nsync in black and white

Disclaimer: this is fiction. We made it up.

(I'm Not) Home For Christmas

by Lucy, for Juli

One: Go With The Flow

After five minutes of yelling at the Greyhound official, Justin felt a little better. Not because the Greyhound official could do a damn thing about it—he couldn't—but because at least he'd managed to get rid of some of the bubbling rage. Even that wasn't a whole lot of help, though: he was still stuck in Chicago, in the freezing cold and the streaming snow, at twelve forty-five in the morning on the day before Christmas Eve, and the last bus to Pittsburgh was gone, baby, gone.


He was trying to call Chris for the third time when he noticed the other guy. They were the last people in the bus terminal by now—just the two of them and the last of the Greyhound people—and at first he was just a figure over on the other side of the waiting area, hugging himself again the cold and peering at the bus timetable posted up on the wall. Long, dark coat, heavy boots, scarf wrapped around his neck, a bulging green holdall by his feet. A fellow traveller, then: Justin figured he could safely be ignored.

Chris's line rang a fifth time and went over to voicemail yet again. Justin flipped his phone closed, pocketed it, and sighed.

Bus terminals were depressing places at night. Well, okay; they were depressing places at the best of times, but in the middle of the night and the depths of winter, places like this were at their worst. The neon lights in the waiting area were sickly and anaemic, and outside, heavy snow was billowing through the dark sky; Justin felt a little trapped. Or maybe a lot trapped: he didn't think he had enough money for a motel room tonight, so he guessed he was hanging around the terminal until morning.

He kicked his bag along the floor until he reached a row of seats, sank into one, and pulled his wallet out of his coat pocket. As he flipped through the bills in his wallet, he was aware of the other guy moving from the timetable to the vending machine, dragging his holdall behind him.

Fifty-five bucks. And... three forty-six in change. Great; there was no way fifty-eight dollars was getting him into a motel. Or at least, not any motel that was worth paying any money for at all. He'd rather sleep on the street than in a forty-dollar-a-night roach pit, and in any case, he wasn't likely to find anything he could afford within striking distance of the bus terminal.

So, he guessed he was here 'til morning.

Justin sighed again, leaning back in his chair as he stuffed his wallet back into the pocket it had come from, staring up at the ceiling with its flickering lights. Seven hours until the morning bus. He wondered if there was somewhere nearby where he could pick up a magazine.

He was just reaching for his other pocket—the one with the music player in—when a voice said, "Hey there."

Justin turned his head and looked up. It was the same guy he'd seen at the timetable before: facing him now, standing in the middle of the waiting area, still with that huge bag at his feet. He wasn't sure for a second how to brush the guy off without being right-out rude, and he settled for a brief nod before turning his attention back to his music player. The headphone wires had gotten all tangled up in his pocket.

The guy's bag made a swishing noise as he pushed it across the floor towards Justin. Justin glanced up reflexively when the guy sat down a couple of seats away, just briefly, his hands still working on the headphones. The guy said, "How you doing?"

"Just great," Justin said before he could bite back the sarcasm.

There was a moment of silence. Then the guy said, "You missed your bus too, huh?" without even a hint that he'd taken offence.

Justin's hands fell still, and he blinked and looked up again. The guy had longish brown hair framing a face that was handsome, verging on pretty maybe, high cheekbones, strong jaw, blue eyes. "Yeah," Justin said.

"Where you headed?"

Well, that probably wasn't classified information. "Pittsburgh."

"Huh." The guy smiled vaguely. "I'm going to DC. That the same bus, isn't it?"

Justin thought it was—when he'd checked the timetable, all his buses had had Washington as their final destination. He nodded.

"Well, I'm JC," the guy said. He extended his hand. Justin looked at it, hoping he'd drop it after a second, but JC's hand stayed there, hovering in mid-air until Justin gave up, disentangled his fingers from the headphones, and took it.

"Justin," Justin said.

JC's smile became a grin, and he shook Justin's hand with exaggerated enthusiasm. "Pleased to meet you."

"You too," Justin said, rehearsed politeness taking over, and then his phone vibrated in his pocket. "Excuse me," he said, and let go of JC's hand to answer the phone.

It was Chris. "I'm not your mommy, kid, you don't need to call me every time you take a piss. Okay? It's two in the morning around here."

"Hey." Thankfully, Justin had enough experience with Chris not to take the bait and start defending himself. It was only a ploy to get him laughing, and Justin didn't feel so much like laughing right now. "There's ice on the freeway. I missed my bus."

"Oh," Chris said, "fuck. When's the next one?"


"Double fuck. You have money for a hotel, right?"

"I'll be fine," Justin said carefully.

That would have fooled his mother—maybe—but not Chris. "That's a no, huh?" There was a silence; Justin could hear Chris running through the options in his head, one after another. He opened his mouth and almost managed to interrupt before Chris said, "Want me to come get you?"

"No, man," Justin said. "Thanks, but I don't think you'd be here before the bus."

"Probably not," Chris said. He let out a little frustrated sigh. "I don't even know anyone around there, or I'd find someone you could crash with."

"It's okay, Chris."

"Put the hotel on your card, okay, and I'll cover it when you get here," Chris said after another quiet moment.

"All my cards are maxed," Justin said softly. When Chris didn't answer, he went on: "It's one night, I'll be okay."

"Don't freeze to death," Chris said sternly. "And call me when you get on the bus."

Justin smiled into the phone. "You're not my mommy, Chris."

"Ha." There was no humour in that sound. "I'm serious."

"I know. I'll call you in the morning."


Justin took a deep breath and said, "Bye, Chris."


He hung up, and the cold bus terminal seemed just a little bit colder after that. He put his phone back in his pocket and turned to JC. JC said, "Friend of yours?"

"The guy I'm staying with in Pittsburgh," Justin said.


They were quiet after that, and Justin went back to untangling his headphones. He'd finally managed to get them fixed when JC said, "So, I guess you're here overnight?"

"Uh huh," Justin said.

"Yeah. Me too."

Justin nodded. He picked up the headphones, and draped the wires around his neck, but didn't put them in his ears. It would be really rude to do that while someone was talking to him—even if that person was a total stranger and he didn't really want to talk.

JC kept looking at him, though. It felt rude to stay silent, too, but Justin was stubborn, and really not in the mood. He let the silence stretch on, pointedly looking around the empty bus terminal until JC said, "Are you crashing somewhere?"

"Here, I guess," Justin said, gesturing vaguely around.

"Mm, yeah," JC said dejectedly, resting his chin in one hand.

Justin smiled wryly. "I guess we have that in common."

"Guess we do."

"I have, like, fifty bucks cash," JC said.

"Yeah, I hear ya," Justin said. "I have fifty-eight. Still not enough for a motel around here."

JC nodded, and was quiet a long time. Justin fiddled with his music player, flicking through the track listing and wondering what to listen to. Then, eventually, JC said, "A hundred and eight might be. Like, enough for a double."

Justin turned to look at him.

"If you'd be up for that? I know, I'm a total stranger and stuff."

Justin said, "Look, no offence..."

"No, no." JC slumped back in his seat and stared at the ceiling.

"It's not that you don't seem like a nice guy," Justin said hurriedly. It had occurred to him that, even sharing with a stranger, in a motel room he'd at least be warm for a few hours, not sitting here freezing his ass off and worrying if someone was going to steal his luggage. And JC was a strikingly attractive stranger, which was sort of cool, but also sort of worse.

"Thanks," JC said.

It really might be enough for a motel room. Justin took a deep breath and decided to take the plunge. "A hundred and eight bucks?"


"So your folks live in Pittsburgh?" JC asked.

Justin looked up from counting their money and said, "Uh-uh. Near Memphis."

They'd migrated to an all-night diner across the street from the bus terminal, where there was coffee and a half-empty rack of tourist brochures by the door. JC had grabbed a handful and was slowly working through them, trying to figure out what they could afford while Justin counted their pooled cash. JC had handed over about five bucks in change as well as five crisp ten-dollar bills.

