nsync in black and white

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

clear my eyes

written for sperrywink, MTYG Challenge 2013

Hey, JC.

"Lance! Hi, man, good to hear from you. How're you doin'?"

I'm good, everything's cool. I hear you're putting an album together? Is that actually happening?

"Yeah, well, yes. Yes, it is. Not, I mean, I don't have a label," JC admitted. "I have this guy who's making a website for me. I thought I'd put the music out online."

Wow, very twenty-first century of you! That's awesome.

"I hope so," JC said, relieved that the idea hadn't elicited guffaws or disbelief. He did feel a secret embarrassment that he hadn't managed to find a record company that wanted his music, because he knew, he knew he had fans out there, and he knew he had laid down some really solid tracks.

So when's it coming out?

"Soon," JC said. "This fall. I promised myself I'd be ready to go when the website is set up."

I guess you'll be hitting the publicity circuit.

"Uh. Yeah. I guess." That was the part JC hated the most. He knew it was necessary, of course he did, but it had been so much easier way back when there had been five of them together for appearances, and at least two on every interview. Always somebody to jump in when he got lost in the morass of his own words.

That's sorta what I'm calling about. See, I've been offered this radio show.

"Seriously? That's cool, man."

Yeah, it's gonna be great. Starting out weekly, but they tell me if it goes okay I could end up at five days a week. It's about pop culture, and having fun, playing a little music, a little gossip, whatever.

"Sounds great." It sounded perfect for Lance.

I'm looking forward to it. I want to start off with a good splash, so I'm looking for some cool guests for the first month of shows, and I want you to be one of them.

JC had never been sure that he was 'cool'. He'd never entirely cared, but it was a label that didn't feel like it fit. "Well, sure…"

You need the publicity. I mean, you're still doing the dance show, but it can't hurt to reach a different audience. Not everybody watches America's Best Dance Crew.

"No, that's true. I can't believe I get to be the mean judge on that show, can you believe that?"

Sure I can. You were always the one with the best eye, next to Wade or Darrin or whoever, and amateurs don't like critique. You're doing a great job with it.

"Oh. Well, thanks."

So you're coming on my show. We'll just talk, maybe we can play a couple of your tracks, take a few calls, you know the kind of thing. It'll be fun.

It would be way more comfortable doing publicity with Lance than with anyone else, JC realized. Okay, then. "Okay, I'll do it. Uh, when?"

I'll let you know when we finalize the arrangements. Say, you know what, we should have dinner together after, do some real catching up.

"That sounds great."

* * *

So here he was in New York, ready to record a show with Lance. That still sounded a little weird in his head, but JC supposed he'd get used to the idea of Lance as a radio host. Lance had a great voice for radio. Not that he didn't have a great face for television—JC wasn't even sure where his thoughts were going with that, so he tried instead to go over the things he wanted to say about his forthcoming album. Lance would want to know about it, he was sure, but you could never rely on interviewers to ask exactly the right questions. Justin always said you had to answer the question you wanted them to have asked, and it sure seemed to work for Justin, but JC kept trying to answer the actual question and leaving out stuff he really wanted to say. Lance would help, but he had to do this for himself. Man, it had been a long time since he'd had to do this. ABDC really didn't count.

He was directed into a smallish and very full room. JC was startled—all these people for a radio show? Were they all—okay, here was Lance, beaming at him and coming in for a hug.

"Man, it's good to see you. Thanks so much for coming onto the show, it'll be great. Let me introduce my penis," said Lance.


"My peanut gallery, you know? Did you not get a chance to listen to the show yet?"

"Ah, no, sorry, I meant to, but I, um. Hi." Lisa he already knew, Heather he'd met somewhere, and Ben was a familiar face even if JC couldn't quite place where he might have seen him—paparazzi shots coming out of clubs with Lance, probably. And—

"And I know you and Nick know each other," Lance finished up.

And there he was, Nick Carter, smiling down at JC. Who was so taken aback he just stammered, until Nick laughed and enveloped him in a hug.

"Long time, no see," Nick said.

"Yeah, it is. Wow, man, you're looking great." Trim and toned and tanned and altogether amazing.

"I've been working on it," said Nick.

"We're gonna talk about that on the show," Lance said. "Come on, let's get comfortable."

As everyone followed Lance into the studio, JC felt that familiar churning in his belly. Nick, here! He hadn't expected that. And Nick looking so very, very good. Sitting in the snug confines of the studio, JC had to concentrate on not biting his nails and not, definitely not, staring at Nick sitting opposite. He must keep focus, here, remember all the things he wanted to say about his new album. And remember he was thirty-four years old, and not the babbling, excited kid he always seemed to turn into around Nick.

For the first ten minutes or so, JC was extremely self-conscious, but Lance was so at home, and chattered so easily that he found he could actually enjoy himself. The regular 'peanuts' had no inhibitions about chiming in with opinions, and when it was his turn to talk, they threw genuinely interested questions at him, so that he found himself explaining about the 'Kate' idea and the whole concept behind the album, how he wasn't planning on touring, just putting the music out there, and everyone listened intently as they played the title track. And they seemed to like it, he thought with relief. Then the conversation moved on to ABDC for a while, and JC mourned his status as the 'mean judge' again, and Lance turned to Nick to ask whether Backstreet still reviewed their show videos every night and was there a 'mean judge' in the group?

JC relaxed. Nick was talking about the Boys' latest tour in Europe, and how they were taking a break here at home before launching into the North American tour, which'd be starting right here in NYC in May. JC tried very hard to let the sense of what Nick was talking about into his head, but it was difficult when he was just so delighted to hear Nick's voice, to see the animation on his face as he talked about how things were going, and to drink in the sight of him. JC had known of Nick's medical problems. He still remembered the lurch of horror it had given him when he'd read that interview more than a year ago.

