Justification by virgulesmith

Dust Me Off Remix by

What with the HBO concert at Madison Square Garden and all the attendant hoopla, it's been an insane couple of days in New York. If there's a crazier way to live his life, Lance doesn't want to know about it. The craziness seems to increase exponentially along with the sales figures for No Strings Attached, and Lance is just hanging on for dear life.

It's almost impossible to escape the craziness, though, because it surrounds him on all sides. Tonight, it comes in the guise of the cheesy "living room" set for I Drive Myself Crazy. The instant the curtains close behind him as he strolls onstage, Lance knows they have a problem, but it's too late now to turn tail and run.

The lampshade is crooked.

Lance glances quickly at Chris, who's closer to it, but he doesn't seem to notice that anything is wrong. Lance sighs. There isn't a thing he can do about it now, not without looking like the world's biggest dork. Justin's just going to have to deal.

Justin pops through the curtains, takes one look at the lamp, and glares at Lance. Lance keeps bobbing his head in time to the music, willing Justin to let it go. He actually does, at least to the uninitiated observer. Lance, however, can see how bothered he is, and he wants to smack Joey for not seeing it too, because he can actually do something about it from his vantage point in the chair right next to the freakin' lamp. He and Joe are going to have words, later. He thinks they've already talked about this, but apparently Joey's head is somewhere else tonight. Up JC's ass, is Lance's guess. And that's not fair, because Joey's really just focused on his own performance, but Lance is too irritated to be fair.

Lance keeps an eye on Justin for the rest of the concert. It isn't all that easy to do. He has to sing, dance and breathe, all while watching out for the TV cameras, but he manages to spare some attention for how many times Justin jiggles his ear piece, how often he adjusts his bandana, and how many times he tugs his shirt down over his mic pack. Lance thinks the shirt thing alone has to total somewhere close to two hundred by the time the concert's over. Justin can probably tell him the exact number, if Lance really wants to know. During the breaks, he murmurs soothing nonsense words in Justin's ear, running a gentle hand up his arm while Justin nods and looks at the floor. Joey, Chris and JC finally realize something's up and shoot them concerned glances, checking to make sure Justin isn't going to lose it in the middle of the biggest concert of their career. Lance nods reassuringly over Justin's shoulder at Chris before they go out for Digital Getdown. Justin's the consummate performer, if nothing else, and besides, the show's almost over. He'll be fine.

He is. Lance is actually pleased at how easily Justin is able to let it go afterwards. He'd expected hours of discussion and worry about it, but after about fifteen minutes, Justin seems to forget the whole thing. Of course, the fact that Lance is fucking him on top of the scratchy, ugly hotel bedspread may have something to do with that. Justin's not a fan of hotel bedspreads, probably because he saw something on 60 Minutes once about how they hardly ever wash them, but tonight he has no qualms. Up on his hands and knees, moaning and pushing back onto Lance, he doesn't really seem overly concerned about it.

Lance runs his hands up Justin's back, feeling the muscles quiver responsively under his touch. He kisses his way tenderly, possessively across Justin's freckled shoulders, the skin soft and warm under his lips. He mouths at Justin's neck, pulling back to blow softly on the wet places he leaves behind. He whispers quiet words in his ear, just like he did during the show, only now they're words of approval and desire, not nonsense words at all.

When Lance comes, he's not quiet about it. He's figured out, in the few weeks he and Justin have been fucking, that Justin wants to hear him, that the more noise he makes, the better Justin likes it. Lance doesn't find it hard to oblige.

He pushes in one last time, hard and almost desperate, not wanting to move, not wanting to move away from Justin. He finally pulls out, eases himself off Justin's back, and the loss of that warm contact nearly drives him back in.

Justin collapses next to him, and Lance pushes him roughly onto his back, taking his erection in hand, almost frantic to bring him off as quickly as he can.

Afterwards, Justin shivers in Lance's arms, still on top of the slippery fabric of the bedspread. The room is chilly, and Lance reaches back and grabs the edge of the spread, pulling it up and around their shoulders. Justin's crying, quietly enough that Lance doesn't even notice at first. Either that, or he's getting used to it. Justin is a weird kid in a lot of ways, and he won't talk to Lance about why he cries every time they fuck, he won't even admit he's doing it. Lance has stopped asking. He just holds on, trying to communicate without words that Justin is safe and loved. Most of the time, he doesn't think he's very successful.

