The Baffled King by SarahQ

the And It Pleased The Lord mix by

"and from your lips she drew the 'hallelujah'"
-leonard cohen

akhi el elohim, dumiya nafshi; mimenu y'shuati
Meine Seele sei stille zu Gott, der mir hilft.
Only toward God is my soul silent; from him comes my salvation.
-Psalms 62:1

There was beer involved. There must've been, or Lance never would have wound up in the belltower of his church with the minister's son's hand wrapped around his cock. The kiss had been Lance's, which surprised him, but Greg hadn't pulled away, which surprised him even more. Greg Manning, star basketball player and poor excuse for a church choir tenor, had leaned back into his kiss and given him more tongue. Which partly explained why they'd progressed to the hand-on-dick stage minutes later, with the tinkling of Lance's belt buckle and the pinch of his jeans the only signal that Greg wanted in, wanted Lance's cock in his hand. After, gasping for breath, it was blatantly obvious to Lance why adults warned kids away from sex. It was a drug, the most addictive kind, and Lance wanted more right now, despite the burning in his cheeks and the knowledge, no, the absolute certainty, that he should not do this ever again. Still, he heard, just at the moment he couldn't hold back anymore, a deep and profound silence, just before his gasp and apology.

Throughout the week, in Pre-Calc and American History and Health, Lance avoided Greg as much as he could; when a woman by the name of Lynn Harless called at the end of the week and asked whether Lance would be interested in an audition, he left Mississippi as fast as he could convince his momma to let him go.

Auditioning for the group was different from auditioning for Attache or church choir, because church choir took anybody who could hold a tune and Attache auditioned people in big groups so Lance could hide his two left feet behind someone else's, only to come forward with his voice and have the directors salivating at the prospect of a strong teenage bass. With these four guys, it was just him and them, and he would have to be the foundation. He wondered, at their first meeting, what Chris had to be angry about, and why he felt like he could trust Joey despite never having met the guy before. He had other impressions from that first meeting, too, things like shying away from a painfully earnest Justin, but things all ran together and suddenly he was being shipped from one rehearsal to another in Chris's deathtrap of a car, fighting to learn half a dozen songs the others knew cold and willing his body to dance in a way he'd never even considered before.

Orlando was new and bright and different, and Lance looked out the windows of the car and chewed on his cheeseburger while he half-listened to Chris and Joey talk about their exploits as exploitees of the Disney corporation. It seemed to be the continuation of an earlier conversation.

"Wait, wait, wait, I thought you said he was tall?" Joey asked around a mouthful of Big Mac.

Chris shrugged as much as he could while driving. "Taller than me. Which, you know, not saying much, but still. Anyway, I caught him, like, whacking off in the ride control booth, which was totally gross, but he offered to blow me if I didn't tell anyone. And that was definitely the right choice."

Lance blinked a couple of times as if trying to process what he'd just heard, and turned away from the window. When he saw Justin's mouth hanging open, he knew he hadn't heard wrong.

JC must have noticed Justin as well, because he started giggling, which prompted Joey to turn around and say, quite loudly, "Chris! You broke the baby!" at which Justin kicked the back of his seat.

"I'm not a baby! It's just…he really, uh, blew you?"

"Yeah, genius, he did. Of course, payback wasn't exactly a whole lot of fun. Dude was like Niagara Falls." Chris shuddered.

"Eww, that much?" JC sounded amused as he said it.

"More than I've ever seen," Chris said. "Well, not exactly seen, obviously, but…"


"Oh, right mom, small children in the car."

Lance rolled his eyes. "We're not exactly small—weren't you just the one mentioning how short you were a minute ago? Besides, it's not like I haven't done anything with a guy before." It was out before he knew it and his eyes widened a bit, unable to believe that he'd just said that.

"Hah! Ten bucks to me!" Chris crowed as Joey grumbled and pulled his wallet from his pocket.

Lance frowned and turned toward the window, muttering "not saying anything more all night…" while JC tried to impress upon Chris and Joey that they should not be making bets on the sexuality of their fellow groupmates and Justin tried in vain to convince them all that he'd "done stuff with a girl" and how that made him "not a baby."

But later JC elbowed him, just enough to get his attention, and half-smiled, quietly.