"It's so great, dude, you've had the strength to turn your life around, give up all the bad shit, you know?" he interjected. Oops, was it okay to say 'shit'? Nobody seemed to mind. There was general agreement, and Nick was grinning.

Somehow there was a very smooth segue from Nick's health to the next track—Lance was a lot smarter than people gave him credit for being, he might say that he just went with the flow, but JC knew that a part of his brain was always taking notes and making sure things fit. Then the conversation swirled again, and JC realized he really was having fun. Lance had always been a great party host, and this experience had kind of a party feel to it.

He was almost sorry when Lance brought the taping to a close and confirmed with the sound engineer that there had been no problems.

"Last week I slipped up and started talking about yesterday, meaning Wednesday, and we had to re-do a little bit," Lance admitted. "But I'm improving."

They said goodbye to Ben, Heather and Lisa, who all obviously knew of JC and Lance's plans to have dinner. But… "Hey, you know what?" JC turned to Nick. "You should join us, we're going to get dinner and catch up. I mean, I haven't seen you in a long time, and I guess that goes for Lance, too." He really didn't want Nick to just leave, not without—he didn't even know where Nick was staying.

"Sure, yeah, that'd be cool. If it's okay with you?" Nick said, addressing Lance, who said it would absolutely be cool.

JC tamped down his grin. He thought—he certainly hoped—he knew how the evening was going to end.

* * *

Lance couldn't exactly say no, could he?

He'd been totally taken by surprise when JC just upped and invited Nick along to eat dinner with them. It wasn't that he didn't like Nick Carter, and it wasn't like he and JC were going on a date, but he had been looking forward to having JC to himself for the evening. Not to—not to say anything, or do anything, he wouldn't do that, he knew better, but just. He'd been looking forward to it.

He hoped Nick hadn't noticed Lance's surprise, or reluctance, because that would be rude, and Nick didn't deserve it. Nick was a good guy, and it was no hardship to spend the evening across the table from him, especially now he was looking incendiary hot. Lance didn't perv on straight guys, but he wasn't blind, after all. Still, if he'd known JC was going to pull this switch, he could've asked the others along too, made a party of it.

And now, he was getting a strange feeling about this dinner. A very curious vibe. There seemed to be some kind of understanding between JC and Nick, something they shared that he wasn't a part of and didn't get, at all. They weren't flirting… exactly… although JC was a little more touchy-feely than usual, and Nick was grinning a lot. There was definitely something going on.

* * *

"And then he said did Nick want to share a cab, and I just—I mean, seriously!"

You know JC, always ready to save a buck, Joey said, reasonably enough.

Lance frowned at his phone in annoyance. "Yeah, except not, because Nick was staying at the Trump and I know JC was at the Four Seasons, and they're on opposite sides of the Park! I took them to the 5 and Diamond, way up in Harlem, because you know how JC gets about food and I wanted to give him a dinner that'd make him happy without getting stuck somewhere fancy with nineteen courses consisting of one scallop or half a pigeon breast and a cherry."

Did he enjoy the food?

"What? Oh, I guess. I don't think he was paying much attention. Too busy fl—uh, talking with Nick."

Ah, said Joey, wisely, which was really annoying. You still have that Thing, then.

"What thing?" said Lance, and wished he hadn't.

That little crush you've been hiding from JC for, what, fifteen years now?

"Shut up." Joey had not been supposed to know about that—nobody had—but it had come out one drunken night not long after Joey had walked in on Lance sitting on Jacob's lap. Lance would have put money on Joey not being able to keep his mouth shut, but he was a better friend than that, and had never, as far as Lance knew, told anyone.

You know what I'm gonna say, don't you.

Lance couldn't think of a good answer to that, although a couple of bad ones flitted through his mind. Joey didn't wait for an answer, anyway.

You have to step up, or get over it. See, I figure this is good news for you.

"Oh, you do?" That JC and Nick Carter had—might have—a Thing of their own? Lance did not see how that could possibly be good.

Yeah. Means JC isn't as straight as you thought. He's actually into guys.

A guy, Lance thought. More importantly, another guy. Not me. "I don't see how it helps."

Come on, man, don't be so negative. You have to tell him you're interested. Don't tell me you aren't a better prospect than a Backstreet Boy or I'll set Justin on you. Hell, have you seen you lately?

Lance grunted. "Have you seen Carter lately?"

There was a pause. Presumably, Joey had. Man, you gotta step up, I'm telling you. You don't have to beg him to be your boyfriend, but you gotta let him know you're interested. You know how oblivious he can be.

"Maybe it's me that's oblivious," Lance muttered.

Maybe you're just wrong, Joey said. JC did work with Backstreet a while back, didn't he? And with AJ just this year. Maybe he and Nick are just better friends than you were expecting. Maybe they got a few in-jokes now.

It wasn't that. Lance was sure of it. Of course, spending most of last night trying not to imagine what JC and Nick might be doing while he was lying there in bed on his own hadn't helped his state of mind any. "I guess," he said, tiredly.

Balls, man. You got 'em, right? So go for it.

"I don't know if I can, Joe. I mean. If he was interested, he's had—okay, maybe not fifteen years to do something about it, but he's known for sure I'm gay since 2006."

And in all that time, did you ever come on to him?

"No! Because he was straight! I thought."

Listen, Lance. JC's never going to stop being friends with you whatever you do. You know that, right?

"Mmm." Joey might be underestimating the straight guy's terror of being propositioned, Lance thought. Although, if JC wasn't exactly straight after all…

Just put the idea in his head, Lance. Give him time to think about it. What do you have to lose?

"I guess, when you put it like that…"

* * *

It was all very well for Joey, Lance thought. He didn't have anything to lose, giving advice. Besides, he was probably still sleep deprived. Kloey was only six months old, and he'd spent all spring whining about how often she woke up howling. What did Joey know about anything?

Besides, Lance had never willingly got in the way of anybody's relationship, and he didn't intend to start now.