Lance remembers the first time they did this, before he'd known that it actually was Justin's first time. He thought, from the way Justin approached him, confident and seductive, that it was something he'd done plenty of times before. Nick was away, doing promo or something, and anyway, Lance and Nick have an understanding. They're just for fun, a diversion from the craziness they both live with. Looking back, Lance can't for the life of him understand why he didn't see through Justin's act. Really, how long has he known Justin? But mostly he's glad he didn't see, because he's not sure what he would have done if he had. And he's not sure he could live without this now that he has it.

Silently, they lie tangled up together until Chris knocks on the door. They're going out to celebrate the HBO special, and it's almost time to leave. Lance sprinkles a few more kisses over Justin's face, wordlessly kissing his tears away. Then he switches gears, planting a firm kiss on Justin's forehead, and nudging him to get his ass up.

Justin stretches and smiles vaguely at Lance as he sits up. He rubs his eyes, shakes his head, and when he looks at Lance again, his expression is shuttered, defenses back up. Frustrated, but without a clue what to do about it, Lance smiles weakly back and asks Justin if he wants the shower first.

Sometimes Lance wonders how the hell Justin got so screwed up, and how the rest of them missed it for so long. He covers it well and Lance thinks maybe you have to be sleeping with him to really get the full effect. Something about that appeals to a part of him he didn't know he had and he wonders just how fucked up that makes him.

Lance watches Justin and Chris laugh together as the bus takes them to the next venue. They're talking about finding time to play a little ball after soundcheck. Lance loves to watch Justin laugh. The shadows disappear, everything smoothes out, and he becomes the Justin everyone else thinks he really is. They tumble off the bus, Justin bounding ahead, turning around to wave at the fans, and then he throws his head back and laughs at something Lonnie says.

They find an area backstage with a hoop, and it's Justin and Chris against Lance and Joey. JC opts out, preferring to sit and watch. Justin and Chris are so competitive, and Lance and Joey suck so badly, that soon they trade off, and then it's Justin and Lance against Chris and Joey.

Justin and Lance win, despite Chris's attempts to decapitate Justin, and Joey's attempts to pants Lance. "You suck, Timberlake," Chris puffs, his hands on his knees, head down, gasping for breath.

"I own your ass, Kirkpatrick. Admit it, old man," Justin crows triumphantly. He and Chris jostle each other all the way to the elevator.

Lance thinks Justin is almost as beautiful when he plays as he is when he's on his knees.

Lance hangs up the phone and sighs deeply, rubbing the spot between his eyes where his headache always seems to lie in wait.

Nick's back in the country. He has a few days off and he's coming to see Lance. Even though Lance isn't exactly sure what city they're in, Nick seems to know. He will, in fact, be there after tonight's show.

Justin seems to be a little crazier when Nick's around. A few days of Nick hanging out after the concerts and the next thing they know, Justin will be worrying about how clean his shoelaces are, or how many kinds of cereal are available at breakfast for him to chose from, or who has extra key cards to their hotel rooms. As much as Lance wants to see Nick, they don't really need the extra aggravation in the middle of the tour.

Lance makes a mental note to dig out the ugly-as-fuck ring Nick saddled him with, and to do it before Nick shows up. He's stopped wearing it lately, because Justin has taken to rubbing it with his thumb when Lance has him pinned to the bed, twisting their hands around until he can reach it. Lance took it off and put it away before Justin could start counting how many times he rotates it around Lance's finger while Lance fucks him.

JC frowns at him, and Chris raises his eyebrows when Lance announces after the Meet 'n Greet that Nick will be going out with them after the concert that night. Lance feels guilty, but he needs the illusion of normalcy Nick brings with him, if only for a little while. He and Nick are just for fun, in spite of the showy ring, and Lance thinks he deserves some fun.

Joey thumps him on the shoulder with a grin, and Justin turns on his heel and walks out of the room. Lance lets him go, knowing that by the time soundcheck rolls around, Justin will have started focusing on whatever's going to bother him today, and then Lance can deal with it, talking him down, telling him it's okay as many times as he has to in order to bring him back from the edge. Justin's eyes will be clouded with worry and confusion, and gradually, as Lance talks and soothes, they'll clear, and Justin will bestow a brilliant smile on Lance before going off to play with Chris, or sit with JC, their heads bent together while they quietly discuss the music and laugh at Joey's dumb jokes.

