JC liked tinsel, and noxious fake snow in a can. He gleefully sprayed it on every window in his house, the cumulative effect being almost entirely unlike being inside a cozy villa deep in the Alps. It didn't matter that the holiday season was winding down, he just sprayed more and more until it looked like they'd been buried in a blizzard. And then draped tinsel over everything that didn't move.
"Careful how much more you put up," said Chris, dropping tinsel in JC's hair. "You know how distracted you are by shiny things." JC smacked him on the back of the head and strung a few strands of tinsel in Chris's beard stubble.
"Fucker," he said. "It's festive. And it hides the fact that no one's been in to clean in a week." He ran his finger along the top of his television and frowned, then wiped it off on his frayed, faded jeans.
The jeans were all JC had put on after he and Chris had crawled back out of bed that afternoon, and just the sight of them brought back warm, wet memories.
"Cheap bastard," said Chris affectionately. "I come all this way just to see you and you can't even be bothered to clean house, let alone strew rose petals on the bed to welcome me back."
"You visiting me isn't a special event, Chris. I can set my watch by it." He glanced at said watch. "Well, as long as I don't mind it being three hours late all the time. Did you really want rose petals?"
"Not really, but it would have shown you were thinking of me. I am a special event, and don't you forget it." He picked the tinsel off his face and let it drift down to join the rest in JC's hair. "I think I'm getting high off the fake snow."
"You know, if you don't like it you do have your own place to go back to."
"Since when do I not like getting high?" he said. "I think I'd need a map to find it anyway. Do you think I could find someone selling one on a street corner?"
"Probably," said JC, finally picking the tinsel out and dropping it onto the carpet. His cleaning service was going to charge him double, between that and the real tree he'd insisted on having. "It'll probably lead you to a dumpster in a back alley, though."
"For all I know my place is in a dumpster in a back alley," said Chris. He did have vague memories of it, though, from when he'd actually spent time there and wasn't living on the road. He even remembered Christmases with girlfriends and family and dogs, from a time before life reminded him that nothing ever lasts.
"I would've remembered the smell," said JC, tugging on Chris's hair before smacking him on the ass and herding him into the kitchen. "What do you want to eat? Or am I taking you out again because--what was it you said? Because you'd rather cough up a hairball then eat my cooking again."
"And I just might, too," said Chris, running his hand over JC's chest. "Why don't you wax this thing, anyway? Tame the wild beast."
JC caught his wrist, then brought it up to his lips and bit the inside of it gently. "You're one to talk," he muttered. "So food? Yes? Not that I remember the last time you said no to food..."
"Fucker," said Chris, but he let JC nibble on his wrist. "I'm going out, actually. I promised to meet someone."
JC hesitated only a moment before he nodded his head. "You'll be back tonight, though?" he said. "We were going to watch a movie? Eat leftover Christmas dainties till we want to puke? Talk about the party?"
"I'll be here," Chris promised him, and only then did he pull his wrist away again. "You know I always come home to you. I won't be late."
JC let him go.
Nick answered his door in a suit and tie.
"You're going out," said Chris, staring at him from top to bottom. "I should have called."
"I'm coming in, actually," he said, and grinned, and while Chris continued to watch he loosened his tie and backed out of the doorway to let him in. "Lunch with the family. It's just this thing. We do it every year."
"You were expecting me."
"Right just this second?" said Nick. "No. Sometime before the new year? Yes. How was your Christmas?"
Chris hadn't really been expecting small talk when he'd come over, despite the fact that Nick was always pretty chatty--before, during, after, whenever Chris stopped talking long enough to let him.
"It was good," he said, though. "No fire, flood or famine and I got lots of presents." Nick didn't need to know that the best moments of the whole holiday had been--as always--when he'd gotten to watch the looks on his family's faces when they opened their presents from him. That just wasn't the kind of thing they shared.
"Yeah, ditto," said Nick, dropping the tie and then his jacket over the back of a chair, and starting on his shirt. "Well, except one small fire when my mother actually tried to cook something. Not sure who she was trying to fool; we all know she has someone do it for her."