It couldn't hurt to be sure. Of the situation. Could it?

Before he could talk himself out of it, which he knew if he gave himself five minutes he was going to, Lance picked up his cell, and scrolled for Nick Carter's number. And slightly to his dismay, Nick answered, and greeted him quite cheerfully.

"So, uh. How's the tour going?"

It's cool. We still got plenty of fans out there, I think they grew up along with us. The screaming's pitched about half an octave lower these days.

Lance laughed. "That has to be a relief!"

Yep, Nick said, happily. No risk of jailbait in the audience, either.

Lance rolled his eyes, then thought about it, and frowned. "Listen, there's something I need to ask you."

I didn't think you were calling just to chat, Nick observed. You want me to come back on your show? 'Cause that was pretty cool, I'd be up for that.

"It's not that. At least, it's good to know, maybe when you get to LA we could fix something up, but it's more of a, uh, personal thing."

Oh. Okay.

There wasn't an easy way to poke your nose into somebody else's sex life. Lance took a steadying breath and went for it. "It's about JC. About you and JC."

A suddenly chilly silence.

"I know it isn't any of my business, but I… he's important to me. You know how it is, any one of my guys, you'd be the same."

I… guess.

"I just need to know if you're—if you—if you and he are set for the long haul, you know?"

Are you asking me what my intentions are? Dude, seriously?

"Yes. Yes, I am."

So are you gonna come after me with a shotgun, or what?

"No shotgun. Although you might be surprised how straight I can shoot, if I want to. I'm just worried about JC, that's all."

Okay. So, it's not any of your business, and you're damn lucky you called when I'm feeling mellow, because seriously, it is so not any of your business. But I get it, I get worrying about your guys. No, we're not in it for serious. We just hook up when we happen to run into each other. You know, if neither of us is involved with someone else. It's just casual.

"Right. Okay." Does JC know that? was what Lance really, really wanted to ask next, but JC would kill him, and he'd be right. JC might kill him anyway, for this. "Thanks. I was just—when we had dinner together, you know?"

I guess we weren't exactly discreet, Nick said. He didn't sound worried. Don't spread it around, man, we've kept things on the low-down all this time, and we neither of us want our friends getting involved.

"Uh, no. Well. Sorry."

Yeah. Are we done?

"Yes. Thanks, Nick." He had the impression the connection was dead before he was finished speaking.

It was the answer he'd mostly expected, and Joey would probably go all cheerleader and say it was great news, but Lance wasn't happy about it. Okay, so he hadn't noticed JC getting hot and heavy with Nick Carter for the last… however long it had been, and in theory, it was good news for him that JC was totally into sex with men. In theory.

But. Lance was baffled. He had had a ringside seat to JC's sex life for years, and from what he'd seen then, JC had hookups which lasted for no more than a night (usually less—like that startling time at Much Music when JC had gotten a blowjob from a besotted fan between getting out of the limo and walking on to the set, which had to be an all-comers record), or he had relationships with people who totally did not deserve him and managed to be devoted to them beyond all reason until the whole thing exploded and left him heartbroken. JC had no sense of self-preservation when it came to loving people. Look at Eva.

A series of hookups did not fit. From Lance's observations, if JC went back for more, it meant he was emotionally involved. But how could he be emotionally involved with Nick if they only saw each other when—what was it Nick had said, when they happened to run into each other? Was JC secretly pining for Nick Carter, and Nick oblivious?

Lance's Inner Joey was happily telling him that JC wasn't really involved with Nick or anyone else, so Lance could make whatever moves he damn well pleased.

Of course, Lance's Inner Joey was probably no smarter than the one in Orlando. The state of JC's relationship—or non-relationship—with Carter didn't even matter, if JC did not want Lance.

Lance almost wished he'd never found out about the Thing. When he'd believed JC was totally straight, he'd been okay with it. He'd resigned himself to never getting what his heart wanted. But now, now there was—could be—might be a chance, he could end up being honest-to-goodness rejected, because he was going to have to try for it.

* * *

It happened every time, and every time, he felt just like this. They'd have a night, maybe a couple of days together, and then Nick would smile and head back to his normal life and JC would be…

He just couldn't resist. Not back then, when they were just kids and JC was blindsided by a kind of desire he'd never even imagined he'd have, and the two of them had fumbled their way into something, into bed at least, and discovered that they had chemistry like JC had not believed possible. Chemistry which hadn't diminished over the years.

Nick was incredibly hot, and proud of his new, slimline body, with muscles and actual abs and all toned and everything… but secretly, JC felt a little bit of sadness at the change, because he missed the sweet silkiness of Nick's body, that soft layer all over him, so lush and strokeable. Now, chiseled and taut, Nick wasn't soft at all, and of course JC hadn't said anything, because Nick was so pleased with himself and he deserved to be, of course he did, he'd struggled so hard to get in shape like that, and it wasn't up to JC to suggest that he maybe looked a little gaunt and a handful of extra pounds wouldn't hurt.

And anyway, he was still Nick, which was all that really mattered. JC thought back to that night, the two of them wrestling for position, sweating and sliding in the orange glow of the bedside lamp. Nick's thigh nudging against JC's, Nick's hands all over him, Nick's mouth, holy fuck, his mouth. And afterwards, lying together in the dark, JC's hand spread over the steady rhythm of Nick's heart, feeling so close and contented and that this time, this time it was going to work out.

Then going to the bathroom and coming back to find Nick dressed and ready to leave. Same as always.

Deep down, JC had known it would be like this. It happened every time, and he'd mourn, and eventually he'd pick himself up off the floor and tell himself he was over Nick and go find someone new to love, and when that inevitably fell apart and Nick showed up again with those mischievous eyes and that smile, he couldn't help himself. He didn't seem to know how to stop hoping that one day, Nick would stay. Or at least, Nick would say, get out your calendar, let's figure out when we'll have the chance to see each other again, or, what are you doing next week? Or at least, let's keep in touch.

