sparsenicjade
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Alex Krycek had a tendency to disappear. He would always resurface, so when his letters or emails stopped coming Chris's way, Chris would give it a few months and then expect to see an email from a new address, invariably on some type of free server. In the eighteen years that him and Alex had been friends, the fifteen that they'd been long-distance friends and the ten or so that they'd had email addresses, Alex's whereabouts and online identities had changed over three times that many.

Chris had met Alex in high school. They'd taken to each other immediately, being the two smallest boys on the football team as well as the only two with second-hand uniforms. Alex had been a year older than Chris and had therefore graduated a year earlier. He'd bought a bus ticket to DC scheduled to leave two days after his graduation. Chris sent him off at the bus station.

They hadn't seen each other since, but they'd written and emailed and spoken, and Chris knew that a good friend didn't always mean the person in closest proximity.

Admittedly, when Alex disappeared it was generally for two or three months at a time. Sometimes four.

At the six month period, Chris was starting to worry. By the seventh, he was feeling quietly frantic.

Still, he probably wouldn't have done anything had his mom not asked, "By the way, have you heard from Alex?"

Bev was his mom, but he wasn't giving up Alex's secrets unless he had damn good reason. "Uh, not lately, why?"

"Eh, it's probably nothing, just, he didn't send me a Mother's Day Card."

Chris monitored his breathing. The disappearance, long as it had been, he could explain away. Alex never forgot to send Bev a Mother's Day Card, though. Never. Despite the fact that Alex had been raised by the man and woman who were biologically responsible for his existence, Bev was the closest thing he had to a mother, and he was not one to take her for granted. "Huh, odd. Well, he's not online right now, but I'll see if I can track him down, give him an ass-whupping for forgetting."

"Hug him for me afterward, all right?" Bev laughed, and injected just enough edge into her voice that Chris knew she wasn't fooled for a second.

"I'll do that." Chris diverted the conversation, "I heard a rumor that you're thinking about another household pet."

Bev took the hint and ran with the new topic, leaving Chris to think.

Chris' thoughts weren't really that complex. In fact, there was really only one thought in his head. It was time to find Alex.

*

The news got to JC in a roundabout way.

Lance had phoned for his twice weekly check up. Lance was in charge of being the one to call in order for him and JC to stay in touch. It wasn't that JC didn't want to talk to Lance, he loved picking up the phone and seeing Lance's number appear on the screen. Given the responsibility of having to make the call, though, JC would forget, or put it off until later so that he could savor it, which would mean calling Lance at three in the morning.

After a couple of unintentional wake-up calls, Lance had politely told JC, "I'll call from now on, you just wait."

The news about Chris came after the news about Justin's latest stop on tour and before the news about Joey buying Briahna a bike, "Which, obviously, she's way too young for, and Kelly's been trying to point this out, but you know Joey-"

It wasn't exactly that JC didn't care about Joey and Briahna, but right now the information that, "Chris has to go do something? That was all he said?" was taking precedence with him.

"Look," Lance sighed, "he told me that he's leaving for DC on Wednesday, and that he has to go look for someone and that it's important. I couldn't get anything else out of him, he said it was nearly a family thing, like if one of us needed help."

"He's going by himself?" JC crossed his house to where he kept the big Georgia O'Keefe calendar his mom had given him for Christmas. If the calendar was to be believed, this was currently Monday.

"His partner in crime is kinda busy right now."

"Oh, right," JC remembered, "tour."

"Yeah," Lance agreed, "tour."

"He's leaving out of Orlando, right?"

"Yeah."

"Can you get me a flight to Orlando for today or tomorrow and book me on his flight to DC?"

"C, I dunno if this is such a good idea. He sounded…it seemed pretty personal and you know how Chris can be about things. Honestly, I was a bit surprised he called me. Grateful, but surprised."

JC played his ace. "Do you really want Chris disappearing off on his own?"

"Well, I don't want the both of you disappearing, that would hardly help anything."

"Yeah, but I answer my cell phone."

JC counted the seconds of silence. He was on four when Lance capitulated. "I'll call you back when I have the tickets."

*

Chris wasn't sure that JC's arrival by way of a knock and a, "So, DC?" was completely unwelcome, but that was for him to know and JC not to find out.

"What're you doing here, C?"

"Going on an adventure with you." JC pushed Chris out of his path in that way he had of making a person feel like it had been his own decision to move.

"No adventure," Chris spread his hands and did his best to appear guileless. "Just going to visit a friend." It was obvious JC wasn't leaving though, so he shut the door behind him, in case the neighbors were suddenly in need of entertainment.

"Good, even better, you never introduce us to any of your friends."

Chris rolled his eyes, "C, you know more of my friends than that of the other three guys put together." Except maybe Lance, but Chris thought of the people he was always bringing around as acquaintances. There was a difference.

"Always room to know one more," JC quipped with a cheerful implacability that Chris recognized all to well.

Chris fished for something else to tell him, something that would keep him away. It's Jacob, from O-Town or, there will be dredging through malaria infected swamps to reach our destination, or, if I wanted someone to go with, it would be Justin. Nearly cursing himself, all he said was, "It might turn dangerous, C. I don't want you there with me if that happens."

"Where exactly is this friend?" JC pursed his lips in what he probably thought comprised a stern look.

Chris wasn't intimidated, but the bath water had already been thrown out, so it was no use keeping the baby. "I don't precisely know."

"How unprecisely don't you know?"

"No clue. Could be next door, could be in Tahiti." Could be dead or on another planet. JC was most likely to learn Alex's secrets if he went along anyway, but Chris had been keeping those secrets for too long to just blurt them out.

"Why DC, then? It's not really close to either of those places," JC snickered.

Chris sighed. "We're going to see someone Alex told me to go see if there was ever a problem concerning him."

"All right."

Luckily, Chris realized, of the five of them, JC was the most trusting as far as the group members went. If one of them told JC something, he would believe it for as long as possible, no questions asked.

Well, evidently not no questions asked, "Is this Alex? Like, Alex Alex."

"Normally, he just uses the one Alex."

"Dipwad. Seriously, Chris, the guy you've known since high school?"

"Yeah, that's him, what are you going on about?"

JC beamed. "I won a bet."

"Huh?" Chris was confused. For one thing, he knew of no such bet. For another, JC never won inter-group bets.

"Joey and Lance both bet that Alex didn't exist, like he was something you had made up to make high school better."

"Where'd they think the letters came from? For fuck's sake, my mom knew Alex. Dicks."

"I bet them Alex was real, and Justin said he wasn't touching the whole thing with a twenty foot pole."

"Smart boy," Chris opined.

JC just preened. "Uh, if we find Alex, can I tell them?"

