They've traveled up the coast together, up the coast and down the coast and criss-crossed the whole country on tour more times than either of them can count. And they've done it together; except for the other guys and everyone else being around all the time. But they've traveled all over together, trying desperately to keep each other up.
There's a lot more to everyone's lives than they ever say; a lot more to it and them than anyone ever says. "The trick," someone tells Justin, "is to figure out what matters and leave the rest of it alone."
This is how it starts.
Lance looks over at Justin, dancing and moving, and thinks, 'oh'. Looking for a catch, some punch line or maneuver, he wanders up to Justin with a couple of Cokes. His has rum in it. Justin's is virgin. Lance opens his mouth, and instead of a witty line to go along with the plan, he says, "Let's go home together."
Justin raises an eyebrow and takes Lance's glass. He sniffs it, says, "Oh, that explains it." Lance is just getting ready to be offended when Justin adds, "okay."
And that's it, that's the only talking they do.
Joey says, the next morning, "So, you finally told Justin?"
Lance says, "I guess so. It was kind of an accident."
"Nothing happens by accident, young padawan." Joey flicks him, continues, "all things happen for a reason. Why else would we be here?"
"Shut up, man," and Lance laughs at him for a while. Joey shrugs, complacent, knowing the universe has its reasons.
Justin wakes up at three fifteen. He's staring at his watch, waiting for it to say three sixteen. The smell of the bus is a little stale, a little dead, and there's very little that's going to get him back to sleep any time soon.
His legs are all tangled up, and he can't see anything except the top of his bunk and there's nothing that reminds him of where he is. Justin goes up to the front, to open a window, let some new blood in. Insomnia is always a problem. Insomnia is a symptom, maybe, of a much larger problem. He can hear Lance snoring, lightly.
Three seventeen. Three eighteen.
Justin kneels down carefully, watches Lance breathe. He pokes Lance, once, again, once again. They share a bunk rarely, either sleeping in the lounge or falling into bunks separately. Rarely do they share. It never feels like the right time to ask.
Justin pokes Lance, quietly says, "Hey, are you awake?"
"Mmmmm," and Lance rolls over onto his side, cracks an eye. His hair is sticking up, a lot. "Am now. Whatcha want?"
Justin sits back on his heels. "It's quarter past three."
Lance pulls Justin's wrist to his face, squints at it. "Three twenty. Get in." He moves over, slides over enough so that Justin can crawl in.
"What do you mean you think I'm spacey?"
Lance pulls the covers up over his head, it's something he plain doesn't want to think about right now because this is Justin and Justin might talk about it all night.
Justin sits on the bed, narrowly missing Lance's foot. "I'm not spacey. I just think a lot. My thoughts are in motion."
Lance peeks one eye and his nose out from under the hotel duvet. His mouth follows. "You seriously don't call staring off into space on national television while someone is talking spacey? Not even a little?"
"Fuck off," and it's amicable and Lance can't figure out why they're discussing it. Justin starts taking his clothing off, his voice muffled as he gets caught in his tee-shirt while Lance watches from under the covers. Caught in his tee-shirt. It must be love or there'd be laughter, and even the voice that Lance thinks it in is dry and sarcastic. Justin mumbles, "I was wondering how many people in the audience were there to see us."
"Oh, well then."
"No," and Justin slips under the covers, tucks them around himself like he always does. "Like, how many people came to see us, specifically, and how many just came to see Leno."
"You're insane," and Lance checks his watch. "We have to be up in six hours."
Justin curls up on him like always, too, and murmurs, "Sex in the morning is always better." Justin likes to sleep near Lance, no matter what crazy thing he's muttering.
Justin doesn't want to talk about it and still, it's love.
"Stop yelling at me," he says, quietly. "I get the point."
Lance narrows his eyes. "I wasn't yelling."
"Close enough," and Justin isn't yelling at all, isn't raising his voice, is barely whispering. "All you want to do is talk or yell about everything we do."
"You," Lance pauses, frustrated. "That's part of a relationship, Justin, you remember? All that bullshit about communication and honesty?"
