Chris is pretty sure he gets it, right from the start. He’ll never forget it, the stunned, faraway look on Lou’s face, the four of them crowded up close in front of his massive desk, the way their voices seem to swirl together and meld and reverberate, transforming a bland tune into something almost perfect. How Lou wipes his pasty face with the pressed handkerchief from his back pocket, promising them the world and more and sliding his damp, soft hand over Chris’s back, as though he’s done something wonderful. Watching them from the corners of his eyes as they file out, Justin dragging JC by the wrist, Joey doing his best to kick the heels of their shoes. Sure, it’s skeevy, but also awesome.
And with Lance, how everything comes together. Chris remembers Justin’s mom turning pink, right there in the bathroom where they sing for the acoustics, and later on Lou turning red, and then white. And later still, how the stage gags are just about as silly as they can be, space helmets, for God’s sake, but the fans go wild — too fucking funny, the loud sex noises if one of them so much as makes eye contact during a show. Man, it’s a gas, the best thing in the whole world. Endless worship, endless tail, all because of their combined voices — fuck, how could anything be better than that?
Chris still thanks God every day for their chance to sing these stupid songs.
The way Justin explains it, it’s a Mouseketeer thing. Of course, Justin is a retard. He cheerfully admits it when he’s drunk, less cheerfully when Chris has to hold him in a nelson to force it out of him. The important thing is that Chris knows that Justin knows he’s just being a punkass, and Chris also knows that Justin knows it’s them, the five of them, one for all and all that crap.
“I know,” Justin says. “You think I don’t know that? Fuck.” He glances at JC. Chris yanks his arms back another quarter inch and shoves his head down.
“I think you know you’re a supahstar.”
“Well, to be fair, he is a supahstar,” JC says dreamily from the floor in front of the tv.
“Shut up, JC.”
JC looks at Justin then, and Chris feels a pang of doubt.
“C’mere,” JC says, turning around from the big screen. “We have something to show you.”
“Is it porn? It had better be porn.”
JC laughs with his whole body, holding himself around the middle. “Don’t worry.”
So Chris drops Justin face-first into the carpet and sits up, but it’s not porn, it’s them up on stage in their crazy, slutty clothes. He opens his mouth to bitch, but something distracts him, something that he can’t quite grasp, a flash of light or the gleam of teeth, moving bodies, sound.
“Do you see?” JC asks.
The clip’s on endless loop, apparently, a couple of short segments of them completely in time, even Lance, and Chris thinks they sound fucking wonderful, rich and full. And again and again, bodies moving together, sound filling his head and slipping down his spine. And again.
“We,” Chris says with an effort.
And suddenly Justin is there, and JC’s right there, and it’s wild and hot and wrong, and they dance, and they dance, and they dance.
“This is how it is,” Justin hisses in his ear, and Chris bites his lip and comes. Behind him JC moans, a low, carrying note. On screen, mechanical bulls shoot red rays from their eyes, and girls in the audience tremble and pant and peer through their fingers, just like always.
He aches after that, every time he remembers.
It’s like some fucked up dream. They get velcro suits and doctor coats, and they get stalked by fans everywhere they go, chicks waiting by elevators and hiding in room service carts and hanging out the windows of hotels. Justin and JC go on a crazy writing binge and start finishing each other’s sentences in public, and they take him in every night and JC holds him down while Justin pushes him hard, sending him farther in and farther up, farther. Lance and Joey snicker, but the music gets even better.
Toward the end of the tour, when Lance talks about space and Joey talks about the stage, Justin mentions a solo record and Chris punches him in the face.
JC yanks him away by the arm. Justin’s gasping in the background, holding his mouth and gasping, so Chris grabs JC by the throat and squeezes hard. JC just licks his lips and lifts his chin and looks right back at him.
And Chris is gone, just gone.
He doesn’t see any of them if he doesn’t have to for a long time, except Lance and Joey.
It bugs him during the hi-a-tus when his music doesn’t sound quite right, and his songs are like so close but lacking something. The push to produce and perform and get it going on, he just doesn’t have it. And after a while it doesn’t even seem worth it anymore. Same old thing, same old thing. Same old thing.
People stop looking at him in public, and Chris tells himself that’s better. No more psycho fans trying to consume him with their eyes, pulling at his clothes, calling his name. Much better.
He wonders how it is for the other guys. He figures it’s about the same for Joey, doing his acting thing and his family thing, and Lance, doing his butterfly thing, but he doesn’t ask. JC he’s not so sure about. He watches JC try, and appear to fail, and his stuff just seems so… silly, and Chris can’t figure it out. It’s hot and ridiculous like it should be, and JC doesn’t even seem to care too much that nobody cares.
And Justin… well. Chris stops thinking about it and goes back to doing not much at all. Eventually everything fades and gets kind of foggy anyway, people he used to know, a life he used to live. It’s quiet.
Then Justin leaves a message one day and everything snaps into focus, clear as a bell.
His codes still work on Justin’s street gate and garden door. Chris pauses for a moment in the cold night air, thumbnail to his mouth, and pushes inside.
Empty kitchen, empty hall. Somewhere music is playing. Somewhere, without a doubt, Justin’s listening, eyes closed and lips barely parted, feeling it, going where the music takes him as always. Chris listens for as long as he can, until the sound pulls him through empty halls and dark rooms to Justin’s bedroom door.
When he finally manages to open the door, Justin doesn’t open his eyes. “Hey,” he murmurs.
“Hey,” Chris answers, the ragged edge to his own voice taking him by surprise. He falls silent and stands, hands at his sides, no idea what to do or say. He’s not sure it would matter if he knew.
Justin looks up at him then. “Come on in, man,” he says. “I missed you.”
“I missed you,” Justin repeats, and Chris wants to believe him.
“Why am I here, Justin.”
He still tastes sweet and a little bit off, like whisky and orange and barbecue sauce. He still melts into Chris’s body, arms around his neck, making that low noise under his breath like humming. Chris pushes against him, wondering, grateful. Lost.
Another hand touches him, another body warm along his side, and Chris thinks maybe everything will be okay, after all.
“C,” he breathes, turning his head.
“You ready?” JC murmurs, and Chris gasps, electrified.
But JC has locked gazes with Justin, Chris realizes, their stupid mind-meld thing from years ago, and Justin’s nodding solemnly.
“I missed you,” Justin says, burying his face in Chris’s neck.
“Come on, do it,” Justin gasps, and Chris puts his hands over his ears to watch.
The knife slides in so easily. JC’s lips are moving, and Chris tries hard to listen, fuck, he has to. Justin’s smiling, or trying to smile, his teeth outlined in red and his breath bubbling up in his throat, and he’s trying to keep his eyes open, trying to focus on JC’s song.
The music crashes over Chris then, and he has to uncover his ears. JC is holding out his red, red hands, and for a moment Chris sees the fans, multicolored strands drifting down onto their upturned, rapturous faces. He thinks he can hear the screams, like an orgasm.
He wonders if someday JC will do the same for all of them, send them somewhere new and bright and hot to make them last forever. He hopes he can last that long.
Now you sing.