"I wasn't sure how much time you were going to be spending with them." Chris crossed the room just to run his finger along the windowsill. It was spotless; someone had been keeping the place up. He knew the only reason Nick owned a condo here was because he couldn't bear the thought of spending more than a day with his family anymore.
"Today was my last obligation," said Nick, turning to face Chris again once his shirt was unbuttoned all the way down, untucked and hanging loose over his undershirt. "I fly to New York day after New Year's. Till then? Figured I might try out this 'relaxing' thing."
"I can help you with that," said Chris.
"Yeah, I was kind of figuring you would," said Nick, and he was grinning again, expectantly. Chris hated being predictable, but he wanted the sex so he didn't complain. "There's even clean sheets on the bed, come on."
Chris couldn't remember the last time he actually cared about clean sheets, and as a matter of fact some of the best sex he'd ever had was with JC on a bare mattress in Lance's basement, but that was really probably beside the point, since a half-naked man was leading him into a bedroom.
The first time Chris had slept with Nick was in a hotel room in New York, when Nick was doing press for his upcoming album and Chris was drifting through and both of them were longing for a familiar face. Not even a friendly face, just a familiar one, and that was exactly what they'd gotten.
The second time, though, the second time hadn't just been chance. Coincidence, that they were in the same place at the same time, but not chance. The third time there had been plenty of options, including JC who didn't know yet he was in town, and Chris had still woken up in Nick's bed the next morning.
And so it went.
Sex with Nick was hard and fast and strong, less kissing, more sucking, and sometimes bruises to mark the occasion. Nick liked to do it under the covers, letting them fall away as they got more and more involved and warmth and privacy were less and less of an issue. It was a little clumsy and a lot hot and it always left Chris cozy and satisfied.
Nick pulled the covers back up again afterwards, cocooning them together even though they were hot and sweaty. He kept his condo cold at least, unlike his house back in Florida which he kept open and sunny and warm.
"You going out tonight?" Nick asked, casually, right when Chris was thinking about asking if he had any cigarettes handy, because it was the kind of fuck where you really ought to be smoking, after.
"Staying in," he told him. "JC wants some time together, I think. Like we haven't just spent the last week together." Except he was looking forward to it, the hot chocolate with the huge marshmallows that they both loved, cuddling under the afghan on the couch in the den, talking quietly until they both feel off to sleep.
"Time with your families is not the same as time together," said Nick wisely. "Tell him hi from me."
Chris, of course, wouldn't. He never did.
JC's voice came out of nowhere, and Chris didn't know whether or not he'd been caught sniffing the collar of his shirt for any trace of Nick. JC probably would have thought Chris was just checking for B.O. anyway, if he could even see.
When Chris looked up, scanning the room, he still couldn't tell where JC was.
"On the stairs," said JC, who obviously was watching him, and there he was, hanging over the railing and smiling at him. "How was your thing?"
"It was a thing," said Chris vaguely. "You know. Same old. You?"
"Finalized with the caterers for the party," he said. "They still wanted to serve all caviar and crackers, but I figured, if people are looking for that they're sure as hell not coming to my party."
"But you are having champagne, right? Right?"
"The best champagne," JC assured him, heading down the stairs. "There are some things you just can't sacrifice, no matter how informal you're trying to be."
"Because it's just not right, drinking in the new year with Kool-Aid. Except that one time in college, but that's only because it's all we had."
"Or even beer," said JC, just carrying right on. "Except of course I'll have something else around. Cider, maybe? I'll ask AJ what's good; it's been champagne for me for so long I can't even remember."
"McLean? You invited him?"
"I invited a lot of people."
"Don't I get a say in this?"
"It's not your party," JC reminded him. He finally met Chris at the front door and slid an arm around his waist, slipping a hand into the back pocket of his jeans. "You don't want me inviting AJ?"
