No End Without a Beginning, Part 1 No End Without a Beginning, Part 2 by Naiad

The Nile Is Not Only a River in Egypt Remix by GioGio

The beginning didn't come in Florida, when Justin's body was still that of a boy and his hair a halo of curls surrounding a cherubic face. All that mattered then was making them all, even Lance, fit as a group and achieving a dream.

The beginning didn't come in Europe, when Justin was still just a kid despite what he thought. Europe was singing and dancing and Chris, JC, Joey and Lance. He had always wanted an older brother—Europe gave him four.

The beginning didn't come when Nsync finally returned home, a closer family than many related by blood. For Justin that time was nothing but euphoric exhaustion. They were being recognized in the place that mattered most.

The beginning didn't come during the biggest fight of their lives, when everyone took turns falling apart and holding the pieces together. The anger and bitterness had been all-consuming.

The beginning didn't come when everything exploded and they became untouchable. In the midst of it all, Justin finally grew up and realized that his fondness for a girl he had known since childhood satisfied the public's penchant for fairy tales.

The beginning came in the middle.

In Germany, on a freezing night with Munich covered in several inches of snow, their moms went out and Chris and the others finally decided to take Justin and Lance to a club. They were both so excited. It wasn't just a club; it was a European club. Justin went over to Lance's room and dragged him back to his own.

"You can't go out in anything you own, they'll never let you in." Justin exclaimed. Then he started going through his wardrobe like a poodle on crack—or at least like he imagined a highly excitable breed would behave under the influence of stimulants, having zero practical experience to back up his theory—throwing things at Lance with frightening speed. "Here, try this. No, that sucks. Try this instead."

Eventually he was satisfied, and Lance sat on the bed as Justin got ready. Justin stripped down to his underwear and turned to pull a muscle shirt from the topmost drawer of the dresser when he caught Lance staring at him.

If it had been anyone else—Chris, JC, even Joey—he would have given them a little jig and a thrust of his hips, and gotten dressed, completely unconcerned, but the look of need and hunger in Lance's eyes made him feel naked, more naked than he had ever felt before, and supremely uncomfortable. Boys were never meant to look at other boys like that, Justin was sure. He hesitated, his hand halfway to the drawer, and Lance blushed and ran for the bathroom, leaving Justin standing in the middle of the room, exhilarated and scared and disgusted, all at the same time.

When Lance finally returned after what seemed like eons, Justin was fully dressed and pretending nothing had happened at all, though he wasn't able to meet Lance's eyes for the rest of the evening.

He tried to keep his distance, afraid of what he had seen in Lance's eyes, until their mothers went home and Lance, looking thoroughly miserable, excused himself and went back to the room he had shared with his mother, but was now sharing with Justin. The TV was switched on when Justin came in. Lance looked calm and composed until Justin asked him if he was OK. Before Lance was even halfway through "yes," he was crying. Justin rushed over and hugged him tight. He didn't let go even after Lance stopped crying, or when the others came in to see how they were. The next night, when Justin started missing his own mother, Lance let Justin cry on him.

After that, it was like Justin's body was no longer under his complete control, but ruled by committee. It jumped at every small chance to get a look, a touch, a token of something—anything—from Lance, while Justin's head screamed protest.

In a generic hotel room, a long-forgotten city, they were all piled on the bed watching "Independence Day." They started the movie ad-libbing dialogue and falling over each other laughing, and before too long, it got hard to tell who owned what body part. After a while, Justin started to get tired and rested his head against Chris's chest, his eyes drifting half-shut while Chris blithely continued to shout improvement suggestions at the actors and JC and Joey howled with laughter.

Justin didn't need to open his eyes to feel Lance's stare burning him from the far end of the bed. It was like a blowtorch: hot and dangerous and fascinating, all at once. Quite against his better judgment, he felt his leg slowly, minutely, edging forward until his foot rested against Lance's calf. Lance's leg tensed under his toes for a moment before relaxing. Justin didn't dare look at Lance, didn't even dare open his eyes, but he tapped his foot against Lance's leg in time with the soundtrack and was rewarded with a small shiver.

Reality crashed in around him when there was a momentary lapse in Chris's monologue and JC and Joey's laughter turned to soft giggles. Somebody must have noticed, Justin thought, as he felt panic rise in him. His stomach was rolling, and his leg twitched back much faster than he had intended, his heel crashing painfully into somebody else.

"Ow. Motherf—" Joey cursed.

"Sorry. I'm so sorry." Justin squeaked, jumping up from the bed with his face red-hot. "Cramp."

He hurried off to the bathroom, only realizing when the door shut behind him that he had been moving too fast and without a limp.

They returned to Florida and to being nobodies. At home, nobody recognized them. But they started rehearsing like crazy because the choreography got harder and they were all struggling, even Justin himself, who had always thought dancing came effortlessly. After a long, humid day of practicing, Justin was even prepared to admit that there was something to be said for Germany's temperate climate and cool stone houses.

Their choreographer drove them to exhaustion and when he finally, grudgingly agreed to a break, they all collapsed to the floor right where they had been standing. All except Lance, Justin realized, looking up. Lance was still repeating the last few steps over and over, his eyes fixed on his feet and his teeth chewing his bottom lip to pulp. Justin couldn't keep himself from watching out of the corner of his eye, fascinated and a little ashamed. Lance was so absorbed in trying to get the steps right, watching him made Justin feel like a pervert, a peeping tom.

