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Gerard recognizes him, and that's not weird, but a little bit, because he was pretty sure the only boyband member he would recognize on sight was Timberlake and only then because of the whole "wardrobe malfunction" thing and whoa did that kid ever not pay his publicist enough. But Gerard does, the letters of his name sliding into place as he watches JC's eyes crinkle in laughter, watches him fold over with it—a surprising lack of grace in a man who made a good chunk of his career out of dancing. Still, Gerard thinks he can see where it might come from. Gerard knows he's nowhere near as enthralling when he doesn't have a microphone in his hands.

He doesn't plan on catching JC's eye. Not really. Gerard is Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance, and he could have a nice wave of solid, darkly beautiful goth girls, a whole ocean of waify, droopy-eyed college boys, but JC Chasez is neither of those things. And maybe he hasn't had a single in years, maybe his boys left him—the thought makes Gerard cringe, gulp at his water for the calming, cooling sensation—but he's still, well. He's still the kind of guy who graces magazine covers, cutting at the cool sheen of them with his perfect cheekbones. So, no, Gerard's got no plans in that direction.

Evidently, JC has them in his, though, because at some point he sidles up, and Gerard thinks, stop looking at his hips, but it's hard with his faded blue jeans hanging from them, one side of his sweater somehow having hitched up to where there's a small slip of skin peeking out.

JC says, "Hey man, you're Gerard Way, yeah?"

Gerard holds out his hand, "JC Chasez, right?"

JC grins like nobody ever knows who he is. His hand is warm and dry and large. "I've had 'Early Sunsets' on repeat."

Gerard blinks. "Oh?" Don't get him wrong, he knows they have a large audience, but he wouldn't have called that. Even if he'd guessed that JC would have been into the rock edge of the scene, he would have pegged him for an "I'm Not Okay," kind of guy.

JC nods. "Yeah. You write lyrics. That's my downfall. I mean, in my head it sounds good, like music, even, but then when it is music..."

Gerard nods. "It's just words."

JC grin broadens, settles into his face, maybe even deeper. "You enjoying yourself?"

Gerard looks around. Bob's having some kind of Serious Drummer Conversation with Samantha Malone, which they will all tattle on him to Spencer about later, as if Bob could get hard with women if he tried. Ray's nowhere to be found, which means he's probably already getting a blowjob in the nearest bathroom. Frank and Mikey have long gone back to the hotel. "It's a nice party," he says carefully.

"I know a tea house," JC says. "I mean, you can get other stuff there, if you're not into that."

"Tea's good," Gerard says.

"Right," JC nods, "It is."

Gerard says, "You bring a car?" because he's pretty sure his is back at the hotel, along with his brother and his all-but-in-law ex.

JC pulls keys from who only knows where—certainly not those pants, there's nowhere for them to have been—and says, "Let's blow this popsicle stand."

Gerard hasn't heard that said since he was fourteen. He can't stop himself from putting a hand on JC's shoulder, a careful, manly pat, just to make sure it doesn't pass straight through. He used to undergo really, really realistic delirious visions, back when he was on drugs. He hasn't had them since, but they're not something he wants to find happening while fully sober. His hand lands on poly-wool blend, though, the peak of JC's shoulder bone burrowing up into his palm. JC's breath hitches just slightly and the bone presses up into his hand, just a bit higher, real as anything else is.

"Lead the way," Gerard says.

*


The thing is, JC knows better than to go home with boys who look at him like maybe he's a little too expensive to match with the outfit they're wearing, but when Gerard Way smiles, every ounce of common sense he's ever fucking accumulated goes out the window. It's deeply annoying, not to mention inconvenient.

Gerard drinks hot bubble tea with a straw and talks in sometimes incomprehensible metaphors and JC knows he's well and truly fucked even before he takes Gerard back to his place and has him complete the actual act. Gerard looks surprised the entire time, and in the morning he's gone before breakfast. JC tells himself that's good decision-making on Gerard's part. He would believe it if he thought there was any sort of decision involved in the situation. Gerard has gone back to his band, that is all.

JC knows the rumors about Gerard, about Frank Iero and their performances that maybe aren't such performances. It is maybe not just his band that Gerard has returned to, but JC doesn't think so. Gerard doesn't strike him as the cheating type.

JC plans to stay the hell away from him. Gerard Way is trouble, trouble with a capital T. JC's plans almost always go to shit, and he is generally to blame. It's an unfortunate fact of his life, but one he has largely become accustomed to. Hence, it's hard to be all that surprised when he goes back to Gerard's hotel room with him after some random industry shindig. Gerard is clearly more surprised than JC.

Gerard says, before leaving, "I've gotta tell my guys," and JC nods, because he gets that. He watches, though, watches as Gerard whispers in Iero's ear, as both Iero's and Gerard's brother's eyes track the crowd for him. Mikey smiles. Iero does too, but it's a beat later and JC thinks, ah, and fuck. Mikey says something to Iero, pulls his gaze away and JC thinks, double fuck because it's one thing to be in fruitless competition with an ex-lover, but an ex-lover who might very well be with his once lover's younger brother?

JC is so royally screwed.

The smart thing to do is come up with some excuse, some music emergency. There really aren't music emergencies. And JC isn't in the mood to lie. He's in the mood to be touched by Gerard Way. Now just to get himself out of that mood.

*


By the third time, JC has pretty much given up kidding himself that he's not going to be a huge idiot about this situation. He wouldn't even go to the damn MTV event except that he knows there's a solid chance Gerard will. JC might be oblivious a lot of the time, but he knows how to read a road sign when it's posted right in front of his eyes.

To add insult to injury, they go to fucking Starbucks afterward and JC doesn't even raise any objection, just orders a chai latte, all milk, and gets bitchy about VJs with Gerard. Gerard hides surprisingly sharp edges with all of his emo, which seems like it should be paradoxical, but it isn't.

When they get back to the hotel, Gerard kisses him. It tastes like Starbuck's scorched-earth coffee and JC considers trying their blends again, it's so fucking good. Since he isn't kidding himself that he's not going to get his heart broken anymore, he writes three-fourths of the song that he's been trying to forget while he's on the plane back to LA. He also texts Gerard once he lands, a simple, "Blue skies, smiling at me."

Gerard responds, "Not here."

"Aw. Weather getting you down?"

"No. Like sleeping on bus while raining."

JC wonders if Gerard's ellipsed style of texting is closer or further away from the way his thoughts actually work. "You think in pictures or words?"

"Combination, you?"

"Words. Chords, a lot."

"That too."

Gerard is probably too smart for his own good. He's definitely too smart for JC. "Home now. Later."

Hours afterward, when he has unpacked and grocery shopped and gone through all the minutiae of returning home, he finds Gerard's response. "How much later?"

*


It's Mikey who sees the email over his shoulder. If it had been Frank, he could have explained it, hushed it up, but it is Mikey, who is his younger brother and therefore, by definition, bound and required to be the largest pain in his ass possible. Were he feeling fair to Mikey, Gerard could most likely admit that Mikey's, "You exchanged email addresses?" is far more curious with a touch of the concerned than mocking, but he is not feeling fair to Mikey.

"With who?" Ray asks, eyes never once coming away from the videogame death match he has going on with Frank. This prompts Bob to come and look over his shoulder and from there, it's all over.

Bob asks, "You sure that's a good idea, man?"

"Who?" Ray repeats, and Gerard can see the way his shoulders have come off the couch now. He's itching to come look for himself. Gerard tabs out of the screen, for all the good it will do him now. Frank, ostensibly, is still concerned wholly with whupping Ray's ass.

Mikey is surprisingly quiet, given the obvious chance to stir things up and Gerard glances at him. Mikey tilts his head and says, "You just didn't say."

"It's not really your business," Gerard says, even though that's a lie. He and JC haven't seen each outside of events, not yet, but the PR risks of those incidental meetups alone make it the band's business. Then there's the fact that Mikey is more than the band, which is a hard thing to say but there it is, he is, and yeah, maybe Gerard should have said, "We email. All the time. Like, I've begun having an addiction to my Sidekick, which before mostly just annoyed me."

Frank calls him on the lie by laughing, but he still doesn't look over from the game. Gerard thinks he's leaving Mikey to do as he will, since Mikey will allow Frank to take the lead if he so much as hints that he wants it. Mikey frowns a bit. "He's not really your type, not usually."

Gerard doesn't say, "JC is everybody's type, even the ones that won't admit it," or, "He's the type that just never looked at me before." If it were just him and Mikey, maybe. Nor does he say, "They're just emails," because they're not and he's not really interested in lying to the band, except possibly by omission. Even then, he hates doing it.

He says, "He thinks marshmallows are creepy, too. Particularly the Easter colored ones." Once he's said it aloud, that sounds like a sort of lame reason to be thinking about dating someone as risky as JC.

But Mikey just blinks. "Wow. What was the likelihood? I mean, Peeps, sure, everyone thinks Peeps are creepy—"

"I don't," Frank and Ray both say.

"No, but you should," Bob tells them gently. Mikey nods in approbation. Gerard can't be part of this conversation. Peeps are the devil.

"Anyway, my point was—"

Before Mikey can get to his point, because that seems sort of final, Gerard rushes to get in, "He's also scared of needles. So we would know to avoid a lot of the same shit. And he—"

Mikey's expression is expectant.

"He gets that he'll never be you guys. And I get that I'll never be his. Guys."

Mikey nods slowly at that. "Yeah, okay. Well, you should, um, say hi. Next time you email."

"I should?"

Mikey shrugs. "If you wanted."

Frank makes a noise that Gerard knows is agreement, even if it mostly just sounds like he wants to strangle Ray with his own hair. There are certain things that Gerard wants far, far too much to ask for. He keys up the Sidekick. There are salutations to relay.

*


The fourth time JC is ready to just give over, just smile back when Gerard smiles at him, just pretend for the short while Gerard's evidently going to grant him that Gerard could be his. He is already Gerard's.

He tells Joey after the fourth time because Joey won't judge, nor will he tattle. Joey asks, "You sure he's not—"

"He's all about Iero," JC says, but cuts it off at that, because thinking about it is ruining the buzz he's had for three days running off the feel of having Gerard's tongue on his cock, watching Gerard look up at him, all fucking eyes.

Joey says, "Well. Okay. Just—"

"Yeah," JC says. "I'm happy right now."

He holds onto the happy for all he's worth when Gerard actually comes up to him the fifth time. It's a hesitant approach, but JC doesn't think that has to do with the people between them, he thinks that has to do with the fact that Gerard hasn't figured out JC's a sure thing. For a really, really smart guy, Gerard misses the boat so hard sometimes JC has to wonder if his swimming skills are pretty awesome.

He takes JC back to his hotel and undresses him real slow and when he's tucked tight against JC's back, fucking him hard and sweet, he says, "Come for me, pretty," and JC comes more from the endearment than the command. Gerard likes pretty things. JC knows. He's seen Frank. It's a start.

He tells Chris after the fifth time, because Chris is good at getting what he wants, at formulating plans. Chris says, "He calls you pretty?"

"Well, just that once."

Chris is silent for a bit. "You're sure he makes you happy?"

"Is that one of those things I've ever been wrong about?"

They could both wish he was at times, but JC has always known what is good for him, even when he would prefer it be any other way. There's a reason JC hasn't called Lance in two months. Lance knows him too fucking well for JC to even lie by omission.

"You gotta stop holding back, Jace."

"I'm not—"

"You always do. If it's not us, you always do. And he can't see you if you're only giving him the parts that reflect in the mirror."

"If I do that—"

"I know. But you say you know this is what you want. And you called me, so I don't think you're lying."

JC sighs. The problem with Chris is that when he's right, he's always right. "Fuck."

"Keep me on speed-dial."

Like JC doesn't already.

*


Gerard knows JC's going to be at the Charleston show; he comped him the tickets. He doesn't know that he's bringing Joey Fatone. He wonders if JC paid for the second ticket, or if he knows people at the record company. It's something JC would do, pluck down the forty dollars as a bizarre grand gesture, despite the fact that forty dollars is pocket change to both of them. It's the thought, Gerard knows.

For the moment, however, there are more immediate concerns than how JC garnered the ticket. Like the fact that Joey Fatone is shaking his hand and saying, "Hey, good set," and Gerard is looking at JC, feeling a bit betrayed because nobody told him they were at the part where they started meeting each other's families. Gerard is actually pretty sure they're still in the series-of-unconnected sexual encounters part, with emails on the side.

JC presses a kiss to his cheek, breezy and familiar, so casual that even if there are cameras, there won't be pictures, because Gerard has already done worse on stage for everyone to see. "Hey, he wanted to come. He likes the album."

Feeling a bit vindictive—he'll regret it later, he knows, whether because his guys give him hell for it or because JC decides it's too much, one way or another, he will want to go back and redo this whole evening—he says, "You guys should meet the others."

Joey smiles a wide, bright, easy-going smile. "I gotta talk to your drummer. He's got some serious rhythm."

"Yeah, Bob's the best." He is, and not just for his rhythm, but Gerard still feels stupid stating the obviously obvious. Gerard introduces them around and for a moment there's this horrid pause of expectation and then Frank clasps JC's hand and smiles that utterly real smile and says, "Nice that you could finally catch up with us."

JC nods. "That part I don't miss."

