nsync in black and white

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

Mirror, Mirror

written for MTYG 2017

Lance was suddenly wide awake. His heart thumped painfully and for a moment his limbs felt numb and useless. He breathed carefully, soundless. Then he sat up, and his eyes stretched uselessly wide in the darkness—the tiny light on his bedside clock gave him nothing, but there was someone—he was sure there was someone—

There was someone in his room.

The glare of a flashlight blinded him. "Don't make a sound!" came a low, imperative command. Which… He froze like a headlighted rabbit.

"Just don't make a sound, okay? I'm not going to hurt you."

A weight settled on his bed.

"I need your help," said the intruder. The flashlight dipped to the floor, and Lance blinked in relief, though he still couldn't see the person sitting beside his legs. Who must be, somehow, a prank. Someone had gone to elaborate lengths to make him think—but who would have done it? It would mean all kinds of detail work and a good deal of stealth, surreptitious recording of exactly the right words, knowing his security codes… Joey didn't have the concentration for something that would take this much effort, and it wasn't Chris's style at all. Michael, getting revenge for all those scares? No. The only person Lance could think of who would carry out a prank as complex and peculiar as this one was himself. And if he did it…

… it wouldn't be difficult at all.

"You know who I am, right?" said the intruder.

"I wouldn't say that, exactly," said Lance. His heartbeat was less painful now, not banging at his ribs since the initial terror had quietened, but he wasn't what anyone could call calm.

"Come on, come on, work it out." Okay, the impatience was as familiar as the voice. Lance knew that a lot of people didn't recognize the sound of—of their own voice, but he'd been in too many recording studios not to know what he sounded like. If it wasn't impossible, completely impossible, he'd have said…

"You sound like. Me," he said.

"Yeah, except smarter," said the intruder.

"Oh, fuck you," Lance said, irritated. "You try being woken in the middle of the night by your doppelganger and see how you like it." Was he being punk'd? Because, seriously...

The other guy snorted. "Okay, then. So you know who I am."

"Except I don't believe it."

There was an exasperated noise from the darkness. "Well, I'm definitely not a figment of your feeble imagination. I'm right here." A hand grabbed his shin through the bedclothes, and shook briefly. "Think it through. How is that possible?"

"Parallel universe," Lance said, promptly. If he was being punk'd, he was going to come out of it looking like somebody who could take being woken up in the middle of the night by a duplicate of himself in his stride, damn it. Cool. Suave. He hoped.

"Give that man a prize."

"Not that I'm saying I believe you're even real. This is most likely a totally weird nightmare."

"Oh, for—oh, whatever. I can be a nightmare if you prefer it that way. Doesn't bother me. It's not like I went to an incredible amount of trouble to get here, or anything."

"So how did you? No, wait, I don't care. You probably have some pseudo-sciency explanation that won't make any sense. I don't care how you got here. What I want to know is why. Why are you here? And what do you want?" Lance figured he was doing well here. Having a conversation with someone who claimed to be himself (Lance was most definitely withholding judgment until he at least got to see the guy) was disorienting at best. But it was a bit galling to have his alternate-universe self claiming to be cleverer than he was. Lance was going to have to step it up a bit. "You said you need my help. What kind of help?"

There was a pause. "I need your Justin," said the intruder.

"Justin? Justin? " Jesus fucking Christ, even in a whole different universe Justin fucking Timberlake was the most important person around. Justin would probably be really happy about that. Or he'd think it was totally reasonable. "Why the fuck do you need Justin?"

"Because I need to save Joey. And our Justin can't cut it."

Lance subsided slowly back onto his pillow. "I—okay. Tell me more."

"It's a long story."

"I'm not actually busy right now," Lance said, "since it's—" he squinted at the bedside clock, "not quite four in the morning."

"Look, I'm sorry to deprive you of your beauty sleep, but I had to be sure you'd be on your own. And not running around being all busy."

"Sure I'd be—oh, never mind." As it happened, he was alone, because Michael had gone to Florida for his Mom's birthday, but seriously, did the other guy seriously believe Lance was going to be on his own just because he was asleep? Seriously? "I guess I'm awake now," he said, grumpily. Presumably the other guy would know he wasn't that bothered about being sleep-deprived. It was hard to get something past your own self. And now he was starting to believe this ridiculous parallel universe story.

"How about a cup of coffee?"

"How about I turn on the light and get a good look at you?" Lance suggested.

"Yeah, yeah. I was just being nice. Taking things gently, you know?"

Lance reached over and switched on the light.

They stared at one another.

It was very, very strange. And—

"What happened to your nose?" the two Lances said, simultaneously.

* * *

Lance fumed silently as the coffee machine burped and gurgled. Plastic surgery, my ass, I did not have plastic surgery, he thought. It was just a tiny bit of cartilage. The surgeon had warned him that cartilage would keep on growing, and look how right he had been to take action back then. His nose was just fine, thank you very much, and had Other Lance even seen the size of that thing in the middle of his face? Hah.

He poured two coffees just the way he liked them, and was gratified to note the signs of appreciation—stifled, but not completely hidden—as Other Lance inhaled the brew. Lance sat, and sipped at his own coffee. He thought about breakfast, but decided he was not ready to eat at this hour, and if Other Lance wanted food, tough.

"So," he said. "You said you need to save Joey."

Other Lance sighed. "Your Joey—is he, is everything okay with him?"

"Sure. He's doing great."

"You're still friends?"

"Of course!" Lance was astonished. Did Other Lance mean—in what kind of messed-up universe were Joey and Lance not best friends? "I'm godfather to both the girls."

"Both? Godfather? What?"

That needed investigating, and more coffee, and by the time the pot was empty Lance had learned that Other Joey's life had taken the worst possible turn years back. He'd never married Kelly. He was only peripherally involved in Briahna's life—birthdays and Christmas, it sounded like—and there was no Kloey in that universe.

"While Nsync were still huge he was dating, like, everyone, you know what he's like. Models, and soap opera actresses and such," Other Lance said. "These days its hangers on and groupies and the kind of women who're desperate to get famous somehow. Nobody worth having."

"I don't understand why he and Kelly didn't—I mean. They were always, she was always his bedrock. Why didn't they get married?"

Other Lance clenched his jaw. "I guess that might have been my—I mean, partly my fault. We were huge back then, just huge, and Kelly wasn't exactly, she wasn't really an A-List girlfriend, you know?"

Lance glared. "I don't believe you. Do you actually know Joey Fatone?"

"Maybe my Joey isn't exactly the same as your Joey."

