Justin and Chris stood silently in the elevator as it climbed to their floor, they were both rather worn out from their workout. After their talk in Lance's room, Justin had figured that it would be a good idea to get Chris out of there and get some of his anger released. They ended up spending most of the afternoon in the hotel gym blowing off steam.
The morning had been rough for all of them. Feeling utterly helpless, Justin was still unsure of how to react to everything. He wanted so much to get his hands on the person who had hurt his best friend, but they didn't know her name or even what she looked like. He figured the next best thing would be to take his frustration out on a few of the workout machines in the gym.
The chiming of the elevator brought Justin out of his troubling thoughts. He looked over at Chris as the doors slid open. "I'm sorry, man. I didn't mean to get so quiet on ya," Justin said.
"Don't worry about it," Chris said as they stepped out of the elevator. "I get the feeling we're all gonna be zonin'."
"You got that right. I'm gonna get a shower, so I'll see ya later, okay?"
"Sure thing, and Jus ... thanks man."
Justin smiled at him, "Your welcome. You know, the things you said in Lance's room are totally right. We can make it through this ... if we stick together."
They parted ways and headed for their own rooms. Justin slid his key into the lock and entered his room to find Lew sitting in a chair near the window, staring blankly out it. His heart went out to his friend; the morning's events were bad enough on him, but Lew had been by JC's side the entire time. He had been the one who had told them what had happened to JC, and Justin got the feeling that Lew had only told them the smallest portion of what had actually happened. The unwanted knowledge was weighing heavily on his older friend, his usual cheerful attitude was replaced by one of somber contemplation.
"How ya holdin' up, bro?" Justin asked.
Lew started at the sudden break in the silence. He sighed and said, "As well as can be expected I suppose. How 'bout you?"
Justin shrugged, "Aw, I don't know ... guess I'm holdin' up, too. Can't say as much for the equipment in the gym. After the workout Chris and I gave 'em, it's a good thing those machines have lifetime guarantees ... of course, they may need a new punching bag."
Lew smiled at him, it was forced, but he was making the attempt.
"How's Josh?" Justin asked.
"He was sleeping last I checked. Joe was sitting with him."
"That's good. Joey was really feeling shitty, maybe sitting with Josh'll help a little. Hey, why don't we get out of here? You look like you could really use a break and I know that I could!"
"I dunno?" Lew said, shaking his head.
"C'mon bro ... didn't you say you were gonna stop by and see a friend while you were here?"
"No 'buts' ... come on. Just lemme grab a quick shower and we'll both go."
It was obvious that Justin wasn't going to take no for an answer, so Lew relented. He did need a break. Lew smiled to himself as Justin grabbed some clothes and went into the bathroom to shower. He was impressed with the way Justin was handling things. His maturity was really coming to the surface and Lew thought it suited him well. He quickly grabbed some clothes for himself and changed then went back to his former position, staring out the window, to wait for Justin.
A short time later, Justin emerged from the bathroom. He was dressed simply in some jeans and a wife beater, his hair still a wet mess. He crossed to the dresser, grabbed a sweater, and quickly threw it on, then dug his prescription glasses out of his bag. Sitting on the bed, he began to put on his socks and shoes. He looked up and found Lew watching him with an odd expression on his face. Justin grinned, saying, "Um ... what? Did I miss something?"
Lew smiled at him, a real one this time, and said, "No ... it's just good to see Justin instead of 'Justin from *NSYNC'."
Justin smiled at him. "So you think I should just go like this?"
"Well, you could probably stand to comb the hair ... but yeah. You look good in the glasses."
Justin actually seemed to shy away from the compliment as he finished with his shoes. "So, are we ready to head out?"
"Yeah, just let me tell Lance where we're going on the
way out." Justin nodded and they headed out.
Justin and Lew stood outside the door of a northern San Diego apartment. It was nothing too flashy or trendy, but by no means a slum either. Lew reached out and rang the bell, then stood back to wait for the answer. They heard a muffled, "Just a sec!" A short time later, the door opened to reveal a young man, probably somewhere between Justin's and Lew's ages. He was clean cut, very much so in fact, and looked as if he had just stepped out of the shower since his dark hair was still wet. Justin's eyes glided over him then locked on his eyes, they were a brilliant green. It took some effort on Justin's part, but he did manage to keep his jaw from dropping.