Mikey smiles, a little, as much as he ever does around strangers. It's tacit approval, and Gerard understands. Bob and Ray, for their part, take Joey off his hands, so that he can have them full of JC, who doesn't quibble about climbing on a bus, about groping in the dark of the bunks. Instead, when Gerard is in him and he is nothing but long lines of cream and processed sugar—the kind Gerard usually effaces, but cannot seem to resist in this instance—JC says, "Joey likes you."

Gerard bites his lip to try and concentrate but he can't, not until later, not until they're lying in a puddle of themselves, wet and undone. Only then can he say, "He seems like the kind of guy who likes everyone."

"Everyone but my boyfriends," JC tells him seriously.

Gerard thinks about Ray, who gets along with just about anything that breathes until it steps foot into the space reserved for the band and says, "Yeah, okay."

It's another few seconds before he has the presence of mind to ask, "Boyfriend?"

"I'd kinda like that, but I'll get it if you're— I mean, this is like, the height, the best part, and I could see not really being interested in someone who's only maybe gonna have a next album and it's a risk and I'm sure the others aren't terribly—"

Gerard cuts him off with a kiss and when he pulls back he has to turn away, because he can feel a particularly stupid grin settling into his cheeks. JC takes his chin, doesn't allow him the escape. JC's grin is maybe even sillier. "Yes?"

Gerard buries his face in JC's chest.

*


The seventh time it's a little easier to remember who he is, to let Gerard see that person, even if Gerard isn't looking. It always gets easier with practice. Sometimes when JC first shows up at his parents' place they have to spend a day drawing him out, but after that he can usually be there, no problem.

Gerard finds JC this time, which is helpful. He was just on his way over, too, but it's nice being the one approached. Gerard doesn't have any of his bandmates with him and JC asks, "Everybody know where you are?"

"Evidently they trust you with me," Gerard says dryly. JC will have to find a way to thank them later. Trust is no small thing. And Gerard is their leader.

They stop at a McDonald's drive-through because Gerard wants coffee and it's the closest thing they find. JC gets a McFlurry and promises to brush his teeth before he kisses Gerard. Gerard laughs. JC does too. He's not even amused at himself, just happy to be there, and laughter is contagious for JC.

"How's the recording going?" Gerard asks. They email all the time, text even more. Gerard knows how the recording is going, but JC thinks it's a nice thing to ask. It shows the way he pays attention, even if it's not the same way JC does.

"I'm a little bit stuck, but I've got people helping me to get unstuck."

"Where's the sticking happening?"

"There's a bridge problem on one of the songs."

"Bridge problem?"

"Doesn't fit right. Actually doesn't get me from one end to the other."

"Huh."

JC smiles. "It happens. Doesn't it happen with you?"

"Not normally that way."

"Course not," JC says. "Things like that are for mere mortal musicians."

Gerard parks the car and sips at the last of his coffee. "There are other problems, trust me."

"I do," JC says, and means it in a larger sense. Even if Gerard hurts him—and he probably will—he won't mean to.

Gerard looks over at him. The look goes on long enough that JC asks, "Something on your mind?"

"This is the seventh time we've done this."

JC knows. He's surprised Gerard does.

"That's longer than most of my relationships have lasted."

Most of JC's too, actually. And he's had quite a few. "Not Iero."

"No, not Frank," Gerard says softly.

JC holds his breath.

"I didn't expect this."

You're telling me.

"I didn't expect you."

That's something different, JC knows, he's just not sure how it's different.

"I shouldn't take you inside."

No, Gerard really, really shouldn't. JC couldn't possibly care less. "Please do."

*


Gerard can't stop talking when they catch up next. The critical response to the album has been positive in a way that JC had hoped for but not really expected and Gerard clearly hadn't been able to even hope for. Gerard is an odd contradiction of hope for others and desire for hope for himself. It makes JC want to kiss him. Then again, everything makes JC want to kiss him. Gerard is quoting the New York Times Review to him. JC recognizes the quote; he's read the review. He's read every review he could find for it. He might have even established a super anonymous blog to respond to some of the stuff being posted online, but he's not talking about that, not even with Joey. Not even with Lance, whom he finally told, mostly because Joey said, "C, he thinks you're mad at him."

JC called him and asked, "What would I be mad about?"

Lance said, "Are you seriously going to act like your reactions are always rational?"

So JC told him and Lance said, "Tell me he at least knows what he's got," and JC lied through his teeth, "Oh yeah." He should feel guilty about it, but just now, watching the way Gerard is all but twirling where he stands, watching his somehow perfectly imperfect teeth flash, watching him live this moment so hard, JC can't. Gerard flings himself forward, kisses JC. JC has missed what the catalyst was but it doesn't matter, it never does with Gerard's mouth on his. Gerard pulls back enough to grin at JC, to say, "You can tell me 'I told you so.'"

"Sometimes I like being right," JC admits. It's nice, because most of the time he hates it.

"You believed," Gerard says, still smiling at JC like he's the only thing Gerard can see and he has to stop that because it makes it hard for JC to think.

"I did. I do."

"You believed," Gerard repeats more softly. "And you stayed right where you were."

"Gee?"

"I just— I just realized."

"I don't—"

"We've been doing this, doing this and doing this, and eight times now and I never noticed how you were always there when I looked."

JC's insides clench. It's not that he hasn't wanted to be noticed, he has, but now that Gerard has noticed, now he has to make a decision, and that, that is worrisome.

"You didn't say anything," Gerard says.

JC isn't sure there was anything to say. There still doesn't seem to be much. Except, maybe, "You kept looking."

"Fuck," Gerard says softly, and kisses JC again, slow and apologetic. "Next time, pinch me."

JC's never found pain to be an efficacious way of getting what he wants.

*


Sometimes, JC will sing to him. Gerard always expects it to be one of JC's songs—he downloaded the album, so he would know—or one of NSYNC's; he thinks he would recognize them. He has, once or twice, listened to the radio in his lifetime. At the very least, JC could do one of MCR's.

It never is, though. It's always something random, the latest Mary J. Blige, a Beatles standard, German art songs that JC learned as a kid at singing lessons, Billy Joel. JC has a nice voice in the most conventional sense of nice voices. It is well-modulated and clean and he hits all his notes right. Gerard has never liked that kind of voice before. And for all that he knows the way JC's tongue feels on the backs of his knees, the way the brush of JC's hair against the hollow of his neck is beguilingly soft, the way JC's eyes settling on him is unaccountably comfortable, for that knowledge, he still doesn't wholly understand why JC's voice doesn't bore him. But it doesn't.

It doesn't, and when they meet up in LA—JC's out there talking to studios about another album—the fact that JC doesn't sing, not in the shower, burbling into Gerard's ear, not in a sort of hummy way while they're both trying to get to sleep, not as he putters around, organizing his suitcase, gets to Gerard, distracts him, makes him feel...bereft? Maybe. That seems melodramatic. But then, he's Gerard Way, he's allowed. He curls up around JC on their second and last night together and says, "Hey, sing for me?"

JC kisses his eyebrow, a lazy, tender action that Gerard doesn't think he would accept from anybody but JC or his boys. "Sure thing, cat. Whatcha wanna hear?"

"You choose," Gerard says.

"One of yours?"

Gerard has just played two nights in a row, so he says, "If it is, not one of the ones in the show."

Gerard can feel JC's smile against his forehead. "How 'bout this," he says, and launches into some Etta James.

It's good, slow and melancholy and the right sort of thing to lull a boy to sleep except that JC misses a note, just plain misses it, and Gerard doesn't enjoy it as much as he always thought he would. He says, "JC. Jace."

"Sorry," JC says. "Tired, y'know?"

There's tired and then there's tired, and Gerard knows which one this is. "Studio being mean to you?"

JC shakes his head. "Nah. I mean, they're doing what studios do, but it'll be fine. If I have to go indie, I'll go indie. It's not like I haven't got the cash."

"Hey," Gerard says softly, unsurely. "You wanna pretend like I'm your boyfriend and you can tell me things?"

"I wasn't sure you wanted to pretend," JC says, emphasizing the last word. "And it's...betrayal. To talk to you. To talk to anyone except the others."

Gerard knows then, knows without having to be told. "Which one?" But he thinks he knows that, too.

"Justin. He was supposed to be here. We made plans. I was gonna have him meet you. He was maybe gonna sit in on some of the talks. He's good at talks. He's, you know. Justin. Timberlake."

Gerard wonders if Mikey ever says his name like that, filled with love and exasperation and about a million things between the two.

"But, y'know, something better came up. And he asked, it wasn't like he didn't, except that, what am I gonna say? No?" JC shakes his head.

Gerard's chest hurts. Sympathy pangs. "Nothing's better."

JC laughs, a small, wet, sick sounding laugh. "I hope that's true for you. I hope—" JC breaths for a bit, loud in the dark, hot and troubled against Gerard's skin. He sings then, and Gerard can hear the absolute, near-bizarre perfection of it. He doesn't recognize the song.

He asks Mikey later, because it sounded pop-like, slow and sad and like it was missing parts, but pop-like, and Mikey went through a pop phase in his late teens, when it was too late to do him any good on the popularity front. He is still slightly bitter about this, but all the same he answers Gerard's question. He answers it with, "Um, are you serious?"

"Pretty serious, yeah," Gerard says.

Mikey sends him the MP3. “I Thought She Knew.” It's one of NSYNC's. Gerard listens, and he can hear all five voices without even trying.

*


They don't run in the same circles, but the same circles run them at times, so Gerard knows it's only a matter of time before he meets up with Timberlake. It happens at an MTV function that Frank explains to Gerard, yes, they really do have to attend, because sometimes publicity is a person's friend. Gerard waits until Timberlake is standing alone—no common occurrence—and then approaches him with his politest smile. The one he knows is not sweet. He says, "I'm Gerard Way, and you're an asshole."

Timberlake takes a step back, but Gerard notices that his mildly pleasant smile never falters either. "I know who you are, and have we even met?"

Gerard knows that he shouldn't be doing this, that if JC did the reverse to one of his—even given the extent of the crime committed—he would rip JC apart with his teeth. But of late, Gerard has been thinking that he might put JC back together, afterwards, and acknowledge that his intentions were pure. So here he is. "No, but we were supposed to."

Timberlake thinks about that. "When?"

"Almost two months ago. LA."

It takes less than a second for Timberlake to connect the dots, which is sort of impressive, and Gerard thinks there might be more to the kid than anything up to now has suggested. Timberlake says, softly, “You're the guy who's been making JC flutter?"

Irrationally, Gerard replies in an equally soft, much harder voice, "JC does not flutter."

Timberlake smiles at that, really smiles, which annoys the ever-loving crap out of Gerard. "He does, man, especially when he's happy."

He does, and Gerard knows it, and having a fight with somebody's bandmate—even ex—about their habits is tantamount to stupidity, or something worse, so he says, "Well he wasn't that weekend."

"I know," Timberlake says, and the smile is gone. "I know, I was a shit. I mean, I really did need to get to New York that weekend, but I should have, y'know, figured something out."

Gerard knows he shouldn't ask, that it's almost like asking how much money Timberlake scored for his last album, or who his last blowjob came from, probably worse, but he can't stop himself. "How could you just— How can something like that be over?"

Timberlake says, "Jesus. Get a drink with me, yeah?"

"I'm clean," Gerard tells him. He's not used to having to remind people.

"Coke, then. Or orange juice. But I need something."

"If you need it—"

"Not like that. Just. You asked the fucking question, Way. You have to know."

So Gerard follows him to the bar. Ray catches his eye on the way there and there's curiosity in his gaze, but he leaves well enough alone. Timberlake orders a Jack and Coke, muttering something about Lance. Gerard gets water. Timberlake says, "It's not fucking over. Even when we say it like that, even when Lance gets to come out—which he never would have done, you know—and Joey gets to spend some time with his kid and I get to be Justin Timberlake without all the other letters, and everybody but me and the other guys act like it sounds better, even then we all know, okay? And sometimes I blow Jace or Joey or Chris off because I can't deal with remembering that in their presence. I didn't think...

"And there are ways to go back, but only so far. Besides. That era is done. All you have to do to be able to tell is look at the magazine racks."

Gerard doesn't. He doesn't like seeing himself like that, not even surrounded by the others. Because Timberlake has given him too much information and he would really like to continue to be pissed off at him, he asks, "Not Bass?"

"Huh?" Timberlake says, which is sort of gratifying.

"You said you blow the others off. You didn't list him."

"Lance doesn't give me the chance. He either shows up where he knows I'll be, or he doesn't ask. He holds on to anger harder than the others, and I mostly deserve it, so I let him have it. He has to forgive me at some point."

Gerard doesn't ask why. He knows Timberlake is right. "Don't do it again," Gerard says, and it's not even a warning, not exactly a plea, something like a statement of mutual understanding. "He couldn't sing."

Timberlake runs a hand over his face. "Jace. Jacejacejace."

Gerard is annoyed to find himself in agreement. "And when he introduces us—"

"We haven't met. Yeah. I do know him, man. That's why I have the ability to be such an asshole. Which, way to call it."

"You're not charming."

"I am, you're just not easily charmed. Also, possibly one of those people who falls under what we like to call the J dash C split, and so, since you're clearly charmed by C, my charms will be wholly invisible to you."

They're not, but Gerard's not about to tell the kid that.

"You really do make him flutter, though. And one of these days, when I have the higher ground, I'm going to remind you that if you hurt him, well." Timberlake shrugs.

Gerard thinks he would know exactly how to revenge JC. The thought makes him shudder.

"Just. He cares hard and has a tendency to believe that other people are more special and talented than he is and he's just lucky to catch their eye, and it's not that he can't hold his own, because he really, really can, but it does make it easy to take him apart and not even realize you're doing it."