Handed all his money over without a second thought, trusting Justin completely.

"Won't that be a bitch? Getting to Memphis from Pittsburgh?" JC frowned. "I was sure you could go direct to Memphis from here."

Justin didn't look up this time. "I'm not going to my folks' for the holidays. I'm staying with a friend in Pennsylvania."


JC didn't say anything for a few seconds, and Justin wondered if that last comment had sounded rude. He finished counting up the change before dealing with that: one-hundred-and-thirteen eighty in total. That was maybe enough for some food to go with their coffees, assuming they could find a motel that they could afford at all.

"So, what did you find?" he asked JC.

"Yeah," JC said. "Uh, hundred-sixty, Holiday Inn's a no..."

Justin winced. Maybe a couple of years from now. "Damn right."

"Oh, here's one. Buena Vista Court... sixty-five a night for a double?" Justin looked up hopefully. "Oh, wait—I have no idea where that is."

"Hold on, I have a city map somewhere."

It turned out that he'd put the map in his holdall in the frenzy of last-minute packing. It took him a good couple of minutes to dig it out, and in the interval a scrawny redheaded waitress delivered their coffees and told them to have a nice night, chewing gum loudly all the while.

When Justin had waited tables in college, he was pretty sure that hadn't been allowed.

By the time she was gone, Justin had found the map and spread across the table, holding it down with the coffee mugs on opposing corners, and they pored over it together, tracing streets with their fingers. JC finally found it with a triumphant, "Aha!"

"Got it?" Justin said, and JC repeated the street address victoriously. Justin checked it on the brochure and the map. "Awesome. So, we're here... West Harrison, and they're right on 290... that's what. A five, ten-minute drive?"

"Something like that," JC agreed. "So, sixty-five, plus we set aside something like thirty bucks for cabs? We could maybe afford that."

"I think we could." Justin grinned, relieved, and JC grinned back, taking a sip of his coffee. "Thank God."

"Thank God is right," JC said. "So we have a little money left over, huh? Wanna share some fries?"

Justin grabbed the menu, still grinning. "Yeah. I'm starving."


It turned out that JC wasn't actually from Washington, but from some town in Maryland whose name Justin couldn't seem to keep straight—Jagger or Daltry or something like it. It was after one in the morning, that was his excuse. Justin munched his half of the fries—he really was starving—and discovered that by asking a few careful questions he could get JC to talk and talk and talk.

He didn't mind that; saved him answering the questions that would otherwise come back on him.

JC was a dance instructor back in Madison, Wisconsin, and he was only making the cross-country trip this late because the kids he taught had given their Christmas recital the night before. Justin bit back a smile, because he'd known JC less than half an hour, and he could somehow imagine the guy shepherding energetic six-year-olds for a living. He had the kind of calm, easygoing, friendly exterior that was required—and, Justin wouldn't be surprised to find out, the iron will, too, when necessary. There was something unshakeable about him.

"So," JC said eventually, "that's just about my life in a nutshell." They'd covered the dance instruction and the retail job JC worked on the side to make ends meet, the much-loved-but-clearly-nuts roommate with the space obsession and the increasingly bizarre series of pets, and the half-written musical. Justin felt he was pretty much up to date. "What about you? What do you do for a living?"

Justin froze with a fry halfway to his mouth. "Um..."

"No, wait," JC said suddenly, smiling, "lemme guess."

"Um," Justin said, "okay."

"Okay, cool. Uh..." JC went for another fry and pretended, theatrically, to think about it. Justin frowned at him, somewhere between bewildered and amused, wondering what in the hell he was going to come up with. Justin was quickly coming to the conclusion that JC was a freak. A nice freak—like Chris—but a freak.

There was a little pause. Then JC said, "You're an accountant," and pinned Justin with his laser-like blue eyes. Justin opened his mouth to curse, because that was spot-fucking-on, and decided not to give JC the satisfaction. Quite yet.

"What makes you say that?" he asked, trying to keep his face neutral.

"Okay," JC said, gesturing expansively with the fry, "you're all organized, you had that map, I bet you have a list of emergency phone numbers in your wallet." Strike one. The numbers were in Justin's diary, because what if the emergency was that his wallet was stolen? "And you're real good with the money, counted it all up in a flash, you know exactly how much we spent in here and we didn't even get the check yet." Well; when your budget was limited, that was just sense. "Plus... you're kind of buttoned-up, you know?"

Strike two, dammit. "I'm not buttoned-up!"

"Dude," JC said, "you kinda are."

"I am not."

"Hey, it's not an insult, cat," JC said in a placating voice, "just an observation. It's like—I can see that you plan a lot, you like to be in control of shit, you know, you get all uptight when things don't go your way. Like tonight. Right?"

"Right," Justin said. No denying; he'd been pretty mad tonight after all the screw-ups with the buses. Who wouldn't be?

"I'm not like that," JC said. "I don't get so stressed out, because it's all an opportunity—I mean, tonight turned out kind of cool."

"Sharing a basket of fries with a total stranger?"

"Yeah," JC said, breaking into a grin. "I got to meet someone new, see some of Chicago, and the coffee's pretty good."

Justin stared at him for what seemed like a very long time. JC really was a freak.

"You're not seeing the cool here, I can tell." JC's grin hadn't faded one bit; he didn't seem fazed at all, even though it must be obvious that Justin thought he was crazy.

Justin shook his head, then caught himself. He was being rude again. "Not that I don't..."

JC waved his hand, cutting Justin off. "I'm a nice guy, whatever. Look it's like this... I'm gay, right?" Justin blinked rapidly. It was that easy, apparently. "And you're hot, so if I'd run into you in a club, instead of trying to catch a bus, I'd probably be hitting on you right now."

Huh. Justin was staring at JC again, but maybe a bit less because he thought JC was crazy.

"And that's not... that's not to say that I'm gonna hit on you tonight, because that'd probably make you uncomfortable, and I don't wanna do that, no way. But—I like to be spontaneous. Go with the flow. And it's like, if you're in a club and you see a hot a girl, what do you do? Ignore her?"

"Um," Justin said, because apparently JC was expecting some kind of response, and he didn't have one. "Uh, I'm maybe not so much into girls, myself."

JC smiled again. "What are the odds of that," he said softly, and Justin had to bite his lip to stop himself from rattling them off: nine to one. The numbers so weren't the point. "So, hot guy in a club, what do you do?"

Justin considered it. It wasn't, honestly, a situation he'd ever really been in. He'd been with Curtis almost the whole time he'd been out—almost from the first day he'd gotten it figured out—and after they'd broken up, he hadn't, well. It just hadn't been an issue, was all. "I guess, I'd maybe try to get his number?"

JC smiled. Justin thought he'd probably die of embarrassment if JC said that was sweet. Thankfully, JC spared him: "See, I'd be trying to get you up against a wall."

"Um. Okay."

Justin looked down at the scratched surface of the table, cheeks burning, because maybe he was going to die of embarrassment after all. He'd had sex—he and Curtis had had quite a lot of sex—and he wasn't a prude—he wasn't, no matter what Chris said. But he didn't do sex with strangers, and he sure didn't talk about sex with strangers, and here was this guy he didn't know, talking about pushing Justin up against a wall.

And it was. Yeah, he was feeling kind of hot.

"Oh, I have made you uncomfortable," JC said. "I'm sorry, man, I get talking and I just don't stop. I really should've left that one alone."

"No," Justin said, "it's fine." But he still couldn't look JC in the eye; in fact, he was looking everywhere but directly at JC, out the window, across the diner, over at the mostly-empty basket of fries. JC had one hand in the basket, fiddling laconically with a fry he was holding between two fingers.

JC had really pretty hands.

"You sure?" JC said.

"Absolutely." Justin managed to keep his eyes off of JC a little longer by grabbing his mug and swilling back the last of his coffee, even though it was cold and therefore gross. He put the mug firmly back down on the table and, see, he could look at JC without blushing. No problem.

