Lance dangled his sandals from his fingertips as he walked the beach, feeling the grains of sand slip and scratch between his soft, rosy toes. His pedicurist was going to be furious, but for once he found he really didn't care. She was already going to cluck her tongue over the sandal stripes sunburnt onto the tops of his feet from spending the better part of his day on the set.
The sand stretched out so invitingly, though. Not empty--if it had been he might have kept walking forever--but not so crowded that he was tripping over bodies on his way up the beach. In late afternoon, he expected nothing less. If the directions he'd gotten were right, though, he'd soon be off it anyway. He just needed to take the path he saw up ahead, then turn left, and he'd find what he was looking for.
He'd assumed it would be an outdoor affair, thatch roof, bar stools ringing all four sides, the whole cliché. But he was soon reminded that it was always a bad idea to assume anything when it came to Chris, and he actually had to slip his sandals back on his poor, abused feet to step inside. Chris had probably chosen the place just so he could hang a sign proclaiming the place to be "Kirkpatrick's" over the doorway. It would be just like him.
It was busy but again not crowded, friendly but not in his face. He'd almost thought there would be a throng of people, just wanting to catch of glimpse of Chris's famous face, but locals probably already all knew him and the place didn't seem to be designed to draw in tourists. And while people might still cross their state to catch an appearance, he doubted very many of them were willing to leave the country.
There were enough people that he was quickly jostled toward the bar, though. And that was when he spotted him, not off entertaining in a corner but right behind the bar, serving up drinks like he wasn't a multi-millionaire who didn't need to work another day in his life.
Chris looked an awful lot like he had in the earlier years of the group, he thought--hair done up in dreads and held back with a bandanna, clean-shaven, exuberant with everyone he met. He even looked almost as boyish as he had then, but Lance knew better. He was two weeks away from celebrating his thirtieth birthday, which meant that Chris was fast approaching forty. It looked to Lance like forty was going to be a lot happier milestone for him than thirty had been.
"Bass." Chris's loud, clear voice startled him; he hadn't even realised Chris knew he was there. "I was wondering when you were going to show up."
"To make up for all the times I've wondered the same about you?" countered Lance as he regained his composure and reached the bar. Chris whirled around and practically climbed over it to grab him, and Lance wasn't entirely sure how to react to the half-hug, half-headlock. Finally Chris slid back down on the opposite side of the bar again. "Well. It's nice to be welcome."
"You always were," said Chris, beckoning towards a guy in the back washing glasses. "John, you want to take it from here? I'm gonna be gone for the rest of today." And it was as easy as that; John took over at the bar and Chris climbed over it to join Lance on the other side.
"You're assuming I'm staying," he said as he perched himself on a round, wooden stool, legs dangling just above the floor. Chris tucked his feet up underneath him in an admirable display of both dexterity and balance. "And how did you know I was here, anyway?"
"Well, seeing how you didn't call," said Chris pointedly, "I had to find out the same way everyone else did -- the paper, announcing that Dayna Rodriguez was shooting her new video here."
"That didn't mean that I would come," said Lance, shaking his head in amusement. "I'm just her manager. I don't show up everywhere that she does."
"Yes, but it's Jamaica," said Chris, still sounding as cocky as ever. "And I'm here. And you put those two things together and of course you were going to show up. Hey you want a drink? I forgot to ask."
"You're a pretty lousy bartender, Kirkpatrick," snorted Lance, eyeing up the bottles behind the bar. "Well, when in Jamaica...guess I'd better try the rum."
Chris gave him a wide, appreciative grin, and even though Lance mostly hated rum he was glad he'd asked for it. "I'll be pouring you into your bed later tonight," he warned him, probably forgetting just how high Lance's tolerance was. "But it'll be worth it. John? The Kirkpatrick special for my friend here."
Lance watched warily as John gave Chris a chuckle and set about making it up for him. Lance couldn't see what he was doing but he watched anyway; John had close-cropped black hair and dark skin, but the features of his face suggested he had Chinese ancestry somewhere in his background, too. Lance found himself wondering if Chris kept him around for more than his bartending skills. And if not, then if maybe he had a shot at some company for the night.
"So what took you so long anyway?" asked Chris, taking the drink from John as he lifted it up onto the bar, robbing Lance of the chance to even briefly touch him. "You got in yesterday. I wasn't first on your list of things to do?"