"My Joey kept asking her until she said yes," Lance said. "Nobody could have talked him out of it, not if we'd even wanted to. Which we didn't." Kelly was awesome. And exactly what Joey needed, which if Other Lance was being honest was even more true than Lance had realized.

"Well, my Joey dated Scary Spice for a while," Other Lance retorted. "Anyway, that's not important right now. Right now, what matters is that Joey's kind of drowning, and he's my best friend and I have to save him."

"For his sake, or because you feel guilty?" Lance said, nastily.

"Oh, no, you cannot blame me for Joey's choices! And I was way too busy back then to be running his life for him."

"Doing what?"

Other Lance huffed at him. "Oh, come on! Space? Cosmonaut training? Space Station? Youngest person ever to go up? Youth Spokesman for World Space Week? The whole circus after I got back?"

"Wait. Wait. You—you went up?"

Other Lance stared. "You mean, you didn't?"

"I did the training. I have the certificate right there, but I—there was a problem with the insurance, and I couldn't." He was over it, he really was, he'd been over it for years, but this, this Other Lance had gotten to do it all, and it was, it wasn't, he couldn't. Shit.

"You didn't go up." Other Lance sounded horrified. Pitying.

Screw that.

"Apparently people in your universe managed to get their act together," Lance said past the lump in his throat.

"I—yeah. Yeah, they did." Other Lance paused, and Lance really, really hoped he wasn't going to be all sympathetic because he did not need to hear it. "Well, anyway. I was busy, back when Joey —it wasn't my fault he didn't get it together with Kelly. He fucked that up all on his own. It was the hiatus, I guess. JC and Justin were doing their solo things and I was being the Space Guy and Chris just wanted to hide out for a while, but Joey got restless and he didn't have a whole lot to do."

"Broadway?" Lance suggested, trying to remember when Joey had been in Rent.

"Yeah, but the critics panned it so hard. Joey needs to be loved. Hence the parade of women."

Lance was far from convinced. His Joey, who was apparently the sensible one, needed to be loved by the people he really cared about, but he was perfectly happy to thumb his nose at anyone else, and seriously, the critics? Since when did Joey care what the critics thought? He was in a boyband! "Okay, so. He fucked up. That was, what, twelve, thirteen years ago."

"No, he was fine back then. I mean, I thought he was fine. At the time it seemed like it was best he didn't get married anyway. He was the one who pushed for us to get back into the studio after JC stopped touring. I mean, we all wanted to, obviously. And Sky High was his favorite album, because JC insisted on sharing the solos a bit more, after Celebrity. "

"The Justin and JC Show," Lance said. He wasn't really bitter about that. Not really. Sky High, though, what was—

"Damn right. Anyway, JC wanted to do another solo album after that, so we had another—"

"Wait. JC?"

"JC, yeah. Don't tell me he didn't make Schizophrenic in your universe."

"No, I mean, he did, but it didn't exactly, he had some bad luck."

"Oh," said Other Lance. "Right. Anyway, he's off being Mr Superstah now, big shot producer who makes his own music when he feels like it and practically breaks iTunes when he puts out something new."

"Huh. Good for JC," said Lance. It sounded like he was a bit more successful in the Other universe. Lance approved.

"Anyway," Other Lance said, pointedly, "it wasn't until after we finished touring with Down and Dirty that Joey really went off the rails. It was, uh, boybands were really going out of style by then, so he wasn't quite as big of a star after we were done, maybe, I don't know. I thought he would've parlayed that—but he didn't. And now, it's too much drinking, way too many drugs, and he can't date the classy women any more because he's a mess."

Lance shook his head. "If you'd said Chris," he began.

"Sure, Chris went down that hole a while back, but he pulled himself out again. He was back in shape for the Sky High tour. He even got married, for a while." Other Lance paused. "Is your Chris married?"

"To Karly. She's great." Lance looked at his counterpart very carefully. Yep, there it was. He knew it. Looked like Other Lance hadn't gotten over his crush on the straight guy. Poor bastard. Speaking of straight guys, "JC isn't married, is he?"

"JC? No!"

"That's a relief," Lance said, and found that he was grinning. It would be a really odd universe if JC were married in it. "And, how about you? Are you married?"

"No," Other Lance said. Lance repressed a smirk of triumph. "But I proposed, and she said yes, so there's that. We're waiting for the right moment."

"Wait. Wait just one second. She said yes? Who the fuck are you marrying?"

"Jessica, of course. Jessica Biel."

I need a drink, Lance thought.

*

"Yeah, well, Justin isn't such a big deal in my universe." They were onto actual breakfast now, eggs and toast and juice and more coffee, because when he'd offered Other Lance a kale smoothie the response had been mocking laughter. "That's why I want your Justin," Other Lance went on. "Yours seems like he's tougher. I mean, he made it big, didn't he."

"Huge," Lance agreed. It was hard to imagine a universe where JC, not Justin, was the superstar. What was the other JC like? Could he be same person as the sweet, rock-solid friend who'd sung at Lance's wedding and made everyone laugh? Probably not, and that would be a pity. Although JC getting to write his own ticket to whatever he wanted…. "But your Justin, did he, I mean, his first album went over real big, here."

"We all thought it would do very well. But then Britney got her revenge in first, if you know what I mean. She put out Original Doll about two weeks before Justified came out, and it was killer, and people were kinda laughing at Justin, not real people but, you know, the press and the music critics, because of Cry me a river being, like, a weak response after she already released Little Man, and. Eh. So his solo career ended up as—we had plenty of fans, he had fans, but it never seemed to go beyond that."

"And JC was the one who made it," Lance said, thoughtfully. He wondered briefly what had happened about the Superbowl, who had performed with Janet and whether—but decided there were more important things to talk about. "So what does this have to do with Joey?"

"I told you, I have to get Nsync back together. I think it's the only way to get Joey's life back, if he has to shape up for the rest of us."

Lance thought about it. He could see it, maybe, if Other Joey was that much of a loser and didn't have the best things in his Joey's life, Other Joey might need Nsync to pull him back together. "I don't get why you need our Justin," he said. "You already have a Justin."

Other Lance scowled in frustration. He must try not to use that expression, like, ever, Lance thought, it was truly not attractive.

"Our Justin isn't—he—it's embarrassing. I mean, he's still working, still performing, I guess nothing on this earth can stop Justin doing that, but it's, it's, every half-way decent song he comes up with is about Britney, one way or another. Sappy love songs and angry hate songs and songs about the girl in the distance and songs about the girl who can dance, all that. The fans lap it up, obviously. They really like the sappy love songs."