Somewhere, out there, it's raining. Somewhere in here it's raining, too.
"I remember," JC says fondly, "that look on your face. Who is he?" Lance shrugs, and JC's eyes widen. "Oh," he says, quietly.
Lance purses his lips. "Don't look at me like that." He doesn't say anything else.
JC lets his breath out, says, "It's no better than Joey."
Lance shrugs. Joey was a thing that Lance did, back when Lance did things that were unattainable yet could have been perfect. In a different lifetime, of course, where Joey wasn't straight. That's Joey, straight but perfect. Lance replies, "You can't really pick who, now can you. It just happens."
That's a lie and they both know it.
"It's not that I don't want to talk about it," and Justin runs a comb through his hair, puts a little mascara on.
"Then what?" Lance is standing in the doorway to the bathroom, feeling for all the world like some kind of obstacle to Justin's freedom and resenting it. He crosses his arm over his chest. "You just want to avoid me unless you want something?"
Justin doesn't turn around. "That's not fair," and it's not, Justin is more than fair to him.
"We want different things," and that might be the sound of heartbreak or just the street outside. New York in the winter, Lance has always hated it, ever since their first TRL performance where he couldn't stay awake in the van after. "We want different things, and you can't get around that." He swallows. "You can't deny it."
"Are you," Justin says, startled. "Yeah, we want different things, but everyone always wants different things."
It's not stubborn, Lance tells himself this as he opens the door. "Look," but now there's nothing left to say, so he doesn't, and he leaves and thinks about falling asleep in the van, how long he'll be able to nap, and not about falling asleep with Justin, Justin's arm around him even though he thought Justin hated sleeping close to anyone.
Lance means everything he does, but that doesn't mean that everything he does is a good idea. He has to remind himself that when you don't talk about it, you can't call it love, especially when Justin's radio is up full, and the windshield wipers are going, one-two, one-two, one-two. All the little details are magnified, it takes him forever to drift off into dreamland.
Certain things are universal. The smell of baking, shooting stars, the pain of loss.
"What are you willing to give up?" Lance asks. "That's the real question. You know? Like, we can fight and--"
"No." Justin's eyes are big, full of rain even inside. "No, let's not."
"No," and Justin shakes his head. "We shouldn't have to do this."
"Well," and just as Lance gets ready to start arguing again, Justin gets up off the bed and goes out into the hall. Justin could have stayed right outside the door, waiting to knock. He could have run straight down floor flights of stairs. Lance doesn't know.
"You left your shirt," Lance says, hollowly, and sits down right in the warm patch where Justin left. The comforter is already cooling.
He's on his knees, the carpet itchy and leaving red marks. Hotel carpet, hotels, hotels, more hotels. "Please don't leave me with just a memory," and it's sincere, Justin is always sincere.
"Rehearsal," and the tone is civil. Distant.
"Right," and Justin sighs. Whatever he's done was an accident but it's too late and it's too bad.
"I don't get it," Joey says, wiping Brianna off with a wet nap. "You're still in love with him."
No question about it. Justin nods, playing with Brianna's hands as Joey gets her diaper on. She smiles at him, wide and happy and there's nothing Justin wouldn't give to get back to being that age. "Yeah, of course I am."
"Okay, baby," Joey croons. He picks Brianna up, out of Justin's reach. "All done. And he's still in love with you, so, what's the problem?"
Justin sinks down, onto the couch.
The first time, it's just so easy, kissing in the limo and then: "I hope you know what you're doing," and Lance grins, leans in coyly.
Justin grins back. Lance is so cute. "Of course I do."
Chris says, "Do you know what you're doing?"
Lance immediately puts his face in his hands, because this conversation could have so waited until after the show. "Do I know what I'm doing what?" Chris doesn't bother elaborating, and after a moment, Lance stands up. "I should go."
"Just be with him for real, already," and Chris curses as his car smashes against the wall in the game, leans back. "Christ. Just get involved. It's not difficult."
