nsync in black and white

Disclaimer: this is fiction. We made it up.

i'm invincible, so are you

by phaballa, written for juli

When JC and Bobbie break up, it takes you almost two weeks to notice that anything's changed, and only then because you're stuck on the bus for almost two days straight and JC spends the entire time hiding in his bunk, headphones blaring that depressing as shit Ani Difranco CD he tried to make you listen to last month. You can hear the tinny voice leaking out from behind his bunk curtains when you pass by on your way to the bathroom—fuck you, and your untouchable face—and then you feel kind of guilty when you count back the days and realize that it's been a couple weeks since you had anything like a real conversation with JC that didn't involve the words "pass the cereal." You'd meant to tell him that he was looking sort of skinny and tired and he maybe needed to eat some more, but now that you know why, you don't say any of that. You don't want to make him feel worse than he already does.

"I didn't know," you say, putting an arm around him, but he slides away carefully to press up against the window instead. You frown. "Shit man, I'm really sorry."

JC just shrugs and stares out the window even though there's nothing to see, you think, just corn and more corn and sometimes soy. You're in Ohio, maybe, or Indiana. Someplace flat and so incredibly boring it makes you want to dig your own eyeballs out of your skull just so you don't have to watch another hundred miles of nothing go by.

"It's not a big deal, J," JC says finally. He's lying, you think. They were together a long time, so he's probably lying. If something happened with Britney, you wouldn't say it's no big deal. It's a big deal, it's always a big deal when you break up.

"She was kind of a bitch," you say, because it's true and also, anger is a lot easier to deal with than sadness. In your experience, anyway, not that you have, like, a lot of it or whatever, but you've seen a lot of movies on Lifetime, so you know how it goes. Bobbie wasn't just kind of a bitch, actually, she was a really big bitch. JC is better off without her. "She was always mean to you."

"Yeah," JC says, staring out the window and smiling a little, all sad-eyed and mopey and shit. He sounds wistful, you think. It's pretty fucked up.


To cheer JC up, you spend a lot of time playing video games with him. And not even the sorts of video games you like, that involve guns and explosions and blood and the occasional car chase, but JC-oriented video games. JC likes RPGs and anything involving magic and fighting monsters and doing puzzles and solving mysteries. JC is a giant dork.

You discover this sort of randomly, passing by JC's bunk one day while Chris is on some sort of urgent phone call. JC said he was going to take a nap, but you can hear strange little noises coming from inside his bunk. Not masturbation noises, which wouldn't really be much of a surprise, but little bleeps and bloops that make you pause and poke your head in to see what he's up to. JC has his laptop open on his legs in front of him and he's sitting in the dark, staring intently into the screen, pointing and clicking with his brow furrowed in concentration.

"What's up?" you say, and climb into the bunk, slide in between him and the wall at the head of the bunk because you're big now and he can't really stop you, plus Chris is being really boring and there's nothing on TV except Passions, which is only fun when there are other people to watch it with you and make fun of the guy who's been in hell for like, a million years, battling demons with a sword.

JC twists around to give you a strange, unreadable look, probably one that means he wants you to get out of his bunk and leave him alone, but you just grin and he rolls his eyes, settles back against you. He's skinny enough now and you've gotten big enough that it's pretty comfortable. He can use you like a chair, you think, and wind your arms around his waist. Human chair. It's all Frank Lloyd Wright and shit. Or maybe that guy who did the art for Alien; Chris used to have a book of that and you still remember sneaking into his room when he was at work and flipping through it because all the pictures were full of naked people and penises and blood. So it's kind of like that, except if it was that guy designing the human chair, there'd be more blood and possibly fetuses involved.

"It's Myst," JC says finally, wiggling a little and angling the screen so you can see better. And you like mysteries and the game is pretty cool, even if there aren't any guns or car chases, so you stick around and help JC play it, saying things like, "No, over there, with the, yeah, the weight thingy and the bucket," and squeezing him a little too tight when you finally manage to solve a puzzle you've been working on for thirty minutes. JC just squeaks and saves the game, says, "I think that's enough for today," and kicks you out of his bunk.

But by then Chris is off the phone so you go bother him instead, and when JC shuffles out into the lounge a little while later, the music from his headphones is some kind of electronica something or other, so you think it's okay, probably.

So you spend a lot of time in JC's bunk playing Myst, but pretty soon you've solved the whole game so you move onto other ones on the Playstation—Alundra and Wild Arms and games with Japanese names you can't even think about pronouncing. Chris watches you play with narrowed eyes, but he gets bored really quickly and goes in the back to watch something on the shitty television instead, probably Oprah because Chris is a secret crier, he loves watching sappy shit that gets him all teary-eyed. Or sometimes he leaves the bus entirely and goes to hang out with Joey and Lance, even though Steve is over there and it stinks of animals. And Steve, actually, who seems to think that just because he doesn't dance around on stage most nights, he can go for weeks at a time without taking a shower. It's no wonder he never gets laid, in your opinion.

You start to get really into the games you play with JC, switching back and forth with the controller every twenty minutes or so, arguing over who's going to be in your traveling party and whether or not it's okay to use the cheat codes to fill up on health. JC says no, JC says cheating takes all the fun out of the game, and you have loud, passionate arguments and say things like, "But you know I'm better at fighting bosses, and we should've left Princess Cherry back at headquarters because she's totally fucking useless, dude—"

"She can heal people and she's got a million hit points, so I really don't think—"

"Twenty-three. She only has twenty-three and Kalgon has twenty-six plus he's a fighter. Cherry can't even wear real armor."

"Whatever," JC says, and hands the controller over. "We needed a healer and you know it, man. And okay, fine, you're better at fighting bosses. But if we die, you have to get us through that fucking statue water puzzle thing next time, because I am not dealing with that shit again."