"Okay," Lance said, puzzled. "I don't get why that stops him coming back to Nsync. All of y'all are going to need sappy love songs and all the rest, too."

"But I can't persuade him to come back. He keeps believing the next song is going to be the one that makes her notice him again."

"Isn't she gonna notice him more if he gets back with you guys? You're still the biggest boyband ever, right?"

"Yeah, of course," Other Lance said, dismissively. "But Justin knows, I mean, he has to know Britney stopped being interested a long time ago. If he comes back, if Nsync comes back and she still isn't interested, he'll have to accept that she won't ever want him back, and he's not ready to do that. But if I can get your Justin—doesn't have to be permanent, I only want him on loan for a while—he's got the drive, he'll want to be a success in our universe, and if it means getting the group back together, that's what he'll do."

Lance wasn't so sure. He thought it was more likely Justin would light a serious fire under Other Justin's stagnating solo career, but his counterpart seemed utterly convinced, and Lance knew how he could be when he was certain of something. He'd have to work around to it.

"I thought you were working on Joey, not Justin," he said.

"I can get Joey back if we have Justin. Joey keeps weeping and saying we don't need a loser like him, but I got him to promise he'd come back and get himself in shape if everyone else wanted to do one more album. I'll hold him to it. He'll come, but only if the rest of us are all on board."

"It's fucking weird to think of Joey being the last one on board," he said, unfortunately out loud.

"Yeah. Should be me, and in other circumstances, I wouldn't wanna go back to all that," Other Lance said.

"I—really?"

"What do I need Nsync for? It was great, I got famous, I went to space—sorry—and these days I can get all the appearances I want, plus my production company's doing so well I—you do have a production company, don't you?"

"Yes!" Lance was indignant. Other Lance seemed to think he was a complete loser. "I don't do the day to day, mostly, but we've backed some awesome productions." Plus a never-ending supply of fun stuff to do on TV, but if Mr I Went To Space was being asked to do, whatever, lectures on life in zero gravity, he probably wouldn't be impressed.

"Okay. So. Your Nsync hasn't gotten back together."

"Not—not exactly. Well, the VMAs, for the award performance."

"I don't think we had that. What did JC get?"

"No, it was Justin. He got the Michael Jackson award, and we were part of his performance, he—"

"So your Justin got you all back together!" Other Lance was triumphant. "I knew he could! That's why I need him. You have to help me. Where does he live? Just get me in to talk to him."

"Absolutely not," said Lance.

"The hell?"

"He has a kid now. There is no way, none, that he's going to go off into another universe and leave his wife and son. He's just not."

Other Lance gaped at him. "They had a kid?"

"Yeah, and the kid needs his daddy. You're going to have to figure out another way. Good news is, I think maybe I can help."

Other Lance looked at him strangely, but before Lance could identify what was so scary about that particular expression, his doppelganger had grabbed him and fastened something, a bracelet, a heavy one, around his wrist, and he only had a moment to shout—"Hey, no—" before everything went black.

*

He wasn't really surprised to wake up in a home he didn't recognise. Furious, yes. Frightened, certainly. But not surprised.

He was enormously relieved not to find Jessica Biel—or anyone else—sleeping in his—in Other Lance's bed.

But—shit.

And the heavy bracelet seemed to have disappeared. He was stuck here. Not that using a universe-traveling device he didn't know how to use seemed like a plan he wanted to follow. There might be infinite different versions of his life out there, and the last thing he wanted was to get lost like some Quantum Leap version of himself, wandering through variations on his own life. But it would have been nice to have the bracelet, all the same.

He spent five minutes cursing Other Lance, and got dressed.

Downstairs, drinking ever so slightly inferior coffee, he made friends with three confused but cheerful dogs and put his thumbprint onto the cellphone he'd found by the bed. He was a little surprised to see his schedule so empty, but soon realized that Other Lance, the perfidious piece of shit, had planned to be out of the universe for a few days and hadn't wanted to miss any meetings. For a moment he was tempted to make all kinds of embarrassing changes, but, nah. That would be petty, and it seemed like he had more important things to do, now that he was here.

He read through Other Lance's messages, particularly the everlasting Nsync chat which, apparently, transcended universes and was comfortingly familiar. Yeah, he could see it—a JC full of the confidence of success, a Justin diminished by bad timing, bad luck and, Lance suspected, being just a tiny bit nicer than his own Justin. It wasn't disloyal to think so, it'd only be disloyal to actually say so, and he would never do that. And Joey's contributions, so pathetic and full of self-blame that Lance's heart tightened with pain as he read them.

And Chris, of course.

Well. Chris was Chris, and from the chat he seemed to be just as much Chris as ever and by no means in need of help, but Joey, and maybe Justin, he just might be able to fix.

Well, he probably ought to keep the phone handy. Lance levered himself out of the armchair to put it into his pocket, and took a proper look at his surroundings, and wow, this house was… This felt so strange. He stared, recognizing here and there something that was distinctly him, but Michael was completely missing, his crazy, colorful art was not here at all and the pictures on the walls might have been stolen from hotel bedrooms. It looked like a house that had been furnished by a decorator, not by two people, or even one person, who lived in it. In fairness, Lance admitted to himself, he had used a decorator often enough, but he had actual taste of his own. And Michael added so much.

He was not going to think about Michael. There was nothing he could do right now, and maybe he'd figure out what the fuck Other Lance had done to get into his universe before Other Lance managed to scare Michael in a truly not-funny way. Not going to think about that. Not.

The office felt more like home. And oh, there was the cosmonaut certificate, framed just like his own, though there were other things framed beside it that were painful to look at. And, Jesus, three Grammys? Fuck. This version of Nsync really had gone all the way. And Other Lance thought they'd still be a big deal if they got back together.

If he never managed to get back to his own universe….

No. That was not an option.

It took him hours to read the entire contents of Other Lance's filing system, both the solid metal cabinet and the computer, but it was worth it. The cell chimed several times but he let everything go to voicemail. Other Lance wouldn't have left his business needing his input, he was sure, but that damn boring ringtone was getting on his nerves and in the end he switched it to Do Not Disturb.

He had a clear picture of it now, Other Lance's closeted, miserable life. Yeah, his counterpart was stuck firmly in the closet. No boyfriends at all, only a few sordid liaisons with signatures on bulletproof gag agreements. And, dismayingly, some impassioned correspondence from Mom and Dad—Other Mom and Other Dad—begging him to put that lifestyle out of his mind and… yeah, he really didn't need to read that.

Looked like Joey and Justin weren't the only ones who needed saving.

Hmmmmm.

"He's not gonna like it," Lance said aloud to himself, and laughed. Other Lance would be grateful, eventually.

