sparsenicjade
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Title: No Me Without You
Author: Arsenic
Rating: Slash, PG
Pairing: Timbertone
Disclaimer: Don't know them, own them, have anything to do with them. Just like to tell stories.
Summary: Boy loves boy. Boy loses boy. Boy wants boy back.

Thanks: To Emmy for running this challenge and being a fantastic gal in general.

*
You're taking them all for granted
You may lose them one day

*

Despite the fact that he enjoyed acting, Joey was the least likely of all the guys to be a drama queen. Which was how Justin missed the fact that Joey had left him until several days after it happened.

They were in the middle of the tour, so Joey just switched a couple of his things back to Lance's bus and cajoled JC into returning to the "den of terror" that was Justin and Chris's lair. Joey moving between buses wasn't terribly unusual though, Lance was his best friend, after all. Joey didn't scream or accuse Justin of any crimes, so Justin didn't figure it out until he boarded the other bus looking for Joey and Lance said, "What the fuck, J? Leave him alone."

"Huh?" It was the best Justin could do on short notice. Contrary to popular opinion, Lance was only truly bitchy when he had a reason to be.

"He doesn't want to see you right now. Just give it some time. It'll, y'know, heal."

Justin pretended not to panic. Lance had a bad habit of using clichés when he was worried. "Lance, what are you talking about?" Justin enunciated each word, as though speaking to someone who didn’t understand English very well.

Lance put his hand underneath Justin's chin and scrutinized the younger man's face for a minute. "I don't fucking believe this."

"Lance-"

"He didn't just come over here for a few days, J. He came over to stay."

"Lance, you know Joey and I are-"

"'Were' would be the operative word here."

"Don’t you think he would have said something to me if he was breaking up with me?"

"Maybe he wanted to see if you would notice." Lance raised an eyebrow pointedly.

Justin opened his mouth to respond, shutting it when his brain alerted him that Lance, in fact, had a point. "So, what you're saying, is that I've been single for four days?"

Lance was mildly impressed that Justin even knew when Joey had switched buses, but he wasn't going to admit that. "That would be the shorthand version, yeah."

Justin ran a hand over his head down to the back of his neck. His fingers massaged at this skin for several moments. "I came over here to tell him that I miss him."

Lance winced but stood his ground.

*
You sheltered me from harm
*

JC had introduced Justin to Joey the first week that he had joined the MMC cast. It had been too hot to think about anything beyond the next breath, but Joey had come over after school to watch them. He'd gotten his allowance a few days earlier and celebrated by buying a couple of snow cones for himself and JC to share. JC had noticed Justin trying not to stare jealously and invited him to join.

Joey had immediately held out his snow-cone as an offering for the younger boy. "Hey kid, take a bite."

Justin had grimaced slightly at being called a kid, but he had long accepted that people with even the least justification for seeing him that way generally did. He took the snow cone with a grin, taking a bite. He shivered at the sensation of the ice against his teeth. "Thanks."

JC swallowed his own bite. "I'm being rude. Justin, this is my friend Joey. Joey, this is Justin, our newest cast member."

"Oh yeah?" Joey's lips had turned green from the dye in the snow-cone. Justin had found this ridiculously attractive. "He any good?"

Justin had stolen the cone back from Joey for talking about him like he wasn't there. "I'm gonna be the new star."

"In an ensemble piece?" Joey's grin had been green and radioactive in more ways than one.

Justin had cocked his head. JC had laughed, messing with Justin's curls. "Somebody told you confidence was everything, huh?"

Justin had ducked his head slightly. "My mom."

Joey had offered up the last of the cold treat. "Why're you ducking your head? Moms know everything."

Justin had been pretty sure up until that point that nobody could claim -- in so many words -- to be a momma's boy and still come off as cool. Joey had changed Justin's world from the first moment he had walked into it.

~

Lou had only yelled at Justin once. Most of the time Diane or Lynn had been around to act as protective forces, or someone else had attracted Lou's wrath more strongly, but it had happened one time.

They'd done shows for a week straight and Justin had been so tired that he couldn't feel his feet. Right before a photo shoot, Justin had started crying for no particularly explicable reason other than exhaustion and homesickness trying to vent themselves. Within seconds, he'd messed up everything the makeup artist had accomplished, regardless of his attempts to stop the tears.