Justin took a deep breath. "You ready to get out of here?"


They came in under-budget on the cab ride—only ten dollars for a journey that took six-and-a-half minutes by Justin's watch. JC was silent for all of it, looking out of the window instead of at Justin. It wasn't until the cab was gone and they were standing on the snowy sidewalk in front of the motel that Justin said, "You okay?"

"I'm just a little embarrassed," JC said. "I really shouldn't have said all that stuff to you before."

"Don't sweat it." Justin hefted his bag onto his shoulder. "Let's get inside, it's cold."

Inside, Buena Vista Court didn't look very Spanish. The lobby was poorly lit, a single bare bulb hanging over the check-in desk, and a half-dead potted plant stood by the door. Justin almost tripped over it walking in, and then, staggering sideways, almost sent JC flying. JC caught his shoulder with one hand, saying, "Hey, you all right?"

"Yeah, it's just dark in here."


Justin set his bag on the floor and walked to the check-in desk while JC hovered behind him. Nobody was there, but there was a bell sitting on the desk. Justin rang it twice, then a third time, before a balding middle-aged guy shuffled out from somewhere in back. It was almost one-thirty now, so Justin put on his politest face. "Hi."

"Whadda you want?"

"Could we get a double room for tonight, please?"

The man glanced down at something behind the desk—a list, maybe—and said, "Nope. Booked out."

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. They should have called ahead. Justin glanced back at JC, who gave him a shrug and helpless look. Past JC all he could see was the pink glow of the Vacancy sign and then the freeway, and... Hold on. They still had their Vacancy sign on. Justin turned back to the desk.

"Don't you have anything we could use?"

The guy looked up at him. "One-oh-four's free. But it ain't a double."

"We'll take whatever," Justin said.

"It's one king," the guy said. "That okay?"

Justin glanced back at JC again, and JC shrugged.

"Sure," Justin said.

"Sixty dollars," the man said, slapping the keycard down on the desk by Justin's hand.

Justin counted out JC's crisp tens and two of his own battered fives and grabbed the key. The check-in guy's grubby fingers had snatched up the money before Justin even turned away.


Room 104 was around back, which at least meant they weren't right on the freeway. Instead, it looked out over the parking lot and, specifically, a dumpster.

"It's almost colder than outside," JC said when they'd gotten themselves and their bags into the room. There wasn't a hell of a lot of floor space, but hey, they could fit their bags, and that was all that mattered. There was even a crappy little space heater by the door.

Justin turned it on and way, way up while JC improvised tea with the coffee maker and some herbal teabags that he produced, like magic, from his coat pocket. When the heater was on, Justin sat on the bed and shed his coat, gloves and shoes, then fell backwards and let out a sigh up at the ceiling. A minute later, JC sat next to him on the bed and handed him a cup.

Justin sat up to take it. "Thanks," he said. "You have your own teabags?"

"I like this tea," JC said, smiling sheepishly.

"So that part's not so spontaneous," Justin said. He sniffed it; it was still too hot to drink but it smelled really good. "Mm, that's nice."

"Yeah, I like to have it around. It's a comfort thing."

Justin just nodded, warming his hands around the cup. He was still freezing cold; JC's face looked almost red-raw with it. He could understand having comfort stuff around. Like his favourite sneakers, the watch his momma bought him, Chris on speed-dial.

"So I'll take the floor," JC said.

"What? No, don't be silly, we can share the bed."

"You're sure that won't be like, uncomfortable for you? I don't wanna freak you out."

"It's cool," Justin said, "it really is. I'm sure we can be adults about this."

JC smiled. "I'm sure we can too."

Justin watched as JC dipped his head and took a little sip of his tea. He was wondering what an adult would actually do about this. He was twenty-three, which was pretty damn adult, technically speaking, but it still seemed like that needed figuring out. What would a real adult do about the cute stranger who was going to be sharing his goddamn bed tonight?

Justin sipped his tea and watched JC and thought about it. JC had a really nice mouth, full but not too full, and Justin kind of wanted to know how it would feel to kiss it. Pretty good, he'd bet.

"So," JC said after a while, "what do you do for a living? You never said."

Justin raised his eyebrows. "I didn't? You were right, I'm an accountant."

"No way!" JC said, laughing. "I thought for sure I'd gotten that wrong."

"Spot on," Justin said.

"So do you cook the books for anyone interesting?"

"Ha," Justin said, "no. I work for a gift store in St. Paul."

"I'd ask if they pay good money, but you're in the same boat as me, so..." JC smiled.

"Yeah, not so much."

JC took a sip of his tea and looked up at the ceiling. "I thought accountants were all, like, Armani suits and Rolexes, man."

"Yeah," Justin said, "maybe some day. But I just graduated last year, so, not for a while."

"You're only, what, twenty-four?"


"You look older." JC blinked. "Um, in the good way."

"Right," Justin said, smiling.

They sat there in silence for a while, and Justin looked around the room while he finished his tea. It was pretty much a motel room, cramped, ugly decor, but at least it seemed reasonably clean. Justin wasn't going to inspect anything too closely, though; he wanted to be able to sleep tonight. Although he had the vague feeling that might be a problem anyway.

By the time he was done with his tea, the space heater was doing its job and the room was warming up nicely. JC was finished too, so Justin took JC's cup and put it with his on the little table with the coffee maker. Behind him, JC flopped back onto the bed.

"It's finally warming up," JC said.


It was dark outside, and the view of the dumpster really wasn't that appealing. Justin went over to the window and shut the thin drapes—ugly again—before sitting down next to JC on the bed. He lay down, and after no more than a second, there was a sharp buzzing sound from the direction of Justin's stuff, and then another. He sat up.

"Dude," JC said lazily, "your coat is vibrating."

Justin dove for it and pulled his phone out of the pocket. Chris. "Hey."

"Hey," Chris said, and there was a moment of silence.

"What's up?" Justin said.

"Justin, it's almost three in the morning and I'm worried sick. Tell me you're safe, okay?"

"Oh." Justin gaped like a fish for a moment, embarrassed, because he was fine and he hadn't even thought to call. "I. Shit, I'm sorry. I'm fine. I like, met this guy at the bus terminal and we've gotten a motel room together." There was a silence, into which Chris was going to make a smart comment, any second, so Justin went on. "It's not as weird as it sounds, okay?"

"Really? Because it sounds like you just picked up a stranger there, kid."

"Hey—no. It's nothing like that. We just, we couldn't each afford a room, but we could afford to share." No need to mention they were sharing a bed; that would only lead to endless teasing, and Chris managed that fine without extra material.

Chris breathed out. "He have any strange weapons?"

"He doesn't have any weapons at all," Justin said, and if JC hadn't been sitting right there, Justin would maybe—maybe—have made a comment about checking in his pants. That would have made Chris laugh. Instead he said, "He has teabags."

"Oh. Well, if he has teabags, he's probably harmless." There was a tiny pause. "Are they poison?"

Justin laughed. "He's fine, Chris. I'm fine. I'll see you tomorrow night."

"Call me when you get on the bus."

"Sure will. Get some sleep, okay?"

"Yup." And with that, Chris hung up. Justin smiled at the phone before stuffing it back into his coat pocket.

When Justin turned around, JC was still stretched out on the bed, hands folded on his stomach, looking totally relaxed. "So that was Pittsburgh dude?"

"Yeah," Justin said, parking himself on the floor by his stuff. "Last he heard I was spending the night at the bus terminal, he was worried."

JC nodded. "His name's Chris?"


"And he's your boyfriend?" JC asked after a little pause.

"No!" Justin said. "No, no, just a really good friend."

"Oh. I figured, since you were spending the holidays with him..."

Justin shook his head. "I don't have a boyfriend. Chris and I have been friends since forever. And I kind of had a... my folks aren't so crazy about the whole gay thing, and Chris invited me, so I figured it was best."

JC sat up. "Hey," he said, "that kind of sucks. I'm sorry."

