out, "maybe you should try someone more high class! Like Charo!"
Lance threw a hot dog at him, but missed. Then he threw a hot dog at Trevor. It didn't really make him feel much better, so he flung the plastic ketchup bottle at Trevor's face. "Hey!" Trevor said, but Lance ignored him because it cheered him up a little to see Trevor trying to wipe red shit off his shirt. He got depressed again, however, when he realized that O-Town were still in his basement, and now he was out of ketchup.
Ashley peered at Lance with big eyes. "Do you not. I mean, do you have a problem with us or something? I thought this was an award..."
Lance hefted the mustard bottle, and Ashley fled.
Upstairs, Chris was trying to be soothing into his cell phone, and doing a lousy job. "Just calm down, seriously -- no, like, calm means quit fucking screeching at me. Jesus, J, your voice is high, like, chill out and we'll -- no, GOD, stop that noise!" As Chris saw Lance coming up the stairs, he threw him his phone. "Calm him the fuck down or we're gonna go deaf from the pitch."
"Oh, thank god, Lance!" Lance could hear Justin almost sobbing on the other end of the line. "You've gotta get me out of here, like, god, it's so horrible I don't know what I'm gonna--"
"Okay, okay." Lance took a breath, and Justin gulped on the other end. "Calm down, and we'll sort this out. Are you okay? Are you hurt?"
"I'm okay, I mean, they haven't hurt me but--" Justin sounded panicked, "there's no good food! I mean, I'm eating canned soup, like those gross bulk flavors, and no cereal, and I keep asking but nothing. And Kevin wants me to write him a song, all about country love on the back roads, and it's just--"
"Okay." Lance grimaced, and Chris pantomimed earplugs at him, and then either beating up Kevin, or jacking him off, Lance couldn't tell which. "Do you know where they're holding you?"
"Do you know what they want, aside from songs?"
Lance bit his tongue to keep from saying, 'do you know ANYTHING', and then asked the question he really wanted to. "Um. What have you written so far?"
Justin sounded embarrassed. "So far, 'country love on the back roads, girl'. I've only had a little while."
Lance started to say, "don't worry," but Justin said, "shit, they're coming, I gotta go or they'll take my phone--" and then he hung up.
Chris rubbed his face, leaning heavily on the counter. "While he was on the line, I forgot that he was in mortal danger and started getting pissed off at him. Now I feel guilty as fuck as well as just terrified."
"We'll get him back, Chris," Lance said, and sat back.
There was a bump from downstairs, and Lance cringed. Chris raised an eyebrow. "What are you gonna do about them?"
Lance frowned. "I can't let them go -- I mean, I've been holding them against their will for like, three days now, not that they've really noticed."
"You're keeping them as pets?"
"Would YOU want to clean up after them?"
Chris grinned. "Point. You could sell them to the highest bidder. Any bidder."
Lance looked thoughtful. "Has potential." He sighed again, closing his eyes. "In the meantime, time for phase two of the get Justin back plan."
"Phase one wasn't so hot, y'know," Chris said. "Are you sure phase two will be more successful?"
He made another call, this time from JC's place because the sounds of O-Town rehearsing was enough to drive him out of his house, even with them locked in the basement.
Lance could hear Nick Carter in the background, yelling, "Come on, Kevin, this is my kid brother we're talking about! You gotta give him what he wants, who knows what that sick fuck could do to Aaron!"
Kevin said to Lance, "I don't give a shit about Aaron. There are like, six Carters, one is as good as another. No, Nick," he yelled away from the phone, as Lance heard protests, "we're not giving up Timberlake! Sorry Lance," he added maniacally, "no deal."
Lance threw his phone into JC's tropical fishtank in frustration, where it fizzled and died. He stared at the fish for a while, morosely, and then Aaron Carter called timidly from the bedroom, "Uh, Lance? I have to go to the bathroom..."
JC popped his head into the living room where Lance was sitting. "Didn't go according to plan?"
Lance watched one of JC's clownfish swim up curiously to his Nokia, making little bubbles in the water. He idly hoped it would be electrocuted, so at least another creature on earth would be in as much pain as he was. It swam away again, and Lance eyed JC. "Fuck off."
JC wandered away, muttering, "what's up with him?"
Despite the lack of Justin, they all had other work to do, and Lance was still trying to run three companies daily. However, Lance's routine daily call to Beth hit a little snag about ten minutes in.
He screamed into the phone "What do you MEAN I NOW MANAGE O-TOWN!"
After a hot bath (run by Ashley), a herbal tea (made by Erik) and a foot rub, which he got his paid masseuse to do because the thought of an O-Town member touching his feet grossed him out, Lance picked his brand new cell phone up.
