nsync in black and white

Disclaimer: this is fiction. We made it up.


by Topaz, written for megan

Bridge Day dawned clear and cold. Justin eased himself out of bed in the darkness and chill, moving carefully to keep from waking JC, and staggered into the bathroom. Mornings were never going to be his friend, but if he got a little time on his own, it was easier to deal. Pre-dawn wake-up calls hadn't ever entered into his life-planning process, but shit happened sometimes and the rest of it was pretty damn cool, so, y'know. Tradeoffs.

JC used to sweeten the deal with early morning blow-jobs--and, God, if there was a better reward for getting his ass out of bed, Justin had yet to even dream it--but that hadn't happened in a long, long time, even before the most recent round of bickering had started, if Justin was being honest.

Today seemed like a good day for that--being honest.

He showered quickly, reminding himself that running water was a good thing. He wouldn't have traded those first few summers when they all crashed in tents at the basecamp but a hot shower in the morning made up for a lot.

The smell of coffee filtered into the bathroom, but thanks to whoever had first stuck a timer on a coffeemaker--and Justin hoped they'd made a lot of money from that, because it was pretty much the best idea ever--that didn't necessarily mean JC was out of bed. He'd be awake though, because that was his version of an alarm; it would be enough for Justin to explain. Or try to, at least.

Justin wrapped a towel around his waist and took a deep breath before he opened the door, but the cabin was empty, a note on the table in JC's quick scrawl saying he was going in early to help Johnny and Lance.

Justin held the piece of paper for a long time before he turned around to get dressed. Maybe it was easier this way. He could pack the Jeep and have everything ready before the rest of what was always a crazy day started. He and JC could talk later.


It was still a thrill to turn into the clearing at the stone and wooden River Runners sign and see the timberframe lodge that housed the offices and kitchens. After so many years of tripping over each other as they worked out of a cramped Airstream trailer, they still didn't know what to do with an actual reception area and changing rooms and proper storage space for the kayaks and rafts and rental wetsuits.

The gravel lot was deserted; only the familiar staff cars parked along the edges. Good smells spilled out of the kitchen: bacon and eggs and cinnamon mixed in with the food Phyllis was finishing off for the lunch coolers. Justin could probably sweet-talk her into letting him take a plate into the morning briefing. The coffeemaker on the office side was gurgling along with the rich, super-strong coffee that meant Johnny was around somewhere, taking care of paperwork or something. Justin could hear the dogs barking, so Lance had managed to beat him in as well. He should go and find JC, but there probably wasn't enough time before the day actually started. He told himself that anyway as he helped himself to some of Johnny's finest and headed out to the back deck. Chris was already there, giant West Virginia is for Cousins mug in hand. Justin joined him at the rail and took a deep breath of the crisp autumn air.

The gorge dropped off in front of them, 600 feet of red and yellow and orange leaves down to the silvery thread of the New River. Justin smiled as the familiar whisper of anticipation sparked through his blood.

"Still the best view on the ridge," he told Chris.

"Still not sure it was worth having to hand-clear all the fucking trees to get to it," Chris answered.

"Jesus Christ," Trace said, as he walked past the open door. "Do you think you guys could ever start a morning without saying that?"


It might have been Bridge Day, but Lance, being a control freak on top of an adrenaline junkie--and dude, if a bunch of whitewater guides were calling you an adrenaline junkie, that meant something--wasn't about to miss running the morning briefing. It was a big day, like always, which made a nice end to the season, but it meant that everyone was going flat-out to accommodate all the bookings. Lance had Chris and Justin and JC and Kelly and Tony--basically, everyone who had a guide rating, regardless of whether they'd been out the day before or not--in one of the big 10-man rafts, and both Joey and Steve working video and pictures, with Tyler and Trace driving the equipment vans and taking the buses down to the put-in.

"Yes, Chris, I know," Lance said, not even having to look up from his clipboard to know Chris had his mouth open to start bitching. "You were driving when they were still in diapers. It's just that every time we let you behind the wheel with paying customers, there's this really amazing number of comment cards that say how the bus trip down the gorge was scarier than going over Sweetwater Falls."

"Pansies," Chris muttered.

"Paying customers," Lance repeated, almost before Chris finished and they ended the meeting on a laugh.


