A Beautiful Thing by mercutio

The Kraft Mustard Remix by

"You lazy motherfucker," Chris said, awed, when he found out Justin and Lance had started fucking.

Justin grinned and pulled another rep on the weight machine. "Not." Breath. "Lazy." Breath. "Efficient."

"You're. A. Fucking. Retard," Chris said, and punched in thirty minutes on the treadmill.

Kids these days. Back in his day they just repressed and jerked off a lot when single, instead of finding a fuck buddy who was a PR nightmare and also could break up the band. He shook his head. Justin started beatboxing in between reps. Chris groaned.

Chris was on the way to the elevator when he saw Lance stumbling out of Justin's room, hair unfashionably disheveled. Lance was still pulling his shirt down over his stomach. He had a bruise on his neck, low down where it peeked out from the stretched collar of his shirt.

"Better hurry your ass up," Chris said. "Interview in an hour."

"Yeah, yeah," Lance muttered, careening off the wall on his way down the hallway.

Joey had to nudge Chris twice in the interview, because he kept getting distracted, staring at the line of Lance's neck, the slope of his shoulders, looking for the bruise.

"Okay, a serious one now," the photographer said, a short guy from Teen People with a shaved head. Chris crossed his arms over his chest and glanced to the side. JC was staring straight ahead, looking constipated. The lights flashed once.

"Okay, stop, stop." The photographer frowned.

A lighting assistant dashed onto the set holding a light meter. He yelled out a string of numbers and the photographer swore.

Justin elbowed Lance and whispered. Lance laughed and muttered something back. They both cracked up.

They were doing that a lot more, Chris noticed.

"Five minutes," the photographer yelled, and his assistants started fiddling with the lights.

He saw them kissing once. Justin kept stealing CDs right when Chris wanted to listen to them, and the door was open, which in Chris's universe meant it was okay to come in. Justin had Lance pressed up against the wall next to the window. The blinds were closed, but one of the bedside lamps was on, and Chris could see the restless movement of Lance's body, pushing against Justin's thigh like he couldn't stand to keep still. Justin bit down on Lance's neck, making him throw his head back and gasp, cheek outlined in the lamplight.

Chris grabbed the CD from Justin's end table and backed out of the room, trying not to make any noise. Fucking Timberlake, he thought as he walked away, desperately hard and trying not to notice. The rest of the world closed their fucking doors.

"Hey, J," he said the next day in the Quiet Room. He waited until Justin got within arm's reach, then pulled him into a headlock. Justin yelped, making JC look up and frown. "Rule number one for having a secret fuck buddy, loser," Chris said. "Close the fucking door."

Chris let him go, and Justin backed away. "What's your problem?" Justin demanded.

"Nothing," Chris said. "And stop just taking my CDs."

Justin's mouth moved silently before he said, outraged, "You take mine all the time!"

"I give them back," Chris muttered, and stalked away. Behind him, he heard JC said, "Justin," before the door to the Quiet Room closed.

Later, after the show, Joey flopped down next to him on the couch and slapped his knee twice. "Touring, man," Joey said sympathetically.

"Yeah," Chris said, and slid his eyes away from Lance, who was playing Sonic the Hedgehog and swearing at the little golden rings.

Chris didn't notice right away when it stopped. He felt like kind of an asshole about that later. His back had been bothering him, though. Something about the choreography in "Bye Bye Bye" that hadn't been a problem for any of the fifty thousand times they'd performed the damn thing before, but was now.

He had just taken two aspirin and was lying flat on his back on a hot pad when JC and Joey barged in, arguing.

"—and I don't think it's automatically untenable," JC was saying.

"Yeah, but what about Justin?" Joey shook his head. "Because I don't care, man. Him being all calm about this is just wrong, you know?"

"Justin can just learn to use his hand," JC said flatly.

"What the who, now?" Chris said, lifting his head slightly. JC and Joey jumped.

"Um." JC looked at Joey.

Chris squinted at them. "What's going on?"

"Nothing," Joey said. He elbowed JC.

JC elbowed him back, hard.

