nsync in black and white

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


written for Den for MTYG 2017

It was a fine, sunny day, and Lance was enjoying himself. The flowers of late summer were brightening the park, and the sky was a cheerful blue. His legs felt full of running. If he felt like this next month for the half-marathon in Androscoggin, he'd make his best time ever. He'd gotten out of shape last winter while the restaurant was so busy, people always liked to go out to eat in the cold months, but he was back to full fitness and glad he'd set himself a goal. He imagined it as he ran, not this nearly empty path but a jostling crowd of competitors, and increased his speed to get through them.

After a little while, he realized he had a companion. The little dog scampered alongside him, seemingly enjoying the exercise as much as he was. Head up, tail streaming, and a jaunty stride.

Okay, half-way. He didn't need a rest, but there was a bench just ahead and maybe it was time to say hi to his new friend. "Hello, little fella," Lance said as he thumbed the top of his water bottle. "You having a good time?"

The little dog panted at him and grinned, pink tongue dangling. Lance sat, and his small companion bounced up eagerly on hind legs and rested both front paws on his knees. He grinned back and reached out to stroke the eager head. "You like running, don't you, boy? You love a good run, yes, you do." The small nose nuzzled at his palm enthusiastically. "So who did you come with? Did you leave him behind? Did you do that?" Lance gazed around, sure that somewhere, panting in the distance, there'd be an owner waiting to reclaim this adorable little dog.

No collar, though. That was troubling. "Did you slip your collar?" The dog's tail continued to wag mightily, then there was a brief break to leave a calling card by the corner of the bench, and the dog—uh, she—was back, licking Lance's hand and begging to be petted again. She was the cutest thing, she really was.

After five more minutes Lance was beginning to get uneasy. Surely someone must be looking for her? She was so friendly, so trusting, she must have a good home somewhere. "Maybe you and me should go back the way we came, huh? Come on, then." She fell into line by his right heel and picked up the pace alongside him as they headed back towards the entrance. Lance had intended to run right through the park and back around the perimeter, but if he was to find the little dog's lost owner it seemed better to go back the way he'd come.

They reached the gate. Nobody had claimed her. Nobody even seemed to be looking. Lance crouched, and she leapt up to snuffle at his face. "I don't know what to do with you," he told her, worriedly. He took a picture of her ridiculous little face on his cell, and then several more, but that wasn't helping. What should he do?

No collar, but maybe she was microchipped. He'd have to take her to a veterinarian. Suddenly resolved, Lance sacrificed the cord from his sweatpants and knotted it gently around her neck. He didn't like to tie her like that, but leaving her loose to dart into traffic would be way worse. And in fact, they made it to his apartment without any problems. Smart little dog walked beside him without any fuss, and he was thankful for that as he needed one hand to keep his pants from embarrassing him.

He did a quick search on his phone for the nearest veterinarian who'd be open on a Saturday; it seemed unlikely they'd have an appointment at no notice, but he might as well try. It turned out he didn't need to see an actual vet to get the dog checked: the veterinary nurse on reception brought out a little wand and waved it over his new friend, but there was no response. No microchip, then, and there seemed to be no way to identify her owners. "You could put up a poster in the park," the nurse suggested, "close to where you found her."

"Yeah, I'll try that," he said. At least he had pictures.

"Here, take this. It's a card for the local shelter. You can take her there if you can't find the owner. They do a great job with the dogs they take in."

He put the card in his pocket, although he had no intention of sending this little treasure to a shelter. If no owner came to claim her, he'd keep her... if he could. If he could.

He couldn't. Two days later, his landlord spotted him trying to smuggle her up the stairs, and reminded him in no uncertain terms that his tenancy agreement had a No Pets clause.


"Now that," Chris said approvingly, "is what I call responsible pet ownership."

Justin stared at him, then relaxed. "You've been talking to JC."

Chris threw him a look of reproach. "Somebody's bringing their own dog in to make sure it's happy with the new dog they want to adopt. What would you call it?"

"Oh, I'd call it responsible pet ownership," Justin said, "but we weren't talking about me, we were talking about you, and you divide people into Good People and Bad People and that's that."

