Eeee! Thanks for the wonderful response and support! Please keep them coming! And you don't have to write just once you know. Write to me anytime, even if it's not related to the story...I'd love to get more friends from all over the world. So far I've got one from NY, one from Ohio, a couple of Singaporeans (waves furiously to Red), even one from the Netherlands (Hi Adrian! Hope you get better!). But no Malaysians. I wonder why. Anyway, enjoy Part 7!
Disclaimer: In another alternate universe, this whole story might all be true. 'N Sync might still sell millions, and Justin Timberlake might be gay, and there would really be someone called Joel Casey. But not in this universe. It's not real! Actually, Justin and 'N Sync et al are merely...human batteries to power the AI--as are we all...
If there's just ONE Lance slash story you have to read, make it Lance in Shining Armour by Scotty T. If there are TWO Lance stories you can to read, it's gotta be Nsnyc: Lance & JC.
Comments are more than welcome at email@example.com
Hey, just a quick question--J.C. keeps wearing a round silvery medallion around his neck. I was watching them perform at Madison Square Garden (on a VCD--the joys of being in Malaysia!) and compared them with some pics of him--he wears it all the time. Does anyone know what it is? I'd be ecstatic if someone could supply me with the answer, thanks!
Justin Timberlake rapped smartly on the wood-paneled door. Confidence oozed from every pore of his being, from his shaded eyes to the soles of his shoes. It even emanated from the bunch of flowers he held in his arms.
He's gonna so love this. He's gonna so love everything. He looked down at the dozen, deep red roses he'd picked out earlier, and the jewel box he'd carried all this way from Germany. Everything was perfect. Justin could almost feel Joel's arms around his neck, Joel's breath on his--
The door opened, and a sandy-haired man wearing glasses peeked out.
For a moment, Justin experienced a horrible sense of deja vu. He looked at the number on the door, then back at the man again, who was waiting patiently, a enquiring look on his face.
"Is...Joel Casey here?" he asked, his confidence somewhat compromised. He took off his shades.
The man's eyes widened in recognition. Justin crossed his fingers, hoping that he wasn't in any way related to Kitty-the-hyperventilating-fan back in Orlando. The guy's brown eyes traveled down to the roses Justin held, and the box of Joel's belongings at his feet, confusion plainly writ on his face.
"Oh, um...just wait here a sec, Mr. Timberlake," he said. Turning back, he called into the apartment. "Jojo! There's someone here to see you."
Jojo? Did he just call my man Jojo? Who is this guy anyway? A horrible suspicion started to form in his mind. Oh no, it can't be. Not now! Not when I'm here to do this!
"Who's it baby? Kate's not--oh," Joel came around, and turned completely white as Nicky opened the door wider to reveal who it was. Justin. Master of his dreams, yet ruler of his nightmares.
"I know! I couldn't believe it either, but I can't be mistaken right? Do you know each other?" Nicky asked him excitedly, mistaking Joel's stunned look as being star-struck by the celebrity's presence. He went over to Joel's side and slipped a proprietary arm about his waist.
Watching this exchange, it took all of Justin's years of self-control, of acting out what others wanted to see, to keep his face as straight and as impassive as possible. He gripped the flowers so hard, though, that he felt the stems break. Joel. Letting another man's arms rove over him.
"Hi, Joel," he said quietly, keeping his voice even. He mustn't let him see how badly he wanted to break this other man's neck. He had to be calm, be aloof, as always.
'Shocked' barely covered what Joel was feeling at the moment. Neither would have 'stricken to the core'. 'Thunderstruck' would have been quite appropriate, but really Joel felt all these and more. He had thought it was the right thing to do, to leave Orlando and change his cellphone number, so that he could cut all ties with his past, or more pointedly, all ties with Justin. And there he was now, in the doorway of his newfound boyfriend's apartment, clutching what seemed like a dozen red roses. It just felt too bizarre.
Justin saw Joel's gaze settle on the flowers and gave himself a wry smile. He had to think quickly.
"A fan gave this to me downstairs," he lied, looking directly at Joel. He'd noticed that the young engineer held himself completely still, even in his boyfriend's embrace. Joel was already dressed, rather smartly, while the other man had a towel around his neck. They looked as if they were getting ready to go somewhere classy for dinner.
Joel shook himself out of his stupor and gave Justin a bright smile. A smile that did not reach into his eyes, the latter saw.
"Justin! How nice to see you. You were the...last person I expected to see."
No doubt, Justin thought dryly. He looked meaningfully at the guy whose hands he wanted to chop off--among other things.
"Oh! This is Nicky. He's an entertainment lawyer at MTV in New York," Joel said, putting a hand briefly on Nicky's chest. "Nicky, this is--"
"Justin Timberlake. Gosh, yes...who wouldn't recognise this one!" Nicky offered Justin his hand with a huge smile on his face, releasing his hold on Joel. He winced perceptibly, however, as Justin crushed it with his own.
"How nice to finally get to meet Joel's boyfriend," Justin said, a cold smile playing about his lips.
"Really? He's told you about me, has he?" Joel laughed. "We haven't been together all that long, actually. It's our first-month anniversary tonight," he smiled at Joel lovingly, who returned it rather nervously.