"Hi, Mike. Right. Yeah. Yeah. Right -- yeah. Actually, that's what I was calling about. Right. You heard about them coming to, visit me, huh? Oh, oh. Oh. You heard that it was for a possible change in management? No, not at all, no I'd never do that to-- Yeah, I heard that you were amicable to the change, but I figure they were joking -- Yeah, Beth said that she'd signed them, and I figured it must have been some joke she was-- uh huh. Right. Right, you worked it out with Beth, yeah, she said the courier arrived this morning, but see, this doesn't work for-- No, Mike, you're not fucking funny. Am I laughing? No, you're not going to Malibu and leaving me with those-- No. No. NO." Lance gritted his teeth. "no. no no no. Not likely, no. No. Don't hang-- I know you're not going to hang up on-- wait, Mike, you motherfucker, don't you fucking dare hang up--"
The cell phone hit his wall and bounced onto the floor. Lance quenched the urge to stomp on it with his bare feet, and with a lot more effort, quenched the urge to stomp on it with some very heavy boots. He could see O-town in his rec room; Trevor and Erik were throwing erasers at each other, which Jacob was bitching at them for stealing, Ashley was blowing bubbles. Dan was staring back at him.
"Mike is SO off the Christmas party list," Lance hissed. He stood up, and pondered hitting his head against the wall.
"Look, I can prove that O-Town is worth Justin, okay Kev?" Lance said desperately. "Just lemme read you some of the stuff they've come up with." Lance beckoned Jacob over, and Jacob followed, sullenly. Lance said to Jacob, "Give me your fucking notebook."
"But, my songs are my only outlet, and they're mine, and you have no righ--" Jacob caught Lance's eye, and then handed it over, with a glare.
"Thank you." Lance opened it up, and said to Kevin, "here, what about this one: 'My Girl'. It goes 'my girl, my girl, my baby girl, we have a love so pure, my girl'-- oh, sweet Jesus," Lance said, too disgusted to pretend to be impressed out of desperation. "What the fuck is this shit?
Kevin laughed. "You call that material? I got jockey shorts made of better material!"
Ashley called out, a little timidly, "Can we go home, yet?"
Lance held the phone away from his ear as Kevin laughed at him.
He came home the next day and found a delivery for "O-Town, c/o Lance Bass". He got a bad feeling about the whole thing, and it was probably attached to the bad smell emanating from the box. He dragged it downstairs, dropped it on the floor of the rec room, and said, "what the fuck is THIS?"
As Lance kicked at the fragile cardboard delivery crate, there was a hissing from inside, and he backed up. They all heard scrabbling, and then a bump.
Jacob glanced over from where he was playing Ashley's gameboy on the couch. "What's going on, guys?" He stood up, making his way over to the box, which was shaking more violently now.
Lance glared at Jacob, very carefully removed the packing slip and then backed up again. The Mikes had attached a note, saying, 'this is for that time you got us in drag' and then a nice smiley face. There was a low screeching from inside the box.
Jacob squealed, kneeling down. "It's my monkey! Mike must have sent it over to keep me company. Aww, I never thought I'd see you again," he cooed.
Lance snapped, "Back," and Jacob reluctantly moved back. There was another screech.
Jacob said, "we have to let him out, give him some air."
Lance was ignoring him, examining the box critically, the design and the airholes. He pulled out his phone, hit the speed dial and then said, "Beth, do you think we have any really big boxes around the office? --oh, maybe, big enough to fit me? You don't think so? Hmmm." Lance looked at the box for a long moment, and then looked Dan and Jacob up and down. Dan narrowed his eyes. Jacob, meanwhile, was trying to talk to the monkey, had his eye right up to one of the airholes. The monkey had one little fist out, and was yanking on Jacob's hair.
Dan crossed his arms over his chest, chewing on his lip. He kept quiet while Lance said, "are you sure? Nothing? Nothing at all?" With one more dark look at Jacob, Lance finally said, "fine, there's nothing suitable. Okay." He hung up.
Jacob, sitting cross-legged beside the crate, looked up at the two of them. "Are you holding her hostage too?"
"Who?" Lance replied.
"Her," Jacob answered, indicating the crate. "Because that's inhumane."
Dan chewed on his lip some more. Lance rolled his eyes. "You are such a dumbass."
"Well, are you then?"
Lance replied sourly, "No, the monkey is free to go at any time. In fact, right now would be good."
Jacob opened his mouth to protest but Lance was already ignoring him, walking up the stairs. Dan heard the little 'click' of the lock that meant, he was stuck back downstairs in the basement, with Ashley and Erik, who hadn't left their room all day, Jacob, who was now trying to feed the monkey a carrot, and Trevor, who was snoring on the second couch. So far, the only lifetime achievement awards they were worthy of was making Lance's face contort in that particular way at least three times a day.
"What about a monkey, Kevin?" Lance watched his face in the mirror. There was a little twitch at the left side of his face that was new.
"No, no monkey." Kevin Richardson, the sick twist who'd kidnapped Justin in the first place, then said carefully, "are you sure you're okay, Lance? You sound a little, odd."
"I'm going to rip your guts out someday for this, Kevin," Lance said calmly, and hung up on him.
Ashley frowned, as the rest of them were playing Scrabble. "Dan," he said, "can I talk to you for a minute?"
Dan put down his Triple Word Score, and went over to Ashley. "Yeah?"