Lance stands up. "I gotta go. I have work to do." Chris waggles his fingers at Lance over his shoulder, restarting his game. Lance starts moving towards the bunks, shuffling his feet and wishing that there were more places he could go for some peace and quiet on tour.
"Look," and suddenly Chris is right beside him as Lance is staring off into space. "You've found someone, just admit it."
Lance wrinkles his nose, looks at Chris, looks down the aisle to their bunks. "I dunno if this counts, man. It's Justin. I mean, yeah," and they both ignore the little painful halt, "but like, it's Justin."
Chris narrows his eyes, but not in anger, in something like pity. "Exactly."
"Listen," and Justin's perfectly still.
He points out the window, and a streak of lightning flashes across the sky in front of them, takes its time getting to the ground. The air rings out with a muffled 'boom'. Justin's eyes are wide. "Thunder."
Lance smiles. "And rain."
"And lightning." This one time, they had sex against a big bay window while a lightning storm lit up all of Los Angeles, some freak weather and they took advantage of it, Justin naked and looking out over the ocean and the rain. Justin holds a hand up, palm outstretched. "Come and sit with me."
"Maybe," Justin says, fingers rubbing Lance's head gently, "maybe we're just seeds, scattered. And like, we're supposed to all find a place to take root." His voice is quiet, thoughtful. "Nothing but seeds."
"You're such a freak," and Justin's fingers tug on his hair, but he's laughing. Lance chuckles, plays with Justin's fingers against the blanket. "Well, you are."
Justin giggles. "Okay, yeah, I am."
"So, you taken root yet, baby?"
Justin tries to shrug, with Lance laying on top of him. "I dunno. I mean, I own a house at twenty, but. I dunno."
"Should I be worried that you're gonna start asking to be watered?" Lance says, and then yelps as Justin moves to try and bite him. "Well, I'm just saying!"
"If I wake up to a watering can in our bed--" Justin replies, leaving the threat hanging.
"All right already!" and they subside back into quiet. Laying on the little lounger together, the only part of outside they can see through the tinted glass of the bus is the black sky and the bright stars, somewhere in the middle of Oregon and in the middle of a forest. The tops of trees and bright stars.
Justin snaps, "I don't want to, we shouldn't have to talk about it all the time, okay! That's what I think."
"Justin," Lance says, lips pressed together and thin. "You can't just believe in me, in us, and expect to make it work."
It's the first time Justin's gotten angry in long while, the first time anything that Lance has said really makes him want to yell. He bites out, "how can you say that? I mean, that's the only thing you can do, you believe in something and make it work."
"Give me your hand," Justin says, giggling again.
"Just," and Justin grabs Lance's hand, pulls it towards him and squints at the palm. "My mom used to go to this psychic down the road, when I was a kid. I used to read her books."
Lance raises an eyebrow. "You're gonna read my palm?"
"Well," and Justin's tongue is sticking out, as he runs his fingers over the lines in Lance's hand. "I can try. I only remember a little."
Lance's face, as he reclines against the headboard, is oddly serious. "So tell me my fortune."
Justin bends over, spine curved perfectly. He looks, runs a fingernail over what he remembers is the lifeline. All of a sudden he's picturing the two of them at thirty, forty, sixty, with a house in Hollywood maybe, and a couple of dogs. Justin'll cook on the weekends and record in their home studio, while Lance goes to work during the week, and they'll be happy and old. At the same time, Justin is envisioning their second ever conversation on the phone, Justin taking Lance and Diane's flight information down, the gulp as Lance said, "But, someone's gonna be there? To pick us up?"
All of those hours and years ahead seem as confident and easy as Justin's answer was back then: "Of course we'll be there. Don't worry."
He traces the wrinkles on Lance's hand, slowly, repetitively. There's something here, something huge and wordless. His mouth and throat and voice just aren't -- loud enough, or big enough maybe, to express it.
Lance chuckles, suddenly. "So, Mr. Timberlake -- what can I expect?"