"It's okay," Justin said. "They'll come around. I hope. Chris says they probably will, and he's usually right." He sighed. "Anyway, he's been really good to me with this whole thing."

"Sounds like a good friend."

"He's the best," Justin said fervently. "And he's so... He's like—the first time he met my ex, right. Curtis is like, six foot, huge black guy, muscles everywhere. And Chris is five-six, skinny little fucker, nothin' to him, and the first time he meets Curtis, he's like, you hurt my boy, I'm gonna kill you." Justin laughed, shaking his head. "He meant it, too. I'm still scared that some day Chris is gonna show up at his apartment with a fucking baseball bat."

He'd expected JC to laugh, but he frowned. "He hurt you? This Curtis guy?"

"Not like... not physically. He—you know. He fucked somebody else."


"I'm over it, it's fine. This was, like, September."

JC slid off the bed in one long, fluid movement to sit cross-legged on the floor near Justin. "So, that's a pretty depressing topic. It's Christmas, let's talk about something fun."

Justin smiled, crossing his own legs to make room for JC among all their stuff. JC was smiling too, but it seemed like neither of them could think of much to say, just smiling at each other like a pair of idiots. Eventually, Justin shook his head and looked away.

"Okay, fine," he said, "now I'm trying to think of something." JC leaned back against the foot of the bed, folded his hands behind his head, and smiled a catlike smile. Like he was waiting to be entertained. "So I'm gonna tell you this story about Chris."

"Okay," JC said.

"It's from when I was like, seventeen, back when we lived in Orlando, that's where I met Chris. So that year, Chris is stuck in town for Thanksgiving, 'cause he's working, so my mom invites him over for dinner. And we're all sitting around the dinner table and my mom says, that when I was eight, I wanted a pony for my birthday."

JC snickered a little. "A pony?"

"I was eight," Justin said, smiling, because he'd learned to withstand teasing on the subject after long years of practice with Chris. "Shut up. Anyway, so my mom tells Chris that I wanted a pony for my birthday when I was eight, and then I was all disappointed because she didn't get me one. I forget why she was talking about it, Chris probably said I was a spoiled brat or something."

JC grinned. "Go on."

"All right. So that Christmas, Chris keeps telling me he has this special Christmas gift for me. And I'm like, what the hell, he never even gets me a gift, so why's he starting now. And Chris just keeps saying he's got a special gift for me." He took a deep breath. "So I go shopping, 'cause I usually don't get him a gift either—and I like, spend hours in the store agonizing over what to give him, and I have no idea now what I even gave him. It was probably, like aftershave or something, I was imaginative as a kid." JC snorted. "And so, a couple of days before Christmas, Chris drives back up to Pennsylvania for the holidays, and we exchange gifts, and he's all solemn, you know, you must not open this until Christmas Day..."

Justin shook his head, smiling at the memory. "...and so on Christmas morning we're all opening our gifts, and I get to Chris's and I just burst out laughing because..." JC's brow creased, but he was grinning hugely, blue eyes shining. "He bought me a My Little Pony."

JC started to laugh.

"Like, the pinkest, glitteriest one he could find, with flowers on its butt."

JC doubled over, covering his face, and Justin started to laugh too. JC kept laughing and laughing, slumping over on one side and shaking with it, holding his stomach, his head knocking against Justin's bag. Justin was still laughing too, but JC was absolutely helpless, a quivering heap on the floor. Justin lay down near him, still giggling, and reached out with one hand. His fingers closed around JC's arm and Justin held on as they laughed together. JC didn't seem to notice until he'd stopped laughing a good two minutes later. Then, still getting his breath, he glanced down at his arm and Justin's hand.

JC sucked in a deep breath, held it for a long moment, and carefully let it out again. "Hi," he said.

"Hi," Justin said, and kissed him.

It was a little bit awkward, because JC was at arm's length and Justin had to lean forward a lot to get at JC's mouth, but JC kissed back and his lips were just as wet and smooth and fantastic as Justin had expected them to be. Even if JC was going to push him away and sleep on the floor after all, it would be worth it for this one kiss, all slippery pleasure and flickering tongue. Justin only felt nervous once it was over, and JC was pulling back to look him very seriously in the eye.

"So, uh," JC said, "that was kind of... spontaneous."

"Yeah. Figured I'd try it out." Justin swallowed and tried to look attractive; not that easy when he was sprawled out all over the floor with their luggage and coats and shoes like an obstacle course. "What do you think?"

"I think I'd like to," JC said. "Be spontaneous." And after another second: "C'mere."


A couple of minutes later, they were sitting on the edge of the bed again, and Justin was savouring the transition from idle kissing to making out. JC had one hand splayed on Justin's lower back, the other holding Justin's waist, and Justin's hands were on JC's shoulders. He was thinking seriously about shifting a hand up to mess with JC's hair; it looked so soft.

JC's tongue was wicked and firm and wet, and Justin had already decided that being spontaneous was definitely, definitely a good idea. His cock was starting to stir in his pants—not quite hard yet, but tingling with the anticipation of getting there.

He'd only had sex with the one guy before, and that had been Curtis. Curtis was... well, Curtis was different from this, different from JC; making out with him had been a lot faster and harder and rougher. Justin liked this, the gentleness, JC's slow and thoughtful touch. Liked it better, maybe. Better than his first.

His hand did slide up into JC's hair after a while, and shortly after that JC rolled Justin onto his back—not pushing, not forcing him, just rolling him down. JC rolled on top of him a second after, and then Justin really was hard, and there was only glancing friction, JC on his hands and knees and leaning down to kiss, Justin arching his back, pushing up with his hips, trying to feel, to figure out if JC was hard too.

Mmm. He was.

Justin managed to find that out as JC's body started to sink lower over him, and their bodies brushed together more often, more firmly, until JC's erection was a constant presence against Justin's lower stomach. Justin slid one hand down JC's back to hold him close, and JC shifted and kissed Justin's mouth, did it again, then dropped a series of feather-light kisses along Justin's jaw. Justin closed his eyes and tipped his head back as JC's mouth moved downward, kissing and licking under his chin, down to his throat, light and slow. Yeah; this was better, so much better.

They stayed like that for a few minutes, trading kisses and caresses as they both got slowly harder. For a while Justin thought he might be perfectly content to keep doing just this all night, holding and touching and nuzzling and making little noises of enjoyment against each other's skin, and then everything changed in an instant; he didn't even remember it building. Suddenly he was harder than he could take, urgent and desperate, pawing hungrily at JC's clothes so he could touch bare skin.

The disadvantage of the cold was that they were both wearing way too many clothes: sweaters over button-down shirts, T-shirts underneath, thick socks, heavy jeans with big buttons that were hard to work under Justin's clumsy fingers. It took way too long, and Justin felt like shouting for joy when they were finally both naked, except that JC's body was suddenly pressed all over his and he was far too busy for anything but touching JC. Touching him everywhere; feeling where his skin was smooth and where hairs sprouted; finding which parts were flesh, which were muscle, which bone. If this was only going to be one night, he wanted to see everything, touch everything, know everything. The total experience.

JC kissed his mouth, deep and hard and lewd, pushing and sliding their tongues together, and running one palm firmly down Justin's chest and stomach when he arched delightedly in response. Justin moaned into JC's mouth when JC's hand took hold of his cock, and moaned again when JC squeezed and then rubbed. It felt glorious. He skimmed his own fingers down over JC's ass and then up again, across JC's thigh to the curve of his hipbone, then down. Through coarse pubic hair and finally onto the soft-soft-soft skin of JC's cock. JC broke the kiss to whisper, "Jesus."

Then he groaned and pumped his hips as Justin started to move his hand, one slow tease after another, because, yeah, Justin wanted this to last. JC was touching him in a rhythm too, nice and slow, and Justin shivered happily, leaning up slightly to nuzzle JC's shoulder. JC's tongue was slithering over his neck, and Justin closed his eyes again so he could just feel.