It's one of the best descriptions Gerard knows he's ever going to hear of JC. Despite the fact that he has no reason to trust Timberlake, he says, "I think we probably have a lot in common."

It's the right thing to say, since the next drink Timberlake orders is a Coke, straight, and when he wanders off, his shoulders have loosened back to their come-hither stance. Across the room, Frank raises an eyebrow. Gerard mouths, "Later, fucker."

Minutes later, Mikey finds him and says, "Don't call my boyfriend names."

Gerard laughs.

*


JC is goofy and sweet enough that often Gerard is able to look over and think, boyfriend without hesitation, or much concern. But there are times, like those when JC's on his knees, his nose pressed to Gerard's pubis, throat cradling Gerard's cock, hands long and steady and perfect on Gerard's thighs, that he is so exquisite Gerard can't stop the what did I do to deserve this? that creeps into his mind. It is one of these times when Gerard purrs, "Jesus, you fucking gorgeous slut," and he means it as the purest term of awe and adoration. JC slips from his cock, and—with a surprising efficiency of movement for a man who usually walks like he's about to dance—runs to the bathroom to puke. The sound alone is enough to kill Gerard's erection. He lopes to the bathroom, uncertain of his welcome but unwilling to leave JC by himself.

JC is mostly done when Gerard passes over the threshold. Gerard waits, and pulls him back from the toilet, propping him against the wall in order to flush. He fills one of the cups by the sink with water and repositions JC over the toilet before bringing the cup to his lips. "Rinse, Jace."

JC is malleable, following the direction, letting Gerard get him up on his feet, into the shower. Gerard performs considerably more than the necessary shower rites, shampooing JC's hair, conditioning it, soaping him down. When he's finished, the shakiness that accompanied the sickness is mostly gone. Gerard wraps him in a towel and hands him his toothbrush and brushes his teeth next to JC, mostly because it seems like the thing to do. He herds them both into the bed and says, "You wanna maybe tell me about that?"

"Like you're ever going to want to put your cock near my mouth again, either way," JC says.

"Hey," Gerard says, and puts his hand to JC's cheek and makes JC look at him. "Hey."

JC blinks and his eyes are wet, but there's nothing on his cheeks. "Look, you just can't be calling me names when I'm, y'know."

"Giving head."

"Or taking it up the ass."

Gerard blinks. JC is sometimes dirty, but he is, as a rule, never crude. He asks, "Did someone hurt you?" and knows he sounds cold and psychotic and like somebody he would write about in a song, but he can't help it. "Did they rape you?"

"No. It's not— It's nothing like that."

Gerard takes a breath. Then two. "What's it like?"

"Gerard—"

"What's it like, Joshua?"

JC looks at him. "I didn't know you knew my name."

"I am well-versed at the internet. Don't change the subject."

"Could you not be touching me while I tell you this?"

Gerard thinks about it. "Would that make you feel better?"

"Yes," JC says quickly. Gerard has learned to know that when JC doesn't have to think about something, it's a lie. He doesn't move his hands. JC sighs, "You're an asshole."

"Yes. But you're not a slut. So who made you think you were one?"

"It's not some big story, okay? I spent a year in LA after high school, looking to get into the business. I had a 40 hour thing at a restaurant, but living on tips doesn't get you far in that kind of a city, and I was auditioning, so there was no time for a second job and eventually I was hungry enough that I took some guy up on an offer of cash for a blowjob. I was pretty awkward looking back then and there wasn't NSYNC yet, so celebrity wasn't fueling anything, but guys liked my lips, sometimes my ass, and I could charge more for that, and I really fucking wanted to sing so I just. Y'know.

"But it got to the point... Well, I called my parents and asked them for the money to get home and promised I'd pay them back and I did, even before NSYNC, I did. So it was fine. Just one of those things that you do when you're young and really fucking stupid."

Gerard caressed his thumb along the crest of JC's cheek. "You said nobody raped you."

"I took the money."

"Yeah, that says consent to me."

"I'm clean, I swear. I didn't tell you you were sleeping with a whore, but I would have told you if—"

"You. Are. Not. A. Whore." For a second, Gerard can't see. There's too much built up rage behind his eyes.

"Right now it's just to the record labels—"

Gerard kisses him, kisses him so hard that his lips grind into his teeth and it hurts and it probably hurts for JC, too, but he can't pull back. When he manages he says, "I wish you'd told me, but not for all the reasons you think. Words are so— I was trying to tell you how hot you were, how fucking brilliant you were, how much I— I wouldn't have used that name. I would have worked harder."

"I don't want you to have to work at all for me," JC tells him, sounding tired, but less wary.

JC is worth it, but there's no way to tell him that that he'll believe just now, and Gerard knows it. "No more names."

JC brings his hand up, curls it over Gerard's. "I like 'starshine.'"

Gerard's lips quirk. That one had been an accident. He'd woken up one morning with JC next to him—he'd hitched a ride with them from one show to the next—and the words, "'Morning, Starshine," had literally fallen from his lips. JC had stretched in that way that made Gerard wonder if he was going to take over the whole bus with his ever-extending limbs, and smiled and hummed the song.

The guys—who never say a damned thing in JC's presence—haven't stopped ragging him about it since. But JC lights up every time Gerard uses it, so he does. He whispers it upon greeting, or murmurs it during sex or sometimes just says it in the middle of conversations, just to watch. "Okay," Gerard says, "we can keep that one."

"Sorry I killed the mood."

Gerard's pretty sure he's the one who did that, but he just presses his forehead to JC's and says, "Another one will come along, I'm pretty sure."

"Yeah," JC says, even as he yawns. "That's a safe bet."

*


Although Gerard knows better, he thinks of Joey as the easy one and Timberlake as the mildly retarded but fairly well meaning one. When he meets Chris, it's hard to come up with a moniker, because Chris is, well, their Gerard of sorts. Chris shakes his hand and says, "I actually bought your latest album. With money." He smiles calmly, but Gerard watches the shift of his eyes and he knows that if he makes a wrong move, Chris will be the one to kill him.

They go out to dinner, the three of them, someplace swanky that JC has chosen, because neither Gerard nor Chris would think to, someplace where they can hide adequately and in the middle of the meal JC gets up to use the restroom—he calls it the powder room, and Gerard almost follows him, blows him in one of the stalls—and Chris says, "He told you about LA."

Gerard wonders if he looks at JC differently. He hopes not. "I said something I shouldn't have."

There's a pause before Chris admits, "That can happen with him."

"How did you—"

"He said. Sort of. I asked him what it was about you and he said you didn't want him to be someone else, which usually means somebody doesn't want him to be Jup, and that's, y'know, pretty fucked up, but when he said it this time he didn't mean that."

Gerard doesn't ask how Chris knows. If Mikey told Gerard something like that, if Ray or Frank or Bob did, he would hear the same differences. He says, "I would be fucking stupid. To want that. And I'm not."

"That's yet to be determined, but so far you're making a decent showing."

Gerard takes a second to decide whether to snarl or laugh. Chris waits him out, so he laughs. Then he sobers and asks, "Timberlake, really? When they had Jace?”

"I love J, hand to G-d, but I really don't know what the hell people are thinking most of the time."

Gerard knows that people have taken Mikey—long, talented, quiet, perfectly-fractured Mikey—and pretended to have him. It's not something they talk about, ever. Gerard can't apologize for it, there's nothing to say, so he won't. And Mikey seems to expect, accept it. Gerard thinks Frank has made him a little bit angrier, a little bit more...demanding, and Gerard would love Frank for that, even if there was nothing else. "Yeah."

"Take care of him, Way."

"Could you call me Gerard?" he asks, because there are two Ways present for this conversation, at least in Gerard's head and he wants Chris to be speaking to him.

"Gerard. Don't fuck this up." It's said softly, not like a threat, like a request. Gerard knows how quickly it could become the former.

"Best of intentions," Gerard says, a bit glumly.

Chris grins then. "Oh yeah, you two are fucking meant for each other."

JC slides back into his seat. "What'd I miss?"

"The vetting," Gerard tells him.

"Oh good, that's always uncomfortable anyway."

Chris ruffles JC's hair and JC ducks away, but not so far that Chris can't continue to touch him.

*


It is, Gerard thinks, what Lemony Snicket would call an Unfortunate Series of Events. One that he pretty much trips. Well, all right, not completely. Gerard can sort of include Frank in the blame. And JC. Although that last is only pretty much just for existing, which maybe isn't entirely fair.

It starts like this: JC drops in on the DC show. They have a free night the day before, so it's a good time for him to come around. DC is where JC grew up, so he says, "C'mon, I'll show you around," and he means all of them. He takes them to an organic restaurant that's evidently some kind of institution and walks around with them a bit and then they head back to the hotel. They should sleep, but their patterns are off—eternally off—from the travel and the playing and getting all mixed up in each other's schedules. Mikey proposes a game of Risk, to which JC brashly and casually responds, "I can so take you."

Gerard is sort of turned on by his boyfriend's bravado when he's not busy thinking it's kind of cute. As it turns out, though, JC's a tactical little fucker, and has evidently learned how to play dirty. Gerard thinks, "Way to go, Kirkpatrick," because JC didn't pick that up on his own. Three-quarters into the way of total domination, JC takes Germany and Frank gasps, "You complete whore."

If he looked over, Gerard would have seen JC beginning to laugh. He doesn't. He snaps, "Don't call him that."

Frank looks at him, bewildered; Mikey's hands pause with the dice; Bob glances up—faintly puzzled—from the magazine he's reading. Ray is in his own room, which is the only saving grace. Gerard loves Ray.

JC's, "It's okay, Gigi," is soft and seems to take a long time to come, despite the fact that Gerard knows it's immediate, as is his, "Shit," at Mikey's clearly unstoppable, " Gigi?"

JC is a fervent swearer. Gerard generally finds it kind of hot. He's currently distracted. Frank has a hand over Mikey's mouth, which Mikey isn't doing a damn thing to move. JC puts his hands over his face. "Can we please pretend that I didn't say that? Because I'm going to have to cry if Gerard breaks up with me."

JC sounds kind of serious, both about the crying thing and the breaking up thing. Gerard wonders if maybe he should tell him that it would take more than a little unintentional humiliation, especially considering that Gerard started the unintentional humiliation, and if JC had just been trying to get his own back on, he really probably would have deserved it.

"Hey," Frank touches a hand to JC's wrist, "Hey, don't cry. He's not gonna break up with you."

Frank looks expectantly at Gerard. Oh, right. "I'm totally not."

"And I won't call you dirty names anymore, since that's evidently a thing for him."

Mikey is looking at Gerard. Gerard has maybe called Mikey a whore from time to time, mockingly. Gerard has maybe let Mikey call Frank a whore before. While Gerard and Frank were together. Bob has his eyes narrowed as well, but at least he's staying quiet. JC comes out from behind his hands, eyes dry but a little bit wan. He looks at Frank. "He's protective of me."

Frank nods.

"It makes me feel safe," JC says, with casual intent that catches at Gerard's breath. Because JC doesn't really need his protection, or at least, not at the level of insistence with which Gerard lends it to him. Gerard is not unaware of this fact. JC is actually older than him, and has survived at least as much. He has survived the dissolution of his band with his sanity intact. Gerard has reason to question if he will be able to say the same of himself when the time comes. And maybe it's the fact that he has survived all of that, which makes Gerard defend and protect with such vigor. Mostly, Gerard knows, it's just the way he's built.

That JC doesn't need it, really doesn't, but that he allows it, that he enjoys it... Yeah, Gerard really isn't breaking up with him over the Gigi thing, not even if he has to shoot all of his band members to get them to shut up. He can aim for non-fatal spots.

Frank looks at Gerard when he says, "Good,” and puts JC's pieces on France. "So, you gonna finish this thing?"

JC cocks an eyebrow and says, as coolly as he can manage, "I started it, didn't I?"

*


Before he leaves, JC tucks Gerard's hair behind his ear—not that there's much hair to be tucked—and says, "Talk to your brother. Because Frank is gonna beat the crap out of you if you don't, and I might have to sympathize with him."

Gerard looks away. "You shouldn't talk about things you don't know about."

"I don't," JC says and pulls Gerard's face back for a kiss. Gerard kisses in return, because it's true, JC doesn't.

He finds Mikey and Frank in the kitchen area, laughing at something, and Frank walks away as though Gerard has asked if he can talk to Mikey, when in fact he's barely set foot into the space. Frank brushes him as he ambles past, fingers wafting over Gerard's stomach. Both Gerard and Mikey are silent for a long moment until Mikey asks, "You want some coffee?"

Gerard nods. Mikey grabs the bag from the freezer, dumps a teaspoon more than necessary into the filter and sets the beans to percolating. Just the smell makes things a little bit easier and Gerard says, "If it had been bitch or twat or cunt or any of those things, I wouldn't have even thought about it."

"You did, though." Mikey leans against the counter, his hands looking like they're holding him up, but Gerard knows better. Of late Mikey's been fine on his own two feet—Frank's, in a pinch.

"He used to—" Gerard looks past Mikey, out the window. "See, he told me to talk to you, which I take to mean that I can tell you his secrets, but he didn't exactly say that and it's not that you aren't the person I would tell if I told someone because who else would there be, but it's just his secret, is all."

Mikey takes all of this in with a long, slow blink. He turns to grab a couple of mugs from the cabinet. "He used to...sell sexual favors?"