On the bus after the concert, Justin rests his forehead on Lance's shoulder, his breathing ragged, as they sway in the aisle between the bunks. Lance reaches behind him to scrabble at the wall as they round a corner, his other hand anchored on Justin's hip. Nick will be waiting back at the hotel, and they both know it. Lance has very little time to do this right, so he concentrates on Justin's breathing, trying to match it with his own, then slowing it down, smoothing it out, and it works, Justin breathes with him, and when he raises his head and lifts his eyes to Lance's face, he looks mostly calm and centered.

Lance smiles at him, and Justin smiles back, and nods, and Lance kisses him chastely on the lips. The bus slows down, and Lance moves past Justin into the lounge area, bending down to peer out of the windows. They're pulling into the hotel garage, and security has actually done a pretty decent job of limiting the number of fans trying to crowd around the bus. That's good. Justin loves the fans, he really does, but being touched by too many strangers at once has a tendency to throw him off balance. They don't need that tonight.

As they all troop off the elevators and head towards their rooms, Justin laughs a little louder than he needs to at something Chris says. Lance knows that laugh, and he looks sharply over at the other two. The brief trek in from the bus though the hotel lobby must have given Justin just enough time to really think about Nick being here. Justin stares at Lance, his expression smooth, his eyes unreadable. Then Lance reaches his room, and he doesn't have a chance to see what Justin needs now. He turns to slide his key card through the lock, squaring his shoulders as he steels himself to greet his boyfriend.

Nick's sprawled out on the bed, a beer in one hand, the TV remote in the other. His blond hair flops across his forehead, almost reaching his eyes, and he's barefoot. He's wearing his glasses and he looks up as Lance comes in, a warm smile of welcome on his face. His jeans are open, and his t—shirt is hiked up a few inches, revealing smooth, golden skin. Lance can't help but grin back in response. Nick is uncomplicated and easy, exactly what Lance wants right now. He feels lighter than he has in weeks.

They fuck like they haven't seen each other in far too long, although it's barely been a month. It's fast and hard, and Lance appreciates it more than he can say.

The cars are waiting to take them to the club. Somehow, Justin ends up in the car with Nick and Lance. He stares at the faint bite mark on Lance's neck for a moment when they all meet in the garage, making Lance flush at the memory of Nick's mouth on his body, then he silently slides into the car, not responding to Nick's friendly greeting. Lance shakes his head later at Nick and they duck into the limo after Justin. Justin gazes out the tinted windows at the passing traffic, the lights of the city reflecting on his face, ever—changing patterns of blue and red and green.

As they near the club, Justin abruptly starts talking, interrupting Nick's story about what he and AJ did to Kevin's underwear one time on their bus. He speaks in a hard, flat voice, telling them about Thomas, one of Lou's assistants, who traveled with them when they were in Europe, asking if Nick remembers, too. Lance isn't sure he's following the erratic half—sentences, and then what Justin's talking about suddenly becomes crystal clear.

Lance reels in shock, feeling like he's been hit. On the seat next to him, Nick looks startled, disbelief written on his face. Thomas had worked with Backstreet for a time. Had Nick or any of his guys ever suspected, ever seen anything like what Justin's claiming happened? Nick shakes his head, no, no, there was never anything like that, what the hell is Justin talking about?

Justin shrugs and turns back to the traffic and the lights. He seems to have lost interest in conversation again, but Lance is completely baffled. Justin has to be making that up, or remembering it wrong, misinterpreting things through the haze of excitement and exhaustion that enveloped them in Europe. There's no way something like that happened and no one knew about it. He realizes he's twisting the gaudy diamond and sapphire ring on his finger, counting the rotations. He makes himself stop by putting his hand under his thigh and keeping it there until they arrive at the club.

Their car pulls up behind the first one, and they all pile out, Justin moving quickly ahead to catch up with Chris and JC, leaving Nick and Lance to follow. Lance has no idea how to answer Nick's questions.

