Lonesome Highway
by Chris J

I woke up abruptly and didn't know quite why. We'd probably hit a bump or something, now long-forgotten on the highway behind us, its only legacy the fact that I was now conscious. I planted my face in my pillow and prayed I would get right back to sleep, but no such luck. My body was awake now, and as usual demanding that I go take a piss.

I slipped out of my bunk -- always unsteady on my feet for the first few moments until I got used to the motion of the bus again -- and stumbled toward the back to relieve myself. Of course when I came back out I was even more awake than before. So much for getting some more sleep.

I could've sat down in front of the TV, watched a movie or played a game or something -- with the headphones on, to be at least a little considerate of the guys still sleeping -- but the idea left me cold so I sat down at the table instead and looked out the window. I didn't recognize the scenery, but probably because I'd seen it too many times, not because I hadn't seen it enough. There comes a point where you just stop noticing.

On the bus, though, everything was familiar. I'd left the door to the bunks open and if I looked in that direction I could hear the snores coming from Justin's bunk, notice the eerie, dead calm in JC's. I could see Chris's restlessness, his elbow frequently hitting the curtain and billowing it outward -- I'd forgotten how restless he was when he slept alone. And then Lance ... was apparently getting up. I watched as his legs swung out, the curtain only opening after he was upright.

I don't even think he knew I was up, stumbling toward the bathroom himself without a single look in my direction. Of course, besides the door I hadn't left any marks of my passing. I hadn't even flipped on the overhead lamp, instead watching the scenery in the pre-dawn light. Well, not watching exactly. Letting the scenery pass before my eyes, anyway.

He didn't go back to bed though, stumbling past the bunks and blinking at me in confusion for a moment when he finally realized I was there. Lance was always the first one up, I just hadn't really realized it was this early. There was a time when I would've been going to bed about this now, not getting up.

"Something wrong?" he asked right away. From the way he said it, it was like that was the only conceivable reason that I would be out of my bunk this early without someone dragging me. He slipped into the seat across from me and blinked his eyes open wider, making an effort, I was sure, to look at me intently.

Doesn't really work with sleepy eyes, though.

"I woke up," I said with a shrug and for a brief, selfish moment hoped that Lance was gonna make coffee for us or something. "It happens."

"So you're fine then," he confirmed. "And Chris, he's fine, too?"

"Besides the fact that he's tossing and turning so much he's gonna be bruised when he gets up?" I asked him rhetorically. "Yeah, he's fine. We're fine. Honest."

"Good," he said, nodding as he yawned widely, just barely covering it with the back of his hand. Then he started staring out the window with me, watching the cars and trees and fields go by. "It looks like it goes on forever, doesn't it," he said, resting his forearm on the ledge of the window.

"Sometimes I think it does," I admitted as I stared at the highway ahead of us. It looked endless. "Sometimes I sit here and wonder if we're ever going to get where we're going." Lance fell silent and stared at me. "What?"

He chuckled. "That was really deep, Joey," he said, the laughter turning into a smirk.

"I can be deep!" I protested indignantly while being flattered by the comment anyway. Looked like the words had come out right for once, although I didn't think I'd really intended to be deep about it.

"We should do all our interviews when you've just rolled out of bed," he went on, looking out the window again. He probably thought he was hiding his smirk from me, but he wasn't.

"I think they would have something to say about me showing up on television unshaven and in Snoopy pajamas," I joked, watching him as he looked outside and wondering what he was thinking.

"Chris actually lets you wear pajamas to bed?" he joked mildly, turning his head back toward me for only as long as it took to speak. At least he gave me that much, when his mind seemed to be somewhere else entirely.

"I think the real question is whether I actually want to wear pajamas when Chris is in my bed," I reminded him, leaning toward the window and tilting my head to see his face again, smiling when I managed to catch his eyes for a moment. "What's up?"

"Nothing," he murmured, his lips barely moving.

"Liar." Instead of moving away, I slid my head along the window even closer and crossed my eyes at him.