If they found Alex, JC could tell the whole world. Chris nodded tightly, and went to go finish packing.

*

JC was fretting. "Not to sound slightly overwhelmed and mildly concerned, but what are we doing in an interviewing room at FBI headquarters?"

"We have an appointment to meet with an agent," Chris not-exactly-explained.

"Right. You think Alex was kidnapped?"

Chris glanced at JC. "Huh?"

"Kidnapping, federal crime, FBI…" JC put his hands on his hips. It made sense.

"Oh, no."

"Chris." Contrary to what seemed to be popular opinion, JC had considerable amounts of patience. Playing the silence game while on a nationwide search for someone he didn't know was whittling steadily away at it.

"They're not my secrets, C." It was obviously as much of an apology as Chris was going to extend.

"So you think I'm any less likely to keep them?" The thought was a little offensive, given that JC had never mentioned a word about how Dani had broken up with Chris because she found out he was fantasizing about Leonardo DiCaprio while having sex with her.

Chris had the grace to grimace. "There's someone Alex told me to see, if anything ever happened."

JC sensed he probably would have gotten more out of Chris had the someone not walked in the door at that very moment. She was small, attractive and had a handshake that made JC hold back a cringe.

"Mr. Kirkpatrick, Mr. Chasez. I'm Agent Scully, I was told you directly requested me?"

"You and your partner, Agent Mulder, but I was told he's no longer with the Bureau." Chris took the seat to which she motioned. JC sat next to him.

"That's correct." Scully sat down across from them. "What can I help you with?"

"I'm here about an old friend. He's disappeared."

Scully's expression stayed smooth as she asked, "I assume you've spoken with your local police about this?"

"I was told by him that if he was ever to disappear and I needed to find him, that going to the police would as good as sign his death warrant. He told me that if nothing else, you and Agent Mulder would be too curious to let him remain missing."

Scully's eyes narrowed. "Who, precisely, is this friend?"

"Alex Krycek."

JC would have sworn her breathing actually slowed. She repeated, "Alex Krycek."

Chris nodded, obviously sensing the same rift in things that JC did.

"Well then," she formed each syllable into a point, nearly throwing them at JC and Chris, "I can tell you exactly where your friend is."

Chris stayed still.

"He's dead Mr. Kirkpatrick."

JC's stomach twisted and he began to reach out for Chris, stopping only when he realized that Chris was shaking his head, "No, he's not."

"He was shot in the forehead, right between the eyes," Scully begged to differ. "I'm sorry, I realize he was your friend, but I saw the video of it myself."

"Whatever you saw wasn't the whole story," Chris insisted.

JC intervened, "Chris, tell her what you know. She can't help us if you don't."

"They're not-" Chris started.

"Your secrets to tell, I know," JC finished. "But do you want to find him, or not?"

Chris's eyes were angry as he capitulated. At whom, JC wasn't sure.

"Alex had these…things put in his bloodstream. Nanosomethings. They could do a whole bunch of things that I didn’t get, but this was the thing he made sure I understood. If Alex died, the minute there was brain death, all of his belongings, his accounts, his property, everything, was to be transferred to my mother. Trust me, my mom didn't suddenly receive a huge influx of taxable property and forget to mention anything to me. He's not dead, I don’t care what you saw."

JC did his best not to think about having little computer dudes crawling around in his brain. It was screwing with his concentration.

Scully pursed her lips, gave Chris a considering look and decided, "We're gonna need Mulder."

*

Mulder met them at a coffee house. He shook their hands, ordered a coffee that he did not drink, and shredded his napkin while Chris and Scully pieced together each other's sides of the story. When it was obvious they had said all they were going to say, he caught Scully's eye, "Skinner?"

"Got hold of him in the car on the way over. Evidently he conveniently forgot to mention that when he told you he had taken care of things, actually, he had temporarily stored the body until he could arrange for a more permanent internment plan."

"And by the time he got back, the body was gone," Mulder concluded.

Scully didn't respond. JC scooted slightly closer to Chris, who had brought his coffee mug up so as to hide his smile.

"It's entirely possible," Scully posited into the somewhat awkward silence, "that the nanotechnology Mr. Kirkpatrick is insisting Krycek had implanted could have healed that wound. Its capabilities are as of yet unknown. Bethesda's research staff couldn't even determine the full range of what Skinner's batch could do, and we have to assume that the technology has progressed since then."

"I suppose."

Chris recognized the note of grudging indulgence in Mulder's voice. He sounded exactly the way Lance did when JC had come up with his latest whimsical explanation for how toasters work or why bread always lands butter side down. Which was odd, because Scully's explanation had seemed perfectly plausible to Chris. Granted, he was claiming no expertise in the area of nanotechnology.

"Out with it," Scully ordered.

Mulder took a minute to don his best, "who, me?" face. "You know I don't think he was working for the old men, Scully. At least not in the end. If he got that technology, I think he got it by stealing it. They were never happy enough with him to just give him the good stuff."

"Let's say I believe you so far, then what?"

JC whispered, "Aw, they're kind of cute."

If Chris hadn't been so invested in what they were discussing, he would have snickered and nudged JC's knee in agreement. All he had to spare was a squeeze to JC's thigh. Lucky for Chris that JC was pretty easy to please.

Mulder chewed at his lip in obvious concentration. "Someone else needed him alive. Someone with the ability to inhibit the killing power of a lead bullet to the brain. Probably not human, I'm thinking."

"Machines aren't human, Mulder."

"No, but they have to be implanted by humans, Scully."

Chris didn't even bother hiding his smile at Mulder's mocking mirror of her not-quite-condescension. Neither of them was paying attention anyway. "If Scully's right, where do we find him?"

The two agents shrugged as one. Mulder offered, "South America, maybe? Someplace good to hide."

"Nope," Chris told them. "If he was hiding safe somewhere, I wouldn't be here. He'd've found a way to contact me. Trust me, I heard from him when he was in a Tunisian prison. No mean feat getting mail out of a place like that."

Mulder made a sound of vague triumph. Scully was very clearly Not Glaring.

JC chanced a, "And if it's Mulder's option, where does that put him?"

The look of self-complacency disappeared from Mulder's face. "Well. Uh."

Scully laughed. Mulder threw dignity to the wind and glared. "Just because I can't tell you off the top of my head doesn't mean I can't find him."

"How long?" Chris demanded.

"Scully, I'm gonna need-"

"Insider help," Scully's expression of resignation had a suspicious hint of excitement lurking behind it.

"And possibly-"

"Funds," this time, she pinned Chris with a stare.

He didn't hesitate. "Taken care of. How long?"

"Forty eight hours?" Mulder guessed.