* * *

He retreated to his studio. After all, he did have an album to polish.

* * *

Hey, JC. How's it going?

"Oh, hey, Lance. Uh. Good, I think. I just have some details to finalize," JC said absently, with most of his attention focused on the boards. "Before we can go live. My guy says the site's in testing now, and also, I can put everything up on iTunes. If I want."

That's how it's done nowadays, 'C. Are you hungry?

"Hungry?" JC considered for a moment. "Yes, I guess I am." He really was. How long had it been since… breakfast?

You wanna open your front door?

"My front door?"

Just get up here.

Oh. Oh! JC hurried up the stairs and flung the front door open. Huh—it was dark already. And Lance was standing there, with a large brown paper bag in his arms and a wide grin on his face. He stepped inside and headed for the kitchen.

"Did we, uh, was I expecting you? Also, aren't you in New York?"

"No, you weren't, and I was in New York last week. This week I'm back in LA," Lance said as he unpacked a selection of containers onto the counter. "Bowls, JC. I thought you'd probably be in studio mode and you'd starve to death if nobody fed you."

"That's—you know, I'm really not that bad. I eat just fine."

"What time is it, 'C?"


"It's ten-thirty, and I will bet cash you didn't stop for lunch today. Here, try the shrimp."

JC thought about arguing and decided he was way too hungry to bother. Also, Lance was right. So he heaped his bowl and concentrated on scarfing down delicious Chinese food for several minutes.

"That," he said eventually, "was good. Er, do you want any more of the duck? Thanks. So, um, did you just happen to be passing a Chinese restaurant and think of me, or..?"

"You owe me," Lance said. "Only I didn't think you'd remember, so I decided to come around."

"I do?"

"The night you came and did my show. Which went great, we got lots of calls, so thank you again for that. But we were supposed to be catching up after, and I ended up finding out more about how it feels to be a member of a four-man Backstreet than about what you've been doing lately, so. Here I am."

"Ah." JC hadn't really given Lance a choice in the matter, he realized. He'd been so happy to see Nick. "Sorry about that. I guess I shouldn't have invited him along, but I just. I wasn't thinking."

"I got that." Lance paused. "Actually, I got the impression—'C, I'm sorry, but, I got the idea that you and Nick weren't just sharing a cab when you left. It looked like you were heading for the nearest bed." JC froze. "Am I wrong?"

JC's mouth was suddenly dry. "No. You're not. Wrong."

"Okay," Lance said, gently. "JC, you know I'm not gonna judge you, you know that would be ridiculous, don't you? If I were Justin, I might—"

"Please don't tell him. Anyone," JC said.

"Of course not. Er. I might actually have mentioned it to Joey," Lance admitted, blushing a little. JC liked that Lance still blushed.

"Okay." He could deal with Joey knowing. "I'll, um, call him. Tomorrow."

"Yeah, sorry. I was kinda—it's not like I knew for sure. But I got the impression it wasn't the first time you two had, er," Lance said.

"Mmm." Trying not to blush himself, JC reached for the last of the noodles and busied himself with getting them into his mouth. Lance watched him patiently.

"If you don't mind me asking, how long have the two of you…?"

"Back in Germany, that charity basketball match, that was the first time," JC said.

Lance's eyes widened. "Fuck! I mean, sorry, but I had no idea. Seriously, you've been together all these years and nobody knew?"

"Not together. Just, when we were in the same place, you know. And not always then."

"So it's not—I mean, why I really came… thing is, JC, if this was a long-term relationship, if you and Nick had something serious going on, I don't think you'd be hiding it. Not—I mean, I know you want your privacy and of course I respect that, but what I'm thinking is, if this was a big deal, you'd have come out and said so. Which is why I'm thinking, it's kind of a casual thing."

"It's… not exactly casual. For me," JC admitted, and the lump in his throat had nothing to do with Chinese food. "But I think it's kind of casual for him."

"Oh, man. Hey. C'mere." It was nice to be hugged. Lance wasn't as tall as, as—but he was warm and strong and it felt good.

"It's not his fault, you know? It's just, I keep wishing, and it doesn't work out, and." He'd get past this, JC knew. He'd survive. He always did. But right now he still felt so raw, and he'd never had anyone he could talk to about Nick before but Lance was here and Lance would understand. And it was so comforting to have someone's arms around him and someone petting him and stroking his back.

Eventually, reasonably confident that he wasn't going to leave unfortunate traces all over Lance's sage-green T-shirt, JC drew back.

"See, the thing is," Lance said, and he looked oddly uncomfortable, "you've got options. Other options. Other options in the way of guys, I mean."

"But I don't want—"

"You should think about it," Lance interrupted. "Because if Nick and you aren't on the same page, maybe it's time you looked in a different book. Crap, that sounded really dumb. What I mean is, if you wanna have sex with a hot guy once in a while, how about me?"

JC stared, astonished beyond words.

"Think about it, 'C, seriously. I'm not going to jerk you around. And I think you could use a little more TLC than you're getting from Nick Carter. Also, I happen to be really good at the whole gay sex thing. So you think about that, okay?"

"I—I—I—" No words. He couldn't even blink, he was so completely taken aback.

Lance patted him. "Call me," he said, and pulled on his jacket. He was out the door before JC could even summon 'goodnight' back into his working vocabulary.

That was. What?

Lance just propositioned me, he thought. For sex. With Lance.

Thoroughly unsettled, JC tidied the remains of the takeout into the trash, and went to bed. He did not sleep well.

* * *

"That went well," Lance assured Foster, who was pointedly nosing at him and whining for treats. "No, really. He didn't laugh, and he didn't start stammering about how it was really sweet of me and all but he couldn't possibly. So I'd count that a win."