"Hell, Chris, did you have my flight number, too? Know what gate I arrived at, maybe? Man, you're worse than our fans used to be ... "
Chris just laughed and gave him a look. "Someone around here spots you in the area, or even just hears of someone who saw you, who do you think is the first person they're gonna tell?" He took a sip of Lance's drink before handing it to him.
"Taste good?" asked Lance. "Hope you don't give all your customers that kind of special treatment." He took the drink and sipped it carefully. "Hey, this isn't some island specialty," he complained, "this is just rum and pineapple juice, Chris."
"I never said it was some mystical island drink," smirked Chris, "I said it was the Kirkpatrick special. And it's my favorite drink so you'd better like it." As if Lance would tell him if he didn't.
"So how come you didn't make it up for Kelsey's christening?" he asked instead, licking his lips. The drink really wasn't that bad; he was a sucker for pineapple. "I think Joey was disappointed."
Chris actually looked sorry about that for a moment. "Well, you know how it is," he said. "Of course Justin was going to be there which meant it would be a media circus and...you all know how much I hate that nowadays. Besides, I sent a lovely gift and isn't that the important thing anyway?"
Lance just sipped his drink again and watched him, knowing he didn't need to say anything to that.
"Oh, don't give me that look," muttered Chris, gesturing to John for a drink of his own. "I was there for Brianna's. And Emma's. And of course for Kristine's. He understands." His smirk hinted that Lance wasn't the only one who thought Joey having four daughters was some kind of divine justice.
"Even JC made it," Lance pointed out, not ready to let him off the hook that easily. He understood Chris's reasoning well enough, but it was Joey and he thought that would make a difference.
"Did he?" asked Chris, sounding genuinely surprised. Lance watched their hands as John handed over Chris's drink, noted that they didn't touch. "When's his court date, anyway?"
"May twenty-first," said Lance promptly, lifting an eyebrow at him. "You planning on giving him a call, maybe?"
"Planning on showing up," Chris corrected him, as though that should have been obvious. He drained his drink and held up his glass for more.
"You're kidding me." Lance just stared at him for a moment, trying to figure out if he was serious or not. "You didn't go to the christening but you're gonna show up just to sit in a stuffy courtroom for an hour or so?"
"He could use the moral support," said Chris with a shrug. "And I guarantee you that Justin isn't going to show up there."
"He could," said Lance, doubting that as much as Chris did. He'd call him and he'd offer JC just about anything he needed, but he wasn't going to be showing up in person. "But it's just a little possession charge anyway. He's gonna get a slap on the wrist and sent home. The worst thing that's gonna happen is they're gonna send him on some mandatory twenty-eight-day rehab thing. No big deal."
"It would be a big deal to him," said Chris, which was true. But it certainly wasn't something to get all worked up about, especially since it wasn't a foregone conclusion. "I told him I'd be there. He might come down and stay with me for a while when it's all over."
Lance just grunted and gestured for his own refill, unsurprised.
For better or for worse, once they'd decided to end the group, everyone finally felt free to become more and more themselves. Who they'd really been on the inside, all along. Being Nsync, with all the things that included--money, attention, companionship--was one kind of freedom. Not being Nsync turned out to be another kind entirely.
For Lance, it meant he could concentrate on doing what he really thought he was good at. Not performing--in any sense, anymore--and just being the guy behind the scenes, who got it done. Some people thought he'd turned into even more of a mirthless tightass; he preferred to think that he was just driven.
For Chris, it seemed to mean no more pretending. No more doing anything he didn't have to. It meant doing the things he thought were fun, instead of pretending he thought the things he was doing were fun. No more talking to people he didn't like, telling obnoxious lies to the press, acting like a fool so people didn't see what a sarcastic, bitter man he was inside. Ironically, not having to pretend anymore made him less sarcastic and bitter.
None of them had stayed squeaky clean any longer than they had to. Not even Justin. And really, they all liked themselves and each other better that way.
It was four drinks later when Chris finally asked, "So how's whatshisname?" His tone was of casual interest but Lance knew him better than that, could hear years of history behind the statement.
"His name was Shawn, Chris."
Chris just rolled his eyes at that. "Right. Whatshisname. So how is he?"
"We broke up," said Lance shortly, fingering the glass now full of just rapidly melting ice. "And you know that already. And the reason I know that you know that is because JC said he told you. Even though you probably heard it in the news first, since you're so up to date with what I've been doing."