Tempering his optimism, Scully put in, "Could be a week."

"I want to be kept updated," Chris stipulated.

Scully scribbled something on a napkin and shoved it across the table to Chris. "First number is Mulder's. He's never without his phone unless it gets destroyed, which happens with mild frequency, so if you can't reach him, the second number is mine."

JC reached out before Chris could and folded the napkin carefully. He placed it in one pocket of the book bag he had carried everywhere on this trip. "You lose things when you're nervous," he said, without even a hint of judgment.

Chris let him be the Keeper of the Numbers.

*

JC was debating with himself. It wasn't that he didn't understand the urgency of the situation. While he didn't know Alex himself, obviously the guy meant a hell of a lot to Chris, and JC had long stopped attempting to avoid vicarious relations when it came to the band members. So JC was worried, in a second-hand, removed type of way, a way that still allowed him to desperately want to visit the National Art Gallery.

While JC preferred LA's MoMA, the National Art Gallery held nostalgic reign as the first art museum he'd ever perused. His mom and him had gone there when he was a little kid. Heather was usually off at soccer games and Tyler and his dad were together at boy scouts, so the two of them would sneak off to the museums for the afternoon. At the time, the American History part of the Smithsonian had been his favorite, with all its keepsakes and pop culture treasures. Only now after his accidental, semi-voyeuristic introduction into art by a past lover, could JC appreciate the Gallery for what it was, the most traditional of museums with the most fantastic exhibition pieces.

He couldn't decide on a tactful way to bring up the idea of sightseeing while waiting to see if Chris's best childhood friend was still alive and fully functional, so he threw out, "I know this probably sounds like a really bad idea right now, but um…would you maybe think about going to a museum with me?"

Chris glanced up from where he was pretending to watch The Family Feud. JC knew he was pretending because he hadn't once called out the answer to a category. Chris believed watching television was a participatory event. It drove Lance right up the wall but JC just found it funny.

"Not the Holocaust one, C. Last time we were there I didn't wanna eat for three days straight afterward, and I'm just not feeling up to it."

"I'm stating my position as advocate for the National Art Gallery, but I'm willing to negotiate." He was, within certain parameters.

"The White House," Chris parried.

JC didn’t want to follow a tour guide, he liked making his own way through places. "American History part of the Smithsonian."

"Space and Aeronautics part of the Smithsonian."

"What?" JC frowned. "You hate planes."

"I hate being in planes. I find the concept pretty fucking cool. Plus, we get to go look at the space stuff and taunt Lance about it later."

Actually, Chris would taunt and JC would sit back and laugh and then offer support when Lance appealed to him, all the while making funny faces at Chris. "Excellent point."

JC made sure he had money on him before he and Chris left the room, stopping at the concierge's desk to ask for walking directions to the nearest subway entrance. JC put himself in charge of figuring out where they were going and found the museum hub on the map inside the station. Despite his rather calm appearance, Chris's whole body was staying unnaturally still, a sure sign of inner terror from him.

When they were sitting in the ridiculously clean subway, listening to the whir of movement, JC nudged Chris, "We didn't have to do this."

"No point in us staying in the room for a week, if that's what it comes to. This is your hiatus too."

JC shook Chris lightly. "I didn't come with you looking for a vacation."

"We came looking for Alex."

"You came looking for Alex. I came to make sure you weren't the next person we had to find."

"Your confidence is resounding. I'm still older than you, Chasez."

JC threw the expression of the distinctly unimpressed at Chris. "You have no boundaries when it comes to the people you love. You wouldn’t know where to stop."

Chris blinked. He turned his head away from JC and spent the rest of the short trip staring into the dark of the tunnels.

*

Their triumphal call to Lance was interrupted just as Chris was about to get to the good stuff, the part where he rhapsodized about the space exhibits. Chris had been working and reworking his monologue since the museum as, truth be told, he had enjoyed the vintage planes most.

Halfway through his dramatic recounting of things, though, the call waiting on Chris's cell kicked in, and Chris apologized, "Lance, I gotta take this."

Chris switched over. "Yes?"

"Mr. Kirkpatrick? It's Mulder."

"One second, let me tell the person I was speaking with goodbye." As Chris dispatched Lance, JC mouthed, "Mulder?" Chris nodded, and put the man on speakerphone so that JC could listen.

"We found Krycek," Mulder informed them.

"Where is he?" Chris bit out.

"We're holding him here for the moment."

Chris sifted through his memories of what Alex had told him. There were holes, Chris knew, things Alex had left out in the pursuit of Chris's plausible deniability, but he was pretty sure Alex would have mentioned if he'd done something that could be pinned on him. "How long can you keep him without charges?"

"Three days," Mulder sounded slightly disgusted by the very rule he was using. "How do you know we don’t have something?"

"Alex would've mentioned it, given me a cover story so that mom wouldn't have to find out if anything happened."

"Touching."

Across from Chris, JC rolled his eyes. Chris was too happy to care about Mulder's views on Alex. "How'd you find him?"

"A contact of a contact of a contact. Evidently, he's been…working with the good guys for a bit. Sort of."

More and more, Chris was beginning to understand why Alex called Mulder The Federal Bureau Agent With A Heart Of Black And White. B&W Guy, for short. "Alex does what he has to do."

JC murmured, "Kinda like a certain other person we all know," looking surprised when Chris kicked him in the shin. "Oh, I probably wasn't planning on saying that aloud."

Chris kicked him lightly again, for good measure. "So when can I see him?"

"If you wanna come down again, I'll get you in. If not, you can wait the three days."

"C and I'll be down there in an hour."

"Only one visitor allowed."

"We'll hold hands and tell people we're Siamese twins."

Mulder chuckled at that. "Do. I'll have Scully open up an X-file on how that happens to two people from completely separate biological sources."

*

Scully took one look at the two of them and muttered to Mulder, "Whatever. It's not like it'll be the first rule we've ever broken."

Mulder evidently agreed with his ex-partner's assessment of the situation as he opened the door to the holding room keeping Alex and warned, "Half an hour. Seriously, it's Scully's ass on the line."

JC wouldn't have cared if he hadn't sounded so very much like Joey at his most protective. "Half an hour," he promised, and didn't give Chris time to object.

As it turned out, JC realized that Chris was too preoccupied with the man standing in the corner of the room to be bothered. "Holy shit. Alex."

Despite the prosthetic arm and the living lean look, JC decided that Alex was hot. If they hadn't been in a holding room in the bowels of the FBI, he would have wondered why Chris had never mentioned this before.

Slowly, as though afraid to be presented with figments of his own imagination, Alex approached them. "Chris?"