Foster looked skeptical. Lance couldn't blame him. It was true that JC hadn't actually laughed, or disclaimed in that earnest way he had of being terrifyingly sincere about things he did. not. want. But since he'd looked like a stunned fish instead, it wasn't much consolation. Was looking like a stunned fish a good sign?

After fifteen years of knowing JC, Lance could not convince himself that it was.

* * *

"So, Joey," JC said nervously. He had been trying for three days to work out how to say, Don't tell anybody I have sex with Nick Carter, in a way that wasn't going to offend Joey. Because really, surely, Joey wasn't going to tell anybody.

Except maybe Chris, because the two of them got together and gossiped, he knew they did. And then Chris would tell Justin, and then Justin would be on the phone to JC filled with outrage, or being all supportive and gay-friendly, which might even be worse, and JC did not want to deal with it.

Joey, bless him, launched into a long story about Kloey's preternatural ability to flirt, and JC hummed along and said yes, he would love video, Joey should email it right away. Then—eventually—they moved on to the subject of JC's music, and it was his turn to talk for a while, because everything was so very nearly ready to go live now, and it was exciting and sorta terrifying and he had no idea whether anyone was going to pay to hear his new stuff or if he'd got the word out far enough or… after a while he ran down.

It's gonna be fine, 'C, Joey said, comfortingly. You're going to send your old friend an advance copy, though, right?

"Oh, yeah, sure." JC made a careful note on his ideas pad. "Um, actually, there was something else I wanted to ask you about. I, uh, talked to Lance. Or, I guess, he talked to me."

He did! That's great! Damn, I thought for sure that boy was gonna wimp out! Because he's been in love with you for years and I—


—honestly thought he'd never say a word about it but he was so pissed about you and Carter that… he… was… wait a second. He did tell you. Tell me he told you.

"Not that, no," JC said, helplessly.

There was horrified silence on the other end, although the dramatic impact was reduced by the sounds of Briahna playing peekaboo with her baby sister. Briahna didn't really get the concept of indoor voices.

Ah, shit. Um. I don't suppose you could forget I said that?

"I don't see how," said JC.

No. Right. So, um. Why were you calling me, again?

"I was going to ask you not to tell anybody about me and Nick. Lance said he told you."

So it's true? You and Carter really are knocking boots? Wow, man, you kept that quiet.

"And I'd like it to stay that way. Seriously, Joe, please don't tell anyone. Not even Chris, or Justin. I mean, I know you won't, but I had to be sure."

Yeah, 'cause obviously you can rely on me to be discreet. There were odd noises, which might have been Joey hitting himself in the head. Serves him right, JC thought. Because what the fuck was he supposed to do with that?

Look, about what I said. Did you truly not notice?

"Absolutely no idea, man."

Oh, fuck. Don't tell him I let on, or he'll have me killed.

"I don't know, Joe, I don't even—are you sure? Did he tell you? Because I never noticed anything, he's never been, I don't know." JC was almost sure Joey had to be wrong about this.

It was just a little crush at first, I didn't tease him because he had so much to catch up on back then, you remember how hard he worked. And then I thought it went away, but it didn't.

"Just a crush, then." It was odd to feel almost disappointed.

Yeah, but he still—nobody has a crush for fifteen years, JC. Not when it's a person they actually know.

JC had no idea what to say to that. "He didn't say anything about being in love with me," he mumbled. "He just, uh. Said I could have sex with him."

There was a shout of laughter through the phone. Joey was also not great with indoor voice. You should give him a try! I mean, since you're into guys now.

"I'm not into guys!" JC said. "Just Nick."

He's good, you know. Not that I know from personal experience, but I mean, I've seen the gay boys lining up for his attention.

"And being a handsome millionaire wouldn't have anything to do with that," JC snapped.

Joey coughed apologetically. I guess it's not my call.

"It's really not."

No, you're right. I just— He seemed to think better of it. Which was good, because JC was beginning to wonder how Lance would go about having Joey killed, and how much it might cost. I won't say anything about you and Nick.

"Good. I mean, thanks, Joe."

Don't break his heart, JC.

"Still not your call," said JC, and turned his phone off.

* * *

After two weeks, Lance quit telling himself he wasn't upset. Didn't matter that he'd never thought his chances were good. He'd let himself hope, and it had not worked out. Lance knew JC. JC loved sex, and if JC had been at all interested in what Lance was offering, he'd have done something about it. He hadn't. He wasn't interested, and Lance was going to have to live with that, which shouldn't be hard to do since he'd lived with it for fifteen years already.

He got on with his life.

But he worried. JC had told him his Thing with Nick Carter wasn't casual. Maybe JC was in love with Nick Carter, maybe he just wanted to be, but Lance knew that Nick did not feel the same way. Unless Nick was one hell of an actor, and all the evidence suggested not. Lance obviously wasn't going to be the one to make JC happy, but JC ought to be happy, he was the sweetest guy on the planet and he deserved to be happy, and somebody had to look out for him because he was never going to look out for himself.

JC might go on for years in a holding pattern with Nick—no, wait, he had gone on for years in this holding pattern with Nick, and Lance could see no reason why anything would change, except for the worse. Okay, JC might fall for a fantastic woman who wouldn't stomp all over his feelings, but his track record suggested that was unlikely. And Nick had girlfriends too, what if he got really serious with one of them and ditched JC for good? Even if that didn't happen, JC would still be stuck at the edges of Nick's sex life, a booty call when there was nothing else going on, and JC deserved better.

It looked like Lance wasn't going to be the one to make JC happy, but JC ought to be happy, he was the sweetest guy on the planet and he deserved to be happy. Somebody had to look out for him. He was never going to look out for himself.

Lance was going to have to do something.

He'd probably get his nose broken, but there it was. So he went to Reno for the Backstreet concert at the Grand. He could always play some poker while he was there, because if the old adage was true he ought to be really lucky at cards right now.