"Yeah, you guys suck as super-secret spies." Chris raised himself on his elbows. "I'm going to find out anyway, you know."

"Justin and Lance broke up," Joey said, glaring at JC.

Chris sat up quickly. His back popped like an overstretched rubber-band, and he flopped down, swearing. "What," he said when everything had stopped twanging, but JC was already arguing, "I don't think you can even call what they did 'dating,'" his lips pursed like he'd tasted something bad.

"Whatever, man, just because they weren't all sappy and shit," Joey said.

"Yeah, and also, they weren't dating."

"What's your problem," Joey said.

"Wait, hold up, time out," Chris said, forming a tee with his hands. "Justin and Lance aren't fucking anymore?"

"Nice," Joey said.

"Who broke up with who?" Chris asked, mind working furiously.

"Lance," JC said. "Chris, you should really have someone look at your back, dude."

Chris waved him away. "Lance broke up with Justin."

"Yeah," JC said. "And they're fine." He crossed his arms and stared at Joey. Joey rolled his eyes and flopped down in an easy chair, picking up a magazine and flipping through it.

"Jesus," Chris said, and eased himself off the couch.

"Oh, hey," Joey said, the magazine dangling from one hand. "Where are you going?"

"To take over the world, where does it look like I'm going?"

JC said, "I dunno, I think you're gonna to need to see a chiropractor before you take over the world, man."

"Pain makes you all cranky, dude," Joey said.

"Show you pain," Chris muttered, and limped away to the sound of their hyena laughter rising behind him.

He found Justin in his hotel room, channel-surfing, stretched out on one of the double beds. Chris knocked twice on the open frame.

"Yo," Justin said, not looking away from the TV.

"So." Chris shifted, then stopped when his back gave a warning twinge. He put his hands in his pockets instead.

Justin frowned at an ad for Nair. "I've always wondered if that stuff worked."

"We could put some in Joey's shampoo and find out," Chris said.

Justin glanced at him.

"He called me cranky," Chris twitched a shoulder, then winced. "I'm not cranky, I'm bad-ass."

"Yeah, man," Justin said. "Hey, you want to get your bad-ass self into a chair before you fall over?"

Chris sighed and sat down on the blue velvet loveseat in the corner, where he could still see Justin's face.

"Hey, so, guess what," Chris said. Justin glanced between him and the TV. "Apparently my good friend Justin decided to stop fucking around with his good friend Lance, and didn't bother to tell his good friend Chris about it."

"Chris shouldn't talk about himself in third person," Justin said. "It's creepy."

"Justin," Chris said.

Justin stopped looking at the TV. "Dude, I'm fine."

"Yeah, okay, what the fuck?" Chris asked.

Justin shrugged. He looked tired.

"Oh, kid," Chris said. "Didn't I tell you this was a bad idea?"

Justin laughed. "No. You said I was lazy."

"Fuck." Chris smacked his forehead. "I knew there was something I forgot to put on my to-do list."

"Chris." Justin ran his hand over his head, then started flipping through channels again. "I'm fine."

"Seriously, though. What the fuck?"

Justin shrugged. "He stopped wanting to do it. It's his prerogative."

Chris shuffled to the bed and sat down, stealing the remote from Justin's unsuspecting hands. "You want I should lay the smackdown on that loser?"

"Oh, please," Justin said, elbowing Chris is the side. "Like you even could, you decrepit motherfucker. Gimme back the remote."

"Screw you," Chris said. "I'm keeping this remote. Because I'm older and wiser."

They watched five minutes of an infomercial for anti-wrinkle cream before Justin rolled his head to the side to look at Chris, defeated. "Final Fantasy?" he said.

Chris was embroiled in leveling up when Justin said unexpectedly, "He's a good guy though, you know."

"What?" Chris jerked his controller to the side. "No—motherfucker."

"Lance," Justin said. "No, you, wait, that guy's immune to fire—"

"Okay, that would have been useful before I traded out Joey." Chris threw down the controller and scrubbed his hands through his hair.

"Yeah, well, you just killed Justin, so I'm not feeling too much sympathy, man."

"Poor JC," Chris said sadly. "Justin was his love plot."