*

The first thing he had to do was see the guys, and that presented a problem, because they were going to notice something wrong before he even opened his mouth. Disguise was the only option. Lance investigated the bathroom—everything was in the right place—and found a surgical dressing pad and plenty of tape. He looked fucking ridiculous with his nose covered in a big white square, but it was the best he could do.

JC was first up. JC would probably be the easiest, and anyway, he really wanted to see this version of JC. And to listen to whatever crazy shit JC was writing in a universe where, apparently, people wanted to hear it. Other Lance's iTunes yielded up a huge list of titles—damn it, he should have had these playing while he read the files. There wasn't time right now to listen to them, he had to head over to JC's place. Then, in the car, he found a bunch of memory sticks and one of them proved to be all JC, all the time. Seemed like Other Lance was just as much of a sucker for JC's voice and crazy talent as Lance had always been. So he listened as he drove the familiar streets of Other LA, and grinned like a lunatic at the exuberance of JC unleashed. I am so taking this back with me, he promised himself.

JC's house was exactly the same, which was weird but comforting, so Lance let himself in—yep, same passcode—and after prowling around the empty rooms for a minute or so went straight on down to the studio in the basement where, to his immense relief, he found three guitars abandoned on the floor, a lonely keyboard in the middle of the room, and JC frowning over his boards with pencil and paper in hand.

"Hey, shitty!"

Yep, that was JC. Lance leaned into the hug and clung back, suddenly glad of JC's familiar scent, familiar strength, familiar laugh. Maybe this wasn't going to be so very difficult at all.

And so it proved. Nope, not difficult at all, he thought as he drove back to Other Lance's place. Eerily like the first time, with his own JC. The same earnestness, the same instant acceptance, the same kindness. Looked like success hadn't really gotten to JC, and he was glad of it.

The next one was going to be way more of a challenge.

*

"Hey, Justin."

"Hi, Lance. Come on in, I'm just, I was just working on a song."

"An arrangement for five voices, I hope?" Lance allowed a little cynicism to tinge his words. Other Lance was way more ruthless, well, somewhat more ruthless, than he was himself, and it wouldn't do to let on that there had been a radical change. Not that anyone in this universe would believe it, Justin definitely wouldn't, but no sense over-complicating things.

"This one's for me," Justin said, firmly. "And if you're still trying to get me to agree to this reunion thing, Lance, I wish you'd just stop. We had our day, we did great, but we're done now. And if you're going to tell me that Joey—"

"Actually," Lance said, "there's something else I have to tell you, J. And something… I need a favor. A big one."

Justin looked wary. "You want a Coke?"

Seated at Justin's breakfast bar—marble, curved—Lance hesitated. He hadn't really needed to do this with his own Justin. By the time he couldn't put it off any longer, People had done it for him. Justin had not been very pleased about that. Still, at least he'd had plenty of time to figure out all the right things to say to be a properly supportive friend, which had been kind of a shame, because Lance would have preferred an unprompted reaction. His own fault, he should have told J before he told the press, and J did have a right to be pissed about that.

This Justin had not, as far as Lance knew, had any warning, so it'd be interesting to see what happened next.

"Thing is, J," Lance said, earnestly meeting Justin's wary blue eyes, "I have to tell you… I'm not, I can't marry Jessica."

"What? No! What happened? Did she cheat on you?"

Ah, the Britney thing still stung. "No, J. She didn't do anything wrong. It's me, I can't. It wouldn't be fair to her. Because I'm gay."

Justin stared. "You're gay? Since when? That can't be!"

"I am." Lance folded his hands calmly and waited for Justin to stop gibbering.

"So, but. I don't get it. You've been dating Jessica for years! Why would you do that if you only like guys?"

"Ever heard of a beard, J? I was—I've been too scared to come out. Think about it."

Justin, to his credit, did. "I guess I can see that," he said, slowly. "It's kind of a big deal."

"Yeah." Lance could have hugged him, but it might be out of character. This Justin wasn't familiar in the way JC had been, and they hadn't hugged when Lance arrived, so maybe Other Lance and Other Justin didn't really hug. Which was weird. Yeah, unlike everything else about this situation.

"Who else knows?" Justin asked. "What did Jessica say?"

"I, uh, haven't told her yet. That's where you come in."

"I can't break up with Jessica for you!"

"No, no! Not what I meant. But I wanted to make sure she had a friend ready to step in and, you know, be there for her. Which is why I came to you." Justin was resisting the idea, he could tell. "Man, please tell me you'll do this. She likes you, and you've known each other for years. You could… take her out to dinner, maybe, treat her nice, make her feel, you know. Hell," he added, suddenly inspired, "it might even make Britney jealous, seeing you with such a beautiful woman."

"You told me Britney didn't care what I do!"

"True, and I don't think she does, but maybe I'm wrong."

Justin pouted at him, and Lance could not help but grin. "Will you help me, J? Please?"

"I guess… okay."

"Awesome. You're the best, man."

*

Actually telling Jessica was surprisingly easy. She looked blankly at him, and he had no idea what thoughts were working behind that smooth, unblemished forehead. But she accepted it easily enough, which spoke volumes about her and Other Lance's relationship. Completely passionless, Lance could tell.

"You deserve better," he told her with absolute sincerity. "You deserve someone who adores you. And you'll find him, I know you will."

It did not take them long to figure out how to deal with the media, and Jessica picked up her purse, rose gracefully from the table, and kissed him on the cheek before she left. He wondered if that was any different than her usual interactions with Other Lance.

He hoped, he really hoped, that this was going to work out, because in any other circumstances he'd never have dreamt of outing somebody who wasn't ready to come out. He knew all too well how terrifying it could be to be pushed in a direction he hadn't dared to go on his own. But it had worked out spectacularly well for him, and Lance was confident that Other Lance would be happier in the end. Somewhere in this world there must be an Other Michael, mustn't there?

And if he still felt a bit guilty about his schemes, Lance only needed to remember that Other Lance had thrown him into a different fucking universe without a word of warning. That was a way bigger deal than being outed. He wanted retribution. Other Lance would understand that. Other Lance only had himself to blame.

*

He was going to have to see Joey soon. Tomorrow. He might not have very long in this universe, if Other Lance turned out to be better than he was at shoving his way into Justin Timberlake's schedule. Usually, it took quite a while, but Other Lance had a whole different attitude towards Justin. Lance took a moment to imagine their meeting, and wished he could be there to see it.

What would Other Lance do about the nose problem?

