Happy birthday, Amber!

by Lesa Soja

Justin told Chris he knew a guy from the Mickey Mouse Club, a really great guy with a great voice, and they should ask him to be in the group. Justin knew an astonishing amount of people, given his young age, but he really seemed to have his heart set on this one. Before Chris knew it, he was shaking hands with a thin, jumpy guy whose fingers squeezed his almost painfully tight for a second.

"JC just got back from spending some time in LA," Justin said.

"Oh yeah? How was it?"

JC grinned hugely. "It was great," he said.

"If it was so great, then why'd you leave?" Chris said, meanly.

JC's eyes widened, and he burst into laughter, throwing his head back and digging the heels of his hands into his thighs. "- why -" he gasped between giggles, "- then, why -" But he couldn't pause long enough to get an answer out.

Chris stared at JC. It hadn't been that funny, really. Still, he couldn't help feeling a little bit flattered.

The guy really could sing, too - Chris might have known he could trust Justin's judgment on that. Also, though still younger than Chris, JC was at least not a kid. Chris thought the world of Justin, but it would be nice to have someone around who could talk about something other than music and basketball, sometimes. JC had been working for five years already, so he had some experience behind him to draw on; he'd be good to have around. And Justin would be pleased if Chris accepted his friend. So Chris said yes.

JC was cute, too, in a bright-eyed, eager sort of way. But that was just a bonus.

JC slept all the time. It was true that they were working hard, harder than any of them probably ever had before, but Chris still didn't really see how JC could possibly be that tired every single day. It was a quiet hobby, at any rate. Listening to Justin and Joey bitch during rehearsal breaks, Chris often wished they would just lie down and keep their mouths shut for a while, too.

Sometimes, if there was a discussion about something JC needed to be in on, like contracts or travel plans or Lou's latest critique or their chances in Germany, Chris would go to find him, look down at JC's hand curled up against his cheek, and not be able to wake him, after all.

JC had a squarish red patch of skin on his left arm that didn't seem to be going away. "What the hell is that?" Chris said finally. "You got some horrible disease or something? 'Cause if you do, Lou is gonna be disappointed in us, I can tell you that right now."

"Um," JC said, holding his arm up and peering at it. "It's from the flips, I think."

Chris watched during their next rehearsal, and Joey's hand did land on exactly that spot when he grabbed JC to flip him. So Chris stopped worrying about it.

A radio across the hall from the studio was spilling out music, a bright, lively beat. Justin and JC were fidgeting around while the others did their closeups, and as Chris watched, they suddenly broke into a spirited Charleston, arms and legs flapping. They weren't even looking at each other, but they were in perfect step. Justin was looking down, shaking it with practiced ease. JC's eyes shone with delight.

"Hold still, please, Christopher," the photographer said. Chris glared at her.

Chris saw another look like that on JC's face some time later, though, when they stepped out of a particularly dank corridor onto a bigger stage than they'd ever performed on before. Chris glanced over at JC then, saw his chance and took it. He grabbed JC's hands and whirled him around in circles, picking up speed as they spiraled across the floor, and was rewarded with a dazzling smile. JC practically squeaked with glee. Chris could feel his own grin stretching towards his ears; finally, finally, he had that blinding blaze focused on him. JC's fingers locked tight around Chris's wrists to keep from falling down. Then Lou arrived, and they had to stop and be serious.

The thing was, afterwards Chris couldn't figure out how to make JC look at him like that again.

It was just as well, really, because even though JC didn't talk about basketball much, that only meant he hardly ever talked about anything else but music. He and Justin spent endless hours discussing songs, and writing, and lyrics, and Chris thought he'd be bored out of his skull if that was him. Who needed that?

Chris went into a dressing room and found JC there, already in his costume, scraping the rough edge of his security badge across the inside of his wrist over and over again.

"JC," Chris said.

JC looked up at him.

Chris opened his mouth and closed it again. He reached down and pulled the badge out of JC's hand.

"I need that," JC said, low.

"But," Chris said. He paused. It was true JC would need the badge to get around. "Just stick with me," Chris said finally. He put JC's badge around his own neck, on top of the one he was already wearing, and took JC by the hand. JC followed Chris along without further protest.

The show went fine. Chris tried to make JC talk afterwards, but JC just stared at him, and Chris finally gave up.

Chris had a hard time falling asleep that night, despite being tired. He kept seeing JC's blank blue eyes, and shivering. He was kind of relieved now that he'd never gotten involved with JC.

JC seemed back to normal the next day, or at least, normal for him. He spent the afternoon curled up on the couch on the bus, making up fake German verbs and conjugating them. Joey pulled his hair and called him a dork, but JC just batted Joey's hands away and went on murmuring, "Veresse, verisst, verisst, veressen, veresst, veressen. Veresste -"

"VerASS," Chris corrected, jabbing the jump button with his thumb. He hadn't meant to join in, but he'd learned enough German while they were over there to know how that one had to go. JC giggled happily, and Chris grinned to himself, glad for JC's sake that he was feeling better.

When Chris finished his game, he turned around and saw that JC was asleep on the couch behind him.

"Why can't you use your own phone?" Lance said.

"Can't find it," Justin said. "Please."

