For Amber.

by Lesa Soja

JC thought he was going to be late for breakfast, but when he got there, Joey was just sprinkling pepper on his eggs, and Justin was pouring milk over his cereal. Chris was picking the blueberries out of a muffin, their juice running over his fingers as his nails dug in.

"Hey, C! What'd you dream about last night?" Chris asked innocently.

JC ignored him and picked up a piece of toast. After the field day Chris had had with his ladder dream, he knew better than to answer that anymore.

JC looked out at the seats, where Justin was sitting with his Walkman on. A few rows back Lance was clutching Joey's wrists in a way that would have been more effective if he hadn't been laughing so hard. Far up in the stands, Chris's mouth was open, yelling things JC was glad he couldn't make out.

"JC?" Andrew said. "One more time, okay?"

He readjusted his headset, closed his eyes, and then opened his mouth and sang. The line of the melody flowed out, clear and true.

"I think we're good," Andrew said when JC stopped. "Perfect. Yes. Now, Joey! Let's try your verse."

In the hall that night, JC saw Joey walking with his arm around the waist of a tall, blonde girl in a green skirt. She made a change from the string of brunettes over the last few weeks, JC supposed. Joey turned when he stopped to fit his key in the door and caught JC's eye.

"Night, Joe," JC said. The girl looked down at the floor, blushing faintly.

Joey threw him a grin. "Night, JC." He took the girl's hand and drew her into the room, and the door fell shut behind them.

JC got his own door open and went into the bathroom to brush his teeth. He should have called Bobbie tonight, he thought, but it was already so late. Tomorrow he would, for sure.

In the morning, he pulled his new sweater over his head, and the raw scent of knit silk settled over him. He paused for a moment with the cloth draped over his face, breathing it in.

"So, Joe, you're into blondes again now, huh?" JC said at the breakfast table.

Joey turned his head slowly and looked at JC. "What's that supposed to mean?"

JC hesitated, taken aback. "Nothing. Just - you know. The girl from last night, you liked her?"

"C, you're tripping," Joey said, his face relaxing. "The girl I hooked up with yesterday had black hair."

"Yeah, man, the one I saw you dancing with? She was hot," Justin affirmed.

"But, the girl you were with, in the hallway -"

"Black hair, dude. Not that I'd turn a blonde down, of course."

"Joey has catholic tastes," Lance said from the couch. "He'll do any color hair."

Joey threw him a lightning glance and then turned back to JC. "How about some coffee, C?" he said. "Wake you up a bit?"

"Uh," JC said, but Chris was already pressing a cup into his hand.

"Did you dream about a blonde, maybe?" Chris said, tugging sharply on a strand of JC's hair. "Was it a good dream?"

JC shook off Chris's hands and bent his head to the harsh aroma from his cup.

"No, no," Justin told the interviewer. "Britney and I are just good friends, that's all. We know each other from way back."

"Waaaaaaaay back," Chris said. "They kicked each other in the womb."

JC pictured the two of them in a murky red glow, bickering just like they used to on set. Little knees and elbows jostling. He giggled. The interviewer looked at him oddly, and he composed his face.

When he was nearly settled, he made the mistake of glancing at Chris, who winked at him. JC's face went hot, and he looked away.

Bobbie reached down and held JC's wrist still. "It's okay, JC. I already came."

"You did?" he asked, startled. "When?"

She laughed. "Before." She let go of his arm then and leaned in to kiss his neck. "Let's just go to sleep now, okay? I have to be at the airport at seven."

"All right," he said, a little uncertainly. She settled her pillow under her head and tugged the blankets back over her side. He kissed her cheek once more. She smiled faintly without opening her eyes.

After Bobbie left, he ran into Chris in the hallway. Chris draped a clinging arm around JC's shoulders. "Morning, C," he said. "What'd you dream about last night?"

JC sighed. "You," he said, hoping that would fix Chris's wagon. It was true, even. There had been a train, a German-style train although it wasn't in Germany, and Chris had laid a hand on JC's knee behind a glass compartment door. Then other stuff he didn't remember, and he'd woken up with a hardon and Bobbie, already dressed, zipping her suitcase shut. Chris didn't need to know about that, though.

"Me, huh?" Chris said. He dug his fingers painfully into JC's ribs. "So, you dream about me often, baby?"

Maybe that hadn't been so smart. JC rolled his eyes. "Uh huh," he said. "Sure." He tried to claw Chris's hand away, but Chris held him in an iron grip until they reached the breakfast room. Then he was suddenly released as Chris ran to look at the credenza.

"Hey, who ate all the blueberry muffins?"

"I don't know, Chris," JC said. "Why do you care? You don't like them anyway."

"Sure I like them! They're my favorite kind, actually."

"Then why do you pull all the berries out before you eat them?"