* * *

The show was terrific! Lance didn't let on, but secretly he loved cheesy pop, and Backstreet had such a great catalogue now. He felt a pang of nostalgic envy. The completely unexpected hotness of Howie Dorough (Howie! Of all people!) distracted him even from the completely expected hotness of Nick Carter. Brian was a real crowd-pleaser, and AJ sang his heart out, and it was a lot of fun to sit in VIP and hear the audience singing along and making heart gestures and everything. Lance was surprised how many of the words he knew.

They had a hospitality suite to which he was naturally granted entrance, and all the Boys greeted him with pleasure. Howie explained that they were in Fresno tomorrow, so they'd be leaving in the morning.

Nick was not at all surprised when Lance asked if they might talk privately somewhere, and after a couple of hours of cheerful socializing, the party wound down ("Too many old, married men on the tour," Nick explained) and Nick invited Lance up to his room for that private conversation. "Bring your drink," he advised. "I only keep water in the minibar these days."

Admiring, and not at all wishing to emulate, Nick's self-control, Lance did as he suggested and made himself comfortable in one of the big chairs.

"Are we gonna have another one of those conversations?" Nick asked.

"I... yeah," Lance said. "Sorry. I mean, thanks for being willing to hear me out."

Nick looked at him cynically, and got himself a bottle of water from the minibar.

"See," Lance began, carefully, "I'm kinda worried about JC."

"Is he okay? Is something wrong?"

"No, nothing's wrong. Not anything new, anyway, but, see, JC doesn't really do casual. I mean, he does hookups, of course he does, I couldn't even count the number of times he took a girl back to his room when we were touring, but he never saw them twice. When he's in a relationship with someone, he's really committed. He falls in love real easily, you might not think it, but he does. And what you two are doing is—it doesn't fit JC's pattern, you know?"

"I'm also a guy," Nick said. "Does that fit JC's pattern?"

"I guess not," Lance said. "I'm not sure it matters as much as JC thinks it does, though. I mean, love is love, right? And sex is sex?"

"Amen," said Nick.

"Only I think JC's in love with you," Lance said in a rush, hoping like hell he was doing the right thing here.

Nick considered. "I don't think so," he said. "I think we're all about the sex. It's not like we both get a lot of hot man lovin'," he grinned, "and when you're, I guess I have to say mostly straight, it's not that easy to pick up a guy you can rely on to be, like, discreet. I've tried it a couple times, but it's way better with JC. We trust each other, and the sex is amazing."

If only it were that simple, Lance thought. From Nick's point of view it probably was. And, he realized, Nick's point of view was perfectly reasonable, except for how miserable JC had been. "I think you're wrong," he said. "I think JC wants more. He wants a proper relationship, not just," he coughed, unable to say it without flinching, "amazing sex." Lance had never seen JC pining over someone before. Unhappy, yes, after his various breakups. Excited, sure, like he'd been when his relationships were thriving—and, Lance thought, like he'd been at that dinner, because Nick was there. The pining was definitely new.

"You're not the one in this, this arrangement," Nick pointed out. "I think I know what we got going on, better than you do."

"If I were having sex with Howie, the same way you're having it with 'C, which one of us would you say knew Howie the best?"

Nick opened his mouth, then paused to consider. "Huh. Uh, you're not, are you?"

Lance grinned. "No, but I gotta admit, he was pretty fucking hot on stage tonight."

"Yeah, marriage and fatherhood's been good to him," Nick acknowledged. "So I can scrub that image right out of my brain."

"You're welcome," Lance said. After all, he had the images of Nick and JC in his brain, and he didn't think they'd ever leave. They were probably engraved on his cerebellum.

There was silence. Nick got up and walked to the window, gazed down over the twinkling lights of the city, and turned. "So what are you saying? Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I don't think JC will," Lance said. "I think he doesn't know how to ask for more, and maybe he's scared to."

"You really think he wants to be in a—a relationship with me?"


Nick looked troubled. "I don't know. I don't know if I want—I never even thought about that."

"I'm not here to give you an ultimatum," Lance said. "I just want JC to be happy."

"And you think he'll only be happy with me?"

"I think," Lance said, decisively, "that you either put up or get out. What you have right now is the worst of all paths for him, because he keeps thinking there could be more, and it means he won't move on."

"It's worked out pretty good for me," Nick said, unhappily. "I thought it was the same for him."

"Yeah, well, 'C's kind of stupid that way," Lance said. "He's not very good at being in love. But he falls hard, and usually for the wrong people. Sorry, no, I didn't mean—but if you don't think you could feel the same way, you should tell him. Otherwise he'll just keep hoping, and moping around."

"Make it a clean break, you mean."

"Yeah. Or, you know, commit." Lance didn't want to say it, but he had to, for JC's sake. "Think about it, Nick. He has to be one of the best people you know. Would it be so hard to make it real?"

Nick frowned, and thought, and frowned some more. "Can I ask you something? How come it's you telling me this?"

"JC won't—"

"No, I mean, how come it's you and not Chris Kirkpatrick? It's not like you and me have ever been, you know. We're not really friends."

"Chris doesn't know," Lance said. Unless, oh, God, unless Joey had told him after Lance's rant, JC must be so mad at him, no wonder JC hadn't even considered...

"Don't be so sure," Nick said. "But I'm thinking, maybe you aren't exactly neutral here?"

Lance could feel the heat in his cheeks, and cursed inwardly. "Okay," he said. "I'm not neutral. I care about JC."

"Meaning, if I break up with him, you get to scoop him up?"

"No! I mean, yes, if that's what—I do want JC." He paused. "But I want him to be happy, and it seems like what would make him really happy is if he gets to be with you." He looked away. "I don't think he wants me."

"Well, then, he's crazy," said Nick. "I mean. Look at you."

Lance stared.