Ten more minutes of missteps, and the look of concentration on Lance's face was replaced with one Justin associated with his baby brother, the look that came just before an infant started throwing a tantrum. Justin hesitated for only a moment before his body took over and jumped up to stride over to Lance. By the time Justin's brain caught up with his feet, he'd already taken one of Lance's hands in his and had his other arm firmly wrapped around Lance's waist, twirling him around the room in a waltz. Lance followed Justin's lead and started laughing.

After a few minutes with only Lance's laughter for music, Justin spun them around dramatically and declared, "We're going to replace the moves Lance can't get with a waltz, and if any of you fuckers have a problem with that, you have to come through me."

Everybody howled with laughter, and for the rest of the day Justin felt Lance's grateful eyes boring into the back of his head, which had been neither his intent nor his desire.

Still, Justin couldn't help the small thrill that surged through him.

Backstage at their first awards show all of them were nervous, Chris especially looking a little green around the edges. When Justin looked around, Lance was very still, almost immobile, taking long and exaggerated breaths. Justin had to resist the urge to go looking for a paper bag. Instead, on autopilot again, he strode over to where Lance was crouching and threw his arms around Lance's back from behind, giving him a squeeze and a kiss on the cheek and saying, "You'll be fine. Pretend you're waltzing." Lance hadn't been fine, but he'd been OK, and the look in his eyes at the after-party had made Justin's stomach twist painfully.

In the middle of the biggest fight of their lives, the others were no longer able to protect Justin and Lance, though Chris was white with anger and JC was lashing out at their opponents with everything he had and some stuff nobody had ever suspected he had in him. One day, when it looked like the lawsuit was unwinnable and they'd spent so much time discussing strategies with their attorneys that Justin wasn't sure of the date or time they finally left, Joey started making blueberry pancakes for everyone.

They ate in gloomy silence until Justin couldn't stand it anymore and flicked a blueberry at Chris, which bounced off his cheek. Soon blueberries were flying across the table. It felt almost safe to laugh, until one berry hit Lance square in the chest. They all watched in sudden silence as the blueberry slid down Lance's favorite white shirt, leaving a purple trail of juice, and something in Lance's carefully calm veneer cracked. He pushed back from the table, shedding his shirt on the way to the garbage can. "Um. Sorry about that," Joey said sheepishly as Lance threw out the garment.

Lance nodded curtly, poised to step out of the room, when JC said, "Come on, Lance, it's just a shirt."

"Yes," Lance replied much too calmly. "The shirt that was left behind by the first man I slept with."

While the others gaped, Justin jumped up, moving towards Lance and pulling him into a rib-crushing hug. It took far too long, but Lance's arms tentatively rose to hold onto Justin's shoulders and Justin said, "We love you," in a tone that dared the others not to.

And that should have been the end of tantalizing accidental touches; Justin knew that as surely as he knew anything. Still, as days turned to months and months turned to years, the committee outvoted him.

The day Justin's brain finally shifted into high gear and informed him that he was in way over his head started like any other. His spoon traveled rhythmically back and forth between the cereal bowl and his mouth, disturbing the gentle motion of the milk as the bus carried them on to the next venue. Well aware that mornings weren't his strength, Justin ignored everything around him and focused on shoveling as much food as possible into his mouth in an attempt to make himself fit for human company. Except this morning, contrary to all established precedent, his cheeks were burning.

He lifted his head to find Lance across the table, his mouth slightly agape and his eyes fixed on Justin, his juice glass poised halfway between the table and his mouth. Justin looked away quickly.

When he raised his eyes again, the glass was back on the table and Lance's eyes were moving restlessly from his plate to Justin's face and back. Then Lance rose much too quickly, almost knocking Joey over in the process, and rushed off in the direction of the bathroom. Justin watched him go.

"Dude, did you just have a second shower in our bathroom? Was there a sudden odor crisis that required immediate attention?" Chris asked when Lance finally returned.

"Um, yeah. Sorry. I wasn't feeling well and I thought a shower might help."

Justin looked up from his second bowl of cereal. "You OK?"

"I'm fine. It was probably something I ate or a virus or something." Lance replied, studying the wall with newfound fascination.

"You sure, man?" JC put a hand on Lance's shoulder. Lance nodded. "Well, just in case, Joe, how 'bout you look after Lance. Take him to the other bus. Chris, J and I'll finish up here, OK?"

"Thanks, JC," said Lance. The muscles in his neck were tense when he looked Justin in the eye for a second. He almost twitched when Justin smiled encouragingly, which worried Justin: if history could be trusted, a sick Lance was something to be avoided at all costs.

Justin didn't have time to dwell on it, though, because Joey clapped a hand on Lance's back, turning him towards the door. "Kel called this morning. Said that Bri smiled for the first time. Isn't that fucking amazing?"

"She's barely a month old. It was probably gas." Lance smiled. "Besides, she wouldn't smile for the first time without her dad or godfather."

"She's advanced, Kel says. It's the Fatone genes…"

Justin looked up as Joey's voice faded and caught Chris and JC exchanging a knowing look that chilled him to the bone. They knew, he realized. He hadn't been hiding nearly as well as he'd thought. It was time to fire the committee and change, drastically and immediately.

The back of Justin's head hit the wall hard and his eyes flew open with shock before he willed them closed again, focusing all his attention on the pleasure curling up his spine.

The girl was completely silent, sucking him off like a pro. Her hands felt larger than they should, holding his ass in an iron grip. As long as he kept his eyes closed, he could allow his mind to wander, contemplate things he could never bring himself to consider when he wasn't riding an after-show high on the receiving end of possibly the best blowjob he'd ever had.