"You invite whoever you like," said Chris. "It's your party." It just made him wonder who else was going to be showing up, and how big this party was going to be. He was used to Lance being the one to host extravagant bashes. Or Joey. JC was supposed to be a lot more mellow.
Opposites attract and all.
"Well, okay then," he said, and shrugged, and that was it.
Chris, on the other hand, was almost itching for JC to start something, to get tired of Chris being so damn passive aggressive and lay into him a little, so Chris could burn off some of his nerves. But of course he didn't. JC hardly ever started anything. He just went with the flow and if he didn't like what was going on, he just did his own thing. No hassle, no fight.
Some days Chris almost couldn't stand him for it, even though he was grateful for it every day.
"You busy tomorrow? I thought we could have lunch and then maybe check out this new art exhibit..."
It was on the tip of Chris's tongue to say yes, because dates were nice and rare, but he wasn't sure he could last that long without getting restless on him so what came out of his mouth was, "Sorry, Jace, I already made plans with Justin." And in a few minutes he would go do just that.
"Oh, okay," JC said, and Chris couldn't read that tone of voice but JC hadn't let go of him and he hadn't tensed up. "I'll just get Tara to go with me. Or maybe Tony--he's been wanting to get together anyway."
"Yeah, yeah, sounds good," said Chris. "Tell him hi for me?"
"I will," said JC, and then slipped his hand out of Chris's pocket and took his hand and led him into the house. And things were normal.
Chris couldn't say Justin was wise beyond his years, but he knew things. Knew things that he had no business knowing or understanding, especially at his age. It just wasn't right.
"Oh, don't tell me you're starting to feel guilty now," he said as his assistant handed him a tall mocha latte with non-fat whipped cream and fucking sprinkles. "You've been doing this for months now, Chris."
"How do you know I wasn't feeling guilty all along? How do you know there wasn't a big sticky ball of guilt somewhere in my guts?"
"Because you can't hide shit like that," he said, and drank his latte through a straw.
"Like hell I can't," said Chris, and he could. He could if he wanted to, and how would Justin know that anyway? He didn't know everything, he just thought he did. "It's been on my mind. A little."
"But not enough to want to stop?"
Chris shrugged. "He's good in bed, what can I say?"
"It's not such a big thing anyway," he said, and his eyes were flat, his gaze steady. "I mean, I know tons of people, and everyone does it. It doesn't mean anything."
But it did mean something, and even if Chris wasn't willing to stop, he had to at least admit to himself that it meant something. That it mattered. It had mattered when Justin had done it to Britney, when Britney had done it to Justin. It had mattered when Joey had done it to Kelly.
He scrubbed his hand over his face and sighed, and ignored the fact that Justin couldn't manage an even remotely private place to have this conversation. Chris happened to know that Justin did have the afternoon free, but he had a date, he said. Like Chris wasn't more important than some washed-up sitcom star.
"Really, Chris," he said. "It's not like you're in love with Carter or something. I'd never let you live that one down. I can appreciate that he's hot, though. It's just a thing."
That's what Chris kept telling himself--it was just a thing. He wasn't a saint of a guy, after all, never had been...but he'd always thought he was basically pretty good. And he was pretty sure this wasn't a pretty good thing to be doing.
"You know, if you were going to have some kind of crisis about it, you should've had it right in the beginning," said Justin unsympathetically. Chris had thought that Justin would be the one to lay into him about the whole thing, but it hadn't turned out that way.
Justin wasn't a romantic anymore.
"I never should have told you."
"Oh yeah? And who else were you going to tell?" Justin challenged him, "Lance? He would just give you pointers on how not to get caught. If you really felt so bad about it, Chris, you would stop. And you haven't, so..."
Chris didn't need to have that pointed out to him. "I'm a slave to my dick," he said, shaking his head in exaggerated resignation. "It knows what it wants and what it wants right now is, apparently, variety."