Taking the last step to bridge the gap between them, Chris grabbed Alex into a hug. JC stepped back, unused to watching Chris willingly touch anyone that wasn't family or NSYNC. In JC's head, it was all the same.

Chris pulled out of the hug after a bit, "Alex. This is JC," he turned slightly toward the introducee in question. "JC, Alex."

JC held out a hand. "I've heard…um, evidently not a lot, but I thought it was a lot."

Alex shook his hand, his fingers warm from grasping Chris. "I've heard a lot. And seen a lot. You guys get around."

"I want," Chris stopped, "I want a lot of things, but right now we only have about twenty-five minutes, so I want to know what the fuck happened, and to tell you that you're coming back with C and me, because my mom is worried, you shit."

"I'm sorry about mom." The apology was soft. "They told you I was shot?"

Chris obviously couldn't speak, so JC supplied, "They thought you were dead."

"I should've been," Alex admitted. "Remember about a year ago, when I told you that there was a faction of alien beings committed to stopping invasion?"

"Rebels," Chris managed.

"Yeah. They found me useful. So they stuck one of their own inside me."

"Inside you?" JC squeaked. The Twilight Zone had been some good TV, but he wasn't all that interested in living an episode for himself.

"I didn't volunteer my body, but evidently they felt I had by running a few errands for people that I didn't at the time realize were working under their auspices, I just knew I was creating havoc for the Consortium."

JC wondered when Chris had learned Babel, since he seemed to understand all of this quite clearly.

"When I was shot, the alien brought my body back to the base and they were able to heal it, brain and all. I think the bullet's main impact was stopped by the physical presence of the alien, I'm not entirely sure. They weren't too keen on explaining, either, mostly just keeping me there until I was good enough to use as a puppet again."

Enough of this, JC was tired of feeling blindfolded, "Then how are you here?"

"I'm not entirely sure. I'm willing to bet Mulder tracked me down in the way he always does, one third random information and contacts, two thirds instinct. As far as how he got me out, I think he offered to work for them in my stead, sans the possession."

"Why would he do that?" JC asked, at the same time as Chris's, "What does he get out of it?"

For a second, Alex was anywhere but in that room with them, his eyes sad, knowing, angry and amused all at once. He focused on Chris, losing the look. "Adventure, Mulder style."

"And you're free? Just like that?" Chris frowned.

Alex smirked. "Nothing's just like that, Christopher."

JC felt sucker punched. It was like watching Chris, the jaded curve of Alex's lips, the way the lesson rolled off his tongue, tried and true and vital.

Chris prompted, "Then…"

"I don't know," Alex shook his head. "I would tell you if I did. But for now, wait for me and take me home."

"You've never even been to Florida," Chris pointed out.

Alex didn't seem all that concerned by the distinction. "I'm sure you can find the way back for us."

*

Chris waited until JC had gone on a food-and-bathroom run to take the medicine jar out of his bag. JC got nervous when one of the guys had to take downers of any sort.

"That could put someone's eye out, y'know?" Alex eyed the horse-pill that Chris was about to swallow.

Chris smiled. "It'll do a lot more than that."

"That still gets me."

Chris tipped his head back and let the pill slide down. "What?"

"The first time I was on a plane, I looked out the window and thought of you." Alex shrugged, and Chris tried not to notice the slight unevenness to the gesture. "I thought you'd like it."

"What's to like? You're miles above ground in a box with wings, no strings attached, and if you say a word, I'll step on your toes."

Alex tilted his head and said without inflection, "Ha. You made a funny."

Chris went for the toes. There was a bit of a scuffle, which Alex ended verbally. "It feels like getting away."

Chris considered this. "I already got away. I don't need death staring me in the face to feel like it."

Alex's eyes betrayed a sliver of bitterness. "We can’t all make it, Chris. At least not that way."

"If you needed something, you should've asked. There isn't a thing-"

"Your friendship and my code of honor in regards to it are pretty much the only things I have left that matter. Don't pretend I can give either of them up."

"So instead you're going to play not-quite-governmental spy-assassin-errand boy for the rest of your life? What the fuck good does that do anyone?"

Alex twisted his mouth. "What would you rather I do?"

"Something. Anything. Play drums on the beach for quarters, teach Russian to high school kids, consult for a weapons manufacturer, go into real estate, become a journalist, run a pet shop, I don't care. Whatever you want. Not this."

"What’s so wrong with this?" Alex challenged.

"This," Chris hissed, "makes you disappear for months at a time so that I never know when I'm gonna have to tell my mom that you're dead, this makes you write letters so detached I'm not sure if you actually wrote them, this takes body parts from you and leaves you locked in missile silos for days at a time. You fucking tell me what's wrong with this."

As if he hadn't even been listening, Alex mused, "I've never even tried playing the drums. Think people would throw quarters out of pity?"

Chris let his eyes droop. They would be boarding soon. "You're a shit."

"Uh huh." Alex agreed easily.

When they called for first class, Chris felt himself hoisted up by two people, one on either side. He really hoped it was Alex and JC.

*

JC ordered a glass of red wine before take off. It wouldn't be how he liked it, old and so dry it barely slid down his throat, but it would soften the edges of dealing with a drug-stupid Chris and his mysterious hot friend.

Alex ordered a ginger ale.

Chris was in between them, but this didn't seem to deter Alex, who waited until they were safely at cruising altitude, pulled Chris's tray table out, and offered, "I've got cards, you play anything?"

JC hadn’t lived on a bus for the better part of eight years for nothing. "Hearts, Poker, Egyptian Rat Screw, Danish, War, Old Maid, Go Fish, Solitaire, Gin Rummy-"

"I think your repertoire outstrips mine."

JC laughed. "Pick a game."

"Hearts. Chris taught me that one. Took me forever to get him to sit still enough to actually do it."

"Something we have in common."

Alex dealt the cards. "Why are you here?"

JC had discovered early on that he was a bad liar. To compensate for this lack, he had learned how to tell as much of the truth as possible without giving anything away. "Because Chris is."

"I haven't noticed any permanent attachments. Did I miss something?"

JC picked up his hand. "It's kind of a group thing. Watch after your own."

Alex spread open his cards. "He's protective as shit about the four of you."

"Mutual agreement, you could say." JC rearranged the cards he was holding to his specification.

"You didn't trust me."

"No offense, but you weren't really part of the equation. Chris was going somewhere and he needed someone to go with him, whether he knew it or not. I volunteered. As far as you're concerned…Chris doesn't trust easily, so mostly, I give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to people."

Alex opened a play. "And now?"

"Now?" JC concentrated on how to counter Alex's card.

"Now that you've met me?"

