Hey guys! Thanks for bearing with me! I had a 9 to 5 temp job this week that kept me busy. Between that and the partying...hehe...I guess it's always the art that suffers. Anyway, I promised that it'd be out by the end of the week, and by golly I'll deliver! Thanks, a huge thanks to all who have written to me and given me your input! I can't wait for your replies to this installment. And also, thanks to each and every one of you for the information on JC's Leo pendant. Everyone contributed a little something my knowledge of it.
This was completed in record time. I just sat me down and wrote me a story! And out it popped. I kinda like it, but that's how I always feel about each installment--wait till I read it again, that's when I go "Ewww I wrote that?!"
Anyway, enough of my yakking, on with the story. And no, there is no such thing as MTV Siberia, Nicky's not gonna get posted there.
Disclaimer: 'N Sync can do whatever they want, I'll do whatever I want, and never the twain shall meet.
Dedicated to Ryan Chai my adowable ickle nephew. The only member of my family I can out myself to, and he'd just coo cutely and return to his cars. Cool kid, this one.
And no, Sam, you're not sycopanthic. NOW can I get my fanmail?
Write to Will at firstname.lastname@example.org
"So you're not coming home for dinner...again," Joel said into the phone, not bothering to keep the irritation from his voice this time. He'd been the 'understanding' and 'supportive' half of their relationship for the better part of two weeks now.
There was a tired sigh on the other end. "I thought we've been over this, Joel."
Joel could just imagine Nicky, at his desk, taking off his glasses and rubbing between his eyes. Swallowing a caustic retort he knew he'd only regret, he decided to bear with it. For one more night.
"Yeah. I guess we have. Take care darling. Try to come home before eleven this time," he said, making an effort to inject some love into that sentence.
"Okay. Will do," said his boyfriend distractedly. "Hey, gotta go now, bye," Nicky hung up without waiting for Joel's reply.
Joel cursed loudly and flung the cordless away from him, losing all pretence at being patient. Slumped on the couch, he stared at the bare, whitewashed walls of his lover's place. It was always like this, ever since Nicky suddenly got the promotion he wanted--only it was two levels higher than he'd expected. Normally, that would have taken him about four years to accomplish, he'd explained. Someone up there must love him.
At first, Joel was only too happy for him. But having to take all his meals--lunch and dinner--alone for the next weeks took the edge of it somewhat. He'd used it to spend some time with Kate, of course, but she couldn't replace Nicky. Plus, she had her own life to run, too.
Joel had gone for a few interviews since coming from Orlando, more to placate Nicky than from any real interest in having a job. Getting that degree was his parents' wish, not his, and for the last three years he'd devoted his life to just getting that piece of paper. Now that he had it, he no longer wanted to look at "electric potentials of charge distributions..." or "...flange, section 2(c) coupling connectors..." for the rest of his life.
He'd thought about going back to University and getting another degree, one that he actually enjoyed doing, and could imagine spending the rest of his life doing. But the moment he'd timidly proposed the idea to Nicky, he'd withered under the latter's blank, uncomprehending gaze. He could only listen glumly while Nicky wondered why on earth Joel would want to do something so 'frivolous' when he had a 'real' degree under his belt. That was the last time that issue had been brought up.
Joel realised that was a different Nicky altogether talking. Cut off from his family after coming out to them in senior high, Nicky had pulled and scraped together enough cash to put him through college, doing whatever odd jobs that came his way, filling out endless forms for loan applications and scholarships. It had paid off, however, when Nicky graduated at the top 5% of his class, and ended up working for the law division of MTV. Only then had he allowed himself to slow down a little, enjoy life, make friends--and meet Joel.
And now it seemed the workaholic was back in full force. Joel looked at the clock morosely. Six p.m. Nicky would be back in four hours time. If he was lucky. And he couldn't call Kate out again--she was on a date, and had made it acutely clear to him last night. Joel never felt so alone in his life, except for the time his parents died. New York was so huge, so impersonal. Joel felt very insignificant indeed.
Even those nights spent pining for Just wasn't this bad, he thought, before he caught himself. Justin was supposed to be out of his mind, out of his life. But why do I feel a familiar twinge in my heart whenever I recall what he asked of me that night?
Joel went into the bedroom he shared with Nicky. He reached under his bed and pulled out a battered old knapsack. Opening it, he carefully removed a bundle, wrapped in a bit of satin. He paused, staring at it, feeling its hard edges against his palm. Except for the sapphires, he knew exactly how it looked like. He had bought its very twin, after all . Which even now hung above Justin's--
Hurriedly, he shoved it back into the bag and kicked it deeply under the bed. The same bed Nicky and he slept on and made love in so many times--although that was certainly less now, Joel frowned. It wasn't only his social life that had taken a dive.