The rest of the day went along right on schedule. Justin pulled the short straw, so he got to brace himself on the metal pole behind the driver's seat on the bright yellow school bus--why have your own fleet and repaint them, Chris had demanded all those years ago, and JC, of all people, had agreed; the rest of them had shrugged and given in--and give the don't-fall-out-of-the-raft-but-if-you-do-follow-the-bubbles-keep-your-feet-downstream-never-ever-take-your-helmets-off speech to the group. Johnny had run them all through a formal safety lecture, but it never hurt to repeat the basics.

The put-in at Stone Cliff was a zoo--every outfit ran the New on Bridge Day and people booked a year in advance--but they had a ton of repeat customers who could fill in the newbies quickly enough not to get caught up in it. With Trace helping, all six of the rafts with the stylized RR logo were launched and out in front of the crowd, following Joey and Steve in the duckies. Once they cleared Rudy's and were paddling in the slower currents, they took a vote and agreed to skip Jump Rock to add an extra cushion between them and the mob scene. Chris muttered direly about it for a couple of minutes, but it was mostly for show, because nothing pissed him off like having to line up and wait while ten rafts hit a rapid in front of him.

Lunch was good, too. Damn good. They were out in front far enough to have their pick of places to beach; Phyllis and Big Joe had out-done themselves with the food. Just what they'd sent for lunch barely fit on makeshift table that Justin's raft made after they flipped it over. Even better, Phyllis had sent at least one of everybody's favorites, so it was like the greatest hits of Big Joe's River Cafe. Once everybody'd had a go at the food, Steve got the cameras out, showing off the footage and stills he and Joe had gotten so far. Justin could almost see the sales being made on the spot.

It was pretty fucking perfect, the river quiet and the sun warm, right up until Justin remembered the Jeep, packed and waiting for him back at basecamp. He walked over to where JC was sitting with Joey, their backs against a moss-covered boulder, and said, "JC, hey, I, uh, need to talk to you. Tonight."

JC looked up at him, his eyes still the same fucking blue that had mesmerized Justin for half his life, and nodded. Joey kept quiet, but Justin knew he wasn't missing any of the undercurrents. Hell, Justin had talked to Joey a month ago, because Joe and JC, they went back even further than Justin did, and they were friends, like Justin and Chris were. It hadn't helped; Joey didn't have any special words of wisdom, but Justin had had to try.

"Okay," Justin said, but his voice didn't come out right, so he wasn't sure if JC heard, especially not with Chris yelling that it was time to get back out on the river and stirring everybody up. It turned out to be nothing but a cover for wanting to get the hell away from Kelly, who was threatening to wring his scrawny neck for dumping a bucket of ice water from one of the coolers down her back, but it really was time to be moving. They didn't want to miss the show at the bridge, for sure.

Tony helped Justin get his raft flipped back over while Steve and Joey held Chris down and Kelly administered her retribution, to the amusement of everyone. Even JC smiled and that wasn't something Justin had seen much of this season. It wasn't the big happy grin that could light up half the world, but anything was better than the serious, somber JC Justin had been living with lately.

They hit the lower rapids in good form, really good form, but Justin knew he wasn't the only guide breathing easier when everybody came through Double Z without a hitch. After that, it was clean and quick down to Fayette Station and if they weren't the first group to beach and get settled, they were way early enough to get a good view of the bridge, so nobody really cared. Well, Chris said something about pansy-ass pretty boys who had to slow everyone down to pose for the photographers, but that they would have had to have radioed out for a doctor if he hadn't said something.

Justin grinned as his raft scraped up onto the bank, too pebbled to be a beach, but otherwise perfect. Joey had his video camera out, so Justin stopped to point up to the bridge, closed to traffic and jammed with walkers on this day, and say, "Seriously, that's a fucking awesome view."

"Language, ass," Joey said. "Don't make me have to edit this mother any more than I have to." He was laughing though, and Steve yelled over to tell him not to lose the clip, that Babyface cursing always made such a nice addition to the blooper reel for the Christmas party. Justin flipped him off--they got that on tape, too--and went to help haul the coolers with the afternoon snacks out of the other rafts.

Chris was on the radio, yelling so Johnny had a prayer of hearing him over the noise of the crowd up on the bridge, but finally tossed handset over to Justin. "The first team's about to hit the bridge."

Justin automatically squinted up at the flags on the railing, marking the spot being held clear for the BASE jumpers. "Lance going through with it again?"

"Suited up and ready to go," Chris said. "Fucking moron."

"Yeah," Justin said. "But that's why we love him."

