there is a house in new orleans
they call the rising sun
and it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
and god i know i'm one

my mother was a tailor
she sewed my new blue jeans
my father was a gambling man
down in new orleans

--"house of the rising sun"


Thanks go to, in no particular order: k8 and kate for the betas, Ashlan for help with last minute scenes, alestar for somehow sticking me with Justin/JC in the first place, Cathy because she listens to me bitch constantly and falstaff for the song at the last minute. Aisling, for being obsessed with the tragic penguin in Knoxville. nsync, for making their celebrity tour and telling us the new orleans story. The show 'Profiler' for having things to rip off; the game 'Gabriel Knight' for having things to rip off.
Also, I have never tried the whole, picture thing for a fic, so.

rising sun


JC saw the first sign when they were in the French Quarter of New Orleans. He told everyone on the Celebrity tour, every single night, that New Orleans was home of the blues.

That part of the story was true.

They were wandering past a cafe, actually on Bourbon Street, and blues was coming out of every doorway. Their clothes were sticking to them, and JC suddenly clutched his head in pain, eyes rolling into the back of his head. Lonnie rushed forward, while Rob and Tiny made sure they couldn't be seen.

It wasn't a song, though, and he didn't have a brilliant new idea for the tour like they told everyone. It was a flash in his head of a girl, about twenty, shoved in a dumpster and one high heel hanging over the side limply.

"I, feel a bit chilled, guys," JC mumbled, eyes fixed on something beyond the rest of their grasp. Justin stared over JC's shoulder, at an insect buzzing around a few feet away.

And then JC fainted as Justin watched, two steps behind Chris and three in front of Joey, falling to the ground like a little doll.


"I know what I saw, don't patronise me--"

"JC," Joey said, "you were hot, you were maybe. Maybe you were just, seeing things, that." Joey looked around for support helplessly. "We've all been under a lot of stress..."

"I know what I saw," and JC's voice held steel. Justin never asked him what that was, how he knew, what he knew.

After a big argument, Johnny did call the police department, called them and told them what JC instructed him to, tight lipped and curt, standing in the other room and clutching the receiver. They didn't take Johnny very seriously. Justin wasn't very surprised.

In the morning, the NOPD called Johnny back, before anyone had showered or gotten ready. At the time of the call, Justin hadn't even gotten out of bed. Someone, a young sergeant by the sound of it, offered to come by the hotel and give them the details.

They did find the girl in a dumpster, just like JC said. As the officer explained, JC nodded grimly, eyes wet. Justin covered his mouth with a shaking hand, pressing against his own lips firmly. JC's eyes looked like they were bleeding saltwater, like his tears were seeping out. "Did." Joey gripped JC's bicep. "Was she in a lot of pain before she died?"

The NOPD officer shook his head, muttered, "It was probably painless."

JC nodded, mutely. Justin's fingers shook.

"Here's a number you can call," and Chris reached out when no one else did, nodded. The officer added, "you could light some candles tonight in his room. It might help."

The officer said there were signs of voodoo. He explained about the little charm around the girl's neck, told them how it was spattered in olive oil and blood. She'd been at a party. JC had seen it somehow. Candles were soothing.

JC nodded weakly, as Joey patted his flushed forehead with a damp cloth. "Voodoo," JC had echoed, voice dim in the candle-lit room.

Justin hated New Orleans after that.


In the middle of the night, Justin woke up, and heard JC get up to be sick in their shared bathroom.

He padded out of his own room, down the hallway to tap on JC's door. JC called out, "I'm okay," and Justin frowned. He stood a long time, staring at JC's door, trying to decide whether JC would appreciate him going in or not. He stood there so long that JC opened the door himself. "Yeah?"

"I heard, uh." Justin fidgeted. He peered into the room. The candles were burning low, wax dripping onto the muted hotel dresser, the bureau, everywhere. A hundred white candles, just like the officer had suggested, to help JC sleep, even though they raised the temperature of the room to just past unbearable. A hundred candles, and the air conditioner off, because JC had asked.

Justin had lit twenty himself. Twenty for him, twenty each for the other guys, JC bending from the waist carefully as he lit his, not wanting to spill a drop of wax on the floor. Now, there were pools of it, crusted and hot, smelling like vanilla and grease.

JC rubbed his face. "I'm okay, really."

Justin nodded, staring around. He said hopelessly, "What a mess."

JC grinned weakly. "We'll pay for it, I guess." He finally stood back, allowing Justin entrance. Justin stepped carefully around the floor in his bare feet, toes digging into the soft carpet.

The bed was made up, the blankets wrinkled from where JC had passed out on them earlier, fully clothed. JC sat down on the bed, on the wrinkled side. "You want to know what's going on, don't you."

"We all do," and Justin shrugged, sitting down too. "I'm really worried about you."

JC nodded, finally, and kicked his shoes and socks off, took off his shirt so he was dressed in just track pants. "Okay. Well, I was dreaming, and what I saw, I saw, um." He swallowed. "Anyway. I saw something."

Justin stared at a flickering candle, the tip dancing a little bit, sputtering. It was one that Joey had lit, he was sure of it. A Joey-candle. "What did you see?" Justin asked, even though he still wasn't sure he wanted to know.

JC started to wring his hands. "Did Chris tell you about what I saw yesterday? Like, what it looked like. What."

He trailed off, and Justin shook his head mutely. When the rest of them had asked, once Chris put JC to bed, Chris hadn't said anything except that he was going to sleep, and then stared at Justin in such a way.

It was the same way that Diane had stared at him, one time in Europe, right before she'd told him that there were ghosts in the hotel. Justin hadn't believed her, but Diane was terrified, was shocked into speechlessness by whatever she saw. She hadn't ever elaborated. Chris had looked exactly like that.

JC added, "I don't know if I can talk about it right now."

Justin rubbed his back, carefully, said, "Okay, I'm sorry," and then got up to go. He made his way back through the little piles of wax, trying to avoid them. He knocked a candle over anyway, the flame dying out and the hot wax burning his foot. He yelped, and JC's head whipped up from the bed. "Sorry," Justin said lamely.

JC nodded gravely, and Justin gulped, rubbed his mouth. He stood up, muttering an excuse, and went. New Orleans had seemed like such a good place to rehearse at the time. Big tour, big city. A pop odyssey, a new place, a journey. They never read the fine print.

In his room, Justin examined the burn, the red blistering area on the top of his foot. It stung a lot.


Joey and Justin went in to wake JC in the morning, shook him gently and then stepped back. They were due at the rehearsal space in an hour. JC came awake with a start, sweat dripping down his face. Justin noticed nailmarks in JC's palms. He asked, "What were you dreaming about?"