Lou had started going off on him, so loud and furious that Justin hadn't been able to understand him through his own emotional distress. It had no sooner started though, then it stopped. Joey had been beside him then, tugging at his hand to get him back in the makeup chair. Justin had looked up at Joey, perplexed. "Um, thanks." He had felt stupid when he sniffled, looking around for a non-existent Kleenex.

Joey had disappeared for a second and returned with tissues from the bathroom. "Be gentle, they're not all that soft."

Justin had nodded, following Joey's instructions. "What'd you say to him?"

"Threatened to sic your mom on him. Lynn's a scary lady."

Justin had smiled weakly. "I dunno what this is about. I'm not freaking out, or anything, I don't think."

"We're all freaking out, Jup. Nature of being dirt poor and across the ocean from people who speak your own language."

"Nobody else is crying."

"Everybody else is just picking more opportune times, kid. That's all."

Since that first day, Justin had never felt like he was being spoken down to when Joey used the term 'kid' as a nickname.

~

Lance had collapsed nine days after he turned twenty and none of them had taken it all that well. Chris had blamed himself, being the oldest and the one who had taken Lance away from the safety of Mississippi in the first place. JC had imbibed a lot of coffee and written scary, atonal dance music. Justin had called his mom and tried valiantly not to panic. Joey had refused to leave Lance's bed side.

Justin had cajoled Joey away long enough to get him to take a shower, telling him that "Lance is gonna be freaked out if he wakes up to that smell."

When Lance had been released, Diane had dropped Joey off at his house on their way home. Justin had come over a day later to check on Joey, make sure he had slept. Joey had. His smile had been real for the first time since Lance had fallen to the ground silently backstage at the Disney Concert. "Hey, kid."

"Wanna go to lunch? I'll treat."

Joey had always been a sucker for free food.

Justin had chosen the lull in between ordering food and its arrival to say, "Lance is gonna be okay." He had hated himself for needing to say it, needing to be reassured that he was right by the one person who least needed to be doing the reassuring, but Justin had always been able to rely on Joey's optimism.

"We're not gonna let anything happen to him. Not ever again." Joey's answer had sounded less like optimism and more like grim determination.

Justin's expression must have shown his worry, because Joey had reached across the table to mess with his hair. "You okay?"

Justin had shrugged.

Joey had retracted his hand. "Don't worry. We're not gonna let anything happen to any of us."

Justin, as always, had believed him.

~

Their first kiss had been in a bathroom, but it hadn’t felt dirty or rushed, just necessary. Justin had been going cross-eyed from listening to their lawyers talk about contracts and royalties and settlements, so he had excused himself to go the restroom.

Justin hadn't actually needed to pee, so he had utilized the sink, splashing warm water over his face. When he had straightened back up to look at himself, Joey had been behind him. Justin had jumped. "Shit, Joey."

"Sorry, didn't mean to spook you." Joey had put his hands on Justin's shoulders. He hadn't moved them, just let them rest there, heavy and secure.

"We taking a break?"

"Nah, I wanted to see if you were okay." Joey's eyes had studied Justin's in the mirror.

"Yeah, fine. Tired."

Joey had laughed softly. "Bet you ten dollars Jace falls asleep sitting up in the next half hour."

"I know better than to take that."

Joey had walked away to grab paper towels for Justin. Justin had reached out to take the paper towels and somewhere between transferring Wisconsin Brand Hand Tissues between themselves, the two of them had ended up tight against each other, kissing desperately. Justin had never been sure exactly who started it, but he knew Joey had been the first one to pull away.

Joey had brought the paper towels up to dry off the parts of him that Justin had gotten wet and then gently wiped the remaining water from Justin's face and neck. "Okay then."

Justin hadn't known what to say to that. He had a feeling, "I'm legal" hadn't been the best response he could have formulated, but it was the only thing that his vocal chords seemed to be able to manage.

"Yeah, because more legal problems is the last thing we need, huh?"

Justin had thought, 'actually, I think the last thing I need is you freaking out on me.' He'd come back with the riskier, but more to the point, "So, um, we could do this again. If, y'know, that's cool, and all."

"I thought you told JC everything."

"I do."

"He said you were straight."

