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"ATOTR" Part 104

Okay! It's Tuesday, isn't it! Time for that long-overdue update, right? Well, let's get this shit-kicker started kicking, shall we? Since I promised it to you and all.

There's a lot to dish out this afternoon. They jump around a little bit in tense and timeframe. But I'm sure you can figure that out. I hope you prepared yourselves after such a long hiatus. lol.

I also wanted to thank you, as readers, one more time for being patient with me and waiting so long for this to be updated again. Many thanks to each one of you who've bugged me (haha) for more of it and let me know you missed it and hadn't forgotten it. You know who you are. For you, I promise that I won't wait another 18 months to update it again. *muah*

First of five long ones today. Please enjoy.....




By Micki Bailey

Maybe I ain’t used to maybes
Smashing in a cold room
Cutting my hands up every time I touch you
Maybe, maybe it’s time to wave goodbye now
Time to wave goodbye now
Caught a ride with the moon
—Tori Amos


“I told you I’d go with you. Didn’t I? Didn’t I say that already?”

“Yes, Josh,” Lance murmurs, low and quiet, and quickly decides against verbally adding on the words that pop into his head next:
*”Like 217 times, you said it already. Yes. You did.”* No. He’ll keep that little bit to himself. Forever.

“Then damn. It’s settled. Simple as microwavable apple pie and hotdogs on a stick. Here’s me volunteering for duty. I’ll go and be there for you. So you won’t be all by your lonesome.”

“No, Josh.” Lance sighs, braces himself for what he knows is sure to follow. “I appreciate it and all, you offering and being so kind. You know I do. But—”

“No? Did you just say no? Why no? I have the same four days off that you have off. And, F-Y-I, I don’t have any big vacation-slash-relaxation plans booked on Expedia-dot-com or what the hell ever. My schedule’s open and free. For all four days. In case you forgot.”

“I know that, Josh. I didn’t forget.”

“And, can I just ask, am I not the most logical, most obvious choice of a somebody close enough to you to go with you on a trip of this gigantic magnitude? Didn’t you say the suits overseeing this whole damn project suggested you bring a travel companion along with you? Like a familiar face from home you’d be comfortable with? Is there anybody who’d fit that bill better than me? Huh?”

It’s a high-hinged breathy push of syllables through barely almost-perfect clenched teeth, a desperately restrained mewl, full of impatient energy, that Lance hears from JC as JC raises his upper body off the living room sofa just as sharply as he speaks. Lance doesn’t need to turn his head to pick up on another sound too — the sound of the
Spin magazine JC had just been snap-flipping the pages of, hardly even glancing at their contents, now being flung to the floor with a glossy and very deliberate smack. Auditory evidence that he isn’t controlling all the rush-flashes of his emotions as coolly as he’s controlling his voice. Akin to a subtle riff of distant thunder from a far-off lightning storm that’s slowly moving in.

That realization, that threat of danger, unnerves Lance a little, but doesn’t scare him. Not like it used to.

“Say, Lance? Hello? Am I getting through, man? Am I missing something here? Why the hell are you saying no? Cutting me off?”

Lance flinches, but only on the inside where it’s invisible. He hadn’t wanted to do this. Not today. Not any day. Not ever. It’s only the beginning, this. The initial strides of a long, darkly uncertain journey. And he hasn’t worked out all the details yet, not even about how to start out here, with these first few wobbly baby steps. But he’s sure he didn’t want to begin like this, already feeling suffused with an ever-building sense of dread.

“You’re getting through, Josh. I hear you, babe. And yes. You’re the most obvious person who should go with me. Most obvious to
*me*, at least. You’re absolutely the one I’d pick if it were all up to me to do the picking. Hands down. You know I’d rather have you with me, close to me, beside me, more than anybody else on Earth, Josh. You *do* know that, don’t you?”

“Then what, pray tell, is the damn problem? Why all the hem-hawing the fuck around over there, Lance? Will you stop taking, like, four thousand years to tell me why the hell this is even an issue at all? Why it’s not a
*given* that I’d go too?”

The squeaky strains of insecure fear, of defiant love, of fierce protectiveness that cling to and flitter up and down JC’s vocal chords thud against Lance’s eardrums with a thick, pulsing ache. He sighs again and turns his torso, where he sits cross-legged on the carpet with his open laptop spread in front of him, to face his partner, his lover.