What he felt was langorous and sexy and pleasantly buzzed all over his skin, warm and a little breathless, faintly ticklish in all the right places. It seemed like they'd been doing this forever, and at the same time not nearly long enough, when JC suddenly broke the rhythm and lifted his head from where he had been nuzzling Justin's shoulder. "Hey," JC said, and he sounded a little breathless too. Justin stilled his hand against JC's cock, and JC let out a little sigh.

"Hey," Justin said, moving his hips just slightly, just enough for a tiny bit of friction against JC's hand.

"So, I was thinking," JC said. He mirrored Justin's hip movement and smiled. "Do you maybe wanna fuck?"

Justin's little gasp could have been motivated by a slight movement of JC's hand, or could have been motivated by the thought of them fucking, he wasn't sure. What he said was, "Um..."

It had taken a month before he'd let Curtis fuck him; a month after they'd touched and sucked and rimmed and done everything else under the sun. A whole month. And he'd loved Curtis, or so he'd thought at the time, trusted him completely. Still. A month, that's how long it took.

JC reached up and traced two fingers down Justin's cheek, gently. "It's okay," he said. He was still holding Justin's cock loosely with his other hand. "We can keep doing this, if you want. This is great." He slid his hand down Justin's cock and brushed his thumb lightly over the head, smiling.

"Mmmm," Justin said, straining up against JC's hand. He was thinking about it now, the fucking, getting fucked, and that gaspy urgent feeling was creeping back. Bothering him. "Mmmm. No, um, mmm, JC, stop, stop a minute, stop."

JC's hand slid from Justin's cock to his hip, which was quite a lot more stopping than Justin actually wanted.

"I think. Yes. I want to."

"Don't do it just 'cause I want," JC said. He rubbed his thumb across Justin's lips. On impulse, Justin stuck his tongue out and licked it, and JC laughed. His whole body shook with it, just briefly, and that felt really good. Justin suddenly wanted to lie here forever, naked, underneath JC, finding new ways to make him laugh. Then JC stopped laughing and said, "Really. Only if it's what you wanna do. Being spontaneous is no fun if you're like, pushed into stuff you don't wanna do."

"But this is stuff I do wanna do," Justin said stubbornly, and leaned up to prove the point. He moved both hands to the back of JC's head and kissed him open-mouthed, holding JC in place until he was satisfied that JC had gotten his full meaning.

JC was panting hard when they finally broke apart. "That's a pretty firm yes," he said breathlessly.

"Uh huh," Justin said.

"Um, lemme grab the stuff."

JC slid off of Justin and stood up, leaving Justin feeling lonely and a bit cold, even though the room was nice and warm now. He was consoled by a nice back view of JC, though, as he crouched over his holdall, the long, beautiful curve of his spine, all the way down to his lovely ass. Justin admired the view for as long as JC was hunting through the bag, and then he got up and turned around, and the front view was even better. Muscular arms and chest, narrow hips, firm thighs, and his cock, hard and glorious, the head glistening with a little moisture. He wanted to taste it, feel it fill his mouth, feel JC's response, sound and motion.

JC made to step back towards the bed. Justin surged to his feet suddenly. "Stay there a minute," he said.


Justin stood up in front of JC, smiling, and dropped quickly to his knees. He glanced up at JC's face for just a half-second, and JC's mouth had fallen open in surprise and, Justin thought, delight. When he sucked JC into his mouth, JC made a sound that was part grunt, part moan, all excitement.

Justin didn't want to get JC off, not yet, so he swallowed JC all the way down just once, swirled his tongue around the base, and moved his head a couple of times before pulling off and looking up at JC's face again. JC was still slack-jawed, his eyes a little glazed over, and Justin beamed up at him before getting back on his feet.

"Oh," JC panted, "baby."

Justin was still beaming when JC kissed him, and together they stumbled back onto the bed. Justin collapsed under JC again, still kissing him passionately, and underneath JC was quickly becoming his new favourite place to be. He wrapped his arms around JC and there were several long, happy moments of kissing and squirming and moaning before JC said, "Okay."

"Okay," Justin said.

JC had been holding a big cloth washbag when he'd stood up, and now it was lying abandoned on the bed. JC rolled onto his back and reached for it, and once it was in JC's hands the two of them moved up the bed until their heads were on the pillows.

JC opened the bag—it had a zipper—and dipped his hand in. He pulled out an unopened three-pack of condoms and a little tube of Liquid Silk, maybe a quarter used. He rolled to put the washbag on the nightstand, then looked back to Justin. "So," he said, "you wanna top or bottom?"

Justin was starting to hate how he compared everything to his ex, but it hadn't even been a question with Curtis. Curtis didn't get fucked, so Justin had never topped, never fucked anyone—not even when he'd been really trying to like girls. Never fucked a guy. Never really even thought about it.

Some time, he'd do that. Not tonight.

"Bottom," Justin said decisively.

JC grinned like that was the right answer, and Justin grinned back. "Totally sure?"

"Yeah," Justin said. "Fuck me, man." He paused for a second, looking JC up and down, anticipating. "Fuck me good."

"Mmmm," JC said.

JC kissed him, and kissed him and kissed him, and Justin took the condom package out of JC's hand and broke into it as they kissed, extracted a condom, then made JC stop while he concentrated on getting the condom out of its wrapper without tearing it. Gently, he unrolled the condom over JC's cock, then lay back and hooked his legs over JC's shoulders and let JC go to work, first with one lubed-up finger, then two, then three. By the time JC's cock was pushing slowly inside him, Justin felt open and hot and desperately turned on.

JC's movements burned like a long, long fuse inside of him, drawing out little heated moans one after another, making him pour sweat and not care. He clamped his hands around JC's waist, and JC was sweating too, slick and hot, grunting as he thrust. It felt so good, pleasure flooding his body and flowing out of him everywhere it could. He didn't ever, ever want this to stop.

God, but JC was good; he'd hit just the right pace somehow, found a rhythm that satisfied every aching sweet spot in Justin's body, making the excitement jab right up inside him until it started to fizz. He was already rocking his hips, pushing back against that perfect rhythm, but the fizzing made him start to buck and shout, and JC's hand slipped down to his cock at the ideal moment, a maddening counterpoint to JC's solid thrusts, and Justin spasmed hard, squeezing his eyes shut in an attempt to hold on. JC cried out, jerking forward suddenly, and they were going to come together, voices rising in unison, a single climax that belonged to both of them.

In the end, JC held out just a few seconds longer than Justin, but that didn't make it any less wonderful, and Justin's orgasm when it came was a sharp moment of spilling release followed by the sudden plunge into an ocean of warm relaxation. He was letting out a shuddering sigh of joy when JC came, his hands stroking JC's sides, and there was the usual weird sliding feeling as JC pulled out, but that was all. JC slid out from between Justin's legs, and Justin lay there, dazed with bliss as JC dealt with the condom and then rolled back towards Justin, hooking one hand over Justin's stomach and nuzzling his shoulder contentedly.

"Mmm," JC said, a low, sleepy sound.

"Yeah," Justin said, and that didn't sound emphatic enough. He added, "Yeah, yeah, yeah."

"Mmm," JC said again. "Exactly. Exactly."

"We should," Justin said fuzzily. "The alarm. We don't wanna miss the uh. The bus."

"Definitely not."

Justin managed to stay awake exactly long enough to set the alarm for six-thirty, then collapsed against JC and drifted into sated, happy, marvellous sleep.

Two: Thirteen Hours To Pittsburgh

The alarm was a harsh, high noise, jolting Justin awake. For one disorienting moment he had no idea where he was, and the unfamiliar bed and the stranger's skin sticking wetly to his own was enough to make him feel sick with terror. Then he remembered last night, and his panic faded back to warm contentment as he turned to switch the alarm off.

JC stirred against him, waking, and Justin smiled as JC's eyes flickered open.

"Oh, hey," JC said hoarsely, "that's nice to wake up to." He shifted slightly and kissed Justin's mouth briefly, and Justin was smiling even harder when JC pulled back. "G'morning," JC said.