Chris frowned. "What? I don't. I love blueberries."

Then Johnny came in to tell them about the photo shoots, and JC closed his mouth.

He turned on the faucets and ran a bath as hot as he could stand it. When the tub was full, he stepped in and slid swiftly into the water, shifting his knees to one side so they wouldn't break the surface. The ripples stilled gradually. He leaned back and closed his eyes. The heat sank into his bones.

They were almost at the bridge in I Want You Back. JC measured out the beats and stepped deliberately into the new choreography, turning swiftly to the right. Lance bumped into him.

"Left, JC!" Lance said.

"No, remember? It's the new steps now."

"What?" Lance stared at him.

"Oh, no," Joey said, "I know - we talked about changing that part, but then we decided not to. Don't you - you were there, JC, you had to have been."

"Oh," JC said. He didn't remember that at all. But on the next runthrough he turned carefully to the left. No one said anything, and they whirled on.

"All right, JC. I think you're set. Now, next verse," Andrew called. Justin hopped up and brushed past JC on the stairs.

JC sat down in the first row, frowning. Chris came over and bounced himself down in the next seat, so hard that coffee slopped over the edge of his cup.

"Isn't Joey doing that verse?" JC said.

"Nope, Justin," Chris said. He drank another swallow and kicked at JC's knees.

"Oh," JC said. Chris really ought to lay off the caffeine, he thought, but he decided not to say anything. Instead he glanced over to the corner of the pit, where Joey was tickling Lance mercilessly. Lance was rolling and laughing on the floor. Joey knelt over Lance's legs, his back to the stage.

He went into the toy room, and Justin and Britney were kissing in the far corner. Britney had Justin backed up against a pinball machine, holding his face down to hers with both hands. His fingers were spread wide across the small of her back.

JC turned around and went to the quiet room instead.

"JC?" Bobbie said. "What do you want?"

JC recurled his fingers around his phone. "What do you mean? I just wanted to, y'know. Talk to you."

She sighed. "JC, you can't keep doing this, okay? When I said a break, I meant really a break. Like, no calling."

"A break?" he said. But she was already going on.

"I just need to not be hung up on your schedule for a little while. I thought you understood that. I'm sorry, honey, but -"

He held the phone away from his ear and stared at it. Bobbie's voice went on in a tinny stream.

"C'mon, JC, tell us your dreams. Pretty please! Were we all there? Were there lots of short people all around you, and flowers that made you sleep, and a mean, mean witch?"

"Shut the fuck up," JC said.

He dipped his fingertip in the pool of clear wax around the candle's wick. It formed a hot, sleek coat over his skin. He traced that finger slowly across the back of his other hand. Then he dipped into the wax again and made another layer. The flame flickered under his breath but steadied when he sat back. After a few more layers, he couldn't feel anything under that finger at all.

He was dancing, dancing in a crowd of people, and the music was something heavy and throbbing he could hardly hear above the beat. He lifted his hand to his mouth, and the glass he'd been holding was gone. He tossed his head and laughed. He was dancing and the song changed but the beat didn't stop.

There were hands hard on his waist, and breath lying hot on the nape of his neck. JC twisted back in the strong grip, laughing. He was dancing and they were dancing and then an arm wrapped firmly around his shoulders. Across the floor, Justin threw his head back to drain his glass. Joey was leaning over Lance's shoulder, his lips almost touching Lance's ear.

They were crammed in the back seat of a car and the car was moving. JC pressed his face against a cotton sleeve. He stumbled over the doorstep of his room, and Chris caught his arm. JC touched his mouth to amazing softness as he fell backwards.

Heat-flushed skin pressed all along his chest. There was a hand under his knee, and a hand folded over his cock, and a cock pushing heavily against his thigh. JC writhed on the bed like dancing. The drumbeat pounded in his chest.

When JC woke up, he was alone in the room with a hangover. He stumbled into the bathroom and managed to turn the hot water on.

Chris was sitting by himself at the breakfast table, reading a paper. JC bit his lip. "So. Um," JC said.

"Good morning, JC," Chris said pointedly. "How are you this fine day? Did you sleep well?"

"Oh. Morning. Uh." Chris raised his eyebrows. JC hurried up. "So, um, that. Last night."

"Last night?"

"When you." JC pressed his lips together. "We."

"What are you talking about, C? We didn't do anything last night."

"But you - "

"JC." Chris stopped him with both hands held up, palms outward. "You been dreaming again? I don't know about your planet, man, but on this one, nothing happened."

JC stared for a moment. Then he swallowed. "Nothing - nothing happened," he repeated.

"Think you can remember that?" Chris asked kindly. He picked up his coffee mug, purple-stained nails closing over the handle, and lifted it to his mouth.

JC nodded.