Ashley glanced around. "I don't want to sound mean or anything. But is. I mean." He lowered his voice. "Why are we still here?"
Dan patted Ashley's shoulder. "Don't worry. If he was going to do anything nasty to us, he probably would have already done it. We've probably just been kidnapped--" at that word, Ashley's face went pale, and Dan amended, "we're probably just staying with him for a while, and the Mikes and stuff sorted it out and, stuff. He won't make us do anything weird."
Ashley replied, "Are you sure?"
Dan answered soothingly, "almost positive."
"Don't count on it," they heard a quiet voice say from the stairs. Ashley looked up, nervous, as Lance came down with their dinner tray. "You're looking pretty today, Ashley," Lance said, and handed him the food. "Go give everyone their rations, baby."
Ashley backed away, even more nervous. Dan stayed sitting on the bottom step, while the rest of the guys ate. Lance stood behind him, watching the guys eat and occasionally cursing the Backstreet boys under his breath. Dan risked a glance upwards, right into Lance's face. "You know," Dan ventured, "I think I like you." Lance raised one arched eyebrow. Dan sighed. "That probably makes me perverse, doesn't it."
"I think so." Lance went back upstairs, but winked at Dan before he locked the door.
"I don't watch Baywatch," Kevin said. "Strike three!"
"Are you sure you're not gay, Kevin?" Lance said, and then, "nevermind, fuck you you fucking fuck of a fuck," and he hung up.
The girl, Amber or Tiffany or Tiffany Amber or Bambi or something, stared at him. She said, "Um, am I staying with you tonight?"
He got a call from Kelly an hour after he dropped the chick from Baywatch off at Joey's house, asking him to please remove her. Lance drove back across town and picked her up, depositing her at JC's house, and taking Aaron Carter over to Joey's. Joey complained bitterly, but Kelly was much happier, as was the girl: when he called JC's later, JC said they were both doing their nails and watching Gilmore girls.
"I know, Johnny." Lance gritted his teeth. "Believe me, I'm working on it."
"Lance," and Johnny's voice was apologetic, despite what he was saying, "this is a PR nightmare, you know. People were starting to like the boyband détente. If we can't get him back we're going to have to admit Richardson took him."
Lance shuddered. "I'm working on it."
Johnny tried to sound kind, he really did. "Work faster."
Lance snapped his phone closed. This one was waterproof, so instead of dropping it into his sparkling mineral water, he just dropped it on the cement floor instead. It bounced a little, didn't break, and came to rest at Dan's feet. The phone was a present from Johnny after he destroyed the other two. Lance was pretty sure it was indestructible on purpose.
Dan looked down. Lance kept staring at Dan's feet. Dan cleared his throat. "Still no luck on getting Justin back?"
"No." Lance scowled. "Maybe I should grind you guys up into bait and try to lure Kevin out into the open with the smell of fresh meat."
Dan leaned over, after a long moment, and picked the phone up. He handed it to Lance, solemnly. Lance eyed him resentfully, and then moved over on the step enough so Dan could sit down. Dan rubbed his chin. "You know, I think it's nice."
"You're perverse, remember?"
"No," Dan replied, and then looked away, a little embarrassed. "I mean, you still haven't given up. You're gonna get him back. Justin's lucky, that he's got friends that would go to this much trouble."
Lance narrowed his eyes, and Dan was afraid for a minute that he'd said too much. Then Lance sighed. It was pretty sad that he'd had O-Town locked up for like, two weeks now and no one had missed them. Lance said, "I hate you guys. I think I may be starting to like you."
Chris sighed. "No."
"No." He was already halfway to drunk, so Lance had to translate his next sentence, but after a minute he realized that Chris had said, "I miss him too but we can't be like that."
"Be like what?" Lance crossed his arms over his chest.
"Like, you're getting." Chris waved a bottle of beer at him. "You're being definitely evil."
"I." Lance pursed his lips. "Chris, have you been sober any time in the last four days?"
Chris shrugged. Lance got his jacket and left, shaking his head and cursing the Richardson line to the seventh generation.
"He's kind of got a point."
Lance blinked, and changed lanes. The pizza was getting cold. "What the fuck, JC, now you're taking a drunk's side over mine?"
"Well," and JC coughed, "you've got five guys locked in your basement, and Kelly has a new fourteen year old boy."
"Fuck you, JC," Lance said desperately. "Chris is totally wrong. I mean, O-Town like my house, you know. I've got them a couple of pizzas right now."
"Kelly doesn't like Aaron," JC said in retort. "And we still don't have J--"
Lance hung up again, and pulled over to the side of the road. The pizza smell in his SUV was making him nauseous. His hands were shaking.
"Oh thank god, Justin!" Lance had debated letting his phone ring, in the middle of the night, but then answered it anyway. "How are you doing?"
Justin sniffled a little. "I'm okay. Kevin threw a hot dog bun at me yesterday, but Nick brought me some ice cream to try and apologize. Nick and AJ have been smuggling in good food because they feel sorry for me, stuck in Kevin's house. Brian even caught me using the phone, and while he wasn't happy, he just left."
