like stealing his shoes

by CJ

Trace stumbled off the side of the stage and wove his way back out of the bright lights, whisky bottle clenched in one fist, dirty cap in the other. Justin was up there shining, and Trace needed to clear his head before he puked on Justin's date.

It would have been satisfying to do it, right in the moment, but then Justin would have started doting on her to make up for it. Better to just puke in the trash can in the back alley where nobody would see and report it to the Enquirer. It was a lot less sensational than doing the technicolor yawn on Cami-sweetie's putrid dress.

No one stopped him as he stumbled back, through the bodyguards, then the A-list friends, then the friends that Justin had to acknowledge but didn't want to let mingle, then down a dimly-lit hallway and through a metal door that was already being held open with a running shoe. The trash can was right where he knew it would be; he'd used it before. They'd been everywhere before.

"I'd offer you a glass of water, but I got none. Cigarette?"

Trace's head was still hanging over the side of the can, whiskey bottle tucked upright between his feet. Never spill the liquor. "Yeah," he said, his voice echoing off the corrugated metal. He reached in and slicked his hair back off his forehead and finally lifted his head again. "Thanks." He was wiping his mouth with the back of his hand when he finally turned around again and saw Carter idling there, back to the brick wall of the club.

"Who're you?" he snapped.

"The guy with the cigarettes." Carter was smiling, smiling like a guy with a secret, holding one out to him. Trace hesitated, then took it.

"I didn't know you were here," he said, letting Carter light the cigarette like Trace was a fucking girl. "I didn't see you."

"I didn't think you saw much except Justin."

"Yeah, fuck you," he muttered. His throat felt raw and his head was starting to pound. And he could hear the music stop which meant Justin was taking a break which meant he was probably slipping it to Cameron right at that moment. "He's good."

"He is good," Carter agreed. "It's a good show. This is the third I've seen."

"It's my millionth," said Trace, and meant it. "He gets fucking better every time. I fucking love that guy. He's amazing."

"I know," said Carter. He was finished his cigarette, and pushed forward away from the wall to toss the butt casually into the trash can. Trace wondered if it landed in his puke. "Everyone knows."


"So nothing," said Carter, but his voice changed and he looked... fucking sympathetic, or something. "I just know."

"You don't know."

"I know what it's like to live in Justin's shadow. Not to be all melodramatic about it. But yeah." He didn't light another; somehow, Trace knew he wouldn't.

"You don't know shit," he argued, but there was nothing behind it. Carter didn't know a tenth of what Trace felt like, but he did know that fraction. He got that much.

"He doesn't even see you there."

"He sees me. I have more of him than anyone."

"But not they way you want."

"You know, what the fuck is this, anyway?" Trace blurted out. This was really kind of a fucked up conversation, especially with fucking Carter. "What the fuck are you talking about?"

Carter grinned suddenly, and that was his thing, that was the thing he always had when he had nothing else. This fucking grin that Trace noticed even when Justin was in the room. "Nothing," he said, shaking his head. "I'm an idiot. I've just been watching you is all."

"That's kind of creepy."

"No, not like that. God. Just, you know, when I'm at the shows, and you're up there dancing your ass off. I watch you. How you look at him and stuff."

"And you think, from that, you know me."

"No, I don't know you. But I know how you feel about him."

"And you're telling me this... why?" Trace picked up his bottle; enough was fucking enough. "You're weird."

"Yeah, probably," snorted Carter. "But aren't we all. I just said because it's true. You're an interesting person, Trace. I don't think anyone tells you that enough."

"Is that anything like having a good personality?" He didn't know when Carter had gotten so close, but suddenly he was like a fucking tree standing there, and there was another shadow for Trace to be in. "I get told plenty."

"Sure you do."

He didn't know what Carter was planning, and then he did, and he didn't stop him anyway. He wasn't sure if he even could have, if he wanted to. Carter's lips were lips, and they were something, and he tasted of whiskey and cigarettes, just like Trace. He thought about Justin, and the kiss didn't stop.

"You wanted that," Carter murmured against his lips, and Trace didn't argue. "But not from me."

Trace didn't know when Justin had appeared, but when they parted he was standing there, quietly, his presence filling the whole doorway as his arm held the door open.


"Hey," said Carter before Trace could, moving back against the wall again. Justin's eyes made it clear it wasn't Carter he'd been talking to.

"I've been looking everywhere for you, Trace. No one said they seen you."

Probably, no one had. "I'm here," he said, slicking his hair back again and finally putting his cap on his head.

"Good," said Justin, kicking the running shoe out of the way. "Come back inside already."

Justin gave Carter a look before they disappeared, closing the door firmly behind them.

For Katie and Kate, because they put it in my head, like it or not. October 27, 2003

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