"I tell him everything, because unlike the rest of you, he's good at keeping secrets."

Joey had frowned slightly, bemused. "Later, then?"

Justin had leaned forward to peck him on the lips promisingly.

~

Lance had asked, "You know you gotta keep this quiet, right," but other than that, the guys had been happy for the two of them. Management had not.

Britney had come into the picture, and Joey had dug up Kelly's number at Johnny's insistence.

NSA had outsold everyone's highest estimates and suddenly the five of them had gone beyond being household names. Justin Timberlake most of all.

Justin had fallen in love with being Justin Timberlake. Joey had been there the whole time, watching it happen. He and the guys had all been convinced that the Justin they knew was still in there somewhere, buried under the person that everyone outside the group had constructed.

Joey had slept with Kelly more out of sheer loneliness than anything else. Justin had been near him all the time and yet the person Joey had been dating for over a year had gone completely MIA months previous. Kelly had known about him and Justin. The whole thing had been one giant attempt at comfort gone completely and utterly wrong.

If Joey hadn't already thought that things were in critical condition between him and Justin, Justin's reaction to the news of Kelly's pregnancy would have been the final straw.

"You slept with Kelly?" Justin had pouted, but Joey had recognized the pout as the same one Justin showed reporters.

"It was…stupid."

"No shit, Joey. I wasn't enough for you?" The note in Justin's voice had been closer to genuine than the moment before, but there was more ego behind the question than hurt.

"You weren't there." Joey's anger had run through his body, but he had kept his tone even.

"We spend almost every second of our lives together, Joey. You need more?"

Joey had wanted to shake Justin, just to make sure the person standing in front of him was real. "Something like that."

*
You never said too much,
But still you showed you cared

*

Justin found JC on his own bus after being kicked off of Lance and Joey's. "Joey left me." He had a feeling the announcement was unnecessary, because JC generally knew everything, even if he pretended exactly the opposite the majority of the time.

JC didn't say a word, just glanced up at Justin for a moment before returning to the song he was working on. Chris, on the other hand, paused his video game long enough to say, "About fucking time."

"Thanks for the support."

"Come back to me when you deserve it."

"What the fuck? Did nobody else notice that it was Joey who cheated on me about ten months back now?"

Chris made his way over to where Justin was sitting. "Yeah, we were all hoping that would be the end, that you'd dump his sorry ass so that he could get on with his life. Instead, Joey spent ten months telling us all that there was redeemable boyfriend material in you."

"I'm a good boyfriend, asshole." Justin bit his lip. Joey was usually the one who came to his defense whenever Chris went too far.

"To Britney, in front of the cameras, maybe." This came from JC, who hadn't lifted his head.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

JC put down his pencil and studied Justin. Chris grew impatient waiting for a response and jumped in with, "When was the last time you risked going out with Joey instead of feeding him some line about cameras and audience expectations?"

Justin was about to retort that they had gone out for their anniversary the month before when he realized that he had actually asked Joey to spend the night in for just that reason. Justin was still searching for an answer when JC added, "None of us really know you anymore. Joey was just the last of us to admit it."

"And nobody felt that this might be important information to give me any time in the past, what, year, year and a half?" Justin was snarling. He knew it wasn't attractive but he couldn't help it. For the first time in awhile, he remembered that Chris and JC didn't care.

"You," Chris punctuated the sentiment by poking at Justin's chest, "haven't been listening to anyone."

Justin wanted to refute the statement, but he couldn't remember the last time one of the guys had said something more important than, "You gotta do better on that last note" or "Nice shirt." The guys may not have been overwhelmingly vocal about everything that went on, but Justin had never known them not to be honest when a situation called for it, in their actions if nothing else.

Justin wondered how much of his life he'd missed in the flashing of photographer's light bulbs.

*

Justin and Joey had developed a code over their time together. It hadn't been on purpose, they had never sat down and decided that winking with their left eye meant 'hello' or anything that well defined, they just both had little movements that became the equivalent of a sign between the two of them.

Joey had a way of tugging at his eyebrow piercing that indicated Justin was looking particularly hot. He did it one day, about a week after moving back onto the bus with Lance. The guys were in the dressing room, alone, so Justin laughed when he saw it. "Dude, it's just us, you can talk."