"Who did you call?"
"Chris." Justin sounded puzzled. "He didn't make much sense, though, so I thought I'd call you."
Lance rolled over in bed, onto his back. "Chris has been drunk for almost a week straight."
"I miss you guys." Justin's voice was little, small, sad. "I mean, I feel like an idiot -- it's not like this is that bad, but I'm still, I'm scared all the time. And I miss you guys like crazy. I can't take it."
"Listen," Lance said, sitting up. His voice was serious, and strained. "Listen, we love you a lot, okay? We really really love you, and we're gonna get you outta there."
"I gotta go--" and Justin hung up.
Lance thought that Justin's voice might have cracked a little on the last syllable. He wiped the tears off his face angrily, and said, "Kevin Richardson, I'm going to kill you. Tomorrow."
Lance got out of the car the next morning, and stepped onto the rifle range. He left his phone at home, didn't tell anyone where he was going, and unloaded a couple hundred rounds into makeshift targets. It didn't really make him feel much better.
"We were worried about you," Dan said when Lance unlocked the basement.
"You mean you were worried about getting fed this morning. I was only gone for an hour." Lance tossed Trevor and Erik boxes of cereal, and handed Jacob the milk. "Where's Ashley?"
Erik shifted so he was standing behind Trevor, before saying, "He. Uh. He's not feeling well."
"Let me see him."
Erik shuffled even farther behind Trevor, who stood there quietly. "He. Um. He's kind of, afraid of you."
Lance threw his hands up. "Fine, fuck him then. Fuck all of you."
In his anger, he forgot to lock the door. Dan listened for the little 'click' of the specially reinforced deadbolt, and it never came. He did hear the whine of Lance's SUV, and when Dan risked a look out the front window of the basement, he saw that the car was gone. He called out, "Uh, guys, I'll be right--"
Dan looked behind him to see Erik consoling Ashley about Lance's visits ("he really isn't into you, honey, I promise,") and Trevor napping while Jacob wrote another letter to Janie. There were a pile of letters to Janie on the top step, that Jacob kept stubbornly writing and Lance kept stubbornly refusing to mail.
Dan rolled his eyes. He called out, "I'll be right back, guys," and they nodded at him, totally oblivious.
He tested the door. Yes, it was open. Dan peeked out, and then went upstairs.
"I'm going over to Kevin's house, and you can't stop me, Johnny." Lance changed lanes and almost hit a Mercedes. The driver fingered him, and Lance honked his horn. "No, you can't stop me from killing Kevin in cold blood. I've got the gun, it's loaded, and I have his address from the time that Joey sent him a get-well card."
Johnny sighed, on the other end. "Lance, going to prison is not going to get Justin back."
Lance growled at the semi-truck in front of him, and then almost side-swiped a BMW as he exited the interstate. "Watch me. If I kill Kevin then Justin can come home. You can find another fucking bass singer, Johnny." He careened around the exit ramp. "I can't take this anymore, I have to do something."
"Lance, just listen to me, just, Lance, don't do anything stup--"
He tossed the phone onto the passenger seat, and ignored the ringing as he tried to find Kevin's house. "Soon, Richardson," he muttered. "Soon."
Dan tiptoed around Lance's ground floor for a while, checking out his CDs, turning on the ice machine by accident, and then finally sat down on Lance's couch. He turned the TV on, and starting flipping through channels. Admittedly, the sound was way better up here than in their suite in the basement, but there was still nothing to watch. MTV was showing the KC and JoJo 'Cribs' episode, and there were four cooking shows and three talk shows, as well as reruns of the Flinstones, so Dan flipped it off again.
He sat there on the leather couch, and looked around. Upstairs was almost as boring as downstairs, although granted it was quieter. "Hello?" he said, quietly, and then felt foolish.
The phone rang, and Dan saw that the call display said 'Chris'. He debated answering, but realised it was a really stupid idea. He wondered why Chris was even calling the house; Lance always had his cell.
He was debating having a real shower, not in that disgusting cubicle that Trevor jacked off in downstairs, when he spied Lance's dayplanner. Dan opened it anyway, and saw that Lance noted stuff down about his day, as well as his appointments. He began to read.
"Kevin, I know you're home!" Lance rattled the doorknob a bunch of times, and then kicked the door. "Fucking open the door or I'll shoot your dog, man!"
No answer. All the lights were off, and there was no car in the driveway, even though it could have been in the garage. Lance swore, a lot, and then had to hide when the security guard for the complex came by.
When he got home, Dan was still sitting on the couch, hands folded up. For a while, Dan debated about what to say to Lance when Lance got home; he figured that telling Lance he felt a little sorry him, for all the pressure he was under, probably wouldn't go over well. Dan was doubly sure of this decision when Lance came in the door carrying a rifle.
"You--" Lance stared at Dan. "How did you get out?"
Dan shrugged, half an eye on the gun. "You didn't lock the door earlier."
"...oh." Lance took the gun into his study, locked it back up, and then came into the living room. "Why didn't you leave?"