When they got to dance rehearsal, Lance lost himself in movement, trying to hardwire the steps into his muscles. He leapt inexpertly from one spike mark to another, routinely ending up on someone else's tape or simply off the mark entirely. When he did, their choreographer would sigh, recue the CD, and count off one more time, frequently making them start from the top, just because she could. When they broke for water and stretching after an hour, Justin caught him by the elbow and started, "uh, so tomorrow morning…"

"What about it?"

"You still want me to get you up?" Justin shifted from foot to foot; Lance saw through this attempt to disguise his nerves.

"It's Sunday, right? So church. Of course. Thanks for the reminder—I got so mixed up about days this week."

"I mean, you still want to go?" Justin seemed on the verge of incredulity.

"Why wouldn't I?"

"I, um. This guy from MMC? Came out while I was doing the show, and he just stopped going, 'cause he said it was a conflict of belief between him and the church. So if you didn't want to…"

"No, Justin. I mean. I'm not. It's church—I'm not going to not go to church." He shouldn't have ever said anything in the car; it made perfect sense to him, but explaining it to other people was difficult.

In a hotel room in Düsseldorf, Lance found a book on his pillow. Covered in leather, the paper thin and edged with gold, it had a simple cross tooled in the front and several strips of ribbon, of varying colors, sewn into the binding and tucked inside the cover. The title page said, simply, Die Pslamen, something he didn't even have to translate, and he took it to his momma, but she just shrugged and said "It wasn't me. Maybe one of the boys?"

"I doubt it, but maybe. I'll go ask."

Joey and Chris hadn't, and Joey made a snide comment about getting gypped, what with only a piece of a Bible, but Lance didn't laugh, and Joey stopped quickly.

JC clapped happily when he saw the book, but pushed it back at Lance when he offered it. "No, man, it's for you. I found it yesterday. Shame it's in German, though. But it's really, um, it looks nice. And the Psalms are like, sybolic."

"You bought this for me? Jayce, that's. Thanks." The slight tug of uncertainty was replaced by a tug of…something else. He licked his lips involuntarily. "What do you mean, symbolic?"

"Well, they, at least, you hear they're by King David, which somebody told me wasn't true, but" JC and sentences didn't quite get along, as though run-ons were built into his brain and a marking pen would run out of red ink before it marked all his comma splices. He paused. "I guess that doesn't matter. The important thing about them is that they were written from this outsider perspective—somebody away from home, and from the things he loves, and they're all…some of them are comforting." He cocked his head to the side and looked at Lance seriously, for the first time in days. "And even with your mom here, you looked like you could use it."

He didn't wait for an answer, just walked into the bathroom and started getting ready for bed, and later, lying next to one another on the queen-sized bed, when he slid closer to Lance, Lance didn't really mind. He just thought of silence, and of Greg Manning.

The churches in Germany were big and mostly stone and Lance liked to stand in the nave and let low notes rumble out of his throat, testing the reverb. Church was the first thing that went when they got to Europe, as Lou had decreed Sunday a workday as well, and even Lynn's protests weren't enough to change that reality. She did, however, have the power to finagle them a day off every now and again, and sightseeing was frequently on her agenda. Chris grumbled about being pulled from his bed, but Lance enjoyed these trips, as if echoing bass notes and stained glass in the middle of the week somehow made up for the past few months' worth of suggestive lyrics and flirting with radio hosts on Sundays.

He sat in the end of a pew five from the rail and hummed under his breath, watching his momma and Miz Lynn reading from the guidebook near the altar, and Chris and Justin playing tag with Joey, weaving in and out of pews and columns and generally causing trouble for the tour group that was paused in the entryway, out of breath from walking the hilly town to the church. He heard footfalls on the cloth aisle runner behind him and turned to see JC attempting to sneak up on him, unsuccessfully.

"Man, you're not supposed to turn around…" JC looked down at him and grinned.

Lance cocked his head to the side and said, "C, I heard you. It's not a surprise if you're going to jump out on me if I heard you."

"I just thought you'd be singing again."

"I was. Just, not very loud, is all." When JC seemed skeptical, Lance smirked, a little, the corner of his mouth turning up. JC and "not very loud" didn't get along together—his approach to music was a very all-or-nothing one, throwing himself headlong into a song and hoping to come out the other end alive. So far he was undefeated, but Lance was afraid one day a song would get to him, one he couldn't sing, and JC would get sulky until he figured out how to make it work.