Gerard nods, tight and economical.

"Boybands are fucked up," Mikey says over the sound of coffee being poured. He hands a mug to Gerard and says, "Sit down."

Gerard obeys. "This was before. The boyband thing."

"Well, yeah."

"It makes him feel ugly. And he's not."

"I think that can be stated pretty objectively."

"Mikey—"

"The part that absolutely fucking blows, Gee, is that there have been all these times when it would have been so utterly perfect, easy, the best to blame you for not snapping at someone else in my defense, not reminding me that you weren't going to stop being my brother, but I get to blame you for a lot of shit that probably isn't your fault and at some point, not everything can be, you know?"

Gerard doesn't say anything, just sips at his coffee, takes comfort in the way it's still a bit too hot, brewed just a bit too strong.

"It wasn't exactly a rhetorical question."

Gerard knows. "You're trickier than he is."

"How, Gee? You've known me our entire fucking life. You've known me longer than I've known me."

"And I've never once been what you needed."

Mikey chokes on his coffee and Gerard's up so quickly he doesn't feel himself move, pulling Mikey out of the booth, rubbing on his back, waiting for his breath to settle back into normal. "Do you need water?"

Mikey shakes his head, manages a somewhat distressed, "Fine."

Gerard gets him the water. Mikey takes it, sips at it a bit. Finally he says, "Maybe if you believed you were what I needed a little more often, it might be a self-fulfilling prophecy."

Gerard can feel himself looking doubtful. Mikey smiles, asks, "What does it matter whether you're what I need or not? You're Gee. I love you that way."

"It matters," Gerard tells him.

"Then it would have to matter that I'm never quite who you need me to be either, and I don't think I want for that to matter."

Only Gerard knows that, truthful statement or not, Mikey thinks it sometimes—a lot of the time—and so it does, by definition, matter. "Vicious cycle."

Mikey nods.

"I don't love him more than I love you."

Mikey is silent for a long time at that. "Do you think I love Frank more?"

Gerard shrugs. "Maybe you should."

"Stop being an asshole."

"That's gonna be complicated."

Mikey smiles. "I don't."

Gerard looks at Mikey carefully.

Mikey repeats, "I don't."

Gerard nods, "Okay."

"You're still totally gonna let him call me a whore, aren't you?"

"On stage, even."

*


If Chris is Gerard, Lance is Frank, only not as nice. It's not that Lance is mean, exactly, but Gerard understands—within seconds, actually, of meeting him—that in this universe, Mikey left Frank. The thought makes Gerard a bit nauseated, which is a surprise. Also, he sort of wishes that JC had thought to mention that he and Lance were together at one point. That Lance might still be pretty in love.

Carefully, Gerard does not think about the fact that in this universe, JC is Mikey. Because that's a little much, even for him. There are boundaries, and then there are boundaries. Not that JC's a mirror image, anymore than he and Chris are. That's just how the logistics work out. Still.

Lance says, "Hey, it's nice to meet you," but his eyes are cool and distant and it would be hot, actually, if Gerard weren't pretty much hung up on Lance’s best friend.

"You too," Gerard says, and means it, because JC talks about Lance a lot, and, okay, maybe JC sort of has told him, without telling him. Gerard's not sure he's ever explicitly mentioned the Frank thing either. JC’s made it pretty clear he knows.

JC says, "Can you, uh, give us a second?"

Gerard says, "I had to go to the bathroom anyway." He doesn't, but since Lance isn't going to be civil, someone's going to have to be.

JC comes and gets him. It's ten minutes, and Gerard's been hanging out in the bathroom the whole time, hoping nobody recognizes him and wonders what the hell he's doing just checking himself out in the mirror. JC says, "Look, he's really not—"

"You maybe should have mentioned about the two of you, before this."

JC nods, "I know. I know. But I was maybe a little angry at you for still being in love with Frank the first eight or so times you slept with me."

Gerard nods. "Not one of my better moments."

Still, when JC says, "I'm sorry," it's quiet and nervous and Gerard feels sort of assholish for being the one to make him sound that way.

"Me too." He wishes they weren't in public, weren't in a restroom. The things he wants aren't even so extreme. Mostly he wants to press his lips to the corner of JC's mouth, have JC curl into him. "Stay here for a couple of minutes?"

"Five?" JC asks.

"That'll do."

Gerard goes back to the table and Lance's eyes flicker to the side, looking for JC. Gerard says, "He'll be back shortly."

Lance is quiet for a second. Then he says, "I, uh. Look, I'm not generally this much of a jerk."

"Well, I'm not usually this much of a pussy, so between the two of us, we can probably manage to salvage the afternoon."

Lance chokes on his drink.

"Sorry," Gerard says.

"Nope, that was. Right."

"I could be good for him," Gerard says softly. He really thinks he could. "Timberlake says I make him flutter."

"That's mostly the issue," Lance says.

"Oh." Gerard nods. "Yeah." There are moments when he really, really hates Mikey.

"But he is...happy. Really fucking happy."

Gerard keeps his smile small. He doesn't like hurting other people, and he thinks he might like this person in front of him, this perfectly contained, fucked-up man. "He's fucking my music up. Makes me want to write happy shit."

"Why do you think we were a boyband?" Lance asks.

"Before I would have said it was because you were all so fucking pretty and nice."

"We're not that nice," Lance says.

"Like I said, before." Gerard pauses. "He is that nice."

"Yeah." Lance sighs.

"You drink?"

"On occasion."

"Let me buy you a couple."

Lance nods. "Right decent of you."

Gerard catches JC's approach from the corner of his eye. JC sidles in and says, "The men's bathrooms here have hairspray samples in them."

Gerard can smell it on him.

*


JC finally gets his single on the market and does a bunch of publicity that Timberlake's not there for, even if Gerard thinks he should be. It's none of Gerard's business, not really, but the third week in to the constant red eye flights and lone interviews and the non-stop questions about Lance that Gerard knows it kills JC not to be wholly honest about—particularly when Lance will never, ever betray him, but cannot completely hide his own sense of betrayal—JC calls him and says, "Hey, Gee," and there's nothing but desperate need in the greeting.

"Starshine," Gerard says, throwing caution out the window. Frank looks up at him and frowns, because it's not something he would normally say in front of them. "I've been watching the YouTubes."

"Yeah, it's— I mean, the music's gonna speak for itself, right?"

Gerard's heard some of it. He thinks it does and he doesn't even particularly like that type of music. But then, this is JC. "You speak for yourself."

"How're the guys?"

"Bob’s being kept amiable and compliant with the help of packages from Spencer filled with his mom’s chocolate chip cookies. Ray currently holds every video game championship title available on this bus. Frank's considering another tattoo, so that's keeping Mikey occupied." Gerard is painfully aware he can't ask, "And yours?" Not really.

"Whatever keeps the kids out of trouble," JC says, with something almost like a laugh, but it's too singular, too lacking in harmony to precisely be one.

"Jace—"

"I'm just tired. I shouldn't have called."

"I'm glad you did."

"You're like that," and for the first time in the whole conversation, JC sounds honestly happy about something. About Gerard.

He can't help but internalize it a little bit. "Where are you?"

"Uh," there's some shuffling on the other ends, "Cincinnati? No, Columbus. Yup. College. Columbus."

Gerard smiles a little at that. He knows the feeling. "Another week?"

"For this leg, yeah."

"Then home?"

"I don't know. I was thinking of going out to Chicago. See my folks. I keep just stopping by on my days off, and y'know."

"We're gonna be in Chicago," Gerard says, with a slight edge of suspicion.

"Yeah, it was smart of you to sync your palm to my laptop."

Gerard would protest, but he's feeling pretty brilliant just at the moment. He says, because it sounds like JC needs to hear it, "I miss you."

Frank's eyes get so wide Gerard's a little afraid they're gonna fall right out. Mikey is seemingly unphased by Gerard's behavior, but he has Frank to freak out for him. Frank tilts his head and mouths, "Say hi."

"Frank does, too."

JC chuckles a bit at that.

"Hey," Mikey says.

"Mikey's now feeling left out."

"Aw," JC coos.

"Fuckers," Bob says.

"Bob sends love as well."

"You guys tie Ray to the top of the bus again? I told you that wasn't on."

For all Gerard knows, Ray tied himself to the top of the bus. "We couldn't help ourselves."

JC says, "I'll be sure to punish you when I see you."

Gerard skips a breath, then recovers his rhythm. "Promises, promises."

"Think I can't deliver?"

Gerard has heard JC's music. There isn't a single dirty thing he puts past his boy. But taunting JC almost always has its bright sides. Gerard can practically taste that side this time. "We'll see."

"You wanna meet my parents?" JC throws out and it's such a spectacular 360 that Gerard gets dizzy.

"Uh."

"You don't have to. It was just a thought."

"Parents don't always like me," Gerard says.

"I bet Frank's mom did."

"Well, she gave birth to Frank."

Frank blinks, but knows better than to ask.

"Mine can't really claim that whole having given birth thing, but they've gotten used to me all the same. They're less scary than Chris and Lance. Hell, they're less scary than either one."

"Jace—"

"I'll still be utterly fucktarded over you, even if they don't."

"Oh."

"So you haven't got much to lose."

"Huh."

Frank laughs at him. Gerard flips him off.

"You can think about it. You've got a couple of weeks."

Gerard almost takes the out. Almost. Then he remembers that if he can survive hours of screaming teenagers, he can survive a few with JC's parents. It might be close, but he'll manage. He's strong like that. "No, that's, that's good. Let's do that."

"Sure?"

"Long as you make good on your promises."

"Mm, why do I get the feeling you're not really the type?"

Gerard doesn't say anything, it's both nice and embarrassing that JC knows exactly how far his sexual adventurousness stretches. JC says, "Maybe I'll let you punish me. Cruel of me, forcing you to make nice with the folks."

"True."

JC laughs and the sound is so clean Gerard feels nearly slapped by it. He tells Gerard, "You can do whatever you want with me, all right? Just get your ass to Chicago."

"I'll do that."

"Good boy."

*


Gerard brings flowers for JC's mom, because moms—in his, all right, somewhat limited experience—like flowers. They have birds of paradise in them. Gerard likes birds of paradise. They are long and elegant like Mikey, but splashed with color like Frank. Their stalks are sturdy like Bob and the whole effect is somewhat unusual like Ray. Also, they're pretty. JC likes pretty things. Most of the time.

He brings chocolate for JC's father, Godiva, because it's classy like wine, but Gerard doesn't have to refuse if he tries to share, which is always awkward. JC's mom takes the gifts and says, "It's nice to meet you, sweetie," and smiles at him, and Gerard hates to admit it, but the pet name makes him hope that maybe she'll think he deserves her son after all.

"You too, ma'am."

"Karen," she says. "Come on, I want to get these in water."

JC—who has clearly abandoned his utterly loyal boyfriend to the fates—skips down the stairs, yes, skips, and kisses Gerard like they're not in front of G-d and his mom and everyone. "Hey, Gigi."

Gerard's going to kill him. Slowly. After they've had one last fuck. Which is the only thing that saves JC for the moment; that, and the fact that Gerard sort of likes this woman who is smiling at them over her shoulder, making her way to her kitchen. JC fits himself up against Gerard's back and says, "Mm, you smell good," and, more softly, "I got us presents."

Gerard twists slightly and whispers, "Stop now or I'll take you on the table, in front of both your parents."

JC calls the bluff. "Liar."

However, Gerard deals not only with Mikey, but Frank and Bob and Ray on a regular basis. He knows how to be a stone-cold killer. His expression gives nothing away. JC smiles. "See, you're good, but honestly? Chris was better. Some of the shit he could get me to believe..." JC shakes his head. "Sadly for you, I don't tend to make the same mistake twice."

Gerard's expression doesn't crack. JC says, "Hey. Hey."

And that's the moment where Gerard breathes again, not even aware he had stopped. JC puts a palm to Gerard's chest, "They already like you. You make me flutter."

Gerard blinks.

"I know what you all say about me. And you know I'm not stupid, so let's acknowledge both those facts, and then you can listen to me when I say, they already like you. And you're not gonna screw this up."

"You didn't let them listen to the albums, did you?"

"My dad checked you out of the library the first time I said something."

"Jace, they're telling you they like me, they're going to kill me in my sleep."

"They're Mennonites, Gerard."

This does not reassure Gerard. If anything, he knows his eyes fill with a sort of belated panic.

"Um, I meant that they're pacifists."

"They think you're dating the devil."

"No, I explained that you save lives."

"Jace—"

"I know, I know you don't like that, I know it freaks you out, but that's something they can understand. My mom used to read some of the letters that came to NSYNC, about how we made kids happy. And all this is beside the point. You're a good person, and I'm completely in love with you, and they sort of like it when I'm happy, what with me being their son, and all, so you need to relax. Also, my mom likes birds of paradise."

Gerard's brain slows for a minute. Then he asks, "Could you go back a sentence and a few clauses?"

"Nope, I said it, you heard it, that's enough."

"Your mom serves on the board of a hospital and likes making multi-layered cakes with complicated frosting patterns, and your dad has a passion for sudoku and likes watching dog shows."

"I know you listen to me."

"I didn't, at first. Not much."

"I know that, too."

"When did you tell them about me?"

"Right before I brought Joey around."

"I'd started paying attention by then."

"Yeah, I figured maybe we had a shot."

Gerard wants to say, "Thanks for trying so hard." He wants to say, "It wasn't personal." He wants to say, "I love you, too."