Chris shrugged. It was true enough. "Good People, then. Whatever. I guess I'd better be a Good People and wait out here for you while you finish up?"

"Yeah, JC does like to stick with routine," Justin said. "And I'll probably go faster without you messing around and petting all the dogs instead of getting the cleanup done." They were going karting, and since Justin volunteered here on Wednesdays as well as Saturdays, and the karting track was only ten minutes from the shelter, Chris had come here to meet him and get some extra puppy time in. Funnily enough, Chris had originally assumed Justin belonged in the Bad People category, because they'd met at the kart track and Justin was a terror behind the wheel. But it turned out Justin was a sweet kid who'd jumped at the idea of volunteering with the shelter when Chris had mentioned it, and who was good with the big dogs and surprisingly reliable at showing up every week. Decorative, too, with the blue eyes and that smile.

That must be the guy bringing in his dog for a compatibility check, he thought, noticing a—wow, a really amazingly gorgeous guy approaching the counter with a small and adorably ridiculous dog on the end of a purple leash. To his annoyance, Bettina got to him first—okay, it was her job to deal with the customers, but Chris was perfectly capable of being polite, whatever Justin might say.

The gorgeous guy had quite a long conversation with Bettina, unfortunately too quiet for Chris to tell what exactly they were talking about, but it did give him plenty of time to check out the guy's spectacular ass, so he wasn't complaining. Now, how to make sure Justin was elsewhere when Bettina called for someone to take the visitor through… it would be practically criminal not to flirt with someone who had an ass like that, now, wouldn't it?

He'd get his chance when they were ready for the other dog to be brought out, because that was gonna be Chris's job—wait, what? The guy was kneeling down to give his little mongrel a cuddle, then he—he handed her leash over to Bettina and walked towards the exit. The little dog barked sharply as the guy reached the door, and strained at the leash, yipping frantically. The guy looked back over his shoulder, then left. Chris was astonished—he'd been so sure this was the prospective adopter who was coming to—well, he'd been wrong, hadn't he. Completely wrong.

"Oh, he said he couldn't keep her because of the tenancy agreement," Bettina said when questioned. "Only been there a couple of days, but when the landlord found out, well. So he brought her here."

Well, so much for being a responsible pet owner, Chris thought, and he realized he was angrier about it than he ought to be. Good looking guys shouldn't be allowed to turn in their pets. The guy had been well dressed, too; at least, Chris didn't know about that stuff but his clothes had looked new and clean. Not a hardship case, for sure. Not the kind of person who'd have to take what he could get when it came to apartment shopping. Why hadn't he found himself an apartment which allowed pets?

"Here I am." Justin was done for the day. "Hey, are you okay?"

"Sure. Sure," said Chris. "It's just, you know. I hate seeing what people do to their pets."

"Then it's good we can take better care of them," Justin said, firmly. "Are you still not ready to get another dog?"

"Uh. Don't know. Maybe soon. I guess when the right one turns up."


Chris hardly recognised the little mongrel when he reported for his Saturday shift. She was about the saddest sight he'd ever seen, moping in her cage. She did lift her head at his approach, but drooped back down, disappointed. He sat with her for a long while.


As the weeks went by, little Jamie seemed to revive a little, and even to be pleased to see him, but she didn't seem to take much notice of anyone else. She still seemed to be pining for the owner who'd left her there. But Chris was making progress. And he was beginning to think that he might be ready to take on a new dog.


"Now, remind me, which dog was it you brought in to us?"

"She didn't have a name, at least I didn't know it because I couldn't find out who her owner was. I came in on August 19th," Lance said. He'd waited too long, he knew it, some lucky family had picked her out, he'd waited too long.

"Ah, yes. I see her—yes, she's still here. Jamie, we call her. We had to wait the statutory period in case her owner showed up, but they didn't, so we moved her through the adoption process, spaying, all the vaccinations, we make sure all our dogs are fit and healthy…. hmm."

"Is something wrong?"

"No, no, it's just that she hasn't really settled. Some dogs take longer than others."