"Lew!" the man said. "I didn't think you were gonna make it after you called this morning."
"Yeah, sorry," Lew said, "like I told you something came up and I didn't know if I could or not."
"Glad you did, it's been a while!" he said. "Oh, man, I'm sorry come on in guys!"
"Thanks, Mac," Lew said.
"Yeah, thanks," Justin echoed.
Once they were inside, their host asked them to have a seat. The apartment was fairly average, but still nice in its own way. There was a definite male influence ... a bachelor pad so to speak, but it was still tastefully done.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Lew said, "my manners are out the window today! Justin, this is my friend Nathan ... Nathan, this is my friend Justin," Lew said, indicating the two in kind.
"Call me Mac," he said, shaking Justin's hand.
Justin smiled back at him as he took his hand, "Okay, Mac. So do you two work together or something?"
"Well we did, kinda," Mac told him.
"He's stationed here at Miramar," Lew said. "I met him a year ago, while I was taking some classes at Annapolis."
"And we've seen one another a time or two while he was working on some systems on the base," Mac added.
"Cool," Justin said as he thought for a moment. "So you're in the military?"
"Yeah, Navy," Mac told him.
"Also cool," Justin smiled. "Hey, why do the names of those places sound so familiar?"
"Well Annapolis is the state capitol of Maryland," Lew told him.
"It's also the home of the US Naval Academy," Mac said.
"Oh yeah, but that other one sounds familiar, too?"
"Fightertown USA maybe?" Lew said.
"What?" Justin asked.
"Most people know it from the movies," Mac laughed. Justin still looked puzzled. "The Navy's Top Gun school?"
"Oh!" Justin said, his eyes lighting up. "So, you're a fighter pilot?"
"Well, not anymore," Mac said with a rather sad look.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Justin said, afraid he'd said something to upset his new acquaintance.
"Oh, no, it's alright," Mac told him. "Long time ago. Anyway, now I get to play super high tech video games all day and get paid for it, so it's all good," Mac laughed.
Justin looked from Mac to Lew, puzzled by the statement. "He works with the simulators that they use in their training," Lew told him.
"Oh! Very cool ... where do I sign up?" Justin laughed.
Mac joined his laughter for a moment before looking over at Lew. "Hey how 'bout we go out for a drink? You look like you could use one ... well, actually you look like shit!"
"Gee ... thanks!" Lew said.
"Actually, he's right," Justin said. "Why do you think I dragged you out of the hotel?"
"Et tu?" Lew glared at Justin. He then turned to Mac, "Jus is only nineteen, so no where too rowdy."
"Hey, this is me you're talking to!" Mac laughed.
"Yeah, that's what I mean!" Lew said with a sly grin.
Mac stuck his tongue out at him, then said, "Nah, I know the perfect place, and they're cool."
They all agreed and then headed out for the bar.
As they pulled up to the bar, Justin was surpirsed that there wasn't much of a line. Definitely not what he was used to, just a doorman standing there checking ID's. The doorman waved Mac past; Justin assumed that he was a regular. Lew showed him his ID, then stood to the side to wait for Justin. Justin was wary of showing his driver's licence at first, not wanting to be recognized, but the doorman was very professional. He made some small talk about Justin being from out of town, but took no notice of his name. He then pointed out to him that he was under the drinking age, warned him against ordering alcoholic beverages, and ended by stamping his hand with a logo that looked like a "21" with the international "not" symbol over it.
While Justin finished up, Lew noticed a sticker on the door. He gave Mac a questioning glance. Mac smiled at him with a shrug, then winked at him. Lew gave him another "I'm not so sure about this" look. Mac said, "I told you, they're cool." Lew nodded as Justin joined them and they entered.
The three headed over to the bar and sat down. "What'll ya have fellas?" the bartender asked them.
"The usual Pete," Mac told him.
"You got it Mac. And for you?"
"Tequila, straight up," Lew told him, "with a beer chaser." Mac and Justin both turned to look at him with a questioning look. Lew just shook his head, "Long day!"
