nsync in black and white

Disclaimer: this is fiction. We made it up.


by megan, written for juli

He had heard the cries before; all villagers had, though few believed in the strömkarlen. Those who did shivered in fear, because they knew it meant death. He hunched his shoulders and hurried his pace, brows knitting as he ran through his family members, trying to account for all of them on land. Jens cut off in the middle of his tale about the great trout he'd caught two days before, frowning when he saw the expression on Justin's face. "Come now, you don't still believe in that fairytale nonsense, do you?" he asked, quickening his pace to match Justin's. "Just because your grandmother told you some story as a child..."

"Shut up," Justin hissed, blue eyes flashing with anger. “Björn is still out today."

Jens's eyes widened for a moment before he shook his head, glaring at Justin. “My brother is just fine. Your superstitions don't scare me." He shrugged, but the tension stayed in his shoulders, and the two men remained silent until they were back in town.

Justin had been five the first time he'd heard the cry, waiting for his father to come home from the fishing expedition, visions of smoked fish and a grand dinner feast in his child's brain as he ran along the shore, hand raised to shield his eyes and afford him a better view. He watched all day for the ship, picking his way carefully among the rocks and complaining to his mother when she refused to let him continue his watch in the rain, instead tucking him firmly in bed with the promise that he could see his father in the morning.

Justin had woken in the middle of the night to a deep, mournful cry, like that of a bird, and had shivered in his bed.

The next morning, broken pieces of his father's ship had washed up on shore, and the light in his mother's eyes had gone out. His grandmother had gathered him into her arms, stroking his curls as she rocked him in the big oak chair. "The strömkarlen warns us of danger in the water," she said softly, holding him close. "I heard the call last night, but did not know it was for one of our own. Your father is with the sea now," she told him, hushing him even as tears fell down her own face.

As it turned out, Björn was safe as Jens had predicted. The Svensson boy, a tall blonde with pink lips and laughing eyes, was not so lucky. He'd been snared by an old fisherman's net at the bottom of the river. His brother had thought Nik was playing a joke, diving deep only to surface later and scare his younger siblings. Anders had called for help, but by the time they cut Nik loose, the life had gone out of him.


When he heard the cry again just a week later, Justin dropped the net he was mending and went into the house. It was a Saturday morning, and he didn't have to report to work again until Tuesday. "Momma," he said, with an accent that came both from Sweden and the home of his mother’s family, "I'm going camping."

Lynn looked up from her book. "How long?"

"I'll be back for dinner Monday night."

She studied him carefully for a moment before nodding. "All right, then. Take the good wool blanket; it still gets cold at night." Justin nodded; there was precious little his mother asked for, and what little she did was related to his safety. When his father had died, she'd been gone too long to wish to return to her homeland, and Justin's home had always been the Swedish coast. He packed quickly, fitting all of his clothing, bedding, and cooking gear into the backpack before wandering into the kitchen to prepare food. He found his mother there, packaging dried fish and other goods for his journey

"Momma, you didn't have to."

"I wanted to." She looked up at him with worried eyes. "Did you get that wool blanket?"

"No, he did not," his grandmother said, shuffling down the hall with the blanket in her arms. "Do what your mother told you to and take that with you," she ordered, regarding him with eyes that were still sharp despite their age. "And be careful."

"I'll be fine, Farmor," he promised, planting a kiss on her cheek when she reached up to hug him.

"Careful," she said again, pressing the blanket into his hands.


It was a beautiful day, sun shining high overhead in a bright blue sky with only a few wispy clouds here and there. Justin hiked quickly and easily, pausing from time to time to drink from his water bottle and wipe the sweat off his brow. When he'd traveled a good four miles, he sat down among the rocks near a waterfall and slid his arms out of his pack, opening it in search of the lunch his mother had insisted on packing for him. He grabbed an apple, rubbed it on his shirt, and took a bite, freezing with his teeth in the skin when he looked up.

Under the waterfall stood a man with shoulder-length chestnut curls, ocean eyes, and cheekbones crafted with as much care as the most beautiful glaciers. Justin's gaze traveled down a slender, fit body, and heat crept into his cheeks when he realized that the other man was naked. Justin set the apple down on a rock and wiped his mouth with his forearm, blush deepening when he met the man's eyes. "I," he stammered, at a loss. Where'd you -? Hi?"

The man laughed, eyes squinting shut as he tilted his head back.

"Hello," he said, eyes dancing with amusement. "Where did I come from? I came from here.” He swept an arm through the waterfall, breaking its course for a moment. “But I might ask the same of you."

"I'm from the village. There have been deaths lately, and I'm trying to find ..." Justin trailed off, suddenly aware of how utterly ridiculous his errand sounded.

The stranger suddenly became serious. “My name is JC. I'm the one you came looking for."

Justin eyed him suspiciously. "How would you know what I seek?"