JC's eyes flickered, to the radio in the corner, stuck between AM stations and broadcasting static. He answered, "Nothing."


"JC," Johnny said, eyes grave. "JC, you're talking about a dead religion, one practiced by a handful of people here in New Orleans, Haiti, and a few other places."

JC held onto the pamphlet that Chris had dropped into his lap, slick with sweat stains -- everything in the last week had been slick with sweat, even their knees and the hard floor of their rooms -- and stared at Johnny, haunted. "I saw her face, you know," he said hollowly. "As he slid the knife into her neck. I saw her face."

Johnny folded his hands. "I know, JC."

"She was blonde," JC echoed. The pamphlet crumpled up in his hands. Justin winced to see it, winced to see JC's cracked fingernails against the glossy paper. Chris had gone through the whole of the French quarter, looking for a museum or a charm store to get JC something, anything.

Johnny squeezed his hands together in sympathy. "I know, JC. I know." He didn't sound very casual or calm about it. Justin wondered who Johnny would call for JC to talk to, which high priced doctor he might call in, if things got out of hand. Justin wondered if Johnny would stay, in the initial sessions, or whether he'd shut the door and then lean against the wall, face in his hands.

JC looked up at Johnny, and then very carefully smoothed the pamphlet onto the coffee table. "I think," he said carefully, "that you should read this. And that I should have a nap."

It was the first time Justin had spoken in over an hour. He said, "Jayce," and it came out cracked like JC's fingers.


They heard JC calling out in his sleep, thrashing around. The blanket had fallen to the floor, and even with the fan on full, right on his face, JC still poured buckets of sweat out every pore. It soaked his sheets and made the room smell, made the air thick with it even with the windows open. There was no breeze from the street, the air in JC's room sat, lodged tightly. Breathing was next to impossible. Twice he called out a name, muffled by his pillow. The only sound was the fan, whirring and buzzing. When he woke up, he bolted upright, hands clenching the wet fabric, knuckles locked.


"There's no way we can keep this rehearsal schedule. We're supposed to go on tour in a month." Johnny looked from Chris to JC and back. "He won't listen to me, but maybe he'll listen to you."

"No, he won't. And you're not going to tell the press anything, either." Chris had his hands folded quietly in his lap.

Johnny stared at him hopelessly, and then glanced at JC, pacing from window to bed to Chris and back again. Justin tucked his feet under him, in his armchair, and watched JC's pattern around the room. "There's no point in arguing this, is there."

Chris said, "No."

JC made his way from Chris's side to the window again. He didn't even look out, just walked from the dirty windowpane to the four poster bed. Johnny said quietly, "I need to see you outside, Chris."

Chris got up and followed Johnny out the sliding door onto the balcony, like one little duckling. They cut in front of JC, who barely noticed, and Justin peered out after them. Chris faced Johnny, looking more serious than Chris normally did. Justin could hear them through the screen.

"I talked to him when he woke up this morning," Chris said, "and he says he's fine."

"He's not, though." Justin saw Johnny glance at his watch. "It's over a month away -- we have time to postpone still--"

"No," and Chris was cast in shadow, like from some movie. "And don't tell the press anything. He'll focus." A bit of a snort. "This is JC. I know he can do it."

Chris sounded sure. Johnny looked at his watch again. The strap was making a sweaty little mark against his wrist, Justin could barely see it if he tilted his head and squinted his eyes. "Tell him," Johnny said finally, "to get some rest, and I'll see him at rehearsal tonight."

Chris raised an eyebrow. "You're sticking around?"

Johnny slid the screen open again, and nodded curtly. Chris folded his arms over his chest again, and hunched over a little bit. Justin thought about Johnny staying around for these early sessions, and thought Johnny must have been scared.


JC fainted again between "Two of Us" and "Space Cowboy", right while they were doing a run through of some of the new choreography, with the first of the pyro tests going on in the background, the lingering crackles leaving white noise and ringing in everyone's ears.

His arms fell out of their perfectly posed move, fell limply to his sides, and then his knees gave way. Justin heard the crack of his head against the rehearsal floor, but Joey reached him first.

The medic was already running towards them, hauling himself up to their practise area with both hands on the railing. Joey stepped out of his way, and the medic kneeled down beside JC's prone form. "Well," he finally announced. "I think he'll be all right."

Chris was pacing back and forth, Lance was standing off to the side, looking down. Joey was crouching beside JC's head, looking anxious. Chris stepped on Justin's foot, tripping akwardly. Glaring at the medic when he recovered, Chris said sourly, "Right. Fine, except he's still unconscious."

The medic straightened up. "He seems to be." He coughed. "Asleep."

Ron, Justin thought. The medic's name was Ron. Joey grimaced. "Asleep? Like narcolepsy asleep?"

The medic looked from Chris to Joey and back again. Lance walked off without a word, and Justin heard him go off the stage and yell at someone to bring him some water. Justin could feel the heat from the pyro that they'd just lit off, still, heat and burning that had somehow gotten under his skin. He mumbled, "voodoo."

Chris looked up sharply. Joey stroked JC's hair helplessly, JC's skin surely cold and clammy against his fingers. The medic glanced away.


JC woke up with Justin's hand holding his gently. Their fingers were disgusting and sweaty. He was laying on the couch in the fake Quiet Room, and Justin gulped, snatching his hand away.

"Hey," JC said, quietly. He tried to sit up, and his head started pounding. "What happened?"

"You, you fell," Justin blurted. He was relieved to see JC awake, moving, even though the way in which JC's eyes rolled around, glancing at everything in the room in turn, was more than a little disconcerting.

JC sat up more carefully, rubbing his forehead. "I don't remember that. There was just, another face, and a circus poster?" His voice raised at the end, questioning. No answer seemed forthcoming.

"Oh," Justin said. The room smelled like vanilla candles, ones that JC had brought to practice with him. "What do you think it means?"

JC shrugged. The candles weren't lit, and aside from getting his lighter out, Justin didn't know what else he could do. He asked, "Do you need anything?"

"A decent night's sleep," JC replied, with a watery smile. Justin fingered his lighter in his pocket. He was exhausted from dancing all day.


They went out for dinner, to some Chinese dive that Johnny had cleared out, and had a real sit-down dinner. The place had air conditioning, and a hunched old lady who spoke at them in rapid Mandarin. Justin ate roast duck and orange sauce and bean sprouts and a lot of other things he couldn't identify, and didn't taste them. He ate, and thought about the old zombie movies they used to watch on TV in the hotel rooms at night; how the zombie eyes looked a little like JC's, glassy and dark and dry.