"Hey, whatever works for you," said Justin, slurping the last of his drink. That was Chris's schtick. Lousy thief. Lousy thief who thought he was spouting off the wisdom of the ages. Chris hated to admit that maybe it was half-decent, if morally twisted, advice. "Like I said, everyone does it sometimes. There's always somebody else."
The club was fun, even though JC had spent most of his time dancing with some model and Chris was sure it was going to come out in the weekly rags that JC was cheating on Tara with her. Those things were so amusing sometimes. What he really should've been doing all these years was keeping a scrapbook of clippings. And, like, pressed teddy bears or something.
Chris stumbled through the front door when they got home, tripping over the doorframe like he always seemed to whether he'd been drinking or not. JC just caught him by the waist and left his hands there as they made their way inside.
"You wanna watch a movie or something?" he asked, his lips almost pressed against Chris's ear. Step, step, step, corner, and JC let them tumble onto the couch. "You promised me a raincheck, the other night..."
"A movie?" said Chris, spreading across the whole length, right overtop of JC. But JC was too bony for it to be comfortable. "You want to watch Star Wars now?"
"No, not Star Wars," he said like Chris was an idiot. "Something else. We have other stuff, you know."
"I know that," said Chris, rolling off of him. The floor was hard. "I just didn't know that you knew that."
"I haven't watched that movie in ages," said JC, taking up the space that Chris had left. "Since you're up, you wanna put something in?" Chris wasn't up, but he crawled over to the entertainment wall to do it anyway. "Something funny. And romantic."
"You and your funny and romantic," muttered Chris, throwing in the first DVD he found that halfway met the criteria. "It's a wonder I put up with it."
"You love it and you know it," said JC. Chris sprawled out on what JC left him of the couch, this time with only his feet in JC's lap. He did love it, kinda, but he didn't need to admit that. He'd never admit anything. "Come closer, baby. Maybe we can make some popcorn later."
Maybe they would, because that was what they did these days. By the time JC pressed play, Chris was curled up by his side.
"Now aren't you glad I ordered take-out?" said Nick, sucking the grease off Chris's fingers and smiling at him suggestively.
Chris had already had dinner with JC before he'd come over, but he always had room for pizza and Nick, which was probably why his figure had developed a pronounced roundness in past months. He was eating for two.
"Am I glad we stayed in instead of went out?" he said. "Yes. Am I glad we ordered pizza instead of fooling around in the kitchen and coming up with a culinary masterpiece that required both of us to be covered in syrup and sugar by the time it was done? I'm not so sure about that."
"We seem to be sucking one another off anyway," Nick pointed out. "I don't suppose you happened to drip anything on your pants, did you?"
"I think you'd better check," said Chris, on the verge of dropping a crust on himself just to be able to say yes. Mouth like a Hoover and lips to die for and Chris would pull out just about any trick in the book just to get Nick's face near his cock. "Get a closer look."
Nick didn't even keep up the playful pretense once he was kneeling between Chris's legs and unbuttoning his fly and licking his lips and looking like he wanted to suck Chris off more than he wanted anything. The food could wait until Chris was sprawled out bonelessly on the couch and Nick was licking his lips again and looking satisfied.
Sometimes predictable wasn't a bad thing. Nick wiped his lips with his thumb afterwards and they were red and wet and Chris shivered just remembering what they had done to him, now and so many times before.
"You were born to do that."
"I was born to use my mouth," Nick corrected him. "Singing, talking, eating and sucking you off. It doesn't get much better than that."
No, it sure as hell didn't. "If I promise not to use teeth again will you let me near your dick?" he asked him.
"Mmm, food first," said Nick, reaching for the box of pizza.
"I thought you just ate?"
Nick just grinned and shoved his shoulder and took a big bite. "We still have time to fuck, right?" he said, mumbling around his mouthful.
"There's always time to fuck," said Chris. "Tonight, tomorrow night..."
"Oh, not tomorrow," said Nick, swallowing. Chris loved to watch him swallow. "I've got a thing, sorry. I'll be at your party, though."