"I thought she'd be picked out right off, she's the cutest little dog I ever saw. I almost didn't call because it's been so long already, but I had to get time off because my grandparents needed some help, and I had to work weekends to catch up. But I thought, if she's still there, if I can get somewhere else to live…"

"I can put a note on her file that you're interested," JC's voice was kind. "Do you want to come visit?"

"I can do that?"


"I will absolutely be there at the weekend."

Lance was all set to visit his little dog—not his dog yet, but as soon as he found a house she would be—but his grandmother called again that Friday night to say that her brother was ill and could Lance take them to visit, she knew it was an imposition but Gramps really couldn't drive that far and it sounded like this might be the last time she got to see Fred. And of course he had to agree.

And then, great-uncle Fred went and died and so he stayed to help with the funeral arrangements because it was going to take Mom and Dad a little while to get there, and after that there was no escaping it, he had to work weekends to catch up—not just every Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes in the restaurant but the accounts as well. Things had gotten a little out of hand while he was away.

He called JC again to tell him he hadn't had a chance to visit, and JC talked to him very kindly and said that he should really consider whether he was the right person to adopt a dog, because dogs needed company, and if he didn't have the time to visit, maybe he wouldn't have the time to care for a pet the way a dog needed to be cared for. Lance could hear the truth in JC's words. He didn't have time to look after her the way she deserved.

Heavily, he agreed that maybe it would be best if his dog was adopted by somebody else.


"You know, I think she's going to be happy with me. She's made a lot of progress. She'll play with me, and I got her to eat, didn't I, when she didn't seem to be interested. And I'm ready to have a dog in my life again. I want to."

"Will you still come here on Saturdays?" JC asked, smiling at Chris.

"I—sure! Of course! Um. Maybe not at first, because she'll need to get settled," Chris said.

"Let's see how it goes with Jamie," JC said. "Congratulations! And you know we'll be glad to have you back again whenever you're available."

Chris grinned, shook JC's hand, and practically bounced out of the office to go and claim his little dog.


It was incredible how one phone call could set a person's life back on course, Lance thought. No, realistically a series of calls, but the one from his Dad talking about the inheritance from Uncle Fred, that had been the kick-start he'd needed. Then he'd called the realtor and increased the budget and she'd called him right back with a prospect and he'd been to see it and—and now here he was, keys in hand and surrounded by cardboard cartons. Dad had loaned him the money to make the down payment, but Uncle Fred's legacy would more than cover it. And he'd caught up on the backlog at work, fixed the staffing problems and was starting to have leisure hours in his life again, just in time to unpack everything he owned….

And, just maybe, to re-think whether he could give a dog a good home.

He called the shelter and arranged for someone to come look over his new place. It turned out to be the JC he'd spoken to before, a really attractive man whose scattered manner disguised a firm determination to do what was best for the animals in his care. JC was very helpful in pointing out problem areas, like that bit of fence that needed attention. In the end, though, JC had agreed that this looked like a perfect home for a lucky dog—and that Lance should come over to the shelter and see if any of the animals there was the right one for him.

"I want to have a dog to share Christmas with," Lance explained eagerly. "I've spent way too much time away from work this year so I can't go see my family, but that will give us time to bond, won't it? Plus I'm thinking maybe in the new year I should look into getting a roommate, someone who works more regular hours, so the dog won't be alone."

"We don't let people take dogs during December," JC said. "Too many people want a puppy for Christmas and by January they don't want them any more. But you can come down to the shelter any time and find your dog and spend a while making friends, and we'll put your names on the reserved list, and you'll have plenty of time to buy things like a blanket and a crate, and maybe do some research."

"I will. I definitely will."

He did. He went to the shelter the very next day, explained to the sweet lady on reception that he was looking to adopt, and she called one of the shelter volunteers over to take him to meet their dogs.

"Hi, I'm Justin. So JC checked you out already—did you fill in one of our forms yet? Ah, great. So, we have some beautiful dogs here. Do you have any idea what kind of pet you want? Are you on your own? Do you have a family?"