The Chinese woman brought them all fortune cookies, too. Justin heard the first snap, and glanced over at Chris with a bit of trepidation. Chris snorted. " 'You will soon be in the limelight.' I'm in."

Joey snatched the little piece of paper out of Chris's hand. "Score! You can have my cookie."

Chris glumly grabbed another cookie, and snapped it open. He read it, got a bit of a smile, and then ate the cookie itself in one bite. Justin raised an eyebrow. "So what'd you get?"

"None of your damned business. Open your own."

JC was staring down at the piece of paper in his hands. Justin leaned over his shoulder, to read. " 'The art of keeping secrets will be your key to success'. What the hell kind of fortune is that?" He tried to laugh, but all that came out was a nervous little chuckle, which he swallowed down.

Chris leaned over, plucking the piece of paper from JC's slender fingers. "It's just a fortune cookie."

The chopsticks on the table were plastic, and slender too. Justin dropped his fortune, let it fall into the pink sweet and sour sauce in a puddle on his plate, without reading it.


That night, JC fell asleep in the sweaty room and dreamed of fruit, juicy and ripe. He woke up to the continual buzzing of the air conditioner, whirring gently away. Justin didn't sleep, listening to the soft hum of JC's fan.


Rehearsal was cancelled the next day, Johnny said, because they needed some time to work on the revised tour schedule. JC stamped out of the suite, Chris holding a hand up to the rest of the guys. Justin tried to squash his resentment that Chris had gotten there first, and holed up in his hotel room, writing, for the rest of the morning.

He ventured out for lunch, walking about a half-block along the street before having to duck into a bakery to avoid the mugginess and the temperature. Tiny trailed after him. No one was in the bakery except them and the owner; Justin bought a half-dozen of some weird looking pastries, and a loaf of bread, and then strolled back to the hotel.

Joey was the only one around when he got back. Justin asked him, "So where did Chris and JC go?"

"I think," Joey said, frowning, "that they went to go look at some museum."

"You mean Chris took him to go look at all that voodoo stuff."

Joey shrugged. "Chris has been here before, man." Justin didn't know whether he liked the sound of that, but Joey didn't have anything else to say. Justin ate his pastries, offering one to both Tiny and Joey. They tasted weird, sweet and sugary.

JC didn't come back. Justin didn't save him one.


"Where were you?"

Chris rubbed his hand through his sticky hair, pulled off his visor and tossed it into the corner of the room. "No where."

JC spoke up from behind him. "We went to the cemetery."

"Did you." Justin paused. Chris's nose was red. It was going to peel. "Why?"

Chris looked uncomfortable. "There's. Sometimes people leave, stuff, there, I heard. We decided to check it out."

"Stuff." When Chris nodded, Justin added, "Like--"

JC held a hand up, and looked between the two of them. His face was beet red, and he stumbled a little, moving to the couch. Chris rubbed his neck, ran a hand through his hair again. Justin asked, "Are you okay?"

Johnny came in then, and JC's eyes flicked up to his face. Johnny said, "Okay. We're good, we're back on schedule for tomorrow." Without another word, he left.

JC fingered his necklace, and Justin saw it was a new necklace, or rather, another necklace. He couldn't see the pendent because JC had it between his fingers, was twisting it around and around until the leather cord was tight against his neck, then letting it out and twisting it back around the other way.

"I'm going to bed," Justin said, and tried not to feel jealous.


Driving to the venue, Justin noticed that JC stared out the car windows, down any alleys they passed. Once he put his hand up, as if to say, 'stop', and then dropped it onto the leather seat. Lonnie turned up the air conditioning. He went to put some music on, and then hesitated, fingers on the knob. The leather seat squeaked as JC shifted around.


Justin halted in his tracks as he saw JC coming out of the bathroom. "Hey," JC said, "what's." He scratched his head, and trailed off.

All cement floors were cold on bare feet, and even though it was over a hundred degrees outside, Justin's toes were cold. He stepped forward. JC's hand was wrapped around the back of his neck, making his elbow stick out, and Justin took the elbow in his hand carefully. "What's up?"

"I. What were we doing?" JC kept his hand on his neck.

In the distance Justin could hear the faint sound of a toilet flushing, over and over, water shushing in a continual loop. He felt foolish, holding JC's elbow, and dropped his arm. "We were rehearsing, you know?"

"Oh." JC's eyes closed, slowly, and then opened again. "Right. I was just." He turned around, looked at the bathroom door as if he'd never seen it before. "I was just, in there, I guess."

"You were in the can," Justin murmured, "and then what?"

"I." JC coughed, harsh and raspy. "Nothing."

Softer, Justin asked, "What did you see this time?"

He could barely hear JC's reply over the soft whirring of the fan. They had to keep the venue cool for rehearsals. "A boy, a twink, about eighteen. Dumped in a garbage can again."

"Oh, honey." It was out of Justin's mouth before he could reign it in, wistful, sad, and JC's dark eyes met his, finally clear and focused, narrowed, angry. Justin's toes curled up, tucked themselves in under the cuff of his pants, and he wished that he could take it back.

JC answered flatly, "It's time for rehearsal."


That night JC screamed out a name, 'Katie', and moaned as he opened his eyes. Justin stayed where he was, because he could already hear Chris and Lance going in, to talk to JC. He pulled his blankets up over his head, heard blood pounding in his ears.


The next rehearsal went surprisingly well; so well that they decided to test a couple of numbers with some of the lighting. JC kept it together, though he didn't speak unless he had to. His movements were less fluid, more automatic, but he was still perfect. They got four solid hours in before he fainted. Justin could have sworn he heard JC humming along right before he fell.

Joey called out for the on-call medic; Lance disappeared to find Johnny. Chris stood over JC with a little herb packet. Justin stared at Chris as Chris put the weird smelling satchel in JC's shivering palm. When Johnny showed up, he said sharply, "Put that away, Chris."


Johnny said quietly, steely, "Put it away." Chris did.

JC chose that moment to stir. He sat up, groggy, and looked around dreamily. He looked down at his arms, his stomach, lifted up his tee-shirt a little to peer at his bellybutton. Finally, in a monotone, he said, "I have a sunburn."

Justin took his arm, carefully, as he stood up, let JC lean on his shoulder. Chris and Joey backed up. "Yeah, a little bit."

