The following story contains homosexual themes involving celebrities. I am not implying anything about anyone mentioned herein. I've made this all up. If this kind of thing makes you uncomfortable, then go away--we don't like your kind here. Alright so, that's that.

"I'm still learning things I ought to know by now." --Vertical Horizon

Don't Ever Die Again -3-

"Justin, what's wrong with you?" Wade bellowed. "It's just a simple pivot! You do about fifty in the show. You've nailed it every other time we've ever done it, and today you've got seven left feet. What's going on?"

Justin squinched his eyes and ran an angry hand through his hair. "Nothing, Wade, I'm having a bad day. We all have bad days."

"Even Lance is nailing this one, Justin!"

"Gee, thanks Wade," Lance mumbled from the back.

"So I'm not perfect, Wade. Big news there!" Justin felt his temper knocking at the back of his throat, so instead of opening his mouth and letting it fly, he swallowed it back down and walked to the side of the stage, where he'd left his water bottle.

Wade looked to the rest of the band. "Take five or ten, guys." And the formation broke into four individuals, searching for means of rehydration.

And again, Justin had managed to ignore those things that were biting at the back of his mind. My feelings didn't get me anywhere when I was little, and they won't get my anywhere now. So I might as well ignore them and be happier for it, Justin thought to himself. But you're not happy, his mind told him. Oh, shut up.

"The rest of the group's taking a break," Wade said as he stepped beside Justin, "but not you. You're coming with me, and we're gonna work on that move."

"Fine." Justin's voice was flat and focused as he followed the choreographer into the wings. Because focusing on something always made it easier to ignore the animals gnawing at the back of his brain.

After finding his bottle of water, Josh sat in the folding chair next to Lance. "Hey, Scoop," he breathed.

"Hi, JC." Lance took a long swig of his water. "Hey, JC?"


"What's wrong with Justin?"

Josh furrowed his eyebrows, and the sides of his mouth came into a scowl. "I don't know," he said quietly.

"Somethin' about Marc?"

Josh cringed and took another sip from the bottle he was holding. "Yeah. Maybe. I don't know."

Joey plopped down beside the two men. "Any guesses about Justin, yet?"

"Nope," Lance offered, taking another drink.

Josh rose from his chair with intent to begin pacing, his own nervous habit. He was just about to tell them that Justin had stopped eating again, when the edges of his vision faded into black and his head felt like it was floating. The words I'm gonna faint were on his lips as the floor came up beneath him.

Justin had honestly been watching Wade's feet, trying to get the move down though he knew in the back of his mind he already had it and was just having a bad day. And he had been honestly watching Wade dance, watching where the coach put his weight, watching how he swung his left leg around, concentrating on this move. But then, like a vacuum, all of the youth's concentration was sucked to his best friend. The familiar panic that Justin never got used to set in, and in the blink of an eye, Justin broke into a sprint for the stage.

"Josh!" A primal fear ran through Justin when he saw his best friend lying on the floor, his three band mates standing around him. He dropped to his knees beside the brunette and laid a hand on his chest, just to reassure himself that they were both there and they were both breathing. "What happened?" he asked immediately, though he already knew.

"He fainted again," Chris answered. "You know this happens sometimes, Justin. It's his low blood pressure."

"Did someone catch him?" Justin asked, remembering the last time when Josh'd had a nasty bump on his head for days.

"Yeah, I did." Joey said, shifting his weight from one leg the other.

"Justin, he's okay," Lance said softly. "Just let him alone for awhile and he'll come around. Come on, let's get back to rehearsal."

The next thing Justin realized was that he was sliding one of his hands under Josh's knees, and the other under his back. And as he lifted the older man, Justin's fingertips came alive with the electricity from touching the bare skin of his friend's arm.

"Where are you going?" someone asked as Justin began carrying Josh off stage.

"The wardrobe trailer," Justin answered. "There's a couch in there." And Justin managed to ignore everyone else's protests--even Wade's. They all should have known how Justin acted when something was wrong with Josh; he didn't rest until everything was better.