Lance is already pretty strung out on exhaustion, adrenaline, and good sex, and he's happy to just sit in VIP with Nick, sipping Jack & Coke and surveying the crowd. He decides to put Justin out of his mind for a few hours, at least. Nick points out hot girls, and the occasional hot boy, and they listen to the music and watch Joey and JC try not to dance with each other. Chris comes and sits with them for a while, trading insults with Nick, making Lance laugh helplessly into his drink.

They carefully avoid talking about Justin. Lance is aware that Justin's out there dancing, moving in and out of the swirling crowd, but he allows Nick's easy presence to distract him.

Lance rests his head on the back of his seat, having lost track of the number of drinks he's consumed some time ago. He feels kind of like he's floating. It's very peaceful, and he turns to look at Nick through half-closed eyes. Nick's gaze is heated, and he wants to know why Lance isn't out there dancing, the words a challenge. Lance smiles lazily, and for a moment he debates staying right where he is. He's content, but if Nick wants to play, Lance won't turn him down.

He stands up, his movements languid and unhurried, and he staggers a little, bumping into the table. His abandoned drink sloshes all over the place. He may quite possibly have had a bit more to drink than he should have, and he carefully considers whether walking around is a good idea or not. He shakes his head, trying to clear it, and Nick smirks up at him from his seat. Lance laughs and flips him off, then turns and weaves his way toward the dance floor.

Lance is well aware of the fact that without a choreographer to tell him precisely what moves to make, he's an awkward dancer, never quite knowing with to do with his arms. But when he's in a crowd, he can lose himself in the music and the noise, and when he's not thinking about it, his movements are smooth and sure.

It doesn't take long for Nick to approach him, scowling for effect as he jostles his way through the dancers surrounding Lance. Lance bites his lip, trying not to laugh as Nick grabs his arm and pulls. Nick's eyes dance with merriment as he tows Lance off the floor.

They fall laughing against each other in the darkened recess of the hallway leading to the restrooms, Lance shoving Nick up against the wall, pinning him in place with his hips, grinding nastily against him. Half—laughing, half—growling, Nick nudges Lance towards the men's room. Lance lets himself be pushed, although he knows Lonnie will kill them dead if he ever finds out. The Backstreet security guy Nick brought with him won't be too thrilled, either. But Lance is totally up for a quick fuck in the bathroom, if that's what Nick wants. He's still feeling it from the last time Nick fucked him, just hours ago, and his breathing quickens as he thinks about being bent over a sink and fucked again tonight.

Nick yanks the door open, propelling Lance ahead of him. Lance turns to kiss him, and stops dead, his mouth hanging open in surprise. He's suddenly very sober. In the farthest stall, Justin is on his knees, some guy Lance has never seen before standing over him, with his fist in Justin's hair and his dick in Justin's mouth. The door to the stall is standing wide open, and the thought flashes through Lance's mind that at least he won't be the only one Lonnie's going to kill tonight.

Justin's eyes are closed, and for some reason he has his hands clasped tightly behind his back. His face is flushed and his mouth is wet, and even with a random stranger's cock in his mouth, he's still beautiful on his knees. The stranger, tall and thin and oh-so-cool-looking in a black leather jacket, jerks his head up at the noise Nick and Lance make as they come through the door. The guy grunts and his fingers tighten in Justin's hair. Lance makes a sound of protest, and Justin freezes. His eyes open, and when he sees Lance and Nick, they flicker with something like relief. The florescent lights buzz overhead, and Lance is aware of Nick's hand on the small of his back, warm and reassuring.

Nobody moves for what seems like forever, then Mr. Leather Jacket pulls his cock out of Justin's mouth with an obscene pop that echoes around the room, making Justin's face flush a deeper red. The guy squints uncertainly between Lance, Justin and Nick. Lance thinks it's very fortunate the guy backed off, because the possessive fury that rises up in him is strong enough to leaving him shaking. His lips pull back in a feral not-smile, and he glares and jerks his head toward the door.

Justin's eyes widen at what he sees in Lance's face, and he closes his mouth and gets awkwardly to his feet. He looks quickly down at his knees, and Lance just knows he's worrying about what he might have picked up off the bathroom floor. Seeing that, seeing Justin ready to fret about dirt on his pants, diffuses some of Lance's rage. It lets him watch the guy in the stall tuck his rapidly deflating dick back into his pants and edge past them and out the door without Lance trying to stop him, to grab him by the lapels of his oh—so—trendy jacket and slam his head into the wall. It's a good thing, because Lance is sure the guy had no idea what he was getting into when he ducked in the bathroom to get a blowjob from Justin Timberlake. He probably thinks they're all completely insane.