His arm was dark scarlet, hairs pale and blond in comparison. Justin thought maybe his arm was too hot, maybe a little feverish, but JC wanted to perform, so he would perform. JC held his arm out, inspecting it. In the same monotone, he said, "Fuck, that's gonna hurt. Like, fuck, I'm sunburned," as if Justin, as if everyone, wasn't even there.

"Yeah, a little bit," Justin replied again. He could feel the top of his head sweating, half in anticipation of the stage lights they were about to go out under, half just because of the climate. JC's curls were damp and wouldn't behave. He looked at JC's hair, and then at JC himself, still staring at his forearm. JC's skin was soft and hurt.

"I wonder when I did that," JC asked dully. "Man. That's gonna hurt later."


"He was strangled." The officer waited, for a sign, and then added, "just like you said. More olive oil."

There had been a message at the concierge's desk when they got back from the rehearsal space. Johnny hadn't wanted to call, but JC had insisted.

JC stayed quiet. Justin, in the resulting silence, twisted his hands in his lap. Chris jiggled his leg against the table, up and down, up and down, up and down, making the table vibrate. Joey held JC's hand. Lance didn't flinch.

Johnny cleared his throat. "Well," he said. "Thank you for telling us. We appreciate the report."

The officer turned to leave, and said, "Your boy there has himself some kinda juju, something. I'm no expert, but anyone can see what he's got. This town," he added slowly, "this town, most people will believe most anything."

Justin swallowed convulsively, stared at the sweat stains on the officer's uniform and felt sick. The officer was gross, melted and waxen, and waddling out of the room.

When he was gone, JC stood up. "I'm going to nap."

Lance said, "Maybe, you should--"

JC interrupted. "I'm going to nap." He shook off Joey's hand. "Maybe I can figure something out while I'm asleep. Something that will help." He paused, and said, "leave the A/C off."


They all slept in the same suite now. They all kept their doors open, sleeping with one ear to the hallway. JC closed his door quietly every night, shutting himself behind it even as they craned their necks down the hall, as if straining to hear and see behind it would help protect him some way. Each night all Justin could ever hear from behind JC's door was the white noise of a television tuned between channels. He went to sleep with a picture of black and white fuzz burned onto his eyes.


There was a break in the heat, for a day, and in between dance numbers Justin walked around in his track pants and no shirt. It was nice, the breeze blowing on his chest, nice and cool, almost chilly in the evening. He'd missed being chilly.

JC found him in the swimming pool, doing laps, around twilight. The hotel had an outdoor pool, and the bodyguards had insisted he have it cleared out first. Justin swam on, resentfully, until JC stood right near the lip of the tiles, in nothing but shorts. "What are you doing?"

Justin spat water out, wiped his face off, and bobbed near JC's feet. "What does it look like?"

"I think," JC said after a moment, "you're going to miss dinner."

Justin got out of the pool, and JC handed him his towel. JC was suddenly something foreign, and Justin watched him walk, watched him open the door. After a minute, he followed after. The breeze was colder now, and he shivered, even though the air was still humid and thick and sedentary.


The Mexican restaurant was really just a patio and a grill, but Joey and Lance loved it and everyone else was too tired to argue.

Justin asked because he was frightened, and because the bags around JC's eyes just kept getting bigger and bigger. It wasn't a very romantic reason, but that was the real reason. He asked as they picked up two pitchers of beer from the bar, holding the slick glass handles carefully, so they wouldn't spill or drop.

"JC," he said, "would you like to go out to dinner? Tomorrow maybe?"

JC was surprised, and flattered, and agreed. Justin was impressed with himself; it didn't seem that JC knew how smooth he wasn't, how much his hands had been shaking. How much he'd wanted to go back to leaning against the wall and just watching Chris and JC and Joey play pool, arguing over the rules and once and a while slapping at one of the many flies buzzing past.

JC asked, "Where do you want to go?" Justin didn't know. JC said, "We can improvise," and slapped a mosquito on his shoulder. Immediately, Justin's shoulder itched in sympathy.


When they got back to the hotel, JC announced, "I'm calling the police department." Justin didn't say anything. JC added, "I want to know the boy's name. I want to know if Katie's been found yet."

Justin still didn't say anything.


Justin rolled his pants up to his knees, folded the cloth over to try and get his legs some cooler air. There was a bit of air blowing, on the balcony, so Justin was stretched out in a deck chair. The back of his knees were sweating. His lips were damp, and it felt nice because it was just a little bit cooler.

He heard Chris say, urgently, "I found it, finally, in a little shop off--" and then a door closed. Justin got up, went back into the suite silently. He heard Chris say, "We have to do it tonight, because the moon is right."

Justin raised an eyebrow, going into the room. "Do what?"

Chris looked up, startled, from where him and Joey were sitting on the bed. "Jesus, you scared me."

Justin repeated, "Do what?"

"Uh." Chris stood up. "Nothing."


"I found a, a thing to do." Chris held his backpack up. "We're gonna do it around his bed tonight." Justin stood there, facing Chris. Chris added, "Nothing serious. Just a, a thing."

"Oh." Justin stood there, watching Chris suspiciously. He finally asked, "when do you need him out of the hotel?"

Joey said, "I have to get going, I have to finish up something for Johnny," and fled quicker than the rain in summer.

When it was just him and Chris, looking at each other, Justin said, "I'll be taking him out to dinner. Or coffee or something."

"Oh," and Chris paused. It may have been Justin's imagination, but it looked like his eyes were narrow. Chris added, "I thought you weren't, you didn't like this stuff."

Justin shrugged. There wasn't any point to hiding it anymore. He said, "I don't like this stuff, I don't at all. I asked him. Out, I mean." Chris looked at him. "On a date."

Chris looked at him. Justin added, "so he'll be out tonight." Chris kept looking at him.


They walked along the street at night, sandals slapping against the pavement. The straps around Justin's ankles were wet and rubbing his skin raw, right over his tattoo. "Hey." He pointed. "What about here?"

JC followed him to the patio of a curbside cafe, and they sat down in metal deck chairs with spindly iron legs. Justin didn't bother looking at the menu. "Look. I wanted to say, I'm really worried about you."

"Shut up." JC opened his menu, standing it up on the table. Justin could barely see JC's curly hair over the top. He said again, more quietly, "Shut up."

Justin slumped down in his uncomfortable chair, and tried to stretch his legs out under the tiny table. His foot hit JC's bare leg, and he pulled it back, muttering.

JC put the menu down, and Justin could see the strain in his jaw. "Look," JC started, and then the waitress came. Justin was looking all right. He was looking, and he saw JC, curled up and taut, like a guitar string right before it snapped.