"You two are both freaks," Chris says when he's there, every time, the same thing, like he's still not used to you hanging out with JC and playing RPGs. Chris could play too, if he wanted. Not that you offer, but he could.

"Fuck off," you and JC say at the same time. Then JC smiles a little and you unpause the game and really hope that you beat the boss, because that water statue puzzle thing is a bitch.


JC goes out to clubs more now than he did when he was with Bobbie, and you're pretty sure that the feeling you're, well, feeling when you watch him chat up strangers or worse, when you're riding home with them in the limo and he's whispering in her ear, his hand sliding from her knee to her thigh—you're pretty sure that feeling is disapproval.

It's even worse when he finds a guy he likes. You never talk about that—the fact that sometimes, JC will choose some fantastically good-looking, usually Latino guy and they'll disappear for fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. You never talk about it, but when he comes back to your booth rubbing at his mouth, his hair fucked all to hell, the feeling in the pit of your stomach is more like sadness. It feels less red and more blue, anyway. You don't know why he doesn't just tell you.

It's not like you care, anyway.


The only game JC lets you cheat at is Sims, because, "it's no fun if you don't have enough money to get them cool shit." JC spends hours trolling through websites trying to find free downloads for skins and extra furniture and floor patterns and shit, but when it comes to creating the family, you push his hands away from the keyboard and take over.

"I'm making the Nsync family," you tell him, and then give the JC character spiky blue hair and cowboy boots. You make Chris a kid, because he pretty much is one, and you make Lance a girl. Joey is still a guy, but you stick him in a disco outfit, so he looks more like John Travolta from Saturday night Fever than anything else.

"Dude, that's sort of. That's not nice, man," JC says, staring at the pretty blond girl Sim you've named 'Lance,' but he's smiling into his hand, so you know he thinks it's funny.

"It's not mean if it's true," you say. "At least I'm not making him wear a dress."

"Lance looks terrible in drag," JC agrees. "We'll put a hot tub in his bedroom, and let him have a dog or something."

When the Justin and JC characters die in a tragic kitchen fire due to JC's very low cooking skill level and the fact that you forgot to install a fire alarm in the kitchen, you think maybe it's a sign that you should stop playing, but JC says no.

"If the rest of the guys don't mourn us," he tells you, biting his lip as he points and clicks, "we'll come back as zombies. It's totally cool, dude. And where the fuck is the maid? She hasn't emptied the trash in days."


You get to go home two days early for your Christmas break and you think it'll be a surprise. You'll surprise Britney and show up two days early because she's been complaining for a month now about you spending most of your time off at your mom's house, which is actually home but you'd never call it that in front of Britney, she's sensitive about shit like that. She likes to think that the house you bought together, but really the house that she bought and you put up half the money for, is home. She says things like, "I want to make a home for you," but then doesn't consult you on decorating. Everything is her taste but you don't mind, not really. You would maybe prefer less marble. Less everything, really, but you love her a lot and it makes her happy, so. You just want her to be happy.

So you show up two days early and let yourself in. It's late, really late because after the airport, you and JC were hungry so you made the driver stop at Mel's even though it's not on the way to either of your houses but JC really likes breakfast food at night. And that took a while because JC had this idea for a song and you accidentally spent two hours arguing about live instruments versus synth beats. It's very late and you try to be quiet, let yourself in and punch in your alarm code, slide your shoes off and pad up the staircase in socked feet.

And you know almost before you actually do know. There's a t-shirt hanging off the banister at the top of the stairs, and another one down the hall. A bra, a pair of flip flops, track pants, one lone sock—all in a trail leading to the bedroom door. You know, you know, but you open the door anyway, quiet.

You don't expect it to be him, but you're not exactly surprised, either.

They're not fucking or anything. They're just sleeping. She's curled up on herself like always and he's curled up behind her, and it looks. Normal. Comfortable. It's not fair, you think, because he was your best friend and he only just left the tour on break a few days ago. When you look at him, you feel betrayed. You wrote songs with him, you wrote some of your best stuff with him and now it all feels like a lie. When you look at her, you feel. Something else. Like you've been holding your breath underwater until your lungs are burning and your stomach is clenching up, and then you come up for air, finally.

Yeah, you feel like that. Like finally.

You're not supposed to be home for another two days, so you just—you leave. You turn around and walk out of the house. You think about calling a cab and going to a hotel, but you're pretty sick of hotels and you just want to go someplace that feels like home.

You call JC. He says, "Justin? What's wrong," and you don't say anything. You breathe. Big, deep breaths, coming up for air. JC listens for a minute and says, "Okay, I'm coming to pick you up," like you asked, but you didn't, you're pretty sure you didn't say anything.

JC comes to pick you up. You get in the car and say, "I'm not wearing any shoes." Your socks are filthy on the bottoms from standing on the drive while you waited so you strip them off and fold them carefully, dirty sides in, into a tight, neat ball.

JC says, "Okay," and nods, like that's exactly what he expected you to say all along. He takes you home.


You stay with JC for a while, you'll stay until it's time to fly home for Christmas, you think, and don't feel guilty about calling your mom's house home. Britney calls the morning after you find her, says, "I found your shoes. So I guess you know."

"I think we should break up," you say.

"Justin. It was just one time. I mean, he's not even hot, you know? I was lonely and he brought pot and you know how I get when I'm high." She doesn't sound sorry, you think. She sounds like she's reading from a script. Maybe she is, you wouldn't put it past her. You wonder how long it's been since she actually wanted to be with you for real and then you make yourself stop. You don't want to know.