He didn't even notice his hands bearing down on her shoulders and his hips rocking towards her until she shifted slightly and opened her throat, letting him in further than he'd imagined possible.

He groaned.

A few hard thrusts of his hips and he was coming hard, her throat working around his cock, taking it all.

Movement, and he opened his eyes just in time to see her hand wiping across her bruised and smirking mouth. "Thanks," she said, and walked off down the corridor before he could even think to call one of the bodyguards to escort her away.

Resting his head against the cool concrete of the arena, he fumbled blindly with his zipper.

"You're welcome, I guess," he mumbled, his voice shaky even to his own ears, before stumbling off towards the buses.

When Justin got on the bus a few minutes later, Lance was sitting on top of Chris with an arm around his neck, holding him there in a headlock.

Justin rubbed Lance's head without thinking and picked up an abandoned controller. "So, who's winning?"

Lance scrambled off Chris and grabbed the other controller. "Me." He looked at the screen. "Or not me." Glaring at Chris, he said, "And now someone has to pay." As Lance lunged, Chris jumped off the sofa and put himself behind JC in the walkway. Lance glared again as Chris grinned at him from safety.

JC ignored Chris completely, looking at Justin. "Hey, man. I figured we'd be seeing you before now. What the hell took so long?"

Justin lounged back, grinning. "There was a really sweet girl out there."

Chris pushed past JC and Lance, who smacked him in the back of the head, and flopped back on the sofa. "Blowjobs count."

"They do not. Besides, it would have been rude to turn her down." Justin pouted. Lance sat next to Chris.

"They do so," Chris said. "Don't they, JC?"

JC snorted softly. "Actually, I agree with J. Because, you know, I really don't think it's as intimate and, um…"


"…if it was OK for Clinton, then it's OK for me." JC finished.


Lance looked like a deer caught in the headlights of the bus, eyes shifting restlessly between them. "Hmm?"

Chris poked him. "Wake up. Blowjobs. Do they count as sex or not?"

"Oh. Yeah. They count. They definitely count." Lance replied with conviction. "So, um, who's up for clubbing tomorrow night?"

Chris cackled. "Sure, buddy. We'll go out and find you a nice piece of ass."

Lance blushed. "You know I just want to spend time with y'all," he deadpanned. "Who says I want to get laid?"

JC rubbed Lance's knee from his spot on the floor. "We all want to get laid. Except maybe J, because blowjobs don't count."

"Whatever." Justin was grinning. "I can't anyway. Brit's coming tomorrow, staying for a few days."

"So more non-sex then?" Chris said.

"Shut up. I really miss her. It's hard." He stretched his legs out across Chris's lap, watching Lance out of the corner of his eye. Lance seemed to be getting closer without moving, his thighs almost within range of Justin's toes.

"We all know how hard it is, Justin."

"Sorry, Chris. It's just…" Justin tapped Chris's thigh with his foot, using the opportunity to move his legs out of Lance's reach.

"Yeah. I know. It's OK."

Lance stood up abruptly. "I'm gonna switch back. Joey should be done talking to Kelly." Tapping the driver on the shoulder, he asked him to pull over and called his farewell over his shoulder.

Justin pretended not to notice the slump in Lance's shoulders as he got off the bus.

Justin's head fell back onto the pillow and he let his eyes flutter open just long enough to catch a glimpse of Britney's hair, then shut them tightly and focused all his attention on willing the pleasure to curl up his spine.

Britney was completely silent, sucking him off like a girl. Her small hands were brushing against his hips, long fingernails scratching teasingly across his skin. As long as he kept his eyes closed, he could allow his mind to wander, contemplate things he could never bring himself to consider when he wasn't on the receiving end of a mediocre blowjob from the girl he loved.

He didn't even notice his hands bearing down on her shoulders and his hips rocking towards her until she yelped and pushed his hips down forcefully, all but ordering him to keep still.

He groaned.

He wondered how the others were doing in the club they'd gone to, whether Lance had picked up a boy yet (he was long overdue, in Justin's humble opinion), while Britney's lips provided too little friction and her tongue delicately licked up the side of his cock.

Movement, and he opened his eyes just in time to see her hand wiping across her perfect lips. "Your turn," she said, and stretched out on the bed beside him.

Plumping the pillow so he could rest comfortably, he reached out and brushed his fingers between her legs.

"Thanks, I guess," he mumbled, his voice shaky even to his own ears, before focusing on the task at hand.

Justin didn't notice JC stopping next to him in the hallway of the venue until JC was waving a hand in front of his face and teasingly singing, "This is ground control to Timberlake—"

"JC. Sorry, I was miles away," Justin interrupted.

Even Justin's undivided attention didn't actually stop JC from continuing, "Take your protein pills and put your helmet on."

Justin rolled his eyes and punched JC's shoulder playfully. "Save your voice for later, dude. What's up?"

"The sky?" JC answered grinning.

"That joke wasn't any funnier twenty years ago, you know," Justin replied.

"You were barely alive twenty years ago," JC said good-naturedly. "Where's Brit?"

"Quiet room. How about everyone else?"

"Joey's parenting via cell phone and Chris took one look at the arena and went off with a mad glint in his eye; I'm afraid he's planning something," JC said.

Justin swallowed. "Lance?"

JC smiled mischievously. "Haven't seen him yet, probably still in bed with the guy I spotted at the club last night."

"That hot, huh?" Justin asked and JC nodded enthusiatically. "So what are we going to do to keep ourselves entertained until they need us?"