Justin nodded then turned to the bartender and said, "Rum and coke!" Lew and the bartender both looked at him. Lew's eyebrow arched at him. "And hold the rum?" Justin said with a grin.
"I thought as much," the grinning bartender said as he turned to get their drinks.
Turning back, the bartender handed them their drinks and said, "Enjoy," with a wink. Justin wasn't sure how to interpret that. He thanked him and turned to look out at the crowd on the dance floor.
As soon as Lew got his drink, he downed it. Mac and Justin watched him with slightly shocked expressions, then looked at each other. Justin shrugged, not wanting to get into the reason for Lew's change of drinking habits.
"This seems like a nice place," Justin said, heading off the question he saw forming in Mac's face.
"Yeah, I like the place," Mac said with a shrug, "it's pretty cool, the crowd's nice and they have a pretty good mix of music."
Justin looked around the room. "Yeah it does seem pretty cool. Not sure about the mix in the crowd though. There aren't all that many women ... here ..." Justin trailed off as his gaze fell on two men at the far end of the bar kissing. He scanned the room again and noticed another couple, also two men, making out in a booth in the corner. "Oooooooh!" Lew and Mac both chuckled at his reaction. Justin looked around some more and blushed.
"I take it you didn't notice the rainbow flag on the door as we came in?" Lew asked him.
"No, I was kind distracted."
"You okay with this?" Mac asked him.
"Uh ... yeah," Justin replied distractedly. He continued to notice more men freely expressing themselves. A moment later, Justin hopped up, "I think I need to use the restroom!" He jogged off and asked the bartender where it was then ran off down the hall.
"Now that was ... interesting," Lew said with a puzzled look.
"Is he okay with this?" Mac asked him. "I mean we can leave if he's uncomfortable around a gay crowd."
Lew cleared his throat, "Uh.... It's not that, trust me."
"Okay. You sure he's okay? I mean he seems like a nice guy; I wouldn't wanna upset him. Ya know he seems a little familiar, too?"
"Yeah, I'll check on him if he's not back in a second."
"Do you think he might be..." Mac trailed off as if searching for the right words, "um ... open?"
Lew laughed. "If you're asking me if he's gay, or if he might be interested in you ... I think you should probably ask him."
Mac gave him a nasty look, then laughed. "You're evil! But you know that, right?"
Lew nodded as he laughed again. "I'm gonna go make sure he's okay. Be right back."
Mac nodded as he watched Lew head off in the same direction
Damn, I hope he's okay, Mac thought. Oh, quit it!
Even if he is, it doesn't mean he's interested. But he is cute. Stop it!
He does look familiar though.
In the restroom, Justin stood at the sink splashing his face with water and staring at his reflection in the mirror. When the door opened he turned and saw Lew walk in with a neutral look on his face.
"You okay, Jus?"
"Yeah, sorry about that."
"Something bothering you? Other than the obvious."
"Nah, it's stupid!"
"Try me anyway."
"I dunno. I was just standing out there, and looking at all of them. They were out there," Justin laughed ruefully. "I guess that's the point ... they were out. They're out there holding hands, kissing ... and it's fine. I think I just got jealous. Dumb, huh?"
"No," Lew said as he leaned against the other sink. "I think you're entitled. You have to give up a lot. It's okay to feel a little envious sometimes. So, are you gonna come back out there, or stay in here all night? Though people may begin to wonder if you stay in here too long." Lew smiled evilly at him.
"OH, SHUT UP!" Justin said, smacking his arm. "Yeah, I'm coming, just lemme go to the bathroom while I'm in here."
Lew nodded then left him.
Justin finished up in the bathroom, then headed back for the bar. On his way out, a guy stopped him. "Hey man, I noticed you earlier. You're kinda cute ... I was just wondering if you were busy tomorrow night."
Justin stood with his mouth open for a moment. "Um ... yeah," Justin stammered. "I ... I mean ... sorry, but I am kinda busy tomorrow night."
"Damn," the guy said. "Well I had an extra ticket to that sold out *NSYNC concert tomorrow night, and was wondering if you might want to come. I caught the guy I was gonna go with in bed with some chick!"