"JC's party," Chris corrected him automatically. "You're coming to JC's party? He invited you?"
"It's the place to be seen at New Year's," said Nick automatically. "Promotional events are passe."
Nick would've never said shit like that unless he'd heard it somewhere, and if he'd heard it somewhere then people were talking about it, and if people were talking about it that made it true. JC's little party was apparently to be an event after all.
"Well then," he said with as much grace as he could muster. "I guess I'll see you there."
"You're going to have a heart attack before you're thirty," said Justin.
"I'm thirty-one, you amoeba."
"Right, sorry, forgot," he said, and the bitch of it was, he was sincere. Chris knew sincere, when he heard it in Justin's voice. "Still, fuck, Carter only looks stupid, but he's not, really. He's not gonna make some scene. He's not your mistress."
"He kind of is."
"Dare you to tell him that."
Chris shifted the phone to his other ear. "Don't be a fuckhead, Timberlake, I need your help here."
"No, you really don't," he said, and Chris cringed when he remembered all the times he'd given Justin that same response when he was trying to teach him to think for himself. "Seriously, I owe you nothing in this little situation. Can't wait to see it, though." Chris had been thrilled when he'd realized that all his boys would be back together for New Year's. Now he almost wished JC'd left them off the guest list. "Don't sweat it, Chris. You know what you're doing."
He wasn't sure that he did, but he was doing it so he pretty much needed to get his shit together. "I'm going to get very drunk tonight."
"Yeah, you do that," said Justin. "I'll come over with ice and aspirin tomorrow. You staying with C?"
"Where the hell else would I be?" said Chris, and hung up the phone.
"You didn't really decorate this yourself," said Chris, stepping in the front door and looking around the transformed house. "There isn't enough tinsel."
"They made me take it down," said JC, and didn't even bother with the fake pout that usually accompanied a statement like that. "Apparently people try to eat it when they're high. It's a real holiday danger. Did you know that?"
"Yes," said Chris, and imagined JC going around the house eating the tinsel later that night. He hoped they'd gotten rid of it entirely and it wasn't just hidden in a closet somewhere. "What did you do with my presents?"
"Because that's the most important thing to look for right now," said JC, shaking his head at him. His curls bounced and tumbled, completely out of control -- he was having someone come over and take care of them, right? Someone might try to eat them. "Everything's in the bedroom."
"Except us," said Chris, "and isn't that a crying shame? Let's go."
"Not right now, baby, I've got--"
"If you say 'a headache' I'm going to laugh at you."
"-- too much to do," JC finished smoothly. He had nothing to do. Everything was being done for him, from decorating to catering to security to clean-up. All JC had to do for his party was show up.
"You have time for a quickie," insisted Chris. Even if JC's idea of 'things to do' was making sure everything was perfect and unbreakable and that everyone who said they were coming was coming, he still had at least an hour so spare.
"I need to get ready," said JC. "You'll just muss me up again and people will talk."
"You don't fool me. You like it when people are talking about you. And besides, mussed is your whole signature look right now."
JC gave him an exasperated look, but he was giving in, Chris could tell. He knew that look on JC's face and it meant that it would only be a few more moments before they headed up to the bedroom. JC knew he had a good thing; Chris just had to remind him to take advantage of it every so often.
And if it was a bit of a guilt fuck, for having been with Nick earlier? Well, Chris didn't have to tell him that. Having something to prove just made it that much better, after all. He tried harder; not that sleeping with JC was exactly a chore in the first place.
"Well, if you're going to insist," said JC, giving him a shyish, lopsided grin, "we may as well do it now, before I let someone tackle my hair. You know how much you like to play with it."
"Grab it," Chris corrected him. "And tug on it, if the occasion permits. Which I'm guessing it will." JC wasn't leaving the room, though, wasn't heading for the stairs. Was just unbuttoning his shirt with that same grin on his face. "Um. Aren't there about two dozen people that have access to the house right now?"
"You said quickie," JC reminded him, tossing his shirt onto the freshly-cleaned couch. "I'm going to hold you to that."
It had been too long since they'd done something like this, right there in the middle of the living room floor, grasping and biting and thrusting and ignoring the bumps from the furniture, the rugburn, the sound of someone working upstairs. JC rode him hard, his knees red and raw afterwards, Chris's tailbone bruised from slamming against the floor.
It was worth it, to be able to look up and see JC biting down on his lower lip, his face flushed, Chris's hands tangled in his hair. That was almost better than Chris's own orgasm, which felt like it swept through him far too soon. He could have stayed like that forever.
JC collapsed against him and pressed his face to Chris's neck, licking the sweaty, salty skin there. "I'm going to have to shower again," he whispered.
"I could help you with that."
And as Chris carefully pushed JC off, stumbled with him towards the stairs and up to the master bedroom, all he could do was think to himself 'we're okay'.
They all came, every one of them, which was a news story in itself and Chris was sure that there would be a lot of pictures to show for it despite the fact that the press had most definitely not been invited to this particular party. There were always pictures leaked, no matter how private the occasion, and this occasion couldn't even be considered to be particularly private.
Justin showed up with his posse, a bunch of guys that Chris didn't even know and a few that he did. He was in high spirits, though, and that was all that mattered, really. Oh, and of course he had his little girlfriend on his arm, smiling and tanned and scanning the room like the professional at being seen that she was.
Lance came with a statuesque blond woman who had a smile for everyone, but whose body was reserved for Lance alone. Chris wondered how much he'd paid for her. He was still too skinny, and Chris hadn't been able to remedy that lately no matter how many times he got together with him. He didn't talk much about what he'd gone through in Russia, but it had taken its toll on him. But he was hanging in there, and he'd shown up, and Chris took that as a good sign.
Joey was alone, but he hadn't stayed that way for long. He never did. While the girlfriend stayed home with the kid--and nobody ever denied that Joey loved his little girl--he crossed the country to show up at an exclusive party thrown by one of his best friends. Joey could have brought the two of them, and Chris was sure JC had told him so, but he hadn't. He never did. Some things in his life he kept as separate as possible.
"See that guy right there?" said Justin, handing Chris a drink and pointing at the stairs, where one of the friends he'd shown up with was flirting with a young woman that Chris didn't know. Must have been a friend of JC's.
"Yeah, what about him?"
"He's got a wife and a new baby at home," said Justin. And that was it.
"So?" said Chris, draining half the drink that Justin had so thoughtfully provided him with before bringing up the subject. "Why are you telling me this?"
"Because two hours from now, at midnight, he's probably going to kiss her, and then he's probably going to find one of your spare bedrooms and have a little fun, and then he's going to go home and tomorrow morning he's going to wake up with his wife--who is a bit of a homebody, really--and everything's going to be okay."
"Ah, so it's an object lesson," said Chris, and there went the rest of his drink. "Well, thanks kid. You see where JC went?"
"I'm just saying, Chris. There are more important things in life to get all worked up about, is all. You're not alone."
It was on the tip of Chris's tongue to argue with him when he took a really good look around the room, maybe for the first time.
There was Joey, a girl on each arm, telling them something that was making them smile. Chris had no illusions that the conversation was perfectly innocent. And there AJ was practically wrapped around a girl who definitely wasn't his fiancée unless she'd lost two cup sizes, two inches and had dyed her hair blond in the few days since they'd last appeared together.
And just outside the front door, which he had been watching for a certain someone to show up, there finally was Nick. Chris could see him through the frosted window next to the door. Watched him give Howie a lingering kiss before they separated and entered the party one after the other.
And he still didn't know where JC was, but when he looked up the stairs, he saw Tony slip out of the master bedroom and head in the other direction toward the back stairs. So he could re-enter the party a little more discreetly. If Chris kept watching, he was suddenly sure a few minutes later he would see JC slip out that same door. He didn't keep watching.
Justin was right after all. There was always someone else.
Chris needed another drink.