"Joel? Oh no, we haven't...how shall I put it, been in touch lately. In fact, I've pretty much lost all contact with him since he left Orlando," Justin replied, holding Joel's gaze. The dark-haired man merely bit his lip and wrapped his arms around himself.
"In that case, I'd better leave you two to catch up. I'm going to take a quick shower. Hey, if you're free you could join us for dinner too Justin. How's that sound, Jojo?" he looked at Joel, who was staring at the ground. "Anyway, I'm sure it'll be fine. I'll be out in a while." He then disappeared into the bedroom. Seconds later they heard the sound of running water.
For a moment they just stood there, not saying anything. Justin slowly moved forward until he was standing very close to Joel. Joel raised his head to look into Justin's eyes.
"H-how did you find me?" he asked dumbly, popping the first question that came to his troubled mind.
"Rose and Kitty. They asked me to pass some things to you," Justin said, gesturing to the box at his feet.
Joel's gaze homed in on the diaries, peeking out from the top of the flimsy cardboard. He looked back into Justin's blue orbs, and understood everything.
"Th-those flowers--they weren't from a fan, were they," he gulped, pointing at the bouquet which Justin now held limply at his side. Justin nodded slowly. "My diaries--you--you--I--" horror and shock came to his eyes even as they started filling with tears. Again, Justin merely nodded. Joel gave a small, strangled cry and sank to the hard floor.
In a flash, Justin was holding him, flowers thrown aside carelessly.
"Joel, oh god, Joel, I never realised. I never knew! Joel, listen to me," Justin begged. With a gentle finger, he lifted Joel's face so he could stare into those green eyes.
"Joel," he breathed. "I love you."
Those words. Those words, if uttered three months ago, Joel would have gladly given his life to hear. Those words, which he now heard, instead felt like they were taking his life; as surely as if Justin twisted the dagger into his body.
Suddenly, Joel was consumed with rage. What right did Justin have to play with his feelings like this? For more than two years, Joel was his, body and soul. He would have cheerfully stopped breathing if only Justin gave the word. And now, when Joel was determined to forge a new life, with a boyfriend he'd always wanted but never had, all Justin had to do was waltz in here and expect him to fall on his knees?!
He raised a tear-stained face to gaze at Justin, the tears stopping. The blond singer flinched at the hardness in Joel's eyes. The expression on his face was one he'd never seen Joel wear. It was something akin to hate.
"How dare you," Joel whispered, searching Joel's face.
"What?" Justin was confused and more than a bit frightened. He never expected this.
"How dare you," Joel repeated, the conviction in his voice getting stronger. "You think you can just walk in here, in my boyfriend's house, say some pretty words, and I'd just fall in your arms and we can go off to live in your perfect world just like that? How could you be so presumptuous, so arrogant?"
Justin was stunned. He got up and turned away so that Joel wouldn't see the tears forming in his own eyes. He ran a trembling hand through his curls. "You think it's easy for me to see you with him? To realise that the one good thing in my life has slipped out of my hands?" he cast a venomous look at the direction of the bedroom Nicky and Joel shared. "Slipped right out of my hands, into the waiting arms of another? I can't let you go just like that, Joel."
"Well you have to," Joel spat. "I did. I let you go. You had your chance with me for two years, Justin. All the signs were there for you to see even if I tried my best to hide them!" he stood up as well, still whispering fiercely. "Getting--" his voice broke. "--getting over you was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life, Just. And I owe it to Nicky that he helped me through it."
He approached Justin tentatively. Justin had turned his back on him, but Joel could tell that he too, was crying, and he couldn't bear to see Justin in distress, no matter whatever feelings he professed to have--or not to have--for the singer.
"Justin." he laid a hand on his shoulder, turning him around. "Justin, what Nicky and I--we--," he sighed, and looked into Justin's uncomprehending eyes. "you know, you always dream about something, and when you finally get it, it's never really turns out exactly how you imagined it to be?" Justin didn't answer, his blue eyes stormy with unchecked emotions.
Joel went on. "Well in my case I dreamt about being in a relationship, for the longest time, Just. And now--now that someone has given me a chance--it's every bit as good as I had thought it would be. The feeling of being wanted, of being totally loved, the intimacy, and yes, even the sex--"
"We had that all too," Justin whispered, his eyes bright.
Joel smiled bitterly, and shook his head. "No--you had it all. I never felt--I never felt like I had you."
The silence was broken by the slam of a distant bathroom door being shut. Joel stepped away from Justin, and glanced towards the bedroom, where his boyfriend was.
"And now I have Nicky. I hope you can understand that, Just. And--I hope you will find someone too, one day."
Justin said nothing at first. He took out the jewel case, and removed the pendant. "I already have," he said softly, caressing the cross lovingly. "And I was to give this to him the night I declared my love for him. Just ask him one thing for me, will you?" he stared at Joel.
"Can he give me one more chance?"
Joel was stunned. His mouth was dry and his mind was a blank. He wanted to say something desperately, but he just wasn't sure of what it was. Two years of emotions, two years of feelings, weren't that easy to dispel, no matter what he'd said. He closed his eyes.
The bedroom door jerked open, and Joel whipped around to watch his boyfriend stride across the room, dressed and ready.
When Joel turned back, Justin was already gone, the fallen rose petals strewn across the floor, and a silver-and-sapphire pendant twinkling amongst them.
"I guess he's not staying for dinner, then?" remarked Nicky.
Even Nicky's patience ran out towards the end of their dinner. It was supposed to have been a romantic night out, to celebrate their one-month anniversary, but Joel was just about as responsive as the chair he sat on. Nicky had valiantly tried to engage him in some conversation, but all he got for his efforts were monosyllabic answers and noncommittal grunts. Most times, he just pushed his food around or stared into space.
In the end, Nicky had to grab Joel's hands, and force him to look into his face.
"Jojo, something's bothering you. I think I may be wrong, and perhaps it's none of my business, but it's got something to do with Justin's visit, right?"
Joel looked at Nicky, sighing. He searched his lover's face and found only sincerity and concern there. As could only be expected, from Nicky. "Nicky, I...can we talk someplace else? Let's go to a park."
"A park?" Nicky said with some alarm. "Joel, we're in New York."
"Oh yeah, I forgot. Let's just head back then," Joel sorely missed the late-night strolls along Orlando's parks. He was surprised how many things he missed about that city.
Nicky paid up, and they left. The ride home was uneventful, as they did not speak to each other at all. He knew Nicky was burning to know what was going on, but Joel was thankful that he was left alone until he was ready to speak.
Having changed and prepared some coffee, they settled down in the living room, in much the same manner as the night they first got together.
"Nicky...there are some things I--haven't really told you about," he glanced sideways at his boyfriend, who smiled reassuringly and nodded for him to go on. "You know I told you I was never really in a relationship before? Well, that's not exactly...true." He felt a shift in Nicky's mood. Joel went on, wanting to get it off his chest.
"I was in love with Justin Timberlake for the longest time. We met two years back and...became friends. Or more than friends. I don't know. Bottom line was, we had sex with each other, but were never really involved in what you'd call a relationship." He laughed bitterly at this part. "I thought if I could give him what he wanted long enough, he'd--well, he'd look at me the way I wanted him to. Stupid, huh? We were fucking each other on a regular basis for two whole years, and at the end of it I still thought I had a chance."
Joel paused, took a sip of his coffee, and soldiered on, all the while looking down at his mug.
"Well one day three months ago I decided to tell him how I felt. And that was the day I caught him screwing a stranger. In my own condo. That was the day I discovered exactly how exclusive I was to him," the last was said with a twist in his lips. "Oh of course I never did tell him anything. I wasn't gonna tell Justin how I really felt either. I told him I was fine with it, and that he could bring any guy he liked to my place and fuck their brains out, 'coz, you know, I'm such a loyal, understanding friend, and that's what all good friends do, right? He left for his World Tour the next day while I was left to fall apart. Thank god for Kate," Joel looked up. "Thank God...for you."
When he saw that Nicky did not respond to this, his face crumpled, and he buried it in his hands, sobbing. "I'm sorry Nicky. I'm so sorry! It's just that--I ran away from him...I couldn't face him anymore, and when he tracked me down today, and he told me--I-I just--"
Then he felt Nicky's arms around him, holding him tight, and his hair brushing against his neck. He looked up into those beautiful brown eyes, so full of love and understanding.
"No, no no. What's there to be sorry for, Joel? It's not your fault that you loved too well, but too unwisely? It's not your fault he used your love against you. Don't you ever think that loving somebody is a mistake." Nicky closed his eyes and bent forward until their foreheads touched.
"I promise I will never intentionally do anything to hurt you," he whispered, his eyes still closed, his voice throbbing with emotion. "Because I love you, and I feel for you in a way I've felt for nothing else in this world before."
"Oh Nicky," was all Joel could say. Their lips met, and he tasted the salt of their mingled tears on his lips.
"I love you too."
But unbeknownst to even he himself, even when he spoke those words of love, Joel's hand was clutched deep inside his pocket, absently fingering the cross Justin had left him.
In a way, Justin left Joel's apartment with as much confidence in his step as he'd possessed when he first arrived. True, the only man he ever loved was now in another's arms. True, his confession of love for Joel had been spurned. But to Justin, it was all merely a temporary setback.
The streetlight illuminated his perfect golden features as he to hailed a taxi. It was the face of a man used to getting what he wanted. He'd learnt to ignore the word 'failure' since before his days as a Mouseketeer, and a simple denial of his love wasn't going to stop him now.
He spent much of the journey to La Guardia deep in thought. By the time he reached the airport, he knew what he had to do.
Reaching for his cellphone, he wondered to himself how far the name Justin Timberlake went, at MTV New York.
As it turned out, it went quite far indeed.
I can't shake off the feeling that everything happened a little too fast in this story, and that the explanations, especially Joel's, weren't deep enough. What do you think?
I really don't want to portray Justin as being a total bastard...I mean, he is the people's favourite...I don't want to be lynched anytime soon!
Write to Will at firstname.lastname@example.org