JC swung an arm around his shoulder and began conspiratorially, "Ah. I saw something you might be interested in…"

The something turned out to be scooters, and Justin and JC raced down the hallways of the venue, almost mowing down one or two frazzled stagehands while taking corners too fast, before they came to a screeching halt in front of Lance.

Justin dropped the scooter to the floor and threw an arm around Lance's neck. "Took you long enough to get here, yo. I suppose I'd be last to arrive if I spent the day in bed, too, but I expected a bigger smile. C said he was hot."

Lance smiled broadly. "Who said I was in bed all day?"

JC ticked off his fingers as he spoke. "Most of the day off, no traveling, a fine guy—where else would you be? Unless…" JC suddenly looked quite horrified. "He wasn't crappy, was he?" Bad sex was one of JC's top ten nightmares. "Lance, please tell me he wasn't awful, because then I'd be responsible, and, damn. I'm sorry, man."

"Relax, JC. I'm seeing him again tonight, but believe it or not I haven't been in bed all day." Lance frowned slightly. "Did you know that other people have this thing they do, I think it's called 'work'?" It was testament to too much time spent in coordinated choreography, Justin thought, that both he and JC managed to hit Lance in the head simultaneously. "Where are Joey and Chris?"

"Hopefully up at the stage. We're almost ready to go." Justin used the arm he had around Lance's neck to tug him in the right direction. "But seriously, man, you really don't look like a guy that just got well fucked."

"Justin!" Lance exclaimed with mock indignation. "I'm just a little tired. Speaking of, I saw Britney a minute ago and she was looking a bit stressed out. You guys didn't fight, did you?"

"Nah. She's just getting some heat from management and her mom for coming to see me," Justin said, worried.

"It's two days and three nights. Don't they know what'll happen if she doesn't get a break?"

"Yeah, I know. I can kind of understand though. I mean, she's the only one there is; it's not like there are others who can do appearances instead. But we wanted to see each other, you know?" Justin sighed. "I miss her when she's not here."

"She's tougher than she looks, Justin. Brit will be fine." JC patted Justin's shoulder and jumped on his scooter.

"He's right, you know." Lance said. "Britney's sweet, but she's strong, and with you she's even stronger." There was a slight twitch behind his left eye.

Britney came out for the sound check and Justin went straight to her after they were done. He sat behind her and wrapped both his arms and legs around her body before kissing her neck gently and hooking his chin over her shoulder. Britney relaxed her body back into him as he whispered nonsense in her ear, and Justin tightened his hug.

Out of the corner of his eye, Justin could see Lance looking at him intensely and he shivered.

They were out at a club and there had been a lot of alcohol, enough for Justin's vision to be slightly fuzzy around the edges. Across the table from him, Lance waved the cocktail waitress over. Justin couldn't resist running a hand over her ass as she passed. Neither could he help noticing that Lance turned away quickly to scan the dance floor.

When the waitress returned with Lance's order, Justin pulled her down into his lap as she set down the glass, and buried his face between her shoulder and her throat. When he looked up a little later, Lance was gone, his drink untouched. Justin turned his face back to the waitress's slim white throat, nuzzling the delicate skin gently to hide his smile.

The waitress left a few minutes later, fearful of getting written up, but she was soon replaced by a trim blonde whose name Justin didn't quite catch, but whose large, hard nipples rubbed against Justin enticingly as he licked her pierced tongue. He didn't stop her when she wormed a hand between their bodies and unsnapped his Levi's, and when her hand finally squeezed into his jeans, his hips thrust up of their own accord.

He reached around, the tips of his fingers shoved into her pants and his palm flat against the small of her back to provide better support, while he fucked her mouth with his tongue and she started stroking him in earnest.

Through the daze of arousal, he thought he heard a soft cough, and then a second, louder one. He opened his eyes just far enough to see Lance outlined against the bright lights of the dance floor, and smiled. When Justin's eyes adjusted a few seconds later, Lance wasn't smiling back; he just looked pissed.

"Justin. Hey, Justin." Lance shouted. "Damn it, Justin, get your mind off your dick and focus on me for a minute, would you?"

"What the fuck?" Justin wasn't particularly happy either. "Damn, Lance, what's your problem?"

"Nothing." Lance glared. Whatever it was, it clearly wasn't nothing. "It's just, you have a girlfriend, Justin," Lance exploded a second later. "One that you love and who loves you back, but here you are with some… some girl's hand down your pants." He leaned in to make his point. "Some of us would kill to have what you've got, but if you're not careful you're going to throw it away. You know I love you," he blanched momentarily, "but sometimes I don't understand. I just hope it's worth it. I'm leaving. Tell the others." Lance walked away quickly and gestured to Lonnie.

The girl chose that moment to flick her wrist slightly and Justin shuddered and closed his eyes. There would be time to smooth things over with Lance later.

Lance apologized for his outburst, but tension seeped into the tour anyway. It was inevitable. No matter how much they loved each other and how well they knew the others' habits, the relentless proximity affected them all. When Justin screamed at Joey for not chewing with his mouth closed, it was the fourth time in two days, by Justin's own count, that he had lost it over something relatively minor. The annoyance he'd displayed at JC's habit of running his hands through his own hair had been truly spectacular. Justin sighed and gave himself a time-out, slinking back to his bunk to stay there until he was less likely to kill innocent bandmates.

A few minutes later there was a soft tap on the wall and then Lance pulled back the curtain. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah. It's just." Justin waved his hand in a vague circle. "You know."

"Uh-huh. Anything I can do?"

"Get us a week off so I can visit my girlfriend?"

Lance laughed. "Sorry. I think that one's beyond me." He took a seat next to Justin's legs and swallowed. "You seem to be missing her a lot this time."

Justin turned on his side to face Lance, moving his legs in the process. "I'm lonely, Lance. I don't know why it's bothering me so much now, but…"

"You miss her."

"Like crazy," Justin said, and it really was true.

"Why don't you call her? I'll let the others know so they don't bother you."

"I think I will. She should have some time to talk." Justin smiled at Lance. "Thanks, dude."

"You're welcome."

While Justin got caught in full mid-tour slump and got more depressed, Lance seemed to be enjoying himself. At least, he started going out a lot and rarely returned to the hotel alone. And really, there was absolutely no reason why Justin should have been bothered by any of it, because it was what he had wanted, respite from the too-close-for-comfort proximity and the accidental touches—but he was. There were nights he stayed curled up on his hotel bed watching movies he'd seen ten times before, half-listening for the elevator door and Lance's tell-tale laugh.

He was almost asleep one night, not even sure what city they were in, when he heard Lance's soft moan outside and practically fell off the bed in his haste to get to the door. When he opened it, the first thing he saw was Lance's fingers hooked in some guy's belt loops. "Ah. Hey, Lance. You just got back?" He looked over Lance's shoulder and back again.

Lance was frozen mid-step. "Yeah. We were just…" He faltered, looking embarrassed.

For some reason Justin was equally flustered. "Right. Um." He paused, unsure how to proceed now that he was waking up and no longer acting on instinct, and frowned. "Do you think we could maybe talk for a second?"

"Sure. I'll come back to your room. Just give me a minute."

Justin nodded and went back into his room, pacing up and down restlessly and swinging the door open again as soon as he heard Lance's footsteps in the hallway. Lance walked in and tried to meet Justin's eyes. "Everything's OK, right?"

"Everything's fine." Justin still wasn't capable of keeping still.

"Have you taken something, Justin? Because you know we have a rule…"

"What? Fuck, no. I just wanted to talk to you about something, dude, and it's kind of awkward."

Lance sat in an armchair and watched Justin pace. "So, what is it?" Lance looked worried, which was understandable; Justin didn't get worked up like this very often.

"See. The thing is," Justin stopped moving for a second. In all honesty, the thing was that he had been mostly asleep when he had heard Lance's voice in the hallway and had acted before he had had a chance to think things through properly. And then, once his head had cleared, he had wanted more than a few awkward seconds with Lance in front of the fuck of the day, because he missed… he firmly put a stop to that train of thought because it was hardly helpful. "I've noticed that you've been going out an awful lot and, um, is everything all right with you?" he asked lamely.

"I'm fine, Justin. I'm just having some fun," Lance said carefully. "I've always liked to go out a lot. You know that. You do it too."

"I know. Really, I do. But all these guys. That's new." Justin looked straight at Lance for the first time since Lance had entered the room. "It's dangerous."

"Maybe, but I'm being careful." Lance conceded, sounding a little confused. "It took me a long time to accept who I am, Justin. Don't tell me now that you have a problem with it."

Justin hoped he didn't look as shocked as he felt. "Jesus! Of course I don't have a problem with it. I'm not fucking homophobic, I'm just fucking worried that you're fucking whoever's available to make yourself forget."

Lance tensed noticeably. "Forget what, exactly?"

It was an impasse. Justin was floundering, afraid that he would put his foot in it further, and Lance wasn't going to admit to anything. It seemed that they both knew something; Justin was just hoping like hell that the thing Lance knew was not the same as the thing he knew.

The silence built and Justin pulled himself together. "Dude. This screwing around. It's not really you." Justin said gently. "Maybe you'd be better off looking for a boyfriend instead. Someone who wants to be with you as much as…" Something in him clamped down hard and stopped him. He'd already said a lot more than he should have.

"I'm fine, Justin. Now, if you'll excuse me, there's someone waiting for me," Lance said hoarsely, and left the room.

Justin sat down on the bed and buried his face in his hands. Something was very, very wrong with his head and he had no clue how to fix it.

Not long after the tour ended, Justin heard on the group's grapevine that Lance had started dating a friend of Kelly's, and that seemed to be that, even if it left him with a funny feeling that he did his best to ignore.

He focused his attention on Britney for a while, though that was becoming harder too. Silences stretched out between them that were more awkward than comfortable.

Justin suspected that it was his fault much more than Britney's, because whatever was lacking or just plain wrong in their relationship seemed to emanate from him. It wasn't that he didn't love Brit; he did, desperately so, and it wasn't that he didn't want to be with her—rather, it was a feeling seated deep in the pit of his stomach that he wanted more. What that more was, he could only bring himself to consider after a night of heavy drinking.

He met Freddy briefly at the concert special, but was too caught up in his own private misery to really pay attention, and then Lance was off to LA, taking Freddy with him. Justin kept an eye on the tabloids and thus Lance's activities in LA, but they didn't talk to each other. Even at the BBQ at Chris's house a couple of weeks before Christmas he barely said a word to Lance because he wasn't sure he could stop himself from lashing out—there were already rumors circulating in the industry concerning Freddy's constant presence at Lance's side, and Lance seemed completely unconcerned. It was as though Lance didn't give a damn anymore about being publicly outed and ruining their careers.

And there was still Britney. Things with her were getting worse and so were his dreams, broken images that haunted him at night. Images of things he didn't really want but that his subconscious seemed to want to broadcast at him nonetheless.

After New Year's, after Lance had thrown a party and announced, "And by the way, I've decided to go into space, but I'll be back and we'll pick up exactly where we left off, no hard feelings," Chris cajoled Justin into going clubbing.

He spent the first hour or so sitting at their table and ignoring everything around them while Chris glowered at him and occasionally nudged him to point out an attractive girl on the dance floor. Justin responded by shrugging and turning back to his drink every time until Chris lost patience and excused himself. The next time Justin looked up, he spotted Chris dancing with a petite blonde girl. He was about to turn back to his drink when he noticed a tall dark girl on the opposite side of the dance floor.

Justin watched her, mesmerized. She had her eyes closed, well-muscled arms raised above her head as she moved to the music in perfect rhythm. Justin couldn't remember ever seeing such well-defined deltoids on any girl, not even Britney's trimmest dancers. She wore a silver top—revealing but not slutty—that hugged her small breasts tightly, and leather pants. Her hips were small, ridiculously waifish for a girl of her height, and Justin found himself wondering whether her legs were as lean and muscled as her arms and shoulders. Almost without noticing, he got up from the table and made his way across the floor.

Even when he was dancing a few steps away, she didn't seem to notice him, something that hadn't happened to him in so long, he actually had to think for a second about how to make her notice. Eventually he settled for dancing up to her, tapping her on the shoulder until she opened her eyes, and stretching out his hand with a little bow that he hoped would communicate, "Would you like to dance? And, incidentally, I am not a scary psychopath." She flashed him a grin and took his hand after hesitating for only a moment.

She followed his lead effortlessly, dark grey eyes fixed on his, and moved closer when Justin tightened his grasp around her waist. Justin found that he was enjoying himself immensely for the first time in weeks.

"Do you want to come back to my place?" The question had come completely unexpectedly, but now that he had asked, Justin realized he wanted her to, desperately.

She smiled. "Yes." Her voice was tantalizing, husky and low and just like he had imagined her voice to be.

Justin didn't even look for Chris, just steered her towards the exit. "I'm Justin," he said, almost as an afterthought as they stepped outside.

She laughed. "I know." Stretching out her hand, she added, "I'm Jamie."

Justin tried to make small talk on the drive back, but his heart wasn't in it. He was going to cheat on Britney for the first time.

When they entered his house, Justin dispensed with small talk altogether and led her up to the bedroom before he could change his mind. They were barely through the door before he was kissing her, one hand cupping her small breasts through the shirt, the other brushing across the curve of her shoulder. He wanted to trace every single muscle on her body with his tongue, wanted to commit them to memory, to file them away to remember during encounters with softer girls in the future.

She was kissing him back, pushing him up against the bedroom wall, and he felt a shiver of excitement running up his spine. He'd never been with such an aggressive girl before. His hands were tugging at her shirt, pulling it over her head, and he lowered his face to her chest, tentatively licking a nipple and being rewarded with a soft growl. She threw her head back, exposing the muscles in her neck, and Justin pushed her across the room until her knees hit the bed and she half-fell, half-lay on it, Justin coming down on top of her.

The next few minutes were an abstract tableau of skin and mouths and moans, clothes being shed and discarded randomly by hands exploring bodies. Justin struggled with the buttons to her leather pants for a second, then pushed the pants down her hips and stopped cold.

"Um," he croaked, his body running first hot then cold then hot again.

She raised an eyebrow and asked flippantly, "Not what you expected?"

"But—your—they feel real!" Justin protested stupidly, his mind still trying to process the new information.

She—he—pulled back a little and sighed. "They are real. I'm pre-op but more than a year into hormone therapy."

Justin sat back and ran his hand over his head. "But—"

"It's fine," she—he—said, edging across the bed. "I'll just get dressed and leave, and no hard feelings."

"No!" Justin blurted out and then wanted to kick himself. He had a man—transsexual, whatever—in his bed, and he wasn't gay. He'd slept with far too many girls, and enjoyed it, to be gay. The fact that his dick was still hard was purely coincidental.

"You want me to stay?" She—he—asked carefully, still keeping her—his—distance.

No, Justin thought desperately. Not gay. "Yes," he answered hoarsely. After all, it really didn't count as cheating if—whatever they did, would do, didn't count as cheating. He was sure.

"Okay," she—he—said. "You want to—"

It was very clearly a prompt. Blowjob, Justin's mind helpfully supplied. Nothing wrong with a good blowjob, and really it didn't matter so much who was supplying them, because they didn't count in the first place. "Can you… I mean, if I wanted to get… could you?" his shaky voice asked instead.

Jamie grinned. "Haven't had it chopped off yet, have I?"

Justin nodded slowly. "That. I want that." He leaned across the bed and touched his lips to Jamie's mouth, his hand already roaming along her flat abs and slim waist to cup her breast again. And that was definitely female and familiar and exactly what he wanted. Jamie was a girl, he resolved, the most attractive girl he had met in years, and it definitely didn't count as cheating. Neither was it gay, because she really was a girl, her breasts and voice and moans told him that much at least.

It still wasn't gay later on, when she entered him slowly, because his palms were cupping breasts, his fingers pinching decidedly female nipples, and her baby-smooth cheek was rubbing against his own, soft lips biting his ear, as she thrust into him, making stars dance across his tightly shut eyes.


In the end it didn't matter so much what counted and what didn't, because in the final analysis, things with Britney weren't salvageable and probably hadn't been for quite some time. Not when Justin's ideal of feminine beauty had been revealed to be tall and dark and muscular, seemingly overnight. Not when he had discovered that Britney had cheated, or at least had been stupid enough to get caught. In essence, the two amounted to the same thing.