Chris snorted. "I'm not watching; you know that, right?"

"It's cool, man," Justin answered. "We'll tell you when he's down."

Chris stalked off, muttering under his breath and Justin saw JC go over to hang out with him. It was one thing to watch somebody you didn't know jump off a perfectly good bridge almost 900 feet in the air; it was something else when it was one of your best friends and you had a thing about heights, too.

The banks along both sides of the river were getting crowded now, as more and more rafts piled in, and the buzz of excitement built steadily, especially once the first team of jumpers showed up. Justin had barely gotten himself settled with some sweet tea and an enormous sandwich concocted of everything left over from lunch when the first guy came over the railing.

He stood, poised above the river long enough to get the crowd yelling--not only crazy, but crazy with a sense of timing; Justin had to admire that--and then fell forward into a picture-perfect flip that ended with his parachute popping out and a pretty landing that was going to make every newscast in the state.

One after another, the first group jumped, dove, and, in one case, did a tandem flip off the platform to the cheers of the crowds both on the bridge and along the river. They had a couple hit the river itself, but no one had gotten hung up in the trees so far. Justin was about to go see what was left for dessert when Johnny's voice crackled out of the radio on his hip.

"Lance is next up." Justin whooped and pointed up to where a figure in a blue jumpsuit was halfway over the railing. Chris looked up, then groaned and dropped his head, and JC put a hand on one shoulder. Everybody sitting around them, whether they'd come downriver with River Rafters or not, put up a huge cheer.

Lance didn't fool around, just got out on the edge, gave a thumbs-up back to the group on the bridge and stepped off. Justin found himself holding his breath as Lance fell, counting out the seconds, sure that it was taking longer this year than last, until the parachute--custom-made, with the familiar green and gray RR--opened and everyone yelled louder.

"Jesus, what a fucking idiot," Joey said, his voice shaking even if his hands were rock-solid on the camera. Steve was over closer to the river, shooting from a different angle and Justin knew they'd have video up on the website before midnight.

He made a mental note to check it out as soon as he found some place where he could get online.


In the end, Justin sat out on the hood of the Jeep and waited for JC to find him. He'd taken care of all the practical stuff with Lance and Johnny; talked to Chris and Joey and Trace; given Phyllis a hug and let her fuss over him. It was pretty much the definition of the whole issue that he'd talked to everyone but JC, he thought.

It was cold out, cold enough that he went and found a hoodie, the same one he'd had that night in March, when he'd sat on the steps of the office after everyone had finally gone home, waiting for JC then, too.

Except this time, when JC walked up to him, Justin knew there wasn't anything left to say. He'd tried over and over, that first night and all through the spring and summer. JC had tried, too, but they might as well have been speaking Klingon for all the sense they made of each other.

JC had to have seen the Jeep earlier; Justin hadn't hidden it or the fact that most of his stuff was packed in it. He stood in front of Justin, his arms wrapped tight around himself, the way that made Justin want to crowd close. Whatever he was leaving, it wasn't them, but he didn't know what had happened to that.

"I'm coming back," Justin said, finally.

"Okay," JC answered, nodding, but he didn't believe Justin, that much was obvious. It was fair, too, Justin thought. He wasn't sure if he believed himself, but he'd keep saying it until it wasn't true.

It was too dark to really see anything, but that was probably better anyway. If they'd done this in the day, Justin would have been looking for things he was sure weren't there anymore.

Justin wondered if he should tell JC that he'd miss him, if he should tell him that he wasn't letting himself think about what he was doing or where he was going, because he couldn't, because JC had been there for almost every single important thing in Justin's life and now, when this felt more important than anything ever had, Justin was doing it alone.

He thought about saying all that, but he couldn't really figure out the words, so he slid off the hood and let his boots settle on the rocky ground.

"J--" JC started, and Justin stilled, a tiny spark of hope still glowing, but then JC only shrugged and nodded and stepped back so Justin could get past him to the door.

"I'm coming back," Justin repeated. He didn't look back as he opened the door and put the key in the ignition. The Jeep started up smooth and strong; Justin couldn't help remembering the first time he test-drove it, after years of driving whatever he could keep running, and of course, JC had been right there. But that had been right after they'd stopped pretending they were only friends and were barely ever two feet away from each other.

Stop, Justin told himself, stepping on the clutch and shifting into reverse with probably more force than the car deserved. He backed out, swinging around in a wide arc and then practically stood on the brake as he caught a flash of movement in the dark, right on the edge of his vision.