"What, you think I spend all my time checking up on you?" said Chris, with that only-half-teasing voice Lance knew so well. "I have a life, you know, I have things I do. I was probably out swimming with dolphins or something when you were being boring and breaking up with whatshisname."
"Shawn," said Lance again.
"I never really liked him." Even though Lance had already known that, it still seemed awfully blunt. "He was all wrong for you."
"We had a lot in common," murmured Lance, taken back for a moment to the time when that had been enough. Before he realized that having two control freaks in a relationship just didn't work.
"That was your whole problem," insisted Chris, idly running a rag over the bar even though it clearly didn't need it. "You guys were way too alike. You need someone who can challenge you."
"Maybe," acknowledged Lance, not rising to the bait. He'd long since learned that things were better that way. "Anyway, I'm over him, and I'm not looking for anyone to take his place. Maybe having someone just like me didn't work out, but I don't think the solution is to find someone who's my opposite, either."
"You never know unless you try," said Chris, still speaking lightly though he was staring at the bar rag and not at Lance's face. And that was when Lance became very sure that Chris and John were definitely not an item.
"We did try, Chris," he said softly.
"You were seventeen," he countered. "We were just kids messing around. But that's not--"
"We could never make it work," Lance interrupted him before Chris could go on, convince him that things were different now.
"Oh, I know." Chris surprised him with a sudden chuckle, finally looking up. "I do live in the real world with the rest of you, even if it doesn't always seem like it. I didn't really mean me, anyway. Not for that. I'm pretty happy being a bachelor. I just meant someone who knew how to have fun. Someone who could, you know, dislodge that stick in your ass. I can give you names if you're interested."
Lance scrutinized him suspiciously for a moment but it turned out he was being earnest, a glint in his eyes. It was a relief that he didn't have ulterior motives after all. A relief that Lance wouldn't have to let him down gently a second time.
"Like I said, I don't think I'm looking," he said finally.
"Oh, don't tell me you're being celibate now?" asked Chris, giving Lance an incredulous stare. "Because...no, that wouldn't suit you very well either."
"Oh, hell no," scoffed Lance. "I can usually find a friend to kill some time with." He resisted the urge to put finger-quotes around the phrase, knowing Chris thought he looked like a tool when he did. "After Shawn, I don't think I'll be wanting anyone in my life for a while anyway."
"Well, if you change your mind," said Chris, ordering him another drink, "I know this great bartender who might be just what you need. But that's for another time. What you need to do right now is kill some more brain cells."
Lance laughed, intrigued by the prospect of maybe hooking up with John some time after all, but more than that he was glad that Chris was still Chris. He never really realized how much he missed him until he was reminded of that fact, and he regretted that he'd never come down to visit him before.
They'd all thought that Chris was running away from things when he'd come down here, getting away from them. But as he saw Chris bop his head to the faint reggae music coming up from the beach, saw the smile on his face as he looked around his bar, Lance realized that what Chris had been doing was running to something, and he seemed to be all the better for it.
"So, care to kill a little time with me tonight?" he asked, as casually as he could manage, crossing his fingers that Chris really had been sincere, and hadn't been hoping for anything more.
Chris gave him a sly smile, then slammed his glass down on the bar. "Your place or mine?"
Lance was leading the way, even though he was sure Chris would have known a better route. But maybe Chris just didn't mind walking up the beach with him, going back the way he'd come. They weren't far from the villa he'd rented for the couple days he was going to be there; he was a lot closer to Chris's bar, in fact, than to the set of the video. Close enough that he'd chosen to walk instead of taking the car--also rented--so he wouldn't endanger any more lives by driving on the wrong side of the road.
"This is the place," he said, punching in the security code that unlocked the gate. "Probably more than I need, but I couldn't pass it up once I saw the pictures." When he turned back to Chris, he was unexpectedly smirking. "What?"
"I own it," admitted Chris after a moment, as they passed through the gate. "Haven't been here in months, though. Nice to see the lawn's not overgrown anymore."
"I own it," said Lance, mimicking Chris down to his very gestures. "Anything else you want to spring on me while we're here?"
"What?" laughed Chris. "You didn't think I owned just that bar, did you?"
"The bar and that mansion of yours up in the hills that you told me about last time you actually showed up to one of our get-togethers." Lance punched in the same code to open the back doors of the villa, slipping off his sandals before stepping inside. "Was it supposed to occur to me that you were suddenly the real estate baron of Montego Bay?"