He uploaded the conversations from his phone onto the desktop computer in the office and checked that it was charging ready for tomorrow, and while he ate (the best pizza delivery in LA was operating in this universe, thank the lord) did some web browsing which filled him with dismay. Joey really was messing up his life.

*

Lance did not sleep well, although the bed was perfectly calibrated to his preferences. He was going to have to deal with Joey soon, and the thought of seeing Joey in his current state was… upsetting. It didn't altogether help to know that his own Joey was merry enough in his own universe, if the one here was the wreck he had looked in all those paparazzi shots of him stumbling out of nightclubs.

But before that, before he could deal with Joey, he had to deal with Chris.

Back in his own universe it had been easy. Relatively easy. Chris had come right out and asked him, and he'd been terrified but overall, he'd trusted Chris to be the same foul-mouthed, mocking, loyal friend he'd always been, and he'd been right. Chris had teased him mercilessly, but he'd never been mean and Lance had always known Chris had his back.

So. JC had been basically the same guy, Justin had been actually a little bit nicer. Surely Chris would be essentially the same guy, too?

The cheerfully abusive greeting Lance got when he showed up on Chris's doorstep was pretty much exactly what he'd been expecting, which was a relief. After some ribbing about the big white square on his nose—he had his ridiculous answer about bashing it on the edge of the swimming pool all ready and polished with practice—Chris let him inside and found him beer.

"So. Still working on that insane crap you told me about last time?"

"Uh, not really," Lance stalled, hoping he was not going to be interrogated. His speed-reading had only given him a sketchy idea of Other Lance's current projects. Not that any of them was particularly insane by his standards, but Chris would judge things by his own criteria. "I actually have a new project in mind. And I'm gonna need your help."

"Oh?" Now it was Chris who sounded wary.

"Joey."

"Ah. Hmm."

"We have to do something," Lance said.

"I think Joey's the one who has to do something."

"Yeah, well, he'll have to do it, if by that you mean get himself clean, but he definitely needs help."

"Lance, I've been—okay, not right down where Joey is but quite a ways, and I'm telling you, he has to want to get clean or it's not going to happen."

"I know that," Lance said, impatiently. "But what incentive does he have? Other—I mean, I've been trying to get Nsync back together, and Joey said he'd get himself in shape if we tour again, but I think maybe that was the wrong call, I think—"

"Wow, Lance Bass made the wrong call? Call the Enquirer, clear the front page!"

"Shut up. No. Anyway, I'm, uh, probably fucking that up anyhow. But Joey needs a reason, he won't just clean up his act because it's the right thing to do and it'd make him feel better, because he doesn't think he matters. We need to show him he does matter."

"Huh. Okay, maybe you do have a point. So what do you have in mind? Getting him to be best man at your wedding?"

"Ah. No. In fact, there, uh, there isn't going to be a wedding."

Chris gaped at him, and pulled thoughtfully at his beer. "No wedding. Seriously?"

"No wedding. I told Jessica yesterday."

Chris was staring at him in a very pointed way. Chris was not supposed to be the guy who could interrogate a person with just his eyebrows, but apparently in this universe he was, because Lance's carefully prepared statements went right out of his head and he blurted, "Because I'm gay."

"Hah! I knew it, I fucking knew it!"

Lance waited for the victory dance around the room, and was not disappointed.

"So you finally decided to admit it."

"I just needed time," Lance said, with what he hoped was Other Lance's style.

"Oh, and you didn't straight up lie to me way back when. When I asked you. Straight? Do I mean straight? I don't think I do."

Yeah, Chris was still the same. "Sorry," Lance said. "I wasn't ready."

"Chickenshit. Fuck it, I knew you didn't want to say, I told you I was bi because I knew you needed easing into it, and you still didn't have the balls to tell me the truth? Hah."

*

Not exactly the same Chris, then. No, Lance was not going to think about that. No. He couldn't—it wasn't like he—no. He was not going to think about it. He was here to help Joey Fatone, and maybe Justin, and the idea that Chris might be, that he was, they could—he was not going to think about it.

"Who are you kidding, Bass?" he asked himself out loud. Of course he was going to think about it.

But he wasn't going to do anything.

*

Even after all those photos of Joey Fatone stumbling out of nightclubs, it was a shock to come face to face with a wreck who looked to be easily ten years older than Joey, his Joey, plump and prosperous and greying with style. This one had bloodshot eyes, thinning hair, and a sallow tinge to his skin that spoke of excess and over-use.

"Did, uh, did Justin say yes?" Joey looked as if he hoped not. It would mean he had to shape up, Lance realized, and he didn't want to.

"Didn't ask him," Lance said, ruthlessly bundling Joey back inside. "There are more important things to worry about."

In Joey's kitchen, Lance stared about him in disapproval. Geez, Joey was such a slob. No wonder he looked so thin, he hadn't been eating right in… about a decade, probably. This was going to be a tougher sell than he'd anticipated. "Did you eat yet?" Joey muttered something about not being hungry. Hungover, or worse. "Right, we're going to my house for brunch." Joey protested, but there was no way this version of Joey Fatone could stand solidly against Lance Bass on a mission, and Lance and Chris (though Chris mostly provided commentary) swept him out of the house, into Lance's car and back to Lance's place. He'd have liked to go out for brunch, but not with a giant dressing pad on his face. Although Other Lance would have had to explain it later, he thought, and grinned to himself.

Ruthlessly, Lance made Joey drink a kale smoothie and a glass of orange juice before he'd say anything about why they were there. Joey looked so pitiful—no, the moron had done this to himself, Lance was not going to be sidetracked into sympathy. Anyway, food. He peered into the refrigerator.

"Seriously?" Chris asked. "You're seriously going to fix breakfast yourself?" Lance stared at him. "Just get that brunch place to send up a basket. That one you always use." Okay, Lance did have a couple of favorite brunch venues, but… fortunately Other Lance kept the takeout menus in the same place he did, and he soon found the card for Estrella—they didn't do takeout, but he was reasonably confident they'd send over something for him, and in fact they were gratifyingly excited to receive his call. Huh. Other Lance actually was a big deal. He suppressed a twinge of envy. Space, he supposed. Damn it.

"Right, food is on the way. Are you sober yet?" Joey looked at him like a wounded puppy. "When did you last eat a decent meal? No, don't bother to answer that, I can guess. What the hell happened to the Joey Fatone who used to fix spaghetti with meat sauce that tasted like magic?"

Joey mumbled something.

"Never mind. Now, listen up. I know you don't want to go back on tour, and you know what, I don't think you'd be up to it. But this shit you're pulling has got to stop, or you'll find yourself living out of dumpsters."

"I want to. Stop."

"Do you, Joe? Do you?"

"I—I'm. Fucked up. Let you all down. Let ev'body down."

"Yeah, you did." Lance met Chris's eyes. This sounded promising, to him, but maybe Joey said this stuff all the time. "Question is, do you mean it?"

Joey looked up at him like a whipped puppy. "I mean it, Lance. I swear. I just, I don't know how…."

"Well, then. You're gonna need help, professional help. I'll find a place—"

"No need," Chris interrupted. "Joey, if you really want to get your life back together, you can go to the place I went."

"What?" Lance said, unable to stop himself. Joey seemed pretty stunned, too, so Lance thought his own astonishment would seem reasonable.

"I wasn't quite as fucked as you but I was kind of, uh, I kept picking up the bottle even when I knew I didn't want to, so. I went to this place, I'll call them and get you in. It's quiet, none of that celebrity rehab crap, but they'll take care of you."

"I dunno," Joey said. "I mean, it's too late. Nobody wants me now."

"Bullshit," Chris said. "You're Joey Fatone of Nsync, you could be in movies, you could be on TV, you could get yourself a permanent spot in Vegas at least, if you wanted. Provided you're clean."

"If you want," Lance said, savoring the moment because this was his private stroke of genius and he was proud of it, "you can host a cooking show on TV. You can teach a bunch of famous people to cook, or they can teach you their favorite recipes, or you can interview famous chefs, or you can, I don't know, do cook-offs, whatever you want, we can work out the details later. But I will make it happen."

Joey looked at Lance in amazement, and there was maybe a light in his eyes that hadn't been there before. "You'd do that? For me?"

Lance nodded.

"I thought you wanted Nsync back," Joey said. "I was gonna try, I swear I was gonna try, but you know, we're not boys any more, and I don't…."

"Yeah, well, I changed my mind. I'm, um. I'm going to come out."

"Huh?"

"I, I'm gay."

"Yeah?" Joey sounded puzzled. "I mean, I knew that. Come out where?"

"In—in Time magazine or something, I don't know yet. Rolling Stone, maybe."

Chris huffed with glee. "I can just imagine your face on the cover of a magazine with a big ol' "I'm Gay" splashed across it."

No kidding, Lance thought, but what he said was, "Yeah, thanks, Chris. Joe, you don't, um. Seem surprised."

"I walked in on you, remember? With that guy? You were on his lap and you—you just ignored the whole deal after, but I knew."

"I," Chris said, "am impressed you could keep that kind of secret."

"Me, too," said Lance, affection welling up in his throat. "Thanks. Thanks, Joey. Uh. Well, I figured, if you go off quietly into rehab, I can make a big thing of coming out so with any luck the press won't notice and, um. That's pretty much going to be the end of Nsync, if it wasn't ended already. But it is ended already."

"It is," Chris said. "My knees are not going to stand another live tour. And you, Joey Fatone, you get a whole new career as a TV cook, chef, whatever. And if you fuck it up," he went on, staring at Joey, "I will make you sorry you were even born."

"I won't," Joey said, sounding more certain than before.

This is going to work, Lance thought, and wanted to dance.

*

It was surprisingly easy after that. Chris made a couple of calls, and Lance arranged for a car, and they took Joey back to his own house, packed a suitcase, shoved him into the shower and sent him off, shaved and half-way human, to Chris's rehab place. After which the two of them went through the house room by room and emptied every bottle down the kitchen sink and flushed every pill and powder down the toilet, and Lance made a note on Other Lance's phone to call his cleaning agency and get the place made respectable again for when Joey came back.

*

Somehow he ended up following Chris back to Chris's place, and raising appropriately chaste sodas in a toast to Joey's future sobriety.

"It won't be that easy," Chris said. "He thinks he means it now, but I don't know."

"He'll do it," Lance said. "And if he wants to give up, I'll tell him to think how proud B will be when she can point to her daddy on TV. Kids that age don't care about the boyband before last, but a new TV show will be something she can brag on."

"Bee," Chris said, thoughtfully. "Huh."

"He should see her more. He should be her daddy for real. You know. Little girl needs her daddy. Well, not so little, I guess. And it'll be so good for him."

"Yeah," Chris said in a very odd tone. "Yeah, well, that depends on Fatone shaping up. Which I'm willing to say could happen, and that's not something I thought last week, but maybe he is ready. All 'cause of you, Mr Miracle Worker with a Kotex on his face." And he reached up and ripped the bandage off Lance's nose, and Lance yelped and clutched at his stinging cheeks and then thought, oh, crap.

"Ho-lee shit," Chris said. "I knew it. He did it. He fucking did it."

Lance stared at him. Chris knew. Somehow, he knew that Other Lance had switched them over.

"So aren't you supposed to have a goatee? You know, being from the evil mirror universe?" Chris's eyes were bright with mischief.

Lance pulled himself together. "There is, A, no universe in which I am willing to sport a goatee, and B, you apparently are evil in every one of the universes because do not even think of telling me you didn't have evil beards back in the day. And what makes you think my universe is the evil one?" Lance had no idea what had given him away—or how Chris had even known about Other Lance's schemes—but he wasn't going to be told he was from the evil mirror universe when so much was so very wrong with this one.

"You're supposed to be the evil version," Chris said with an obstinate set of his mouth. "That's why Lance went there, isn't it? To fetch Evil Justin and get him to get the group back together and deal with Joey."

"Other Lance is not as smart as he thinks he is."

"I don't know how you of all people can even say that."

"I know exactly how smart he is. Plus, I met him. Also, I really don't think getting Nsync back together is going to solve Joey's problems. Most likely he'd have a heart attack or something from all the physical stress, and if he didn't he'd be taking even more uppers to keep up the pace."

Chris opened his mouth, and paused. "You make a good point," he conceded.

"I cannot believe the four of you let Joey go down that far," Lance said. "I mean, do you not even care about him anymore?"

"You can talk—I mean, no, I guess I don't mean that. I guess if Lance was willing to switch universes to put things right he obviously still cares, but you—Lance, my Lance, I mean—haven't had a lot of time for the rest of us. Too busy being Mr I Went To Space."

Oh, my God, Lance thought. In this universe, I'm Justin. He began to laugh. "I was right, Joey isn't the only one that needs fixing. And for the record, in my universe Joey is and always will be my best friend."

"So you're trying to fix Lance too?" Chris said, and he sounded as though he wanted to be convinced. "Breaking off his engagement ? You realize he didn't actually come out to me, don't you? What makes you so certain he's gay?"

Lance looked at him pityingly. Chris was just being Chris. He had to have realized, he had to. His own Chris had outright asked him, and it sounded like this one had done the same—though Lance had been repressing all thoughts of that "I'm bi" with great determination. "Lance is definitely gay. I'm not fucking with some straight guy's life because I'm the evil goatee wearing alternate universe version. He needs this. Unless… unless it's different here, unless being gay is still, um, something you have to keep secret?" I only told my boys, he thought, and Jessica… it could still be contained if I screwed this up.

"Being gay is fine." Chris said. "I mean, it depends who you talk to, but, eh."

"Good. So he really doesn't need a beard."

"He'll probably take a bit of a hit, but I think he has fame enough to spare. Plus he's rich and his company makes money. He'll be fine. I could never understand why that boy didn't just come out." Lance thought of those letters hidden in the filing cabinet, and knew. "But, things are changing all the time here. We even have gay marriage in every state of the union, although there are some places it'd still probably get you run out of town if you tried it."

"Good. Because in my universe, I'm married. JC sang at our wedding."

An expression of incredulous joy spread across Chris's face. "Fuck, are you kidding me? Tell me you're not joking."

"Not joking. It's great. It's wonderful."

Chris leapt up and flung his arms around Lance, who was startled but more than happy to hug back. He'd kinda missed having someone to hug, these past few days, and this Chris was so very nearly his own Chris.

"Sorry," Chris said at last, pulling back an inch or so. "I guess it's a bit weird, hugging me, when I'm not him."

"Er. A bit, yeah. But you're still Chris Kirkpatrick, so I'm kind of used to hugging you."

Chris had a smile on his face that Lance didn't recall ever seeing there before. "You tempted?"

"What?"

"I mean, here I am, here you are, we could…" Chris wiggled his eyebrows and shimmied his hips.

Oh, Lance was tempted all right. It might be years since he'd let himself fantasize about Chris being—not gay, because after all those women, but bi, maybe, or experimenting or, or just curious. And here was bisexual Chris propositioning him. Wow.

"I can't," he said.

"Really can't, or want to be talked into it?"

"I can't. I wish I could, but… you know. Marriage vows, and I meant them. I'm not gonna—even if he'd never know, I'd know, and I can't."

Chris leant back. "Nah, it's cool."

"But." Lance cleared his throat. "You know your own Lance will. When he gets back. At least, once he stops being—" He stopped.

"Mad as a wet cat?"

"I was thinking more like, terrified. I have outed him, and he wasn't going to do that."

He received a slap on the ass that jolted him off his feet. "Yeah, tell me again how you're not from the evil universe," Chris said, but he obviously didn't mean it.

"It's the best thing I ever did," Lance said. "Until I got married, anyway. Not having to hide anymore, getting to be my own self without being afraid people would find out. And, you know, finding out who my real friends were. It'll be good for him, you'll see. Plus he'll be a real inspiration to gay kids everywhere, even more than I was. And I think… I think I'm gonna write to his parents." He knew what had worked to convince Mom and Dad. Other Mom and Other Dad were going to have to learn to deal, anyhow, because Other Lance needed this.

"So tell me, how did you and your Chris get together?"

What? Oh. Oh. Chris thought—and Lance hadn't actually said—oh. "I think…" Lance began, then paused. Chris had asked in the most casual tone, but it wasn't a casual question, it really wasn't. And he couldn't squash that particular dream by pointing out that his own Chris wasn't his husband at all, so what could he say? "I don't think I should tell you," he said. "Besides, you're way behind schedule. Y'all will have to figure it out for yourselves."

"Huh. I guess. Maybe I should just jump his bones."

Lance snickered. "That could work. He hasn't had sex in, like, a year. At least, I don't know if he and Jessica—" There were no recent non-disclosure agreements in the filing cabinet.

"Unless he's been screwing your Chris."

"I trust my husband," Lance said, but it was a chilling thought. What if Michael didn't realize? How long exactly was Other Lance going to keep this swap going? "Look, I think I'd better go. I need to figure out how to get back to my own place. He must have some information somewhere. And there are a few other things I need to do." Like that letter to the parents.

"Wait just a minute. What's he supposed to do when he gets back here? You've barged in—"

"I've been thrown in, is what you mean."

Chris waved that away impatiently. "You've overturned his entire life, what's he supposed to do with that when he gets back?"

"He gets to deal with it. And he gets what he said he wanted, which is Joey putting his life back together."

"Yeah, but how is he going to know?"

"Ah," Lance said, smiling evilly—he could actually feel the evil of the smile on his face, and he enjoyed it. "You know, you can tell him. Post coitally, even. And make sure he does the whole coming out thing properly, a magazine interview, or one of the big talk shows. Something to make a splash. Don't let him hide."

"It really did work for you?"

"It really did."

"So you're doing all this out of the goodness of your heart?"

"Well, sure. Plus, vengeance." He grinned again, and Chris gave a reluctant laugh. "I just want to go home before he fucks up my life, which does not need his interference. Hell, I'm probably going to get back to find J's had me committed." Assuming Other Lance had managed to get to see Justin, he thought. A wave of longing swept over him at the thought of his own guys, the proper, not-fucked-up versions, and of his own, his actual husband. And his parents, who loved him.

*

Lance had, in fact, a much better solution to the 'how's he going to know?' problem than letting Chris explain. "Ah, the magic of technology," he said to himself as he uploaded the very long audio files and cleared the cellphone ready for whatever tomorrow brought. Other Lance would be able to hear exactly what he had said to the guys here, and to Jessica—and, if this went on much longer, to… well, to whoever else came along.

He was beginning to feel very twitchy about what Other Lance was doing. Considering what he himself had managed to accomplish in just two days, there could be all kinds of havoc waiting for him back home. But what the hell could he do about it? Nothing, was what he came up with. Nothing at all.

He decided instead to do something more about Other Lance, and spent the rest of the evening working on a letter to the Other parents, hitting all the key notes that Mom and Dad had come to recognize were what mattered. Even quoting things they'd said to him. He wrote it out longhand but saved a copy to the computer. Other Lance would need to know.

If he sent it.

Should he send it? Maybe he shouldn't. Maybe he should just… not. He'd done a lot already, but it wasn't irrevocable. The guys would keep quiet, and Jessica, he was pretty sure. He knew Other Lance would be happier if he came out, but did he really have the right to do this for him, vengeance or no vengeance? Sure, he knew what had worked in his own life, that coming out had made him so much happier than he'd ever been before—but it was against all the rules. You didn't out someone, you just didn't. Not even for his own good.

He couldn't decide. Not right now. He'd be able to see more clearly in the morning.

