You know, not all that many of you have been writing to me recently ... I could be really evil in my writing style  There are a few ... interesting things on the agenda, and there are creative ways, shall we say, of breaking things up and prolonging the agony.  Don't say you haven't been warned!  Just go read.  No, it's too late now, just go read!
Comments are welcome and appreciated at -- please remember to include the story title in the message, and don't forget the Virtual web site at
Yeah, yeah ... I know you think you know this, but I changed it -- okay, it's the same as last time ... but it's still not just the same old thing.  The characters in this story are just that, characters, and even though they may bear a striking resemblance to the members of *NSYNC ... they're not them! This work also doesn't pretend to imply ... ok it does pretend ... but it's not meant to be truly indicative of the actual personalities or sexual orientations of any of the group's members or any real person. The authors and editors are in no way affiliated with NASA either, nor have any of them visited any of the administration's facilities for at least ten years ... so please excuse any faux pas in the detail department, as was said before ... this is just a story!  Okay, enough of that....
And now ... do not touch a thing!  Just read.

Nightmare Before Dawn

Chapter 14

"Well, where to now?" Lance asked. "Back to the car?"

"This isn't the stairwell we used to come up here," Mac pointed out. Lew said nothing as he continued to descend the stairs.

"I was just wondering," Lance said, watching Lew as he opened the stairway door and walked through. "Well, he's just a wealth of information now, isn't he?" Lance's sentence trailed off once again as he crossed the threshold. The four of them were now in what appeared to be a smaller version of the room upstairs. Similar rows of seats surrounded them facing familiar windows, only these looked onto banks of control panels and large projection screens. "Is this what I think it is?" Lance asked, clearly awed.

JC and Melissa sat on the couch in Lance's living room as Melissa enjoyed the movie she had suggested renting. JC smiled as she looked up into his eyes, then made a gagging motion as she turned back toward the screen. The things we do for love, JC thought as he shuddered. If Chris ever finds out about this, I'll never hear the end of the 'JC's whipped' comments! His thoughts were interrupted by a cell phone ringing in the hall. Leaving the phones, and in effect work, behind in the hall had become somewhat of a tradition for all of them. "I'll get it!" JC said, jumping up to run and answer it. That wasn't too eager ... was it? He shrugged as he jogged out into the hall and quickly picked up the welcome intrusion. "It's yours," he called back to her before pressing the talk button. "Melissa's phone," he said cheerfully into the receiver.

"Josh?" came the pleasant, female reply.

"Lynn? Hey, what's up?" JC said, smiling as he leaned back, propping himself against the wall.

"Well, I was hoping to talk to Melissa about a little proposal," Lynn said.

"Oh, sure ... she's right here, lemme get her for you," JC said, pushing off the wall and heading for the living room. "It's Lynn," he said, offering Melissa the phone. "Something about a proposal?"

Melissa shrugged, eyeing him questioningly as she took the phone from him. "Hi, Lynn," she said. "Proposal, huh? I thought that was Josh's job." JC gave her a quick, wide eyed glance then sat down and went back to watching the movie.

"I'll leave that up to the two of you," Lynn said, laughing. "Actually, this is for my son, not his adopted brother."

"Oh?" Melissa said, arching an eyebrow. "Just what did you have in mind?" Melissa listened as Lynn outlined the plan that she and Mac had cooked up.

JC soon turned the movie off and started listening intently. He was only privy to Melissa's side of the conversation, but it was quite enough to hold his attention. He would give her a questioning look each time she glanced in his direction, but Melissa would merely shake her head and hold up a finger.

"No problem, Lynn," Melissa said. "I'll tell Josh, and then we'll set something up with the rest of the guys. We were actually thinking about getting together tonight ... a kind of get to know you thing for Mac." Josh gave her a look that said, 'We were?' She nodded her head toward him solemnly.

"Thanks, you don't know how much I appreciate this," Lynn said. "He seems like a great young man ... I think he'll be good for Justin." Lynn paused for a moment, as if trying to decide what to say, then continued, "Try not to let the guys roust him too much. I wouldn't want to scare him off."