They walked back, and Justin curled a finger around JC's wrist about half a block from the hotel. JC looked down, and Justin asked, "Okay?" and JC nodded.

As they approached the entrance, Justin slowed down, unconsciously tugging JC slower as well. Justin leaned against the brick wall of their hotel, slouching and leaning into JC's personal space, smiling shyly and lowering his lashes. JC snapped out of his trance long enough to respond to Justin's charm; he laughed, and when Justin touched JC's shoulder, he felt JC lean into him.

Justin was watching a woman in the lobby, had been ever since since they came up to the hotel doors. She was the reason that Justin had stopped outside the hotel, Justin's knees trembling and heart thumping. Chris gave her an envelope, and she gave him a package in return. Justin watched through the glass doors while JC laughed at his jokes.

The woman, wearing a bright red dress, exited the lobby, and stopped, surveying the street.

"Are we gonna go in?" JC asked, and Justin's head jerked up.

"What?" He shook his head. "Sorry, I drifted off. Maybe we should go inside."

"I thought the staring into space was my thing." JC paused, and rubbed a finger on Justin's cheekbone. "You look like you could use some water."

The clacking of her high heels was loud, staccato, sharp in Justin's head as she walked right past them. He could see her red dress weaving in and out of the crowd, towards the waterfront. She was bright, when the rest of the tourists were wearing white, beige, washed out colors. Justin thought maybe his mind had made her up, but then he looked up again, and instead of disappearing, she looked right back at him.

"Yeah," Justin said. He dropped JC's hand. "Let's go inside."


"The person you talked to," Justin said, rubbing the back of his neck. "What did she tell you to do?"

Chris bit into his bagel. "What?"

"I saw the woman." Justin sat down at the breakfast table, handing Chris his cup. "Last night. So what did she give you?"

Chris said, "Nothing."

Justin leaned over the table. "It was," and he lowered his voice. "For JC. Wasn't it."

Chris chewed, methodically, repetatively, and swallowed his huge bite in one go. "I thought you didn't want to know this stuff."

Justin hadn't had a cup of coffee in almost a month. The very idea of drinking anything hot, from choice, made him faint and dizzy from heatstroke. The temperature was up in the hundreds. Chris had a steaming black mug in front of him. Justin asked, "How can you drink that?"

Chris shrugged, tearing another chunk off his bagel. He licked the cream cheese off it, then bit. "I don't really drink it."

"Then why do you get it?"

Chris looked at the cup as if he'd never seen it before. Finally, he answered, "Habit, I guess."

Justin pushed his bowl away. "What did you do for JC? What did she tell you to do?"

The bagel went the way of his bowl, soggy in the milk, splashing a little of it on the table as Chris dropped it in the bowl. "Why are you so interested?"

"Um." Justin thought quickly. "I'm just, I'm worried about him. I just want to know."

"Right," Chris replied. Justin wiped his forehead with the napkin. The steam rising from Chris's coffee cup was making his cheeks wet and shiny. Chris let the steam rise right into his face.


Justin dreamed about the woman that night, and the next night. Everywhere he looked in rehearsals, he thought he saw her face staring at him. Only instead of her face, it was a mask, with her red, red lipstick and her long, black eyelashes the only familiar features. A mask of someone smiling at him with red lips, and dark eyes.

Justin fucked up a lot in those rehearsals. JC asked him, "What's wrong, J?" Justin could only rub his mouth in reply. JC tilted his head, waited for Justin to finish drinking a whole bottle of water, chugging it down and dribbling all down his chin and throat. When he was finally finished, JC kissed Justin's cheek.


It was Sunday.

Justin trudged down the street with Lance, hands stuffed in his pockets. Lance found a church last week, and Justin was going as a last-ditch effort. Some soul-soothing. Some peace. Maybe. The church was supposed to be only a few blocks from the hotel, so they decided to walk instead of drive, heads bent down and ducking the crowds.

The woman, in a different dress this time, bumped into him on the corner as the two of them and Tiny crossed the street. She said, "Excuse me," in a French accent.

Lance grabbed Justin's forearm. "Don't."

"Don't what?" Justin pulled away. "I wasn't gonna do anything."

Lance pulled the church doors open, and held them open until Justin stepped through. "Yes," he replied. "Yes you were."

Tiny followed after them. Justin sat down in the pew furthest from the altar. The church was Catholic, and he hadn't been raised Catholic so Justin had no idea of the rituals to perform, the kneeling and the crossing himself. He just sat there, while Lance did all those things for both of them. Justin watched Lance as Lance blended into the stained glass and dark wood as if he'd been born an O'Malley or a Fatone, Irish or Italian or something, Catholic from birth.

Tiny sat beside him. Justin folded his hands in his lap, and recited the Lord's Prayer under his breath. It wasn't really appropriate, but he figured since he was in church, he should do something religious.

Outside, the woman was gone. "Thank god," Justin said. Lance crossed himself absently. Justin asked, "What's up with that? I thought you were Baptist."

"Oh," Lance replied, vaguely. "Whatever, you know? It's all religion."

"Uh huh," Justin said, suspiciously. He watched Lance very carefully, for more signs of chameleon-ism, but Lance was normal; he walked the same, his accent was the same. He didn't cross himself again. He waited for the lights to change before crossing the street.

Right before they got back to the hotel, Justin murmured, "Thanks. For inviting me along, that is."

Lance turned to him, said, "Why?" Justin was confused. Lance added, "You didn't get anything out of it."

Justin watched Lance, in his orange teeshirt and khakis, just like always, go into the hotel, Tiny close behind. He watched Lance suspiciously, until he got into the elevator at the far side of the lobby and the doors closed. Only then did Justin realize that he was standing outside in the sweltering sunshine and everyone else was inside.


"Don't do it again, okay?" Justin crossed his arms over his chest. "He doesn't need that. He just, he needs."

Chris shrugged. "Whatever, J." He got out a small bundle of herbs tied in scarlett cloth, placed it under JC's pillow with a little pat. "It'll work."

"It won't," Justin said, hollowly. Chris pulled JC's sheets up, tucked them in.


The policeman came by while they were in rehearsal the next day. Justin wiped his face off with the towel, to cover up his surprise. He watched the guy pull JC off to one side, and JC nod seriously while the policeman jotted a few things down in a notebook. The policeman licked the tip of his pencil, once, and immediately Justin's tongue itched.

He gave JC something, a piece of paper, and left, with a small wave to Johnny. Johnny nodded to him, without a smile. Justin sat down on the speaker. It was buzzing beneath him, feedback from his head mic.