"No. Read my lips. I. Don't. Care." Justin almost shouted as he walked into the VIP lounge, before Chris mercifully took the cell phone from his hand and snapped it shut. He was about to launch into a string of obscenities when Lance appeared out of nowhere and Chris threw an arm around his neck, waggling his eyebrows and saying, "Lance! How's it going? I was thinking it'd be good to get out of here. The music sucks and the chicks aren't hot enough." His hand clamped around Justin's wrist. "How about we hit a strip club?"

Lance raised an eyebrow.

"I know, I know, but think of it as ironic. And Junior here could use our support." Justin and Chris both knew Lance would go. It was written all over his face.

"Fine. I'll tell JC we're leaving. You grab Mike and we'll meet at the car." Lance put a hand on Justin's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze before walking away.

They found a club with ease, giving Justin little time to vent his fury. Britney was delusional. Britney was a fucking slut. Britney couldn't give head to save her life. Britney couldn't sing or dance. Britney was a spoiled brat. His diatribe continued unbroken as they were ushered through the club's side entrance.

"So she fucking says to me that she felt we needed to practice. Practice!" Justin was well aware that he was screeching, his voice rising to heights even Chris wasn't capable of on his better days. He didn't care. "So that we'd be better in bed together. What a load of bullshit! And she thought I'd accept that? Then… Then!" Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Chris grabbing Lance's raised hands. "She tells me that she'll do anything to make it up to me, and offers to buy me a car. A fucking car."

Chris's voice was low. "She's just young, J."

"She rips my heart to shreds and offers to buy me a car and 'she's just young.' I don't care how fucking young you are, no one with more than two brain cells would think that was a good idea." Justin plunked into the seat in front of him. "You can't fucking trust anyone."

Lance ordered a bottle of Jack Daniels and three glasses. "Justin. You know that's not true." Chris nodded and Lance placed a placating hand on Justin's knee. "You can trust me and Chris and Joey and JC. That's more than some people have, and I haven't even mentioned your family."

"Thanks, man. It's just. Fuck!" Justin put his head in his hands and Lance moved his hand to the back of Justin's neck, rubbing softly. Justin inhaled and concentrated. "I really loved her and she fucked me over." The words came easier than he had thought they would.

Chris and Lance exchanged a look and Justin felt the heat rising. He was uncomfortably aware that he had been far from a saint in his relationship with Britney, but there were times when best friends were expected to take sides, and this was one of them.

Eventually Lance tapped his shoulder. "I'm not an expert, but I don't think that's the direction you're supposed to be looking in a strip club."

"Damn right, Bass." Chris poured a drink and slid it in front of Justin. "Drink up, boy, it's time to objectify and drool."

Justin laughed bitterly and then knocked back his drink in one hit. Chris and Lance shared a conspiratorial smile as Chris poured two more and they followed suit.

Things got a little hazy after that. At some point there were two girls dancing above Justin and his hands hovered over both of them—almost, but never quite, touching. He wasn't entirely sure he wanted to touch. He tried to smile, but it wasn't real. And just when he was about to end the charade, was about to give up on trying to appear excited by girls who were too soft, a strong, warm hand took hold of his own. Justin turned, and Lance smiled at him reassuringly before turning back to the girl gyrating on his lap. Lance didn't let go of Justin's hand and Justin didn't take it back.

Strip clubs became a regular feature of the tour. Justin didn't enjoy going on his own. He was angry and bitter and avoided his phone as much as possible. He left it behind when they went to the clubs, trusting that one of the others would have theirs. Lance always went. It wasn't always just Lance, but Lance was always there, probably drinking more than he should, considering he was training for space. It didn't matter; Justin needed him and he was there.

They settled into a routine quickly. First they would visit a regular club and dance and drink a little. Then they'd leave for the strip club. They'd take a seat in a dark corner and order a bottle of Jack and glasses. Justin would rant and swear and drink faster than Lance. When he reached the right level of tipsy, he would become maudlin, so Lance would allow Justin to take his hand and he'd start drinking faster than Justin. Justin would have two lap dances, Lance only one, and then they'd keep drinking until they were drunk. Sometimes Justin would take a girl when they left, but not always. He never told anyone that he sent them home a few hours later without ever touching them. There were appearances to maintain, after all.

One night, after watching yet another anonymous girl give Lance the obligatory lap dance and watching the slightly bored expression on Lance's face, Justin came to his senses. He waited until the dance was over and asked, "Ready to go?"

Lance nodded. Justin wasn't as drunk as usual, and noticed for the first time that Lance looked well and truly fed up. Justin felt a brief moment of guilt, because strip clubs probably weren't very high up on Lance's list of fun places to be. Then again, he had never outright asked Lance to accompany him.

The trip home was quiet. Lance rested his head against the back of the seat and closed his eyes. Justin was humming softly next to him, ordering his thoughts.

When they got back to their floor, Justin put a hand on Lance's arm. Lance stopped walking and turned to face him. Justin smiled, small and barely there, before he leaned forward and pressed his lips against Lance's. It was chaste and quick and not really gay, even if it left Lance looking stunned.

They stood for a moment and then Justin whispered, "You don't have to come with me anymore. I'm OK." He opened the door to his room and went inside, leaving Lance standing in the hallway.

Justin wasn't really OK, but he was dealing. The anger over the breakup with Britney had faded and in his more sincere moments he was even prepared to admit, at least to himself, that he hadn't been entirely innocent. More importantly, though, he didn't think he could stomach one more night of pretending to enjoy the spectacle of half-naked soft women rubbing against him, not when he shut his eyes and saw muscular bodies dancing across his closed lids. Not when the only reason the women were bearable was that Lance allowed him to hold his hand.