"I think you're involved in some fucked-up shit and that Chris probably shouldn't know anything about it. But I also think you had your brain shot up with techno-crap in order to take care of his mom."

"There was never meant to be any danger for him." Alex took the trick.

"Got that memo."

Alex threw another card. JC laid his superior card down.

JC won the first and second game. By the time they started the third he was pretty sure of two things: first, that Alex was somehow letting him win without making it look obvious and second, that he was flirting with his best friend's childhood bud. JC worked at figuring out how exactly Alex was throwing the game.

*

Chris woke to the feel of movement, but it was movement he knew far too well for them to still be flying. He opened his eyes to the sight of road flying past them, gravel and scenery eaten up in the wake of somebody's rather fast driving.

Chris straightened himself up. Alex, sitting next to him, was the first to notice, "Morning, lazy."

Chris grunted. JC turned around from the passenger seat at the sound, "Feeling okay?"

"Woozy," Chris reported.

"Close your eyes again, we're about fifteen minutes out." The advice came from the driver's seat, the voice distinct.

"What're you doing in town, Bass?" Chris figured the others already knew the answer to this, but he didn't like being left out.

"Picking you fuckers up from the airport."

It wasn't all together outside the realm of possibility that Lance could have scheduled himself a flight down just to verify their well-being, so Chris took Lance at his word. If there was something else, he could sniff it out later, when there wasn't quite as much interference between his brain and everything else in the world.

Chris looked out the window once again. They weren't fifteen minutes in any direction from his house, which could only mean that they were headed to his mom's. He kicked Alex lightly, "You get to pick where we were going?"

Alex shook his head. "Your mom bribed Lance with beer-battered onion rings."

"You have a pretty low going price these days," Chris pointed out, impressed all over again by the evil that could be his mom when she got herself up to it.

"You have no idea." There was an edge of humor to the statement, but it was washed over by waves of frustration and worry.

Chris didn't think Alex meant to have let so much information get away from him. "At the very least, she'll fatten you up for market day."

"I can’t wait to see her," this statement was quiet and earnest and peeled back years of deeds that nobody should take place in to a shy but fierce boy with a love of football and a family that he never quite believed was his own.

Chris smiled, "She feels the same way. It's a pain in the ass making those onion-rings, y'know. She hates it."

Alex put a hand to his stomach. "They do sound awfully good, though."

*

JC didn't plan it, at least, he was pretty sure he hadn't. He just wasn't tired, and Alex was up, sitting oddly still on the couch, watching CNN with weary eyes. JC sat next to him. "Mind?"

"I suppose it was too much to hope that the world had figured out how not to destroy itself while I was missing," Alex commented without ever once looking away from the screen.

"Funny, you didn't strike me as the optimistic type."

Somewhere between the business news and an update on Bush's newest policy statement, JC kissed Alex. Mostly because he looked like he needed it. Must have been, at least, because JC couldn't think for a moment later why he would have thought to do something like that in Bev's house of all places.

The way Alex responded made JC think, "Oh, been a while for him too." JC had trouble doing the one night stand thing with guys. Girls, no problem. If word got out, it just wasn't that big a deal. JC wasn't particularly trusting though, he'd had that trait well and truly beaten out of him, in the spiritual sense. His last time had been during the whole Tara debacle, which had pretty much made him swear off women for a little bit as well. Mutual hunger was as good a reason to have hot sex as any, JC supposed.

Which was why he slid down the couch, planted himself between Alex's legs, tugged his jeans down just enough, and went to town. He was pleasantly surprised when Alex came quietly and then, rather politely, pulled JC up on the couch and returned the favor.

Alex cleaned himself up first, and as he was finishing, JC regained the knowledge of how to use his fingers and took care of his own mess. As an afterthought, he was glad they had both swallowed, even if it had probably been stupid on both their parts. This was not something he ever wanted to have to explain due to a stray stain. Which was odd, as generally, JC never much concerned himself with what the other guys and their families thought of his sex life.

Still, having sex on Chris's mom's couch…that was just a bit beyond the level to which JC usually took things.

Beside him, Alex wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "I don’t mean this in a bad way, but that has to never happen again."

Which really, was just a bit hurtful. "Dude, I'm not that bad. I don't know who's been blowing you, but-"

"No, no, you were…if it were a technique thing, I'd have you back on your knees right now."

JC was mildly mollified. "Yeah, well, I mean, we should probably pick slightly more appropriate venues-"

"I just betrayed my best friend," Alex bit out. "My only friend."

JC rolled his eyes. "Uh, not to burst your idealistic little bubble over there, but you didn't just soil my honor or anything. I've been having sex far more random than that since I was seventeen."

Alex glared at him. It was kind of scary, actually. "Whatever I said, don't send your brain machine thingies to kill me."

"What?" Alex waved a hand. "Nevermind. I didn't think you were a virgin."

"Then what does any of this have to do with Chris?"

"And to think, he keeps telling me how perceptive you are."

"Alex." His words, cryptic and serious were scarier to JC than any glare Alex could affect. "Tell me what you're talking about."

"You know how you got sick in Europe and Chris bought you a real Hershey's bar, the only one he could find in all of fucking Switzerland?"

JC's memory wasn't always the best, but he kept the important memories enshrined, shrink-wrapped, untouchable by time. "'Course I do."

"And the time during the lawsuit when he managed to find the time for everyone to go home right as you really really needed to see you mom?"

"I was hardly the only one of the group that-"

"The way he fought Jive when they got pissy about you growing your hair out?"

JC remembered the angry twist of Chris' mouth and his, "No, this is you, you don't let anyone else tell you how to be you," and Alex's questions took on a rhythm, a pattern, a semblance of sense. "Oh. But…that was all…Chris is an excellent friend."

"The very best," Alex responded knowingly. "It's not the same, JC. He's been harboring hopes since, I dunno, maybe since Justin brought you to that club."

JC floundered. "Why are you telling me this?"

"I." Alex looked away. "Maybe I'm an optimist."

It wasn't like JC to make split decisions. He liked knowing the facts, taking his time to mull things over. That said, there was a time to trust one's intuition, his mom had taught him that. It had gotten him into NSYNC. "Well, seems like a shame to take that from you, doesn't it?"

*

Chris came downstairs the next morning to find his mom piling sausages onto a plate that already held two pancakes, two pieces of French toast, a few strips of bacon, two eggs, sunny-side up, and an orange. From behind the plate, Alex threw him a clearly pleading look.

"Hey mom," Chris kissed Bev's cheek, "think I could get in on any of that action?"

"You know where the forks and plates are," she told him.

Chris shrugged in the international motion for, "You're on your own."