"Listen," Joey said from behind him. "JC wants to do something to help. We just need to be there, he, I mean." Joey sounded like himself but frustrated.

Justin got up and wandered over to the catering table. He complained, "why isn't there any watermelon? I'd really like some watermelon." Someone promised to find him some for lunch. Justin thanked them, and remembered a dream about fruit from the night before. Fruit and JC. He wasn't hungry.


"I'd like to take you out this time, okay?"

Justin heard himself saying, "Maybe some other time."

JC's voice was small. "Right, of course. I, sorry. Yeah. You're probably tired." Justin immediately felt like dirt. He rubbed his face, thought for a minute. JC asked in that same small voice, "are you okay?"

Justin rubbed his temples. "No, I just have a headache." He stepped away from JC's hand, squeezing his shoulder. "I'll be okay. Don't worry."

"Justin," and JC's voice was hollow, "of course I worry."

"Well, don't," Justin replied, shortly. He forced himself to look up. "It was just being out in the sun so long today. It was really bright."

It was bright still, out the window, and Justin had to drop his head, look away from the view. JC thoughtfully pulled the drapes closed, and didn't leave. Justin sagged onto the bed, and JC, after a second, sat beside him, rubbing his back. Justin felt a little better.


He didn't see the woman again.

He did see Chris, every night, with different bundles of herbs that all smelled like his grandmother's garden. It didn't stop JC from dreaming, or calling the police. It didn't make JC's face lift, each time the police called him with more news. Fear made Justin stop asking what the officers told JC, eventually.

His A/C was turned up to high, as high as it would go, and still his room was hot and so muggy that one night, he woke up from a nightmare that he couldn't breath and was drowning.


"Justin," and JC sounded almost normal, not haunted. "Me and Chris are gonna go check out a lead." He smiled. "You want to come?"

Justin mopped his forehead off. The stage makeup was running into his eyes. Tour in two weeks, video shoot in two days, and still no break in the weather. "Uh." JC and Chris. A lead. "What, what did you." He clutched the soaked bandanna. "What kind of lead?"

"Well, yesterday, I think I saw his hat. We're gonna go and look it up, go see if we can get any info. I have Officer Smithe's number, in case."

"Jeez." Justin looked at his watch, held his wrist close to his face to mask panic. "I really have to work on this. I mean, the tour. I'm still not comfortable with these steps. You know?"

"Well, okay." JC shrugged, and his cheeks were a little pink. "Okay."

Justin added, "Maybe dinner later?"

"We, might be out late. We'll probably just pick up a burger."

Justin realized only after Chris had squealed off, tires marking the pavement for sure, that JC might have felt a little brushed off. "Stupid," Justin muttered at himself in the mirror. "Really stupid."


"Hi," JC said.

Justin said, "Hi." He stepped back, continued, "How was the lead?" JC shrugged. "How are you?" JC stood there. Justin tilted his head. Justin said, "Want to come in?"

JC tasted like salt, all over.


In the middle of the night, Justin woke up plastered to his sheets, practically fused to the hotel cotton. He got up, fanning himself off, and tripped over JC's pants on his floor. Some time during the night, JC must have gotten up and turned off the A/C again, and now the room was stifling. Justin stood, looking over at his bed. JC kicked, kicked again, and then whimpered.

Justin was put in mind of a penguin he saw at the Knoxville Zoo once, just standing and keening in his enclosure. The penguin didn't acknowledge anyone's presence -- not the people staring at it, not even the few other birds in the enclosure. He just stood there, making this sound.

In bed, JC just lay there, eyes closed, and making the same sound, that harsh yet quiet keening, the same note sustained. Obviously, Chris's charms didn't work on Justin's bed.

He thought that maybe JC would have slept better, after what happened between them, even without a charm. Justin sat naked, in his chair, and watched JC get more and more tangled in the sheets as he slept. Justin dozed. Around five thirty in the morning, JC bolted upright. "He's going after a child," JC said hoarsely, and flopped over, shaken.

At the sound in JC's voice, Justin stood up and went into the bathroom to brush his teeth. His breath stank.


That night, JC screamed before the three hundred pounds of pressure crushed Joey's leg.

Eventually, they heard, "He'll be okay. He'll be okay. Don't worry. Joey will be okay."

Justin thought maybe, that repetition was good for the soul.


It took JC a while to come back from the dead. He kept looking at Joey with a face that was trying to look into the future, or maybe the past. It wasn't a face Justin liked.

They filmed the video without any other mishaps. JC didn't see anything. JC didn't see anything and the rest of the guys were grateful, things got back to normal, a little, for the next week. A bit of a calm, and everyone let their guard down. Justin fell asleep easy, forgot to check whether JC was breathing deeply before he closed his eyes.

JC had to be better.

That was the mantra, Justin repeated it to himself in spare moments, when JC kept looking at things as if he expected them to move, change. Alter in some invisible way. Justin chanted it in his head, clutched onto it like he gripped onto JC at night. Things'd be okay. It'd be okay. Things were back to normal.


They weren't.


Justin woke up, and found JC staring at him, eyes open and alert in the middle of the night.

"Come with me," JC said, and pulled Justin along with a hand around his wrist. Justin's skin pinched up under JC's fingers.

They crept out of bed, down the hallway in time to the gentle snores coming from everyone else's rooms. JC put a finger up to his lips, silently, and Justin nodded, too sleepy to protest. Caught off-guard, confused. A large presence followed them like a silent guard dog. Lonnie.

They got into the elevator without anyone hearing them, and Justin whispered, "Where are we going?"

JC nodded to Lonnie, and ignored Justin's question. Lonnie yawned, covering his mouth, and said, "How long we gone for this time?"

"Dunno," JC replied. "Hopefully not long, cause we have rehearsal tomorrow morning."

Lonnie cracked a smile. "You always have rehearsal."

Justin checked his watch: almost two in the morning. He had no idea where they were headed, but got the sinking feeling that it wasn't the first time JC had snuck out.


They hurried through streets, around folded up awnings and patios that still had people eating and chattering on them. New Orleans didn't shut down. They hurried through the streets, Justin almost tripping every third step, until JC stopped in front of another alley.

Justin's stomach flopped, queasy. He had a bad feeling.

"Okay," JC said, quietly. "Let's see, I think--" He started down the alley, picking his way around bottles and garbage carefully, Justin following him. He went about half a block, Lonnie waiting at the mouth of the alley, until he stopped in front of a huge garbage dumpster. It was behind a bistro, one that had closed at eight pm.

Justin's first thought was, no one could have seen this, no one would have disturbed the garbage since eight pm. He felt queasier. Justin said, "JC, I don't know about this."