Dan shrugged. "Is Kevin dead?" Lance shrugged, too. "Oh."
Dan searched desperately for something to say. There didn't seem to be anything he could say that might help. Finally, he settled on, "You know, Justin and I are the same age, almost. I'm a couple of months older than he is."
From the look on Lance's face, it didn't seem to have helped, either. Dan shut up, deciding the silent support thing would probably be more productive. Less dangerous, too.
Lance went into his bedroom to call Joey, to cheer him up, because comparing Dan and Justin was just depressing. He left Dan in the kitchen, peering into a cupboard, and looking at his pots and pans.
Joey answered the phone with, "we have a problem, Lance. Jane Carter just threatened to torch my house unless I mail her Aaron back."
Joey repeated patiently, "Aaron's mom wants him back. She threatened to burn down our house. Kelly isn't happy about it."
"Well, that's reasonable of Kelly. She's been very patient as it is." Lance started to pace. "Okay then," he said, finally, "box him up and I'll find her address."
"Lance!" Joey admonished. "We can't do that."
"Okay, cut some holes in the box."
"Kelly says," and here Lance could hear Joey repeating Kelly's very vocal instructions in the background, "that we have to protect Aaron from his mom. She says," and Lance could actually hear Kelly yelling, "that he didn't smile for two days, and when he did it was because she let him wear sweatpants. She says," and Lance knew that Joey was editing heavily the cuss words out of Kelly's speech, "that we can't give him back."
Joey, muffled, said, "Kelly, sweetheart, I know that you're-- okay, right. No, we'll keep him. Yeah, yeah Aaron, it'll be okay. You can stay with us. Lance can manage you. You can even quit if you want to. No, there's no law that says you have to be a star, that was just a, a story."
"The word you're looking for is 'lie', Joey."
"You try telling that to a kid who doesn't even know that working twelve hours a day at ten years old is illegal."
Lance sighed. "I guess you'd better call the fire marshal then, in case she comes after you with a gas can."
"Pulls an Eminem?" Joey laughed. "Right, I'll be careful. Oh hey, how are the other freaks doing?"
Lance replied, "don't ask." He went out of the bedroom, and found Dan cooking. "What the hell are you doing?"
Dan looked up, and dropped the spoon. "Well, I thought you could. I mean." He swallowed. "It sounded like you were having a bad day, so I. I'm making french toast. And stuff."
Lance heard Joey say, "what the hell?" and Lance replied, "I'll call you back." He stared at Dan. "You're cooking for me?"
"Who gave you permission?"
Dan swallowed again, but flipped the piece of french toast expertly even while he was sort of cowering. "No one." He moved to the other pan, and moved a spoon around a bit, or at least that's what Lance thought he was doing. "Bacon, too."
"I had bacon in the fridge?" Lance was so surprised, he forgot to be angry and threatening. "Did you check the date on it?"
"It's fine." Dan flipped the french toast again, and then added it to the pile on the plate in the oven. "There's raspberry, cranberry, and plain syrup, too. I was trying to make blueberry but you didn't have enough jam. Well, sort of syrup, I mean, I didn't have time to make real syrup but it should taste okay from jam--"
"Three kinds of syrup." Lance sat down automatically, phone still in hand. Dan put the plate in front of him. "Who the fuck are you and why are you doing this?"
"I think," Dan muttered, then raised his voice a little as he carried the syrup over, "that I'm currently kidnapped, in the house of a hot musician, and trying to help him come up with ways to get his, his boyfriend back."
Lance choked on his food. "Boyfriend?"
"Aren't you and Justin?"
"Oh. Well, no." Lance speared another piece of french toast onto his fork. "Man, this is really good. Where'd you learn to cook?"
Dan grinned at him from across the table. "I used to work at a diner, and stuff. And when J.D., my ex-boyfriend, used to have a bad day, I'd cook for him."
"Why'd you break up?"
"Oh," Dan said, looking at his hands. Lance kept eating, and waited for a reply. In the last ten minutes, Dan had exhibited more intelligence than the rest of O-town strung together. "Well, it was just hard."
Lance finished his food, snapping the last of the bacon into his mouth. "I hate you. You cook well too. How can I loathe you if you're not a parody of yourself?"
Dan shrugged. Lance shrugged too. The food made him feel a little better, but he still had no lead singer, no boyfriend, and now one of his best friends was being threatened by a psychotic woman, another was a drunk, and JC.
His phone rang. The display said 'Johnny'. Lance snapped, "what!" into it.
"We have a problem."
Lance sighed, all trace of good feeling towards men, or Dan, or anyone, gone with that simple phrase. "What?"
Trevor blinked. "Where were you?"
Dan looked at him. Ashley was eyeing the monkey, Jacob was in the bathroom doing god knows what. Erik was reading a book. "Nowhere."
He made sure to lock the door behind him.
The four of them decided to meet at Lance's house, because even though O-Town was there, it was still the defacto command center of their whole crazy operation. Johnny arrived first, and sat down with a grim face until the rest of the guys arrived.