He laughed in spite of himself and shoved my shoulder, sending me back into my seat with a thump. "I'm just -- " He waved his hand vaguely, leaving me for a moment to wonder just what the hell he was trying to say. "You know. Lonely."

Lonely could mean a lot of things, really, especially with us. It could mean that the countryside looked empty and barren and was making him feel alone, or it could mean that it was too early for any of us to be up, so he usually had no one to talk to. Or it could easily mean that he'd had a bad night with the fans and was feeling like no one knew who he really was.

Or it could mean -- especially considering what we'd been talking about -- that me and Chris had each other and Lance didn't have someone like that. Except he did, kinda. He had all of us.

"Just right now?" I asked finally. "Or, like, always?"

"Just sometimes," he said, which didn't really help me out with figuring out what was going on with him. "You know, when the stars are aligned or whatever. When I have a chance to realize it."

I could've told him he was talking nonsense, and he would have laughed and it would have blown over. But he wasn't. I got that, what he was saying. About how sometimes all this stuff comes together and makes you feel something that's been inside you but you just haven't been feeling because there's been other stuff in the way.

And then, after feeling it for a while, it fades into the background again. Or at least you hope it does, because it's a pretty awful to be feeling something like that all the time. Once in a while is more than enough.

"You want to talk about it?" I offered awkwardly, not sure at all this streak of saying things right was going to last. But Lance knew me, and understood what I meant even if the words weren't quite right. I was relieved anyway when he shook his head.

"Nah, not right now," he said, moving to get up from the table. "I'm just ... you know. It'll pass, probably by the time the rest of the guys get up."

"You don't have to go or anything," I said quickly, dropping my voice when I realized it was getting loud. Lance hadn't shut the door either. "I mean, unless you don't want to be here or whatever."

He turned back and grinned at me, which was about the last thing I'd been expecting. "I'm not going anywhere. I'm making coffee. Want some?"

"Oh. Coffee." I repeated stupidly. "Right. Yeah. Obviously I still need to wake up, here."

"Obviously," he echoed me with a slight chuckle that rang hollow. "You were holding your own just fine when you were half asleep anyway. Waking you up might do more harm than good."

"How come you're so awake anyway?" I asked, almost losing the words in a yawn. "Didn't you get up after me?"

He just shrugged as he measured out the coffee precisely and flipped on the machine. "I'm used to it, I guess," he said. "I've kinda been awake for a while anyway. Lying there. Thinking."

"Thinking about being lonely?" I asked before I could stop myself. Maybe being half-asleep wasn't such a perk after all, not when I didn't have the mental reflexes from stopping a gaffe like that from coming out.

He turned his head to look at me for a moment, and I couldn't tell if he was angry or not, but then he just said, "Yeah," as he turned back to the coffee again and watched it begin to drip into the pot. "Mostly that, yeah."

"Sorry," I mumbled, turning my head to face out the window again, at the first hints of dawn. "I didn't mean to ... whatever. Bring it up again."

"It's okay," he said, but he quite plainly didn't pursue the subject himself. "We're out of sugar. I'm going to have to use artificial sweetener, okay?"

"Whatever," I said, making a face where he couldn't see and seeing it reflected back at me in the tinted window of the bus. "It's not the same, though."

"You'll live," he assured me. "Do I need to make a third cup?"

"What, for your imaginary friend?" I asked, then winced as I realized that was probably cruel. Think, Fatone, think. But then I heard the same noises as Lance must have, coming from the bunks, and a moment later Chris stumbled to his knees on the floor as he tried to get up. I probably should have gone to help him or something but instead I just watched. He was adorable when he was bumbling.

Lance didn't respond, watching Chris for a moment then turning back at the coffeepot again. I figured that was about as exciting as watching grass growing, but I didn't question what Lance chose to do, mostly. I was more focused on the way Chris was rubbing his eyes and stumbling toward me anyway. The amount of noise he was making would have woken up a normal person, but we weren't talking about normal people. We were talking about JC and Justin. I stopped worrying about how much noise I was making right about then.