 And there's something wrong now, isn't there? Justin thought, looking down at the unconscious man in his arms. Yes, of course there is, and you've got to stop pretending there isn't. There's something weird here. Justin stopped in front of the door to wardrobe, still looking at his friend. But you don't know what it is, do you? You have no fucking idea what's going on here. So, how're you gonna fix this one, smart guy? How the hell are you gonna fix this one?

Justin sighed and knocked on the door with his foot. Marie opened the door and immediately gasped at the sight of Josh lying in Justin's arms. "What happened?" she asked, flustered. "Is he okay?"

"He fainted again," Justin mumbled, maneuvering through the doorway and laying Josh down on the couch. And then, when he realized Marie was still standing behind him, he looked over his shoulder at her. "We'll be fine, Marie."

"Sure," she said. "Sorry." And she stepped out, shutting the door quietly behind her.

So, how're you gonna fix this one, smart guy? His mind repeated. How're you gonna fix it when you don't even know what's happening?

 He didn't seem to be able to supply himself with an answer, and he didn't particularly want to try, either. So, he just stood there in silence. The room was silent; his mind was silent. And for the longest time, Justin just stood there, looking at the man lying on the couch. Just looking at him, as if, by looking long enough, he'd be able to answer all his questions. If he just looked long enough.

But there wasn't that much time in the world; he knew that. And Justin was roused out of himself when he saw Josh's eyelids begin to flutter. Justin immediately perched on the edge of the couch, looking into Josh's face once again, but now for a different reason.

His eyes blinked open. "Hello," Josh said softly, "I fainted again, didn't I?"

"Yes," Justin whispered, suddenly unable to look at this man, and suddenly unable to keep his hands still.

"I fainted in the wardrobe trailer?" he asked, looking around.

"No," Justin said softly. "You fainted onstage."

"How did I get in here, then?"

And Justin could feel Josh's eyes on him, but he didn't dare look at his best friend. "I carried you."

"You did?"

"Yes." And those eyes--that stare. But Justin studiously ignored his friend's gaze. If you look at him now, there's going to be too much there, he told himself. There's going to be too much, and you're not going to be able to deal with it. Because there's a reason you carried him in here. There's a reason, and you don't wanna think about it. So just don't look at him.

"Is rehearsal over?" Justin could hear the weight of the stare in Josh's words, and it scared him.

"No," Justin looked at his watch. "There's still about twenty minutes or so."

"Maybe we should go back, then." And this time, the sound was less weighted from the stare, but Justin still couldn't bring himself to look up from his hands.

Justin tried to clear his throat of the nervousness that was suddenly coating his vocal chords. "You're not dancing anymore today. Not until the concert."

"Okay, fine," Josh conceded. "Maybe you should go back."


"Justin . . ." Josh protested, thinking that maybe Justin needed the rehearsal time today.

"No. I'll be fine tonight, Josh. I always am."

And even though Josh had been looking at Justin the whole time, that was the first time he'd noticed how uncomfortable he seemed to be. Just tell him, Josh thought to himself. I don't know why this time is any different for him, but it is. Just look how nervous you're making him. Just tell him about Marc and be done with it.

"Justin?" Josh swung himself into a sitting position, and then moved closer to his best friend.

"Uh, yeah?" His thoughts were just constant motion inside his head, now. His mind was moving so fast that he had no chance of keeping up with it.

Josh laid a hand on top of Justin's, and it seemed to Justin like the entire universe screeched to a halt. Everything inside him stopped. Everything outside him stopped. It seemed like the center of everything was the electricity that ignited the back of his hand. Careful. Careful.

"Justin," Josh whispered, "please calm down." And it was the sincerity in that voice that made Justin look up into Josh's eyes for the first time in what must have been days.

Careful. Careful.

"Justin, I have something to tell you," Josh proceeded cautiously when he saw he had the youth's full attention.


Say it "Something about . . ." say it "Marc."

"What?" the younger man asked again.

Tell him "Marc didn't break up with me. I . . ." tell him "I broke up with him."

Justin's mouth opened involuntarily. The void inside his chest throbbed painfully, and he thought about pulling his hand away, but he didn't. Careful. "You lied to me?" It wasn't an accusation. It was a question.