"Morning," Justin said. Something must have been wrong with him, because he couldn't stop smiling. Didn't want to, in fact.

"What time is it?"

"Six-thirty," Justin said. JC made a disapproving noise. Justin was usually a morning person, but right now he agreed—he could have done with several more hours of sleep. Carefully, he peeled himself off of JC. "We better get up. And... wow, we're kind of gross."

JC smiled wickedly. "Sure was fun getting this way."

"Mm, it was." Justin surrendered to the impulse to kiss JC, and JC pulled him close. It was so nice and warm and comfortable being this near to JC, and Justin could really get behind the idea of morning sex right now, but they really, really had to get up. Bus to catch.

JC felt so damn perfect in his arms.

Eventually it was JC who pulled back from the embrace. "You're right," he said, "we have to shower." He was smiling again, tickling under Justin's chin with one finger. "C'mon."

Oh. Good idea.

The bathroom was fucking freezing, so obviously they had to hold each other and make out until the water heated up, and Justin's morning hard-on never had the chance to get soft, caressed as it was in JC's talented hand. Justin didn't care that they were both sticky with old sweat and jizz from last night, just that JC was here in his arms right now. They could get clean in a minute.

After a couple of minutes, steam started to rise from the shower. JC disentangled himself, stepped in, and held out his hand for Justin to join him.

There wasn't a whole lot of space in the shower—just enough for two people if they got real close, which was absolutely fine with Justin. They made out some more under the water, and the heady mix of JC's touch and the hot water running over his skin... yeah, this was heaven, just about.

It got even more heavenly right about the time that JC sank to his knees.

Justin hadn't thought that would be possible in a space this cramped, but JC seemed to fit, just about, ass pressed up against the tiled wall as he kissed and licked over Justin's hip and thigh, teasing. Then he swallowed Justin down in one slick movement and Justin couldn't breathe. JC's mouth was amazing.

JC made him come in a couple of minutes, flicking his tongue deliciously, keeping Justin deep in his throat even through orgasm, swallowing it all down. After that, of course, Justin had to return the favour, and it was wonderful to finally get a full dose of JC's cock instead of the little taste he'd had the night before. He was really glad of all the practice he'd had at this with Curtis. More glad, though, of JC's musky smell and the noises he was making as Justin worked his mouth and tongue. JC came rapidly and hard, clutching helplessly at Justin's head, and Justin smiled as he swallowed.

Afterwards, they washed each other clean, laughing and kissing and touching. Justin wasn't going to get hard again, not yet, but that didn't matter at all; just the closeness was nice. When they were clean, they dried off together, and watched each other, smiling, as they dressed.

By the time they were showered and dressed, it was already seven, and they really had to think about getting out of there if they were going to make their bus. Justin was really, really tempted to say screw it and stay here until they were kicked out—catch some later bus—but, among other things, Chris would kill him. Anyway, JC was getting the same bus, so they had a little more time together.

They needed caffeine badly, so Justin washed out the cups while JC made coffee, and they drank it as quick as they could, standing up and gulping it down. When he was done—Justin was still drinking—JC turned and suddenly started digging in his bag.

"Forget something?" Justin asked.

"No," JC said, "just wanted to..." He pulled some dark piece of cloth from his holdall and stuffed it into the top of his backpack. Justin frowned.

JC smiled and stood up, leaned forward and murmured into Justin's ear, "Bring a change of underwear on the bus."

Justin grinned, and suddenly his cheeks were burning. "Okay."

"You're blushing," JC said softly. "That's so cute."

"Shut up, you." Justin finished his coffee, set his mug down by JC's and set about finding a clean pair of boxers.


After the cab fare back to the Greyhound terminal, they had a little over twenty-five bucks left—enough that they'd actually be able to eat lunch and dinner on the way to Pittsburgh. They bought a healthful breakfast of candy and soda from the terminal's vending machines and then made for their bus.

They found seats together near the back of the bus and worked their way slowly through the candy as the bus started to move. When they were done eating, and Justin had called Chris and confirmed that, yes, they made the bus, JC rested his head on Justin's shoulder. "Wow, I didn't get enough sleep."

"Hmm," Justin said, "no, me neither."

He picked the candy wrappers off of their laps, stuffed them into his coat pocket—he'd find a trash can at the first rest stop—and slipped his arm around JC's waist. He wouldn't usually do that in public, but it was the day before Christmas Eve, and no one was looking their way. Anyway, he and JC had just this one bus trip together, thirteen hours, and after that they'd probably never see each other again. He was fucked if he was going to waste it.

JC returned the gesture, and Justin's eyes drifted shut as they snuggled up. He slept through most of Indiana, and when he woke up they were stopped and JC was gently shaking his shoulder. "Hey, Justin, wake up, it's lunchtime."

"Oh." Justin blinked. "What time is it?"

"Uh, almost twelve-thirty. We're on schedule, I think."

Justin stirred himself and followed JC off the bus, shaking his head to get the fog out of it. They debated between Burger King and McDonald's, until JC just grabbed Justin's wrist and dragged him inside the McDonald's. JC ordered them each a Happy Meal and waved Justin to find a seat, leaning over the counter to talk with the teenage girl who'd been serving them.

Justin found a seat near the door and watched as the girl stepped away from the counter, talked briefly to a co-worker, disappeared. After a minute she came back and put something into JC's hand. JC grinned enormously and came over to the table with the food.

Justin cracked open his Happy Meal and pulled out his burger, but there was no toy inside. "Oh, hey," he said, "I don't get like, a polar bear or something?"

JC smiled and pushed something across the table to Justin. "I kind of got you something else."

Justin frowned. It was something small and pink and plastic in a cellophane wrapper. He picked it up and examined it more closely: a little toy animal, like a... "Oh my God," Justin said, beginning to laugh.

"Do you like it?" JC asked.

"You got me a My Little Pony," Justin said in disbelief. "I. God, you asshole. I love it."

JC grinned. "You're welcome," he said, and took a big bite out of his burger.


Justin put the pony in his pocket and had to be really careful not to throw it out with the candy wrappers on their way back to the bus. It was tiny, small enough to fit in the palm of his hand, and he put his hand back in his pocket when the wrappers were gone, closing his fingers around the toy until the plastic was warm with his body heat. He kept glancing at JC as they walked back to the bus, and smiling every time he did. Impossible not to.

Back on the bus, Justin didn't even care any more that people might see them. He kissed JC's soft cheek almost as soon as they were on the move, and JC's smile was so beautiful that Justin kissed him again.

There was no one in the seats across the aisle, and no one in front of them had any reason to be looking back, so Justin kept kissing JC, sliding his hand onto JC's leg, until JC kissed back and their fingers intertwined on JC's thigh. They weren't due to make another stop for a long time—and even then, it would only be ten minutes—so it didn't even matter that pretty soon Justin's cock was straining against the fly of his jeans or that JC had turned in his seat and thrown one leg across Justin's thighs. For now, this would have to do.

JC's touch was intoxicating, and Justin's hand kept rubbing up and down JC's thigh as JC's erection pressed into the top of Justin's hip. As long as no one actually peered over the seats or something, their coats made a pretty good disguise for what they were doing. As long as no one looked right at them and they didn't make any noise.

Still, they weren't going to go any further than this, not on the bus. No further than kissing and touching and squirming around a little, JC's hand grazing against his stomach, working slowly lower, closer and closer to Justin's aching groin.

Justin kept kissing JC, harder and hotter, on the basis that if his mouth was busy with that, he couldn't beg JC to fucking touch him now. God—they had to wait, they couldn't do this on the bus, they had to wait; fuck, fuck, they couldn't wait, no way. JC's hand slipped down that final inch and Justin gasped loudly.

JC said, "Sh-sh-sh."

Justin bit his lip as JC's hand started to shuffle against his desperately frustrated cock, gently at first, then picking up the pressure and pace. He couldn't move even if he wanted, JC's leg holding him firmly in place, and he really, really didn't want to move. JC's hand was whipping him up into a frenzy, and it was hard, so hard to keep quiet when JC was touching him just right, over and over, like—hell, was JC psychic or something? How did he know?