Alex poured a bit of syrup over the pancakes and toast and turned his plate three times, as if trying to decide which angle would make things appear that everything had been eaten when, in fact, it had not. Chris settled across from him with a plate prepared himself, bearing bacon, one pancake, and an egg. JC liked to cut oranges into tiny pieces and arrange them atop French toast, so Chris left those two items for their erstwhile companion.

Politely, Alex waited until Chris had poured the syrup over his pancake to give his two cents that, "JC's a catch, you should say something."

"Let's pretend like I've known JC for years and years and you've known him for a few days, okay?"

"Like a game?"

"Alex," Chris warned.

"I was in love with Mulder." Alex cut neatly into his French toast, as though he had commented on how sunny it was outside.

"I know," Chris informed him, and he hadn't exactly, but he'd suspected, "you always fall for the worst people. He would kill you, you know?"

"He wouldn't, he just likes to think he would. Hence the attraction. Reluctant nobility is very sexy."

"Not that I don't appreciate the update on your fantasy life, but why are we talking about this?"

"Object lesson."

Chris pointed his fork at Alex. "Explain."

"We're both from the same place, right? Same circumstances, pretty much. You're raking in the dollars bringing music and happiness and crap merchandising to the world and I'm killing people in the vague hope of saving the world, or something. You're in love with a guy who I swear to you would stick a ring on his finger and settle into non-legally wedded bliss tomorrow if you just fucking said something and I'm pining for a would-be psych ward case who would rather perform invasive neurosurgery to get at information I have than kiss me. Can you blame me for needing to live vicariously here?"

"JC always moves for what he wants." Chris rubbed at his stomach, the whole conversation was making him nauseated. "Trust me, there are no secrets with him, not from us. He's shit at keeping them. Lance made the mistake of coming out to JC first and not one of us has trusted him with something that the others weren't allowed to know about since."

"JC is an oblivious fuck who probably only figures out what he wants three years after attaining it was possible."

Alex had a point. If JC had known he wanted to do a solo album before hiatus the whole process of releasing the album probably would have been going considerably smoother. Then there was the way he always waited until last to order when they went to restaurants and deliberated for a good five minutes when the waiter finally came to him. Not to mention the fact that he had researched every oil paint on the market before making a purchase, as though he was even sure what all the research indicated -- it was his first foray at painting.

Chris was about to speak up when JC came padding into the kitchen, a pair of Molly's old slippers covering his feet and his hair everywhere. He clapped his hands together upon spotting the oranges and French toast, "Beautiful."

Chris watched JC's hands as he cut the orange and agreed wholeheartedly.

*

The problem that JC had decided to focus on, seeing as how there were several and not focusing made him slightly dizzy, was that after eight years of outright pining on Chris's part and probably a good three or four of sublimated pining on his part, something classy and subtle was called for to get this would-be relationship kicking. It wasn't that JC couldn't do classy and subtle, he could.

It was that Chris didn't always understand classy and subtle.

Slightly panicked that he was going to completely screw things up for everyone involved, JC did what he always did in emergency situations. He called Lance. Seeing as how Lance was actually in town this time, he did it from Lance's front porch, "Hey, can I come in?"

Lance opened the door, thumbing off his phone at the same time. "If you curl your fist and hit it against the wooden part of the door, it makes a sound that alerts me to your presence."

JC stepped past him and into the house.

"Okay, what's the emergency?" Lance closed his door and followed JC into the den, where they both sat on the sofa.

"How'd you know?"

Lance looked as though he were about to say something but stopped himself. "Am I wrong?"

JC rubbed at his temples. "I slept with Alex."

"I officially hate you," Lance announced. "Was he good?"

JC glared. "You’re not helping."

"I'm not going to until you answer the question."

"What do you think?"

Lance grinned. "A lot of things, but I'd rather know."

"Wait…seriously?"

"Seriously. I was gonna wait until later in the week to see if I could get Chris to tell me anything about his dating status, but evidently I'm too late."

Lance was trying too hard not to sound disheartened, it always made him sound like he had taken a bit of a helium hit before speaking. JC was glad to correct his assumption, "No, uh uh, he's yours. It was…one of those things."

"There are a lot of types of those things."

"One of those things where you sleep with one of your best friend's really good friends and then they freak out because actually, that best friend is in love with you and has been for years only you didn't know it, which you now feel stupid about because hi, it's been pretty obvious if you think about it, but sometimes those are the things you have a hard time catching, and you haven't known until this person that you slept with told you all this that in fact, every time your probably-more-than-best-friend does something for you it makes you happy all day long and that you worry about him more than you should and well…you're most definitely completely in love with him as well or you wouldn't have given up part of your perfectly lovely hiatus to traipse back to the place you grew up in looking for a friend of his that you didn't even know." JC took a second to catch up on his breathing.

"I can't say as I've ever actually been in that situation," Lance deadpanned.

"Did you know?"

Lance upended his palms. "Which part?"

JC rolled his eyes. "Chris. Me."

"Only recently. Chris would've never gone for the hiatus if you hadn't sided with the other three of us, majority rule be damned. It was you who made him sway, which meant that he chose you over the band."

"Why didn't you mention something?"

"I was working on it," Lance admitted, "but I never seemed to come up with just the right thing to say to make sure that if you weren't keen on the idea the world wouldn't go to shit. You know now, though, and you're good so…why are you here?"

JC tucked his knees up beneath his chin. "You know how most of my exes have been starfuckers?"

"Most?" Lance raised an eyebrow. "C, we love you, but we hate your taste in dating partners."

"It's just. They're easy. Send them some flowers, buy them something nice, let them show up to things on your arm and they stay."

"Chris has already stayed."

"I don’t know how to do this. Saying, 'hey, Alex told me we should get it on' seems a bit abrupt and like something that would probably cause him to hibernate for six months and then pop up only to get scared by his shadow."

"Chris is not a groundhog, JC." Lance paused. "On second thought, I see your point."

"Sending him gifts just seems insulting," JC lamented.

"Have you thought about asking him out on a date?"

As doing so fell directly under the heading of classy and comparatively subtle, JC had, but, "I don't know if he would get it. I mean, we go out together all the time."

"You're gonna have to pick something that he likes to do, and pay," Lance explained.

That made sense, that was how it had worked with the others. The only difference was, with Chris he could probably find something they would both end up enjoying. If not, JC didn't doubt that Chris would make it fun for him regardless. That was an insurmountable difference. JC was pretty sure that if he could make it work, he was going to like this whole being-in-love-with-his-mostly-best-friend thing. "I can so do that."

"I have complete faith," Lance informed him. "That being settled, can we back to important matters?"

JC blinked. "Um?"

"So you won’t care if I make a play for Alex?"