"You seek answers, and, perhaps, vengeance. You'll have to exchange the one for the other," JC said warily, watching Justin as he came nearer.

"I have no wish to kill. That's your sport," Justin retorted, eyes narrowing.

"We do not kill for sport!" JC spat, crossing his arms over his chest, ocean eyes turning to glacier in but a moment. "You know nothing of my kind."

"I know you warn of death on the water," Justin countered. "I also know that you'll drown a human if he gets too close. How am I to believe the one doesn’t follow the other?"

"No creature kills for sport," JC said angrily, stepping closer to the bank. "It's against the laws of Nature."

Justin snorted. "So are you." He stepped back, sitting down on the rock near his pack again. "Step onto land," he ordered, pulling an extra change of clothes out and tossing them in JC's direction. "And wear those."

"Why should I trust you, if you won't trust me?" JC asked, stopping with one foot on the riverbank and the other in the water.

"You don't have to trust me. I'm not going to get any nearer than I am," Justin responded, picking up his abandoned apple and taking a bite. "Though if you want me to trust you, you might try explaining what exactly it is that you do, if it's not dragging the unsuspecting to their deaths."

JC glared again and opened his mouth to retort, but something in Justin's eyes stopped him. "All right," he agreed, stepping onto the bank and pulling Justin's trousers on. When they began a slow slide down his hips, Justin threw him a length of rope to use as a belt. JC tied the rope around his waist and sat on the very edge of the bank, eyeing Justin warily. "We do not kill," he repeated quietly. "We know when accidents are going to happen, but we don't cause them."

"You knew Nik was going to die, and you didn't do anything about it?" Justin demanded angrily. "Who's next?"

JC shook his head sadly and picked a blade of grass, examining an ant crawling along its edge. "You don't understand. It isn't like that."

"Then explain it to me," Justin demanded, tone softening when he saw the sadness in JC's eyes. "Please."

"We know only that something will happen, not to whom or how soon or what the circumstances will be," JC explained.

"And if you did?" Justin lifted his chin, waiting for an answer.

"We would leave it alone. Human affairs are not ours to meddle with."

"So you'd just let someone die? How can you do that? These people have families waiting at home for them, parents who wait for their children and children who will wait and wait and never see their parents again, because - " Justin stuffed his belongings in his backpack angrily and stood. "What an absolute waste." He glared at JC in disgust and turned on his heel, heading back to his home.


If his mother and grandmother were surprised to see him, they hid it well. After dinner, Justin sat out on the porch with his grandmother, watching the horizon while she rocked in her chair, knitting a sweater for the winter months. "Sometimes," she offered gently, "when we seek answers, we do not like what we learn."

Justin's shoulders tensed and he scowled out at the water. "I found nothing."

"The strömkarlen are neither good nor evil, Justin. They, like most beings on the earth, simply are."

Justin turned his gaze on her, brows knitting in confusion. "What would you know about that?"

"I wasn't always too old to walk farther than the edge of the property, Sonson," she said, smiling faintly. "You must follow your own path. I only ask that you try not to block so much out that you let nothing in."


"You sit in this house with me and your mother day after day. You don't go out after work, even when Jens asks, and you haven't gone to a social gathering since your own sixteenth birthday." Justin looked away, crossing his arms over his chest as he sat on the porch railing.

"I'm fine, Farmor."

She stood with a heavy sigh, patting his hand before shuffling inside.

A storm was rolling in.


The Janssen twins, cousins of Jens’ and sometime drinking mates of Justin’s, were lost in the storm. Everyone in town attended the memorial services. Justin sat in the pew across the aisle from Jens, and spent the reception pretending he didn’t see the tear tracks on his friend’s face.

“I’m sorry,” he whispered, embracing Jens briefly. Jens nodded curtly and walked into the arms of his family.

Justin walked in the opposite direction, toward the waterfall. A rain began to fall, and he slid down the riverbank, coating his good dark suit with mud. He progressed slowly, wiping water out of his eyes with his sleeves and catching himself when he slipped. By the time he reached the waterfall, he was exhausted and filthy. He sank to a seat on the rock he’d inhabited before and waited. Though the wind and rain increased, he didn’t waver from his spot. Despite his sullen stare, he found no sign of the man he sought. As he shivered, Justin thought bitterly that JC was probably finding someone else to kill.


Justin woke to find JC hovering above him, pressing a cool hand to his cheek. “You should not have come on a day like this,” he said sadly. He helped Justin to his feet and led him under the waterfall to a small cave, which, though dark, at least afforded some protection from the rain. “You’re hurt.”

Justin struggled to sit upright, pulling away from JC’s gentle touch. “I’m fine. I don’t need your help.”

JC tilted his head, examining Justin. He was wearing the trousers Justin had given him, though the rope was somewhat frayed. “Then why did you come?”