He's probably right.

Lance looks at Justin as the door closes, and Justin smirks triumphantly back at Lance across the bathroom. It's the same expression that Lance sees on his face when he beats Chris at basketball or Grand Theft Auto. Like he's won some kind of victory. And then Lance realizes why the stall door was left open.

Nick's hand is still a comforting presence on Lance's back as he closes his eyes and tries to regain his composure. The three of them stand there, motionless, the silence stretching out for an endless moment, before Justin clears his throat. The sound reverberates in the tiled space, and Lance is startled into reacting. Before he can do more than ask Justin what the fuck he was thinking, Justin moves quickly toward the door, once more refusing to meet his eyes. He pauses, his bravado slipping away, his hand already pushing the door open. Ducking his head, he mutters sorry before he's gone.

Lance sags wearily back against Nick, his earlier fury leaving him drained and shaking. Nick kisses the side of his neck and doesn't say anything. He just wraps his arms around Lance, holding on until Lance takes a deep breath and straightens up, right as Lonnie comes into the bathroom. Terrific. Just what they need.

Lonnie isn't angry, just worried. He saw Justin bolt from the bathroom, but he was moving so fast that Lonnie quickly lost him in the crowd. He came into the bathroom to check it out, to see if he can get any idea of what went down in here to spook Justin like that.

Lance spends the next five minutes reassuring Lonnie that everything is fine, and if Lonnie isn't exactly convinced, then he's at least aware that it's something private, something between Lance and Justin that he doesn't need to know about, and couldn't fix even if he did.

When they finally manage to make it out of the bathroom, Lance looks helplessly around the crowded club for any sign of Justin. The pounding music makes conversation almost impossible, but Nick tells him not to worry, that he'll hang with the rest of the guys, and Lance should just go find Justin and do whatever he needs to do, yelling in his ear to be heard over the noise. Lance nods his thanks, grateful that Nick understands how it works, both of them knowing that if it was any of Nick's guys, Lance would give Nick the same space.

He heads out the door of the club, fighting his way through the people trying to get in, trying to get close to the celebrities they know are in there, and as he makes it out onto the sidewalk, he sees Justin getting in a taxi. Now, that's just stupid, Lance thinks irritably, as he watches a girl wearing a sparkly halter top and enough eye makeup for three people try to grab Justin's arm. Justin shakes her off with a snarl and her face turns ugly and twisted as she spits obscenities at him.

Lance hurries over to the cab, and for once not caring if he upsets a fan, shoves past her without actually touching her—because he knows better than to touch a fan in anger—and manages to get in the car before Justin can slam the door in his face.

He doesn't know what he expects, but it certainly isn't the furious tirade Justin launches into the minute Lance gets in the cab. Justin is angrier than Lance has ever seen him, up in his face, screaming things Lance can't believe he's hearing. The gist of it seems to be that Lance is worse than any of the rest of them, whoever they are, and he's using Justin to play games with Nick, and he doesn't care about Justin at all. Lance thinks he hears Thomas's name in there a time or two. He knows he hears Nick's name more than a few times.

Lance lets Justin yell, ignoring the odd, nervous looks the cab driver keeps throwing their way. Justin's voice will be shredded tomorrow, but it doesn't seem at all helpful to point that out now. This seems to be something that's been brewing for quite a while, and Lance can't believe he didn't see it coming.

When it looks like Justin's worn himself out, or at least run out of accusations to throw at Lance's head, Lance puts a tentative hand on his arm. Justin stiffens under his touch, but he lets Lance keep his hand there, and he rubs slowly up and down, from elbow to shoulder, just like he does when Justin can't get his brain to let go of whatever it is it's stuck on that makes him tense and miserable.

Justin's breath hitches, and Lance knows what he needs. He starts talking, low and quiet, nothing important, telling Justin he's okay, reassuring him that everything's fine, shushing him when he tries to argue. Justin trembles under his hand, and Lance soothes and pets, and eventually Justin stills. He sighs and closes his eyes, sinking back into the seat, letting his head fall wearily against the window, his forehead smudging the glass.