"Yeah," you say. You do know, about the pot, anyway. She gets horny and wants to be fucked and babbles uncontrollably. You used to think it was pretty adorable, but now you're pretty sure it's a flaw. A big one.

"See, baby? So it was just once and I'm, like. I'm really sorry, you don't even know."

"I've cheated on you, too," you say. You're not totally innocent either, you think. JC looks up from his book and frowns at you, but you just shrug and keep talking. "Groupies, and, um. You know. Not with your best friend, but I cheated, too. I'm not mad at you." And yours were just blowjobs, blowjobs don't really count, you think. Not like actual fucking. Not like actually fucking your best friend, for fuck's sake.

Okay, so maybe you're a little mad.

"It'll be okay. We're okay." She says it firmly. Cheerfully. She snaps her gum into the phone.

"No, we still need to break up. And also, you should tell Wade he's fired," you say, and hang up on her. You want to ask for your shoes back because they're some of your favorites. They're your super comfortable airport sneakers, but you think it might be rude to start asking for your shit back right away. You don't really know, you've never had to do this before, but you're sure there's some sort of breaking up protocol that you're supposed to follow. You don't have any of her things, you think as you stare at the carpet, trying to pick out the different colors of beige in the threads. So that makes things easier.

JC sets his book aside and looks at you. Looks you over, nods. "I got the new Sims extension pack," he says. "'Hot Date.' It's pretty cool, and there's, like, all this new shit to play with. There's a heart-shaped tub and you can build stores and go into town and meet random Sim people and hook up."

This time, you create a family of random people, and if one of the girls sort of resembles Britney, and if the sort of Britney-looking Sim accidentally dies in a tragic hot tub drowning incident, well then, it's probably just a coincidence. You make sure that the other Sims mourn her, though. The last thing you need is a bunch of zombie Britneys running around.


You and JC don't do much, and you don't talk about Britney or Bobbie or Wade, but you talk about a lot of other things. You go with him to the Whole Foods wearing a baseball cap and a pair of JC's old wire-rimmed glasses as a disguise, and no one recognizes you, not even with JC asking three different store clerks about how to tell if an eggplant is good or not, and which wine goes well with eggplant, and do they recommend he buy pre-made sauce or make his own.

"We should just buy the pre-made stuff, C," you tell him, grabbing a jar off the shelf. "Look, it has vodka in it, this is perfect."

"That costs twelve dollars," JC says, frowning. "How can they charge that much for pasta sauce? That's ridiculous! It's a racket. There's no way this sauce could be worth twelve dollars. I could buy an entire jug of Popov for that."

"Yeah, and then you'd spend the rest of the night puking. Plus, I think this guy is, like, a famous chef or something. And you already can't cook, so we should probably get something that's gonna taste okay."

"I can cook," JC says, but he takes the jar from your hand and puts it in his cart.

"I've seen you burn water, dude. You can't even make tea."

"Fine," JC says, and pushes the cart off down the aisle. "But if this eggplant lasagna thing fails, you're paying for takeout."

"Hey, I'm not the one who thought cooking would be a good idea! I think, um, actually, I think I said that it was one of your worst ideas yet, almost as bad as 'Space Cowboy.'"

"Fuck you," JC says, but he's smiling a little. "You love that song and you know it."

"It's about peace in the middle east," you say, grinning. "I just wish more Palestinians and Israelis could've heard it."


Three days later, and it's the night before you're supposed to leave for home. You're almost itching to go, to see your mom and grandma and do the whole Christmas thing and you maybe could've gone earlier, got an earlier flight after the Britney thing, but JC still seems kind of sad about Bobbie and you don't want to leave him alone. He doesn't talk about her at all, but when you go out to clubs now, you watch him watch the girls that look like her. Small girls with long, dark hair and sharp faces. They look like her before she and JC got serious. Before she stopped being a normal girl, a graduate student or whatever, dyed her hair and became Bobbie. He watches them and there's this look in his eyes like he maybe wants to take one home, but he never does. He never even tries.

You both go home alone, every time. You don't think about Britney very often, but you think about Wade sometimes. You think about how you stopped writing songs with JC because it just seemed too hard and you didn't want to fight with him. He had all these ideas and you didn't want to argue. How easy it was to write with Wade, who agreed with you on everything and always knew how to offer input in a way that let you think it was your idea all along. You knew you were being manipulated, but you kind of liked it, it seemed more like collaborative handling to you.

Now it just feels gross and tainted. The music, too, and that makes you more sad than anything else.

But the night before you leave for home, JC puts down the game controller in the middle of battling a major boss and says, "Let's go for a drive." You just nod and pull your shoes on, even though you'll lose the game and have to start over from the fifth level. You were losing anyway, it's a hard game.

He has more depressing as shit Ani Difranco playing in his car stereo and when you start humming along to one you maybe sort of recognize, something about fate and meeting some ex at a party, he smiles a little and says, "I thought you hated her."

"It all sounds the same," you say, shrugging. "Blah blah, I'm so sad, blah blah, tampons and girl power and life is unfair." You stare out the window and the road is pretty much deserted. You're not sure where JC's taking you, but it doesn't really matter. You're on a drive. "And politics," you say after a long moment of silence. "Lots of politics."

"At least she writes songs about things," JC says. You try not to feel offended, because he's right and it's not like he means it as an insult. It's not like he's directing that comment at you. JC pulls over onto the side of the highway and it's pretty much desert at this point. Ani is singing something new, about bones and bed frames and, you think, lots of sex. This song is better than the last one. It's more cheerful, anyway.

JC gets out of the car so you follow him, climb up on the hood and lay with your back to the windshield. It's cold out and you can see your breath in the air, little white puffs of heat as you stare up at the sky. JC's hand brushes against the back of yours briefly, before he stuffs his hands in his coat pockets.