The blue eyes, tinted with flecks of sea-green and gold now, hit him full-force with a wild and beautiful double splash, not even bothering to try and mask the onslaught of questions swirling in their deep colors. The dark hair, grown out and full for the road tour, falls in haphazard honey-streaked waves around his angular tensed face. The long veins in the column of his neck protrude and writhe through the tight skin, just as Lance knew they would be, and he licks his lips instinctively, almost tasting their warm, aggressive throb of life against the tip of his tongue.

“Josh. Babe.” He blinks slowly and begins with another low murmur that covers the inevitable shaking in his tone. “I’m not cutting you off. Please. Trust me. It’s just that I’m not the ultimate last-word decision maker on this one. And while
*I* would take you with me in a heartbeat if it were up to me, there’s a lot more red tape and crap involved here that has to be taken into account. It’s just too complicated and impractical to drag you into. Please understand,” he begs, and his voice has shrunk to a whisper.

JC’s penetrating eyes narrow slightly. “Red tape and crap such as?”

“Such as the gobs of media from all over the planet that’ll be covering this trip, not to even mention Krieff’s own personal little film crew that will be following me around everywhere like I’m the new star of
*The Real Fucking World* or something. As guarded as you are with your private life, are you up for that much exposure and scrutiny? Being in all those photos and news blurbs when I *leave* for Moscow, when I *arrive* in Moscow, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera? Do you *want* it to come out in some documentary-style television special that we’re more than just pals in the same boy band? That I brought you with me for tons more than just moral support? That we might be in love and *doing* each other in *that* way and that I need you there for emotional strength too? You don’t think they might figure it all out?”

Squirming on the sofa, JC squints and shrugs, doesn’t bite back his jet-fired words of response. “Like I care what anybody thinks about me. Let ‘em figure it out. Screw that. Shit. It’s about time the world got hit with the bottom-line, hardcore truth anyway — that, hell yeah, we’re more than just old friends in a boy band……..that we’re fuck buddies too! Ha! Wouldn’t
*that* be something for the documentary crew to bust wide open? Huh?”

And the acidic razor-sharpness of those words sink into Lance’s soft, overly sensitive, pumping heart like cold, jagged shards tearing into warm, pliant sinew.
*“…we’re fuck buddies too…”*

He glances down quickly, blinking away the brisk, wet sting in his eye sockets.
*Fuck buddies. Isn’t that just fucking wonderful? Thanks, Josh. Really. As if this shit was so easy for me to begin with.*

“Yeah. Well. I think we,” he answers at last, thick and deep and swallowing back a bitter choke, “can come up with a better, more glamorous venue than
*that* to stir shit up and come out publicly, if we’re going to come out publicly at all. You know?”

Restless and agitated all of a sudden for reasons he doesn’t understand, and sensing this situation won’t end up in his favor, JC shifts closer to the edge of the sofa, thighs wide apart, hands battling at the air, chest rising and falling with rapid, shallow breaths beneath the white v-neck T-shirt he’s wearing. “I’m not asking you to out yourself, Lance. But whatever. I think I’m catching on here.……..You’re saying you
*don’t* need me there for emotional strength and support?”

“What? I totally didn’t say that at all, JC! What I said was that I’d rather have you over there with me more than anyone else I know!”

“HowEVER……..I’m
*not* going……..because you don’t need me.”

“Damnit, JC.” Lance groans, reaches up and slams the laptop shut with a crisp thwack, and it’s not lost on JC that he’s switched to calling him the cooler, more formal name instead of “Josh.”

“I do need you. You know I do. And I will wish like hell you were with me every second of every day I’m away from you in that big-ass place on the other side of the world. But I have to go it by myself this time. Whether I want to or not. Yes, it’ll suck that you won’t be there. But it’s only for four days……..Four days of boring as hell medical checkups and physical evaluations and stuff, four days of dull scientific crap you’ll be so glad you missed, JC.”

“I’ll miss
*you*,” JC rasps delicately, bluntly, holding nothing back as usual. It’s a quiet desperation Lance hears from him, not exactly giving up yet, and not really that quiet at all.

“I’ll miss you too. Of course. But the time will fly by before we even know it. You’ll see. And, well, I’ll be okay. Really.” Lance murmurs reassurance and fidgets with the seam of his sweatpants. But it’s not himself he’s worried about being okay.

He looks up again at his disarm-you-with-a-smile companion. His disarm-you-with-a-smile companion smirks, flutter-rolls his beautiful sullen eyes.