How did he know that moving his hand just-so made Justin want to scream?

Justin ended up burying his face in the collar of JC's coat, pressing his lips against the scratchy fabric, and JC's other hand came around to the back of his head, holding him there. The pressure was enormous and building, and JC kept going until it was too much, too much, and his body was twisting helplessly as his hips shuddered and jerked, coming-coming-coming. Justin's mouth fell open against JC's shoulder, but somehow he managed to hold the cry that wanted to explode out of him when he came. He couldn't get his breath for a full minute after, taking gulp after gulp of air as JC's hand stroked his hair.

"Oh, God," Justin whispered, and JC carefully patted the soggy front of Justin's jeans. The change of underwear had been a really good idea, but he should have packed some clean pants, too.

JC grinned as Justin kissed him, then shuddered, because Justin was trailing one hand down to the fork of JC's crotch. Their foreheads pressed together as Justin jerked JC off, and Justin put one hand over JC's back so he could feel the way JC's whole body started to shake as he approached orgasm. The moment itself was great, JC's hot breath all over his face, and under his hands, rigid tension followed by the sudden spike of release.

Justin had a tendency to get kind of sleepy after sex, but he didn't feel tired at all now. He was totally wide-awake and excited, and he didn't even care about the sticky mess in his underwear, although he'd probably be glad to get cleaned up a little later. Right now, he didn't want to leave JC's side.

JC dropped his leg, but they stayed turned towards each other for as long as was comfortable, kissing occasionally, brushing hands, like they were checking in. They didn't talk much for a while. Maybe they didn't need to.

After a while, Justin's back was complaining enough at the awkward position that he sat up and turned. JC shifted too, resting his head on Justin's shoulder again, and put his hand over Justin's. Justin liked the feel of the warm skin against his. Sharing body heat.

He turned to look out the window at Indiana, or maybe Ohio now, rushing past. Then he checked his watch. One fifty-five, Eastern time.

Eight hours to Pittsburgh.


In Toledo, they didn't have time to do much except run to the bathroom and clean up. The public bathroom in the rest stop was... well, marginally better than the bus bathroom. Marginally.

After that, it was two hours to Cleveland and a long break for dinner. JC got Justin to tell more stories about Chris, and it kept bringing him up short that JC and Chris might actually meet tonight, if the bus wasn't leaving again right away. That seemed weird—introducing Chris to his one-night stand—but he guessed it was no weirder than Chris threatening to kill Curtis. Or taking Justin in for the holidays. Chris would likely take it all in his stride.

JC liked to laugh a lot. Justin liked that; JC was kind of adorable when he laughed. The best part was getting to hold JC through a couple of giggle fits, pulling him close and feeling his body quiver. Maybe that was because they'd been laughing right before they kissed the first time, but Justin thought he'd like it anyway. JC was so... he was sweet.

They had dinner at Taco Bell in Cleveland, then went to Starbucks and spent the very last of their cash on hot chocolate and muffins for dessert. The topic of conversation had wandered off Chris and gotten through work, music, crappy college jobs, ex-boyfriends, sports teams, before Justin even really thought to ask JC about his family. JC was adopted, it turned out.

After that, JC started to talk about Maryland and home. Justin felt torn between missing his own family, and thinking about Pittsburgh and having to let JC go. Neither of those was particularly nice.

JC stopped in mid-sentence. "Hey, you okay?"

"Yeah," Justin said. "I just. It's been good, today. You know?"

"It has," JC said. "It really has." He put a hand on Justin's shoulder, and Justin leaned into the touch a little dejectedly. "Justin, c'mon, today's not done yet."

"No, it's not." Justin turned his head to kiss JC's hand, and JC smiled. "Come to the bathroom with me?"


The public bathroom was pretty gross, but Justin decided it would do. He pushed JC into the stall ahead of him and locked the door behind them. Then he leaned forward and grabbed JC, pulled him close, kissed him violently hard. JC kissed him back, equally passionate, his hands gripping Justin's ass hard for a second before he pulled back and said, "Justin, Justin, hey, what's up?"

Justin looked at him. "Huh?"

"Not that I don't approve of this. And not that I know your whole repertoire, or whatever, but this seems a little... out of character. For you."

"Oh," Justin said. "Um."

"So," JC said, "what's up?"

"I just," Justin began. He wasn't sure quite how to put it, because it made him sound so clingy and needy, and JC was the kind of guy who just did casual sex and moved on. Justin had really thought he'd be able to do this.

He took a deep breath and tried anyway. "I just, I'm gonna miss you when you go. And I don't wanna, like. Waste this."

JC hugged him.

Justin hugged back, passion forgotten for a little bit while JC held him. Then JC said, "I'll miss you too. You're so..." There was a long pause while JC fumbled for the word. Justin didn't want to ask what he was going to say, and he was surprised when JC finally finished with, "I don't know, we just fit."

"Yeah," Justin said.

JC kissed him then, and it wasn't the grasping, hungry sex that they'd started, but something much slower and more delicate. JC kept touching Justin very softly, like he was handling something precious and fragile. Justin closed his eyes, wanting to do nothing but touch, touch JC while he could, feel it all, because there just wasn't enough time. He'd miss this so much, when it was gone.

When they were done, Justin checked his watch, and they suddenly had to tuck themselves into their pants and run—Justin laughing, because after everything, what would Chris have said if the bus had left while he was blowing his one-night stand in a bathroom in Cleveland?

They collapsed back into their seats, panting. Justin automatically reached out to put an arm around JC, and JC leaned into him happily, nuzzling his shoulder. Justin rested his head on JC's, squeezed JC's waist, closed his eyes. The bus moved off, and a few minutes later they were back on the freeway, passing through Ohio at a steady fifty-five.

"Hey," Justin said when they'd been moving a while. It was almost seven now, just three more hours on the road. Outside, it was dark, and heavy snow was falling, but Justin felt warm because JC was right there.

"Hey," JC said sleepily. Justin thought he might be dropping off again.

Justin said, "Can I see you again?"

"Mmm," JC said, shifting slightly against Justin's shoulder. "Sure."

"Cool," Justin said.

Five minutes later, JC was dead to the world.


JC slept through the short layover at Akron and only woke up once they'd been back on the highway for ten minutes. Justin had been staring out of the window, lost in thought, and turned his head when JC stirred against him.

"Hi," Justin said softly.

JC didn't say anything, just adjusted his head on Justin's shoulder. Justin smiled. "Going back to sleep?"

"No," JC said. "You're just comfortable."

"Oh, okay."

If JC wanted to snuggle up, Justin wasn't going to complain. JC stayed quiet for a few more minutes, while Justin looked out the window again, watching scenery go by. It had been such a weird day, wonderful and confusing, so out of his normal experience that he wasn't even sure how to feel. The little plastic horse was still in his pocket, and Justin disturbed JC digging for it.

"Mmph," JC said, sitting up. "I'm not asleep."

"Oh, I'm sorry," Justin said.

"What are you doing?" JC asked, rubbing his face.

"I, um." Justin produced the My Little Pony, smiling, a little embarrassed. "I dunno, I just wanted it."

JC laughed, shook his head, and plucked the toy from Justin's fingers. "You are so cute," he said.

Justin looked down at his lap. His cheeks were hot again and he just knew he was blushing, which was even more embarrassing. It was stupid; that whimsical little gift had meant so much to him, like it was a sign, or something. A symbol of what had happened between them. Yeah; it was stupid.

How did you fall for someone in just one day?

"So damn cute," JC said happily, and he put the pony back into Justin's hand. Justin closed his fist around it, unable to stop smiling, still blushing furiously, and didn't look up. There was a little pause, and then JC said, "So when do I get to see you again?"

That did make Justin look up. "Huh?"

"You did want to see me, right?" JC was frowning a little. "I mean, I didn't dream that part?"