When the taxi arrives at the hotel, Lance directs the driver to the garage, knowing their security will be at the back entrance, waiting for them all to return from the club. Security definitely won't be happy to see Justin and Lance emerging from a cab, but they can deal with that tomorrow. Between this and the bathroom, Lance foresees an unpleasant meeting with Lonnie, and he's not looking forward to it. He knows that Justin's distress is even more of a reason to follow the rules, and not an excuse to disregard them. Lonnie knows that Lance knows that, but that isn't going to stop him from telling them again.

Lance holds up his hand and mouths not now apologetically to Randy as they get out of the car, then steers Justin to the elevator. Thank God they're the only ones who get on, and Lance is finally able to put his arms around Justin and hum in his ear. Justin relaxes in his embrace, and Lance breathes easier. The bell dings, the door opens, and Lance kisses Justin's cheek and pulls him down the hall to his room.

Justin fumbles with his key card until Lance takes it out of his hand and opens the door for him. The room is a mess, clothes strewn everywhere, empty bottles and glasses and candy wrappers all over the place, and one of the lampshades is crooked. Justin apparently threw something at it, if the crumpled magazine on the floor under it is any indication.

Lance starts to say something, but the minute the door closes behind them, he finds himself pinned against it, Justin holding him immobile as he slides down to his knees. Justin's hands shake as he works to get Lance's jeans open. Lance tries halfheartedly to push him away, but Justin plants one hand in the middle of Lance's chest and snarls at him not to fucking move. Justin's other hand yanks the front of Lance's underwear down and then Lance is lost in tight, wet heat and he throws his head back and hits it against the door at the same time that he thrusts his dick down Justin's throat. Justin works him quickly, doing his best to elicit the sounds Lance knows he needs to hear.

Lance gives him what he needs. He closes his eyes and sees Justin on his knees in a bathroom stall, a stranger's hard cock disappearing into his mouth, sliding over wet, red lips, Justin's eyes closed, the man's hand in his hair, making him take it. Lance opens his eyes and there right in front of him is Justin on his knees, with Lance's hand tangled in his hair, Lance's cock in his mouth, that same lost expression on Justin's face, and Lance tries to stop himself, he truly does, but he can't help it, he comes, thrusting with his hips, groaning out Justin's name.

Justin reaches up and yanks Lance's hand out of his hair. Lance lets go as if he's been burned. He can't believe he just did that. Justin scrambles to his feet without his usual grace, his movements clumsy, glaring at Lance, then wiping the back of his hand across his mouth with an expression of distaste on his face. Lance stares back, trying to catch his breath, with no earthly idea what to do next, wondering how in the world Justin's head got to be such a fucked up place. Lance doesn't want to think about how he responds to that.

Justin doesn't say a word, but surely he knows why Lance lost it so quickly and completely. He turns away, dismissing Lance with eyes full of betrayed contempt, but not before Lance can see that he's still hard, that he didn't come while he was on his knees. Lance flushes with shame, still able to feel Justin's hand on his chest, keeping him in place, making him helpless to do anything other than feel what Justin wanted him to feel. Justin's handprint burns his skin.

Lance whispers Justin's name, and Justin stops halfway to the bathroom, his head bowed. Then he looks up, and Lance can see fear and hurt under the contempt in his eyes. He starts yelling again, ranting about Nick and Lance and the games they play, how easy it is for them and how they don't give a fuck how much they hurt anyone else.

He's not making a lot of sense, rambling about taking something away from someone that can never be replaced, can never be given again, no matter how much you might want to. Lance hopelessly closes his eyes. He'd only done what he'd thought Justin wanted, because he loved Justin. When he realized it was Justin's first time, he'd thought it was amazing that Justin would trust him like that, but apparently he'd thought wrong.

By the time Justin runs out of words, Lance finds himself sprawled out on his stomach across the bed, with Justin pulling roughly at his jeans and underwear, asking if Nick fucked him before they went out. His fingers urgently probe, pushing in roughly to see if Lance is ready to be fucked again. Lance gets that this is Justin staking a claim.

He realizes he's struggling, against Justin's words as much as against his strength, and so he stops. He already has been fucked tonight, and he's still a little slick, in spite of his earlier shower. He stops struggling and allows Justin to take what he needs.