He's still just staring at JC when Karen calls, "Boys, you coming?"

"Be right there, mom!" JC kisses him again, says, "Move your ass. My mom made one of her cakes for dessert."

Gerard doesn't mention the vegan thing. He doubts he'll turn down a slice.

*


JC goes back to the hotel with Gerard, because he is not, under any circumstances, having sex with JC under his parent's roof. Particularly not possibly-mildly-kinky sex. No.

JC has a messenger bag on, the strap snug against his chest, and the moment they're inside the door Gerard slips a hand between strap and shirt. "Presents, huh?"

JC smiles. "Greedy bitch."

Gerard blinks languidly. JC pulls the bag over his head. Gerard keeps his hand where it is. One of JC's hands digs inside the bag and comes out with a blindfold, a professionally made one that will clearly block out any light, let alone actual visual stimulators. It is black and heavy looking, a bit decadent.

"Nice," Gerard breaths. Then, "You said gifts. Plural."

JC flushes, twists his head slightly so that he's no longer facing Gerard. "Um. We don't have to use the second one. Only if you think you'd like."

Gerard leans in, nips at the almost-harsh crest of JC's cheek. "Show me, starshine."

The name loosens something in JC, much as Gerard suspected it would. He fishes into the bag again and pulls out a set of beads. Anal beads. Gerard, who was already heating up, goes hard so fast that dots swim in front of his eyes. "Please get naked for me. Right now."'

"Yeah, okay," JC says, and scrambles to fulfill the request.

"Also, if you could undress me?" Really, Gerard would have done it himself, but watching JC writhe and wriggle out of his clothes didn't really improve upon his already slightly damaged motor skills. Which is fine, because JC grins and gets to work, stealing a kiss off Gerard's mouth, to his shoulder, his hip, the back of his knee. Gerard takes a breath and draws JC to his feet. "That's enough from you," he says, and herds him to the bed, where he ties the blindfold in place. He waits a second for JC to adjust to the pure dark. "Okay?"

"I'm with you," JC says, like that's an answer to the question.

Gerard goes to grab the beads, and the lube JC also has in his bag. He grabs a couple of condoms while he's at it. He tugs JC down the bed a bit, grinning at JC's giggle. He sits at the edge of the bed and works to get JC ass-upwards over his knees. JC shivers a bit.

"Cold?" Gerard asks. It'll be a pain to get up and go turn the thermostat up, but he will.

"Anticipatory," JC says. Gerard gets turned on by the sound of multi-syllabic words on JC's tongue.

He runs a finger down the length of JC's spine, then lubes it up, inserts it into his ass. Gerard is slow about it, gentle, even though he knows JC requires neither. There's a second finger, and a third and JC whimpers, "Too slow, Gigi, too slow."

"Sh," Gerard says. "I think we discussed punishment."

"Oh fuck, I am dating the devil."

Gerard doesn't feel bad for JC. It's not as if he didn't warn him. He rolls the first of the beads, the largest, in his palm, warming it, wetting it, and presses it into JC, who moans, pleads, "More, please."

"Since you asked so nicely."

It's wildly erotic, watching the beads disappear into JC, watching him shiver and unfold under the stimulation. Gerard's almost afraid he won't make it to the part he's planned so carefully, but he's still got a hold on himself—if not a tight one—by the time the last bead is snug in place. Without a word, he raises his hand and brings it down on the lower curve of JC's ass.

JC's breath catches, "Fuck, oh man."

"Too much?"

JC doesn't even think, "No, no."

Gerard lands another smack to the rounded middle of one cheek, then the other. After that the pattern varies, JC's skin warming under his hand, the beads—he's sure—shifting with every impact. JC is a wild, sobbing thing on his lap, gorgeous and untamed and yet somehow his and when Gerard can't look at him for longing anymore, he pulls the beads in one long, smooth motion.

JC presses himself into Gerard's hip and comes simply at that. Gerard says, "Mm, mm," and transfers JC so that he's bent over the bed, rolling a condom onto himself and pressing in. There's no finesse to it, nothing, JC keening at the overstimulation. Gerard barely gets two thrusts in, and he's back in fucking high school, nothing but, "good, good, so good, so hot."

When he can, he drags both of them up far enough on the bed that they can lie facing each other, pulling JC's blindfold off. JC blinks slowly, in time with his now lazy breathing. He says, "Yup, definitely the devil."

Gerard reaches out to caress at his cheek. "You okay?"

"No."

Gerard's chest squeezes until JC finishes his thought with, "Okay never feels this good."

Gerard pulls JC to him, wrapping him in his arms, and JC reciprocates, long, muscled limbs doing their evident best to keep Gerard where he is. Gerard doesn't think he'll put up much of a fight.

*


JC asks it over the phone one day, which is odd, because JC generally saves the important stuff for when they're together. He's very human in that way, sometimes too human for Gerard and Gerard will twist and try to pull himself free and JC will just wait for him to come back. It's terrifying, but evidently also brilliant, because Gerard always ends up back where JC is still sitting, calm and just a bit hopeful.

JC asks, "Is it that you don't trust me, or yourself, or that you've just gotten used to saying these things? Because I know we can't talk about each other in public and I know that's as much me asking it of you as you asking it of me, or maybe more me asking, but not by too much, and I know life can be pretty long and all, but it sort of sucks that I'm mostly completely indecently in love with you and you're still invested in dying alone."

Gerard remembers saying the words that had to have prompted this, remembers the sort of autopilot that compelled him to do so. Stalling for time, Gerard asks, "You just happen to be watching MTV?"

"No, Gigi," JC always makes the soft "g" sound harsh when he's frustrated, it's a sure sign, "you're my boyfriend, I make it a point to watch your interviews."

"Really?" And now Gerard is validly curious, because he doesn't watch a lot of JC's interviews, doesn't like listening to him gloss over things that Gerard knows the truth of.

"I don't get to see you a lot," JC says, sounding like he doesn't understand why they're even talking about this.

"But that's not really me."

"More of you than you probably allow yourself to believe."

Gerard doesn't really know what to say to that. He would dismiss it, only JC knows him pretty well. Also, JC sees things that most people don't see, pays attention in ways others can't be bothered to. JC sighs. "It's not exactly that I want to fuck with your emo, I get that that's your livelihood. But I kinda do. I kinda want to think that I make you happy, which I'm pretty sure is a normal relationship thing." JC's pretty sure. Gerard's pretty sure, too, but he gets that neither of them is in a position to know. He closes his eyes, rubs at his temple.

"Fuck," JC says, and laughs, but it's the laugh he uses when his only other option is to cry and he would prefer the former.

"Jace—"

"It's fine, Gerard." JC enunciates each "r". "It's fine. We all have our things."

"You make me happy."

"Momentarily?"

"What the hell else is there, JC?" and okay, maybe Gerard is frustrated, too. "I mean, what, you know I'm going to be driving you crazy twenty years from now?"

"Don't make me sound stupid for being optimistic, okay? That's an assholish thing to do and you're not an asshole."

"Except, evidently, when I am."

JC sighs. Gerard winces. "I wasn't trying to make you sound stupid. I don't think you're stupid."

"I'm not always wrong, either. You're a keeper. I think you've just gotten really used to thinking you're not. To thinking that if Frank Iero, of all people, couldn't keep you, nobody could. But Frank would have if you'd held on just a bit, he would have and then I would have been screwed and maybe you would have been happier and I'd like to think that would have made it okay, only it wouldn't have, not for me. But the point is that you are a keeper, even if you weren't for Frank you are for me and you should know somewhere that I plan on keeping you, so if you want to die alone you're going to have to kill me or wait till I'm dead, which I guess I am older than you, so maybe, or move to Argentina and change your name and possibly have lots of cosmetic surgery."

"You're only a year older than me," Gerard says, because the thought of JC dying on him is a little bit alarming. Gerard has a fear of losing things, even little things, like his shoes. Luckily, Mikey always knows where to look for the stuff like that.

"So it's probably the first or last option for you." JC sounds happy about that. Gerard soaks up the sound.

"Probably," he admits.

"See, now I'll know that, the next time you get all emo on me in an interview."

Gerard tucks himself up, smiles into his knees. JC says, "You're going to have a time getting rid of me. Seriously."

Gerard can't say that he knows that, it's still a little too big for that sort of declaration. He says, "Okay," and lets JC know that he's trying. JC always accepts what Gerard can give.

*


Frank's been staring at his Sidekick, listening to his earphones in mild puzzlement with an underlay of awe for roughly thirty minutes when Mikey finally asks, "Are you watching midget porn?"

Gerard chokes on his coffee. Bob smirks. Frank, bizarrely, doesn't laugh. He takes the earphones out and looks at Gerard. "What'd Jace tell you about his latest single?"

Gerard frowns. "He said it was gonna be a while before he finished production on it, and that he didn't know if I'd get a chance to listen before they marketed it."

"Um. That's. Interesting." Frank stands and comes to sit by Gerard. He puts his earphones in Gerard's ears, says, "Listen."

Gerard listens once. Then he asks, "Could you play that again?"

Frank doesn't even complain about Gerard's appropriation of his Sidekick, just replays the song. Gerard finishes the second listen through, takes out the earphones and sets them gently aside. "I'm gonna—" Gerard gestures toward the bunks, but Frank catches his hand.

"Hey."

"I just need to— I don't know how to hear that." Gerard nods, as if to reassure himself that that is an adequate reaction.

"Yeah, well, hard to when you don't know when he wrote it, or if he was even talking about you."

"Right. See? Right."

"For someone who's good with metaphors, you take things awfully literally," Mikey—unnoticed by both Frank and Gerard—has stolen the earphones and let himself in on the conversation.

"He's kinda direct," Gerard says.

"But 'ruined' doesn't always have negative connotations, not in the context he's using it." Mikey doesn't look impressed by Gerard's pessimism. Except that all the other metaphors, everything about the song is resistant.

"Am I the only one here who thinks it's kind of sweet?" Mikey asks. "I mean, fucked up, but honestly, Gee, the day you're in a relationship that makes linear sense is probably the same day hell holds a skiing tournament."

"Sweet," Gerard says. It's not exactly a question, although he has to think about it. Whatever else, JC is saying that he was gone from the very first. Gerard wasn't, not precisely. He was a little hooked from the beginning, a little awed. But if JC and him had ended after that first time, it probably just would have been a really hot memory. He's sort of lucky JC saw what he saw. Incredibly lucky.

"Go," Frank says.

"Call him," Mikey adds. Gerard rarely follows instructions, but when he does, he's meticulous about it.

*


Gerard texts JC, "You ruined me?"

JC responds, "I can't be with anyone, since I felt our worlds collide."

And okay, sweet, but Gerard has to come back with, "I don't wanna be in love, I don't wanna feel this way, all I wanna do is leave, but all I can do is stay."

JC texts back, "Locked inside your heart shaped box. At first. You didn't even see."

Gerard calls him. "I saw."

"No, no. I caught your eye. Like something metallic in the sun. Too bright not to notice, but not important enough to see."

"I thought that was it for you, too."

"Gerard."

"No, I mean, I know it wasn't now. But then, I thought it was. Except not so shiny, but you know. Eye-catching. More like tag art, I guess."

"The sort you have to look closer at, because it has something to say, and then, when you're looking closer, you notice that maybe the artist used different paints than you might have expected, or that there's some sort of color theme that wasn't immediately apparent."

Gerard is pretty impressed by that metaphor. "You look at a lot of tag art?"

"I see things," JC says. "Valuable things."

"So you wrote it—"

"After the third time."

Gerard closes his eyes. The third time JC had not-so-accidentally found Gerard at an MTV function and the two of them had escaped to a Starbucks, despite the fact that JC doesn't like their coffee. He will drink their tea. Gerard remembers thinking, "This is getting to be comfortable," which should have been a boring thought, but wasn't. He remembers going back to JC's hotel room and the way JC had given himself over and the fact that Gerard's reaction had been a sort of envy that JC was able to do that for just anyone. Except, "I wasn't just anyone."

JC laughs lightly, "Gerard Way, Gerard."

"Okay, no, you don't get to— JC Chasez, JC."

"I don't save lives."

"You make them better. Someone's got to, and there don't seem to be a whole lot of people lining up for the job."

"I'm just saying, you were a worthy object over which to break, you know? I didn't feel any shame when I wrote that song."

Despite appearances, Gerard well knows that JC's not entirely shameless. "I was a little shamed hearing it. You told me—"

"I know. I lied to you. I couldn't just give it to you and wait to have you call me, or worse, watch you while you were listening to it. I couldn't."

"Maybe next time you could just say that. Just say, 'I need you to wait.'"

"That didn't occur to me."

"We're not the best people in the world at the obvious."

JC snorts. "Understatement."

On an almost mammoth level. Gerard returns to what he is pretty sure is the point of this conversation. "The third time. So you... You don't wanna leave? Anymore? I mean, it's not just compulsive at this point?"

"You seem to want me to stay, now."

"Really, really want that," Gerard agrees softly.

"Then I suppose it's a good thing I'm all ruined for anyone else."

"I didn't mean—"

"If you had, I don't think you could have managed." No, JC is pretty solid in the face of obvious threats.

Gerard has noticed. "I'm kinda ruined, too."

"Sorry."

"No you're not."

"Not even the tiniest bit, nope."