Nobody had been talking. Justin's pronouncement caused them all to look at him oddly. Joey clued in first. "The piercing is itching. I think I may be having an allergic reaction, or something."

"Oh." Justin wanted to put his hand to his stomach, see if he could untwist it from the outside. "You should have it looked at."

Joey turned away. "Maybe."

They had to go on without a hackey that night. Justin couldn't seem to complete the chain.

*

Justin had nightmares that he couldn't remember. He'd had them ever since he was a child. Back then, he'd climbed in bed with his mother and fell back asleep tucked firmly against her side.

After the first time Justin had had one while sleeping with Joey, Joey had never woken up to Justin's process of clawing his way out of sleep. He always seemed to know subconsciously when it had happened, though. He would roll over on top of Justin and murmur something unintelligible in his sleep. Justin invariably fell back asleep within minutes, basking in the heat of a slumbering Joey.

The first night Justin had one without Joey there to flatten him into the mattress, he tried piling four extra blankets on top of himself. The second time it happened, he got out of bed and kept himself busy until he felt tired again at nearly five in the morning. The third time he took a sleeping pill, but that kept him asleep until Chris shook him awake and threw him into the shower half an hour before soundcheck. Justin knew he had sounded groggy and possibly high when a couple of girls asked him about plans for his solo project.

He tried appealing to Chris after that, climbing into his bunk at three in the morning with a small, "Please, c'mon."

Chris relented, but he didn’t feel the same as Joey. After two and a half years, Justin knew the patterns of Joey's skin, the temperature of his breath, the timing of his movements. Justin got up after an hour and drank two 20 oz. bottles of Coke. He watched the sunrise and told himself things were better this way. He'd always been sleeping too soundly to enjoy the unnatural pink that burned the Los Angeles sky or the calming orange of Utah in the early hours.

*

JC found Justin in the hotel gym sweating and crying and aware of neither. JC slowly lowered the speed level on the treadmill. Justin allowed him to, he couldn't remember how long he'd been running and suspected that was not a good sign. When Justin was at a full stop, JC said, "You can't do this. You aren't sleeping enough."

Justin walked over to the water fountain and drank for a long time before straightening back up. "Do you ever get sick of hearing your own voice?"

JC figured the question was rhetorical. He was right.

"Joey sang his verse in 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand' last night… I wanted to stop singing for the rest of the night. Just let him take over my parts and listen." Justin stooped down for more water, swiping the excess from his face with the back of his hand when he finished. "He used to sing to me, not really to me, just offhand, in the shower maybe, old songs that his dad had played while he was growing up, or shit from when he was in high school, most of the time he didn’t even know all the words."

"I could loan you my 'On the Line' CD."

"That's not really the point."

"You're right, the point veers much closer to the fact that you don’t have that CD in your collection of several hundred and evidently didn’t feel the need to be at the movie's premiere, but what's done is done and I'm offering a way for you to hear Joey singing, all by himself, no distractions."

"I don't even remember what I was doing that weekend, y'know?"

JC sighed. "You think if you put the CD on while you're going to bed it'll help you sleep?"

Justin didn't gripe about the change of subject. He headed toward the door of the gym, "Couldn’t hurt to try."

*
And nobody else could ever know
The part of me that can't let go

*

Britney's response to Justin's very simple, "I need us to break up," was, "You're going to have to do better than that Timberlake, because, really, being your girlfriend is a pretty sweet deal for me."

Justin tipped his head against the bus window and wondered wistfully why Joey couldn't have felt that way. "Let's just say I made some mistakes and now I've gotta try and fix them."

"Oh shit." There was a loud pop of bubblegum before a momentary silence. "Joey dumped you."

"What? What are you talking about?" Justin and Britney had a very well-defined system of not talking to each other about things that nobody was supposed to know about. It didn’t mean they didn't know, just that plausible deniability was a good concept.

"Stop being Justin fucking Timberlake for two seconds and talk to me like some girl you've known since you were twelve, okay?"

Justin had a flash of insight over the fact that purposely avoiding subjects with someone for nine years was probably not normal. "Yeah, okay, I got dumped."

"So you're… This is… You have a strategy?"

"Not in the strictest sense of the word, no."