Melissa burst out laughing, gaining another quizzical look from JC. "I'll try, but you know how they are."

"Why do you think I'm asking?" Lynn said, laughter overtaking her as well.

The two said their good byes, then JC asked, "Okay, so you wanna tell me what that was all about?"

"Sure," she told him, smiling. She paused, hearing a knock at the front door. "Right after I get the door."

JC groaned. "She does this on purpose," he mumbled to himself. Melissa returned a few moments later with Chris and Joey in tow. "Oh, great! Now they're all here!"

"Yeah," Melissa said, smiling. "Now I can tell you all at the same time."

"Oh, would you just tell us already!" JC said, comically reaching out as if to strangle her.

Chris simply shook his head at the two, "Told ya he was whipped!"

Joey nodded in agreement as JC glared at them both.

"Oh, leave him alone," Melissa said, "he's just fine the way he is." Chris and Joey exchanged another knowing glance before Melissa shoved them both onto the other couch. "Just shut up and listen!" Once she had their attention, Melissa began outlining the plan that Lynn had presented to her. The four of them then settled down to decide on how they might pull off their part of the plan. 

Lew's smile broadened as he watched Lance's eyes grow. He glanced back to see Mac's getting a bit larger as well. Mac sent him a look which silently said, 'You didn't!' Wiggling eyebrows were Lew's only answer.

"This is..." Lance said, shaking his head. "No. You got us into Launch Control?" Lance said, his elation evident. 'Kid in a candy store' could not come even close to describing Lance's mood. His usually reserved nature was replaced by only marginally contained zeal. He was beginning to look like Chris after a massive dose of sugar. The other three stood back as he pressed closer to the observation windows.

"I can't believe you pulled this off!" Mac told Lew quietly.

"This is why I didn't say anything," Lew said. "I didn't know if I could get you guys in here until I came down a few minutes ago."

"Damn," Justin said. "No wonder you didn't say anything. So this is where they run things?"

"Nah, they just send them into orbit from here," Lew said. "Houston actually runs the missions." Justin nodded, then Lew moved over to join Lance. Lew touched Lance's arm, then shook him slightly, laughing as it took him a full minute to gain Lance's attention. "Do you wanna go inside?" Just when he thought it impossible for Lance's eyes to grow any larger, Lance proved him wrong. A slack-jawed nod was all that Lance could manage as Lew led him to a door opposite the one through which they had entered. Opening it, Lew stopped and turned to look each of them in the eye. "Do not touch a thing!" Mac burst out laughing, as Justin rolled his eyes.

As they entered the actual control room, Lew led them across the upper platform of control stations. Justin was taking in the sights and pointing various things out to Mac, who did his level best to interpret them for him. Lew smiled as he realized what the two were doing, and that Mac was actually doing quite well. Lance was like a sponge, absorbing everything that was going on around him. Almost everything that is. While his eyes were glued to the large screens in the front of the room, he ended up bumping into someone, sending the clipboard and file folders in her hands crashing to the floor.

"Oh, man, I'm so sorry," Lance said, bending over quickly to help her retrieve her things.

"No, problem," she said, smiling at him. "I was the same way my first time in here."

Mac's eyes grew slightly as he looked from the new arrival to Lew. "Is that?" he mouthed to him. Lew just nodded his head and smiled.

"No, no ... I should have been watching where I was going," Lance said, handing her the last of her things and standing up. His eyes finally came up to meet hers and he froze. A shiver passed through him, as his mouth moved in a vain attempt to speak.

"Hi, Alex," Lew said, smiling. "How ya been?"

"Hey, Lew," she replied. "Didn't see you over there."

"You were busy," Lew said, laughing. "Alex, I'd like you to meet a few friends of mine." Lew motioned to each as he introduced them, "Justin Timberlake..." Lew paused as Justin shook her hand then continued, "Mac MacKenzie."

"Pleasure to meet you, Commander," Mac said, shaking her hand.

"And, I think you've met Lance Bass already," Lew said, grinning.

"We've bumped into one another," she said, offering him her hand.

Lance reached out for it, still at a loss for words. "Y .. you..." he swallowed hard to try and get the words to form. "Do you know who you are?" He blinked several times. Oh God, I can't believe I just said that! "I'm sorry ... I mean.... It's nice to meet you."

"Lemme guess..." Justin said, standing between Lew and Mac, "I'm missing something here, right?"

"She's an astronaut, Jus," Mac said.

"Oooh, I get it now," Justin said. "Is there a broom closet around here?" Justin asked Lew. "We may need a mop, I think he's starting to drool," Justin said, pointing over to Lance.

Lance shot him a homicidal glare, then went back to staring at the astronaut.

"Leave him alone," Mac said quietly. "I've seen people look like that at you a time or two." Justin blushed at his comment.

"Are you military, Mr. MacKenzie?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am," Mac said, "lieutenant, United States Navy. And there aren't many of us who haven't heard of Alexis Aaron. Top of her class at Annapolis and flight school, not to mention one of the first female naval officers to be chosen to fly the shuttle. You put the rest of us in our place, Commander."

"Naval aviator I take it?" Commander Aaron said, smiling at him.

"Yes, ma'am," Mac replied, nodding.

"I'm sorry," Lance said, finally managing to get the words out. "I must look like a complete idiot."

"No, it's okay," the commander told him, "though, I would think that considering the number of famous people as you must've met, I wouldn't phase you."

Lance gave her a questioning look. "You know who we are?"

"Mr. Bass," she said, smiling, "your picture ... and his ... and the rest of your group is being used as wallpaper in my daughter's room."

Lance and Justin both blushed at her comment. It was far from the first time they had been told that their faces adorned a young woman's room, but to hear it from someone like the commander took them both by surprise. "Thanks," Lance said, then changed the subject. "You can call me Lance, though ... please. Are you getting ready for a mission?"

"We always are," she answered, smiling broadly.

They talked for a bit about the mission she was preparing for, then the commander offered them a more detailed tour of the control room. She led them around to the various stations, explaining what each was for and introducing them to the operator. Each new person they met seemed genuinely eager to help them learn more about what they were doing, answering any questions they asked. Several of them even recognized their two more famous visitors, and Justin and Lance agreed to have the rest of the guys sign pictures for them and have Lew send it over.

As it grew later, Lew suggested that they had already taken up a great deal of the commander's time. She, of course, said that she was happy to have bumped into Lance, gaining another blush from him. They all bade her good bye, then Lew led them back out to the parking lot.

"Well, did you guys have fun?" Lew asked, as they approached the car.

"It wasn't exactly what I had in mind," Justin said, "but I do have to admit that I enjoyed it."

"Lew, man, I think you just made my birthday, Christmas and everything else!" Lance said, nearly bouncing, as he waited for Lew to unlock the door.

"So, got anything else on the agenda?" Mac asked, opening the car door.

"Nope," Lew said, "unless you guys can think of something else you wanna do."

"Not me," Justin said. "I really did have a great time, Lew, and thanks again for doing it on such short notice."

"Not a problem," Lew said, smiling at him through the rear view mirror. "I'll go ahead and drop you guys back at your car. I need to make a quick stop at the office, though, if you don't mind."

"No problem, man," Mac said, the others nodding their agreement.

They pulled back onto the main road and drove to a large office building about a half mile away. "Wanna come in with me?" Lew asked, after he pulled into the parking space.

Lance met Lew's eyes and noticed the silent request contained within them. "Sure, I'll come," Lance said.

"Nah," Mac replied, "I'm a little tuckered, I think I'll stay. Jus, you goin' with them or staying with me?"

"I don't know," Justin said, seeming to weigh the options. His smile soon broke, and he announced that he was tired as well, yawning rather dramatically to emphasize the point. With another exaggerated yawn, Justin stretched his arms, his left one coming to rest on the seat back behind Mac.

Lew exited the car, rolling his eyes at Justin's antics, while Lance just groaned. Lance followed Lew into the building and down the hall to the elevators. As they entered and the door closed behind them, they found themselves alone. "Do you wanna tell me why you looked like it was so important that I come with you?" Lance asked, looking over at his friend.

"You did notice that, then?" Lew said, smiling.

"I'm not that dense," Lance said, smiling back.

"Hold on a sec till we get to my office," Lew told him, looking up at the floor indicator. The elevator finally came to a stop and the doors opened. Lew led Lance down the hallway, pausing a few times to wave or say hello to coworkers. They eventually stopped in front of a door marked "Lewis DPTMSEC Liaison" and Lew pulled out a key and opened it, allowing Lance to enter first.

"D P T M S E C, huh?" Lance laughed, spelling out the acronym on the door. "Sound's pretty ... um ... impressive?"

Lew laughed at his attempt. "We usually just say 'Dep-Sec', the T and the M are silent," Lew returned, also laughing. "It stands for Department of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security," Lew told him. "That's just who I'm on loan to for the moment. I told you, I'm a consultant, I do it all!"

Lance feigned a little bow, giving Lew an 'I'm ever so impressed' expression, then asked, "So, what did you want to tell me?"

"Sorry, it's not like it's that big a secret," Lew said. "Mac's trying to set something up for Jus' birthday. He'd like you guys to run interference if you could."

"Oh, yeah ... sure!" Lance said. "Anything we can do to help out, you know we will."

"Kewl," Lew said, then set about giving Lance a few more details. He then collected a few folders to make it look as though he had really needed something from his office.

Back in the car, Mac and Justin were enjoying a few quiet moments alone. "You know, that's like the oldest trick in the book," Mac said, looking from Justin's hand on his shoulder to his face.

"I know," Justin said, with a cocky grin. "You don't seem to be complaining all that much, though."

"I didn't say I was complaining," Mac said, smiling at him. "I just said it was old. Guess we need to work on some new material for you."

"You can work on anything I've got ... anytime you want," Justin said, removing his arm from the seat back and carefully taking Mac's hand in his lap. He looked up into Mac's eyes, his gaze turning serious, then said, "Sorry I gave you a hard time this morning ... about doing something with the guys."

"Don't worry about it, babe," Mac said, stroking Justin's hand. "You know I'd rather be alone with you, as well, but I just can't feel right ignoring the rest of the guys. Did you really have fun today?"

"Yeah, of course," Justin said, nodding. His smile suddenly broadened, "You know, if nothing else was that great, just getting to see Lance's face when he ran into Alex was worth it. It was priceless! Ya know, you looked pretty impressed, yourself."

"She was a couple of years ahead of me at the academy," Mac said, glancing out the window, then back into Justin's eyes. "She was someone we all looked up to, ya know?"

"Yeah, I can understand that," Justin said, his eyes seeming to focus sometime in the past. "I've felt like that meeting a few people. Like the first time I met Janet."

"Janet?" Mac said. "Oh ... you mean Miss Jackson, don't you?"

"Yeah, yeah," Justin said, grinning, "since I'm just such a nasty boy, huh?"

"Something like that," Mac said, stretching his arm across the back of the seat. His fingers breezed over the nape of Justin's neck, and Justin shuddered lightly.

When Justin would have gripped Mac's knee, Mac took his hand instead, and laid it over his own abdomen for a moment before placing it back in Justin's lap. Justin felt the jump of Mac's muscles during the few seconds of contact, and he sucked his breath in between his teeth. "Oh, that was just mean," Justin said.

Just then, Lew and Lance exited the building, not giving Justin any chance to pay Mac back. Mac grinned broadly, then leaned close to Justin's ear, "I'm sorry, baby. You'll just have to tell me about that later."

"Don't think I won't!" Justin whispered into Mac's ear, making sure to blow gently into the shell.

It was Mac's turn to shudder with unrequited desire as the front doors were opened by Lance and Lew. Clearing his throat, Mac shot a glance at Justin, then said to Lew, "So, did you find what you were looking for?"

"Yep, we're all set," Lew said, smiling back at the two of them.

"Did we miss anything?" Lance asked. "Never mind ... on second thought, I don't wanna know."

"Oh, you know you do, Scoop," Justin said, mussing Lance's hair. "You're always interested in my sex life!"

"That reminds me, isn't there something else you were supposed to tell me about later?" Mac said, arching an eyebrow toward Justin.

Justin grimaced slightly, shaking his head. "Yeah, I guess there was," Justin said, following it lamely with a laugh.

"I think I better get you guys back to your car," Lew said, "so you can get off the base before the real fireworks start." He drove them back to the Visitor's Center, taking a gated side road which brought them into the visitor's lot. "Any particular row?" he asked.

"Way in the back!" Justin laughed, remembering the way Lance had taken them on the grand tour of all the busses in the lot. Most of them were gone now, and he wondered if the two young people they had met on the way lunch had kept their word and waited until they returned to school to tell of their meeting.

Pulling up near Lance's truck, Lew told them all bye and watched as Justin called shotgun and went running around to the passenger side. Reaching the driver's side door, Lance just shook his head as he placed his key in the lock. He unlocked the door and Justin climbed in. As Mac opened the rear door, Lance caught his arm. Turning toward him, Mac gave him a questioning look.

"Lew told me about Jus' birthday," Lance said quietly. "Whatever you need ... we'll make it happen," Lance told Mac, giving him a conspiratorial wink. Mac smiled, nodding his thanks before climbing into the back seat. With a final wave, the occupants of the two cars pulled out of the parking lot, headed for their respective destinations.

"Okay, now remember, Justin isn't supposed to know a thing about this," Melissa said, pacing back and forth in front of the sofa in the Harless' living room. The three men sitting upon the sofa followed her movements as if watching a tennis match.

"Does she do this often?" Joey asked, leaning over to JC's ear. JC merely looked at him, shrugging slightly with a helpless expression.

Nudging JC and leaning toward his other ear, Chris said, "Ya know, that walk of hers is kinda sexy. Add some high heels ... a tight miniskirt ... oof!" Chris began coughing as JC's elbow quickly ended his observations.

"And you two..." she said, pointing at Chris and Joey in turn, "none of those stupid grins of yours. He'll see through that in a heart beat!"

"Is she saying we can't keep a secret?" Joey asked Chris, as he leaned back to speak around JC.

"Sounds like it to me," Chris said, mimicking Joey's action.

"I don't think I appreciate that!" Joey said, moving forward and pushing JC back into the plush cushions.

"Me neither," Chris said, shaking his head. "It's quite rude."

JC looked from one to the other, then simply shook his head.

"Stop it!" Melissa said, taking a seat on the love seat opposite them. She tossed one of the seat's many pillows at them, but only succeeded in hitting JC.

"Ow!" he yelled, giving her a wounded expression, before moving to join her. "I think I'm safer over here," he said, placing his arm around her.

"Come on, guys," Melissa said, sounding a little more serious. "Mac is trying to do something really sweet, don't ruin this for the two of them."

"We know, Melissa," Chris said. "The kid's got it bad this time, and we all know how much he's missed having a love relationship in his life. He deserves something good; we won't screw it up for him."

Melissa smiled warmly at him. Though the real Chris often remained hidden, it was always a pleasure to see him when he did emerge. JC and Joey looked at one another, then looked at Chris, wondering just how long it actually took to exchange someone for a pod person. As they opened their mouths to ask, they were interrupted by a sound at the front door.

"Speak of the devil," Chris said. "It's burp-o-matic in the flesh!"

"Daymn," Justin said, entering the room with Mac and Lance close behind. "I mean ... great ... you're all here ... in my living room." Justin showed a comically exaggerated smile.

"You know you love us!" JC said, flashing his most charming grin. "Hi, Mac. Did you guys have a good time today?" JC asked, as Lance shoved Joey over and took a seat beside him on the sofa.

"Yeah, it was great," Mac said, smiling. Justin pulled him along as he crossed the room to sit in the remaining chair. Mac began to sink onto the floor in front of the chair, but Justin pulled him onto his lap. Mac's eyes grew wide. Being unaccustomed to such displays of affection, Mac felt self-conscious. He quickly glanced around the room, then his eyes came to rest on Justin's face.

Feeling Mac tense as he came to rest in his lap, Justin gently squeezed his arm. As Mac looked into his eyes, Justin quietly said, "It's okay, baby, just relax." Mac smiled at him, and Justin could feel some of the tension start to melt away. Sensing that Mac was still uncomfortable in this more blatant position, Justin slid over in the seat and pulled Mac over to sit beside him. His arm still around Mac, Justin pulled him over to whisper in his ear. "Don't worry," he said, placing a kiss on Mac's cheek near his ear.

Melissa smiled at the display and unconsciously hugged JC tighter. Returning the loving gesture, JC asked, "So'd Lew get you in to see any of the good stuff?"

Lance started to answer, but was interrupted by Justin. "Yeah, it was great!" Justin said. With a mischievous grin, he continued, "We even ran into an astronaut ... well Lance did." Mac smacked Justin's leg as he tried to keep from laughing.

"Shuddup!" Lance yelled, grabbing the pillow that Melissa had thrown earlier and hurling it at Justin. "I was distracted and I apologized!"

"You mean you actually ran into him?" JC asked, laughing.

"Well, he walked into her," Mac said, no longer able to stifle his own laughter.

"Her?" Melissa said. "It was a woman astronaut? Cool!"

The group spent several minutes describing the day's activities; Mac and Justin shortening some of Lance's more detailed descriptions. Mac had fun relating the meeting with the high school kids in the cafeteria. The others laughed as he tried to describe the looks on their faces when they realized who Justin and Lance were.

"Hey, I'm starving," Joey said. "You guys up for some pizza or something?" Everyone answering in the affirmative, they set about trying to decide on what to order.

"I guess what we get depends on who's paying," Justin said, grinning crookedly.

"Joey's idea," Chris said, arching an eyebrow, "sounds like a volunteer to me." A wicked smile came to his lips as he continued, "And Giuseppe's sound like the perfect place!"

"Hey!" Joey said. "Now that's just wrong! Besides it's all the way across town."

"Oh hush, ya big baby!" Chris said, grabbing for Joey's wallet. "Besides you're the one who suggested pizza!"

"Leave my ass alone!" Joey yelled, swatting Chris' hand away.

"What have I told you about acting your age, Chris?" Melissa asked, smacking Chris as she headed for the phone.

"Yeah! Act your age, Chris!" Joey said, sticking his tongue out at him.

Returning with the phone, Melissa lightly smacked Joey's cheek, forcing him to retract his tongue. "And you ... cough up the cash!"

The entire group erupted in laughter, while Joey fished his wallet from his pocket, grumbling the whole time. "Fine," Joey said, "but I'm not goin' alone! Who's the lucky driver?"

"I think Justin's car is the last one in the driveway," JC said.

"Why's mine the last in the drive?" Justin asked.

"'Cause mine's in the shop and you said I could borrow it maybe?" JC said.

"Lance's is back there, too," Justin pointed out. "We just pulled in!"

"Yeah, but I need gas," Lance said. "I drove today, remember?"

The menu decided, their order placed, and after considerable coaxing, Justin eventually 'volunteered' to go with Joey to pick up the pizza.

"Good thinking there, Chris," JC said once the two had left.

"I have my moments," Chris said, a smug smile on his lips. "I thought for a second there Jello-ass was gonna blow it!"

"Hey, be nice to Joey," Lance said, laughing, "after all he's buying your dinner."

"Yeah, well, you didn't have your hand on that ass!" Chris said, wrinkling his nose.

"Mac," Melissa said, deciding to change the subject as quickly as possible. "Lynn told us about what you're trying to do," Melissa said, inching forward on the cushion.

"Yeah, man," JC said, running his hand over Melissa's back, "Anything you need us to do, just name it."

"What'd I tell you?" Lance said, smiling at Mac.

"Thanks guys," Mac said. "It sucks that Lynn has to go out of town, so I wanted to do something to make it up to him."

"We're all pretty much used to it," Lance said, frowning, "but it's a really nice gesture."

"Dude," Chris said, grinning, "Justin's gotten a really huge gift already."

"What?" Mac asked. "Did you guys get him something? You didn't have plans already, did you?"

"No, man," Chris said, his grin expanding. "He got you!" He turned around to look at the others, "Anyone else wondering how his lips can stretch that far? I mean ... he smiles all the time, but it's like ... huge now!" They all laughed as Chris mimicked stretching his lips out into a huge smile.

"What do you need us to do?" Melissa asked, once they'd calmed down.

"Well, I need to go shopping for supplies and ingredients," Mac said, "so I'll need someone to distract him while I get the stuff. Then Wednesday, I need to keep him busy while I cook."

"You wanna go tomorrow?" Chris asked.

"Yeah, sure," Mac said, nodding. "I feel kind of bad, hiding it from him, though. He really wants to spend some time with me, and here I am trying to find ways to get rid of him."

"It's okay," Chris said, shrugging, "we do the same thing all the time."

"Allow me..." Lance said, before smacking Chris in the back of the head.

Melissa rolled her eyes as Mac chuckled. "I'll help you out if you want me to," Melissa offered. "The guys can keep him distracted with work or something, and I'll help with the shopping. Cooking too if you want me to."

JC's eyes grew wide, then he placed his hand between his face and Melissa's and conspiratorially said, "Better make her stick to chopping and stuff." Leaning forward a bit, he continued, "Don't let her near the stove!" A prompt punch in the arm from Melissa nearly sent him to the floor as the room erupted into laughter once more.

"Are you sure you don't mind going out to the amusement park with the others tomorrow?" Mac asked, following Justin up the stairs.

Justin sighed and Mac turned to face him as he reached the top of the stairs. "It's okay, I just ... we do need to spend some time with them ... just not all our time." Justin looked up into Mac's eyes, with an almost pathetic expression.

"I know," Mac said, dropping his head. A wave of guilt over the ploy they had set up to mislead Justin was beginning to work at him. While it was to create a wonderful surprise for Justin, Mac was beginning to wonder if the ends justified the means. "If you want to back out ... we can," Mac said, frowning. A simple dinner was not worth hurting Justin any further.

"No, it's okay," Justin said, a half hearted smile gracing his lips. "We can spend the day with them ... just so long as I get you for the nights." Justin's smile grew a bit.

Returning the smile, Mac said, "I wouldn't have it any other way." Mac then turned to head for the guest room where he had spent last night.

"Where are you going?" Justin asked.

"I thought we were going to bed?" Mac said, wrinkling his eyebrows.

"You're going the wrong way, though," Justin said, taking his arm and pulling him closer.

"Are you sure you want to..." Mac's question was halted by Justin's finger on his lips.

"I'm not sure that I'm ready for much," Justin said, stroking Mac's hand, "but I do know that I'd like to feel you beside me. If that's too much, or whatever, then I'll deal."

It was Mac's turn to silence Justin, this time with a kiss. Looking deeply into Justin's eyes, Mac said, "Whatever you want ... as fast or as slow ... you only have to name it."

Justin smiled, then led Mac into his bedroom. They slowly removed their outer clothes, then climbed into bed. Settling back against Mac's chest, Justin placed his arm over the one Mac had wrapped around his waist. Justin slowly stroked the light hairs on Mac's fore arm, then moved to carefully lace their fingers together. The two soon drifted off into a peaceful slumber.

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