“Fucking fine then. I was just thinking of your welfare, Lance……..trying to make sure you had a warm body in your corner for support while you’re strung out over there in Siberia with all those cold-blooded, mad-scientist-type Ruskies, messing with your head, doing evil experiments on you, poking and probing on you with their foul-ass beet soup and their stank Stoli vodka breath.”

Lance wants to smile, to laugh, so in love with JC’s serious, on-the-cuff intensity that sometimes, like now, just simmers up too high and burns over. Maybe with a nervous-laugh joke. Maybe with a quick smashing of the closest breakable object.

He wants to hold onto and channel that passion this time. He wants to get up, go over, melt down onto JC, lose himself in making love to that fine body that’s bristling with volatile energy, and forget about the immediate future looming murkily in front of the two of them, only days away.

“I know you were, JC. You’re always so considerate and generous like that. Always have been. But —”

“Yeah. Of course there’s a but,” JC huffs, sneers, leaning forward to rest his forearms on his thighs. “Wouldn’t be you and me without a damn but or two, right?”

Lance grits his teeth. This is even harder than it might look. “I don’t think I’ll be isolated over there with no support whatsoever……..I mean……..I won’t, like, be all alone.”

*Even though it’s you I’m more anxious about being alone during this whole crazy thing, not me, see. And maybe that’s what you’re really so anxious about too. You. Being alone.*

“What?” JC’s eyes, tapered to thin slits, are cold, piercing flames. “Come again?”

Lance grabs his bottle of sparkling water and wishes it were a bottle of beer or — even better — a bottle of that aforementioned Stoli’s. The afternoon outside, behind the windows that are covered by gossamer rose sheers, is gray — downright bleak — and humid beneath a quilt of swollen, dirty-looking clouds that refuse to allow even one ray of sunshine to penetrate and shine through but also refuse to let go of any of the steamy raindrops they’re hoarding and holding hostage. The air is thick out there, with a heavy moisture you can almost wipe off your skin. And Lance breathes in another kind of unseen grim thickness that’s filled the air in the room around them.

“Somebody will be going with me, I’m almost sure. As that travel companion, you know, I’m told I may need to bring along.”

The atmosphere in the room is silent and dense for about three-point-five seconds before JC expels all of the breath in his lungs with a very loud, very skeptical “hmph.” But that’s definitely not enough of a reaction, Lance knows, and he’s not surprised at all when JC leaps up off the sofa with a velvet fluidity, shoulders hunched and tense, hands clenching and unclenching, eyes narrowed and blackened like they’ve been many times before, and bounds past the coffee table separating them to stand glowering down at Lance, muscles in his face tightening and contorting his features as his mouth tries to form whichever words decide to spurt out first from the mad torrent of blood to his brain.

Lance fumbles with the screw cap on the bottle of water, watching, waiting for the first fire-bolt of lightning and first tearing peal of thunder from that storm that’s now blown up hastily and furiously.

“And just WHO the fuck might this
*somebody* be, Lance? Mind telling me THAT?”

“C’mon, JC. Don’t get all riled —”

“The hell? Okay, then spill, baby. Man, I’m on the edge of my damn seat for this one. Especially, see, since we’ve already ruled out ME being this
*somebody* of choice. Know what I’m saying? So fuck me. Who’s the lucky prick accompanying you on your little bon voyage to Moscow, Lance? Fucking who?”

* * * * * * * * * *

They had been arguing.

Well, bickering may have been more like it, Lance thought, with his forehead pressed coolly against the small, oval window of a jet aircraft zooming him across a vast ocean and other continents to a faraway place he’d never been before. A place that would keep him isolated from almost everyone he loved dearly for several cold days.

And several warmthless, solitary nights. Without JC.

Those dark, lonely eternities — few though they may be — were the parts of this trip he was definitely not looking forward to. And they were stretched out before him now, still and silent, like the fathomless open water that he knew lay far down below him even though it couldn’t see it.

They, he and JC, had been “bickering” that day in their hotel suite in Las Vegas. The Celebrity tour had rolled into town and done a show there Friday night, the 15th of March. The two days following that had been off days for the group, their first two in a row since the road trip had begun.

Everyone had chosen to chill out in Sin City for the break, no huge surprise. Joe and Kelly had gotten a large suite at the MGM Grand itself and moved in so they could be comfortable with Baby Bri (not that Joe would be spending a whole lot of time actually in there with his baby-momma and the wee tot who was just learning to walk, but anyway).

Cassidy, who was still traveling with them so far, and Justin had booked posh rooms at Mikado, on a different floor from the luxury suite Lance and JC had taken. Christopher K was close by as well, in his own suite, and spent most of his precious free time scoring big at the high-stakes private poker games in back rooms of the more elite casinos, the ones where you had to know somebody or be somebody to get accepted into them.

As part of the relaxation and unwinding process, Kel and Cassidy had quickly gotten hooked on the dollar slot machines, staking out a prime spot with a couple of lucky kiosks side-by-side where they could get giggly and rowdy sipping the free cocktails, tip the servers with their growing collection of winning chips, check out all of the hot guys strolling by who were also checking them out, rate said hot suckers on a scale of 1-10 (“how good dude looks like he might be in the sack”), giggle some more and high-five each other with the secret knowledge that their own hot guys, hanging around somewhere in the vicinity, probably wouldn’t think their drunk-girl little game was all that hilarious.

JC and Justin preferred the blackjack tables where they dressed down, tried to look inconspicuous, ventured into the casinos, and got serious with some heavy betting. Chris would always end up joining them eventually, if he couldn’t scope out a “more worthy party to crash.” Lance, whereas, always migrated to the craps game and pushed his luck over and over with the helping hand of the gratis alcohol (also over and over). Joey was usually helplessly drawn to the big-spinning roulette wheel — when he wasn’t helplessly drawn to the skimpily costumed, overly curved female hostesses and servers.

Whenever JC noticed an instance of the latter, he’d forever had something smirky and eye-rolly to say about it. Such as: “Fatone, dude. Get a grip. Raise the bar, why don’t ya? Work on where that attention span wanders off to. Those chicks are just glorified Hooters babes, man. Posers big-time.”

To which Joey would reply, with a half-hearted clap to JC’s shoulder and a surly wink: “Yo, Chasez. Thanks for the concern and all, bro, but so what? You know what I mean? I ain’t the picky type. So stay in your own ballpark, man. Talk about what you know about, ‘kay? Which, um, by the way, ain’t hooters and chicks and babes.”

To which JC would retort with a sulky sneer and a shot of his middle finger back at Joey.

Lance had laughed heartily when he’d overheard one of these little exchanges. It did him good to see the two of them slowly, finally, getting back to semi-friendly banter again away from work, rather than just stiff, obligatory small talk at sound checks and backstage buffets before and after shows. The fact that JC still held his grudge against Joey for taking Lance out that night long ago and introducing him to Dylan, The Gorgeous and Seductive Giver of Great Blowjobs To Unsuspecting Guys On The Outs With Their Boyfriends, had been a sensitive subject for everyone to tiptoe around. But Lance and Kel were working on them. Eventually, they’d be completely back to buddy-buddy normal, like before the unfortunate incident, um, went down. Bet your ass.

JC could be difficult sometimes — Lance knew better than anyone else knew. And he also knew that his lover had been edgy and tense for the whole two-week duration of the tour so far. The terse, electric energy may have been exhibiting itself in his highly entertaining and wildly hyper performance antics on stage at night. But Lance felt the more acute, bristling, uptight current waving off him subtly, not too fiercely, when he didn’t have his “show persona” turned on.

And one more thing that Lance knew as well…….he was the main cause of this unsettledness coursing through JC, idling and humming in low gear, fucking with the chemistry between the two of them. Well, more specifically, he and his pending trip this weekend across the globe. That was the source of tension in their little world, the reason not voiced aloud for the controlled little smirks, the audible breathy huffs, and the quick, snarky quips passed between them.

JC was very worried about him and trying very hard not to show it, but instead trying to be strong and supportive. Lance knew. He’d always known it. He could feel how the warring contradictions inside JC were tying him in miserable knots. And he certainly hadn’t wanted the foreboding unrest, the pins-and-needles apprehension to heat up and boil over so that they went from hesitantly dancing around each other to full-scale duking it out. No, he didn’t even want arguing. Damnit, he’d been doing everything in his power to avoid any kind of confrontation that might swell up and explode in their faces.

So, in his mind, he had toned it down to “bickering” when he remembered it. That’s what they’d been doing that Sunday afternoon in Vegas, stashed away in the lovely sanctuary of their hotel suite.

They had slept in after a late night the night before, ordered up a huge brunch from room service, and snuggled down together under the bed sheets again to watch a horrible Jackie Chan movie and then Sixth Sense for the hundredth time on the digital cable — Lance’s cheek resting on JC’s warm abdomen and JC’s arm curled around Lance’s smooth shoulders. Comfortable and satiated with each other. It had been a little while later when they had moved to the living area of the suite to relax with a magazine and a laptop.

The plan was to hit the strip that evening, one more time while they were in town, get in a little last-minute gambling, and then try to have a late dinner at some out-of-the-way place where they might be able to eat in seclusion and privacy without being recognized. Tomorrow morning, they would have to pack up and head out to Houston. Vacation over.

So why had they even needed to “bicker” on this quiet, leisurely, so-peaceful-together Sunday afternoon? Lance wondered now, remembering every searing detail of the scene, the heat from his forehead warming the cool windowpane it leaned against. Why had the Moscow trip even come up to disturb the loving, unspoken truce they had going on? How the hell had that gotten all mucked up anyway?

Oh. The e-mail he had received from MirCorp when he’d booted up the laptop. The one with his detailed itinerary for the scheduled trip the following weekend. Just fucking great.

* * * * * * * * * *

“And just WHO the fuck might this *somebody* be, Lance? Mind telling me THAT?”

“C’mon, JC. Don’t get all riled —”

“The hell? Okay, then spill, baby. Man, I’m on the edge of my damn seat for this one. Especially, see, since we’ve already ruled out ME being this
*somebody* of choice. Know what I’m saying? So fuck me. Who’s the lucky prick making the scene with you on your little bon voyage to Moscow, Lance? Fucking who?”

“Don’t get so upset, JC. It’s gonna be fine. Let me just explain. Okay?” Lance winces, not swallowing that, not even for a second. “I promise. It won’t be as big a deal as it feels like right now.” And he wishes he honestly believed that himself.

“So who is it that wins the big jackpot then, baby? That horse’s ass with Dumbo ears, Hernandez? Huh?”

In another world, under different circumstances, Lance would have surely spewed out his mouthful of water with a spastic burst of laughter. But here, he can’t stop rolling his eyes.

“C’mon, JC. Please. You said you liked Freddy. And all those kick-ass parties he throws and invites us to. You know. The cool ones with all the cool people where we can hang out and be ourselves and have a blast
*together* and not worry about being busted out as a couple of fags?”

JC spins halfway around, giving Lance a side view of his limber body, jerking his hands in the air dramatically. “That crackhead only does that shit to be near
*you*, Lance. He’s got it so bad for you he walks around with his tongue out hoping your dick will attach itself to it. He *has* to invite me along. Just to get you there. Give me a break, *Pretty Boy*. Please.”

Lance releases a deep breath and glances past JC for a second. It could have been worse, that growled response from him. Even the icy snarl there at the end could have been much meaner. He could have gone back to the messy issue of them outing themselves, which, apparently, he had been thinking more and more about lately.

“Whatever, JC. Bottom line, Freddy’s not going to Russia with me. Okay?”

“Yeah. Not
*this* time, at least. Right?”

Lance huffs. JC always thinks he’s so intuitive, doesn’t he? Always thinking he’s reading into the future and shit. How does he get off doing that?

“Could we please just get through this first trip, JC? Please?”

“Fine. Then who
*is* going?”

“Well……..my dad volunteered.”

“Father Jim?” JC turns back to him, glaring, simmering with electricity. “Well, isn’t that just awesome? And wholesome too! Why didn’t I think of him? Good for you both! And hey.
*I* volunteered too, by the way. In case you fucking forgot.”

Lance groans softly. “JC……..I told you. It’s not as simple as that.”

*Nothing ever is, is it?*

“And I told you. Nothing ever is, is it, baby?”

Lance stares up at him, astounded that he’d totally, effortlessly, gakked his silent brain waves from out of the air. “Let’s not……..argue, JC. Not today. Okay?”

JC smirks. He’s far more restless and agitated now than before. His nose twitches. A high-strung shudder ices through him. “Who’s arguing? Jim’s much less of a media-fied risk than I’d be, eh?”

“You know I’d take you with me if I could.”

“Fuck it.”

“C’mon. Don’t be like that. I seriously don’t wanna do this today. I never meant to piss you off.”

JC steps toward Lance, bristling, glowering, steeped in heated rage, all too familiar. “Oops. Too late. Yeah, thanks,” he hisses, teeth clenched, fists opening and closing, so full of so many upcharged and raging emotions that are all so strong and so hard to keep reins on.