*


Europe means expensive phone calls and complicated time coordination for online chatting, so it's been a couple of weeks since JC and he have done much more than email each other by the time Gerard gets back stateside. JC's waiting on the tarmac. It's a private landing strip but he still probably shouldn't be. Gerard really, really doesn't care. He can go back to caring tomorrow, he's sure.

JC has the training to wait until they're back at the hotel to be all over him, arms wrapping around him, mouth everywhere. Gerard whimpers, "Jace, fuck."

"Missed you," JC says, low and intent and honest, so utterly honest.

"Yes," Gerard tells him, opening himself as much as he knows how. "Yes."

After that words are useless, just something to come between them as they curl up around each other, over each other, Gerard's mouth finding JC's cock even as JC's mouth does the same. It's been a while—a quick shower session in lonely hotels no longer counts as much as it used to for Gerard—and it doesn't take long. JC pulls off of him when they're finished, onto his back. He loosens up, splays out in that way that Gerard could watch for hours, forever. He kicks his shoes off and laughs. "Welcome back."

Gerard laughs at that, too, pulling off his shirt, hoping that JC will take the hint and he can look at what has been disallowed him for over a month now. JC's good at catching on. Gerard licks from hipbone to nipple. It's not even an invitation, an inciting moment, he just wants to taste. JC always settles on his tongue clean and a bit tingly, like peppermint, only not. JC is, in all things, indescribable.

Also ticklish, which is a plus, because licking means giggling. Gerard likes to listen. It's not a sound he can put in his music—although he has come to wish he could—but it is something that puts him in the mindset of music, of that sort of freedom of expression. "One of these days," JC tells him, breathless from allowing Gerard his tongue-torture, "I shall have my revenge."

"Oh?" Gerard raises an eyebrow.

JC nods. "When you least expect it."

"I'm not entirely sure I ever expect anything when it comes to you, Jace." Which reminds Gerard. "There was something I wanted to try."

JC looks interested. "Okay."

"You're supposed to ask what."

"Well, but see, you were expecting that." He has a point.

"It could hurt."

"Mm." JC licks at the corner of Gerard's mouth. "Trying to get me all ready again?"

Gerard looks down at where JC is stirring, ever so slightly. "Are you sure you're older than me?"

"Almost a whole year. G-d loves me."

"It's because you sing about puppies and kittens."

"And digital sex and being cuckolded."

"You turn me on when you get all Shakespearian on me."

JC laughs aloud at that, a boisterous, open sound. "Oh baby, oh baby."

Gerard grins. "So you wanna try?"

"No asphyxiation," JC tells him, "that shit fucks with your vocal chords."

Gerard isn't really turned on by the risk involved anyway. "No, none of that."

"I'm yours, Gigi."

Just then, Gerard can't find a way not to believe him.

*


Gerard grabs the container of Cetaphil that he picked up before Europe when he began vaguely considering this, thinking about the things JC is always giving him and what he could maybe ask for. Slow, Gerard tells himself. This has to be done slowly. Which is fine, because Gerard has already gotten off, and he likes touching JC. He loves touching JC.

Gerard warms the lotion in his hands. He says, "On your stomach, gorgeous."

JC smiles, his eyes crinkling in appreciation at the compliment. Then he rolls over. Gerard takes a moment to just appreciate what's his before placing his hands on JC's lower back and moving them all the way up to his shoulders. He massages JC's shoulders, his arms, occasionally dipping in for more lotion. He works his knuckles into the places where JC's muscles are hard, knotted from the day-in-day-out living of life. JC whimpers when he does this, squirms, but doesn't try to get away. He clearly trusts Gerard to make it better. Gerard does, making his touch lighter as JC relaxes into it, loses bone and muscle and structure to the bed. When JC is clearly floating, Gerard turns him over. He says, "Hey."

JC grins, the grin so large it nearly slips off his face. "Was that what you were so nervous about?"

Gerard shakes his head. He slips away for a second to get the lube from his bag and, okay, this was bad planning on his part, he should have had this all ready, but JC is still just smiling up at the ceiling when he returns. JC doesn't seem to mind that his boyfriend is a bad planner and Not At All Smooth. Gerard lubes up his hand, his whole hand, and JC says, "Oh. Wow."

"Wow?"

"That's...kinky, Gerard Way."

"Kinky, good or kinky, bad?"

"Intimate," JC says with relish.

"Good?"

"Mm."

Gerard draws JC's legs up so that his feet are flat on the bed, his knees bent. He says, "You have to say if it's too much."

"You worry too much."

About the things he loves? Yes. He will not be made to feel ashamed for that. He grasps JC's cock lightly with the hand that isn't busy slipping one finger inside JC. JC says, "Okay, I know you're sort of nervous here, but I need more than that in general."

Gerard says, "Right," and attempts to pull it together, but the thought of what he's about to do, of what is about to happen between him and JC keeps derailing every other thought he could possibly have. He pushes a second finger in, and then shortly after a third, when JC wriggles restlessly. The fourth finger he takes slowly, watching JC's face, but all he sees is desire. JC makes small noises in the back of his throat when Gerard moves to press his thumb in. Gerard asks, "Yes?"

JC says, "Pleaseplease."

Gerard presses in and maybe this shouldn't be hot, but there is nothing, nothing about this moment that is not hot, not the way JC's hand has found Gerard's shoulder and is digging in, digging so deep that it hurts, hurts in the way that it seems like Gerard's efforts must, not the way JC is keening, "Gigigigigi," not the way he is inside JC, more fully than he has ever been, so far that it feels like the sort of connection that cannot, will never be broken. Gerard does not care if it is an allusion. He does not care. He slips in the rest of the way and now there is nothing between him and JC, nothing at all and he asks, "Are you—"

"Good," JC gasps, "so fucking good."

Gerard leans in and kisses at the jut of his knees, down his leg. His hand moves gently over JC's cock, a sort of counterpoint to the extremity of his hand being inside JC. He twists the hand slowly, lets his knuckles scrape over JC's prostate and JC babbles, "Oh fuck yesyesyes, holy, Gee, holy, pleeease."

Gerard loves the way JC talks during sex, the way he almost sings. Another slow twist back and JC can't hold out anymore, comes over Gerard's hand, over his stomach. Gerard uses the distraction of climax to pull his hand slowly from JC, carefully. He crawls up next to JC, pulls JC to him. JC insinuates a thigh against Gerard's cock and the two of them rock slowly into each other.

Gerard whispers, "Did I hurt you?"

"A little pain from you is good. Real. Part of the pleasure."

Gerard wonders how it is that this perfect, perfect person knows him so well, gets him so thoroughly. JC increases the friction just a bit, says, "I had you inside me," and Gerard comes so hard that there's a shock of pain right before the easy, overwhelming landslide of pleasure.

*


Gerard calls Timberlake because Fatone is married, Kirkpatrick seems fairly—if not wholly—straight, Lance is still in love with Gerard's boyfriend, Mikey is his brother, Frank and him have too much history, Spencer would hunt Gerard down and kill him slowly if he asked Bob, Ross and Urie are monogamous, Walker has his eyes on the Pete Prize, Pete doesn't need to be fucked around with anymore than he already has been, and Hurley, Stump and—most regrettably—Ray are all straight bastards. Gerard has no idea about Trohman; he didn't really feel this was the moment to ask. Timberlake is really his only option.

Timberlake takes a moment to consider his proposal. He says, "Okay, don't get me wrong. Really, really fucking hot. And wow, as birthday presents go, original, but um. Are you sure C's good with this?"

"C's the kinky one," Gerard explains. It's not an answer, except that it is. It's not that Gerard minds doing these things for JC—not at all, not with JC getting off on them like he does, long and so fucking exquisite it hurts to look—but sometimes he worries that he won't be able to keep up. That JC will find someone who will.

"Won't argue that point," Timberlake says. "Okay, man, but if he ends up getting hurt, I'm not only blaming you, I'm telling Lance."

"Kirkpatrick taught you how to threaten, didn't he?"

"No, man. That was JC. Back in the club."

Gerard blinks. His boyfriend can evidently be more vicious than Gerard has, up till now, given him credit for.

"Chris has his own style. It involves a lot of kicking. You'll know it when you see it."

Gerard shakes his head. He can imagine. "I'll send you all the travel information this evening."

"Yeah, okay."

Gerard is about to hang up when Timberlake says, "Hey. Way?"

"Timberlake?"

"So, we got off to a bad start and I get the feeling you think I'm sort of unintentionally stupid a lot of the time, which, probably, so fine. But I do care about him, like with the threat, which I mean, and well. Whether this is a craptastic idea or not, it's sweet in its idea form, you know? That you would do that for him because you think he wants it. That's a really good trait in a boyfriend."

Gerard cannot imagine a single reason why the kid's approval should matter. Evidently, though, it does. Something in his chest that has not loosened since he began to formulate this plan releases. Gerard takes a breathe. It's easier. He says, "I try." He does. So damn hard.

"Yeah, that's. That's a lot."

It's possible that Timberlake's not as stupid as Gerard had previously believed. The thought is upsetting. He ignores it.

*


JC throws a party for himself the week before his birthday. It is a small event at his house with food catered in from this French place he loves. The French are kind of uber-dependent on animal-based products but Gerard does his best, sneaking into JC's kitchen where there are things he can supplement his meal with. Partway through the evening, JC follows him silently, probably for some quick and illicit nookie and catches him in the act. Gerard is going to apologize, but JC says, "I kinda suck at being the boyfriend of a dry vegan, huh?"

Gerard pops a grape. "I kinda suck at being the boyfriend of a foodie."

"Maybe we're meant for each other." JC smiles.

"Maybe." Gerard takes a handful of grapes and follows JC back to the party.

Karen and Roy are there and Gerard spends some time with them, because he likes them, and because that's what good boyfriends do. Gerard used to be a lot more willing to fuck up than he has been lately. The thought makes him look over at Justin, who's goofing off with Lance. His stomach flips, and Gerard tells himself to lay off the grapes and stay the fuck away from the wine.

The problem is that, Jedi wisdom and all, trying isn't always and can't always be the same as doing. Gerard knows he's stepping up the bar, knows that's important, but what he doesn't know is all the tiny, essential little details, like if this is the direction JC would have the bar go in, or if JC might not get distracted by the liquid, built body of dance and heat that Justin has done a recommendable job of growing himself into. Gerard sucks in his stomach a little. Fuck.

But no, he has committed himself and he can trust JC, he can, trust him not to follow off behind someone longer and lither and younger than Gerard. He can. Joey comes over and slings an arm over Gerard's shoulder, Lance sidling up at his other hip. Lance asks, "What'd you get him?"

Gerard is not unprepared. He actually has provided other presents, just in case. Also, for cover. "Gucci sunglasses and a weekend in Napa Valley."

"You suck at this," Lance tells him.

Joey is glancing at him out of the corner of his eye. Gerard just says, "Yeah, this is not the part he likes me for."

At some point Chris gets hold of the sunglasses and wears them, despite the party being both at night and indoors. He tells Gerard, "They look better on me."

"Okay," Gerard says.

The cake is a multi-layered confection of chocolate, sugar and sin, which is really only appropriate and Gerard eats it because JC looks at him just a little bit hopefully and Gerard is secretly whipped. He tells himself he needs the energy. For later.

*


Justin sticks around after the party, just helping clean up and joking around and basically being a good friend until JC looks at him a little apologetically and says, "It's not that I don't love seeing you, J—"

Gerard cuts him off. "We need him, Jace."

JC turns to look at Gerard. "We do?"

Gerard takes a step toward JC, reaches a hand out to run a finger along his cheekbone. He thrills at the way JC leans upward into it, the way a cat arches into its human's hand. Gerard says, "I suck at giving birthday gifts, but not that much."

"I liked my birthday gifts," JC says, so genuine and confused that Gerard can't not kiss him, he really can't.

He pulls back a little. "Then consider them the icing."

"I take it I'm about to get the cake?"

"Yes."

"And we need Justin for the cake?"

"He's a main ingredient."

"Seriously, how the fuck did you two find each other?" Main Ingredient asks. JC grins at him.

Gerard slips his hand into JC's, leads him through the house. He throws a look back at Justin, who follows. When they get to the bedroom Gerard waits for Justin to go in, past him, past JC, and closes the door. Gerard pulls JC into him. "We only do this once," he says, and kisses JC hard, just in case JC does get distracted, later on.

"Justin," Gerard calls softly, peering past JC to him. Justin comes as beckoned. Gerard asks, "How long have you wanted this?"

"Gerard—" JC starts.

"How long?" Gerard cuts him off.

Justin shakes his head. "I don't know. Always. Before Britney, even."

JC makes a small sound. Gerard caresses at his wrist. He asks Justin, "You want to undress him?"

Justin looks unsure. Gerard says, "I'd like watching that."

So Justin does, article by article. And Gerard knows Justin has seen JC naked before, probably countless times, but he also knows there's a difference in a how a person looks in a changing room, or in the middle of the bus, and right before a right to them has been extended. Gerard undresses slowly while watching, going through the motions, intent on the part where he is as naked as JC is becoming. When they both are, Gerard asks JC, "You wanna return the favor?"

JC clearly does. Justin shakes under JC's hands. Gerard has seen some terribly erotic things in his time with My Chem, with JC. He is not sure anything will ever surpass Justin's sheer rapture in JC.

JC's smile is kind when he finishes, when he ducks his head to kiss Justin's shoulder. He says, "Hey, Jup."

Justin laughs, shocked and breathless but so very there. Gerard nudges them toward the bed, onto it. He lies on his back and pulls JC atop him, facing him. JC kisses him, murmurs, "Gigi."