"I'm thinking of becoming a writer," he says.

You turn your head to look at him. He's really pretty, you think, for a guy. You never really thought about it before, but he is. He turns to look at you, smiles a little.

"Like, a song writer, you mean?"

"No," he says, and turns to look up at the sky again. "Like a writer writer. Like, novels or something, I dunno."

"JC, you're the worst storyteller I know. Your stories go on and on and they're totally pointless and even you can't pay attention to what you're saying so by the end, it's like. Who even knows what you were trying to say in the first place? You should just add. 'And then I killed a man,' to the end of all your stories, at least then they'd be kind of exciting."

"Writing's different though. It's different when you can see the words, like it's more real or something. I have this idea for a wizard story with like, elves and arranged marriage and star-crossed lovers and those horse-people things, those are really in right now. But maybe. Yeah, maybe you're right. But I could do something. I could act, maybe."

You stare up at the stars, frowning. You can't recognize any of the constellations except the Big Dipper, Lance showed you that one years ago when you were still all living in that house. Sometimes you'd catch him late at night, lying on one of the pool chairs in the backyard, staring up at the sky. You'd lay down in the grass next to his chair and he'd point them out to you—Cassiopeia and Orion and the dog ones. You couldn't really see them no matter how hard he pointed, but you liked listening to him talk about them. Lance, he's a good storyteller. He could be a writer, you think.

So you don't really know any of the other constellations, but sometimes you like to make them up instead. You see one that looks like a girl with a hula hoop. Girl With Hula Hoop takes up a really big part of the sky.

"You're in a band, JC," you say. "Why do you need to do something else? Plus, you suck at acting. Sorry dude, but it's the truth."

He laughs. "Yeah, I kinda do."

He doesn't say anything else after that, and after a while you both get too cold and decide to get back in the car, where there's a heater. JC changes out the Ani stuff for the soundtrack to Josie and the Pussycats, which he only made you and Chris watch about a hundred million times on the bus.

"This is the lamest advanced copy we've ever gotten," you told him.

"It's ironic," he said, "plus, I'll make popcorn" and that was enough for Chris, who would've watched it anyway because of his secret crush on Rosario Dawson and ended up complaining the entire movie that she doesn't show enough skin.

You know all the words, even the ones to 'Backdoor Lover,' which you really wanted to cover but couldn't get the rights to, and also, the record company wouldn't let you. But you know all the words and you sing loudly and off-key just to annoy JC. He just grins and glances at you out of the corner of his eye, says, "NSYNC means friendship."

"No," you say, leaning back in your seat and closing your eyes, smiling a little. "NSYNC means love."

"NSYNC is the new Backstreet Boys."

"I suddenly want some pink pumas." You frown. "No really, I want some pink pumas. Are there any stores still open this late?"


"It feels like the end," you say. And you're not sure why because that's a really dumb thing to say to your band, but it's just you guys in Lance's big, weirdly decorated house and it's New Year's Eve, it seems like the right time to say it. You still remember last year in a vague, drunk sort of way—JC singing here it comes, millennium in your ear and giggling, high out of his mind on shrooms. You and JC and Chris hid in Lance's bathtub, legs hanging over the edge, heels keeping time as you tried to beatbox even though you couldn't feel your mouth and they sang over you. Lance found you and made you get out. Lance was mean. Lance is mean, especially now, when he's taking away your booze.

"It is the end," he says lazily, taking a long pull from your bottle of. Of something. It's not clear, so maybe tequila, or whiskey. You haven't been able to taste anything in several hours, so you really can't say. That's what happens when you start drinking at noon.

"You guys are a bunch of girls," Chris says, lying back on the couch and staring up at the ceiling, hands folded over his belly. "Like a bunch of fucking girls on the last day of high school. You're the girls who have to get everyone to sign their yearbook even though you hate half of them and think you're way too cool for the rest."

"I'm not too cool for anyone," Joey says, and Chris snorts, "Yeah, we know."

"I never had a yearbook," you say, and sniff a little. Pathetic. Sometimes, you think, it really sucks that you never did the things normal kids do. Then again, you're a multi-millionaire at twenty, so really, it's pretty much worth it.

"Poor baby," Chris says. "We'll all sign the crew book for you on the last day of the tour. Mine will say, 'Dear douchebag, Have a great summer going solo and trying to distance yourself from us so you can get some street cred with your new BFFs. Keep in touch! Love, the coolest guy you will ever know, Chris.'"

"Fuck you," you say. "It won't. It's not gonna be like that, okay?"

"Leave him alone," Lance says, grabbing at Chris's foot where it's hanging off the end of the couch and squeezing. He's lying on the floor and you worry a bit about him choking on booze, but you figure it's Lance, and if anyone knows how to drink laying down, he does. "He's just doing his, you know. The thing. The thing that's right for his career. Don't be a bitter old man, man."

You're all silent for a while, a long time, you think, but you can't really tell because of the room sort of spinning slowly around you in a pretty nice way. The carpet is soft against your back, Lance has really nice carpet even if his house is weirdly decorated. It's fussy, you think, it's very fussy and not like Lance at all, and you can feel someone's fingers touching the inside of your wrist. When you look over, it's JC, staring intently as he tries to fit his thumb and middle finger in a circle around your wrist. It's tight but he manages it, tongue poking out from between his teeth, brow furrowed in concentration. He catches you watching and grins, shimmies closer and brushes his mouth across your cheek. His lips catch on yours in a soft kiss that tastes like whiskey, and then he's laughing and jumping up, kissing everyone in the room.

