He could still find his way, when the cab ride was long behind him and there were no more streetlamps to shed light on the path. Even without moonlight, the ambient city light never let full darkness creep in anywhere, not even here. He looked up at the thick clouds that obscured the night sky and remembered warily that the forecast had been for a crisp, clear night.
"I told you not to follow me here," said Joey, stepping out from behind a tangle of trees and brush. JC was almost startled enough to drop his backpack to the ground and back away, but instead he tightened his grip and stayed firm. "Dammit, Jace, you never listen to me. You think I'm kidding about this or something?"
"No, I think you're trying to protect me," said JC, reaching for his arm and barely brushing his fingers over it before Joey took a step back. "And I didn't follow you. I actually showered and changed after the show. It's not like I didn't know where you were going."
"You're damn right about me wanting to protect you." Joey glanced at the sky himself, visibly relieved at the lingering cloud cover. "And up until now I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it."
"I think you forget that I can protect myself."
"This isn't some hysterical fan or a nasty critic, JC," he scoffed, but not meanly. "This is real and it's dangerous and I don't want you anywhere near here right now. You just don't understand."
"Then why do you push me away every time I try to understand? Do you not want me to? Because I have been trying, for a long time now."
"Because you can't," he said flatly. A breeze had picked up and was blowing his sweaty, lank hair over his face. It made him look wild, which gave JC a chill in spite of himself. But he stood his ground. "Because there's no way to explain it without you thinking I've gone off the deep end," Joey went on. "You'll think I'm crazy."
"No," said JC, amusement warring with frustration in his espression. "I thought you'd lost it back when you first told us; how could anything you said now be any harder to take? Besides, I already know you're nuts."
"This isn't funny!"
"It doesn't have to be dismal, either."
"I could lose control. You could die. Do you understand that?"
His eyes were intense, more intense than JC could remember them being whenever he'd looked into them before. But he refused to be afraid, even though the breeze had begun to move the clouds; when he looked up he could see the whole bank moving west, and dissipating.
"I would die for you, Joey," he said finally, "but I don't plan to. You aren't going to hurt me, and it's time you learned that. If this is your life, then it's my life, too. And if you can't be in bed with me tonight, I'm going to be here, in this park, with you."
"This is ridiculous. I won't let you."
"You can't stop me. And I don't think you really want to."
"That's where you've never been able to read me right at all, Jace," he said with an emphatic shake of his head. It messed his hair even more, tangling strands of blond and brown and black and leaving them stuck to his forehead and his cheeks. "You think that deep down inside I really want you to be here, when all I want is for you to be safe."
"Those don't have to be two separate things." JC took another step forward and lay his hand on Joey's arm again, this time gripping him tighter. Joey could have broken his hold at any time, and they both knew it, but he didn't.
"You'd be safer at the hotel."
"Probably," admitted JC. "But from random fans. Not from you. You just don't get it...no matter what it is you're going through, Joey, I'm here for you. And don't tell me I'm coming to a snap decision; I've known for years. This doesn't have to be some mysterious, deep dark secret anymore. Not between us."
Joey fell silent but didn't back away, and even though he was standing in shadow JC could see the muscles in his face twitch. They both looked up at the clearing sky.
"I can't hold off much longer. It's getting too strong to stop."
"Then don't," said JC. "Don't stop it, just let it happen the way you always have. You won't hurt me; you've never hurt anyone."
"Maybe...I don't want you to see..."
Justin had seen once, by accident; he still couldn't talk about it without blanching, and had never once described just what exactly he'd witnessed.
"I love you," said JC, finally letting his pack fall to the ground and kneeling next to it to pry it open. "I know what I'm doing. Why do you keep us apart so much when we can be together, Joey? Just because it's always been that way for you, doesn't mean it always has to be."
He pulled a thermal blanket out of the bag, the one he'd stolen from his hotel room, abandoning his unused bed in utter disarray. Anyone who saw it would assume he'd spent his night quite differently.
"No, over here," said Joey after letting JC work in silence for a moment. He pointed JC to the sheltered hollow at the base of one of the trees, then knelt down with him to tenderly tuck the blanket in all around. JC didn't miss the fact that Joey's limbs were trembling as he did. "You'll be warm enough?"
"I'll be fine," JC assured him. "And I'll be here. I'll see you soon, Joey."
JC thought maybe he saw a faint smile cross his face, then Joey turned away and started to change.
He watched, wouldn't stop watching even though there were times he wanted to turn away and cringe and bite his lip and wish for it to be over. And eventually it was; Joey's body stopped twisting and stretching and he turned back to stare at JC with familiar eyes.
It was even harder to remain still when he came slinking up to him, body low to the ground as though JC were being stalked. Joey's jaw suddenly closed on his arm and JC yelped, tried to pull away as genuine fear finally clawed its way up into his throat, into his brain.
He was trapped, though, and as he heaved in breath after panicked breath he slowly became aware that those sharp, sharp teeth had never pierced his skin. When he stopped pulling those jaws let go, leaving unmistakable red marks on his forearm.
He was panting when Joey licked his face, just touching the corner of his mouth, his breath still smelling of the vodka and life savers he'd scarfed down after the show. A moment later he turned tail again and loped off into the trees, after a bird.