"No! No, I didn't," and Josh fought to keep his eye contact with Justin. "I told you that Marc and I broke up. You just assumed that he had . . . . And I didn't correct you because . . ."

"Because why?" And again Justin thought twice about pulling his hand away. And again his mind whispered, Careful.

"Justin," Josh took Justin's hand in both of his and turned to face the younger man, "I didn't want you to feel responsible."

Justin shook his head. "I don't understand. Why would I feel responsible?"

You've gone this far, Josh's mind told him. You can't just stop now. You've got to finish. "Remember when I got food poisoning?"

Justin nodded.

"And that was when Marc found out that you sensed things about me?"

Justin nodded again.

Softly, "It freaked him out, Justin. He didn't know how to think about you after that, and he started," you can't stop now "he started asking me to stop rooming with you."

And Justin was going to pull his hand away this time, but Josh's eyes wouldn't let him.

"I said no every time, Justin," Josh hurried, seeing the panic beginning to rise. "Every time he asked I said no. I mean, of course I said no." You can't stop now. "And then that night he called when you were swimming . . ."

Justin nodded.

"He told me to choose."



And it hung in the air,



but Justin needed it to be said.



"And you chose me."



"Of course I did."

Justin shook his head, pulled his hand away, and stood from the couch. That hadn't filled the pulsing space inside his chest like he'd been expecting it to. It just felt like the void had been dug deeper, made heavier and more painful than before.

Josh stood up and put a consoling hand on his friend's back. "Justin, this isn't your fault. You didn't do anything wrong."

"How can you say that?" Justin almost screamed, whirling around to face Josh. "I caused you to lose someone you loved. How can you say that isn't my fault?"

"Because you didn't know about it. It's not like you woke up one day and decided to be the reason I broke up with Marc. You didn't know it was happening, so it's not your fault. And besides," Josh hurried on when he saw Justin want to cut in, "I didn't love Marc."

Justin blinked. "What? You were with him for almost a year."

Josh sighed. "I know that. But there were a lot of problems. It's complicated, Justin. I didn't love him."

"Josh," Justin shook his head, "he was the most important person in your life, and I . . ."

"I never said that," Josh interrupted. "I never said he was the most important person in my life."

"But he was your boyfriend."

"I know that, Justin." Josh paused. "Look, Justin, you've got to get away from these universals that you believe in so much. Where is it written that a boyfriend is the be all and end all period, end of discussion? Marc is a nice guy, and maybe he gave me a few things that I was missing, but I never said he was the most important person in my life. He wasn't--not by a long shot."

Oh my god. He doesn't mean--

"Justin, you're the most important person in my life." Josh rested a hand on Justin's arm. "I thought you knew that."

It went right to that part of Justin that he'd boarded up so long ago. It pulled at the padlock, and it threw itself against the walls, wanting to get in and destroy everything Justin had worked so hard to build. And he hadn't meant to say it out loud. He had not meant to say it out loud, but he did. "I don't think I can deal with that."

Right as Justin realized what he'd said, and just when Josh was about to call him on it, the door to the trailer opened and the guys stepped inside.

Lance was in the lead and immediately saw that they'd interrupted something. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said quickly as he began to back out of the room. "We'll just wait for y'all in the limo."

"No!" Justin said far too loudly. "We're done." And he shot out the door like his feet were on fire.

No, we're not done, Justin. What the hell was that? What does that mean: you can't deal with it? Dammit, I knew there was something else. God, I just knew it.

* * * * *

It was about an hour before the concert started, and the guys were milling around backstage, migrating from wardrobe to hair and make-up and back again, so it was inevitable that Justin and Josh pass by each other once or twice. They rarely saw much of each other before a show, but this time was just different. This time, when they passed, neither one spoke, and when Josh lifted his head slightly, Justin bowed his even more and lengthened his steps, and it made the space around Josh's heart ache.