It doesn't stop Justin from crying afterwards, and it doesn't stop Lance from offering silent comfort, as always.

Their wake—up call comes way too early the next morning. Lance blinks awake, groping for the phone. Beside him, Justin stirs, stretching, and the sheet slips down, revealing pale skin and a trail of light golden hair. Lance stares until Justin catches him. Justin laughs, a raw, ugly sound that hurts Lance's ears. Lance reaches out a hand to trace over the smooth ridges of Justin's stomach, but Justin quickly pulls away, stopping him with a word. Don't. Lance sits in the middle of the bed, feeling stupid, his hand still stretched out uselessly. He waits for whatever comes next.

Without looking at Lance again, Justin slides out of bed, heads straight for the bathroom, and slams the door.

It seems Lance has his answer.

He sits there for a while longer, trying to think what to do. The ever—present clock in his head ticks relentlessly, reminding him that they're on a schedule. He comes to the conclusion that he has a visiting boyfriend in his own room that he needs to take care of some things with. Well, he hopes Nick's still there. He finds his clothes and leaves before Justin gets out of the bathroom.

Nick is sound asleep, the bedside phone off the hook, beeping intermittently. Lance thinks he'd be able to face things much better if he showers and brushes his teeth, so he lets Nick sleep and goes into the bathroom. He's not hiding. He has his head tilted under the spray, rinsing the shampoo out of his hair, when he shivers at the touch of cool air on his skin as Nick pulls back the curtain and climbs in beside him. Lance keeps his face turned up to the water, not ready to talk, or really, not knowing what to say. He had sex with Justin while Nick slept alone in Lance's room. Lance doesn't know what to think about that, and he was the one who did it. He can't begin to imagine what Nick might have to say.

Mostly, Nick seems to want to bitch about the earliness of the hour and how whoever invented wakeup calls should be shot and does Lance know that his shampoo smells like a fucking fruit salad? Lance is so relieved that Nick's not mad that his eyes sting in gratitude, although he pretends it's the fruity shampoo. He knows everything's fucked up, and although Nick's not mad, it doesn't mean he's fine with being dumped for Justin, but at least there's been no yelling. Nick knows that Lance doesn't have a lot of choices right now.

The buses are leaving right after breakfast. Nick was planning on riding with them to the next venue, staying for one more show before leaving to catch up with his guys. Lance picks at some toast while Nick eats everything else on the room service tray and laughs and jokes and tells Lance that he talked to Kevin and he really should head on back to Orlando this morning.

Lance lets him do it, lets him leave, because he doesn't know how to ask him to stay. He holds on for a long time, though, when Nick hugs him goodbye, and tells himself they're just taking a break.

When Lance gets on the bus without Nick, Justin is nowhere to be seen. The other guys accept Lance's explanation that Kevin called and insisted Nick fly to Florida immediately, although Joey looks at him doubtfully before being distracted by JC sitting down next to him, tipping his head onto his shoulder, and immediately falling asleep. Lance isn't sure that JC wasn't asleep on the walk from the hotel to the bus.

Lance watches as Joey follows JC into sleep and Chris heads to his bunk to do the same. It's only a three—hour ride to the next venue, but that's three hours of sleep none of them got the night before. Lance sits and stews for a while, then gets up from the table and goes back to the bunks. Justin is curled up in a ball with his back to the passageway, looking alone and small, despite the fact that he's almost longer than the bunk is. Lance rubs a hand tiredly across his eyes, then gets in behind him, tucking his knees behind Justin's, wrapping his arm around Justin's waist, and burying his nose in Justin's neck. He closes his eyes and murmurs soothingly as Justin stirs and then subsides into sleep again.

He wakes up when they arrive at the venue. He's alone in the bunk. Justin in gone.

Joey's the first one to figure out that Justin's not speaking to Lance. Lance knows this because he comes across them after lunch in one of the myriad arena corridors behind the stage. Joey is poking his finger at Justin's chest, talking in a low, angry voice that doesn't sound at all like Joey. The only thing Lance overhears is the part about Justin being a selfish asshole, before they see him standing there and Justin sidles out from between Joey and the cement wall behind him.