Lance wasted no time. "Kevin's threatening violence against Justin."
JC frowned. "Have we heard anything else from Justin?"
"Not since." Lance looked at Chris, who was as confused and tense as everyone else, even with a beer in hand. "Not since he called me a few nights ago."
Johnny frowned. "Do we have any idea where Justin's being kept?"
Chris leapt up, spilling his beer on the carpet. "Come on! It's obvious that he's at Kev's house. I say we go over there, tie up his wife or something, and get him back. Lance is getting good at that part."
JC and Chris started arguing the finer points of the plan (Chris trying to explain about knots for tying people up and JC pointing out the utter lack of any kind of plan at all), and Johnny talked quietly to someone, possibly Britney, on his phone. Lance finally interrupted Chris with, "I already went over there today. No one answered the door, and I almost got caught by the security guard."
The two of them lapsed into silence again. After an awkward moment, Johnny asked, "Well, doesn't anyone have anything?" He turned to Joey. "You're pretty quiet over there. Usually you're full of ideas."
Joey's jaw worked tightly, and he murmured, "I don't really know."
They all stared at each other for a while, and Lance brought them all beers, Chris showing his enthusiasm for the plan by kissing Lance on the mouth. Lance didn't kiss back, pulling away after only a few seconds. Chris had put nothing real into the kiss, it was nothing save two pairs of lips working against each other.
Lance sat down in a corner of his living room, and proceeded to drink all the beer with the guys, and then the rest of the tequila in the house, which Kelly had left there last month. It didn't really help either, rather, highlighted the helplessness with which they were all presented, as Joey fumbled uselessly with the top of the second bottle. He got it off only with a lot of effort and some dumb luck.
Lance answered the phone. Justin said without preamble, "I don't know what to do."
"What's wrong, Justin?" Lance tried to keep his voice calm and collected, but knew he was failing miserably. "Run out of captain crunch or something?"
"You don't." Justin hiccuped, as if he'd been crying, and then he started over. "I'm tied up-- I could barely dial. it took me forever. Kev is keeping me tied up now, the hours that he's not down here watching me try to write." He hiccuped again. "But I can't work like this, it's like all my creativity is just, sapped. and he doesn't accept that, and today he picked up a tire iron and waved it around, and I was tied to a chair and I thought he was going to smash my face in and--"
"Justin!" Lance took a breath. He could feel his heart racing. "Justin, Justin, it's okay." Kevin Richardson with a tire iron. "We're working on how to get you out of there right now." Kevin Richardson breaking Justin's bones. "Don't worry, you'll be home really soon, okay?" Kevin Richardson hurting Justin and them being able to do fuck-all to help.
Justin sucked in some air. "Really?"
"I promise," Lance lied. His tongue felt thick, and he was sure Justin would never buy it.
Justin replied, "thank god. Man. I. I don't know what I'd do without you guys."
"Really soon," Lance added, and felt sick to his stomach. "I promise you. I love you a lot, Justin. Don't worry."
Lance hung up, and snapped the antenna off the phone. He then tried to snap the plastic casing off, and broke it into pieces which he flung at the wall. They made little 'pinging' noises and fell to the carpet. Then he regretted it instantly in case Justin called again.
He called Chris on his house line, but no one picked up, and then JC, and no one picked up. Kelly gave him a sleepy, "hello?" then passed him straight to Joey.
"I'm going crazy," Lance said to him. "I'm going absolutely crazy."
He could hear confusion in Joey's gravely voice. "What? No, I know man, but it'll be okay."
Joey had obviously just woken up, and as such, wasn't even able to make a half-decent attempt at lying. Lance could feel his face, utterly relaxed. "I just told Justin," Lance said to Joey, "that we were going to bring him home really soon. I promised," he said calmly. "I promised him."
Joey yawned over the line, and replied, "He believe you?"
Lance bit his cheek, hard. "Every word." He hung up without saying goodbye, and lay a long time without sleeping, staring at the reflection of a light outside on his ceiling.
The next day, Lance brought them dry cereal with no milk, and tossed it at Jacob's head. Jacob dared to say, "hey man, can we have some water or something? The bathroom tap isn't work--" before Lance hefted the baseball bat in his hand and waved it around. He came dangerously close to hitting Ashley in the head with it, but didn't notice.
Lance said, "I need some peace and quiet today, all right? I need some time to think. I just need to think. So keep quiet, okay? I just need some peace and quiet." He said all of this while gripping a baseball bat, resting it on his shoulder casually.
There was no noise from the basement all day. Lance thanked god, but when he went downstairs to bring the pizza, no one moved, no one looked at him, no one said a word. He raised an eyebrow. "What's up, guys?" No one answered. "Come on, are you pissed off at me or something?"
Dan glanced at him, and swallowed. "You came in here with a baseball bat, Lance."
"Oh, that." He waved a hand vaguely. "You know." No one said anything. "I was just gonna, y'know," Lance grinned. "Smash a few of Kev's windows in, is all."