Justin almost choked, fighting desperately to keep from laughing. "Oh man, I'm sorry about that!"
"Nah, not your fault. I just thought I'd give it a try. What the hell though," he said, pulling out a scrap of paper and writing something down on it. "Here's my number. If you change your mind, or aren't doing anything later on, give me a call."
"Uh, actually I'm from out of town and I'm leaving day after tomorrow," Justin told him with an apologetic look. "But thanks for the offer."
"Hey, like I said, what the hell it was worth a try, though I'm sure a guy like you has guys lined up around the corner to go out with you."
"You'd be surprised," Justin mumbled as the guy turned and left. Justin walked back over to the bar. When he got back the seating arrangements had changed. Where at first Lew had been sitting between the two of them, now the only open seat was beside Mac.
"New friend?" Lew asked him nodding toward the guy he'd been talking to.
Justin blushed, "Yeah, something like that."
Lew just smiled at him.
"Are you sure you're okay?" Mac asked him. "I .. I mean if you wanna leave, we can. I'd hate for you to feel uncomfortable or anything. I just come here every once in a while ... and they're pretty cool ... and I thought you could use the drink ... and this was the first place that came to mind and all. It's just that...."
Justin interrupted his ambling apology, "No, it's fine. The place is great. It's just been a long day, so far, and I think it was all just catching up to me for a minute there."
"Oh, good," Mac smiled at him. "So ... uh ... Justin...."
Lew kept glancing over out of the corner of his eye, grinning as he nursed his beer.
"Yeah?" Justin asked.
"Um..." Mac cleared his throat. "Are .. are you ... uh ... by any chance gay? I .. I'm mean if you're not then it's okay, I was just wondering ... I mean it's okay if you're not ... but it was just something that I kinda wanted to ask...."
Justin stopped him by placing a hand on his arm. "Uh ... yeah," Justin said then quickly took a sip of his coke. Mac's eyes lit up at the answer.
Lew laughed quietly to himself at the exchange. He saw a open table in the far corner of the room and suggested that they take it. It took Justin and Mac a moment to realize that he was talking to them. When they figured it out, they agreed and moved over to the table.
"So ... Justin," Mac started, "are you seeing anyone?"
Justin shook his head, "No, not right now."
Mac shook his head and apologized, "I'm sorry if I keep staring. You look familiar, but I just can't place you. Are you sure we've never met before?"
"No, I think I'd have remembered you," Justin told him with a smile.
Mac's smile broadened. "If you're not busy ... would you maybe wanna go out sometime before you leave?"
Justin's smile fell. "Actually, we're busy tomorrow night ... then we leave the next morning."
"Oh," Mac said frowning.
Lew cleared his throat and they both blushed realizing that they had all but forgotten that he was still sitting was there. "Why don't you give one another your email addresses or something?"
"Oh yeah!," Mac said. "Um...."
Lew smiled and slid a napkin toward them with a pen sitting on top of it. They each wrote down their email addresses and Lew tore the napkin in half, giving them each the appropriate portion. A waiter came round a few moments later and they ordered another round of drinks.
Their conversation continued as Justin and Mac discussed a little about their homes and families. The two, however, made a conscious attempt to include Lew this time. Justin's side remained rather vague until "It's Gonna Be Me" came across the speakers. Mac was bopping his head to the beat of the music, but stopped when he noticed that Justin had tensed up. "You okay, Justin?"
"Huh? Oh ... yeah! Fine!"
Mac looked over at Lew with a questioning look. Lew just shook his head as if to say, "Don't ask me, ask him."
Mac turned back to Justin and the reason for his feeling of familiarity suddenly hit him. Mac eyes grew wide as it sank in. No way, Mac thought to himself. I didn't ... I mean I couldn't have ... Oh my God, I just came onto Justin Timberlake! And he accepted! "Um ... Justin? I don't remember Lew telling me your last name?"
"That's okay," Lew said, "I don't think I did."
Mac glared at him. "It wouldn't happen to be Timberlake ... would it?"
"Uh ... yeah," Justin said, then quickly took a sip of his coke. "That's not a problem, is it?" Justin smiled crookedly.
