For Neko, in the 2001 Don We Now Our Gay Apparel secret santa. Thanks to Georgina for read-through.

Now with a ficlet prequel: right until.

Tea
by Lesa Soja
 

Lance is buying things. He moves around the store studying the goods spread out for sale, reaching out from time to time to touch something with the tips of his fingers. Joey trails behind him, watching his hands, trying to see what catches Lance's attention.

Lance reaches back without turning around and hands Joey an address book made of hand-pressed paper, bound in blue and gold silk.

"Lance," Joey says, "no one keeps address books on paper anymore."

Lance looks at him over his shoulder. "JC does," he says after a moment.

Joey sighs and takes it back to the counter, laying it next to the pillow sham with the embroidered rooster and the black and red lacquered tray.

Lance is sniffing delicately at a packet of tea.

Joey senses a teenager at his elbow, starts and turns around. It's only the shopkeeper, he sees then; she's just that height. She's holding something out to him. It's a calendar, with inscrutable Chinese printing down the right side of the cover, but their same old stupid grins plastered across the middle. Joey laughs politely.

"Yes, yes," she says, pushing it at him. She nods and smiles. Finally he smiles back and accepts it. He tucks it under his arm.

Lance is still standing in front of the tea. "Lance," Joey tries, "if you want to do all your Christmas shopping in Chinatown, that's fine by me. But can we at least move on to another store?"

"Hmm?" Lance says. He's weighing two packets in his hands.

The shopkeeper bobs up again behind Joey, holding a folder this time. "Yes," she says, nodding.

On the folder is a picture of AJ McLean.

"No, no," Joey says. "That's not us."

"Yes," she says.

"No, see. That's the Backstreet Boys. We're 'Nsync."

"Yes, yes." She smiles brightly.

Joey gives up and takes the folder. In the picture, AJ is staring moodily out over the rims of his sunglasses. A cross swings from his neck, not quite as big as Lance's.

Lance hands Joey three different kinds of black tea. Joey doesn't get that; they all smell the same to him, bitter and sharp. He ferries them all back to the counter anyway, taking the opportunity to deposit the calendar and the folder in the pile as well.

The shopkeeper is unrolling a Japanese kakemono for Lance. The fine brushwork sketches out a cherry tree half-covered in blossoms, the ground beneath it littered with petals as well. Now that at least is beautiful, Joey thinks. All three of them stand there for a moment, admiring it.

When Lance nods, the shopkeeper rolls the scroll back up. They go back to the counter and watch as she pulls three narrow boxes off a shelf. Lance lays a long finger on one of them, tracing the thick green fibers running through paler green cardboard. "This one," he says.

Lance's other hand slides into Joey's. The door chimes ring. AJ comes in.

It's all very fast. Joey tells himself it happens in that order.

AJ is wearing sunglasses, like in his photo, but his hair no longer has the maroon streaks, and his arms are covered by the sleeves of his leather jacket. Lance smiles calmly at him.

"Been waiting long?" AJ says.

"Nah," Lance says.

AJ tilts down the sunglasses and looks in Joey's direction.

"I brought Joey today," Lance says. The cool touch of his fingers against Joey's palm does not change.

AJ shrugs. "Wanna go up?"

Lance continues smiling.

AJ moves towards a door at the back of the store. Lance follows him, and Joey, his hand still folded in Lance's, follows of necessity along as well. As they pass the counter, he glances over at the shopkeeper. She is smiling even more vigorously than before. Joey's stomach feels funny.

After a narrow flight of stairs and a very clean corridor, AJ opens a door and goes in. In the room, there are two chairs, a bureau, a lamp, and a bed.

AJ goes over to the window and closes the blinds. Lance drops Joey's hand and moves towards the bed, shrugging out of his jacket. He sits down and starts untying his shoes.

AJ joins him and pushes Lance's shirt up his back, bending down to lick across Lance's spine.

Lance wriggles out of his pants without moving too far away from AJ's tongue. AJ pauses for a moment to pull off his own shirt. He drops it on the floor and glances at Joey.

"Is he just gonna watch?"

"Ask him," Lance suggests, leaning back against the pillows.

"Fatone?"

Joey closes his mouth, opens it, closes it again. Lance turns his head and meets Joey's eyes. He is smiling.

He continues smiling as Joey moves across the room. Lance holds out a hand, and when Joey gets close enough, he takes it.

"Oh, you got a live one this time," AJ says.

Lance tugs on Joey's hand, and Joey tumbles down next to him. So their third kiss ever happens there on the bed, with Lance naked and AJ's mouth closing over the head of his cock.

Kissing Lance is a slow, dreamy business, just like Joey remembers. Lance's lips press in gently, like the time in the car, and the one late at night at the studio, the deep curve that means Lance is smiling, the air gone warm around them, soft, wet touches, and Lance sucks on Joey's tongue.

Joey isn't sure how much time has passed when he opens his eyes again. He can see that Lance is still hard, though, knees fallen about as far apart as they can go. AJ is putting on a rubber. Lance scoots back a little, shifting onto his side, and AJ crawls around behind him.

Joey hesitates for a moment before moving to lie facing Lance. Lance reaches over, though, and hooks his fingers in the collar of Joey's T-shirt. Joey leans forward, but just then Lance's body jerks and his chin knocks into Joey's jaw. Joey tries to draw back. Lance hauls him in again, and they are kissing again, they are kissing and kissing. At least, Joey is. Lance's lips slacken bit by bit against him.

Lance's mouth opens each time AJ drives into him, but no sound comes out. His hand slides across Joey's collarbone and settles into a grip on Joey's shoulder.

Joey starts to get pins and needles in the arm trapped under him.

A little later Lance gives a short, heavy, gasp. His come hits Joey's stomach. Joey glances down at the dark-patterned arm still reaching over Lance's hip, and then catches a glimpse of AJ's face. He is startled by the fierceness of AJ's grin.

After AJ pulls out, Lance rolls over and stretches, half-lidded and languorous. His breathing evens out fairly quickly.

AJ sits up and looks over at Joey. He swipes the heel of his hand once, hard, over his own nipple. "You want a blowjob?" he asks.

Lance is lying nestled in the pillows, eyes closed, smiling.

"Um," Joey says, struggling into a sitting position himself. "Uh. No. That's okay."

AJ shrugs. "There's a bathroom next door, on the left."

Joey glances down at his shirt. "Uh, thanks," he says.

The air in the corridor smells cool and fresh. Joey goes into the bathroom and turns on the tap, pulling his T-shirt off and putting it in the sink. Then he leans against the door and unzips his pants. His dick feels almost too sensitive to touch, but he does anyway, in short, sharp jerks, not thinking about anything in particular.

When he's done, he wipes off the tiles with toilet paper. He finishes rinsing his shirt and wrings it out, and then rolls it in the hand towel to press some more water out. It's still damp when he puts it on. He shivers a little.

The other door is standing open when he goes back, and the bedroom is empty. Joey goes slowly down the stairs. Lance is standing at the counter holding his credit card, and the shopkeeper is ringing up his purchases. She looks up and nods to Joey. AJ is nowhere to be seen.

Joey joins Lance at the counter and watches as the things in the pile are distributed into a number of bags. He doesn't see the kakemono box among them anymore.

Lance takes two of the bags and turns in Joey's direction. He is smiling.

Joey picks up the other bags and walks ahead of Lance out of the store.
 

[smile]