"Lord Almighty, boy. Look, I'm not gonna pretend to be any big expert on guys or anything, but if they're anything like the other half the population, he probably just wants to know he's more important to you than all your other stuff."

"All my other stuff? He's my fucking boyfriend. Was. Was my fucking boyfriend." The words twisted around Justin's stomach, squeezing painfully.

"True, but he sure as hell wasn't the one getting kissed on every magazine cover in the nation or having multi-million dollar real estate property being co-jointly purchased with."

"I told him I loved him. That was supposed to matter, not all those other things."

"And now for the cliché portion of this evening: actions speak louder than words, babe."

Justin didn't have the energy to scold her for giving out valid advice in a completely pre-fabricated manner.

"Justin?"

Justin made a small noise of acknowledgement.

"Okay. Here’s how the break-up's gonna go…"

*
The finest years I ever knew
Were all the years I had with you

*

Justin couldn't decide if the two hours during the concert were the best part of his day or a sick joke that some kind of deity was playing on him night after night. They were the only two hours when things felt right between him and Joey. Regardless of what he did on stage, Joey was willing to play along, smile back at him, grant Justin all the privileges he had lost. Well, almost all.

Things were so good that it took Justin a surprisingly long time to realize that Joey may have accepted Justin's attentions, but he never initiated anything. Justin experimented by being playful with just the other three guys one night only to find at the end that he'd barely even seen Joey the entire time. He didn't experiment again.

Chris finally sat him down after a show. "You can't keep doing this, it's driving him crazy."

"I can't wake up to him laughing at me, or feel his hand on my shoulder during long-ass business meetings, smell his shampoo on the bus for hours after he showers- This is all I've got Chris. He's my fucking sanity. Either way, you're gonna lose one of us."

"I guess deciding which one of you is more important is still up to you, huh?"

*

Justin gave Joey his space. So much so that Lance hunted him down before a show a week later. "You can't act like Joey has leprosy during the concert."

Justin banged his forehead against the wall until Lance brought his hand up to intercept it. "You can't self-injure either."

"I can't be friendly with him, I can't stay away from him, I can't have control over my own body. Tell me something Lance, what the fuck can I do? Really, just tell me, I'll do it."

Lance used his hand to turn Justin's face his way. He looked into Justin's eyes, his own safely locked behind green-ice representations of windows to the soul. After a moment he dropped his eyes, bringing them back up again. Justin could see some of Lance when their eyes met a second time. Lance whispered, "Hello."

Justin's eyes were pained as he responded, "Hello."

"I missed you."

Justin was about to say that he didn't understand. He looked at Lance again. It had taken him a second to recognize what change had occurred in Lance's eyes seconds before. "I… I missed you too. I don’t know what happened." His lower lip trembled. He bit it resolutely. "Everyone's mad."

Lance hugged him. "Everyone'll get over it."

"I dunno."

"I know, but I do."

"You haven't told me what to do."

"I don't have to. You've found Joey's 'kid' again. He knows what to do."

*
I would give everything I own,
I'd give up my life, my heart, my home

*

The house in LA was really Britney's. It had Justin's name on the deed and he'd paid for his share of it, but it was her idea, her choice and her initials were monogrammed on all the towels. Justin wasn't all that heartbroken when she asked to buy it off of him.

He didn't bother to get too attached to the money that was returned to him. He did a little online research and found a real estate agency in upstate New York. The house he finally settled on was rural and sprawling. It was about twenty minutes from civilization and three hours from Manhattan. The grounds were covered with trees that would blaze red, brown and orange in the fall months and tiny hills that Brianna could sled down in the midst of four foot snowstorms. The inside sported old-fashioned fireplaces and a wood burning pizza stove in a addition to a modern, self-cleaning one. Justin contracted someone to install towel warmers and insulated curtains.

The keys were FedExed to him on the road as requested. He had the woman behind the desk of the hotel where they arrived send someone to make a copy. He snuck onto Lance and Joey's bus before the show that night and taped the two keys above Joey's bunk. He left a note with it containing a URL where Joey could see the property and the words, "It's ours. Or it will be, when I earn the right to have the other key."

Justin hoped it meant something that Joey kept the keys.