Nick grinned, his blue eyes bright with mischief, and Lance could see exactly what JC had seen. "I might have been wondering if you wanted some of what JC's been getting," Nick said. He kept grinning, but Lance was pretty sure he wasn't joking.

"It crossed my mind," he admitted.

"Could be your last chance," Nick said. "If I decide to get serious with JC."

"Yeah, and it wouldn't be weird at all," said Lance. He finished his drink and stood up. "Tempting, but you know, I think I'll just go back to my own room and jerk off." Something for Nick to think about. "And, well, thanks for not, like, throwing me out the window or something. I do know it's none of my business what you do about JC."

"It's okay, man." To Lance's surprise, Nick crossed the room and hugged him. "I get that you care about him, and you're right. He is one of the nicest people I ever met."

Lance nodded.

"And you know, if we do break up, offer's still open," Nick said, wickedly, and Lance yelped as he was goosed by a large, knowing hand.

* * *

For the first time he could remember, JC was not happy in his studio. He did still have a little work to do on a couple of tracks, at least, he could persuade himself they weren't quite finished and not be outright lying to himself, but he was hiding in there and he knew it. And it wasn't helping, anyway.

He did not know what to do.

The quiet, deep-down unhappiness that went along with Nick had been a part of him for so long, it seemed normal. He'd accepted it, just like he'd accepted that he'd get Nick when it suited Nick, and only then. But since that talk with Lance, he'd realized that it wasn't right, it wasn't what he wanted, he didn't like being Nick's occasional fuckbuddy and nothing more, and that if he wanted things to change he'd have to take the risk that it would all go horribly wrong.

And then, there was Lance.

JC spent a lot of time puzzling over Lance. They'd known one another for so long, since Lance was that incredibly dorky kid with the bad haircut who'd been so earnest and tried so hard to keep up with the rest of them, who'd been quiet and friendly and secretly had a sly sense of humour that cracked JC up, usually about twenty minutes after Lance had said whatever it was that was funny. And sure, Lance had grown into his looks, there was plenty of photographic evidence of Lance being just as cute as the rest of them, even Justin. JC spent more time than he'd have admitted under torture, checking through images on the web, and Lance was, objectively, a good-looking guy, but the staged pictures and the photoshoots and even the candids just reminded him what they'd been like back then, how crazy it had all been, and how much fun.

He didn't remember any hint, ever, of Lance being interested in having sex with JC.

He didn't remember ever thinking of Lance that way either. He had noticed signs that Lance was gay long before Lance had told him outright, but he hadn't wondered what Lance liked in bed, was he a top or a bottom, was he good at blowjobs, did he—JC was sure he'd never thought about those things.

JC was pretty sure he didn't want to have sex with Lance. And that had been okay, right until Joey had let slip that Lance was in love with him.

That changed things. That meant that Lance felt about JC the way JC felt about Nick. How could he turn Lance down, when it would hurt him so much? JC wasn't in love with Lance, but he did love him, of course he did, so how could he hurt him instead of choosing to make him happy?

And was that the same dilemma Nick would feel if JC told him?

He was the worst kind of stuck, so stuck he couldn't even begin to write lyrics about the situation, and that was more stuck than JC had ever been in his life. He needed help.

Unfortunately, there wasn't anyone he could ask. If he went to Joey for advice, Joey would tell him to get with Lance, because Joey was Lance's best friend. And nobody else knew. So he had to figure this out for himself, and it was driving him insane and he couldn't even concentrate on his music.

Chris Kirkpatrick was not on the list of People Who Knew, so JC was extremely startled when he got a call from Chris, who, after four words of banal pleasantries, launched straight in with, So, JC, I hear you got boy trouble.

JC gurgled in astonishment, and Chris laughed. Why don't you tell me all about it, he invited.

It was the last thing JC wanted to do, so he was quite surprised, ten minutes later, when he ran out of breath and out of words. "So I don't know what to do," he ended.

So lemme get this straight, if that's the right word to use in the circumstances: you want Carter, Lance wants you. Please tell me Nick Carter's interested in Lance. We'll have an epic cycle of love songs until the end of time.

"Really not helping."

Eh, you make me feel old and staid. My sisters' love lives have less drama, Chris remarked, but he sounded amused rather than mocking. You want my advice?

It couldn't make things any worse, JC thought. "Yeah."

Toss a coin.


Toss a coin. Heads, it's Nick, tails, it's Lance. Although seriously, I cannot believe you can't figure this out on your own.

"That's just—" JC did not have words for how stupid that was! If he could just toss a coin...

Seriously, Chris said. One toss, no retries, no best of three. If you want to toss again, you got your answer.

"Oh." That actually made sense, when JC thought about it.

Good. Time to get off the fence, kiddo. Right, we're done here—

"Wait a second! Wait. When did you find out about this? I mean, Joey promised me he would not tell anyone. So did Lance."

My boys keep their promises.

"So, then, how did you know? And how come you aren't even surprised about me and Nick?"

Chris laughed. You think it was news? All that adolescent pining in my baby boyband, you think I didn't notice?

This was why JC never asked Chris for advice. He loved to pretend he was omniscient.

As for who told me, you work it out. Good luck with the coin toss.

JC stared at his phone in frustration as the call ended. Then he went to look for something he could toss. Chris was and always had been a pain in the butt, but he was smart.

* * *

So it was done. Decision made. All settled. Except for actually following through.

JC had expected to feel better now the decision was made, but he was filled with dread. Lance was going to be so very miserable. JC felt sick to his stomach at the prospect of telling him, and he had to, and he really had to go over to Lance's place and tell him in person, because it just wasn't the kind of thing you could do over the phone, or by email, not if a person was your friend and you cared about him.

Telling Nick was going to be hard, too, but at least that could wait. Sooner or later, he and Nick would be in the same place and they could do what they always did and then afterwards JC would explain how he felt and... see what happened next.