There was no response. Ashley and Erik were huddled on the couch, and Ashley's knuckles were white, clutching Erik's hand. Jacob and Trevor were in the bedroom. Dan was standing, caught helpless, in the middle of the room.
To himself, Lance added thoughtfully, "His car wasn't in the driveway, again, but his bay window made a really loud crash."
No one said anything.
"Kevin, I'm going to kill you," and Lance switched lanes. "I'm going to come in the middle of the night, I'm going to tie you up and ball-gag you. Then I'm going to cut off your fingers and toes, one by one," and Lance ran a red light, "until you tell me where Justin is."
Kevin chuckled at him over the phone. "Kinky. You really think I'm somewhere like my basement? Please."
Lance cut off a mini-van with one of those ugly 'baby on board!' stickers, and it swerved onto the shoulder. He thought he heard a crash but kept driving, through another red light. "I have a long memory, Richardson. So believe me. When you're old and grey haired, and happily entrenched in your old folks' home, sunning yourself on the beach, I'm going to pay you a little visit." He pulled into Johnny's driveway and hit the brakes, spraying gravel all over the lawn. "I'm going to come to your room, and I'm going to bring a chainsaw."
"Right, listen." Kevin yawned. "I hate to spoil this little chat, but little Justin and I have work to do. I think I may use a belt this time."
"Kevin," and Lance's voice was deadly calm. "I will kill you. You believe me, right?" Lance was glad he wasn't driving anymore, because the edges of his vision were going red, red and hazy. "I will kill you. I'm serious about that."
Kevin laughed again. "Right, I gotta go," and hung up. Lance very carefully pulled out the keys, turned off his headlights, got out of the car and locked the door. Then he kicked the fender, once, twice. He kicked the hood. He smashed the headlights in, and dented the door so badly it almost wouldn't open. He did all this with his mouth a thin, light, angry line.
Johnny didn't know why the other guys weren't trying to help; he didn't know where Kevin's mother lived. He didn't have a list of all the properties that the Backstreet Boys owned. He couldn't hook Lance up with any semi-automatic weapons, and he didn't want to sue anyone just yet, because it was a legal nightmare and Kevin was more than likely going to see reason soon, if Lance would only please stop terrorizing Kevin's family.
Lance drove his battered SUV home, getting pulled over by the cops for not having his headlights on. When the policeman asked what had happened, Lance shrugged. "I met a couple of Backstreet Boys fans, sir," he said. "I said that I didn't really like Kevin, for private reasons. They took it personally."
When he got home, he found Dan sitting in his living room again, in the dark. It was almost midnight. Lance sighed. "Where is everyone else?"
Dan pointed to the basement door. "Are they locked in?" After a second, Dan nodded. "Good," Lance said. "We wouldn't want the freak show getting out and terrorizing the neighbors."
"You know," Dan replied quietly, "they're really afraid of you right now."
"Does it look like I care?" Lance sat down on the couch without turning any lights on. He carefully took his shoes off, one foot at a time, positioning them beside each other. "I don't."
"No." Dan looked at his feet. "You don't."
"You see, Daniel," Lance mumbled, "Justin Timberlake." Dan waited, head tilted a little bit, as Lance rubbed his hands over his face, scrubbed at his eyes, trying to wipe off whatever it was he could see. "Justin. He's."
Dan waited. It was pretty obvious that Justin was something special, if he had caused this many problems. Lance chuckled grimly. It was hard to see Lance, with the curtains drawn and the only light on being the one in the front hall. Dan figured Lance was maybe crying, but when he looked up, Lance's face was blank, carefully blank, nothing on it at all. Dan kept quiet.
Lance chuckled again, but didn't smile. "No one knows what to do. I don't know what to do." He leaned against the couch again, closing his eyes, and chuckling, a little louder. "Me. I don't know what to do. I made Carson Daly cry after he tried to hit on JC, and I don't know what to do."
Dan considered asking when or why, but then pictured Carson hitting on JC, shuddered, and kept quiet. Lance continued on, without any encouragement, mumbling in the same monotone. "I can't even look Chris in the face, and he's drinking, and Joey is pretending that none of us exist because he can't do it either, and."
"You'll figure it out," Dan ventured quietly.
Lance didn't move, but he started to laugh. It bubbled up, like a spring from the ground or something. Because his voice was so low, it rolled along, like a distorted laugh track. Lance kept his eyes closed, laughing quietly and steadily. Tears leaked out of his eyelids, a little, and his lashes were damp. He laughed a long time, as Dan watched him, and then the laughter dried up and his eyes were still wet.
Dan said, "Can I do anything?"
Lance opened his eyes, red and puffy, damp. His cheeks were dry, all the tears clinging to his eyes, looking harsh and violent. Lance's voice was small when he finally answered, small and tired and miserable. "Go away."
Chris hung up on Dan, slurring something about the world ending if Lance was crying. JC gulped a couple of times, and started to hyperventilate, saying he had to start painting. Dan could hear a girl in the background trying to soothe JC, telling him it would be all right, honey, and Lance would be okay and he didn't have to be strong for everyone. Joey's voice was the most normal, as Dan asked what to do if Lance went crazy. He told him, "duck."