*

The second -- and most important -- part of Justin's plan was harder to implement. He was aware that his timing had to be perfect for it to work. He was also aware that he was scared out of his mind over the idea of actually going through with it.

The opportunity didn't come until shortly after the tour. Lance was in Russia, JC in LA and Joey had taken Kelly and Brianna on vacation, so when Chris asked if Justin wanted to hang at a couple of runway shows with him, Justin had only pretended to act bored by the suggestion for three minutes.

They were never bothered very much at those events. Snips of a conversation between Chris and Isaac Mizrahi might show up in the society column, or the fact that Lance had been talking with a smaller, upstart designer about costumes for Meredith's tour might get a paragraph in "In Style," but on a whole, they were pretty much left alone to do as they would. Knowing this, Justin was surprised when a reporter for E!, who -- for lack of a better story -- was broadcasting the show live, hunted him down with a shark-eating smile and asked, "Anyone new in your love life?"

Justin flashed her a deceptively benign grin and responded, "No, but there's a certain someone…well, I'm working on winning him back," before slipping back into the throngs of people, unable to hear his name being called over the beating of his heart.

*

Justin wondered, when the first call from the guys came from Joey three days later, if they had talked about who would get the honors behind his back. Everybody else in the known world had called; his mom, the media, Johnny, their lawyers, everyone but his best friends.

Three days had evidently done nothing to calm Joey down. He didn't even wait for Justin to say hello upon hearing the click of the receiver being picked up. "What the fuck Justin? You have any idea how big a fuck up this was? Did you even remember that there were four other guys involved in your decision to fucking come out? Did we cross your mind at any fucking time?"

Justin let Joey rant for several minutes, his use of obscenities getting more frequent and colorful as he went along. He ended with a noise that Justin could only characterize as a growl. Things were silent for a while as Justin held the phone away from him so that Joey wouldn't hear him crying. When he could talk without his voice cracking he came back with, "I didn’t forget about the rest of you. Not at all. But I can't be the N in NSYNC without being connected to the Y. When…when we first got together, I used to wish that we had told people that Lance's N was the first one in the name, so that you and me could be right next to each other. I'm sorry that what I did might hurt the rest of you, you have no idea how sorry I am, but I didn't have any other choices, Joey, you took them away when you left. I know I wasn't listening to you and this was the only way you could get me to notice, so I'm glad you did it. Because now I know that I have to make things up to you, and I can. But I can't make things up to you without remaking myself right now. I can't make things up to you without finding out who I've actually become in the time that I was parading around as Justin fucking Timberlake. This is me trying to do that."

Justin hung up without waiting for a response. He got in the car and drove to JC's place. JC had come back to Orlando to help calm the furor. He let Justin in his house without saying a word.

*

JC was the easiest person to go to when the world seemed to be falling apart. He made Justin chai with extra froth on top and sat across from him at the kitchen table in pretzel position.

Justin wrapped his hands around the mug. "Um, I'm. Really sorry."

"Oh, hon, somebody had to do it."

"Joey doesn’t think so."

"He yell?"

Justin nodded.

"He'll get over it."

"He said I put myself ahead of you guys again." Justin licked at the steamed milk. "I thought I did it for us. I wasn't trying to hurt us, I wouldn't do that, I wouldn't hurt you guys."

"Of course not."

"Could you maybe tell me what you're thinking here?"

"I wish you would've told us. We would've told you it was okay, been there when you did it, maybe not physically, but, there."

"Is Lance really pissed?"

"I learned some really cool Russian swear words. Then he calmed down. He'll call you in a couple of days and tell you you're a jerk before forgiving you."

"Management says we're gonna take a hit. We have to rethink demographics. Lots of big words followed. I didn't have my dictionary readily available."

"They called and gave Chris the same talk. He spit back Rosie's change in numbers since the interview. Not much change in either viewing audience or magazine subscribers."

"Different audience."

"For every hate letter pouring in you're averaging about two on support. The televangelists hate you though, I don't think we'll be doing any televised specials with Jerry Falwell in the near future. Think you can handle that consequence?"

Justin let a tiny laugh escape his lips. "There are only two consequences I can't handle."

"We don't hate you. What's the other one?"

"Not getting Joey back."

JC reached out with his hands across the table. Justin met him half way.