But that could wait, whereas Lance was right here, in LA. At least—JC sent a brief text message, and soon had his confirmation. Lance was here. He bit the bullet, and asked if Lance was free tonight, and was told sure, come over. He offered to bring takeout, but Lance said he was trying out some new recipes so not to bother.

It all seemed so normal.

* * *

He stood at Lance's front door practising some deep breathing and heard the rush and clamor of Lance's dogs inside before he even rang the bell.

"Hey, 'C, come on in. Down, Foster!" Lance led the way to his kitchen. "I was just about to put stuff in the oven. You want a beer? Help yourself."

It felt strange. Lance seemed a little bit off, not quite willing to meet JC's eyes, and JC so did not want to do this, because how could he get his friend back if he broke Lance's heart?

It turned out there was pastry to be rolled and cut into squares and filled with lumpy red stuff before it got as far as the oven. JC perched nervously on a tall kitchen stool and drank his beer. He watched Lance's neat movements, his hands working with the rolling pin, the smudge of flour that somehow made it onto his cheek. "You have, uh." He indicated, and swigged more beer as Lance succeeded in wiping the smear of flour away with his T-shirt sleeve.

I could have done that, JC thought.

No, that would be weird.

Except... JC stared. At Lance's hands, his beautiful hands working now to fold the little squares into triangles and pinch them together. He'd never noticed Lance had such beautiful hands. He'd never noticed that Lance's arms were in such great shape, so strong and tanned. Had Lance always had arms like that? Had the line of his neck always been so... lickable? JC kept staring, mystified. Lance looked different. The planes of his face, his nose, his mouth—

"Did I not get it all?"

He was the most incredible man JC had ever seen. How could that be? When did that happen? He'd been looking at Lance for fifteen years, but Lance was the most desirable man in the world and how come he had never noticed that before?

"JC? Are you still in there? Are you writing lyrics? There's pen and paper in the drawer."

"No, no," JC said, hastily. "I was just, uh. Thinking maybe I could kiss you?"

Then to his horror he let out the most enormous belch.

Lance cracked up. "You are just so suave, you know?"

"I finished my beer," JC said, surprised. "I never drink it that fast." He frowned at the empty bottle, betrayed. Maybe it had started out half-empty?

Lance put the tray of pastries into the oven and closed the door. "I think," he said, standing up, "we skipped an important part of the conversation." He moved around the counter to where JC sat, and settled himself between JC's knees as they jutted out sideways from the tall stool. "You said something about kissing?"

JC leaned forwards.

Lance kissed him.

. . .

. . .

"Oh," JC said, astonished.


"Yes," JC said. Because he did see. He didn't know why he hadn't seen before. "Could we do that again?"

Lance smiled at him, and slid his hands up to JC's jaw. "Sure." And he did.

"Wow. I think I need to sit down."

"JC, you are sitting down."

"Oh. Yes."

"Maybe we should move to the couch?" Lance suggested. There was a smile tugging at the corners of his lovely mouth.

Couch. "Bed?" JC said, hopefully.

"After the timer goes off," Lance said, which made no sense at all. Still, he took JC's hand and led him to the next room, and they fell onto the couch together and kissed some more, so it didn't matter.

After fifteen minutes or so, a shrill noise sounded from the kitchen, and Lance extricated himself from JC, who sat up in confusion and nearly tripped over his own pants when he tried to follow Lance back to the kitchen. Lance was back before JC had put his clothes back on properly, and Lance led him upstairs to Lance's bedroom and very carefully took them all off again.

* * *

Lance awoke to a feeling of great contentment, and of being pushed to the edge of the bed. JC Chasez, human starfish, was fast asleep. Lance lifted up onto one elbow and watched him, amazed and filled with joy. After about twenty minutes, he got up and went to the bathroom, pulled on jeans and T-shirt and went downstairs to make coffee. Waking JC by regular means had been completely impossible when they were touring: noise made no impact at all, and physical contact was intermittently hazardous—mostly he just shuffled, blinked and went back to sleep, but on random occasions there was a violent response that had kept even Chris wary, after the first few experiments. Trust JC to be more dangerous asleep than awake. But the scent of really good coffee—and Lance would not allow any other kind in the house—ought to do it.

While it brewed, he made a few calls, cancelled a few things.

He took a breakfast tray upstairs, and was very smug when JC's nose began to twitch and his eyes to open. "Hi. There's coffee."

"That's bad," said JC, stretching. "Means I have to choose. Kiss Lance or drink coffee."

"Drink the coffee," Lance said. "I'll stay hot."

JC grinned his adorable crinkly grin from behind the coffee mug, and Lance sat down on top of the comforter to drink his own. He managed half before JC put his mug down and reached for Lance.

"My evil plan is working," Lance said as JC removed his T-shirt.


"Wake you up and have more sex."


* * *

"I came here to tell you I wasn't going to sleep with you," JC said. He was packing away an incredible amount of breakfast. Of course, he had had quite the workout last night, Lance thought, complacently.

"Okay," he said. "How'd that work out for you?"

JC gave him a huge smile. "Way better than I expected."

"And, um, Nick?"

"Don't worry. We never, uh, got together if one of us was seeing someone. He'll understand."

JC seemed to have changed his tune fairly radically. Lance wasn't complaining, but he decided to make sure things were clear. "So. You and me. Are we... dating now?"

"Nope," said JC, through a mouthful of muffin. "Not dating. Dating is for people to get to know each other. We can skip that part. Which is good, 'cause I suck at it."

"Not dating, check. So we're... together? If anybody asks?"

JC swiveled on his tall stool and clamped his arms around Lance. "If anyone asks," he said, "we're in love."


Nick was quite startled when JC called him in December to ask whether he might be free to come over sometime during the holidays.

"But aren't you, you and Lance, I thought—"

Oh yes, JC said, blithely. But, see, I asked him what he wanted for Christmas, and he said…


On to the sequel, take a second just to breathe



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