"Christ, C," he snarled, as soon as he could get the window down. "Way to give a guy a heart--"

"Why are you leaving?" JC interrupted and Justin's mouth snapped shut. JC pushed the hood of his jacket off his head and Justin could finally see his eyes in the dim dashboard lights.

"Because I'm not making things better staying," Justin finally answered.

"You're not making things worse," JC said, quietly.

Justin breathed in, slowly, deliberately, and then out, just as deliberately. "Yeah, I am," he said, swallowing hard at how much it hurt to admit that. "I'm not what you need right now."

"You're always what I need," JC said, and they stared at each other for long minutes before Justin took his hand off the steering wheel and flipped the locks. His heart was pounding so hard he thought it might explode and he didn't realize he was holding his breath until JC crossed in front of the headlights and opened the passenger side door.

He climbed in, buckling his seatbelt and closing the door behind him, and Justin took another slow, deliberate breath and pulled out onto the road.

They drove for almost thirty minutes, with only the heater and the occasional click of the turn signal breaking the silence, before JC said, "So, okay, we're going, but, uh, where?"

"Dunno," Justin mumbled, watching JC out of the corner of his eye before clearing his throat and trying again. "I, uh, don't actually know. I hadn't, y'know, gotten that far."

JC was trying to keep a straight face, but it looked like it might hurt him, so Justin smiled sheepishly and JC lost it. "Cool, dude. I'll just call Johnny and tell him I'm running away with you."

"Works for me," Justin answered and JC laughed harder.


"It wasn't you," JC said an hour later as the headlights picked up the twists and turns of the road in front of them.

"It kinda was," Justin answered. "I said some stupid stuff over the Fourth." He'd acted like an ass was what had happened, but it had been months by that point and even though he knew better than to trust anything Chris called firecracker punch, he'd gotten drunk and really, seriously lost control of his mouth. Not that JC hadn't gotten right back up into his face, but they'd spent a month apologizing to each other for the whole thing when they could have been trying to deal with what was really wrong.

"Well, yeah," JC answered. "But I'd rather have that than have you somewhere else."

"They both suck," Justin said, and it got quiet again. He rubbed his eyes and started thinking about where they could stop for the night. Driving two-lane mountain roads in the dark after spending all day out on the river wasn't one of his brighter ideas.

"It took us hours to get her out," JC said into the darkness, his voice low, stripped of all the layers that made him JC in Justin's head.

"You're lucky you didn't get hung up in that undercut with her," Justin answered, just as quietly. JC might not have ever said anything about that day in March, but Tony had been there with him; Justin had heard everything that had happened. "I know you; I know you couldn't leave her to wash free whenever, but…."

Justin swallowed hard. JC was the guy, the one who'd taught Justin everything there was to know about river rescues and Justin knew that he knew how bad those rocks were at Double Z. They were deceptive--innocent-looking but undercut from centuries of wear from the current and virtually impossible to work free of once you got pinned. If the current was running high--like it had been in March, after a month of heavy rains--and the overhang was under water…it only took a couple of minutes to drown.

"Yeah," JC whispered.

The darkened car was intimate, unthreatening somehow. It made it easier to talk, easier for Justin to say, "It--when Tony told me how long you were under, I…it scared me."

"I couldn't not try. It's not like there was anything I could do that really mattered."

"Man, it wasn't your fault. You weren't even on the river that day."

Justin and Chris had been the only ones from River Runners out with customers that day; when the call had come in from the state troopers, it had been Tony and JC who'd taken it. While JC had been working to pull a dead girl, a guide, someone they'd both known, if only casually, away from the rocks, Justin had been downriver, goofing off with Chris, playing stupid games with their group. While JC had been carrying her body the rest of the way down the river, Justin had been cracking jokes and drinking a beer on the bus up out of the gorge.

"It could have been Chris or Joe or any one of us." JC laid his head back against the seat. "That's what I kept thinking, when we got there--at least it wasn't one of us, at least it wasn't you."

Justin didn't have an answer for that, but JC didn't seem to want one.


A lot of the smaller, mom-and-pop motels along the state routes were closed for the season, so Justin finally angled over toward the interstate and found a Motel 66 with a vacancy. And, maybe just as importantly, a Wal-Mart next to it, so JC could get some underwear and a toothbrush. He didn't have any problems wearing Justin's cargos and t-shirts, but the guy was a freak about underwear.