"Just, hang on." JC looked around the alley for a little while, hands on his hips, and then finally walked to the far side of the dumpster and leaned down. Justin heard a sharp intake of breath, and he strained his ears to hear anything else. JC didn't make any other noises, but Justin could hear traffic from the street and other people, from such a distance.

Justin finally went over to where JC was standing, and put a hand on JC's back. "What did you find?" and then Justin saw. It was a shoe, attached to a leg. The rest of the body was behind the garbage bin.

Justin dug his fingernails into JC's forearm, tried to pull JC up and away. He said stupidly, "That's a little boy, isn't it."

JC bent over, carefully, and peered at the shoe. It was sticking out from behind a dumpster, a little red Adidas shoe in a puddle of what smelled like canola oil. He peered behind the dumpster, crouching, and then stood up, brushed his knees off. "We have to go."


"We have to go," JC said, and pulled out his cell phone as he wandered away. Justin didn't have to run to keep up or anything; JC was simply walking, head bent a little as he dialed. His face was lit up a little from the phone, nose green.

Justin shuffled behind him, trying not to step on anything that might be a clue. JC spoke low to someone, and then his head whipped up. Justin said, "What is--"

"Shhhhh." JC put a finger to his lips, pressed it there. His eyes darted around. "Sshhh."

Justin froze, as he heard a scraping sound from around the corner, farther into the alley. He held his breath, and felt the sweat drip into his eyes, wishing he could wipe it away. His heart banged painfully, and he'd never been more scared in his life. Justin couldn't imagine doing this ever again.

JC turned around carefully, and took Justin's hand.

They stared into the darkness, holding hands. It wasn't romantic at all. Justin didn't want JC to slip away somewhere, and leave him on the sidewalk. He didn't think to pray, focused on the leather cord around JC's neck and the distant sounds of traffic.

JC relaxed, finally, and dropped Justin's fingers. He murmured, "It's nothing. We should go now. The police will be here soon."

Justin looked down the alley once more, and saw nothing but indistinct dark shapes. He didn't want to know how JC could penetrate that darkness, how JC had assessed the situation and decided that particular noise wasn't a threat. Everything, lately, seemed a threat.


JC mumbled in the car, "Johnny doesn't know that I go out." Justin nodded. Down the street, red and blue lights were flashing. They drove past a Chinese bakery, sign lit up. "So, please. Don't tell him. Okay? It's kind of a secret."

Justin nodded, and then asked, "Do any of the guys know?"

JC nodded. Justin nodded back. He didn't ask who.


"Okay," Justin said to Chris. "Tell me what you did to make his visions stop."

Chris looked up from behind the paper. "Stop?"

"Yeah. All the stuff you did." Justin took a breath. He was wringing his hands under the table. "It's supposed to work, right? So how'd you do it?"

"J," and Chris's face was serious, serious and worried and dark, "I didn't make them stop. That stuff, it just, it was a ward. Folk magic, to help protect dreamers."

Justin stood up, banged his knee against the table top as he stood, and knocked Chris's cup of coffee over, spilled it all over the newspaper and Chris's lap. "You didn't," Justin said, and paused. He looked down, stopped wringing his hands. "Just folk magic. What about that woman?"

"She has a shop about ten blocks from here. I can get you the card, but." Chris looked at him, added, "What do you want from me?"

"When he goes out at night," Justin blurted, face burning. This was a secret. He was bursting with a secret, a little red shoe with splashes of motor oil, and a scraping noise in the dark. "When he goes out," Justin started again, "was there anything you could do for him?"

Chris looked confused. "What?"

Justin rubbed his face -- his cheeks were burning, bright red and hot. Chris's face was confused. "It--" Justin rubbed his face again. "Nevermind. It's, no." Justin backed away. "No. Forget it."

"J, are you--"



JC came up to him later, in a break between songs, and said, "Chris asked me if you were all right, you know." Justin nodded, not trusting himself to speak. "So, I'm asking," and JC's voice was soft. "Are you all right?"

Justin nodded, not trusting himself to speak. JC stroked his shoulder, and Justin ducked away from him. "Okay. I can't do anything but ask."

Everywhere he went, Justin saw color and bright sunshine, and people, crowds. Walking down the street was stifling, it was too hot to move, and the tour was rapidly approaching. He couldn't remember any of the steps. He couldn't remember anything except a little red shoe.

JC pulled him aside later that day and told him, "They have a partial footprint now. With that, and the uniform hat that I saw, they might be able to find him."

A partial footprint. Justin felt stupid and slow. "Are they sure it's not one of ours?"

"I told them what shoes we were wearing," JC replied. "It's not one of ours." He drank some water, wiped his face off.

"Okay," Justin said. "I have to practice."

He danced and danced and danced, until his vision swam pink and hazy. Joey fed him three whole bottles of water around three pm, because Justin felt a little light-headed. The water didn't help the tinge to his vision. It stayed, permanent, like rose colored glasses. Justin couldn't look anywhere without seeing something red in the corner of his eye.


"Come to church with me," Justin begged Lance. "Please. Just for a little while."


"Just, don't." Justin looked down, then up. Joey was looking at him thoughtfully, from where he was standing with Darren. Lance didn't understand. Justin sighed. "Okay, I'm sorry," he said. "Nevermind."

The more they danced, the less Justin thought. Days flew by, with Wade and Darren, with the dance steps in charge, with Johnny coming to them with details and Justin didn't think about any of it. His feet moved better when he didn't look at them, and so he stared in the mirror and concentrated on just getting his facial expressions for the moves down. Here, he'd pull this face. This spin, he'd grin. He'd wave here. He'd do this here.

JC danced harder than the rest of them, because he kept having to take little breaks to close his eyes. While he wasn't sitting down, he put in one hundred and fifty percent, to make up for it. Justin just kept dancing, again and again and again. Dancing, step here, spin here. Bodies moving fluidly. The music didn't even sound like anything anymore, no distinct notes. It all ran together into one big droning mass.

No one spoke much. They didn't have time, a week, a bit more. It was crunch time. Everyone knew it. Everyone knew everything.


Wiping his face off with a discarded tee shirt, Justin found JC curled up on part of the stage and clutching his head, an open bottle of water by JC's hand. He was obviously in pain. Justin crouched beside him, didn't think about it because thinking about it made him tense up, and just looked at JC. JC got up, eventually, and started going through the motions of 'Pop'.

From his crouch, Justin looked up at JC's face, all screwed up. "Are you okay?"