Dan looked at Lance, deciding this was probably good advice. He looked at the clock, and seeing it was almost one am, tried to put a blanket on Lance. Lance didn't move, didn't even twitch. He did say, "I'm getting Justin back," as Dan crept out of the room, back downstairs to his bed.
The whole thing, that started with a phone call about another fucking stupid awards show had bent, twisted into some bizarre nightmare. Dan laughed grimly, himself, when he realized that Jacob had been right about them not going, probably for the first time in his life. He choked off the giggling, abruptly, when he heard footsteps and dull thuds upstairs, but didn't go up to investigate.
Dan stayed downstairs for three days, because he could hear things.
The other guys acted as if life was normal, but every time something bumped too close to their door, or too loudly, Ashley would jump and Erik would shake his head sadly.
He watched Jacob and Trevor arguing over who was going to clean the bathroom this time, and wondered if a person could get used to anything, even a crazed maniac upstairs systematically destroying his house. When they needed toilet paper earlier, Dan had drawn the short straw and therefore had to venture up to get some. There was a horrific mess in Lance's guest bedroom, the mattress ripped open, things broken. The living room was already half-destroyed, the huge mirror smashed and laying in a zillion pieces on the floor. There was a little blood on the couch, but not enough to suggest a crisis, so Dan let it go, just thankful that Lance wasn't around.
He had also grabbed some food from the kitchen too, laden his arms down with everything he could carry, because Lance had forgotten to bring them anything to eat for two days or so. Dan thought that maybe Lance had forgotten to eat, himself.
Dan was trying to find some way of sneaking up to cook some food, instead of eating dry packets of things, when he heard Lance arguing in his study. "What do you mean, you thought it would be best not to tell me!" His voice was shrill, which was really weird coming from Lance. "I've been busting my ass off, I've been going crazy here, and Justin showed up at your house this morning?"
He couldn't hear Johnny's response, but Dan figured it was something in the realm of an apology, because Lance sounded slightly mollified. "Okay, fine. I'm coming over then."
Lance passed right by the closet in which Dan was hiding without seeing him, and drove off in bare feet.
"Lance!" Justin grinned a little, but his voice was urgent. "Lance, you're hurting me, let go okay?" Lance let go, a little, but kept a tight grip on Justin's shoulders. Justin coughed, and tried to pull away. "I can't breathe, man."
Eventually, they pried Lance off Justin. Chris grinned, even though he was sipping coffee weakly and shading his eyes any time the sun peeked out from behind the clouds. JC was curled up in a deck chair, already smiling. Joey was standing, a little farther away, but he put a reassuring hand on Lance's shoulder. Lance finally sat down. "So tell me what happened."
Johnny started with 'well', but Justin jumped in before he could get any further. "Kevin let me go." He rubbed the back of his neck, self-consciously. "He said I couldn't write."
Lance blinked, with the matter-of-fact way that Justin said it. Justin had always been proud of his songs before. Finally, JC said, "I'm just glad you're back home. Now things can get back to normal around here."
In the next three minutes, Kelly called to tell Joey that Aaron needed some books from the library for a school report, so they wouldn't be home when he got home, JC answered his phone to Bambi or Heidi or whateverthefuck her name was needing tampons and ice cream, and Lance waited for his to ring too. It didn't, but he knew that O-Town needed more food and hair gel. Ashley used hair gel like it was going out of style.
Joey slapped the banister, which made Justin jump. He was skittish, it was obvious, skittish and nervous, despite being at home. Lance fumed quietly. Joey said, "Let's go and celebrate, guys."
Before they left, Justin hugged him again, tightly, holding Lance against him. "If you hadn't been there, Lance," he said quietly, too quietly for the rest of them to hear, "I don't know what I would have done. Everyone else was freaking out when I talked to them; you were the only person who kept me sane."
"Right," Lance replied faintly. "Of course," he said, and mentally reviewed how to get through Kevin's security.
Johnny, eyeing Chris surreptitiously, coughed. "Why don't we just go for coffee instead? I'm sure Justin's had enough fun for one lifetime."
"Okay," Joey replied, and opened the door for JC to get into his car. They'd driven in together, were the first people Johnny had called. Lance had been the last.
Chris got in behind Justin, and was muttering quietly to Justin when Lance got in beside them. "What?"
Justin looked back. He looked nervous again, ready to bolt, like Ashley had been looking lately. "Chris was just saying that you didn't, uh, really have it all together."
Lance felt his cheek twitch a little bit. He put a hand on Chris's knee, down where Justin couldn't really see, and squeezed. Chris yelped. Lance said, "Chris is exaggerating. There were moments, sure."
As Johnny drove them past Lance's car, down his driveway, Justin frowned, puzzled, forgetting what Chris said. He stared out the window. "What happened to your car?"
Lance let go of Chris. Chris stared at him, narrowing his eyes, mouthing 'leave him alone' and waving a hand frantically, urgently. Lance shrugged, leaning against the seat. To Justin he said, "Oh. Nothing."