Gerard arches just slightly, brushes his cock against JC's. They both gasp. He asks, "You want to suck him?"

JC's eyes rage with indecision. Gerard takes it out of his hands. "Suck him, Jace. Suck him ready."

JC is done just listening, though. He wriggles down to where he can take Justin—lying next to Gerard—into his mouth and does for a few seconds. Then he switches it up, bringing his mouth onto Gerard's cock. Gerard bucks in surprise. JC goes with it, grins up at Gerard mischievously. Then he goes back to Justin. Gerard can hardly differentiate between the types of arousal, the watching of JC with this other built, fluid boy, or the sheer, tangible pleasure of JC's mouth on him, around him. He can only take so much before he drags JC back up, says, "That's enough out of you."

He kisses JC as he puts the condom on, slicks it up, as he presses into JC all in one go. JC pants, "Oh yeah, yeah, that's— Mm."

"Good?" Gerard finishes for him. He pulls JC up a little, presses him back down. JC mewls. Gerard asks, "Want something more?"

JC pants.

"I think you do. I think you like more. Greedy, pretty little thing."

Gerard catches Justin's eye. Justin's gotten himself ready but now he seems unsure. Gerard grasps his arm, pulls him atop JC. The movement sparks something, and Justin places himself at JC's hole, just resting there.

"What do you think, huh, Jace?" Gerard asks.

"Pleeease," JC moans. Gerard gives Justin an expectant look.

At first it's a little hard, a little too tight, so intense that Gerard sees red blossom out of black when he closes his eyes to try and re-establish control. "JC?" he asks.

JC moves himself back, further onto Justin. Justin wraps his hand around JC's hip and says, "Okay, okay, C."

Justin pushes, pushes, pushes and then they're both there, both taking care of him. Justin is shuddering, panting, "Oh fuck, oh," and Gerard soothes a hand over his shoulder, says, "Shh."

Gerard moves them all, just a bit, just a small rock and there's a collective sigh. JC says, "Again."

Gerard gives him what he wants. Over and over and over. JC's cock is caught between their stomachs and Gerard wishes he could touch it, could help him along, but the squeeze is too tight. All Gerard can do is kiss him, is roll and sway and drive. It's enough. Justin stops breathing above them, melds into JC, sinks against Gerard and the combination, the combination has JC keening, babbling, pouring over onto Gerard. Gerard gives in.

*


Gerard thinks an hour passes. Maybe two. JC is tucked tight between them, his mouth open, pressed to Gerard's shoulder. Justin's arm is draped over JC's waist, his hand resting, large and warm, in the small of Gerard's back. Gerard is tracing lazily at the tattoo on his bicep—not even tracing so much as meandering over with his fingers.

Softly, Justin says, "I should probably get going."

JC is sleeping. Gerard doesn't want to wake him up. He doesn't want him to wake up to Justin having left and not said goodbye, either.

"How far is your place?"

"This time of night? Half hour."

"That's kinda far for three in the morning."

"Gerard—"

"Get some sleep, Justin."

"He needs to have you back when he wakes up."

The statement stalls Gerard. "He hasn't lost me." If anything, the concern Gerard has is the other way around. Sometimes Gerard's big pictures have substantial chunks missing. Like the way Justin wanted JC. Like the way maybe what JC wanted wasn't just something new, something fun. Like the way shiny might call to shiny in this instance. Usually his vision isn't that bad. JC can be blinding, at times. Often, really.

"You shared him, Gerard."

Gerard knows. If anything defines the last night for him—and there are quite a few things that do, not the least of which is the absolute drenching of sexuality, sex—it is that fact.

Gerard is not good at sharing, has never particularly tried to make himself be, not even with Mikey, for whom he really should have. "He wanted you. He wanted...he likes new things. With sex."

"I know all that, Gerard. And I also know that he was confused because you gave him up, just a little."

Gerard's throat clenches to the point where he literally can't speak and it takes several moments for him to loosen it. "I will never give him up." Let him go.

"I suppose that's new for you. He should like it. If you were to just fucking tell him. How is it that you're so fucking bare in all your interviews and you leave him to wonder? What kind of shit is that, Gerard?"

"I don't see that you ever told him your shit. Not with how he reacted last night."

"Never the right time," Justin says, the words a little amused, but mostly regretful. "I was too young and then there was Britney, and I was actually really busy being completely in love with her for a long time. Then, when I was finally over it we were in hiatus and I was recording on my own and things were a little hard between us, awkward like they hadn't been and then there was you."

Gerard can't say he's sorry.

"And I think it's better, you know? I think— This was good. Touching him, being with him. This was good. I don't need to know that I couldn't have been you for him, that I couldn't have made him write and sing and fucking fly. There are just some things better left to the maybe."

Gerard doesn't disagree. He thinks that if he were given the chance to do it all over again he'd make the exact same mistakes, but he'd want to skip finding out what he couldn't be for Frank. He'd want that.

"But I swear, if you fuck this up with your bizarre emotional retardedness, I will set Pharell and Timbaland on your ass so hard you won't know what happened to your fourth album and neither will your audience, you hear me?"

"That was JC again, huh?"

"Creative and deadly, the two laws of a believable threat."

"He never tells me these things."

"I think he figures you know how to fend for yourself."

Sometimes Gerard does. Sometimes. He can't say he's sure how JC figured that out.

"I'm gonna go, Gerard. I'll be fine with the driving. I'll call him tomorrow. We'll talk. We'll be fine. Maybe better than we've been in a while. We'll see."

Gerard allows him to roll away. He watches as Justin picks up his clothes, pulls them back onto himself, all sinew and glow in the early morning dark. Justin moves back to the bed and leans over, steals a kiss before Gerard can blink, can pull away, can give it back. Gerard looks up at him. Justin says, "Regardless, thanks."

It's long after Gerard has heard the roarpurrgo of Justin's engine that he's able to say, "You're welcome."

*


JC sleeps late, which isn't really a surprise. Gerard stays with him, slipping in and out of sleep. He's out of it when JC awakens, stretches even while staying in Gerard's grasp, pulling Gerard more tightly to himself. "J leave?"

"While ago."

"How while?"

"Ten or so hours. He said he'd call later in the afternoon."

"Good."

Gerard says, "I kind of wish— See, I did it because you like the stuff I don't always think about. I mean, I try, but mostly I just like skin and sweat and the stuff that we hide from each other until we're done hiding and you and me, well, we're, I don't want to be hidden from you and you like more and that's okay, because I want to give you it, but Justin says maybe this was a fuck up."

JC is still holding on, so Gerard has hope that it's not an insurmountable fuck up. He says, "I just wanted to get you something special for your birthday."

JC sighs against Gerard's skin. "You being here was special, Gigi."

"I meant—"

"I know. And I meant that even when you don't get all creative on me, you're still not boring. I don't need you to be some person you create for me. I'm not your audience."

Gerard closes his eyes. "I would work harder for you."

JC touches his face. "Hey."

Gerard looks at him.

"Tell me you want me all to yourself."

Gerard rises up, pins JC underneath him, looks down at him with all the force of a full-on possessive glare that he can manage—and Gerard is good at dramatics—and says, "You are mine."

"Better," JC says.

"Not mollified?" Gerard asks.

"I think I still need some reassurance."

"Reassurance," Gerard purrs straight into JC's ear. Then he bites the lobe. Hard. Hard enough to leave marks. "Mine."

He works his way down JC. The ear is the only visible place he leaves imprints, but there are plenty of non-visible ones, the pectorals, the stomach, the hips, the thighs. The bottom of JC's foot. JC writhes under the attention but does not pull away, if anything he molds himself into it. Gerard flips JC over and continues his work on the ladder of JC's vertebrae, on his ass. He changes tactics and licks from tailbone to asshole before pressing in and JC shouts, "Fuck!"

Gerard takes the advice. Takes it and takes it and takes it until JC is coming onto the bed, moaning and then Gerard pulls up over him, presses down onto him, whispers into his ear, "Whose are you?"

"Yours," JC pants.

"You're beginning to understand."

*


When Justin calls at nearly six, they're still in bed, just talking, just being with each other. JC puts the phone on speaker. "Hey."

"You can tell Gerard I'm alive."

"He's listening."

"In that case, I'm alive."

"Millions of women rejoice," Gerard tells him.

"Whatever, Gerard fucking Way."

Gerard smirks.

JC asks, "You get some sleep, Jup?"

"Probably not as much as you, but I'm good."

"Yeah?"

Justin is quiet for a second, "Yeah, Jace. You?"

"We should do lunch in a couple days."

"I'll call you."

"If you don't, I'll call you," JC warns.

"I know. I meant it."

"'Kay," JC says, and ends the call. Gerard would think it sort of abrupt, but he has bandmates.

Gerard lays his head on JC's stomach, tracing one of the bite marks. "Should I have just asked?"

"Asked?"

"What you wanted for your birthday. Should I have just asked?"

"I like the way you try for me," JC says softly. "I don't want you thinking this changes that."

"But there... I mean, I'm not a rules kinda guy, but guidelines, those wouldn't be bad."

JC says, "You're not kidding," and Gerard gets the sense he isn't talking about things in relation to himself.

Gerard starts them off with. "You don't want to be shared."

"I don't want to share," JC says.

This brings Gerard up short. "I didn't—"

"He touched you. He saw you. It was sharing." Up until now, JC has seemed like such a generous guy. But his voice is low and a little distressed and Gerard hears where maybe he wanted to push Justin away, wanted to claim what is his as thoroughly as Gerard has done. The thought is surprisingly appealing.

Gerard has always been wary of allowing others to lay claim to him, even others whom he knew wouldn't use it against him. But JC hasn't asked, not even now, not even really by implication. He hasn't asked. Which somehow makes it possible to say, "You don't have to share me. Not like that." JC gets the band thing. He won't mess with that.

It makes it somehow possible to realize what the right gift was. To kiss JC and say, "This is how it should have gone."

*


Gerard curls his tongue in JC's mouth, and it would be lazy, indolent, seductive except that it's purely, clearly invitational. JC takes him up on the invitation, hooks his tongue over Gerard's, caresses Gerard's with his own. He brings his fingers to touch lightly at the back of Gerard's neck. Gerard pulls from him—not a break, just a reluctant motion away. "I, um. This is something I haven't done in a while."

"Yeah," JC says, solemn and yet glowing, "I'd sort of gotten that part."

JC strokes along Gerard's neck, tilts his head to fit his mouth over the pulse beating somewhat rapidly in Gerard's throat. He kisses it, laves at it, shows it care. Gerard gets metaphors. He lays back, his hands around JC's biceps, bringing him along, bringing him down. JC follows without struggle. Once Gerard is fully flat against the bed, JC works his way down, slowly. He scrapes along Gerard's collar bone, dances over his sternum, stopping for a twirl or two around his nipples, he holidays at Gerard's navel, and finally, finally comes to Gerard's cock, which should have been the point of all this, only by that time, Gerard has forgotten there is a point.

JC takes his time with that, too, sinks slowly, licks firmly, hollows out his cheeks and only when Gerard is writhing, allowing JC entrance of his own accord without recognizing said accord, does JC slip one very slick finger inside. And that's fine, that's something JC does anyway, because it's good that extra something, even with two fingers. Three burns a little, but JC is patient, so very patient and he just plays, just enjoys this given moment of freedom until Gerard is whimpering, mixing the sound in with the word, "more," and "Jace," and "more."

JC withdraws then, rolling Gerard onto his stomach. Gerard tries to help, but his muscles have other ideas. JC laughs, but it's not malicious, it's delighted. He says, "You're so fucking decadent like this. You spoil me."

Gerard thinks he'll have to consider those words later. For now he's still trying to work with JC's hands, nudging his hips up, supporting them with pillows. JC's hands leave him for a few seconds and then there's the smell of something clean, rain water or leaves in the spring or something that Gerard knows but can only vaguely identify. JC's hands come down warm and firm. JC whispers, "I've been dying to return this favor. Your back, fuck."

Gerard nearly swallows his own tongue.

JC works into his muscles, deep but never too deep, and Gerard would try to resist the utter languor but it seems pointless, and likely to end in defeated humiliation. When JC works in the three fingers this time, there is nothing but fulfillment, nothing but, "Jace, please, Jacejace."

"Mm," JC says, and leans over to kiss at the small of Gerard's back. Gerard is well aware that's a sensitive spot on a human's body, but the swirl of fired, explosive pleasure that spreads out from that point is a bit ridiculous, even so. JC works himself in slow and smooth, tiny thrusts, back and forth, back and forth and it's intense, maybe, for a second, too much so, but then JC traces the line of Gerard's shoulder blade with his tongue and Gerard breaths and, "Oh, oh oh."

"Decadent," JC repeats, stressing every last letter.

Gerard knows JC is confused. He's not going to tell him. When JC is settled inside of Gerard, Gerard feels JC's hand, long fingers, warm palms, come around his cock.

JC says, "Slow, all right, Gigi?"

No, not all right, but JC keeps it slow and Gerard can't find the vocabulary to complain. When JC's thumb finally runs smoothly, insistently, over the head of Gerard's cock and he comes just from the easy glide, that little additional hint of pleasure, Gerard can't really remember what he'd planned to complain about. JC is still taking his time when Gerard is done, and Gerard would expect that to be hard, to want to be done, but he likes it, likes that JC wants this to last, wants this to be something. When JC can't hold on any longer, Gerard finds JC's hand and holds on for him even as he disperses into pleasure and sound.