Feeling his way into room more than watching, Chris crawled onto my lap, either unaware or uncaring that Lance was there. Uncaring, it turned out, when he turned his head and gave Lance a sleepy wave. "I smell coffee," he murmured, loud enough for me to hear but definitely not loud enough for Lance to hear.

I tried to hold him on my lap as well as I could but it was damn awkward. "Aren't you a little big for this?" I asked him, only half teasing.

"So?" he asked, shrugging and lifting his head to smile at me, obviously trying to open his eyes wider so he could actually look at me. It was flattering, in a somewhat dorky way. I didn't try to get him off my lap after that.

Chris was kissing at my throat when Lance came back to the table, with just the two cups of coffee. "None of that," he teased, looking away as he set the mugs down. "Get a room or something."

"Yeah, don't I wish," said Chris, stealing my coffee to take a sip. Suddenly I was very glad Lance had had to use the artificial sweetener. Chris on sugar on the bus was entertaining, but only for the first fifteen minutes or so. "Do you know how hard it is t'do anything on those bunks?"

Lance coughed politely at the same time as I poked Chris's site, almost making him spill coffee on the front of his pajama top. His cute blue pinstripe pajamas that he didn't wear anywhere but on the bus, and mostly he wore them here because Justin mocked them and told him if he was cool he'd just wear boxers like the rest of us. Chris never was just like anyone else, another one of those things I was realizing I liked about him.

"No, actually I don't know," said Lance. "And I doubt I'll ever need to know."

"They're small," I added, hoping that was tactful enough. It was as tactful as I thought I could be without an awkward and obvious change of subject. "Too small to sleep two very well."

"That kinda sucks. You guys should be able to sleep together" said Lance. The guy was full of surprises tonight. I mean, I knew he supported us and all, but he didn't do it so blatantly, much. "I'll talk to someone about that."

"You don't have to -- " I began before Chris shushed me and slapped a hand over my mouth.

"You do that," he said, shoving the coffee in my direction. I took the hint this time. No more saying stupid things that might keep us from being together. Good advice. "They know about us anyway. It shouldn't shock them that we'd like a bus with at least one bed that can sleep two without us having to turn into a pretzel to fit in."

"I've seen you the morning after," said Lance, sipping his own coffee with a fluid grace I knew I would never have. I stopped envying that kind of thing shortly after I became friends with JC. Had to, or it would have ruined a great friendship. "Not a pretty sight."

"You saying I'm not pretty?" challenged Chris, giving Lance a laughably evil look.

"You wanna make something of it?" Lance shot back, trying to imitate the face and failing miserably. I managed not to laugh again, but it was a lot harder.

We fell silent after that and I finished my coffee, sliding it away. Lance reached for a magazine that Justin had left out, like he always did, but he didn't open it, just left it closed on the table in front of him. Chris closed his eyes again and tucked his head in under my chin.

"I just want you to know," said Lance, breaking the silence. He stared at his hands for a moment and then looked back up at us again. "That no matter what I'm doing or how I'm feeling--" He gave me a significant look that told me quite clearly that I'd been exactly right about what had prompted our earlier conversation. "--or what anyone else says about you, you two are good together. I'm glad you're together."

"Um, thanks," said Chris, awkward but sincere. It probably looked like that came out of the blue, to him. Except for the fact that he was still in my lap and all and even this sleepy he could probably catch on to the importance of that.

He didn't stay in my lap for long, though, finally standing up again and reaching out his hand to me. The sudden loss of his weight, right when I'd finally gotten used to it, almost threw me off balance. I shot Lance a quick glance as I righted myself and was relieved to find him smiling at us. I'd been worried the whole conversation had been making things worse for him, but it didn't look that way at all. Just the opposite, maybe. On the optimistic side of my brain, I was thinking that maybe seeing me and Chris together didn't always make Lance feel lonely. Maybe sometimes it made him feel hope.

"Thanks," I murmured as well, my eyes fixed on Chris again once I was no longer worried about Lance. "We're just gonna ... "

"Try not to fall out of the bunk," he said as he waved us back to bed.

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