The impenetrable silence swallowed the whole band, until no one dared speak to anyone else for fear that Justin might shatter into a million pieces and tinkle to the floor in a heap of pained dust. So they all went about the routine like they'd always done--all the sound checks and lighting checks and whatnot, mostly just going through the motions. And then the concert began, and everyone there noticed that the spark that normally came with a performance was just simply not there that night. The fans didn't notice of course; they would have screamed their heads off no matter what happened. But something fell short that night, and almost everyone felt it.

It was during a costume change that Josh noticed it. And he honestly hadn't been watching Justin. In fact, he'd been trying to avoid looking at his friend too hard all night, for fear of freaking him out more than he obviously already was. Which, in and of itself, made Josh feel like bellowing out his anguish. Justin, you freaked out because I told you how important you are to me. How the fuck is that supposed to make me feel? You don't think you can deal with it? Why the hell not? It's not like it's ever been a secret. I just always assumed you knew that. And I also assumed that I was the same to you. A cry caught in Josh's throat at that thought, so he pushed it from his mind and swung his eyes across the room.

And he saw that Justin was just stepping out of his pants, and he saw Justin lose his balance. But instead of recovering from his stumble right away, Justin had to catch himself on the wall. He bent his head down, and Josh could see Justin's back heaving with the deep breaths his friend was taking. Josh's brow creased with immediate worry. It's because he's not eating. It's been days since I've seen him eat anything. But why isn't he eating? God, he's always talked to me about everything. At least that's what I thought. Why won't he talk to me about whatever it is that's bothering him? Josh sighed. Shit, what's wrong with him?

But then it was time for them to go on stage, and Josh didn't have time to think of anything but the music and the lights and the moves and the fans until the concert was over. And when they were changing back into their clothes, Josh looked across the room, and he saw Justin's forehead was still slick with sweat, and his breathing was still labored. Josh and the others had caught their breath long before, and Josh got worried all over again. And try as he may, Josh couldn't take his eyes off Justin until they were all inside the limo. It had taken everything Josh had in him not to spring forward to steady his best friend when he stumbled on the way to the limo. Josh was sure that Justin wouldn't be able to make it to the limo on his own, and he wanted to put his arm around his friend's waist and help him to the car, but he didn't know how Justin would react to that, so he let Lonnie step in and help Justin.

* * * * *

They finally got back to the hotel, and when everyone stepped off the elevator, Lonnie dipped his head and whispered, "Justin, are you gonna need help getting to your room?"

Justin smiled and shook his head weakly, "No, it's alright, Lonnie. I was just a little dizzy before. I'm fine now. Thanks, though." And Justin smiled as Lonnie nodded, stepped into his room, and shut the door behind him.

But now that Lonnie was gone, Justin looked across the expanse of carpet that separated him from his room, and he was sure he couldn't make it without falling, but he was determined to try anyway. If he fell it was his own fault and he deserved it. So, he put one foot in front of the other, and slowly began walking to his room, but then one of his feet got tangled up, and it didn't complete the whole step, and he could feel himself falling. He was sure he was going to hit the ground any second, but then he felt an arm clamp around his waist and haul him to his feet again. And when he turned his head to see who had helped him, he saw Josh trying to smile back at him.

"Thanks," he said weakly. "I can make it from here." And Justin tried to get out of Josh's hold, but he didn't have enough energy, and Josh wasn't letting him go.

"No you can't, Justin. Come on." So Josh helped Justin get into their hotel room, and Justin managed to wriggle away from him.

"I'm gonna take a shower, Josh." And before he could say anything else, Justin had already disappeared into the bathroom.

* * * * *

God, that concert drained me. I had no idea I was this bad, already. This shower is gonna be really hard. But I stink. Justin took deep breaths to try and give himself some energy as he disrobed and stepped into his shower. And he was doing quite well. He'd managed to soap himself up and rinse off without too much trouble. And he'd gotten the shampoo in his hair and was washing it out when it all caught up with him. And all of a sudden Justin couldn't catch a whole breath, and he couldn't stand up straight anymore. He sunk against the shower wall, the water beading against his skin. His chest was heaving; he could hardly see straight.

And though every bone in his body was against it, he didn't have a choice. "JOSH!" he yelled over the water. "JOSH, I need HELP!" Thank God I didn't lock the door. "JOSH!"