The tour ended and Lance went off to Russia, while Justin threw himself into his solo project with all the enthusiasm he had and then some. It made it easier to fall into bed completely exhausted for a night of dreamless sleep.

Not that that always worked. The dreams still came, more insistently each time, and more than once Justin found himself scanning the back pages of the local papers, looking to quench a thirst that was becoming harder and harder to ignore. He never did find the courage to pick up the phone and make a call.

He couldn't bring himself to accompany JC to Houston to visit Lance, either. Not because he didn't want to see Lance, but because he didn't trust himself not to do something monumentally stupid.

It wasn't until he was already in London that everything cracked. A night of clubbing and too much alcohol collided with a pretty thing wearing a sarong on the dance floor. By the time the sharp cheekbones were revealed to be slightly stubbly and the slim hips and sinewy arms turned out to belong to a boy, Justin's face was pressed up against the cold tile of a bathroom stall, a hard dick was pressing against his ass, and his entire body was shaking with anticipation at what was to come. This time, there wasn't even the presence of breasts to allow him to delude himself. He still tried.

The call came on a Thursday and was entirely expected. Justin had people to monitor the situation and throw in their two cents' worth, and the general consensus over the past few days had been that it wasn't going to happen, no way, no how. Still, when final confirmation came, Justin felt something break inside him. He forgot all about where he was and reached for his phone.

"Hello." Lance's voice sounded scratchy, unused.

"Lance, baby!" Justin tried to keep his tone light.

"Hi, Justin. You heard?"

Justin frowned at the hurt in Lance's voice. "Yeah. I heard. I'm really sorry, dude."

"Thanks." Lance's response was dull, flat; he wasn't even trying.

"I'm in London." Justin didn't say anything about Lance's voice; didn't ask how Lance was feeling. It would only make things worse. "You should come. Come and visit me, cut loose, have some fun."

"I don't know."

"Come on, man. It'll be fun! Like old times," Justin said. "You haven't partied in forever. It's not healthy."

"Where are you?" Lance asked.

"Shopping—in Soho. You'd love it, there's so much cool stuff." Justin started cajoling. "Please. Come for me. None of the others have been yet, and I'm lonely."

"I don't know, Justin. I'm not much company right now," Lance replied half-heartedly.

"When are you ever?" Justin asked.

"Yeah, because that's exactly the sort of attitude that makes me want to visit you."

"Lance. You know I'm not serious."


Justin took a deep breath and blurted, "But I will be if you don't get your ass to London so I can cheer it and the rest of you up."

"You're going to cheer up my ass?" There was almost a chuckle in Lance's voice now.

Justin laughed. "You bet I am. It's my job. Now, get to London so I can do it."

He hung up before Lance could say anything to make him change his mind.

Justin was quite literally pacing the hotel lobby waiting for Lance's arrival, and when Lance was finally ushered in by a flustered bodyguard, Justin wrapped him in a massive hug without hesitation. Lance held on for a minute, then pushed away, wheezing. "Breathe," he said. "I still have to breathe."

Justin slapped his back. "Fuck that shit. It's over-rated."

Lance stared. "Breathing's over-rated?"

"Shit, yeah. Now come on."

Lance laughed the whole way up to the suite. It was the best sound Justin had ever heard.

When they were finally inside, there was an awkward moment before Lance tentatively reached for Justin's shoulder. "Thanks. I needed that."

Lance hadn't touched Justin first in a long time, and Justin had to keep himself from shivering. He hadn't realized how much he had been craving the contact. "I told you on the phone. It's my job." He opened Lance's suitcase and waved at it. "Go. Shower and change. I cleared my day so I could spend it with you."

Lance did as he was told and spent the rest of the day following Justin. They shopped until Lance could take no more and then they went to dinner at some hole-in-the-wall bar that had quickly turned into one of Justin's favorite haunts. When their food came, Justin looked at Lance expectantly and Lance held up a hand. "Don't ask, please. I'm just getting used to feeling things again. I don't want to go back to being numb."

Justin nodded and didn't ask about Russia, but later, when they were in a club and drunker than they should be, he took Lance's hand and held it for a while. He had missed Lance, more than he had ever realized.

Over the next few days, Justin kept true to his word. When he wasn't busy, he made it his mission to make Lance laugh—and he succeeded. There was just one problem: the more Lance cheered up, the more he avoided Justin's touch.

When they came home from a club a few nights later, Lance followed Justin into his room. "I'm leaving tomorrow, Justin. It's time to go home."

Justin's brow furrowed, a mild feeling of panic spreading through his body. "Are you sure? You can stay as long as you want." He hoped he didn't sound as desperate as he felt.

"I know, but there are things I have to do, and it's not a good idea for me to stay here too long."

"Not a good idea?"

"You know why. Don't make me say any more than I have to." Lance laid a hand on Justin's forearm. "You've been exactly what I needed, Justin—the best friend I could have wished for at a time like this. But it's time for me to go." Lance reached up and pressed his lips to Justin's chastely for a moment before turning to leave. He paused at the door, softly said, "Thank you," and left.

He never did hear Justin forlornly say, "I want you to make me say more than I can."

It began in Florida, long before there was a band, when Justin carefully trained himself to avoid looking.

It began in Europe, when Justin discovered that other boys looked.

It began when Nsync returned home, and Justin let down his guard for stolen moments.

It began during the biggest fight of their lives, when Lance announced that Justin wasn't the only one.

It began when they exploded and became untouchable, and Justin caught himself wondering if maybe there were things he wanted more.

It began at the beginning.