"Um ... no! Not at all ... just a bit of a shock. That and feeling like a complete ass for not realizing it sooner."
"You mean you didn't realize till just then?"
"Well, no, not till the song came on. The music with the face I guess. I'm sorry."
"What are you apologizing for? It's kinda nice for someone to notice me for me and not for the puppet in the video," Justin said with a smile.
"You're not a puppet by any means," Mac told him.
"And, by my count that's been two guys that have noticed you and not the puppet," Lew laughed. Justin smacked his arm as he blushed.
"Shut up, you!" Mac told Lew. "You really know how to kill a mood!"
"It's a gift!"
"He's just jealous that no one's tried to pick him up yet!" Justin laughed.
Lew looked at his watch. "I really hate to do this, but it's getting late. We should probably be getting back." Justin sadly agreed and they headed out to the parking lot.
"You want me to give you guys a ride back to the hotel?" Mac asked hopefully.
Justin and Lew looked at one another and agreed. "Hey, if you don't mind, why don't I drive and you two can talk some more?" Lew asked.
"Sure!" Mac said, tossing him the keys. Lew climbed into
the driver's seat as Justin and Mac piled into the back.
As they reached the hotel, Justin sighed not wanting to end the evening so quickly. "Hey, are you doing anything tomorrow?" he asked Mac.
"Um ... no, that's why I asked you out earlier," Mac told him with a grin.
"DUH!" Justin said, shaking his head. "Well, I was just wondering if you maybe wanna come to this concert tomorrow. I hear it's sold out, but I think I could probably get tickets."
"I'd love to!" Mac laughed. "What time should I pick you up?"
Justin shook his head, "I think I should probably just meet you there."
"Oh, I see how it is! You ask me out on the date. Then I have to meet you there. What kinda guy do you think I am?"
"A very charming one actually," Justin told him with a warm smile. And one that I wouldn't mind kissing, but damn Lew, he had to drive so fast we're right in front of the hotel now! Do they never get tired and go home?
They said goodnight again after Justin told him where
to pick up his tickets. Justin and Lew then raced into the building with
only a few of the fans recognizing him and laying chase.
Justin and Lew headed straight to JC's room to check on him. Lew knocked softly and slowly opened the door. They entered quietly to find JC laying on the bed facing the opposite wall and Lance sitting in a chair near him reading a book. Looking up, Lance saw them then stood and crossed the room to meet them. "Did you guys have a nice break?" Lance smiled at them.
"Yeah, I guess," Lew told him. "I felt kinda bad just leaving you like that."
"Naw, you needed it," Lance told him.
"How's he doing?" Lew asked nodding toward JC.
"He's been sleeping mostly ... can't really blame him," Lance said. "He's stopped crying, but I think it's cause he's all cried out," Lance said with a mournful frown.
"We'll sit with him a while if you wanna go get something to eat or something," Justin offered.
Lance nodded and patted them each on the shoulder, then left.
The two crossed the room and looked at their friend. Lew had a sad and helpless look on his face, a bit like a lost puppy. Justin placed his hand on his shoulder and told him, "He's gonna be alright."
"He's not asleep," JC said in a hoarse whisper.
"How ya feeling, bro?" Justin asked him.
"I'm just tired," JC shrugged. "So, Lance said you guys went out? Do anything fun?"
"Not without you there, man," Justin said.
"Don't mope around depressed because of me," JC told them.
"It's okay Josh," Lew said, "we're not. We just want you to be okay."
"I'm gonna make it through this, guys," JC said. "I just can't stand the thought of seeing you all depressed and knowing it's because of me."
"Nah, we had fun," Justin told him grinning. "Lew took me out to a gay bar and some guys were hitting on me. Nothing major."
Justin's expression dropped as he heard JC crying. He and Lew raced to JC's side ready to comfort him. They suddenly realized, however, that he wasn't crying but laughing, almost uncontrollably.
"Josh?" Lew said. "Are you alright?"
JC rolled over and pushed himself up to sit against the headboard. "I'm sorry," he said, wiping at his face. "It's just that ... well I usually look after him for his mom ... and just once I leave him with you ... and you take him to a gay bar?" JC finished, starting to crack up again.