The room was nothing special, but the heater warmed it up quickly and the sheets didn't feel like sandpaper and that was basically all Justin wanted. He didn't know why it suddenly felt strange to crawl into bed next to JC--whatever else stupid they'd done to each other, they had mostly still been sleeping together.

Sleeping, Justin thought as JC curled around him. That was probably the key word, because nothing much else had been happening, especially not after he'd blown up at JC on the back deck of Chris's house during the Fourth of July party.

JC's hand settled on Justin's hip, but he was moving tentatively and Justin suddenly had no patience with the distance--literal and figurative--between them. He covered JC's hand with his own and consciously relaxed back into him.

JC slid his hand down, skimming lightly over Justin's skin, tracing circles around his navel and teasing gently at the elastic at Justin's waist.

"J?" he whispered, his breath warm on the curve of Justin's neck into his shoulder, and when Justin answered, "Yeah. God, C, yes," he bit lightly at the same spot. Justin reached back and dragged at JC's hip, pulling him in closer, tigher.

JC's hand moved up his chest, no rush, no hurry, and JC knew every single thing Justin liked. He brushed the tips of his fingers over Justin's nipples, right, then left, and back to the right, soft, almost non-existent touches that left Justin breathless and wanting. Again and again--Justin had forgotten how good JC was at making him crazy--and again, but never enough, until Justin growled and dug his hand into where he'd been stroking JC's thigh. JC laughed, a soft chuff of air on Justin's neck, and finally quit teasing, pinching and twisting and tugging sharply enough that that Justin was keening high in the back of his throat.

He rolled onto his belly when JC nudged him that way, spreading his legs and rocking down into the mattress, once, twice, before JC was urging his hips up, stripping down his underwear and rubbing up against him, and Justin knew everything that JC liked, too. He braced himself on one elbow and slid two fingers into his mouth, licking and sucking them, wetting them as quickly as he could before he reached back and pushed them hard and deep into himself.

"Christ, Justin," JC choked out and Justin smiled as he fucked himself open. He stroked in and out deeply, rocking back to take as much as he could, hissing at the stretch and burn, lifting his ass so JC could see everything.

JC lasted longer than Justin thought he would, but it wasn't very long at all before his hands were hard on Justin's hips and his thighs were between Justin's, forcing them wider apart, spreading him open. Justin knew he could keep going; JC would let him tease the both of them more, but, God, it had been so long. He could hardly think for how much he wanted JC.

"Now," he gasped, letting his fingers slide free and arching back up into JC. "Now, c'mon, C, now." JC answered wordlessly, pushing slow and steady inside Justin, just a little bit faster than Justin could adjust, so that the burn sparked and danced along his nerves and he had to make himself stay still and take it.

"So good, baby," JC crooned, his voice slurred and shaking. "So good, so tight; you like it when it hurts, don't you?"

Justin moaned and rocked back and they found their rhythm together, rough and deep and right, like they hadn't been in too long. JC wouldn't let Justin touch himself, knocking his hand away and holding it twisted up behind his back, but he had the angle right and he never stopped moving, not until Justin put his face into the pillow and wailed. JC slammed into him once last time, coming with a choked-back cry, reaching around to let Justin push into his fist and get himself off with three choppy, clumsy thrusts.

JC was more or less useless after sex; Justin had figured that out pretty early on. Not that Justin minded stretching out and drifting off to sleep, but getting cleaned up, even a little, made the morning a much better place to be, so he dragged himself off the bed and staggered into the bathroom. The bed itself was a wreck, so he poked and prodded JC into the second one, and then let himself be dragged down, too.

He couldn't get to sleep though, and he knew JC was floating along, too, not quite awake, but not out either. Finally, he had to move and JC shifted with him. They ended up curled on their sides, facing each other in the dark. Justin reached out and traced over JC's hip with his thumb.

"No tickling," JC murmured.

"'k," Justin promised. The shower dripped a little, and the hotel was close enough to the exit to hear the occasional semi downshifting as it came down the ramp. JC breathed steadily next to him. "What do you want to do?" Justin asked. "Tomorrow, I mean."

"Don't care," JC said. "Stay here, drive, go home. Whatever." He reached down and twisted his fingers into Justin's. "Meant what I said back at basecamp. It's not worse with you, never."

"Okay," Justin said, and fell asleep with JC's skin under and around his own.


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