*

Joey came over to Justin's house with Brianna situated in a pouch that hung from his shoulders. He excavated her from the contraption and offered her up to Justin. Justin took her in the spirit she was given and stopped just short of smoking her like a peace pipe. Instead, he cooed, "Hi baby girrrrl." She gurgled.

Joey walked past Justin into the living room. He collapsed into a chair. Justin stayed standing. Joey looked up at him. "There's a possibility that I was a bit of an as-, jerk."

Justin bent his head and touched his lips to the top of Brianna's hair. "Probably earned the right."

"You doing okay?"

"There's one person left that I need to be fine with it and it looks like he's coming around, so yeah, pretty okay."

"Jup, it's just…that was a big thing."

"No Joey. No. You leaving me. That was a big thing. This was just…what are those things that they put at the bottom of the page? Oh, a footnote."

"You didn't even know I left. Lance had to tell you. I heard him tell you."

"Dude, give me a break here, okay? You visit Lance sometimes. I came to reclaim you after a few days. I came. And you wouldn't be reclaimed."

"You didn't even raise your voice. It was like Kelly all over again. Like I wasn't worth the energy."

"Joey-" Justin broke off, exasperated. "Have you noticed anything these last couple of months? Maybe that I broke up with America's sweetheart for no earthly reason? Or that I bought a house in BF New York because it had all the qualities you used to tell me about in a dream house way back when we were first starting and all our dreams were things that had to be laughed at as much as savored? Or maybe that I told the whole world that I'm on my knees for you while keeping you safe?"

Joey's eyes were watering and he refused to respond.

"I know I messed up, babe. Christ, I think I've spent every waking moment since you left remembering every time I cut you off in the middle of a sentence or worried more about me getting off than you or just plain didn't see how hot you are. I'm sorry. I'm so so unbelievably sorry. But I'm trying to make it up to you and you're not working with me. You gotta give me something here."

Joey had made his way over to where Justin was standing, one arm holding Brianna firmly against his side, the other coming up to pinch the bridge of his nose. Joey removed Justin's hand from his face and held Justin's chin in one of his palms. Justin's gaze met with Joey's, exhausted and grim. Joey leaned in a bit, resting his forehead against Justin's. "Let's not do this again, kid."

Justin sagged at hearing the nickname, and Joey's arms encircled him, holding him up. Brianna did not take well to the sudden motion, spitting up all over Justin's shoulder. Joey started to move away and get something to clean the mess up with. Justin twisted his free hand in Joey's shirt and held on tightly. "She's yours. I don't mind. Just, stay, right now, okay?"

"Sure, kid. Sure."

*
And I would give everything I own,
Just to have you back again

*
A Month Later
*

JC was fiddling with the sound controls in the booth while Justin ran over the lyrics for the song they were laying down when Joey showed up, bags full of lunch under his arms. JC squeaked and pounced on him. "Hi! You brought food!"

Joey thought that responding would only encourage JC's habit of stating the obvious, so he set the smaller man down in front of the bags silently. Justin had come up from behind him and now had his arms wrapped around Joey's waist. "Thanks. He forgets, y'know."

"I know. How's the recording going?"

"Oh, um. Good."

"Wow, don't overwhelm me with enthusiasm Timberlake, really."

Justin hit him playfully. "It's weird, doing this alone."

"Jace is here."

"No, I mean. Singing. Alone."

"You have solos all the time, this is just an extended version, or something."

"I know, it’s not bad, I guess. Just weird."

"Okay, well, I have something to help with the loneliness."

"Yeah?" Justin's smile spread slowly, calculatedly across his face.

"Get yo' mind outta the gutter. Not like that."

Justin pouted. "Then what?"

"Close your eyes, hold out your hand."

Justin rolled his eyes but did as he was told. A second later the feeling of serrated metal, warmed from the Florida summer air and proximity to someone's skin, touched his palm.

"You can open 'em."

Justin did. Then shut them. Then opened them again. "Oh. Ohohoh. This is…this is good." The key that he had copied several months before was lying in his hand.

"I thought maybe, in the fall, before you start planning your tour and all that, we could-"

The rest of what Joey wanted to say was lost as he was accosted for the second time in less than ten minutes. This time, he didn't set his attacker down for a long, long while.


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Skin by egelantier, photo by microbophile