"Actually," Lance said, "I already know what dog I want." He showed Justin the photos on his phone. "I brought her in back in August because I couldn't keep her in my apartment and I couldn't find her real owners, but JC said they never showed up looking for her and now I have a house. Sorry, I'm babbling. I'm kind of excited."

Justin looked at the phone. "I remember that one," he said, frowning a little. "She cried for three days straight, and she wouldn't hardly eat until—" He stopped abruptly. "But, uh, she ain't here now."

"What happened?" Find your dog, JC had said, surely he'd meant that she was here, waiting for him—

"After a while she got settled, and she got her forever home about, uh, a month ago?"

—except maybe JC had meant, find a different dog, and Lance just hadn't understood that.

"Oh," he said, numbly. "Right. I guess… Do you remember, um, did she go to a family, or…?"

"Single guy," Justin said. "Works at the radio station. Really good with animals, she'll do great with him."

"Yeah. Okay. Good."

"So, do you want to meet some others? We have so many here that need a proper home."

"I think, uh, I think I'm gonna come back another time," Lance said. "I was just hoping, I mean, I'm not surprised, but. I kinda." He stopped, and turned away.


"He was really upset," Justin finished. "I talked to JC, and he said the guy—Lance, that was his name—had put a reserve on Jamie but had to let her go because of work. Or something. Which JC said was admirable and showed he was thinking about what was good for the dog, but I guess stuff worked out for him because he came in this afternoon and, yeah, he was really upset when she wasn't there."

"Crap," said Chris. He fondled Jamie's ears gently and she nudged his hand for more. "He found her? He just found her and that's why he left her at the shelter?"

"That's what JC said."

"But—" Chris would have sworn Bettina had said—"I guess I misunderstood. I thought, I mean, she seemed so heartbroken, I thought she—that he was her owner and he gave her up."

"Anyhow, I thought I should tell you." Justin stood. "I'd better get going. Seeing my girl tonight."

"Thanks, J. I appreciate it. Not sure what I'm gonna do about it, but thanks."

After Justin left, Chris looked at Jamie. She was happy enough, he thought, but there was something missing. He remembered how ecstatic Busta had always been when Chris came back into the house, even if he'd just been out for ten minutes there was always a delighted greeting. Jamie didn't do that. She welcomed him back, sure, but….

He had a horrible, queasy feeling that he'd stolen someone else's dog.


By Saturday, his gut-guilt was bad enough that he had to do something. He loaded Jamie into her crate and headed for the shelter. Bettina was surprised to see him, so he told her he was missing them all, and wondered if it would be okay to bring Jamie in to say hi and show them how well she was doing. Which was actually true, and he could easily have called JC in advance to see if that would be okay, except what he really wanted was to get Bettina out of reception to fetch JC so that Chris could get a look at the application forms. JC was rarely actually in his office to answer his phone, so she'd have to chase him around the compound for a few minutes.

It worked out perfectly. Chris had found the form headed 'Lance Bass', photographed the address on his phone and put everything back before Bettina and JC came back to reception. James Bond had nothing on him. After a brief chat with JC during which Chris waxed enthusiastic about Jamie and JC congratulated him on her progress, he loaded his little dog back into the SUV and headed back towards town.

Tomorrow. He'd go over there tomorrow.


It was a perfect place, it really was. Way nicer than Chris's tiny house in the suburbs, it was the kind of place he'd wanted to buy but never quite been able to afford. So quiet, with the woodland behind the house, and he'd bet there was a lake out there somewhere. And the yard—he could just imagine Jamie hurtling around it, jumping over bushes and darting in and out of the trees.

There was someone working on the fence over yonder—ah. He'd know that ass anywhere. "Hello?" Chris called, and waved as the far figure turned from his task and looked towards him as he stood at the gate.

"Hello?" Nice voice, too. Deep. And his eyes were beautiful.

"I, um. I came about your dog."

"I don't have a dog."

"Except I think maybe you do," Chris said. "I brought—" Oh, hell, might as well just—he stepped back to his car. Jamie was standing up in her crate, rigid with anticipation. She was out of the crate before he'd got it all the way open, and she sprang from the car and shot straight for Lance and leapt at him, dancing around his legs with her rear end wagging so crazily she almost fell over, and licked at his face and hands when he went down on one knee to cuddle her.