"You are so disturbing," Justin muttered. "Or disturbed."

"Yeah, whatever. Let's see how you do, Mr 'I Named One Character Janet Jackson And The Other Justin Timberlake So They Could Hook Up'."

Justin flipped him off, and crouched in front of the Playstation to switch memory cartridges.

"No, but really," he said, setting aside the yellow cartridge. "Lance is great."

"Yeah?" Chris said. "That's why we let him in the band?"

"Yeah." Justin sighed. "I'm going to miss his—"

"Oh, hey," Chris said hurriedly, but he was already picturing it, Lance on his knees, the way he'd bend forward, because Lance looked like a guy who loved sucking dick. Appreciated it.

"I'm just saying." Justin picked up Chris's abandoned controller.

"Dude." Chris shook his head, hard.

Chris propped his feet up on the couch-arm and peered over his book at Lance, who was typing on his laptop like a drunk woodpecker.

Chris had thought Lance would move on immediately, would have someone waiting in the wings ready to take Justin's place, like one of those girls in high school who switched out boyfriends like batteries.

He didn't, though. He still went out to clubs with everyone, but he came back alone, and Chris couldn't figure it out.

"What," Lance said without turning his head. He had a scratch on his neck that stretched from his ear halfway to the collar of his shirt.

"I'm controlling you with the power of my mind," Chris said. He put a hand to his forehead. "I see it. I see it. Soon you will…make me a sandwich."

Lance smirked over his shoulder. "That's not mind control, Chris."

"Mind control, precognition. Whatever." Chris squinted. "It's becoming clearer. Yes. It's a turkey sandwich. With mayo. And mustard and pickles. On white bread."

"Really," Lance drawled. He stood up and moved to the mini bus kitchen. "Your future hold any opinion as to what kind of mustard?"

"Kraft," Chris said.

"Awfully specific there," Lance said, laying out the bread. "Make a person suspicious."

"The future is very definite," Chris said, and watched Lance make the rest of the sandwich.

Lance started humming Johnny Cash under his breath, a steady deep rhythm that blended with the sound of the road and his easy, practiced motions at the counter. Chris slid into a doze on the couch.

"There you go." Lance plopped the plate down on Chris's stomach, jolting him awake, one hand flying up to land on top of the sandwich. He anchored the plate with his other hand, licking mustard off his finger.

"Fucker," he muttered, and looked up from the plate to see Lance watching him from the table, eyes half-lidded. "I mean, thank you very much—"

"You're welcome."

"—despite the fact that you tried to kill me with the plate."

"A flesh wound," Lance said in such a horrifically bad English accent that Chris choked in mid-bite.

JC wandered in from the back of the bus, following the scent of mustard like a bee to honey. "Hey, sandwiches. Can I have one?"

"I already put all the fixings away," Lance said, giving an open-handed shrug. "Sorry."

JC sighed. "Come over to our bus, don't even make sandwiches? Your mama would be ashamed, man."

"I got one," Chris said smugly.

JC looked at Lance and shook his head. "No sandwiches," he muttered, and went back to his electric keyboard.

Lance hunched his shoulders and kept typing.

"I don't get it," Chris said, sitting down on the couch. Joey's eyes skated toward him and away. He smacked Joey on the thigh with a balled up fist.

"Ow. Stop hitting me."

Chris punched him again.

Joey looked away from the TV. "What."

"C'mon, Joey. You don't got anything for me?"

"I don't know what you're talking about, man."

"You know. Lance? The crazy one?" Chris glanced at the TV screen. Ocean, ocean, a flash of red—oh, Baywatch. Nice.

"I thought you were the crazy one," Joey said.

"Hah, funny." Chris punched him. "Really, dude. What's going on in his little pointy Lance-brain?"

Joey sighed, then reached out and grabbed Chris's head with both hands. "Chris," Joey said, looking him straight in the eye.

"What," Chris said, muffled, Joey's palms warm and dry against his cheeks.

"I. Don't. Know."

He let go, and Chris sat back against the couch. "You could have just said," Chris muttered.


"I mean. You didn't need to, like, manhandle me."