JC fought not to go slightly cross-eyed as an errant image of Lance and Alex getting down to business swam through his head. "What can I do to help?"

*

There was one thing Chris knew without question: if something seemed too good to be true, it was. Not normally or generally or usually, it just was.

JC in low slung jeans and a soft cotton t-shirt announcing that he was, "The Best Part of Waking Up," (okay, so the slogan was probably referring to the steaming cup of coffee underneath it, but Chris wasn't good at differentiating these things), asking, "You wanna go on a date with me? I'll spring for popcorn," was too good to be true. By leaps and twenty mile bounds.

"If this is your way of getting me to go see some movie imported from Peru in a theater where the other viewers are likely to pelt us with their fancy dried fruit if they should find out who we are, then my answer is going to have to be no."

"I don't think the multiplex down the street sells dried fruit," JC mused, "although, I would definitely be willing to fork out for some apricot, think I should put a suggestion in the box? I would totally endorse it for them."

"I'm not sure even you have that much selling power," Chris let him down gently.

"Oh well. I was thinking we could hop online and see if there was anything we both agreed on. There's probably at least one psychological thriller out and last time I checked you were good with those."

"Wait." Chris held up a hand. "When you said, 'you wanna go on a date with me,' was that an actual invitation to explore whether or not we as friends could be something that includes benefits, or was that some new slang term you've recently picked up? Because I kinda thought you were being colloquial, like with the whole 'cats' thing, y'know, being that we're not technically cats."

JC didn't miss a beat. "I meant it in the I-would-like-to-have-dinner-and-a-movie-with-you-which-I-shall-pay-for-to-prove-that-my-intentions-are-true way. Which means, if you're only looking for the nookie kind of benefits in a friends-with-benefits scenario, then you need to say, 'that's sweet, C, but not really what I'm interested in right now.'"

It was tempting, sorely so, to mimic JC and run far far away from the risk being presented. "Dinner, too?"

"I'm even willing to compromise on where we go," JC offered with an obvious sense of his own magnanimity. "No fast food, but other than that, it's your pick."

"Contrary to wildly popular opinion, I know how to date." Despite his avid fantasy life during sexual envoys with Dani, the actual dating part he'd done well. Chris, for all his rough edges, knew what to say to people, how to make them really turn on for him, sexually or otherwise.

"I believe you."

"The barbecue place under the highway? Even there?" Chris challenged.

"Oo! The one where they give you the bibs and let you wipe your hands on the tablecloth?" JC lit up.

Chris smiled uneasily. Way, way too good to be true.

*

JC whispered in Chris's ear, just loud enough to be heard over the movie they were both ignoring, "You taste like pecans."

All in all, JC thought it was a good idea that he'd insisted on topping off their rib-fest with two slices of homemade pecan pie accompanied by the traditional round pat of vanilla ice cream. It made for much better making out.

It was a risk, of course, riding his hand along the inside of Chris's thigh, pressing an insistent palm against the bulge in his jeans, leaning in and taking advantage of the way his mouth just opened right up when he was panting.

There were some risks JC was willing to take.

Admittedly, he was more willing to take it due to them being one of the few people at the week night late showing of a movie that had come out nearly a month before.

Chris asked, "Do you have any idea what the fuck this movie is about?"

"Movie?"

"Right, let's get out of here."

Conveniently, Chris's house was all of seven minutes away if JC went ten miles over the speed limit and caught every green light. He made it in eight. The two of them practically ran to Chris's door, Chris unlocking it in record time. No sooner had the door shut behind them then JC pressed Chris insistently against it, continuing what he had started at the theater. Chris arched up, pressing his lips further into JC's.

Chris' fingers tugged at the hem of JC's t-shirt. JC drew back just long enough to allow for it to be pulled off. Chris's palm slid up the length of JC's sternum and then strayed from its path, fingers caressing and pulling at JC's right nipple.

Kissing Chris felt similar to the way eating a much needed meal often did to JC, as though he hadn't known he was so hungry until he started putting food in his mouth. JC was pretty sure he hadn't ever thought about making out with Chris, but now that he'd started, he wasn't entirely clear on how he'd gone so long without. Chris made tiny sounds that might have been laughter inside his mouth, the hand that wasn't occupied with getting JC primed rested in the small of his back. He was everywhere.

JC wanted more. "What-"

"No," Chris said, moving his mouth to where his fingers had been, wet and warm against JC's suddenly too-sensitive nipple.

JC wasn't sure exactly what Chris's denial had been in response to, any more than he knew precisely what he had been planning on asking. It didn't seem very important.

"C, C," Chris insisted, looking up at him.

"Mm?"

"Do you mind if we…I mean, we can just…" Chris bit his lip. "Been waiting."

JC shook his head a bit. Waiting? Oh. Oh. He took Chris's hand, the one that was already on his back, in his and made it dip lower, into his jean pocket.

Chris fished out the wallet and brought it around to where he could see. He flipped it open and found the condom. "Wanna…bedroom?"

JC laughed at Chris's state of incoherency, knowing all the while that he wasn't doing much better. "Think we'll make it?"

Chris was evidently something of a gentleman, because they did. They even made a side-stop for the lube in Chris's medicine cabinet. "Bottom or top?"

JC kissed him, just a touch of lips, a swipe of tongue. "You're the one whose been waiting."

"I can't decide," Chris admitted.

It was rare, almost unsettling to see Chris unable to make a decision. Chris never faltered, always knew where he was going, and if he didn't, it wasn't the band members who got to see that uncertainty. The show of vulnerability made JC think, yeah, we can do this, made him swipe Chris's top over his head and murmur, "I got it, just let me handle it."

JC undressed the both of them in between kisses, nips, Chris' off-color jokes. He situated Chris below him and went down on him, laughing at Chris's noise of surprise, which only caused Chris to jerk and squirm and plead. JC drew himself up and denied Chris what he wanted, "Nah, not yet."

He felt around, finding the condom and lube up at the pillows. He made a show out of putting it on, secretly pleased by the way Chris flushed fire-engine red and tried to form the words, "Beautiful, you're beautiful."

JC understood what came out as butchered syllables of noise. He reached down and slicked Chris up, loving the warm pull on his fingers, almost overcome by the idea of his cock following them. He waited until after Chris had shouted at him to, "Get the fucking fuck on with it, C!" to sink into him, fast and smooth with careful aim that had Chris screaming.

JC held for a moment once in, his hands clenching Chris' drawn-up thighs, his brain trying to remember how, exactly, to move. The nerves sparked up again with an instinct to thrust and JC did. Up, down, in, out. JC babbled into Chris' neck, "Fuck, man, fuck, yeah, this is, yeah."