Lew shook his head. "You scared the shit outta me!"
Justin started laughing as well. "You know, he's right. For all your being the big teacher and taking care of us ... Josh has never taken me to a gay bar like that!"
"Technically I didn't take you, Mac did."
"True," Justin said as a grin spread across his face.
JC finally managed to pull himself together. "Thanks," he said, "I think I needed that."
"Anytime,"Justin said still grinning.
Even in his current state, JC noticed the expression on his face. "Something good happen while you two were out?"
Justin just smiled shyly and shrugged. JC turned to Lew who was smiling. "How bout we get something to eat?" Justin suggested.
"You up for it, Josh?" Lew asked. "I know you didn't eat any breakfast or anything since yesterday, for that matter. You must be starving by now."
"Yeah, maybe," JC nodded. "How bout some pizza or something?" The other two nodded in agreement. "Lemme run to the bathroom while you order it."
Justin grabbed the phone and called in their order, while
Lew took the chair that Lance had been in when they had first come in.
When the pizza arrived a short time later, they all dug in heartily. JC was ravenous, he hadn't eaten since the night before. Lew was pleased to see that his appetite was back.
After eating in silence for a few minutes, JC swallowed what was in his mouth and asked, "So, wanna tell me what happened tonight to make you blush, Justin?"
Justin choked on his drink, "Uh ... well ... Lew?" He looked over at Lew, who was trying not to laugh.
"This one's all yours," Lew said smiling.
"Come on, Jus," JC said. "You can tell me."
Justin blushed again, "I kinda met someone tonight...."
"Someone?" JC pressed him.
"Well, someone special," his blush deepening.
"Special?" JC asked with a grin.
Justin rolled his eyes then cracked a broad smile. "Yeah, his name's Mac. He's in the Navy. He used to be a pilot, but he's not anymore. I think he had an accident or something ... he seemed kinda sad about it so I didn't pry. He's really cute too ... short, dark brown hair and gorgeous green eyes. I mean Lance's are green, but Mac's eyes ..." Justin sighed. "You should've seen him. I think you'd really like him. He's gonna come to the concert tomorrow night..."
JC put his hands up in a gesture of surrender. "Okay ... Okay..." JC laughed, "I was just askin' what happened, you don't have to give me the guy's life story!"
JC and Lew looked at each other. "Josh, I think he had a good time tonight," Lew said, trying to hold back a grin.
"Ya think?" JC said.
"Fine ... be that way!" Justin said then grinned. "Well, YOU ASKED!"
The three men laughed and talked a while longer before
deciding to call it a night. Justin told them goodnight and headed next
door to his room. Lew saw that JC was tucked into his bed, then sat in
the chair next to him and began watching a movie. Eventually, Lew nodded
off in his seat, his feet propped up on the end of the bed and his head
leaning on his hand.
An hour or so had passed when JC began thrashing about in the bed, his sleep clearly disturbed by a nightmare. Suddenly, he sat bolt upright in the bed with a scream. It appeared as if he were trying to get away from something or someone. Lew awoke with a start just in time to see JC falling off the opposite side of the bed, taking the lamp down with him.
"Josh!" Lew yelled as he leapt over the bed. He found JC crouched beside the bedside table trembling. Lew wrapped his arms around him and told him that he was safe as the door to the room burst open.
Justin came running in with a terrified look on his face. "Is he alright?" Justin asked, the terror also evident in his voice.
"Nightmare," Lew nodded. Flashback more likely.
"Can I do anything?" Justin asked, his voice calming down now, but still full of fear and concern.
"Could you unplug that lamp, please?" Lew suggested.
Justin nodded and did as he was asked as Lew helped a still whimpering JC back into bed. Lew tucked him in then lay down beside him.
"I'm sorry," JC mumbled.
"It's okay, Josh," Justin said as he came to lay down on the other side.
The two held him as he sobbed quietly. Justin began to sing softly...
When clouds above you, start to pour ... and all of your doubts, rage like a storm ... and you don't know, who you are anymore ... let me help you find, what you been searching for. Somewhere there's a field and a river, you can let you soul run free ... someday let me be the giver, let me bring you peace....