You crawl over to Chris and try to kiss him too, even though he called you a douchebag, but really, it's not the worst thing he's ever said and you think he maybe said it with affection, so. Chris resists and you have to wrestle him to the floor, straddle him and kneel on his arms so you can lay one on him. You slip him some tongue just because, because he was being a dick earlier and he deserves it, and then he's laughing and shrieking, "The kid is trying to rape me! Chris Kirkpatrick is a high-priced piece of ass you have to earn!"

At midnight you watch the ball drop on television, your head in Joey's lap, your legs draped over JC's. Aside from a nice half hour spent trashing Wade, which mostly involves Lance and Chris arguing about which insult best describes him until Lance finally says, "And he's a bad choreographer!"—aside from that, you don't really think about Britney at all. JC leans his head back against the couch cushion and smiles a little, squeezes your calf gently. You wonder what he's thinking about, if he misses Bobbie and if he's still listening to that depressing-as-shit Ani stuff, but you think he looks pretty happy right now. He's smiling, anyway.

"It's like that movie with that band," Joey says. "The one, you know. With the band and the girls, the groupies?"

"Sid and Nancy?" Chris says.

"Velvet Goldmine?" Lance bites his lip. "We should watch that right now."

"He just wants to see Ewan McGregor's dick," JC says in a low voice, so only you can hear. Then, loudly, "Um yes, we should watch that now. Screw the ball dropping thing."

"No no," Joey shakes his head. "The one, the band, and they're all singing that Elton John song on the bus. 'I am a golden god,' you know, that one."

"Dude, we are way more famous than that," you say. "They were all excited to get on the cover of Rolling Stone. But the soundtrack was good." You hum a little, hold me closer tiny dancer.

"Cat Stevens is on that soundtrack," JC says, nodding. "He's a really, I mean. There's a song writer. Like, totally simple sometimes, you know? But like, just. No one writes songs like that anymore."

"Except Ani Difranco," you say, and make a face.

On television, the ball is lighting up and dropping, the crowd in Times Square is going insane. You've been in New York for New Year's Eve but you've never been in the crowd like that, all bundled up against the cold with a thermos full of whiskey to keep you warm. Next year, maybe, you think, when you won't be so big. You're gonna be great on your own, doing your solo thing. You know you are, you have so many ideas already and you're itchy, almost, just ready to get started, but you don't want to go expecting shit and not have it pan out. And anyway, you know nothing you do will ever be as big as this. The group.

JC's massaging your leg now, just a bit, and it's nice, it's really nice. You sit up a little on the couch and scoot closer, rest your forehead on his shoulder.

"You know, you could be a writer if you wanted to," you tell him. "You could. You know, I think you could do, like, anything if you wanted it bad. But you're—C. You're really good at music so I think you should just. You know, do that."

"This isn't the end, Justin," he says, and he's still smiling. "It just, like you said. Sometimes it just feels like it."

"NSYNC means family," you say.

"NSYNC means seat belts," Chris says. "NSYNC means crash positions," and Lance punches him in the shoulder. Hard.


After that, you try to spend some time with Chris. He's your best friend so you try to spend time with him, but he's really into Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and Killer Instinct II, which he informs you were "the coolest games of 1996, you fuckwit" when you make the mistake of saying that the graphics aren't very good and the controls kind of suck. He buys arcade machines and has them set up in his pool house so it actually ends up being pretty fun, you can just wander in after a swim and it's like you're at the arcade. Like you're twelve and you're at the arcade with your friends, trying to earn enough tickets at skeet ball so you can trade them in for something cool, like a fluorescent, glow-in-the-dark slinky.

Well, it would be really cool except the games, they're just seriously violent. You used to like these games, you'd play Tekken or Halo or Golden Eye for hours at a time, but now you sort of miss the magical items and the puzzles and the little video stories from JC's games. There's no narrative here, you think as Chris finishes you off, does one of his tricky end moves that has his character ripping your spine from your body.

"Fatality, fucker!" Chris says, grinning, and you wonder how many times he has to decapitate or skewer or burn you alive via video game before he gets it out of his system. Apparently, quite a lot.

You're tempted to keep letting him win, over and over, because, yeah, you feel kind of guilty. You have offers and they all know you're gonna take one, you're not trying to make excuses about it. But you feel guilty because of Chris, and JC, but mostly Chris, because JC will be fine on his own. He's a lot stronger than he thinks, but Chris, he's only half as tough as he wants other people to think, and he knows it. You know it, too.

You don't let him win. Instead, you play as Johnny Cage, and when the announcer's voice growls Finish Him, you grin and do a Friendship instead. On the screen, Johnny Cage is handing Scorpion an autographed photo that says, "To my biggest fan!" on it. Next to you, Chris snorts and rolls his eyes, says, "Lame, dude. Lame," but he steps away from the machine and drags you back out to the pool instead, shoves you in in a totally typical and unsurprising move.

"What'd you fall in for?" he shouts.

"Bring me a beer, bitch!" you shout back, spitting out pool water, and he disappears behind the wet bar. When he comes back to find you sitting on the edge of the pool with your legs still kicking idly in the water, he hands the beer over from as far away as possible. It's the shitty beer that you like best, it's PBR and it probably kills Chris to spend money on something he considers to be such an inferior product, but he does it for you, so you know—things are okay.

"NSYNC means friendship," you tell him solemnly, and spit some beer at him.

"NSYNC means next time, I'm pulling a Babality on your ass." Chris glares and wipes at his cheek.

"Babe—what? No, don't tell me. I'm pretty sure I don't want to know."

"NSYNC means ignorance is bliss," Chris agrees, and pours his beer over your head.