What he could do right now was put the question aside and search for the way back into his own universe. Why should he sit here waiting for Other Lance to return? If he could figure out how Other Lance had done it, he could get back there on his own and have the chance to make sure things had not gone too far wrong. His life did not need to be put right!

*

He found hidden files on the computer. He found a couple of safes, and figured out one of the passwords, and happened upon a mysterious list of randomized characters which would probably yield the other, if he worked through it. He found a heap of paper files in a secret stash in one of the closets of Other Lance's bedroom.

He did not find the secret to transitioning between universes.

At nearly three in the morning, frustrated and weary, he went to bed. He'd try again tomorrow. He had to find out how to get back. Or Other Lance could screw up Lance's reality just like he'd screwed up his own. For, as far as Lance could make out, their lives had been the same until Joey had been persuaded not to marry Kelly. Things had gone wrong after that.

Lance yawned. Hmm. Maybe Other Lisa could help. Or Other Wendy. Or… someone involved with the space program, which would be a whole lot harder to lie his way through.

Tomorrow. He'd try again tomorrow.

*

Turned out it was a total waste of time. He might as well have gotten a good night's sleep instead of doing all that searching, he thought, waking with the pressure of his doppelganger perilously close to his legs under the bedclothes. "So," he said. "You came back."

"Timberlake is a total bastard," came the reply in his own voice.

Lance switched on the light. "I'm glad he didn't fall for whatever line you were spinning." Hah! He knew Justin wouldn't go along with this shit. Hah. "Did you even get to see him?"

"Of course I did! Arrogant little shit." Other Lance looked a hell of a lot more frazzled than he'd been back in Lance's own bedroom.

"You thought he'd be just like your Justin, didn't you?"

"I didn't think he'd be too damned busy to make time for me." Other Lance actually sounded upset, under all the annoyance.

"Eh, it's just J. And he is busy." And in my universe, Lance thought but did not say, he's the superstar.

A grunt. A huff. "So. I guess I'm going to have to find another way to get us back together."

"Nope," said Lance, enjoying the moment. "Not really."

Other Lance went very still. "What—what did you do?"

"Broke up with Jessica, came out to the guys, and got Joey into rehab." He thought for an alarming moment that Other Lance was going to have a coronary, and tensed in case his doppelganger decided to throttle him, which looked quite possible. Then, all of a sudden, Other Lance relaxed.

"You're joking," he said.

Lance laughed. Probably, he thought, it would be best to leave on those terms. "I put some files on your computer, you should listen to them before you do anything. Um. Did my husband get home yet?"

"Your what?"

"Oh, come on! You were there, surely you noticed something? The pictures? The photos?"

"I was on a mission, so no, I didn't. And he didn't show up. If you actually have a husband." Other Lance paused, and his voice was different when he asked, "Do you really have a husband?"

"Yeah, I do. And… well. You know there's someone right here waiting for you, right?" Other Lance looked away. "You've been crazy about him for years. You know he wants you. You know he loves you. And you know she doesn't." Any second now, he'd be back to telling Other Lance the truth and probably getting throttled. Best not. "Look," Lance said, "you're just going to have to deal with your problems yourself. You already proved you really care about Joey, I mean, since you crossed into a whole different universe to try to help him. Just, do it in a way that works in this universe. Maybe he doesn't need to be part of Nsync any longer."

"You've been here two days!"

"Outside perspective?" Lance suggested. "It never looked to me like Joey was the one who needed what you were trying to do."

"I just… I got kind of disconnected. I guess I wanted it for myself." Now that sounded like the truth, Lance thought, and for the first time began to think he might have been lucky not to visit the Space Station.

"You're brothers. Just like me and mine. Although, er, maybe not Chris's brother."

Other Lance shook his head ruefully. "No, I guess not. So… you said some stuff to him that he—that he wasn't expecting, and, um…."

"You have to talk to Chris," Lance said, firmly. "And you know, if you don't like what I did here, you only have yourself to blame."

"Yeah." Other Lance looked surprisingly contrite. "I am sorry about that, you know? About transitioning you—it was my backup plan, in case you didn't want to help, that I'd send you here and pretend to be you. I, um. Blew off a couple of your business things."

"Of course you did. Yeah, I guess I'll survive. Look, man, I really need to get out of here. I want to go home. I don't belong here. Please, send me home."

"Yeah. Here," Other Lance passed him a bracelet.

"Will this one disappear like the last one did?"

"Yes, it will."

"Oh, uh, before I put it on—what did you do about the, the nose problem?"

"What nose problem? Oh, you mean, not having had plas—anything done to it? Wasn't actually a problem."

Lance was startled. "Didn't Justin notice?"

"Sure he did."

"Uh…"

"I wanted him to," Other Lance pointed out. "I thought he'd believe me, when he could see I wasn't you, but he said I probably hit my face on the side of the pool and was trying to prank him."

"Justin's quite good at making reality fit what he thinks it ought to be," Lance said, trying not to laugh. Great minds, he thought, and felt a surge of affection for his own Justin. "That is why you wanted him."

"I like my Justin better."

For a moment, they looked at one another, then without consciously deciding to, Lance found himself hugging his doppelganger and being hugged in return. It was possibly the weirdest moment of his entire life.

Then he put on the bracelet.

*

Oh, damn it, Lance thought. He'd forgotten the thumb drive of JC's music.

*

It was late on Christmas Eve—actually, early on Christmas morning—that Lance heard a peculiar pop! and a clattering sound like something being dropped on the dressing table.

It was something on the dressing table. It was a purple thumb drive.

"I'm just gonna check something on the computer," he called. Michael, from the bathroom, made an indecipherable noise of assent. Lance hurtled downstairs and fired up his computer with impatient haste. Had Other Lance really sent him JC's music? He wasn't taking any chances, this thing might disappear any moment, he wanted that stuff saved.

It was not JC's music. It was photographs. Magazine covers, and newspaper articles, and screenshots from an interview with Ellen DeGeneres. A picture of Justin and Jessica, showing off the enormous diamond on her ring finger. A picture of Joey grinning with both thumbs up. A better picture of Joey with a cautiously smiling Briahna. A picture… of Lance and Chris, displaying their brand new wedding rings. And last of all, a shot of all five guys, JC with his adorable grin, Joey bright-eyed and healthy, Chris looking like the Steelers had won the Superbowl, Justin carefree and beaming. And in the middle, Lance, smiling like his face would split.

Lance nodded to himself. Other Lance might have gone to space, but he was the one who'd put the universe to rights.

Maybe he should try a goatee?

Nah. He was the good one.

 

 

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