JC somehow found the presence of mind to let go of one of Chris' legs and wrap his hand firmly around his cock. He jerked Chris to the same rhythm of his thrusts, not coordinated enough in that moment to try anything else. Chris didn't seem to mind, coming as the tail end of JC's orgasm was still vibrating through him.

When he had calmed, JC rolled out of and off Chris. Chris moaned.

JC suggested. "Shower?"

"You run the water, I'll find us clean sheets." Chris skipped a beat. "You're staying, right?"

"Moron," was the only response with which JC was willing to dignify that question.

*

JC was still there when Chris woke up. Still there, and asleep, and it wasn't all that different from any other morning, excepting the fact that they were both naked. Even the complete invasion of personal space was just, well, normal.

Chris wondered if this was what Alex had been trying to tell him would happen, this ease of being. How Alex might have known such a thing was beyond Chris, as Alex's love life was more a string of unmitigated disasters than anything else. Even so, he evidently had, because JC was naked and practically on top of Chris and Chris was pretty sure they wouldn't be there without some very loud chirping from one not-so-little bird.

Chris peeled himself out from under JC, wrapped himself in a robe and padded downstairs.

He found Lance and Alex speaking quietly at his kitchen table.

"Um…" Chris had yet to glance at a clock. "Morning?"

Lance held out his wrist. The digital monster he wore read 11:43. Close enough. Chris pulled the orange juice out of his refrigerator, a glass from the cleaned, but not yet cleared, dishwasher, and poured himself some juice. "Juice anyone?"

Lance and Alex politely declined.

"So," Chris opened up.

"I let us in."

It wasn't like Lance to state the obvious (since he was the only one of the two with a key, and Chris trusted Alex not to perform any stunts of breaking and entering on his house) unless he was waiting another person out. Two could play at that game. "My mom send you?"

Alex jumped ahead of Lance. "You could've called and oh, mentioned that perhaps you weren't going to be returning later that evening as you had patently suggested that you would be."

"Coming from you!" Chris didn't know whether to laugh or scream. He suspected the end exclamation rested somewhere in the middle.

"I try." Alex's eyes narrowed. "I can't believe you would fucking say that. You have no idea some of the shit I've gone through to let you know I was okay, Kirkpatrick, you supercilious, sissy bitch."

Chris almost took the bait. Years of people calling him names and the ones who could still get him to respond were people who mattered. It was this, the generative fact of his anger, that stopped him. Much of friendship was disposable, but not eighteen years worth of it. "I know, I know Alex. I'm sorry." Knowing that it wasn't really all that easy to get Alex worked up, he chanced, "I'm sorry I worried you."

"You're not forgiven," Alex didn't mean a word of it.

"Okay."

Lance cut in before anything else could go wrong. "C is here, right?"

Chris took a deep breath before turning to look at Lance. "I was thinking about bringing him up breakfast in bed, too sappy?"

"Probably," Lance assessed, "but he'll stay with you for the rest of both y'alls natural lives and possibly then some, depending on your metaphysical and spiritual views."

"I think," Chris bit the inside of his cheek, "I think he might anyway."

"That may be the first time I've ever heard you say anything following the words 'I think' that in some vague way resembled sense." It was a solid Lance compliment.

"I second the gentleman across the table," Alex added.

It would've been nice to have Joey and Justin there to weigh in, but in their absence, those two opinions were more than enough.

*

JC peered out of one eye at the digital alarm clock informing him that he'd slept half the day away. Normally, this would have merely been cause to indulge in a long session of stretching and wake-up yawning, but at the moment it seemed a waste, when he could've been spending the day with Chris.

JC liked it when things were new in that way, when he felt the need to fill every second with them. He knew most people saw it as overkill; Justin and Lance had tried to help him learn moderation but mostly to no avail. Chris generally just left him to himself and let things burn out. Not that that was going to be an option this time.

For better or worse, JC wasn't really worried.

He attempted to roll out of bed, his action more of a controlled fall than anything else. He pulled on the nearest pair of pants and got them around his waist before realizing that he hadn't worn capris out last evening and that, in fact, he was trying to wear Chris' pants. He searched a bit for his, found them under the bed, and stepped into them.

He stole some of Chris's toothpaste and brushed his teeth with a finger, making a mental note to bring some paste of his own, since Chris's brand tasted like a mixture of crap and industrial strength alcohol.

It did the job, though, and when JC made it in to the kitchen he didn't feel at all badly about leaning down to kiss Chris, "'Afternoon," who tasted strongly of orange juice. Not a good combination. JC made a face.

Chris made one back.

JC took the seat next to him. "What are you doing down here by yourself?"

"Lance and Alex just left, I was gonna go climb back in with you shortly."

JC leaned back. "Lance gotten his way there yet?"

Chris widened his eyes. "Way? Lance?"

JC figured (too late, as usual) that was probably something only he was supposed to know. "Um."

"Lance wants Alex?"

Single syllable non-descript answers were often the safest way to go in situations like this. "Um."

"JC."

Not that Chris had ever let him get away with things like that. "His intentions are pure, I swear." For all that Lance had a reputation for sleeping around, and in fact, did, he never slept casually with anyone who mattered. Which, JC could admit, put Lance at a step above him. "This kinda brings up something you should know."

Chris adopted a perfectly blank expression that JC knew was the one he used whenever expecting the worst. "Yeah?"

JC made sure to enunciate, he didn't want to have to say this twice. "Alex and I had sex, and I don't regret it because it made me realize that I've been fucking devoted to you for years if completely ignorant of the fact. But we slept together and I wouldn't want you to suddenly find that out at some point when all it would do is fuck us up because you're for shit at trusting people and I won’t allow you not to trust me."

Chris blinked. "Please tell me it wasn't in my mom's house."

JC pleaded the fifth by way of silence.

"Shit. Fine, you owe me details, Chasez."

JC replayed what had just been said to him in his head. "Details?" Despite knowing Chris and his somewhat complicated, at times bizarre, fantasy life, this outcome had not occurred to JC.

Chris shrugged. "Idle curiosity. I've been friends with him since I was fourteen. Plus, he's hot."

Which reminded JC, "Yeah, you really should've said something about that before I met him, y'know."

"At the time I was overwhelmed by the concern that a renegade government agency was trying to graft hippopotamus genes to his eyeballs or some weird, shouldn't happen but probably does, shit like that. So sorry."

"That's all right," JC reassured him, "I'll be around from now on to make sure you keep track of the important things."

Chris doubled over with laughter. When he came back up for air he gasped, "Man, between the two of us…"

JC couldn't help laughing in return, caught up in the sound of Chris's happiness, "Havoc man, sheer and utter chaos."

JC was up for that.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile