His eyes slowly began to flutter, as consciousness crept upon him. The bourgeoning dawn was just beginning to peek through small slits in the blinds. His eyes opening, Mac looked up at the ceiling. There was a feeling of calm that settled over him, a feeling that he had not felt since he was a child. Everything just felt ... right.
The warm, heavy feeling on his right side, covering his right arm and part of his chest and stomach, brought a smile to Mac's lips. He turned his head slightly to find Justin nestled into his shoulder. Mac gently took Justin's wrist and removed his hand from his stomach, carefully placing it on his own hip. He then slowly slid over, trying not to disturb Justin any more than absolutely necessary.
Mac sat up in the bed, then turned to look back at Justin. Without the support of Mac's shoulder, Justin had rolled onto his back. Mac's eyes traveled down Justin's still form, watching as his chest rose and fell in the peaceful rhythm of slumber. The profile of his face softened by light, morning stubble, Justin seemed to be experiencing the same peaceful feeling Mac was, his face carried a smile even in his sleep. Maybe Chris was right about his smile, Mac thought, smiling to himself. Justin shifted and Mac froze, praying that he would continue to sleep.
Once Justin was still, Mac's eyes were unable to resist traveling further. This was, after all, the first time Mac had been given the opportunity to openly view any portion of Justin's body, save his neck and forearms. His gaze wandered downward, taking in the freckles dotting Justin's shoulders. The lean muscles beneath the creamy skin of his upper arm made Mac wish he was a sculptor, the idea of recreating the toned lines sent a shiver through his body. As Mac continued, he followed the contour of Justin's wife beater. Pinned beneath the weight of his body, the thin undershirt was pulled askew, revealing a portion of Justin's chest.
My God, he's beautiful, Mac thought. I can't believe this is happening. The moment I looked into his eyes, though ... it was magic. I guess Lew was right, Mac thought recalling a conversation with his friend about his own doubts. It can't be because he's a celebrity, I was hooked when I saw him on my doorstep. Those eyes.... Mac's musings were cut short as he caught sight of the darkened skin around Justin's nipple. Is this his what he meant about paying me back? Mac thought, smiling again. Justin's skin was teasingly revealed by the garment, hints of color and suggestions of shapes were all that were evident, but they were more than enough. I think I'd better go now, before I forget what I'm planning and crawl back into bed, Mac thought, shaking his head.
Mac silently rose from the bed, then headed next door to the guest room. After retrieving some clothes, he headed into the bathroom and quickly completed his morning routine. His years in the military had reduced it to a science. Sharing the showers with an entire barracks of men during basic training quickly teaches one to be in and out of the shower and dressed in only a matter of minutes. A desire for hot water, not to mention fear of an inopportune display of an involuntary reaction to one's neighbor, had Mac's time down to rival those listed by Guinness.
After a quick check to make certain that Justin was still asleep, Mac headed downstairs. Entering the kitchen, he found Chris, JC, and Melissa sitting at the table with coffee. "Morning," he said. They all answered cheerfully, as he poured himself a cup and went to join them.
"You all set to head out?" Chris asked, putting down the paper he had been leafing through.
"Yeah, sure," Mac said, smiling. "Whenever you are. Were you two comin' with us?"
"No," Melissa said, grinning, "we're diversion number one." They all laughed, then she continued, "We're gonna try and keep him occupied until you guys make it back."
"We can head out as soon as he finishes his coffee," Chris said, crossing to the coffee pot and refilling his own cup. Returning to his seat at the table, Chris picked up the sugar and began to pour. The three of them looked on as he continued to pour. Mac and Melissa shared a look of disbelief, then turned to JC, who merely rolled his eyes and shook his head. "What?" Chris asked, glancing up into their wide eyes. "I gotta have something to make it taste better!" After stirring the contents of his cup, he grabbed the creamer and placed all of two drops in the mixture. Another stir, then he sipped. "Ah, just right!"
"We've suggested syrup with a little bit of instant coffee," JC said, shrugging, "but he says it doesn't taste right with out the cream."
"It just doesn't mix right," Chris said, smiling.
"Please tell me that you didn't..." Melissa started, then thought better of it. "Never mind, I don't wanna know!"
Mac laughed heartily as he stood and carried his cup to the sink to rinse it out. JC followed to pour himself another cup. Mac nodded to him as JC took his time with the task. "Something on your mind JC?" Mac asked, quietly.
"Uh ... no," JC said, shaking his head. It was still obvious that he had something on his mind. Mac's constant gaze as he waited, finally had the desired effect. "I went upstairs to see if you were up yet," JC said, suddenly very interested in his coffee. "Up to the guest room...."
"Oh," Mac said, drying his hands on a towel, then neatly placing it on the edge of the sink. He opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off by JC.
"I'm sorry," JC said. "None of my business. Besides it's not like I wasn't expecting it. I just...." Mac's hand on his arm silenced him.
"He's family and you can't help it?" Mac asked, smiling warmly at him.
"Yeah, basically," JC said, returning the smile.
"It's okay," Mac said. "I understand completely. Hell, I think it would worry me more if you didn't feel protective." Mac was silent for a moment as JC grinned. "We didn't."
"Didn't?" JC asked, his eyebrows scrunched.
"Not that it's any of your business," Mac said, his eyebrow arching. "And don't get any ideas that it's up to you in the least." Mac said playfully, gaining a chuckle from JC. His tone then became more serious, "It's Justin's decision. It's not up to either one of us."
"I'll give him this," JC said, placing his hand on Mac's shoulder. He squeezed it gently then continued, "The man's got taste."
"I hope you're not talking about Justin," Chris said, surprising them both. He placed his cup in the sink and rinsed it. "I mean have you seen some of those hair styles of his?"
"Like you're one to talk?" JC chided.
Chris promptly stuck his tongue out at him as Mac chuckled. "Now if you're talking men," Chris started.
"Chris..." JC said, a tone of warning evident.
Chris' eyebrow went up and a steely expression came to his eyes. "Well, the last one didn't turn out so hot ... this one..." Mac's eyebrows shot up questioningly. "This one kinda looks promising," Chris said, with a gleam in his eyes.
JC shook his head, then calmly said, "Dumbass!"
Chris simply nodded. "By the way," he said, "did Josh here tell you what happens to the relationship rejects? The really rotten one's anyway?" The question was asked loud enough for Melissa to hear as well, so all three of the room's other occupants turned to look at Chris questioningly. "Ask him how Lance's last relationship ended. Well, the one before the last one."
JC laughed, shaking his head. "I really did ask James to stop the bus!" he said, holding up his hands in surrender.
"Next time, you might wanna say it loud enough for him
to hear you," Chris said, crossing his arms over his chest and grinning
like a Cheshire cat. "Anyway," Chris said, grabbing Mac's arm and hauling
him toward the door, "let's get goin'!" The last thing JC and Melissa saw
was the mildly panicked look on Mac's face as the door closed between them.
Even in sleep, Justin sensed that something was amiss as he rolled onto his stomach. His eyes still closed, he raised himself onto his elbows. His hand stretched out, sliding over the sheet until it eventually reached the edge of the mattress. Bringing his hand to his face, Justin rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He rolled to his back, then sat up attempting to free himself from the entwined sheets and blankets. "Mac?" he said, looking around the room. I could have sworn.... Justin grasped the pillow on the opposite side of the bed and brought it to his face. Breathing deeply, he recognized Mac's cologne. I knew it. Justin thought. Where did he ... he must be in the shower.
Justin hopped out of bed and grabbed a pair of running pants from the back of the chair near the bed and slipped them on. He then casually walked down the hall toward the bathroom. Justin paused as he realized that there were no sounds coming from the room, nor was there any light from beneath the door. He quickly poked his head into the guest room to see if Mac might be there, perhaps gathering some things from his suitcase. Still, there was no sign of him.
Having had no luck on this floor, Justin decided to head downstairs. He paused at each doorway, taking a brief look inside to try and locate Mac. Upon reaching the kitchen, Justin entered with a puzzled look on his face. He found JC, Melissa and Lance seated at the table.
"Hey Jus," JC said, "'bout time you got up!"
"Like you'd be up early without that lovely alarm clock of yours," Justin said, rather flatly as he nodded toward Melissa.
"And a lovely good morning to you, too," Melissa said, patting the empty seat beside her.
"What's wrong, Jus?" Lance asked. "You look like you've lost somethin'."
"Funny you should mention it," Justin said, smirking. "It's about my height," he said, shaking his hand roughly even with the top of his head, "dark hair, green eyes...."
"Hmm..." JC said, appearing to be searching some mental database. He shrugged and said, "Lance is about your height."
"I had dark hair once or twice, too," Lance added.
"Yeah," JC said, "and he's got green eyes."
Justin tilted his head to the side and glared at the two.
"Oh, leave him alone!" Melissa said. "Mac said he needed some supplies, shaving stuff or something," she said, "so Chris gave him a ride to the store."
Justin's look of puzzlement deepened as he leaned back against the counter. "Okay, two questions," he said. "One ... if he needed shaving stuff, he could have borrowed mine."
"That wasn't a question," JC thoughtfully volunteered.
"Of course if Chris were here," Lance said, "he'd be helpful and ask when he started shaving."
"Right before you did, dumbass!" Justin shot back. "Which brings me to my second question. You let my boyfriend -- who I never get to see as it is -- go to town with Chris? Now I may never see him again!" The three at the table laughed as Justin removed a cup from the cabinet and made himself some hot chocolate. "You know, if you were gonna let Chris go heaven knows where with my boyfriend, you could have at least left me some coffee!" Justin said, pointing to the empty pot as he crossed the kitchen to the table.
"Don't worry," Melissa said, stoking Justin's hand as he sat down beside her, "Chris'll take care of him."
"Why do you think I'm worried?" Justin asked with mock exasperation.
"Honestly," Melissa assured him, "he was on the upswing of one of his normalcy challenged periods, so he should be totally sane by the time they get back."
"If you say so," Justin said, then took a sip of his hot chocolate.
"They should be back any time now, Jus," JC said, "so just chill with us for a few."
"And why were you here again anyway?" Justin asked between sips.
"We were getting together to go to the amusement park, remember?" Lance said.
"Oh, yeah ... great," Justin said, the sarcastic emphasis he placed on the last word summing up his feelings rather succinctly.
"Why don't you finish your cocoa and then hit the shower?" JC suggested. "By then, they'll probably be back, and Joe should be here, and we'll head out."
Justin sighed. "You're probably right," he said. "Of course then, we'll all hop in the car and head to the park!" Justin said with as much saccharin cheer as he could muster.
"Come on, man," Lance said, giving Justin a sympathetic smile, "you weren't all that thrilled about going on the tour with Lew yesterday, but you still had a good time."
"True," Justin said, "but then behind the scenes at NASA
isn't exactly all that public." He finished the last of his hot
chocolate, then went and placed the cup in the sink. "I'll be back in a
while. If Mac makes it back, don't let him go anywhere ... especially
with Chris!" The three of them chuckled as Justin left the room and went
Once they had finished loading the groceries into the car, Mac rolled the cart to the return area while Chris climbed in and started the engine. When Mac opened the passenger door and climbed in himself, he found Chris inside bopping his head to the music blaring through the speakers. Try as he might, Mac was unable to stifle the chuckle that burst forth.
"Go ahead and laugh," Chris said, "everyone else does. I can't help it, I like this song."
"I'm sorry," Mac said, trying to fight the giggle he could feel building inside, "I'm just used to a more ... reserved crowd."
"Ya mean grown up, don't you?" Chris said, smirking.
"I didn't say that," Mac said, grinning.
"But ya thought it!" Chris said, as he pulled out of the parking space and headed toward the exit. "That's okay, you just won't ever find out what happens to the bad boyfriends."
Mac looked at him strangely, saying, "I was hoping that I'd never have to find that out anyway."
"Come on," Chris said, grinning evilly, "I know you're dying to ask ... have been since we left." Mac shook his head at him. "Why do you think I brought it up?"
Mac laughed. "You're an interesting one, you know that?" he said. Mac believed that he was finally getting a glimpse of the true man beneath the facade. "Most people see clown when they look at you, don't they? They're the ones that are destined to end up with everything in a nice neat little box. Others look and find the cool, calculating son of a wise-ass you truly are."
Chris looked at him with another Cheshire grin, and said, "You, my friend, shall go far in this life! I have to admit that you're a lot brighter than you look." As Mac uttered a sound of protest, Chris' smile grew. "Seriously, man, not many people know to look beyond the visible to the truth."
"Well, I imagine you make it difficult," Mac said, "though I still can't decide whether that's on purpose or not."
"I'll never tell," Chris said, pulling to a stop at the light.
They continued on their way toward Justin's place, with Mac occasionally glancing in Chris' direction as the two listened to the music playing from the speakers. Finally, Mac could take no more and said, "Okay, I give! So what does JC do to the relationship rejects?"
"Knew I'd get ya sooner or later," Chris said, smugly as he reached to turn down the music. "You know about Lance, right?" Chris glanced over at Mac appraisingly, and received only a questioning stare. "Well, you know he's bi now," Chris said, laughing. "Anyway, one of Lance's old boyfriends ... he was a real ass. He just ... it just wasn't right the way he was treating him. Things were coming to a head, and we were all fed up with it. Josh just kinda beat us to it.
"We were on the bus -- Trey had come along for the ride as usual. He was jumping all over Lance for something, again. He made the mistake of raising his hand to hit Lance and that was it. Josh jumped him ... kicked the shit out of him. You see the video for I Drive Myself Crazy?" Chris paused to looked over to Mac. Gaining a nod from him, Chris continued, "Josh's vignette was loosely based on 'The Trey Incident'. Only we had to scale it down or it wouldn't have made it onto MTV." Chris said it with such a deadpan delivery that it caused Mac to laugh all the harder. "Anyway, after he kicked his ass, he told James, our bus driver, to pull over. We were right in the middle of the highway, but Josh literally threw Trey's ass off the bus. Josh is a quiet one, really sweet guy, but don't mess with his friends, and watch your ass if you mess with family!"
"Damn," Mac said, "Remind me not to cross him!"
"Don't worry," Chris said. "Josh got that one, next one is mine and Joey's."
Mac looked over to find the truly evil grin which had spread over Chris' face, and the laughter that had begun to subside took hold again. Mac found himself doubled over, holding his sides. He was certain of one thing, if nothing else. Justin was in the best possible hands. There was no way that any of his friends ... his brothers ... would let him get hurt. "So, you just left him there in the middle of the highway?" Mac asked, trying again to recover from the fit of laughter.
"Nah," Chris said. "After we took off, Justin called back to the crew bus, that was following us, and had them pick him up. Though, since Lonnie and Wes were back there, he probably wanted to thumb it. I'm sure he was so comfortable with them staring him down the whole way to the next stop."
Mac looked up and recognized Justin's house coming up. "Guess we're here, huh?" Mac said, smiling broadly.
"Yup," Chris said, barely concealing the grin triggered by Mac's obvious elation. "Last chance to make sure you got everything," Chris said, approaching the drive.
"Nah, I got it all," Mac said, smiling at him briefly then turning back to the window.
"Well, you got all the food," Chris said, "but, are you sure there weren't any other supplies you might need for ... dessert shall we say?"
Mac froze for a split second as the true meaning of Chris' question sank in, then slowly turned toward him blushing slightly. "It's taken care of," Mac said, shaking his head at the exceptionally evil grin on Chris' face.
"Just checking," Chris said, pulling into the drive and shutting off the ignition. "Alright, lover-boy, let's lug this crap inside," Chris said, opening the door and climbing out of the car.
Mac sat for a moment, shaking his head. What did I
get myself into? he thought, then climbed out to join Chris at the
trunk of the car.
After showering and dressing, Justin came hopping down the stairs and headed toward the kitchen. Entering, Justin saw Mac and a broad smile spread quickly across his face. "You're alive!" he said, running over to hug him.
Chris let out a "humph" as he hopped up onto the counter and began munching on an apple. "Like your driving record is all that spotless!" Chris mumbled around a mouthful. "Hey, man, I put some stuff in your fridge, hope it's okay to leave it there while we're out."
"Yeah, sure," Justin said, releasing Mac. "Just don't ever steal my boyfriend again!"
"Like I'd want him!" Chris said, winking at Mac.
"Alright now," Mac said, returning Chris' wink then putting his arms around Justin's waist to pull him closer, "you guys quit fighting over me."
"Yeah, you boys quit it or I'll just take him away from both of you!" Melissa said from the table, smirking.
"Hey!" JC protested. "Guess I should be glad he's taken and not interested, huh?"
"Don't worry, Josh," Melissa said, leaning over to kiss JC. "You're stuck with me ... for the moment anyway." Her deadpan delivery and smug expression, combined with the utterly speechless look of shock on JC's face, made everyone in the room break down in a fit a laughter.
JC's look of shock melted into one of mock hurt, but was quickly replaced by the smile he was trying to hide beneath. He joined the laughter, as he grabbed hold of Melissa and pulled her from her chair and onto his lap. "You've been hanging around with Chris too long!" he said, before kissing her.
JC's action attracted Chris and Justin's attention. Chris' small smirk pulled into a full fledged smile. It occurred to him that this was the first time in months that JC had initiated any kind of physical contact between himself and Melissa.
Placing his arms over those wrapped around his waist, Justin leaned back into Mac's arms, pressing him against the counter near Chris. He, too, realized the ramifications of the simple gesture, and unconsciously nuzzled into Mac's neck. "Are you sure we have to go to out today?" Justin whispered into Mac's ear.
"I told you, babe," Mac whispered back, "it's up to you. If you really don't want to go, I'm sure Melissa and the guys will understand."
Justin looked over to each of his friends, then back into Mac's eyes. "Nah," he said, "it's okay. We do need to spend the time with them." Justin looked over to JC and Melissa, then continued, "Besides, they could use a fun day out as much as we could. I know how great you are, it's only right that I share some of the wealth." An impish grin over took Justin as he leaned in closer to Mac's ear, "There is one condition, though." Mac arched an eyebrow and turned his head slightly trying to look into Justin's face. "I get you all to myself later," Justin said, blowing gently into Mac's ear.