And the door flew open, and the shower curtain was flung aside. And there stood Josh, looking down at him with the most fear Justin had ever seen in anyone's eyes.

"Oh god, Justin. Oh my god." He reached over and turned off the water, then stepped into the tub and bent down, wrapping his arm around Justin's waist and hauling him to his feet. It was very difficult, but Josh managed to help Justin to the bed. And as Josh dried him off, Justin lying on the bed, his chest still heaving with the breaths he couldn't catch up with, Josh couldn't help but start crying.

Justin cringed as he propped himself up on his elbows. He couldn't see Josh's face, just the top of his head as Josh dried his legs, but Justin knew. "Josh, you're crying."

Josh stood up and nodded. "Yeah. Sorry." He roughly wiped the tears away from his eyes as he grabbed a pair of boxer briefs from Justin's drawer. Josh kneeled in front of Justin and began to slip the underwear onto his friend's legs. "Can you lift up a little, Justin?" Josh asked, now standing bent over him.

Justin wrapped his arms around Josh's neck and used him to lift off the bed enough to allow Josh to slip the underwear the rest of the way on. And when Josh pulled away and wiped at his tears again, Justin reached out and lay his hand flat against Josh's stomach to keep him from walking away. "Josh, why are you crying?"

He looked down at Justin. "You can't be serious. You can't be serious." But as Josh looked into Justin's fatigued eyes, he could see that Justin was serious. Josh stood there, staring at him for several seconds. Where do I start Justin? Jesus, how clueless can you be? Josh shook his head and pulled away from him. "You're killing yourself, and I can't do anything about it. That's why I'm crying."

Justin watched as his friend changed out of his wet clothes. I can't believe myself. I've been so wrapped up I haven't been tapping into Josh at all. "I'm sorry," Justin said softly.

Josh turned around and cocked an eyebrow. "What?"

"I'm sorry," he repeated. "I..." Justin sighed, "I know you love me. You're my best friend." He smiled. "I love you, too." There's nothing wrong with loving your best friend.

Josh sat next to Justin on the bed. "Will you start eating now?"

"In the morning," Justin smiled. "I'm exhausted." And Justin began to climb into his bed.

"That's because you haven't eaten in three days," Josh said, getting up. But before he could move away, Justin took hold of his wrist and pulled him back onto the bed. "Will you sleep in my bed tonight, Josh? Like we used to?"

"We haven't done that in forever."

"I know." Justin bit his lip. "I miss it." You. I miss you. Careful. You're treading on thin ice, Justin. Be careful.

Josh smiled and slipped into bed beside him. He put an arm around Justin's waist, and he heard his best friend sigh contentedly. This feels nice. I always liked this. He and Justin had stopped sleeping in the same bed when Justin began to go through puberty. Justin had been a late bloomer and hit puberty around age sixteen. Josh had then begun to feel a bit uncomfortable sleeping in the same bed with his best friend. Justin had always known Josh was gay, but when Justin began filling out, Josh hadn't wanted Justin to take anything he did the wrong way.

Justin had certainly grown since the last time Josh had held him like this. Before, Justin had been a skinny kid, but now his muscles were taut and defined. And he was taller; he filled up more of Josh's arms than he used to. And the body heat that radiated from him was warmer somehow. He even smelled different; more mature. And Josh fleetingly thought Maybe this feels nice in a different way than it used to. But the thought only just had time to surface before sleep enveloped him.

* * * * *

Justin's eyes fluttered open. A sigh escaped his throat; he had slept better than he had in years. It was then, though, that he realized Josh wasn't lying beside him anymore. "Josh?" he said, hurriedly. "Josh, where are you?"

"I'm right here," came the muffled reply as Josh stepped out of the bathroom, his toothbrush hanging from his mouth.

"Oh." Justin let out the breath he'd been holding. "I thought...I got scared when you weren't here."

Josh couldn't help but smile. "Breakfast should be here soon," he said, going back into the bathroom to finish brushing his teeth.

"You ordered breakfast already?" Justin asked, from where he lay in bed. "How did you know what I'd want?"