Grumpy again, Joel picked up a book and curled on the couch. He briefly considered turning on the TV, but decided against it. At this time of day, there'd be only the music channels worth watching, and he had to give that up, for fear of seeing his Justin prancing around, or worse yet, singing another love song...
Did I just think of him as my Justin? Joel wondered. He laughed shortly. I guess, in the end, he finally was. For a while at least.
That track of thought kept him from even opening the book, and by the time Nicky came home, he found Joel sleeping, draped over the couch carelessly. He crouched beside his boyfriend.
"Hey, Jojo," Nicky said, brushing Joel's black hair from his face.
Yawning, Joel opened his eyes and smiled, looking at Nicholas McKenzie, the Lawyer. His sandy hair was slicked back and his black suit cut conservatively, with a tie to match. He smelt of Hugo Boss, and office air-conditioning, and subway, and his own unique scent. Strangely, it all turned Joel on a little, probably because he knew Nicky wasn't really all like that.
"You're home early," he said.
Nicky straightened, managing to look sheepish. "Well, it is almost 11..."
The smile disappeared from Joel's face. He looked at the clock, then back at Nicky, then stalked off into the bedroom.
"I'm just gonna shower then," Nicky said to no one in particular.
Climbing into the bed later, Nicky saw Joel pointedly turn his back on him. He ran a hand across Joel's back, feeling the muscles tense.
"I'm sorry, Jojo. It's gotta be like this for now. For a while, at least. God, we've spoken about this." Still Joel kept quiet. "I guess I'll just keep saying it again, 'coz I don't know what else I can say. I've been promoted so high, so fast...it's bound to have stepped on some people's toes pretty hard. I gotta work three, four times as hard to prove myself worthy."
Joel turned back to face Nicky. "I know that, Nicky. And I want you to know that I support you, and I'm happy for you. But what about me, Nicky? What about us?"
"You'll always, always be my no. 1, Jojo. But right now, the opportunity's too good, I have to get my career stabilised first. Can you hear what I'm saying?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I do. I'm sorry for being so difficult, Nicky. It's just that sometimes...I feel so alone...and especially here, in New York, without any real friends of my own except Kate..."
"You're never alone. I'm always thinking of you. Even when I'm getting contracts signed..."
Joel felt his lover smile in the darkness and answered it with one of his own. He scooted closer to Nicky and kissed him, gently at first, but with rising passion. His roving fingers made his intent clear to Nicky.
As they broke apart for air, he heard Nicky whisper, "That was nice, but could we just, you know, cuddle for tonight? I've got an early day tomorrow and you've got that interview I've lined up for you."
Stung, Joel pulled away abruptly. He was surprised by how much Nicky's spurning of his advances affected him. He lay there for a while, not moving, until he gave in to his irritation and got off the bed.
"I'm going to watch TV," he said, past caring if he saw 'N Sync or not. He was merely answered by gentle, even breathing. Even slamming the door on his way out didn't stir the slumbering lawyer.
"Josh? Is that you? Oh man! How on earth did you manage to get my number?" It came as a huge surprise to Joel that J.C. would call him out of the blue. After all, they weren't that close. But he was so bored he couldn't care less.
It was late in the morning when Joel had woken up to an empty bed, and emptier apartment. He had missed the interview, but Joel didn't care for that. He'd prepared something to eat when he received the call.
"Well, Justin gave it to me when I asked for it," J.C. replied promptly. He continued before Joel could answer. "How have you been? Like New York? It's Joey's hometown you know."
"Is it really? Oh, it's fine. It's great! I like it here," he said with false cheer. And you can let Justin know I'm having the time of my life! Without him! "So how are you? And the rest of the guys?"
"Well, we're all here in Orlando, still. We're pretty much enjoying whatever downtime we have left. I'll be leaving to see my family soon, though. But first--my party. This weekend! Be there? I'll fly you out."
"Party? You mean, as in birthday? But that's not until--"
"Next week, yeah, but I'm celebrating that with family. This is for my friends. I hope you're still one of them!" he laughed.
Joel didn't know what to make of that. Is he for real? But Just will be there...
Of course, he had no choice but to splutter, "Of course I am! I'm honoured in fact--"
"Great. That's settled then. I'll leave tickets for you and your boyfriend at the airport to collect."
"My--? Josh, exactly how much has Justin told you?" Joel demanded.
"That he went to New York to confess his love for you, but saw you living with your boyfriend? Don't worry, Joel. It won't be awkward or anything, I promise. It's Just! He'll find someone else, no problem. You two are still friends anyway, right?"
"I-I guess," said Joel hesitantly. So he's over me already huh? Well, with his status guys will be falling over themselves to get some of him. Joel knew he should be happy for that, but somehow he wasn't. In fact, he was a little ticked off. "I'll have to ask Nicky, of course."
"Yeah yeah. I'll book the tickets anyway. Don't forget. Saturday night, my place. Just's place. Whatever. Bye!"
"I won't," said Joel softly as he put the phone down.
A chance to get back to Orlando, he thought wistfully. He really did miss the place. Its balmy weather, its multicultural society--DisneyWorld! He decided to go, despite his misgivings about meeting Justin.
I'm sure I'll be able to handle it. Especially with Nicky around. After all, we used to be so close for almost two years...
"How was that?" Josh turned to face Justin, who had been listening intently all the time.
"Did you have to include the 'find someone else, no problem' part?" Justin frowned, giving Josh a hard look. Josh shrugged helplessly.
"I had to make it believable! He was getting so suspicious. I hate lying, by the way."
"I know. Thanks anyway. And you're not lying. You are having a birthday party here in Orlando. I'm just helping you organise it."
Josh looked at Justin, who had turned to pore over the short guest list and catering staff. Having the party was exclusively Justin's idea. Josh knew it was just so he could lure Joel back, here, to deal with him on his own grounds.
"Justin, how sure are you he's not gonna ruin everything and drag his boyfriend along after all? Or that his boyfriend's not gonna dissuade him from coming at all?" Josh asked.
Justin looked up briefly. "'Coz I just know he will," he replied simply, without a trace of doubt in his blue eyes.
Josh repressed a shudder. Sometimes, his friend's confidence unnerved him.
That evening, Nicky came back early for a change. Joel was just coming out from the kitchen, having prepared dinner, as his lover caught sight of him with a smile.
"Hi honey, I'm home," Nicky quipped, eyeing Joel who was drying his hands on hid apron. Joel blushed and quickly took it off, not wanting to seem like a housewife to Nicky. Although he felt more and more like that each passing day.
"Thanks for being back early. Or at least, earlier than usual," he couldn't resist a last stinging remark, still feeling sore from not getting any the night before.
"Yeah, well, I kinda sensed that I was pushing the limits," Joel tried to suppress a self-satisfied smile, as Nicky gave him a quick kiss before going off to shower.
Dinner was simple, but Joel found it refreshing. It was the first time they had it together since the time feast Nicky had took him out to celebrate his promotion. Come to think of it, it was the last time we had sex too. Agh! I'm turning into a nympho.
"So how was your interview?" asked Nicky.
Joel froze. He hadn't even thought about it since J.C. called. And he knew that Nicky had called in a favour from a friend just to set it up.
"Well...it went...fine I guess. But I don't think it's quite what I'm looking for," he said carefully, trying to sound nonchalant.
"Okay, that's fine, I guess. Considering that Kevin called me up at work to ask me why you didn't attend it," Nicky said calmly, sipping his soup. His eyes stared steadily at Joel, betraying the hurt he felt.
Joel bit his lip, feeling horrid. He'd actually lied to Nicky. Who didn't even act mad, and was merely looking at him with those soft brown eyes, waiting for an explanation. It was maddening to Joel, how Nicky never got mad at him, not even slightly. It was always that hurt, puppy-dog look.
"Nicky, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have lied. I didn't go, that's true. I don't feel like working in this field, you know that. And I know you pulled some strings with your friend to get me this, I--I'm sorry I was so thoughtless," he apologised, reaching out to touch Nicky's hand. His boyfriend merely lowered his eyes and continued eating. But he didn't move his hand away, which was a good sign.
"Guess what?" Joel asked lightly, wanting desperately to change the subject. "J.C. called. You know, he's in 'N Sync too? We're friends and all. He's asked us to fly out to Orlando this weekend for his birthday. He's even booked us tickets. I think it'd be nice for a change."
"This weekend?" Nicky frowned. "No, we're not going, then. I'll be working Saturday, maybe Sunday," he said matter-of-factly, returning to his meal.
Joel recoiled, shocked at how casually Nicky had dismissed the idea. We're not going? He's already made that decision for me? And he's got to work?!