You're back on the road again, on tour again. There are so many songs written about being on the road, but you think maybe most of them are Willie Nelson, who's like, a cool old guy and things, but it's not like he's Johnny Cash or James Taylor, you're not gonna buy all his albums and learn all his songs or anything. He's Texan, you think. Texans are so full of shit, except for Janis Joplin, maybe, but she was too strung out to be arrogant.

You only played Austin once or twice, you're pretty sure, because it's not a big city and they don't have a stadium there, but JC made you go to this restaurant with him, this little place just across the river with an outdoor beer garden and fried okra on the menu.

"This is where Janis Joplin started out," he said, eyes wide in his face, staring like he could drink it all in if he looked hard enough. "She used to play here before she was anything."

It wasn't a fancy place or anything special as far as you could tell, but it was okay and they listed macaroni and cheese as a vegetable, so that was pretty funny. "It's sort of sad," you say, "that we don't have, like, one of those places. I mean, unless you count Pleasure Island or something, which like, no."

"You mean, um, that we didn't start out somewhere playing in a club or whatever?" He frowned. "There were all those clubs in Germany."

"It's not the same, though," you said. "Like Prince, he had that place in Minneapolis and Janis had this place, but we. We don't have a place."

"I think, you know. I think we don't need a place," JC said, "because we weren't going it alone."

"Yeah," you said, and took a bite of food. The okra was really good, you remember.


You don't mean to eavesdrop. You're just trying to find a place to hide from Chris and Joey and the fucking huge-ass pot of glitter they stole from the makeup girl and JC and Lance are there, sitting against opposite walls of the corridor, their legs tangled together in the middle. You go back when you see them, turn the corner and press your cheek against the painted brick wall. Beige and sort of dimly lit, concrete floors and hallways that echo. You can't remember where you are, but you think the sign in the dressing room said Dallas.

"Are you scared?" JC says. "It's, I mean. This is a huge deal, you know?"

"Not scared, exactly." Lance's voice is low and calm, you've always liked listening to Lance talk. "Excited. Nervous. I really, I mean. This is the biggest thing I've ever done."

JC makes a sound then, a sad sound, you think, and Lance says quickly, "Not. Not like that, C. Big doesn't mean important. It's not the most important thing."

"Yeah," JC says, laughing a little. "Space. I mean, that's pretty big."

"It is. It's infinite. It's ever-expanding. That's, yeah. Pretty big."

"I miss you already. I'm gonna, you know. I'm the only one left. I never thought it would end up like this."

"Me neither," Lance says, and when you peek around the corner you can see they've shifted. Lance is sitting against JC's wall now, his head on JC's shoulder. JC's fingers are spread out on his own knees and as you watch, he clenches them tight and opens them up again, taps a soft, scratching beat against his thighs.

"It's not the end yet," Lance says. "Remember? It just feels like it."

JC nods. "And miles to go before we sleep."


"It's not about Bobbie, you know that, right?"

You're at a club and it's just you and Joey in your booth because everyone else is doing stuff, dancing or trying to pick up girls. You can see JC from here, but only because he's wearing a pink sequined top and he sort of sticks out. You can't tell what he's doing, though, just that someone's hand is on his back.

"Bobbie?" you say, sipping at your drink.

"He's the one who ended it, did you know that?" Joey gives you a look, like it's something really significant, like that should mean something to you.

"I—no. I didn't." You look out at the dance floor but you can't see JC anymore. "Does it matter? I mean, she was a total bitch. Does it count as breaking up with someone if they, like, drove you to it by being horrible?"

Joey grins a little and squeezes your shoulder. "He liked her being a bitch, dude. That's not why he broke up with her." He stands up quickly and tilts his head toward the dance floor. "I'm gonna go dance. You just. Just think about it."

You're not sure what you're supposed to be thinking about, really, but by the time you finish your drink, JC is back at your booth, grinning and sweating and saying, "Come on, Justin, this song is great, come on, let's dance," and it's not, you think. It's not a good song, it's some remix of an O-Town song you're pretty sure is about wet dreams, but JC's hand is hot and sweaty in yours and dancing sounds really good right then.


You and JC play so much Sims that you start to dream in Sim world. People speak in picture bubbles and you can always tell when someone is angry or sad or hungry or bored because their happiness levels shift to red. In the dreams you spend hours with JC doing every activity you can think of to keep him happy—you watch television and play video games, you let him use the virtual reality machine and the paint easel. You play pool and go out to clubs and introduce him to attractive Sim ladies with fun clothing, you make them dance together. Sim JC is listless and he's never, ever happy. Not even in the heart-shaped hot tub with hot Sim ladies tickling each other.

It's not that hard to figure out what the dreams mean. You're not stupid, and apparently your subconscious is pretty happy to point out the obvious. Not that Real JC seems particularly sad or anything, but he doesn't smile as much and you really only feel that thing now, that connected thing, when you're on stage with him.

You thought JC was sleeping. You thought he was safe in the back in his bunk, so you're pretty surprised when he leans down over the back of the couch, squinting a little at the television, and says, "Dude, are you making our Sims get freaky?"

You stare at the television, although maybe that's not the best option because the Justin Sim is taking the JC Sim on a date. They're in a car and the windows are all steamed up and, okay, so maybe there are little pink hearts floating out of the roof of the car. And maybe you keep telling your Sim to kiss JC's Sim. But.

"JC was sad," you say, pausing the game. A multitude of pink hearts covers the screen and you turn to look at JC, who's smiling sleepily. His hair is insane, sticking up everywhere, and JC's only making it worse trying to run his fingers through it. "I tried to get him to make out with Lance, but Lance kept walking away to watch TV." You turn back around because, yeah, it's pretty weird. It's a weird thing for JC to catch you doing, but the dreams are pretty obvious so you just stare at the television and try not to think of anything at all. You're just playing a game. It doesn't have to mean anything.

"Justin," JC says, and then he's tugging your head back and kissing you. Kissing you upside down, which should be pretty freaky but it's not, it's just. It's nice, and hot, and JC makes a pleased little noise when you open your mouth beneath his that goes straight to your dick. JC's hand slides down your neck, fingers rubbing at the base of your throat and you can feel his hair between your fingers, soft and silky and his tongue—his tongue slipping right inside your mouth and it's. Yeah, it's pretty much perfect and you wish you weren't on the bus because—

"It's about fucking time," Chris says from behind you, and JC pulls away, grins down at you. "Now that the mating ritual is finally over, can we play a real video game for a change?"


In Chicago, JC says he's taking you on a date. He has his mom drop you off because he doesn't want to attract attention and it feels like the seventh grade all over again, going on dates with someone's mom, even if it's just JC's mom and probably she doesn't know it's a date.

"No hats," JC says when you try to pull one on. "No one's gonna recognize you here, seriously."

You were expecting dinner someplace out of the way or a club no one's ever heard of or something. You weren't expecting to find yourself in the middle of a crowd of girls who look like they could beat the shit out of you if they wanted, girls wearing combat boots and rainbow pins and shirts that say, "Here comes little naked me" on the backs, because JC's idea of a date is, apparently, an Ani Difranco concert.

Still, it's nice not to get recognized. Like, at all.

The venue is pretty cool, too. You've never played here, it's pretty small, but there's a balcony strung up with fiesta lights and the booze is pretty cheap. JC slips in behind you and hands you a drink, something that tastes like fruit and tequila, which is pretty much perfect. He rests his chin on your shoulder and wraps an arm around your waist and when you tense up, he says, "Seriously, no one is going to recognize us." He takes sips from your drink and you can feel him smiling against your neck, little scrapes of teeth, just enough to make you shiver.

The opening band is, well. Scary is the only word you can really think to describe them. One of them plays the bongos and the other plays the electric fiddle. They sing songs about their vaginas and their nipples and their dildos. They have an entire song called 'Pussy Manifesto' that has the crowd screaming and trying to sing along and you think, no one was ever this nice to you when you were the opening act.

There's a long wait while the band sets up and JC wants to make out and you don't say no because the lights are really low and you've had just enough fruit-and-tequila drinks and it's JC, so you don't say no. You feel like you maybe wasted too much time not making out with JC for years and years, so you pretty much owe it to yourself.

And then Ani comes on and there's this rush from the crowd, this outward surge of energy when the first guitar chords strike out. It's weird, you think, being on this side of the stage and everyone's focused on this tiny woman up there, tiny woman with a million different guitars and when she sings, it's like. It's like when JC sings, you think. It's like she's really feeling it.

Afterward, standing in front of the Aragon while JC tries to hail a cab, you watch your breath puff out white in front of you and dance in place a little. The girls are leaving the theatre in packs, singing off-key and laughing, running to the El station just down the street so they can stand under the yellow heat lamps. You can see them from here, shivering and raising their faces to the heat and grinning. You're grinning too, and the music stays with you. It's the kind of music that really sticks and you're definitely going to use more guitar on your album, you think, and when JC finally gets a cab, this is what you tell him as you're sliding into the cramped back seat.

"Dude. I mean, I shouldn't have doubted you, man. I'm sorry, but that wasn't depressing at all."

JC grins and squeezes your hand. "NSYNC means never having to say you're sorry."

"NSYNC means you deserve a blowjob right now."

"There will be no acts of a sexual nature in my cab!" the cabbie shouts.

"Dude, I will give you a thousand dollars to pretend it's not happening," you say. He turns up the radio, really loud, some weird warbley jazz thing that turns into the Musak version of some Color Me Badd song. JC looks like he wants to say something but you've already got his pants open and you lean down, fit your mouth over the head of his dick and it's, yeah, it's pretty perfect. He moans instead, the sound lost in the twiddly instrumentals of 'All 4 Love,' and you haven't done this very many times before but it's really becoming one of your favorite things ever, the feel of his dick in your mouth, the stutter and twitch of his hips beneath your hands when you suck hard and flick your tongue just right, the way he loses it completely when you press inside him with the tip of one spit-slick finger.

The way he comes immediately when you press in harder, a quick, hard slide all the way in. It's, yeah, you think as you wipe your mouth with the back of your hand and lean forward to lick at his slack lips, it's pretty much perfect.

You pay the cab driver and give him an extra hundred on top of everything else because, fuck it, you're rich and you just blew JC in his workplace, he probably deserves it.

"Come on," JC says, pulling you quickly through the parking garage entrance to the VIP elevator, pushing you inside. He kisses you against the mirrored back wall and he's maybe hard again already. He's definitely oversexed, you think, not that you're complaining.

"What's your hurry?" you say, breathing hard, watching the numbers light up way too slowly as the elevator rises.

"NSYNC means I'm fucking you in the shower."

"Ah. Um, good point."


You wake up from a nap one afternoon on the bus to find Chris and JC watching CNN and whispering back and forth, their eyes trained on Anderson Cooper in a flack vest, staring pensively across a barren landscape. Afghanistan, you think, or maybe Oklahoma.

"He thinks it's only a matter of time before we invade Iraq," JC says, "you can see it in his eyes."

"They're gonna expand the Patriot Act even more, just wait. You know they can just fucking tap your phone if they want? They can listen in on any conversation and then if they decide they want to hold you indefinitely without a trial, they have you declared an enemy combatant and move you to Gitmo."

"NSYNC means conscientious objecting," JC says.

"NSYNC means thank god I'm too fucking old to get drafted," Chris says.

"NSYNC means Anderson Cooper is really hot," you add, sliding down on the couch between them.

JC grins and Chris just rolls his eyes and mutters something that sounds like, "Kids these days, only caring about themselves."

JC rubs his palm over your head, says, "Yeah, that's pretty much the point."


The last day of the tour, the last show, is really hard. Lance is leaving for Russia almost immediately, not tomorrow because you're recording a thing for Disney tomorrow, but really soon and it's sort of scary how much you're going to miss him. And Joey has plans too, he wants to do more movies and maybe go for Broadway. Chris is taking a trip.

"I bought an RV," he says in the Quiet Room before the show, squeezing a red-fringed squishy ball, tossing it from one hand to the other until he gives up and throws it at JC's head. JC just lets it hit him, picks it up and starts running his fingers through the fringe.

"We've been on tour for almost a year, man," Joey says. "Don't you want to take a break?"

"Touring isn't the same as a road trip," Chris says. "I wanna stop and see, like, all the useless crap we never get to see. The biggest ball of twine and the highest point in Arkansas."

"I'm not doing anything," JC says, but he sounds pretty happy about it. He smiles. "Except sleep, maybe. I'm gonna sleep for like, the first week. And eat. Anything I feel like eating, I'm just gonna do it. If I just wanna eat cake for a month, that's what I'll do."

"You're gonna end up with scurvy, dude," Chris says, grinning.

"I know. I can't wait."

You don't say anything. You've talked about it, you and JC. About what happens when the tour ends and you're not together all the time. What happens when you leave for Virginia Beach in a week to start working on your album. Your solo project. You have so many ideas and you're excited, you're very excited and inspired and you can't wait, but you don't want to hurt anyone. You don't want to hurt JC.

"It's not like that, J," JC said the night before. A hotel even though you both have houses in Orlando, but you stayed in the hotel and you fucked three times, twice in the bed and once in the shower, holding onto the towel bar while JC pressed into you, deep and slow, his teeth scraping along the back of your neck. In bed again, clean and warm with JC pressed up behind you, you maybe freaked out a little and that's when he said it.

"It's not like. Like what?"

His arms tightened around you. "It's not like this is the end. We're both adults here, you know, and it's not like this is the end, fade-to-black part of the movie, okay? You're gonna go do your thing, and it'll be great and I'll be so fucking proud of you because I just know, it's gonna be great. And Lance is doing his thing, and the other guys too, and I think, you know. Maybe I'll find something but I'm not that concerned about it. And there will be other people." You tensed up and started to say something, but he kissed the back of your neck and made shushing noises, so you quieted down. "There will be other people," he said again, firmly, "for both of us. And maybe we'll love them and maybe they'll just be for fun, but we'll always sort of know, even if we forget for a while—we'll always sort of know that in the end, it'll be us again. And then it won't be an end at all, 'cause it'll be the beginning."

"You should. That should be a song, C," you said, and he smiled into your neck, said, "Well, I practiced."

But that was last night and this is now, and the thought of going out on stage makes you want to hurl because it's the last time. It's maybe not the last time for forever, but it's the last time for now, and it definitely feels like the end.

"It's not the end," Lance says, smiling at you, "so stop looking like that, Justin, and give me a fucking hug."

You hug all of them. Long, warm hugs with whispered advice and warnings and everything else in your ears, and you don't cry but your throat feels a little tight. And after the show is done and Joey has to go back onstage and get JC, after you kiss him in front of the band and crew and everyone and taste salt and something sweet, too, something that just tastes like JC to you; after you've apologized so many times you can't even count them—after all that, JC just looks at you and smiles, says, "NSYNC means never having to say you're sorry."

"NSYNC means love," you say, and kiss him again, just because.

"NSYNC means drunken orgy at the after party!" Chris says, and smacks your ass with his towel before throwing it in Lance's face. Lance throws it on the wardrobe rack with a grimace.

"NSYNC means hygiene, you disgusting fuck," he says. "But a drunken orgy sounds pretty fantastic, too."


It's not until a few weeks later when you finally get around to unpacking in your place in Virginia Beach that you find it, stuffed into the duffel of clean clothes you never bothered to unpack from the bus: a copy of the crew book from the tour, signed by everyone. The guys, the band, security, and most of the traveling crew, too. Chris's note is the first one you see, written in silver on the inside cover:

Dear douchebag,
Have a great summer going solo and trying to distance yourself from us so you can get some street cred with your new BFFs. Keep in touch!
Love, the coolest guy you will ever know,,br /> Chris
PS- Seriously, I expect you to call at least once a week. And I really do love you, you little asshole.

Chris made you a yearbook. It's one of the nicest presents you've ever gotten, and you tell yourself that you need to put a lot of thought into his birthday present this year because he's really, he's a good friend. The best.

Reading through all the notes people wrote makes you feel really weird, happy and sad at the same time, like you're nostalgic for something that just happened. You haven't had time to process it yet so it's too soon to feel nostalgic but it feels more like the end than ever. You're just starting something, but it definitely feels like an ending, and then you find JC's note.

Dear Justin—
It's hard to know what to say to you that I haven't already. That I could really express in words. You're one of the best people I know and I love you. That's not about to change, maybe not ever, so probably you should get used to hearing it. I love you.
NSYNC means friendship. NSYNC means family and support and love. NSYNC means forever. And forever means it's never the end.
So until the beginning,

When you put the book away finally, your eyes feel hot and you have to swallow around the tightness in your throat, but you're smiling, too. You're at the beginning of something, something big, but it's just the first in a series of beginnings you can see lined up in front of you. And maybe it'll just be a couple months, or maybe your album will blow up and it'll be years and years, but you know that JC's right because you can't imagine the future without him standing there at the end.


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