Josh laughed as he came out of the bathroom and sat cross-legged on the end of the bed. "You always want the same thing--Frosted Flakes and blueberry waffles. I'm not a total moron, Justin. I have been paying attention over the years."

Justin smiled a little, but then turned serious. "You ordered breakfast before I got up so I wouldn't have a chance to change my mind, didn't you?"


"Well what if I have changed my mind about eating this morning?"

"Well, then I'll tie you to the bed and force feed you. You're eating, Justin; there's no two ways about it. Not after everything that happened last night."

Justin smiled. "Josh, you're such a good mother."

"You're damn right I am," Josh smiled. "Someone's gotta look out for you when you refuse to do it for yourself."

Justin reached across the bed and laid his hand on Josh's. "I love you, man."

Josh returned the gesture. "I love you too, Justin."

Breakfast arrived and was eaten without another word on the subject. Afterwards, Justin was packing, getting everything ready so he and Josh would be ready to leave on time. Josh went to get an ETA from Lance and left Justin in the room, folding clothes and putting them in suitcases. It wasn't five minutes after Josh left that Justin was startled by a knock on the door. He opened it to find Chris smiling back at him.

"Hey Chris," Justin said, walking back into the room to resume packing. "What's up?"

"I just wanted to see how you were this morning. You looked bad last night. You gave us all a scare."

Justin smiled a little. "I'm okay. I just over did it last night, is all. I haven't been eating very much the past few days, and it all caught up with me. I'm alright now, though, thanks for asking."

"Sure." Chris watched as Justin stuffed the suitcase. "You know, it never ceases to amaze me the way you act when JC gets hurt."

Justin looked up from what he was doing. "What?"

"The way you can't concentrate on anything else until you know he's okay again."

Justin shook his head and went back to his packing. "Chris, what are you talking about?"

"Like at rehearsal yesterday morning, when he fainted. You know it happens sometimes, and you know he'll be okay, but you pick him up and take him to a couch every time. And you stay with him until he comes to. It's amazing how dedicated you are to him, man. You really love him, don't you?"

Justin chuckled a little. "Of course I love him; he's my best friend."

Chris shook his head and put his hand on Justin's shoulder, causing Justin to look him in the eyes. "No, I mean you love him. Don't you?"

Justin stared at Chris without answering. The padlock to the part of himself Justin had boarded up so long ago shattered and fell into a million pieces all over his mind.

As Justin stood there, staring through him, Chris got the distinct impression that he'd just gone way beyond testing a boundary, like he'd meant to. As Justin's eyes stared past him, Chris knew that he'd crossed a major line, and there was no way to take it back.

* * * * *

Justin slept through the entire bus ride to the new city. But Josh just figured he was sleeping off all the exhaustion he'd accumulated the past three days with no food. Justin often slept on the bus anyway. And when they got to the hotel, Josh wasn't worried when Justin avoided eye contact with everyone in the elevator. Sometimes Justin was grumpy right after he woke up.

Josh only started to become worried when, after they'd stepped off the elevator, he saw Justin stop in front of a room that, when Josh checked his keycard, wasn't the same room he'd been assigned to. There had to have been some mistake. So he set his luggage down in the middle of the hallway and tapped on Lance's shoulder as Lance was unlocking his door.

"Yeah, Josh?" Lance asked, turning around to face his friend.

"I think there's something wrong with the room assignments. Justin and I aren't in the same room."

Lance nodded. "Yeah, I know. This morning he requested a separate room." Lance furrowed his eyebrows. "You didn't know?"

"No." Josh cast his gaze to the door Justin had disappeared through. "I didn't know."

To Be Continued....

I can't believe I finally got it done. It's been forever. If you want to tell me what you think, or you just want to talk to someone, e-mail me at There will be about three more chapters of DEDA the way things are shaping up in my head. For those of you who wonder where the hell Lucky Me went, well, I haven't been able to write it ever since a good friend of mine stopped talking to me. I don't know how I'm gonna get it back, I just know that it's not gonna be easy, and it's not gonna be anytime soon. I love you all. --Lauren

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