A house with a pool, maybe, and a place for Joey's kids to play; a nice office for the both of them. Family coming and going, roots. Justin squints some more, strokes the back of Lance's hand with his thumb. "Well." He leans over even further, and kisses Lance's palm gently. Lance shivers, and Justin murmurs, "you're gonna have a long and exciting life."
Sometimes Justin makes Lance so angry Lance wants to scream at him.
Normally he doesn't, because even when he and Stacy used to fight he never screamed at her, never threw things and never hit things. Justin though, sometimes, Lance'd like to hit.
Well, Justin and Joey and JC and Chris. It's part of being in a band. He loves all of them -- it's just sometimes they make him so angry. Not even for any reason, just some stupid little thing they're doing and you just can't help but feel your blood boil.
Justin will brush people off when they're angry with him. He tends to make everything casual and cool. He'll say something like, "duly noted", in a flippant tone, and then keep throwing the football around in the bus anyway. And when him and Chris almost break the television, Lance'll want to yell, "Look, dumbass, look what you almost did!"
But he doesn't. Because that's not really how he fights. He gets colder and colder and colder and bites his lip and slams his hand against the little bus cabinet.
Sometimes, Lance has to make Justin so angry, he wants to scream, too.
But he doesn't. He'll bite his lip, and look with narrowed eyes, and he'll growl, "You've got enough of me, I'm not gonna fight about this," and then he'll leave. Justin normally leaves, rather than have a fight. He normally lets his blood boil in private, stews for a while, a short while, and then forgets about it. No matter who he's angry at, eventually it's not important enough to lose any sleep over.
Justin says, "What about me bugs you?"
"Nothing," Lance replies automatically.
"Come on," and Justin leers up at him, smile wide and teeth white. "I'm laying on your stomach right now, you're in a very dangerous position. Humor me."
"Well," and Lance thinks for a second. "You should know that you aren't, in fact, hysterically funny all the time. In fact, often you're not funny at all."
Justin grins. "That's Chris's annoying habit, thinking he's funny all the time."
"No, see," and Lance grins back, "Chris is funny all the time. You just think you are."
"There is no way Chris is funny all the time," Justin replies, shuffling. "I fucking love him and he cracks me up, but he's not even funny half the time."
"Yes he is." Lance is only half-listening.
"You know, you with your Velveeta and, thing, that wasn't funny at all." Justin says it quietly. "I laughed cause it was kinda sad."
Lance sits up, and Justin falls off his lap. "Look, if you're trying to hurt my feelings or something."
"No." Justin's elbow digs into Lance's hip by accident, as he pushes himself up too. "I wasn't. I just. You were trying to hurt mine, though."
"No I wasn't."
"Yes you were."
"No I wasn't."
"Yes you--" Justin shakes his head. "We definitely spend too much time together. That thing bugs me."
Lance shrugs, has nothing to say to that, leans in instead. They kiss, and Lance pulls away first, not because he wants to. He says, "I think we should stop," as if it's something you can just stop one day.
Justin narrows his eyes. "You do."
"Yeah," and helpless all of a sudden, Lance works his mouth for a minute. "I just don't see where, I don't see. I."
"We shouldn't," Justin replies, as if it's obvious.
Justin treats their relationship as if it's special, as if it's part magic. As if they were back in high school, when love was still romantic, not taken for granted like it is now. Before it was just a cheap advertising gimmick.
"Come on, just say it, what's wrong?" And Justin has been asking and asking and asking, wearing down Lance's defenses until there isn't anything left to keep the words in.
Lance says, "I love you, then, that's just saying it," and can't believe that the first time he's telling Justin 'I love you' is in a frustrated voice and he's about to leave.
"What do you think?" and Justin holds up two shirts.
Lance points, chewing a bagel and trying to get his hair to sit right. "That one."
Justin kisses Lance's cheek, murmurs, "Thanks, baby."
They fuck, again, before driving to the airport. Lance touches his fingers to his cheek the whole drive.
"You want to talk about it, fine. I'll say something," and Justin's off pacing, long stride. "I've figured you out. You didn't want to be involved."
"I," and Lance looks up at him, a little wrinkle in his forehead.
Justin's face softens momentarily. "Oh, I know," he replies. "You are involved. But you didn't just fall for me or anything. It wasn't an accident."
Lance keeps his face very still. He doesn't answer.
"Look," and Justin sounds pissed. "I'm not just, safe, or something. Surprise, I love you back. Now what?"
They look at each other from across the room.
"I'm not worried."
JC nods. Justin adds, "He's gonna come around." JC nods again. "You just wait. I mean, he gets really angry, but he'll come around. I didn't," and Justin falters. "I didn't do anything. He'll come around."
JC nods again.
"You sleep with your eyes open."
Lance doesn't look up. "What now?"
Justin puts the pick back on his guitar, strums it softly then places it back into the case. "You." He snaps the lid shut. "You sleep with your eyes open. It's freaky."
"Okay..." Lance's tone is dubious, skeptical.
Justin replies, "Telling the truth, man. I can see the whites of your eyes if I watch you sleep."
"You're watching me sleep now?" Lance has turned around all the way, dumped his work off his lap and onto the floor, papers wrinkling. "Can I call you my stalker yet?"
"Only," and Justin sidles up to him, curls up to Lance's side and lays his head on Lance's shoulder, "if you'll be my star."
Lance shifts around so that Justin can lean against him. Justin's height is a disadvantage at times like this, but he gets around it. Justin's curls are just barely brushing Lance's cheek; Lance says softly, smiling, "That's stupid."
Justin nods, mouth upturned, settles one arm around Lance comfortably. He buries his face into Lance's shoulder, and kisses Lance's neck as he replies happily, "Yep."
Justin flops back. "Christ."
Lance nods, settling more daintily but as wearily onto the couch. "Yep."
They moved past actual communication about three counties back, and are verging now on comatose. All day on the road, even if you aren't the one driving, is exhausting. At least, it seems to be lately.
Justin sighs, looks at his hot dog. "I'm so tired, I can't even eat this."
Lance looks at him. "Aww, baby."
"Fuck off." Justin leans over, and throws it into the garbage can.
Lance puts the last of his hot dog into his mouth, chewing slowly. The napkin, he drops onto the floor, too lazy to even lean over Justin and reach the garbage. When he swallows, he says, "You."
"Whatever." Justin toes off one shoe, and then has to take a break. "I will, later."
Lance stretches his legs out, pointing his toes, and then collapses against the couch. He tilts over slowly, and ends up laying in Justin's lap. "I hope you don't want to right now."
Justin puts a hand in Lance's hair. "Uh."
Lance closes his eyes. "Yeah. Good."
"Yeah." Justin closes his too. This is just road-weary. His fingers curl around Lance's scalp, and Justin feels Lance sigh, content, into his leg, wrapping a hand around Justin's knee in his sleep.
"Come to bed."
"Lance," and this is going up the coast, up the coast and onto the beach, into the waves somehow. "Come to bed. I didn't mean it."
"Yes you did." But Lance comes. Justin can't even remember what they were arguing about, didn't care at the time and doesn't now. Lance gets under the covers. "Yes you did."
Their first fight, Justin walked away and plain didn't speak to Lance until wardrobe and the other guys demanded it. Justin's always better at walking from, than into, a fight, so it's second nature to just say "okay" and roll over to sleep.
Lance says, irritated, "What, that's it?" Justin doesn't roll back to face him, even though it'll probably be their last night in a real bed for quite a while. Lance mumbles "fine," and turns to face the other way, but they're going to sleep together because now Justin's gotten used to it. He can't, won't, give it up. Not for anything. They're sleeping together and it's for real.
Justin mumbles into his shoulder, "you scared me. I thought you wanted to break up."
"I didn't want to," Lance mumbles back, into Justin hair. "I didn't want to. I bet," and Lance gulps, putting his arms around Justin, "that we'll be good together."
"Bet me a smoothie," says Justin, and shuffles up in Lance's arms to kiss Lance on the mouth. His lips are icy and wet, sticky. Lance kisses back, and tightens his grip.