*


Gerard says, "I need help, you know I need help."

JC laughs. "That's possibly the truest statement you've ever made."

"Oh, mean."

"Needing help has made you a multi-millionaire. I suspect you'll recover from my sharp and insulting nature."

"I meant with the house."

"I know."

"JAY. CEE." Gerard is not above being petulant with JC. Not at all.

JC laughs, which is possibly one of Gerard's favorite sounds in the world. It competes with Mikey's laugh, the beat of Bob's drums, Frank tuning his guitar and the slow cadence of Ray's voice when he's trying to get Gerard to listen to him. JC says, "Oregon, huh?"

"You'll like it," Gerard promises.

"I do like Oregon. It's pretty."

"You'll like the house, too. It has wooden floors and high ceilings and a backyard."

"I'm not coming to see the house," JC says.

"I want you to see the house," Gerard argues. He knows, he understands what JC is saying and it's sweet, sweet like every fucking thing JC does, but Gerard wants him to see the house, wants him to see how well he fits in it.

"I'm just saying, you're wasting a hell of a lot of decent to good convincing on me, when I was pretty much converted at 'wanna visit me?'"

It's horrible and awful, but Gerard has to stop for a moment to just take that in, to just be happy about it. "I like making an effort for you. You're effort-worthy."

JC is quiet for a bit. "You okay?"

In general, JC doesn't ask things like that unless it's to a purpose, so Gerard does him the courtesy of actually thinking about the question. "I wish Mikey were here." I wish you were.

"I— I can't imagine."

Gerard knows. Gerard once read a three page email from JC, sent at three sixteen in the morning, freaking out about Backstreet's decision to record without Kevin and how it was Unholy and Wrong and they had best hope that no deity discovered their trespasses and struck them down with lightning and JC worried about this because Nick was a sweet kid and Brian and Howie wouldn't hurt a fly and he had sort of slept with AJ once or twice and they were on good terms, truly. And Backstreet only has cousins, not brothers. Gerard says, "It's good for him."

"Yeah. Yeah. You're a good brother like that."

"Jace—"

"No, Gerard. No, you're— I don't know if I could've let go like that. If Tyler had been one of my band? I don't know. That was... That was love. I think I fell for you all over again when you did that, when you sent him home, I think."

"It wasn't a choice." Not really, not with Mikey faltering.

"Gerard."

"Yeah?"

"I miss you."

Gerard nods. Something terrible. Fierce. "Oregon."

"I love Oregon."

*


JC is sitting on his front steps when Gerard pulls up to the house. Gerard sits down next to him and JC says, "Oh good. I was starting to be concerned I'd gotten the wrong house and I was going to freak out some nice, normal family when they came home."

"So considerate," Gerard says.

"Tell me you have the keys, because if not I'm throwing caution to the wind and getting on my hands and knees out here, and if you can resist that, our relationship has bigger problems than I really want to acknowledge."

Gerard's already busy trying to figure out which key is the right one by the time JC is on the word "knees." He's found it by "relationship," and they're in the house by "want". Gerard kisses him when he hears the period. JC grins. "You waited for me to finish my sentence. Such a gentleman."

Gerard rolls his eyes, pulls JC—who shrieks—over his shoulder, smacks his ass for good measure and takes them to the bedroom. At the time that he hired an interior decorator to come and set up some basic stuff before he came—like, say, the bed—Mikey made fun of him for supposedly being incapable of doing it by himself and Ray questioned his manhood; Gerard isn't even sure how that works when one is talking about setting up a house, but Ray made it. Gerard persevered, though, and now that there is a bed with 500-thread count sheets waiting for him and JC—who are both regrettably too old to be having sex on the floor if avoidable—Gerard is ever so glad he did.

He drops JC on the bed and uses his moment of disorientation to unbutton JC's jeans, pull them down over his hips and go to town. Gerard has really, really missed JC's cock. JC plays lightly, almost distractedly, with Gerard's hair and hums, "Mm, Gigi."

Gerard sucks until he can feel the edge that JC's fighting not to go over then stops. "You said something about hands and knees?"

JC scrambles to get just there, having to kick off his pants the rest of the way. Gerard's glad JC had the foresight to wear flip-flops. JC's a good planner like that. Gerard pulls the condom he put in his pocket that morning out and gets himself ready as well. When JC's waiting, Gerard leans over and bites into the flesh of his ass, not pulling any of the force of the bite. JC moans. Gerard flicks his tongue over the skin caught between his teeth and then lets go, rising up and pushing hard and fast into JC. JC says, "Fuck, yes. Like that, like that."

Gerard doesn't slow it down, doesn't stop, just goes until they're panting in time with each other, harmony and rhythm. He doesn't touch JC's cock. He's tempted, but he knows he doesn't have to and that, that is too much of an offer for Gerard not to take JC up on every once in a while. JC comes with a howl, throwing back his head and Gerard leans down, pressing his forehead to JC's back—still shirted—and follows along.

*


"There are like, eight vegetarian restaurants that will deliver to this area. Five of them with vegan options." Gerard really can't hide his excitement. He loves Oregon, and his grown-up-boy house, and his boyfriend. Life is brilliant.

"Did you count?" JC asks.

"Yes," Gerard tells him. He did.

JC grins and kisses him and asks, "Which one are we gonna start with?"

Gerard says, "The first one on the list."

"Sensible of you."

"You didn't see how long it took me to make the list."

JC laughs softly. "Gonna show me your house?"

Gerard is. As soon as he remembers how to move and actually desires doing so. That time seems a long way off, but he makes himself roll over, crash onto the floor. JC bounds up. "Lazy."

Gerard doesn't deny it, but he follows JC out of the room, takes him into the two guest rooms and then down the stairs to the living room, onto the eat-in kitchen and past to the dining room. He winds back through the kitchen then, to the hall behind the stairs where there's a study. Gerard hasn't decided what he wants to do with it yet. There is something appealing in the thought of an actual study, with shelves and books and a desk, but he has a feeling a studio would get more use, and he has a sun deck for reading.

He shows JC the sun deck last and JC scrunches his bare feet against the wood of the enclosed deck. "This place is you-sized," is his judgment, his eyes crinkling in satisfaction.

They call for takeout and laze on the deck until the bell reverberates back to them, calling them to eat. Thanks to his decorator, Gerard has a kitchen table and chairs. There are no plates or utensils, but the takeout comes with both, so for the moment they are safe. Gerard watches JC put away the food—gearing up for later—and says, "You wanna risk going somewhere with me?"

JC slows slightly in his quest. "Somewhere?"

"There's a waterfall I want to see. Little ways from here." It's in a park, so there probably won't be a lot of reporters, but there will undoubtedly be tourists with cameras and Gerard's not going to act like he's not asking a big thing here. He's not going to act like it's not big for both of them.

"Hats," JC says. "And we behave ourselves."

Gerard couldn't agree more.

"Waterfall," JC says, sounding like Gerard said they were going to see the face of the almighty. Gerard kisses him. He doesn't have to behave until they leave the house.

*


The drive out is only about an hour and a half and it's completely beautiful, the leaves lush and just on the verge of changing, the sky surprisingly clear. When they reach the park, they each pull on baseball caps. Gerard has dressed in jeans and a white t-shirt, as nondescript and far from black as he could manage. JC has also done jeans with a navy blue t-shirt, nothing of his usual flair. The baseball caps both have names of basketball teams and had to be let out in the back. Gerard's pretty sure he stole them from Frank at some point, accidentally, of course. Or Frank packed them for him in some odd symbolic gesture that not even Gerard can parse. Either way, really.

Nobody looks twice at them. There's an enormous waterfall to look at instead and JC just walks ever closer until they're in the spray of it, which is cold but fresh. JC's breath catches at the feel of it. Gerard wants to put his hand to JC's chest, feel the shock by association, but he remembers that he has to behave.

"You've seen one before, right?" He has to shout a little over the roar of the water.

JC says, "A few, yeah."

Gerard would have been surprised to learn otherwise. All things told, JC's probably been more places, seen more things than Gerard. NSYNC was groomed overseas and never quite forgot it. From the look on JC's face, though, it would be hard to guess it was anything other than his first time. Gerard envies that, loves that, the way JC can make everything new, everything shiny. He suspects the talent also applies to him. He can't say he's unhappy about that. By the time JC turns to him and says, "You hungry?" they're both drenched. Gerard can hardly even feel it.

They squeak all the way back to the car. They stop at a pizza place about thirty minutes away from the park and order one cheeseless and one green onion then park on the side of the highway and eat in the car. It seems foolish to risk any more time in public establishments than necessary. Plus, the view from the stop is pretty breathtaking, a nice way to spend thirty minutes. Gerard drives them back to the house and by that time they're both mostly dry but the minute they get in the house JC says, "Wanna get wet again?" and walks as provocatively as humanly possible toward Gerard's shower.

JC is pretty provocative just standing still. Gerard follows.

*


JC folds to his knees and sucks Gerard off in the shower. Gerard returns the favor, although probably not so gracefully. JC doesn't seem to notice.

They use the afternoon to unpack the things that Gerard had shipped, the boxes full of stuff that he hasn't really seen in years. The third box uncovers finger paints, the good kind, oil and JC grins at them, clearly excited by the prospect. Gerard says, "Hey, come— C'mere," and leads JC out to the sun deck.

Gerard finds a rag that he can use in the kitchen and evenly applies each of the six colors at the center of the sun deck's floor. The floor is tiled, a nice, inoffensive-but-somewhat-boring light olive sort of color, and the colors clash a bit, bright red and orange and yellow, deep blue and green and brown. He makes a pinwheel out of them, spiraling out. Then he takes JC's right hand and says, "Lay it flat," before pressing it into the paint. He lets JC up and then presses his own hand, his fingers touching the tips of where JC's were.

On either side of the color burst they make handprints, careful that their fingers are always touching somehow, in some way. When the prints are laid, they sit back and watch, watch the paint dry, and Gerard never once wishes he could be doing something else. JC says, "We just totally brought down the value of your house."

Gerard says, "Luckily having you stay here brings it up by enough to counteract the devastating effects of my artistic mania."

JC laughs. "I think you might be getting my visit confused with the fact that you live here. You could leave feces in the hall and that would probably just up the price."

"Don't go giving me ideas."

"Ew." JC wrinkles his nose, but howls with laughter. Gerard isn't fooled. He knows he's got nothing on Chris Kirkpatrick; for that matter, probably Joey Fatone. He reaches out for JC, wanting to touch the laughter, to taste it, and in the end they have to take another shower. Gerard apologizes about JC's jeans, his t-shirt, but JC just says, "Why? They're prettier now."

Gerard thinks "prettier" is awfully fucking hard to accomplish while being worn by JC Chasez, but, "Okay, if you say so."

"I do," JC says. JC can be very stubborn in his opinions. Gerard likes that, too. It reminds him of the parts where JC hides his strength.

"I think I'll try to keep the paint away from your clothing anyway," Gerard tells him.

"If you insist."

Gerard can be stubborn, too.

*


November 2008

"I wanted to get you this really, really super cool cork remover, I mean, this thing, Spence, it could raise your children, but then I remembered you don't have children and Gee reminded me that you don't drink either, so that seemed like a pretty stupid gift, but then I wasn't really sure what to get you guys, but Gee came up with this and it's sort of the best idea ever."

Gerard says, "And by 'came up with it' he probably means that he thought up the idea and I knew where to go to get it."

Spencer laughs at the two of them. It's fond laughter. JC pushes him a little bit. Bob says, "Hands off my boyfriend, Chasez," but when JC gives him a contrite look Bob musses JC's hair and grins at him.

Spencer pats the box. "So...can I open it?"

"Get a move on, Smith," JC says, as dictatorially as he can manage. Gerard ruins it all by tickling him a little and making him jump and shriek slightly with laughter.

"We'd really like it if you would open your gift, please," Gerard says.

"Jerk," JC calls him, but kisses his cheek even as he says it. Spencer rips open the paper. Inside there are two items that look like old-fashioned pocket watches, one with SJS on it, one with RB. Spencer carefully pops the one with his initials open. On one side, there is a traditional clock face with Roman numerals and hands to tell him the time. On the other side is a picture of him and Bob, one that JC took about a half a year earlier at Gerard's party. Neither of them had known the picture was being taken. They were too busy being happy to see each other.

"Jace. Gee." Spencer looks up at them.

JC grins. "So, we did good? Even if it's not really a housewarming gift?"

Spencer grabs JC in one of the tightest hugs he's ever received and squeezes a bit more before moving onto Gerard. Bob asks JC, "You okay?" and waits to get a nod, before trying to kill JC by hug himself. Like Spencer, Bob gets to Gerard, too and then the two of them go to show off the gifts.

Gerard says, "It really was your idea."

"You were complaining that Bob never knew the time."

Gerard laughs. "My creative genius strikes inadvertently once again."

"It does terrorize you," JC says sympathetically.

"And you, by default," Gerard tells him.

"Mm, yes, one of the many hardships I must endure to be your one true love."

"Much like I must bring myself to bear your endless levels of endurance."

"You know what they say about crosses, and us all having them."

"I may have heard that saying once." Gerard pretends to ponder.

JC kisses him, because Gerard's pondering face is one of his favorites. As long as it's not being compared to any of Gerard's other faces. He says, softly, "Think I could get away with wearing a locket?"

Gerard strokes JC's cheek and kisses him back. "I think you could get away with anything you damned well pleased.”


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile