nsync in black and white

Fiction by Pen . . . . . not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment

The Pussycat and the Porcupine

written for Jacie in MTYG 2010,
with thanks to Nopseud and Snarkyllama for the betas


Saturday night and Sunday Morning

The bass thumped, and sound reverberated around the club. Chris cocked his head, slid the headphone off his left ear, and leaned sideways a little bit.

"I got two a day."

Okay, no. Either that was way too much information about Britney's love life, or he wasn't hearing her right. He grinned at her, gave an exaggerated shrug, and mouthed "Later". The little blonde narrowed her eyes at him, so he gestured at the turntables. She retaliated with some weird arm movements that were probably supposed to mean "You shall not escape me," though they looked more like, "I have invisible maracas." Chris smiled again, and Britney hopped off his tiny stage and wriggled back amongst the crowded dancers. Really, she should know better than to try and talk in here. Nobody came to Sweet's for conversation.

She cornered him later, as he devoured his nachos in Howie's tiny office during his break. Howie had given up trying to chase him and his dinner out of there, though he hadn't, yet, given up complaining about the lingering smell. "I got you a date," Britney announced, stealing a nacho before flopping into the visitor's chair.

"Tell me it isn't one of Timberlake's loser friends," Chris replied, unimpressed.

"Justin's friends are not losers!"

"Trace," he countered, and smirked at her frustrated pout.

"Anyway," Britney went on, obviously not willing to fight that particular battle right now, "this isn't one of Justin's friends."

"How'd you meet him, then?"

"Not telling." She smiled at him, cute as a button. Chris had never actually got why buttons were supposed to be cute, but if they were, Britney was as cute as one. She was also as stubborn as a mule, so, some kind of mule-button hybrid, but whatever that meant, Chris knew he wasn't going to be able to avoid this 'date' she'd set up for him. He might as well give in gracefully. It'd surprise her, at least.

"You're meeting tomorrow at Joey's place."

"What, no romantic dinner for two? Did you even spring for a coffee coupon? You know how much that place charges for their fancy drinks."

She stuck her tongue out at him and stood. "Midday tomorrow. Don't be late!"

~ ~ ~

"Honey, I'm home!" Chris yelled as he walked into the house. He always did, unless he knew Lance was out. Firstly, because it irritated Lance, and secondly, because he had no wish to walk in on another steamy makeout session.

Okay, enough lead time. He pushed open the living room door.

Just Lance, swaying slightly on the couch. Hmm. "Hey," Chris said. "What're you watching?"

"Nothing," said Lance. "I am sheleb—celebrating. The end of an era. I," he waved a half-full glass grandly, "am giving up on love."

"Ah. Right." Bottle of Jack on the table—how full had it been when Lance started? Chris was relieved to see a couple of empty Coke cans as well. For such a sweet-faced kid, Lance could hold a hell of a lot of liquor, but he was no more immune than the rest of the world to the morning after. "And… Rick?"

"Rick is an asshole. He is a wart and a scumbag. He is a gigantic fucking pustule on the buttocks of the world. He cheated on me. He is hishtory."

Chris rejoiced inwardly. He had never liked Rick, who'd been way too perfectly chiseled to be real. Rick had been the ideal gay boyfriend, presumably right up until Lance had discovered Rick had been screwing around. "Hey, can I scribble on his calendar now?" Like so many ridiculously handsome gay men with magnificent thighs, Rick had done a calendar. He'd made a big deal of presenting one to Lance at New Year, and Lance had gone around with his feet hardly touching the ground for days. Pathetic, really.

"You may shcribble on hish calendar," Lance allowed, graciously.

Chris decided to leave this non-urgent task for tomorrow, and got himself a glass. "How did you find out?"

"He said I shtarted it. He said if I could do it so could he. Asshole."

Chris was amused at the way Lance's pronunciation did not falter on the important words. "How did he figure that one? I'm not your boyfriend, and I know you wouldn't cheat."

"We saw—there was this open mic night at Joey's a while back, there was this guy there who got up and read some poem he'd written. It was kinda weird, actually, I mean, I don't think it made much sense, but he was really cute, and I said to Rick I thought the guy was the best looking person there, and that was all. How the fuck he translated that into me screwing around…"

"I always thought he was a psycho," Chris said, blithely discarding all caution. "Too good-looking. You can't trust someone like that."

"I like them pretty," Lance said, sulkily. "And not all the good-looking ones are—are—are you saying I'm not good-looking?"

Oh, hell, Chris thought, he's into the insecurity phase already. "No, but you earned it. I've seen your family photos, Bass, you were one weird looking kid. You didn't grow up perfect, so you had the chance to compensate by developing a brain."

Lance looked mollified, but bewildered. "Except now I'm all alone. Again." Oh, and on to the self-pity. Fortunately, Lance's post-relationship mourning never lasted very long. Even Rick, who'd been around a depressingly long time, probably wouldn't merit much moping, but one drunken evening was fair enough.

"You wanna go on a blind date?" he suggested, suddenly.

"What? No! You are not setting me up with one of your crazy friends," Lance said.

"No, and by the way there is nothing wrong with my friends. I thought Nick would be just your type."

"Yeah, well, if he wasn't straight he might have been my type," Lance said, snidely. "That guy with all the tattoos, now, he really wasn't my type."

"You'll never know what you missed," Chris said. "But, anyway. Britney set me up with some guy…"

"Ah! One of Justin's loser friends," Lance said, with a shout of mirth, and drained his glass. "Sorry, but I think I'll pass."

"Figures," Chris said, morosely. "You probably won't be awake by twelve tomorrow anyway."

"Count on it," said Lance, and reached for the bottle again.


"Who—who's there?" JC said, with an embarrassing quaver in his voice. "Is someone there?" Maybe walking via the back streets had been a bad call. He'd wanted to explore, but the alley suddenly seemed awful sinister.

There was definitely something, and the fact that he couldn't see anyone didn't mean there wasn't—what the hell was that noise? A terrible, unearthly wail, and a strange crackly-swishy rushing sound. JC edged closer to the dumpster. It couldn't be a rat, could it? Did rats make noises like that? Rats were nasty, rats were evil, vicious little monsters with glinty eyes and nasty, yellow teeth, and he was not going to rescue a rat. A rat probably wouldn't be grateful, anyway, for being rescued from a dumpster.

If it was a rat.

He took a cautious step closer, because the thought of rats had a way of taking hold of a person's mind, and he would bet any money there were rats in this alley, even if the thing battling with the bag was—JC dashed across to the dumpster and made a grab for the bag. The kitten inside it was writhing like a mad thing, frantic with terror, and JC really needed gloves right now, but he managed more by luck than judgment to get a hand to its neck, and scruffed it carefully. The little creature went limp in his grip, and he carefully drew it out of the bag, disentangled its hind paws from the handles, and petted it against his shoulder until some of the panic seemed to seep away. JC hurried to the end of the alley with his tiny burden, and, back in the sunlight, carefully detached its claws from his shirt and took a proper look.

"Well, aren't you a miserable little speck," he murmured. The kitten glared at him with huge blue eyes. "It's okay, little one, it's okay. I got you." He could feel ribs under his careful hands, and all kinds of dumpster ick, but he crooned and stroked the kitty's head, very gently, and it lifted its head and half-closed its eyes in response. "There's a brave kitty," he said, enchanted. "Come on, we're going to get you cleaned up."

The coffee shop where he was supposed to be meeting his blind date was just around the corner. JC dashed inside and went straight to the bathroom. "There, there, such a good kitty, papa JC will make you all nice and clean." Lucky this place was too old-fashioned to have air-dryers. He used a lot of paper towels, getting the worst of the muck of the kitten's back. "Now what am I going to do with you?"

The kitten meowed crossly, and kept up a stream of complaints as JC wrapped it in more clean paper and marched out to the counter to explain the situation.

The startled barista was instantly won over by the tiny creature, and suggested a saucer of milk. JC ordered chai, feeling he shouldn't take advantage.

"See, he's being very nice to us, they probably don't allow pets in here, it'd be a health violation or something, so you're a very privileged kitty. Oh, thanks!"

The barista beamed at JC and the kitten. Mostly the kitten, probably, which was almost a shame. The guy was large and friendly, and had such a great smile, JC kinda wished he were having his blind date right here. The kitten, indifferent to great smiles, stood on JC's thigh with both front paws on the table, and lapped voraciously at the saucerful.

"Looks like he was pretty hungry. I warmed the milk a little bit."

"Thank you. He seems pretty happy with it."

"You did good," the barista said, seriously. "How could anybody do that to a helpless creature?"

"I know." JC couldn't understand it either. He didn't even want to think about it. "Um. I'm, um, supposed to meet someone here at noon. Do you know Britney?" He couldn't remember her surname, but the barista brightened.

"Britney? Sure, I know Britney. I'm Joey." He stuck out a large hand. JC shook it gratefully. "Did she give you a name?"

"Uh, no, just said to be here."

"Girl or guy?

"Uh. Guy," JC said, startled.

"Okay, I'll keep a look-out for anyone I recognize. Oh, customers. Gotta go."

JC glanced at his watch. No, he wasn't late, his heroic rescue had hardly taken any time at all, but most people didn't take a kitten on a blind date, and JC was all too aware that he didn't usually score well in the first impressions department. He was used to guys looking horrified when they met him, but he wasn't going to dress like some mannequin from the Gap just to make sure boring people in suits didn't sneer. Besides, he looked good in pink. Anyway it might not be the outfits, it could be his tendency to babble that was to blame. He never meant to babble, but there were those awkward silences, he couldn't help it. Comfortable silences were great, but you couldn't have a comfortable silence with someone you just met, so he… babbled.

The kitten mrowed anxiously, and trampled JC's groin. Maybe it was still hungry. It was definitely still smelly—he should give it a bath, or something. Maybe he should just leave? He could call Britney and explain… He eyed the door, wondering if Joey would let him go. The barista was smiling at another customer. Maybe while he was distracted—but no. Joey knew he was here to meet someone. How could he sneak away now?

A happy inspiration came to JC, and he emptied his wallet, keys and notebook out of his bag, and put the kitten into it. The kitten looked startled, but the bag should be comfortable enough, it was lined. JC sat down with the bag on his knee, and zipped it partially, so that only the kitten's head protruded. JC stroked it in what he hoped was a comforting manner.

"Hey, JC." It was Joey, accompanied by a shorter guy with spiky hair and a horror movie T-shirt. "This is Chris. Have fun."

"So, you're a friend of Britney's," said Chris. He didn't look very friendly, he looked suspicious and a little bit hostile, but he was kinda interesting looking, so—oh. Yeah, better say something.

"No, I mean, not exactly—uh. Yes?" JC hazarded.

Chris stared at the bag on JC's lap, and that was definitely a frown between his brows.

"You have a purse."

"Sure." JC did not get why more men did not carry purses. They were so practical. He hated carrying his cash and credit card in his pockets—there was never any way to get an actual wallet in there—and when you had a cellphone and a notebook and keys and pencils, it was easily the best way to deal with all that stuff, and it saved his clothes from getting all sagged out of shape. Besides, it was totally a man-purse. It was leather.

"Guess it's kinda useful today, huh?" Chris said, and raised his eyes to JC's with a visible effort. "So. Um. How long have you known Britney?"

"Well, I don't exactly—I mean, we just met, my new roommate introduced us, and she said, uh, she said she was going to take care of me and, um."

"Ah," said Chris. "So you could be some random axe-murderer for all she knows. Oh, thanks, Joey." The barista had just placed a mighty, cream-topped mug in front of Chris. Chris dipped a finger into the spire of whipped cream and held it across the table to the kitten, who licked it blissfully.

"I'm not an axe-murderer," JC said, mildly. He wasn't the one with crimson splatters all over his T-shirt.

"Nope, turns out you're a kitten-rescuer, which is, you know, reassuring," Chris said, and grinned. He had a very pretty smile, JC noted. "I'm not an axe-murderer either," Chris added, "in case you were wondering. I dee-jay in a club. And work part time in a record shop so I can eat, and pay outrageous prices for fancy coffee."

His drink looked like a meal in itself, JC thought, but he just smiled tentatively. "So what kind of music do you like to play?" he asked, and the conversation got going.

~ ~ ~

It was a pity his roomie worked a late shift, because it would have been useful to have four hands (and also protective clothing and some kind of restraining device) to get the kitty bathed and clean. How could such a tiny scrap put up such a fight?

There was a kind of poetry to it, though.

JC didn't have the energy to write anything down. He settled for an early night, with the kitten curled up on the pillow next to him instead of in the very fine fur-lined basket he had bought for it, along with the cat food, kitten formula, brush, kitty litter and tray, and cat shampoo. He'd tell his roomie tomorrow. Maybe he'd have thought of a name for the kitten by then.


Monday moment

Christina was behind the bar when Chris walked in, checking everything was fully stocked and ready for opening time. He waved cheerfully and headed right on to Howie's office.

Without bothering to knock he flung the door wide and asked, "Hi, baby! Didja miss me?" at top volume.

Howie winced, but the patient look was already on his face as he indicated the phone against his ear. "Hello, Chris. Oh, Kevin says hi."

"Hey, Kevin!" Chris called. "How's it hanging?"

"Kevin says he hopes you never find out," said Howie. "Yes, Kevin, I know, he certainly is. So, four thirty tomorrow, okay, see you then." He hung up, and sighed. "And what can I do for you today, Chris?"

"We ran out of liquor? How could we run out of liquor? Howard, Howard, you must be losing your touch." Howie was a master of efficiency. He would be needled, Chris was sure, by the suggestion he'd messed up.

"No, we didn't run out of anything, and we aren't going to run out of anything, because tomorrow Kevin is coming by with a whole new delivery for us," Howie said, in the tone of one talking to a small child. Excellent. Chris was obviously getting to him. It was his mission in life to rattle Howie out of that unnatural calm. Partly because Howie was the Man, the Boss, the owner of the club, and it was Chris's duty to stick it to the Man if he could. Partly because… it was just too tempting not to try. If Howie were a normal human being whose temper frayed once in a while or who snapped at the people who worked for him and weren't allowed to snap back, Chris wouldn't need to poke at him. But Howie was unreasonably placid about… everything.

"Was there something you wanted, Chris? Something work-related?"

"I had a date yesterday," Chris announced. "Thought you should know."

"Right. Fine. If that's all—"

"It was indeed fine. Fine in every possible way. That was one seriously good-looking dude, great hair, great smile, great body."


"And, he wants to see me again. He asked. Another helpless victim claimed by the world famous Kirkpatrick charm." Chris swaggered out, waggling his butt suggestively, and considered that a victory.


Thursday, after the day jobs

"So, how's the kitty?" Chris said, after they'd given the waitress their order.

JC launched into a description of the kitty's antics, the fact that he had taken her to the veterinarian for her shots and discovered that she was a girl-cat and booked for her to have The Operation, the way she was obsessed with his toes and asked nothing better than to spend an evening stalking his feet, her incredible cleverness in learning to use her litterbox…

"I took work home for the day so I could train her," he explained. Two nights in a row coming back to a boobytrapped bedroom had convinced him something needed to be done in a hurry, and Johnny had said it was fine, upon certain conditions. "And she got it real quick. She's a very smart kitty. Although I had to take a box from the slushpile home as well as the manuscript I was working on, my boss drives a hard bargain, and you know, I don't get why people think they can write books when some of them are functionally illiterate and I swear there was one in there who was actually delusional. Clinically, I mean. And the litter tray is one of those automatic ones, which is good because I haven't managed to tell my roomie about her yet, so I'm keeping everything in my bedroom, because, you know. I don't know if he likes cats. But I'm totally going to tell him at the weekend, we always see each other on Saturdays."

The waitress arrived with their burgers, and JC realized with some dismay that he had spent maybe fifteen minutes talking non-stop about his cat. "Uh. Sorry," he muttered.

"Sorry about what? That the cat learned to use the litter box? Because, man, I don't think I'd pick that to be sorry about." Chris took a mighty bite.

"There's ketchup on your chin," JC said, absently, and began to eat.

Chris was fun to be around. He was good company, and he knew all the best places in town to eat—at least, JC thought to himself, he knew the best places for burgers and Mexican, because this burger was excellent, and the Mexican food on Tuesday had also been really good. JC had the impression Chris wasn't much interested in French food, though, and JC loved fine cuisine, when he could afford it.

Then again, Chris had spent a lot of Tuesday evening talking about football, and tried really hard to convince JC that the Steelers were the only team anyone could seriously support. JC liked Superbowl parties, but he tended to get lost in the intricacies of the actual game. He liked baseball better—it was easier to understand, and the uniforms were way hotter. "Do you, um, do you think we're compatible?" he blurted.

Chris swallowed and took a long drink of beer before he replied. "Can this mean," he asked, "a lack of, what should we call it, that special spark?"

"Well," said JC. He did not want there to be hurt feelings, he especially did not want there to be tantrums or thrown food, because that was never good, and you couldn't tell how a guy was going to react. Chris could be quite prickly, at times.

"Oh, don't fret. You're not my type," Chris said, cheerfully.

"Ah. Um, good. I mean, I like you, but not like like, you know? I don't think we would work as boyfriends."

"Yeah, well, I'd need the JC decoder ring," Chris replied. He certainly didn't sound heartbroken. "Anyway, I don't do boyfriends."

"You don't?"


Odd, because JC hadn't really gotten the impression that Chris was any kind of a player. "So, um, what is your type?"

"I don't really have a type," Chris said. "Do you?"

"I don't, um, well, sort of, I like—" JC was about to say, beautiful guys, and realized just in time that that was probably insulting. Besides, the face he kept remembering could not really be like a Renaissance painting. Nobody looked like that in real life . "I like people who're into art, and, um, that sort of thing. Classical music." He had a feeling Chris wasn't going to be interested in his collection of Rachmaninov and Sibelius.

"You don't write poetry, I suppose?" Chris asked, drawing ketchup pictures with his last French fry.

JC blushed, guiltily. "Actually, I do. A bit."

"Hmm," said Chris. "Interesting."

JC looked at him warily. He might not know Chris very well, but he distrusted that expression.

"You still up for the movie?" Chris asked, in an abrupt change of subject. "Even though you don't wanna sit in the back row and make out with me? Which, I have to say, your loss, man. Come on, then, let's make a move."


Friday night's all right for fighting

There was, Chris felt, no need at all to inform Howie that the hot guy Chris had been seeing was now officially just a friend. Or that Chris was actually pretty good with that decision. As far as Howie was concerned, Chris was dating the hottest guy in the state and getting plenty of action.

Today, he thought, he could get into details about what exactly he and the hot guy had been doing. He could probably remember what sex was like. So, would fastidious Howie be more horrified by grape jelly flavored condoms or jizz all over the furniture? He grinned evilly to himself, and as he showered off the record shop dirt and dressed again in cool DJ mode, practised a few choice phrases. He was going to prick Howie's composure if it was the last thing he did.

"Hey, Chris," Christina greeted him as he ambled inside. "Boss wants to see you. Have you been writing on the bathroom walls again?"

"You know me, bad to the bone," he replied, and changed course for Howie's office, pleased for the opportunity to deliver his story early.

"Hi, Chris," Howie said, and came out from behind his desk to close the door.

"What's up?"

"Look, um." Howie looked uncomfortable, and he didn't retreat behind his desk like he usually did, he sat in one of the easy chairs and waved to Chris to sit down in the other. "There's something I need to tell you."

Chris was starting to get a bad feeling about this. But he hadn't done anything to piss anyone off lately, he was sure, nothing serious… Could Howie be cutting his hours, taking a night away? Chris couldn't think of anything less momentous that would justify this kind of set-up. "Okay, fire away," he said, and wished he'd chosen a different phrase.

"The thing is, it's about this guy you've been seeing."


"I know you really like him, I mean, you've been all excited about your dates, but Chris, I think you should know, he doesn't feel the same way about you. He thinks you're just friends." Howie's big brown eyes were wide with sympathy.

"I say again, what? Because what the fuck?"

"I'm sorry. I know it's none of my business, but I didn't want you to be—"

"How the fuck do you even think you know who I'm dating?"

"JC's my roommate," Howie said, and Chris's stomach suddenly seemed filled with lead. He'd been telling Howie stupid, crazy stories about how he and JC were starting something hot and sexy and amazing—and JC had been going back home to Howie's fucking apartment and telling Howie, all innocently, how he'd been talking to this weird guy who was DJ at some club… Shit. Shit, shit, shit.

"I introduced him to Britney," Howie went on, "and she got that matchmaking look in her eye, and I thought, great, because I don't have much time to socialize with the guy. I mean, we hardly saw each other this week but he got in early today and I asked him how things were going with his new date. Just to be friendly, you know."

Chris might throw up now. Any second. "So, what, he told you all about us having dinner together a couple times this week and you told him what an asshole I really am, is that it?"

"Of course not! We barely had time to—and I wouldn't—but he just, it was obvious he didn't think of you in a, like, a romantic way. I just thought you should know."

"You know what, Howie? Fuck you. Just—fuck you."

Chris walked out.

Too angry and humiliated to speak, he went straight to his turntables and pulled out every track he could think of that would let him vent. The customers would just have to fucking dance their fucking asses off, they weren't getting any rest tonight.

~ ~ ~

Several hours of loud, furious music later, Chris got himself out of the club without risking so much as a glimpse of Howie. Howie was—Howie was—

Howie was actually trying to be kind to him, he admitted to himself as he drove home. Howie was trying to let him down gently from an affair that wasn't going to happen. From Howie's perspective, it was the right thing to do for a friend. Except that Chris was an idiot who'd been pretending something was happening when it wasn't. He'd known it wasn't, even right at the beginning when they'd met, because he'd liked JC, of course he had, JC was a sweet, somewhat weird guy who'd rescued a kitten and went around unironically carrying a man-purse, but JC wasn't Chris's type at all.

And even if Howie had known who Chris was seeing right from the start, Howie wasn't supposed to try and let Chris down gently. Howie was supposed to—he was supposed to—

Howie was supposed to be jealous.

Chris pulled onto the driveway, turned off the engine, and thumped his head against the steering wheel.

He was such an idiot.


and it's the weekend

Something was tickling him.

Something was prodding him in the chest, in several places, and tickling his cheek. JC batted at whoever it was, and there was an indignant mew when his hand encountered fluffiness. His eyes flew open, and he gazed into the stern stare of his kitten, who informed him that it was late and she was starving. Starving!

"Yes, yes," he said, guiltily, and tried to sit up. Adorable Nuisance leapt to the floor and was at the door before JC was fully upright.

A moment later, the door opened. There was a feline yowl, a startled grunt, a crash and a thump, and JC's strangled warning cry was far too late to prevent any of it.

His roommate looked up at him reproachfully from the floor, where a pool of coffee was spreading amid the shards of JC's favorite mug. "Was that a cat?" Howie asked, mildly.

"I'm so sorry!" JC struggled from the sheets, thoughtfully paused to pull on a fresh pair of boxers, and attempted to help Howie with gathering the pieces of mug.

"No, no, you stay clear, you have bare feet. Trash basket?"

Howie went to the kitchen—there was a brief dialogue with the outraged kitten—and returned with cloths to mop the spilled coffee. JC, by now more or less dressed, followed him miserably back to the kitchen. He had not meant the big news to be sprung quite so dramatically.

"I think someone's hungry," Howie said. "I'll fix you another coffee while you feed him."

"Her," JC said, absently. "Come along, Nuisance. You know your bowl isn't in here."

A few minutes later, he sat opposite Howie at the kitchen table, and did his best to look as though it was perfectly normal roommate behavior to have a secret kitten.

"I found her in a dumpster," he explained, and went on to give the full tale—including the slushpile—of Adorable Nuisance's residency. "See, I thought we could, um, keep her? She's very smart. I'm sure we could train her to, uh, not do that again?"

"I don't think you can train cats, JC." Howie didn't seem to have any objections. "But you did a good thing. I guess she can stay."

JC rejoiced, and the kitten, curious, skittered in across the tiled floor and began attacking his bare feet.

"Don't expect me to clean the litter tray, though." Howie looked down. "Hello, Adorable Nuisance. You are a cute little thing, yes, you are." Nuisance, sensing she was on to a good thing, jumped onto his lap for petting, made up to him quite shamelessly, and purred.

"Mostly I call her Dora," JC explained. "And sometimes, Nuisance." And sometimes, Wretched Cat and even ruder names, he thought, but did not share. All in all, the introduction hadn't gone so badly.

And then, Howie sneezed.

By mid-afternoon, Howie's eyes were puffy, red and streaming, and Nuisance had been barricaded in JC's bedroom again, where she was scratching the door and bewailing her fate in the most heartrending way.

"I'm sorry, JC," Howie said, breathing heavily, "I don't think this is going to work."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Chris felt oddly better when he woke up at lunchtime. He was still an idiot, and Howie was still the sweetest guy in the world who didn't have the slightest interest in him, but at least Chris had figured out why he'd been so determined to poke at Howie all this time.

Chris was definitely an idiot.

However, he was a realistic idiot, and he could accept the situation for what it was. And move on. Chris bridled for a bit, and pummeled his pillow. He hated apologizing, and now he'd have to apologize to Howie, which at least would startle Howie and make him wonder what Chris was up to, because when you behaved like a prick most of the time, being a decent person now and again was going to come as a shock to the person you were a prick to.

Really, was it any wonder Howie didn't think of him like that?

"Oh, fuck it," said Chris, rolled himself out of bed and went in search of breakfast. He'd skipped his nachos last night and he was ravenous.

He made a big production of looking around the kitchen for stray models who might have happened to spend the night. Lance looked at him stonily and went back to his newspaper. Lance was still on his celibacy kick, then. He said he was looking for a quick, no-strings fuck, but Lance had never in his life had a one-night stand, he kept trying to turn them into boyfriends, and Chris had no doubt there would be another vacuous model haunting the house soon, because Lance was, underneath his business-suited exterior, a great big sap, totally into romance and looking for the love of his life.

Looking in gay clubs did not seem to be working out for him, but fortunately for Lance, Chris had a better plan. He wasn't quite sure how he was going to play things, but he'd think of something. Just call him Cupid.

Chris was only part-way through a mighty plateful of eggs, bacon and toaster waffles when Lance pushed away from the table and announced, in a state of mysterious excitement, that he was going out and there would be a surprise for Chris when he got back.

"I have to get to work early tonight," Chris said. Might as well get it over with.

"I'll be back before you leave," Lance said, and was gone.

Mid-afternoon, the shriek of his cellphone startled him so much he dropped the controller and his avatar died. He should probably change that ringtone. Howie had stopped reacting two weeks ago anyway..

"JC? What's up, man?'

"Kitty crisis. My roomie has allergies like you wouldn't believe, so I can't keep her, and I thought maybe you could take her? She's such a sweetheart, and it's not like it's her fault, but I can't, I mean, he can hardly see 'cause his eyes are watering so hard."

"Come on over," said Chris, at once. "Bring the kitty. I can't promise anything, you'll have to speak to my evil landlord, but we can give it a try." If Lance could look at those huge, beseeching, blue eyes—and the kitten—and still manage to voice the words, Actually, I'm more of a dog person, he wasn't the big softie Chris knew him to be. And besides...

Unfortunately, by the time JC's car drew up outside, Lance had come home and there was a complication.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Chris looked unexpectedly worried as he opened the door. Was there a problem with his evil landlord? JC wasn't sure he wanted to meet an evil landlord. But, this was for Adorable Nuisance, so he must be strong and confident. He stepped inside and followed Chris into the sitting room.

"I'll, um, just tell Lance you're here," said Chris, and vanished through a different door.

JC put down the cat carrier and coaxed Nuisance out. Surely not even an evil landlord could be proof against the most adorable kitten in the world? She sniffed the air doubtfully, emerged, and began to inspect this new place.

A moment later, several things seemed to happen at once.

The door to the back yard opened, and two large dogs rushed through.

The kitten shot vertically from the floor to JC's head, and crouched there, hissing fiercely.

JC shrieked with agony as clawmarks made their way up his flesh.

And the most gorgeous guy appeared at the door from the yard.

"Okay, what the hell is—oh, God, dogs! Out!" It was Chris, who herded the dogs ruthlessly back through the door to the yard, despite their protests. JC couldn't move.

The gorgeous guy came towards him. He had incredibly beautiful eyes, JC thought, looking helplessly into them and quite unable to think of something to say.

"My God, you're him! The poet," the guy said. "Oh, hey, you're bleeding." He lifted a hand to JC's face, and the cat on JC's head spat threateningly. "Stop that. It's all right, I just want to help," said Gorgeous. He reached up for Nuisance, detached her carefully from JC's tangled hair, and dumped her in his arms. "I'll get—wait right there."

"Any moment now," Chris said, "an invisible orchestra is going to start playing, heavy on the violins."

"Shut up, Kirkpatrick," growled Gorgeous, back with a box of Kleenex. He wiped JC's forehead carefully. "Anywhere else bleeding?"

"Uh," said JC.

"From the look of his clothes she climbed him like he was a tree," Chris said. "You should probably do a full-body inspection."

"Aren't you going to be late for work?" said Gorgeous, very pointedly.

"Not a problem. Anyhow, I was going to introduce you. JC, this is Lance, Lance, JC. And my work here is done." Chris left the room jauntily, and "Don't do anything I wouldn't do!" floated in the air in his wake.

Lance gestured towards the couch, and they both sat. Nuisance wriggled herself upright and began to ingratiate herself with this new human.

"I didn't know you had dogs," JC said. "Chris didn't say anything about dogs."

"He didn't know,"said Gorg—Lance. "I just picked them up today from the pound. So, this is the kitty you rescued. Chris said your roommate has allergies."

"He does. But I guess I don't even have to talk to your evil landlord now. I mean, dogs…" JC waved vaguely. "I just—"

"As a matter of fact, I'm Chris's landlord. Any normal person would call us roommates, but he calls me his landlord because I pay the mortgage and he just pays rent, and evil because he's demented."

"Oh." JC could feel himself blushing.

"Look, um. Can I get you a coffee? I mean, you came all the way over here…"

Don't worry, JC thought with sudden determination, I'm not leaving here without your number. He smiled, and assented to coffee, and put Nuisance on the floor while he followed Lance into the kitchen. "It was you at the open mic night, then."

"Yeah, I—uh." Lance reached up his hand to the back of his neck, obviously embarrassed.

"I was really hoping I'd get to see you again."


"Yeah. I mean, I—yeah."

Lance grinned at the two mugs he'd set on the counter. "They had another open mic night last Wednesday. I went back there but…"

JC thought back. "Wednesday I was stuck at home with the slushpile."

"Okay, I'm gonna assume that's a lot less dirty than it sounds. Sugar?"

They sat down at the kitchen table. Lance's eyes… his smile… he didn't exactly look like a Renaissance painting, JC thought, but if a Renaissance artist had seen him they'd definitely have wanted to paint him. He had perfect, peachy skin like a southern belle's, except there were a few freckles on his nose, and JC suddenly discovered he had a weakness for freckles. "Oh. Sorry—what did you say?"

"I said, maybe it's a good thing you brought your kitty here before the puppies have had a chance to get settled in. We can try it, if you like, just to see how they get along. I mean, it wasn't a great start, but I can bring them in one at a time and hold on to them and we can see if they're okay together."

"I… guess," JC said, dubiously. Those dogs were a lot bigger than Dora. He didn't rescue her from a dumpster so giant dogs could eat her. He collected the kitten from beneath the coffee table and sat her on his knee in the kitchen, while Lance went outside to grab one of the puppies.

"Okay, now, Foster. Behave. Be a good dog. That's right, quiet down now. You ready, JC?"

They came in. JC petted Dora reassuringly as the dog cocked its pale brown and white head and sniffed her. Dora quivered, but all of a sudden, she reared up and batted the dog sharply on the nose. Foster jumped.

Adorable Nuisance washed her face.

Foster whined.

Nuisance stretched one languid back leg, and washed that. Then she leapt lightly down onto the floor and glared at the dog. Foster's brow furrowed up, and he backed away as Nuisance made her way to the dog bowls in the corner of the room and began to nibble.

"Okay, then," said Lance, sounding as if he was trying not to laugh. "Looks like they figured out who's boss. I'll fetch Dingo. Foster, stay." Foster did not stay, of course, he followed Lance, giving the kitten a wide berth. If the back end of a feeding cat could look smug, JC thought, Nuisance's looked smug right now. And when Lance returned with both dogs, she didn't even need to smite Dingo's nose to have him nervously defer to her.

"She probably shouldn't eat the dog food," JC said.

"I guess she was just making a point," said Lance. "But if you brought her kitty food, maybe we should feed her some of that? To make her feel at home?"

"I'll go get the box."

"Um, JC?"


"I was just going to get takeout and watch a movie, have a nice quiet night in to let the puppies settle in. Um, if you'd like to join me…?"

JC smiled. "I would like that very much."

By the time the movie finished—JC didn't even remember what it was but it had been a nice, quiet background noise while he and Lance kissed until their lips were bruised—the two of them were snuggled together on the couch with a sleepy gray kitty stretched across as much of their laps as she could occupy. Each of them had a warm foot with a puppy snoozing on it. And JC had never felt so purely happy in his life.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

By the time he got to the club, Chris's hands were sweating. He went straight to Howie's office, flung the door open and marched in.

"I'm sorry I was a jerk last night," he said, straight out. "Are we good?"

"Sure, of course, but Chris—"

"Okay, then." Chris retreated at once to the bar, and made determined small talk with Christina, Nick and Brian until it was time to get up and do his DJ thing. He'd completely fucked up the apology he'd meant to make, despite rehearsing it in his head until it was smooth and plausible, and he really could not face Howie being all well-meaning and kind and patient. Not right now.

~ ~ ~

He tried to sneak out at closing time, but Howie was waiting by his car. Howie was sneakier than Chris had given him credit for.

"You know, it's late," he began. "Been a long day."

"Chris, you are not going to avoid me for ever."

I can try, Chris thought. "I just want to go to bed," he lied.

"And I just want to know if JC found a home for his rescue kitten," said Howie, with an unusually unpleasant smile on his face. "So you can take me back to your place and let me see for myself."

There was definitely a logical disconnect in there somewhere, because what the fuck, but there was also a steely tone in Howie's voice that Chris hadn't heard before.

"And while we're on the way," Howie said, fastening his seatbelt, "you can explain why you decided to tell me a bunch of lies about your relationship with JC."

It sounded like he had achieved his ambition of pissing Howie off, and now that it had happened Chris didn't feel gleeful at all. There was a prickle of shame building up inside him, along with that slightly sick feeling he was getting used to.

But ashamed or not, he could still out-stubborn anyone as basically decent as Howie, so he simply refused to answer any of Howie's increasingly sharp questions, and eventually Howie stopped bothering to ask, and they finished the drive in silence, until they turned into the road where Lance's house stood, and Howie sighed and said, "You are the most irritating person I know," but in a resigned, patient sort of way that felt like maybe things were getting back to normal.

"Isn't that JC's car?" said Howie, as Chris pulled in next to the Prius. "What's he still doing here at three in the morning?"

Chris smirked. "I guess it's possible," he said, with heavy stress on the 'possible', "that he's making sure Lance's new puppies don't eat his kitten. Come on inside." He opened the door. Everywhere was dark. "They probably put the dogs in the kitchen."

They did. There was one small, empty pet bed, one large, empty pet bed, and one large, very full pet bed containing two exhausted puppies with a gray kitten nestled between them.

"My God, I think I'm going to die from cute," Howie whispered. "Better get out of here before I start sneezing."

"The other theory," said Chris, closing the kitchen door quietly, "is that Lance stepped in from the yard to see JC standing there with a cat on his head and decided right then not ever to let him leave the house again."

Howie was quiet for a moment. "And you're cool with that?"

"Couldn't have planned it better," Chris said. "I had a feeling those two were going to get along."

"Wow," said Howie, thoughtfully. "JC really isn't your type, is he?"

"Nah," said Chris.

"So what is your type, then? I mean, if JC doesn't work for you… and you obviously don't have a thing for Lance either—"

"Lance? No!"

"Then what are you looking for?"

"I don't really have a type," Chris said. "Brown eyes are sexy, I guess. Uh. What's your type?"

"Mine? I like crazy people," Howie said. "The unpredictable ones. People who make me laugh. Didn't you notice?"

"Huh." Chris thought about it. When he considered the staff at the club... "AJ?"

"Underneath all the weird, he's really very sweet. But there's a lot of layers, some of them are amusing, some of them are infuriating. That's what made it fun. You know, I think maybe I need a porcupine."

"A porcupine," said Chris. What, exactly, were they talking about?

"That little kitty is the cutest thing, and she makes me sneeze and tear up. No good at all. I bet I'm not allergic to porcupines. All those prickles, it'd be a challenge to figure out how to pet one of those, I bet." Howie smiled at him.

"Ah, are you—"

"I'm not sure how smart porcupines are, though." Howie stepped closer. "I think sometimes they're so dead set on having all the defensive spikes out they don't notice when somebody just wants to pet them."

"I like to think I'm smarter than a porcupine," Chris said, and to prove it, put his arms around Howie.

"Mmm, jury's still out on that one," Howie said, but he was sliding his hands up Chris's chest as he spoke, so Chris wasn't too worried. In fact, Chris wasn't thinking about anything except how Howie's lips would taste, did taste, and then he stopped thinking altogether.


"Good morning!" Chris announced as he strode into the kitchen. Lance, smiling at the countertop, was buttering toast, with JC draped like a blanket over his back. "I see the experiment has been a success." The kitten was sunning herself on the windowsill while the two puppies romped in the yard.

"Hey, Chris," said Lance. "Oh, hi, Howie."

"Howie!" said JC, startled but not letting go of Lance. "You know Chris?"

"Quite a bit better than I did last night," Howie said, and pulled up a chair.

Lance laughed. "About time!"

Chris bristled. "What?"

"You've managed to mention your slavedriving boss every single day since you started working at Sweet's, I swear. Every. Day. It's about time the two of you wised up," Lance said, grinning. "Hey, I'm an evil landlord. I notice these things."

"Howie? Howie is your slavedriving boss?" JC said, astonished.

Chris opened his mouth to argue and realized he didn't have a case. "I need coffee," he grumbled. "Tell me this cosy domesticity means there's fresh brew."

"There is." Lance poured it into four mugs, set them on the table, deposited JC carefully into a chair, and sat down himself.

"I would like to state, for the record," Howie said, "that I wised up months ago."

"What?" said Chris.

"Only you were so obnoxious I didn't think you'd be interested."

"Chris was obnoxious? No!" Lance obviously thought this was hilarious.

"Be nice to me," Chris muttered. "Look what I got you." He waved at JC, who smiled and shook his head.

"You didn't." JC and Lance exchanged ludicrously sappy smiles, which Chris would have mocked if he hadn't suspected he had sorta the same expression on his own face. "Adorable Nuisance got us together."

"Sounds like Chris to me," said Howie.



Back to Popslash Index
Back to Alternative Popslash Index