"No!" There was a moment when Justin felt a bit panicked that JC had thought it wasn't real. "I—totally, I. I'd love to see you again. That'd be, that'd be so great."

"Cool," JC said, and his face relaxed into a grin. "Uh, you're in St. Paul, right?"


Justin's diary was in his backpack under his seat, and JC's was either in his holdall or back in Madison—JC wasn't totally sure. So they didn't manage to fix up anything more concrete than a phone call. Justin saved JC's cell number in his phone, and when they got to Youngstown, he pulled out his diary and wrote the number in there too, just in case.

JC snatched the diary and pen out of Justin's hands when he was done, and scrawled a spidery list underneath Justin's careful penmanship. Home number, two different work numbers—school was written by one, store by the other—his parents' place, an email address. "There," JC said, grinning.

"Awesome," Justin said.

There wasn't really a page of his diary he could tear out easily, but there was a notepad in his backpack somewhere, and he managed to grab it just as the bus pulled out of Youngstown. His handwriting was a little messier than normal, because it was hard to write neatly on a moving bus, but he managed to get down the essential numbers in a list and hand them over to JC. JC glanced at the list, kissed Justin once, and spent the next five minutes programming the numbers into his phone.

When he was done, JC shoved the list in his coat pocket with his phone, then started to talk about what they'd do after the holidays.

They were going to see each other in January. Early January, if they could possibly swing it, because Justin didn't want to think about waiting weeks to do this again. Not the bus thing—he could live without travelling by bus for a very, very long time—but the being with JC, the talking and the laughter and, not incidentally, the really good sex.

Justin put his arm around JC and held him as they kept talking, on from their airy plans, about the holidays and what they thought they'd get for Christmas. Justin decided that this, right here, was the definition of Christmas coming early, but he didn't say that, because despite everything he'd felt and said today, he wasn't actually a girl.

Chris was pretty much going to call him one for the entire holiday, though, no doubt.

They talked and talked. Suddenly it was nine-fifteen, then nine-thirty, then nine forty-five, and ten minutes after that, the bus was pulling into the terminal in Pittsburgh and Justin absolutely didn't want to get off. JC took his hand and hauled him up, though, and kept holding his hand while Justin waited to get his bag. The bus was laying over in Pittsburgh for about ninety minutes.

Chris was sitting on one of the plastic seats in the waiting area, jigging his foot up and down, twirling his car keys over and over on his finger, staring at nothing. Justin called, "Hey!" across the terminal and Chris started and turned and got up.

Justin dropped his bag, went over and swept Chris up in a hug. God, but it was good to see him. Chris hugged back for a moment, then did the usual Chris thing and shoved Justin playfully away. "Hey," Justin said again, and he glanced behind him to where JC was standing with their bags.

"JC," he said, "this is my buddy Chris. Chris, JC."

JC gave Chris a friendly smile. Chris didn't return it. Instead he looked JC all the way up and down, appraisingly, before turning back to Justin. "This is the motel guy?"


"It went okay? Well, I guess he didn't murder you."

Justin grinned. "No, not exactly."

"Oh, hell, kid, you didn't." Chris covered his face, but Justin could see the grin underneath Chris's hand. Justin glanced at JC, to reassure him that it was all right, and JC seemed on board with that. He met Justin's eyes, smiling, and didn't say anything. Didn't need to, right this second.

"I... yeah," Justin said.

Chris folded his arms across his stomach and started to laugh.


Justin left JC and Chris with the bags while he took a piss—it was about another hour and a half out to Chris's place from Pittsburgh. When he got back, JC was sitting next to Chris on the plastic seating, and the two of them were laughing uproariously. Chris looked up and held out his hand as Justin approached them.

"All right," Chris said, "hand it over."


"You know what." Chris snapped his fingers impatiently.

Justin smiled, sighed, and reached into his pocket to pull out the My Little Pony. Chris snatched it, turned to JC, and said, "That? Is genius. You can stick around."

JC grinned. "Thank McDonald's, man, they came through for me on that one."

"McDonald's, huh?" Chris turned the pony over in his fingers thoughtfully, and Justin folded his arms and stared at Chris. Predictably, that had no effect, so Justin sighed theatrically and grabbed the toy from Chris.

"Hey!" Chris said. "I was contemplating that."

"Mine," Justin said petulantly, pocketing it.

Chris let out another bark of laughter and got up, checking his watch. "Okay, we better get going. My mom said she's locking the doors at midnight."

Justin nodded and glanced at JC. JC got up and reached out to shake Chris's hand first, saying, "It was good meeting you. Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas," Chris said. "I'll be at the car, Justin."

Justin nodded and turned to JC. "Well," he said.

"Well," said JC. "This was." He grinned, and Justin's return grin was automatic, even though he felt... it was hard to define what he felt. Churned up inside, sad and happy all at once, missing JC while he was still here and already wondering how soon they could be in contact again.

"This was amazing, baby," JC said. "I'll see you real soon, okay?"

"Sure." Justin stepped forward, hugged JC, kissed him, hugged him again, and it was the same feeling he'd had that morning, that JC was perfect in his arms. Perfect. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas," JC said. He rubbed Justin's back and pulled back, his hands on Justin's shoulders. "I guess you better go."

"I guess," Justin said, glancing behind him. He couldn't see any sign of Chris, and he figured Chris really had gone back to the car. He bent down to get his backpack and then his holdall, and quickly grabbed JC's hand. "I. Call me when you're home?"

"That's gonna be, like, six tomorrow," JC said.

"I'll be awake," Justin said. "Call my cell."

"Okay." JC squeezed Justin's hand. "Get out of here."

Justin held onto JC's hand right up until the last possible moment, then raised the hand in a wave as he backed away. JC waved back, and finally Justin turned for the parking lot, his luggage suddenly seeming very heavy. He glanced over his shoulder again at the door, and JC was sitting again, watching him go, raising one hand to him. Justin smiled and walked out of the terminal.

Chris was waiting by the door, jigging impatiently, and grabbed Justin's bag as they walked over to the car. "Jesus," he said, "what the hell did you pack, bricks?"

Justin just smiled.

Chris shifted the bag to the other hand and patted Justin's shoulder gently. "You'll be fine."

They'd been on the highway about five minutes when Justin's phone buzzed in his pocket. He pulled it out and smiled at the display before answering. "No way are you home already," he said, by way of a greeting.

"Dude," said JC's voice, "I'm not even back on the bus yet."


Chris insisted that Justin call his mother on Christmas Day, which, really, he would have done anyway. He wasn't a total asshole.

The small house was packed with people, so after breakfast Justin retreated up the stairs and sat on the top step while he flipped through the numbers in his cell to find his mom's. It was a little bit of privacy, at least, and Justin thought that Chris had maybe asked his sisters to leave Justin alone for a little bit.

The phone rang twice before it was answered. "Hello?"

"Hi, momma, it's Justin."

She sounded pleased to hear from him, and they wished each other a merry Christmas and managed to talk for a while without really talking about stuff. Everybody had liked the gifts Justin had sent, and he'd already opened the gifts his mom had sent to Chris's place for him. There was something back at home, she said, that she hadn't wanted to send in the mail, and Justin wondered what it was.

After a while, she said, "Oh, baby, I wish you'd come home."

"I will," he said. "I will. In January, maybe. Just let me pay some off my credit card bill."

"You know we'd get you here," his mom said. He did, but that wasn't the point: there came a time when you had to start paying for shit yourself. "Bring Curtis," she said, carefully, "if you'd like."

"Uh, we broke up a while back." He'd forgotten that he hadn't mentioned that.

"Oh." There was a little pause. "Well, is there somebody new?"

"Actually, there is," Justin said, and he put his hand into the pocket of his jeans. Somehow, the My Little Pony had ended up in there. He guessed he'd reflexively picked it up from the coffee table, where he was keeping it while he slept.

He'd done the same thing yesterday.

"What's his name?" his mom asked.

Justin pulled the pony out of his pocket, turned it around between his fingers; and, taking a deep breath, started to tell his mother about JC.


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