When Justin stumbled into the door of his home late that night, he was still unable to come up with an answer.

Lynn and his grandmother fussed over him, drawing a hot bath and then forcing him into the great chair by the fireplace with a large quilt and a bowl of steaming hot chicken soup despite his protests. When Lynn finally turned in for the night, his grandmother looked up from her knitting. “Sonson,” she sighed, pity in her eyes, “you are fighting too hard.”


Justin left again early the next morning, packing his bag and bedroll before sun-up. He walked carefully along the riverbank until he reached the waterfall, and there he sat, fighting sleep as the sun rose.

“Justin?” JC ran a gentle hand through his curls, and he sighed softly, pressing into the touch for a few moments before opening his eyes. JC’s dark hair was a halo of bronze in the sunlight as he leaned in to kiss Justin soft and deep, calming and thrilling him at once.

As they broke apart, Justin licked his lips, brows knitting. “JC?”

“What brings you here, Justin?” he prodded gently.

“I-.” Justin bit his lip. “I don’t know.” He took JC’s hand, pulling him closer. “I. You. We’re not the same.”

“Not that different, either,” JC countered, thumb caressing Justin’s jaw. “Not so different at all.”

“But we’re too different, don’t you see?” he asked. We can’t-.”

JC hushed him with a finger on his lips. “Just let it be,” he advised, leaning in again.


Justin traveled to the falls often in the weeks after that, and his disposition became sunnier. On a night he was home, he sat out on the porch with his grandmother, carving a sun symbol into agate to bring as a gift to JC. He worked a hole into the stone carefully, pursing his lips as he got to the finer parts of the work and looking up only when his grandmother handed him a leather cord on which to string the finished product.

“It will not bind him to the land, or to you,” she warned, though her tone was gentle.

Justin blushed. “That was not my purpose.”

“He is bound to the water; it alone can hold him.”

That night by the falls, JC embraced him immediately, stroking his back as he studied Justin’s face with worried eyes. “What troubles you?”

“It is nothing,” Justin denied, shaking his head. He leaned in, kissing JC urgently, tugging at his trousers until they lay naked in the grass.

JC moved gracefully, sinuously above him, kissing and whispering praises into Justin’s skin as their bodies met, licking away salt tears as Justin came undone, the necklace clasped tightly in his fist. Sensing something wrong, JC caressed Justin’s hand until he let it open, the stone flat in the center of his palm. He picked it up, examining the work carefully before pressing it back into Justin’s palm. “Very good work,” he said approvingly. Then, with a sly grin, “So is the man who made it.”

Justin laughed, pulling JC in and tying the cord around his neck. “Better than a length of frayed rope, at any rate,” he decided, pressing the pendant to JC’s chest as he kissed him.

He did not ask JC to come to his home.


One day, as they lay in the grass together watching the sky, JC turned towards him. “You have seen my home. When do I get to visit yours?” he asked, drawing a finger down Justin’s nose. Justin caught it and looked at him, surprised.

“You want to come to my home?”

JC nodded, freeing his hand and tracing the line of Justin’s lips. “Why would I not?”

Justin didn’t have an answer. They traveled down to the village together, and Justin made JC wait outside while he told his grandmother that there would be a guest at the table that evening. “More than you yourself, you mean?” she teased. “I see very little of you any more.”


“I am not intending to guilt you, Sonson. I am just making an observation.”

Justin’s cheeks turned pink. “I’m thinking about building a home near the falls,” he admitted, ducking his head.


“I spend so much time there already, and I-.”

“You love him. I know this,” she said, giving him a soft, sad smile. “But let me meet this strömkarlen of yours before we speak of this further.” She watched JC with keen eyes throughout the evening, letting her guard down only after he had left. When his silhouette had disappeared in the darkness of night, Justin settled into a seat near hers on the porch. “It seems I was mistaken,” she said softly. “For this one is just as enchanted by you as you are by him.”

“He won’t live here, Farmor.”

“He cannot. He is bound to the waterfall,” his grandmother agreed. “But also to you.”

“We will visit.” He did not say how often.


Over the next several weeks, Justin labored tirelessly clearing ground, chopping trees and fitting logs together into a home. JC helped too, fashioning a floor out of river rocks and bringing larger stones for a fireplace.

Finally, when at last they had finished, Justin grasped JC about the waist and fell onto the grass, laughing and exhausted. “It’s finished,” he declared, eyes dancing.

“No,” JC denied, shaking his head. He hitched his trousers up and tightened the rope around his waist. “There is something missing yet.” When Justin frowned, he reached up, smoothing the wrinkles with his fingertips. “Do not be troubled.”


“Shh,” JC soothed. “Do not be troubled.”

That night, they invited Justin’s grandmother over for dinner. When she spotted the string of shells around her grandson’s wrist, her smile put the sun to shame.


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