"Dude." Joey paused the tape. "I'm bonding with Carmen Elektra, here."

Chris raised his hands. Joey watched him out of the corner of his eye for a second then started the tape again.

Chris stayed through two drowning rescues and a running-on-the-beach scene before slipping out.

Joey could be like a bear with other people's secrets; Chris always forgot that.

The bus was one of the most boring places at two in the afternoon, Chris reflected, lying flat on his back on the thinly carpeted floor, braced between the couch and the coffee table.

JC's face slid across his field of vision, then came back and hovered over him.

"Chasez," Chris said. "Take a seat, my man."

"Chris." Upside-down JC frowned at him. "What're you doing?"

"Thinking deep thoughts," Chris said.

"Oh." JC settled cross-legged on the ground. "It's kind of cold. Here on the floor."

"That's what you get for growing up in a wussy place like Maryland."

"Yeah, 'cause Pennsylvania is so different." JC poked Chris with his toe. "Stop insulting my state, man."

Chris smiled and JC grinned back, warming the pit of Chris's stomach.

"You can hear the road better from here," JC said thoughtfully. "It's kind of nice."

Chris nodded, the back of his head scrubbing across the carpet, making swooshing sounds in his ears.

"Hey," he said slowly.

JC tilted his head, brushing his hair out of his eyes.

"What's up with Lance?" Chris asked. It came out quieter than he'd intended.

JC looked at him. He shifted on the carpet.

"You don't know," JC said.

Chris shrugged, and looked back up at the ceiling. The bus was quiet around them, filled with the white noise of wheels on pavement. A thin whisper of melody drifted in from the front; the driver, listening to the radio.

"Chris," JC said. "It's okay."

Chris shook his head.

"Why not?" JC asked.

Chris shook his head again. He closed his eyes, listening to the hum of the bus, and eventually, JC went away.

When he woke up, Lance was slouched on the couch, legs stretched over him like a bridge, feet anchored on the coffee table. Lance was wearing sweatpants and Chris wondered for one sleep-addled second if he was on the right bus.

"Hey," Lance said, looking away from his magazine.

Chris cleared his throat. "Hey." He sat up.

"I came over," Lance said.

"Yeah," Chris said. He put a careful hand on Lance's ankle.

"Y'all uncivilized, sleeping on the floor over here."

"Yeah," Chris said again. "Trying to civilize me, Mr Bass?"

Lance's mouth quirked. "Maybe."

"That why you broke it off with Justin?" Chris asked.

Lance didn't say anything for a long moment, but his shoulders jumped, like he'd just been hit with a bucket of water. His lips folded in a line. "Maybe," Lance said, and Chris could feel the tension shivering up through his arm from his hand on Lance's leg.

"Okay," Chris said. He blew out a breath. "Okay."

Lance covered his face with one hand, but his smile peeked out anyway, irrepressible. "Okay," he said. He dropped his hand, eyes bright. Chris surged up and kissed him, one hand on his shoulder, the other braced on his knee. His mouth opened under Chris, and his hand tangled in Chris's hair.

Okay, Chris shaped with his tongue. He slid until he was straddling Lance, knees braced against the soft couch cushion. He was going to let Justin win every video game for the next ten years.

"Stop talking about Justin," Lance said into Chris's mouth.

"Okay," Chris said.

"You can't just fucking keep taking my shit," Justin fumed. "I mean it, JC, I can't ever fucking find anything—"

"Yeah, well maybe if you weren't so goddamn neurotic," JC shot back, storming around the suite's common room.

"You are the world's biggest black pot calling a kettle black—"

Chris rolled his eyes and sighed. Lance edged his way in the door, sliding over the back of the couch to land next to Chris.

"What's all the ruckus about?" he whispered in Chris's ear.

Chris looked over at where Justin and JC had progressed to arguing about whose turn it was to clean the bus kitchen.

"Eh." He wormed his arm around Lance's waist, fingers brushing against bare skin where Lance's t-shirt rode up. "Ignore them. They need to get laid."

Lance looked at him, eyes laughing. Chris raised an eyebrow. "Pinky," he said. "I like the way you think."