"Is that why you missed the interview? Because J.C. called? Or did you talk to Justin too?" Nicky suddenly asked, still in that infuriatingly calm voice.
Joel spluttered with rage. "Excuse me? Hold on a second. We're not going? Plus you'll be off working during the weekend while I'll sit on my hands waiting for you to come home like a good little wife?!"
"You decided that, not me! I don't have the luxury of partying with world-famous boy bands all the time you know. The apartment doesn't pay for itself," Nicky put down the spoon angrily. Ah-ha! The facade is cracking! Joel pounced on that.
"Are you punishing me? Is that what this is all about? Just because I didn't go to your interview or because I lied to you? Or is it really because I'm not doing this you way?"
"All I'm saying is, not all of us have a trust fund from our parents that we can dip into anytime so we don't have to live on the streets!" The moment those words crossed his lips, Nicky regretted them. He watched as Joel's gaze turned to ice, and he rose from the table, backing away from Nicky.
"Do you think I wanted the money? Do you think I wanted a fancy American education? Or anything else the trust fund, the insurance money brought me?" he whispered. "Don't you know I'd give it all back in a second, Nicky? I'd give my life if that's what it takes to see my dad again, to tell my mom I love her, just one last time. If I could just tell them I'd study whatever the hell they want, so that we wouldn't have argued, and he wouldn't have driven off in that state. And you dare throw that in my face?"
Nicky stumbled, coming across the table. "Honey, that's not what I meant--you can't blame--" he reached out a hand for Joel.
"Don't touch me! Don't you 'honey' me," Joel hissed, jerking himself away from Nicky. But in his heart, he knew that Nicky would never say or do anything to hurt him, but he was too mad to care. The angst he'd been carrying around all week seemed to reach its breaking point within him. He struggled to control himself, clenching and unclenching his fists.
"All I wanted was for some time for us. It's not about Justin. It's not even about J.C.'s birthday. Can't you do that for me?" he looked up at Nicky.
Nicky squirmed under that gaze. He avoided Joel's eyes, and Joel knew what his answer would be before he even said it.
"I'm so deeply sorry, Jojo. But it's a make-or-break thing--"
"Save it, Nicholas," Joel said wearily. Nicky flinched at the impersonal term only his boss or his clients used. "I don't want to hear the reasons. I know now what your priorities will always be, no matter what you pledged to me last night. And I have no right to make you choose." He went into the bedroom and started throwing some clothes into a suitcase. He heard Nicky follow him, but did not turn around.
"Where are you going?"
"Since you have work to do this weekend, I'll just stop cluttering up your apartment, and enjoy Orlando myself," Joel said, not bothering to look up.
"Are you going back to Justin?" he heard Nicky ask quietly. Joel turned around, exasperated.
"Oh my God Nicky! Don't you get it? It was never about Justin. It's not about your love of work. It's not about the sex we're not--" Nicky's eyebrow shot up at that remark. "Never mind!" Joel shouted. "'Coz it's obvious that you're having a closer relationship to your work than you have with me. And I can't take it anymore."
"Joel! You know my promotion isn't going easy on me--oh fuck this, I'm not saying it anymore!" it was the first time he heard Nicky curse. He too, looked as if he was on the verge of pulling out his hair.
Joel said nothing as he dumped the rest of his stuff into the suitcase, and reached under the bed for the knapsack--and Justin's gift.
"Will you be back?" asked Nicky, his heart in his eyes, as Joel moved towards the exit.
"I don't know. Maybe," Joel avoided his gaze, because he knew if he looked into those eyes one more time he'd break down. Just say it, Nicky. Ask me to stay. You don't even have to beg. Just come here and put your hands around me and tell me you don't want me to go. 'Coz I don't feel much like going anymore either. He put a sweaty palm on the doorknob.
He heard Nicky take a deep, shuddering breath. Joel gripped the knob tighter, gritting his teeth. Please don't make me do this!
"Then...I guess I can't stop you from going, if that's what you really want," he heard him say thickly.
Joel's heart gave a little lurch. He's not even going to stop me, he realised. He yanked the door open and left the apartment that had been his and Nicky's home for the past two months, feeling like a part of him had just died.
So? So? So? Did you like it? I wouldn't know, until you email me at email@example.com. Do it now!
There should be one more installment left. Or two, I haven't decided. What I have decided is my next story! It'll be a Justin-JC fic! I've decided to be a bit more mainstream, yes. I have an interesting plotline in my head right now (at least, it sounds good in my head), and definitely it won't be quite the same as the rest of the JoshJustin fics out there. Keep reading for more info, okay?