Lance flinches reflexively — exactly like he hadn’t wanted to do — pulls back a little, almost like cowering, almost, and then utters a few impulsive, ill-chosen words before thinking about them first — words he’ll think about a ton — and deeply, deeply regret — afterward.

“So? What? You gonna
hit me now, JC? Isn’t that what comes next?”

* * * * * * * * * *

Fuck

Lance squeezed his tired eyes shut against the ugly memory, against the image in his mind of JC’s eyes clouding to a dull shade of pewter when those spiked words had been hurled at him like enemy missiles. The surprise, the hurt, the utter off-balancedness that had rocked him that day.

Without consciously realizing it, Lance pulled the thick collar of his jacket tighter around his neck. It had to be 75 degrees on this damn luxury airplane, and yet he could feel the chill penetrating him to the bone.

I am so sorry. That was wrong. And cruel. And I shouldn’t have said it…….I love you, Josh. Really.

“You okay over there, hot shot?” his father asked quietly, leaning closer, and Lance had almost forgotten he wasn’t alone sitting here. A sudden spurt of memory hit him then, of this man asking him exactly that same question back when he was about 16 years old…….when he was on his way to Orlando, Florida, to audition for a musical group of five guys who could sing and dance.

“I’m fine. Thanks,” he mumbled in response, lying through barely opened jaws.

“A little antsy? Nerves getting to you?” His dad nudged him affectionately, silently supportive.

“Maybe. A little.”

I just don’t have a damn clue what to expect, what might happen to me, when this plane lands in that strange place called Moscow. But I do know what an enormous, essential part of me I’ve left behind back, there in the states.

“You’ll do great, Lance. No question at all about that. You’re as healthy as you can be, right? And that’s exactly what those doctors will find out,” Jim Bass whispered and brushed against his son’s arm. The wide, plush, first-class seats were spacious and comfortable. But Lance wasn’t. Comfortable, that is. “Everyone’s so proud of you, you know. They’re all pulling for you, son. Especially me and your mother.”

“I know, Dad. Thanks. And something else…….I’m glad you’re here. Really. That was nice of you to put off everything you had going on with your job and all to come over here with me.”

“Of course, son. I wouldn’t think of doing anything else, not with you involved in something this fantastic. The whole family is really excited that you’re doing this,” his dad went on, purring a little raspily in the quiet cabin of the humming jet. “That you’re taking the first huge step toward actually making history and going up into space. And not just as a civilian tourist, but as a qualified astronaut! It’s amazing that you’re getting the opportunity to do something this large-scale. And we’re proud of you. All of us.”

“Yes, it is amazing,” Lance answered distractedly, not bothering to correct his dad about “cosmonaut” as opposed to “astronaut,” opening his eyes again to look out the tiny window, seeing nothing but a thick, gray puffy layer of the atmosphere. Cloudy shades of pewter…….like your eyes were that day. “I can’t believe it’s really happening myself. Seems…….you know, surreal.”

“Surreal is the perfect word for it, yeah. And your friends are all behind you too. The ones back in Mississippi. And, of course, the guys in the group too. They’re all so thrilled for you and wish you the best in the world. They said so. At the hotel this morning, as we were heading out. It’s so obvious how they love you like a brother, Lance. Honestly.” Jim chuckled, effectively making upbeat conversation without even trying to.

“Yeah,” Lance said, hoarsely, recalling the scene from hours earlier that his dad was referring to.

It had been late morning in Dallas, the city where they’d performed the night before. Lance and Jim were packed and ready to leave for the airport. And everyone who meant something to Lance had gathered in the small elevator lobby area of floor number 63 in the hotel, the floor which was private-access-only and security-guarded to the max as the *NSYNC crew occupied it exclusively. It was a somber but supportive farewell and sendoff of their loved brother who was traveling away from them to parts unknown.

Johnny and a couple of other Jive execs were there, as well as all the guys, a couple of their business and publicity managers, quite a few of the band members, and most of the roadie personnel. Kelly and Cassidy had been hanging out too, huddled against Joey and Justin in the small crowd, tears filling their bright eyes. Chris stood between the two couples. Even Roy and Karen Chasez had come down for the Dallas show. And to see him off.

Lance had been a little overwhelmed. He hadn’t expected such a rallying-around-him turnout, such a big-ass deal being made over him. Christ. He was only going to be gone a few days, for some background physical testing, some assessing of his general health. This was really unreal, wasn’t it? And back in their shared suite, as they’d packed their luggage, heavy hearts pulling them together like magnets over and over, JC, that sly ass, hadn’t warned him once or even hinted that they’d be waiting out here for him like this.

All of their faces, their loving and friendly eyes and smiles, brought on the unanticipated tears for him, warm and tingly around his sockets, which he’d discreetly tried to blink away as he’d grinned huge and bright, looking around at them, appreciating every one of them. Appreciating, no, loving, the feel of JC standing beside him, crowding hotly and protectively against him, never more than two warm inches from him.

“You know I think of you like my own kid, don’t you, Lance, honey?” Karen had whimpered against the side of his head, squeezing him tightly in her arms. “Take care of yourself over there, sweetheart. I’ll be praying for you and for your safety. You’re a brave young man any mom would be honored to call her own.”

Roy had bear-hugged him with thick, vibrating affection too. “Well, this is it, son. Looks like you’re headed off to something big. We’re pulling for ya all the way, kiddo. We love ya.”

Lance had breathed in the large man’s warmth and faint musky scent as he’d been slowly released from the huge embrace. When he’d swiped his jacket sleeve across his cheeks to capture a few headstrong teardrops that wouldn’t be blinked back, he had overheard Karen whispering, a little wetly, to his own mother.

“Diane, you must be beside yourself with feeling so overjoyed for him and yet worrying about him at the same time. He’s so determined to see this through. I’d be feeling the same as you, hon. And you know? Somehow, it’s almost like he’s, well, my son-in-law. And I’m as thrilled and worried as you must surely be.”

Somehow, it’s almost like he’s, well, my son-in-law.

Lance trembled in his first-class luxury seat on the aircraft, remembering Karen’s unknowingly poignant words. She had no idea yet, he thought, how prophetic they really were. Did she?

“And JC too.”

“Uh, hmm?” Lance flinched against his dad’s arm, prodded out of his own head by the man’s last three soft-spoken words. “Sir?”

“I just said JC too. He seems really glad for you too, you know. He’s completely in your corner, rooting for you in this thing.”

“Yes,” Lance whispered, the persistent melancholy creeping up in his throat like a suffocating clump again. “He is. Totally. He wanted to come along for this testing stuff too. To be with me.”

“I sort of got that impression today…….that he wanted badly to protect you from any harm…….that he’s on your side no matter what but still has some cynical, untrusting feelings about all of this.”

“Yes,” Lance repeated, smiling and turning slightly toward Jim. “That’s totally the sound byte version of Josh’s take on the whole thing. You’ve so got him pegged.”

He was amused, no, pleased to realize that his dad had not only put JC into a category all on his own — instead of lumping him in with the “friends who love you like a brother” or the “guys in the group” categories — but that he was also now talking on a deeper, more genuine level about the man Lance loved than he’d done since the two of them had told their parents about their intimate relationship.

Jim hadn’t ever “disapproved” of them being together at all, or even shown any signs of regret or adversity that his only son was in love with another man. But he’d never been very open or forthcoming with any real reaction to or discussion about it either. It just simply was, a fact of life, and he didn’t seem to feel any need to linger on the matter at all, as if he had no more to say about it forever, as long as Lance was happy.

Now, however, at least in Lance’s figurings, he was going beyond his “accept it and close the subject” stance. He was willing today to talk to his son about things (and about someone) that mattered a great deal to him. It was important, and meaningful, to discuss the issue now.

“Sounds like a very special kind of love he has for you, Lance. A very unselfish and giving one.”

“Yes,” Lance murmured, a hiss, suddenly conscious that he’d been uttering a lot of these one-word, positive responses. “That’s a good description of JC too, Dad. And…….I love him the same way. It’s a mutual thing with us, a connection that’s almost, like, spiritual it’s so strong,” he blurted out softly, feeling emotionally free enough to be so bluntly honest with his father at this moment.

“I know, son,” Jim rasped back, gently laying his hand on Lance’s forearm for a brief, sincere, heartfelt moment. “I could see that today too between you both. And I’m very glad to know you two have each other…….as deeply as you do. It’s rare to connect with somebody as powerfully as you seem to have connected with him.”

* * * * * * * * * *

TO BE CONTINUED

Part 105


Comments

miss5k
May. 4th, 2006 09:19 pm (UTC)
Oh man I forgot how much of a moody bitch JC could be lol

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