He doesn't look back at Lance as he stalks away, not even when Lance calls his name, and Joey gets mad all over again. Lance manages to talk him down, shrugging helplessly when Joey asks what's going on. He sure as hell doesn't know. Justin has half—a-—dozen reasons to be pissed at Lance, even though Joey's right, too, and Lance feels like maybe Justin could give him a fucking break.

He twists the ring that he's still wearing on his finger, looking down at it sadly. It's so ugly, and that at least still makes him smile.

Lance heads back toward the Quiet Room with Joey, in a companionable silence that's comforting in its normalcy. Halfway there, he sees Lonnie beckoning to him, and he thinks, no, he so doesn't need this right now. But Lonnie's someone he can't just brush off, so he goes where Lonnie's pointing, into an empty alcove off the corridor, telling Joey he'll see him later.

Except it isn't empty, Justin's already there, standing in the middle of the space, frowning down at the floor. At that moment, Lance just wants to see a smile on Justin's face, a big wide, uncomplicated grin, the kind that used to be there all the time.

Lonnie doesn't really have all that much to say, and it's nothing they haven't heard before. Justin nods, his eyes never leaving the floor. Lonnie glares sternly at Lance, and Lance nods and promises Lonnie they won't do it again. Lonnie doesn't seem inclined to let it go, but Lance stares at him impassively, and Justin tightens his lips stubbornly, and in the end, Lonnie has no choice but to send them on their way.

They walk slowly the rest of the way down the long corridor, their footsteps echoing off the gray concrete walls. Lance lets his shoulder bump Justin's a couple of times, and Justin doesn't move away, which Lance takes as a good sign.

After soundcheck, they all go their separate ways, to nap or check email, make phone calls, harass the crew, or in JC's case, the band. Lance makes himself scarce, needing some time alone. He hides out in an empty office, talking to his mom on the phone. An hour later, driven by guilt and worry, he walks into the Quiet Room to see Justin and JC tangled together on the couch, JC earnestly telling Justin all about something Tyler said or did on JC's last visit home, Justin listening with his eyes closed, his hands loosely clutching JC's shirt.

JC smiles up at Lance, and Lance smiles back gratefully. Justin shifts restlessly as JC's voice trails off, and he makes a complaining noise, tightening his hand in JC's shirt. JC nudges him with his elbow, and Justin opens his eyes and looks up, his expression uncertain when he sees Lance.

Lance smiles at him, trying to show him what he doesn't seem to believe when Lance says it out loud. Justin looks even more uncertain, almost puzzled, and Lance turns and leaves the room again. He heads back over to catering.

Justin's throat has to feel rough today, although he tried to cover it during soundcheck. Lance makes him some hot tea, and after searching the table for honey, adds a glob of it to the cup and carries it back to the Quiet Room.

Justin and JC are still on the couch, and Lance nudges Justin over and sits down beside him, handing him the tea. Justin takes a sip, then closes his eyes as he carefully swallows it. He looks up from his cup, studying Lance closely. He must find what he's looking for, or close to it, anyway, because he smiles and scoots around until he's pressed against Lance's side, quietly drinking his tea.

They're spending the night at the hotel. It's a short bus ride over from the arena after the show, almost just across the street. No one is going anywhere tonight, and one by one they all drift off to their own rooms to sleep. Lance comes out of the bathroom, toothbrush in hand, when he hears the soft knock on his door. He opens it to see Justin standing there in sweat pants and an old t—shirt, barefoot and looking very unsure of his welcome.

Lance steps back to let him in, and he can see the relief on Justin's face as he comes in, and he brushes against Lance, making him shiver.

Justin is already in bed when Lance turns back from slipping Nick's ring off his finger and tucking it into the corner pocket of his suitcase. He gets into bed behind Justin, wrapping him up securely in his arms, content to drift off to sleep. But Justin turns to face him, to kiss him desperately, to move helplessly against him, moaning as their hips shift together, gasping as Lance tightens his hold and kisses him back.

Afterwards, when Lance is fighting sleep, and Justin starts crying, this time it isn't silent, this time Justin acknowledges that he's not fine. This time Justin settles back against Lance's chest, takes a deep, shuddering breath and says, "Lance. Please, please talk to me."

And Lance starts talking, murmuring in Justin's ear, telling him all the things he guesses Justin wants to hear.