Weird neighbourhood. Somebody was chopping onions. Yeah, that must be it.

Lance was crooning in that mellow bass voice, and seriously, if there was anything more appealing in the world than a beautiful man who obviously loved his dog, Chris couldn't think of it right now. He cleared his throat. "So, yeah. Pretty sure that's your dog."

Lance disentangled himself carefully and stood. "Are you the one who's been caring for her? Justin said she was, uh…"

"That's right. He let me know you'd been to the shelter looking for her, and, well. She's yours."

"Oh my Lord." Lance was blinking quite hard. "I can't thank you enough," he said. "I really—I just feel—it's amazing. Bless you. Look, won't you come inside? Can I get you something, coffee? Hot chocolate?"

"I have her stuff in the car," Chris said, avoiding the question. The two of them unloaded all the doggy paraphernalia and carried it into Lance's home, which was a mess. Boxes everywhere, some partially unpacked, others still sealed.

"I just moved in last week," Lance explained. "It's hard to find the time to deal with all this stuff, what with Christmas coming up fast. I have to ship all the gifts this year, so unpacking didn't seem like a priority."

"We called her Jamie, at the shelter," Chris said. "Not sure she exactly answers to it, though."

"Jamie," Lance said, and boy did he have a great smile. "Awesome—my first name's James! But I go by Lance. Here, Jamie, come on, girl. Let's get you a drink, shall we. And you too—er?"

"I'm Chris." Chris followed them into the kitchen, and accepted the offer of hot chocolate, which came with all the right stuff, a heap of tiny marshmallows, a mountain of whipped cream, and a chocolate-ended stick. Jamie busily oversaw the situating of her bowl in the corner, and barked hopefully as Lance put the food cans and the pack of treats into a cupboard. He acquiesced at once and tossed a her treat. Oh, he was going to be such a soft touch. Still, Jamie was a sweet-natured little thing, and it wouldn't do her any harm to be coddled.

"I'm not going to ask if you're sure, because I want this little girl to stay here," Lance said. "But please tell me what I owe you."

"I—no, it's fine—"

"All this stuff, and the adoption fee, I want to pay for it. Unless—I mean, if you want to keep—there's a pet store on the edge of town, I can go get stuff for her if, if you're planning on getting another dog?"

"I do plan on getting another dog," Chris said, "but probably not before Christmas."

"They don't like you to adopt in December, JC said."

That wasn't what Chris had meant, because he was pretty sure JC would let him take a dog home if he found the right one. He just couldn't think of one that he was ready to take home.

"Never thought I'd be glad I wasn't going home for Christmas," Lance said, looking fondly at Jamie as she snuffled at his legs. "But I used up all my vacation time and then some. Never mind, we'll have a good time together, won't we, girl? Will you be going away, Chris, or do you have family here? Or, uh, wife? Girlfriend?"

"Nah. My Mom lives too far South, it's not a real Christmas when the only snow you see is made of polystyrene. And there's no girlfriend."

"Would you like—you could maybe come over and say hi to Jamie, on Christmas Day? I mean, you looked after her all this while."

"I—sure. That'd be cool." He didn't mean it, Chris thought, but it was a kind thing to say. "So, um. I'll see you."

But as Chris made towards his car, Jamie hurtled through the house, dashed out ahead of him then turned between Chris and the car and barked furiously.

"Doesn't look like she wants you to leave," Lance observed.

Chris was rather gratified—he didn't think he'd made much of an impression. "Maybe you should take her inside and close the door."

"Or," Lance said, "you could stay for dinner?"


On Christmas morning, Chris was awoken by a cold, impertinent nose attached to a very enthusiastic little dog. He rolled over and prodded the sleeping back beside him. "Your dog is hungry."

"Gerrrrroffffammee," came a bass growl. Hmm, Chris thought, must do that again. He lay back and grinned as Jamie trotted to the other side of the bed. It seemed like he'd have plenty more opportunities to prod Lance into making strange, deep noises. And do other, even better things.


The Christmas after that, two dogs woke them up.



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