"You're always singing in churches." It was a statement, but had the lilt of a question, and its impact was the same. "Does it mean something? I mean, why don't you, I don't know, go appreciate the stonework or whatever? Your mom and Miss Lynn check out the altars and stuff…" he trailed off, since Lance wasn't helping him finish the conversation. JC sat down next to him.

After a beat, Lance looked around, then reached his hand up behind JC's head, cupping it in his palm, leaned forward, and kissed him. "If you want me to be quiet, just say so."

"Why, uh, why, um." JC blinked.

"You looked all adorably confused. Music is a kind of church. Like, I sang in church choir at home, but also in Attache. And we sang in a bunch of different places, but you could always just. It was like the same as in church, you know? Because it's music and that's what it is. There's God in it." It wasn't incredibly coherent, but it was an answer, and that's all JC really needed because he took a look at Lance and kissed him back. And for a moment they were silent.

Fame was tricky, Lance discovered. The ingenuity of those who tried to infringe on the fleeting moments of privacy the group enjoyed was just staggering—and increasing all the time. Letters drenched in perfume became packages, which had to be sliced open before they could be passed on. Miz Lynn and his momma kept a running tally of the different stuffed animals they received, most of which were donated to charities across the US.

On the bus, travelling between Vienna and Munich, Chris insisted they play his favorite game, Who's The Most Psycho, which the other four referred to as Let's Open Fanmail. Lance rolled his eyes, but got down from his bunk and started pulling letters from envelopes. Occasionally one of the others would laugh, or Chris would go "who writes this stuff?", or Justin would silently pass a letter around, and the horrified looks on the others' faces would underscore the fact that they had some really strange fans. Lance kept all the ones written in German, hoping to practice on something easier than the psalter, though his German had improved to the point where he could usually make out the gist of each verse.

And his German really was getting better—he'd bought a little spiral-bound notebook and was doing his own translations, sometimes, when he felt the urge. He was currently in the middle of Psalm 54, Siehe, Gott steht mir bei, der Herr erhält meine Seele, "see, God assists me, the Lord receives my soul", and he really did feel sustained by the verses, though whether that was from having a project or from the verses themselves, he couldn't say.

He felt giddy recently, though he wasn't sure why. It felt like he felt in the second before he began singing in church, before the sudden intake of breath, a little nervous but a lot excited. He thought it might have something to do with the way their singles shot up the German charts, propelling them to megastar status all over Eastern Europe. It could also have been from the kiss JC planted on him just before exiting the bus that day. Or the quick peck on the cheek the previous night before soundcheck.

Sex was also tricky, though more logistically than anything else, what with his momma occasionally around, and Miz Lynn getting really good at sensing what she would consider "trouble". The first time, Lance insisted they wait until three in the morning, when he knew his momma would be asleep, and tried desperately to keep JC quiet, which he knew would be a losing battle. When he entered JC, the hissed intake of breath was so sharp and sudden in the mostly-still room that Lance winced, knowing that JC could be heard down in the lobby, four floors down and eight rooms to the side. And that was nothing compared to the heavier breathing to come, and the, well, you couldn't really call them whispers, at that volume. Commands, more like.

Still, after coming inside JC, not really wanting to pull away but badly needing a shower, Lance lay forward onto JC's chest and listened to the silence around his heartbeat. JC licked his neck and whispered "can we shower together?" And there was silence around the splatter of the water in the shower, but then JC sank down in a squat and pretty much made sure even the sound of the droplets vanished, as he took Lance's cock in his mouth. Lance's involuntary "ohhh" resonated off the tiled walls and floor of the bathroom, but he couldn't hear it.

Later, they lay together in the other bed, Lance on his back and JC on his side, JC's front all over Lance's right side, and Lance did hear something, as he drifted off: I love you, right on the edge of hearing.

The very last time they were able to go sightseeing in Germany, just before the mobs started hitting critical mass and the bodyguards became full-time additions to the team, Lance went back to the church where he'd first kissed JC, stood in the aisle and breathed in like church choir, nervous and excited and just a moment of silence for God, and then hummed to himself for a while. When the echoes started coming back, he turned to face the main doors at the rear of the church and kept humming, slightly louder now, and then when JC entered the church he stopped, but for a handful of seconds the sound washed over the two of them. And for Lance, finally, there was music in the silence.