"Aah, fine, whatever. Just be careful, okay?"

Justin was already dialing. "Hey, baby," he said.

"Justin and Britney," Joey singsonged, and Chris joined in: "sittin' in a tree..." Justin flipped them off and took the phone up to the front of the bus, hunching over it there with a hand covering his other ear.

Joey stopped singing and looked absently over Lance's shoulder at his screen. "They're so cute," he remarked.

"Uh huh," Lance said.

"Going to take a nap," JC said, slipping away to the bunks.

Chris got anxious when JC didn't turn up at breakfast. "Where's C?" he asked Justin.

"He had to do something," Justin said.

"This early?"

Justin shrugged.

Chris could see he wouldn't get anything more out of Justin, so he let it go temporarily. But he managed to corner Joey while they were trying to eat a fast lunch later that afternoon. "Where was JC this morning?" Chris said.

"Shrink," Joey said, around a mouthful of pizza.

"Oh," Chris said. "Well. Good."

Chris's phone rang just as he was walking in the door. He wanted nothing so much as to ignore it and just go upstairs to bed. But he picked up.

"Chris," JC said. "Where are you?"

"I just got home," Chris said slowly. "What's up?"

There was a pause. Then JC said, "Do you think you could maybe..."


"Could you come keep me company?"

"C," Chris said.

JC didn't say anything.

"JC - "

"My doctor said I'm not supposed to be alone."

Chris swallowed. "Okay," he said. "I'll come over."

"Thanks, Chris."

Chris bit his lip. "You need anything? From the store?"

"Oh," JC said. "Yeah, maybe. If you could bring some juice? I think I ran out."

"Sure," Chris said.

JC was silent.

"Okay. I'm coming over now, okay?"


Chris waited another moment and then hung up.

At the 7-11, he picked up some juice, and some bread and peanut butter and jelly as well, because JC was likely to run out of those too, but forget to ask for them. The aisles were brightly lit, and Chris roamed up and down for a few minutes, lingering. Then he sighed and went up to the counter and paid.

He let himself in JC's front door and rested the grocery sack on his knee while he punched in the security code. Everything was dark. "JC?" he called.

"In here," JC called back.

Chris went up to JC's bedroom. JC was lying curled up on his bed. Justin was lying opposite him, long legs stretched out and one elbow propped up. He glanced over when Chris came in. "Hey, Chris!" he said.

"Hey," Chris said, looking from one of them to the other.

"Hi," JC said quietly.

Chris went and sat on the edge of the bed. "So," he said, "I brought you some orange juice, and some sandwich stuff. Here."

"Thanks," JC said. "That's, oh. I'll just, I'll get some glasses." He pushed himself upright and went down to the kitchen.

Justin sat up too. "I'm really glad you're here," he said. He squeezed Chris's shoulder.

"Yeah," Chris said.

"Listen, I'm gonna head home," Justin went on. A private smile spread across his face. "I promised Britney I'd call her after her show."

"Yeah," Chris said again.

JC came back with two glasses and picked up the juice carton.

"I think I'm gonna head out now, C," Justin said.

"Okay," JC said. He allowed Justin to hug him and then finished pouring.

"See you later."

"Bye," Chris answered.

After Justin was gone, Chris accepted a glass from JC and took a long drink. "You hungry?" he asked.

"Nah, not right now," JC said. "I think I just wanna go to bed."

Chris nodded. He kicked off his shoes and stretched out across the bed.

"Don't you wanna get under the covers?" JC asked. He held a corner of the blanket up. Chris sat up and slid in under it.

JC curled up next to Chris, pressing back until Chris wrapped an arm over his chest. JC folded his hand over Chris's forearm. Gradually Chris felt JC's body relax.

Chris couldn't sleep. He shifted around a bit, trying to ease the muscles in his legs, and JC rolled with him. Chris tugged at the pillow and stared towards the wall in the dark.

He woke up with JC's face pressed against his chest and JC's fingers stroking softly over his shoulder. Some sunlight was showing around the edges of the blinds.

"Good morning," JC said.

I have to get out of here, Chris thought. "Let me take you out to breakfast," he said.

"Okay," JC said, "in a little bit, maybe? I'm not hungry yet."

"Okay," Chris said helplessly.

JC pulled back slightly and looked at him. He reached up and touched Chris's cheek. Chris stared back, unable to move. JC leaned in and brushed his lips across Chris's.

Chris's dick stirred and his hands settled on JC's sides, searching for skin. JC grinned a little and put a hand down next to Chris's shoulder, shifting himself above Chris. Chris tugged desperately at JC's hips till they were pressed together, JC's weight bright and heated all along his body. JC's mouth closed over his.

The phone rang. JC lifted his head and smiled at Chris before reaching to answer.

"Hey, Joey," JC said. "Thanks for calling back."

Chris rolled away to the side.

"No, that's okay. You don't have to. Chris is here with me."

Chris lay flat on his back and closed his eyes. The murmur of JC's voice filled his ears.

"Yeah. Yeah, we will. Thanks. Bye, Joe."

After hanging up, JC reached over and smoothed his hand across Chris's stomach. Chris turned his head and looked at him.

JC's smile was sleepy, but his eyes gleamed.