"It's hardly that much," protested Chris as he followed, ticking things off on his fingers. "I mean there's this, another villa, a bed and breakfast a little further up the beach, a small restaurant near the airport...but the bar's my only baby. I hire people to manage the rest for me. And hey, who are you to talk, Mr. I-Really-Need-All-Five-Houses?"
"But I do," murmured Lance as he found the lights, illuminating the main room. They were in different parts of the country, after all, plus the one in Toronto. It made sense to keep them all. "We aren't gonna be weird about this, right?" he asked as he led on, directly into the bedroom without preamble. "It's just going to be...what it is?"
"The only way it's gonna be weird is if you pull out a trapeze and handcuffs," Chris assured him. "And even then--except for the fact that I'd be keeping your damage deposit--I'd probably be up for it."
"I don't even own a trapeze," muttered Lance as he reached the bed, flicking on the light there as well.
There was an awkward silence behind him for a moment before Chris finally spoke again. "So I guess I'm not the first boy you've had in here since you got into town," he said dryly, sounding more amused than anything. Lance looked at the definitely-not-new tube of lubricant lying in plain sight on the bedside table and smiled to himself briefly before turning back to face him.
"No," he said honestly. "No, I didn't spend last night alone." He hoped that wasn't going to make a difference to Chris. It certainly didn't to him.
"Who was it?"
"Just the one of the PAs for the video," he told him, knowing he could remember the guy's name if he tried but not really wanting to bother if Chris wasn't going to ask for it. "He was a sweet thing."
"And here I thought you liked older, more experienced men." Even if he hadn't been looking, Lance would have known that Chris was smirking at him, dredging up a hundred memories for both of them, a hundred guys that Lance had had or wanted before.
"I do," conceded Lance, "but any port in a storm. And he was good."
Lance gave him a level look. "I've always been sure you would be."
Chris took that as a cue to stop reminding him of the past and get on with their present. He approached Lance and slowly, purposefully stripped him, not saying another word. One thing Lance had forgotten was the intensity that Chris showed when he had a clear goal in mind ... so it was a delightful surprise when he saw that intensity turned on him.
He liked it when people took charge--in bed, anyway--and though he'd never said that outright, he bet that Chris already knew. Especially considering the way he covered Lance's body with his own and just took him, gently but firmly. The way he held him but didn't coddle him, the way he proved that even after all this time he knew Lance well enough to guess how he liked it. And even the way he tangled their legs afterwards, breathing hotly on his neck as they both came down together.
"If I'm gone when you get up, don't worry," said Chris, pulling the sheet up only to his waist as he rested his head against Lance's shoulder. "I have to meet someone early."
Lance snorted at the notion. "As if you'd ever be up before me," he murmured.
Chris just smiled. "I'll come see you at the shoot before you wrap," he promised. "Bring a bunch of ganja and come celebrate. The good stuff, not the crap they sell tourists." And Lance was quite sure he would, and also quite sure that was at least part of the reason that JC was planning a visit.
"Well, at least I know what your business is first thing in the morning now," he joked as he reached for the lamp and switched it off, near-darkness enveloping them. "You'll at least see us off at the airport?"
"I told you, I'm coming," snorted Chris. "Besides, you know where I live, more or less. You could send goons if I don't show. I bet you still have lots of goons."
"I still have goons," admitted Lance, tugging his own half of the sheet up to his chest even though his skin was still covered in a thin sheen of sweat. "You going to sleep?"
"Yeah, and so are you," he said, and it wasn't a command, just a statement of fact. "Night, Lance."
Lance might have said something trite, about how he was glad that they'd gotten together, glad he'd seen him, glad they'd talked, glad they were finally in a place where they could be together with no other expectations or complications. But he didn't have to; they both already knew. He kissed the top of Chris's thick, tangled hair silently and closed his eyes.
He woke up when the sun streamed in the open curtains and hit him squarely in the face. He squinted into it and instinctively felt the bed beside him. It was empty. So Chris was gotten up and gone after all. But Lance found he wasn't that surprised, and he really did believe that Chris would be showing up later that day to get his entire production staff high. Preferably after they finished the video, though knowing Chris he wasn't going to count on it.
Showering quickly and getting dressed, he slipped on his sandals and stepped out of the villa. into his rental car and made his way back to the set.