JC didn't miss a beat, though his eyes were glazed, his whole face was glazed and looked like candied ham, covered in sweat and vacant. Feedback from the monitors was whining in Justin's earpiece. "Yeah. He's getting careless. They'll catch him soon."

Justin's knees started to hurt. "Maybe, take a real break, a few hours, maybe you'll--"

"No." JC stopped, rubbed his head. "Hand me an aspirin, would you? Front pocket of my bag. If I can control this, maybe I can do something. Something to help."

"Maybe." Justin gave him the little white pill, didn't touch his hand. "Maybe."

"Yeah," and JC swallowed it dry. "Maybe."


There was a knock on Justin's door that night, a faint rhythmic tapping, and then the noise of the lock sliding. JC slipped in, sat down beside him.

"I saw something else just now, I was gonna go check it out--"

Justin rolled over, pulled the blanket almost completely over his head. JC said, "oh," very quietly, and put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. Justin sweated under the duvet, and after a minute, he felt the mattress tilt and JC leave the room.

His watch read three-fifteen AM, and, suddenly terrified, he threw the comforter off, the comforter and the sheet and everything. He was laying naked and still hot.

They had rehearsal all day the next day. He just couldn't. He couldn't take the time off. They needed their rest.

JC stopped asking.


Dancing. Dancing, and church. Dancing and church, and not looking at Chris and JC. Dancing and church and not looking at them, and drinking a lot of water. That was what Justin's days were filled with.

On the morning of their last day of rehearsal, before breakfast, before anyone was awake and the morning was still cool-ish, he walked the ten blocks to the store that Chris mentioned. Tiny trailed after him. By the time they reached the corner where Chris said it would be, Justin's face was glistening and his clothes were sticking to him. He didn't even look through the door, just turned around and walked right back around, back to the hotel and back to, just, back, his feet pounding out an ever-quickening pace.

If he just danced, and went to church pretending to pray, and didn't look at JC and Chris, and drank a lot of water. If he just did that, they'd be back to reading the Orlando Sentinel.

He hadn't read a paper in over four weeks, didn't want to see the news in case that little red shoe somehow made it into a black and white photograph.


They were flying back that night, back to Orlando, not New Orleans, kicking off the tour and getting out of Louisiana. Justin was almost thrumming with excitement, tense energy. Finally they were going to get to go home.

Sitting in the airport, waiting for the red-eye from New Orleans to Orlando, Justin watched JC. JC was awake, alert and even joking around, laughing at the airport PA and complaining about the food. Justin relaxed for a while.

JC was staring out the window, ignoring the pre-boarding announcements, when it happened. JC's eyes rolled into the back of his head, he fell forward, and said, "Jesus," really softly.

Justin didn't have time to catch him as his head fell against the empty seat in front of them. The thump was muted, everything Justin heard for a few seconds was muffled by background noise, louder than it usually was and indistinct -- then his ears popped again, that dull roar like when the plane takes off and you have to adjust for the pressure before your ears equalize and everything is normal again.


"He's in the airport."

JC wasn't back to normal. Only Chris was believing him.

JC looked around frantically, jacket pulled tight. He took off his seatbelt and tried to get out, shoving at Justin's shoulder. Justin muttered a thank you that JC always wanted the window seat and so he was between JC and the aisle.

Joey peered over the back of Justin's seat, straining to catch a glimpse of them. "What -- JC, we can't get off the flight now, people are already getting aboard, take-off is in ten minutes."

JC pulled against Justin's hand, holding his arm down. "He's in the airport. The, the guy. We have to -- let me up Justin, for god's sake. Christ, let me up."

Chris appeared, from behind, and was towing a flight attendant with him. "I'm sorry," he was telling her, "but my friend is really ill. Do you think it would be okay if we disembarked? I'm so sorry."

She hesitated, hemming and hawing about their luggage, but when Chris told her they didn't have any, just carry-on, she let Chris go past her. Chris grabbed JC's backpack from the rack above them, slung it over his arm. Joey and Lance didn't hesitate, stood up and followed Chris. JC stepped on Justin's foot as he half-ran down the aisle.

Justin glanced out the dark window of the plane, and then at JC's receeding back. He reached under his feet, grabbed his bag, and almost sprinted off the plane. With effort, he kept his pace down, walking, then running, then walking again.

The flight attendent smiled at him as he jogged back up the ramp, calling out, "I hope your friend feels better!" He jogged past surprised passengers, the last of their flight boarding down the ramp.

When he made it to the terminal, back inside, Chris and JC hadn't waited for him. Joey was sitting at the gate with JC's bag and Chris's laptop case, staring at the floor. When Justin came up to him, Joey stood up, leaving the bags. Justin looked around, no sign of Lance, no sign of Tiny or Lonnie or Rob. Joey said, "I'll get a car. Meet you out front in ten?"

Justin was left standing at gate sixteen, holding his messenger bag close to his chest, and ducking uncomfortably to try and stop anyone from recognizing him. JC and Chris never came back.


Back at the hotel, Justin and Joey sat across the table in the suite, and stared at each other, at the ceiling, at the floor. Justin wiped his upper lip more times than he could count, wiped sweat off it. Their luggage was sitting neatly in a corner, zipped up and ready for takeoff. The hotel was delighted to have them back an extra night.

When Chris and JC finally showed up, they were dropped off by a police cruiser. Justin never asked, "Did you find him?" He didn't ask that, and he didn't ask about where they went, or what they saw or why Chris's leg was jiggling.

From a far distance, Justin registered Lance, coming back into the room, and telling everyone they were catching a later flight. Justin heard blues outside, heard blues and saw red, red from the neon on the bar across Bourbon Street.



"Yeah," and Justin backed up, tripped over his overnight bag. "No." He tugged uselessly on the hem of his shirt. JC was standing in front of him, and yet JC was also gone, gone and inaccessible, threatening.

"I thought." JC cleared his throat. "Okay."

Justin grabbed his bag, held on tightly. "I can't."

It had rained last night, some freak storm and so the air smelled different, a little fresher even though the city air was still full of different things that Justin would never be able to identify. He didn't care anymore. The tour was starting, the time to practice was over. JC answered, "If you can't. Then."

In all the years they'd known each other, Justin was never the one to hate hot weather and the summer.


They left New Orleans behind, Justin staring out the window intently at the Mississippi River. He ate his peanuts absently, and was startled when JC leaned over, turned off their air vent. JC said, "I was cold."



baby I remember the way you used to look at me and say
the promises you made, the way you held me babe
I don't wanna throw it all away
I know you said that things would be alright
how I was I to know that you were right?