we invented the remix 5

i shoulda known by joyfulseeker: the this is what's left (extended) mix by loey

"I love my wife," Joey says one lazy afternoon, buried under come-stained sheets, the sheen of sweat on his skin catching the Indian Summer sun.

Lance rolls over onto his back, hands folded on his stomach, staring unblinkingly at the ceiling.

"Okay," he says.

There's nothing else to say. They've played this out hundreds of times, and it rolls around in Lance's head like some bitter sad love song, except it's not. It's his life. Joey's fine in the before, showing up on Lance's doorstep with a big grin and a bottle of gin. He's great at the during, slipping into Lance's bed, mumbling against Lance's lips, hands everywhere. It's the after that he sucks at, when the space in his head clears and his guilt shows.

Lance feels Joey's head turn on the pillow, looking at him. Lance focuses on the ceiling and the Italian tiles he picked out himself.

He's too old for this.

Live along the way
Tell me everything's okay and you feel the same

Lance is sixteen when he joins Nsync and meets the guys he'll spend the rest of his life loving and hating.

Joey makes the biggest impression.

Lance stumbles into this tight-knit group of guys who have nothing in common but this crazy dream and finds himself trying to find his place.

The first few weeks are awkward and uncomfortable, getting used to living in the house with everyone and learning to share his space.

The other four have known each other for a while now. They have inside jokes and a level of familiarity that lends itself to drinking out of each other's glasses and walking around in their underwear. Lance is on the outside those first months, making an effort, but feeling like a kid with his nose pressed against the candy store window. One thing he's completely sure of, despite the initial awkwardness, is how much he's wanted there. It's little things, like Chris's teasing, and Justin waking him up in the morning, or JC wander into his bed at three in the morning when he can't sleep or Joey thinking it's funny to talk loudly and in explicit detail about the girls he sleeps with. It's just a matter of time, he thinks, waiting to find where he fits.

Joey slowly works his way toward becoming Lance's favorite and Lance isn't quite sure how it happens. Joey's not around a lot - he's still got his hours at Universal - and Lance doesn't see him around the house unless it's late or they're trying to fit in another rehearsal.

Lance finds himself looking for Joey at odd times, when there's a show on tv he knows Joey would like or if he's about to eat the last piece of pie left in the refrigerator to see if Joey wants to share it.

Lance carves time out for Joey. Joey ignores curfew and Lance always waits up for him. He doesn't think much about it, it's just a habit he's grown into, like poking Chris in the stomach every time he comes dripping out of the shower or sharing the love seat with Justin while they watch Saturday Night Live.

Lance waits up for him and he thinks Joey's started to expect it, the way his face doesn't change in shock but the smile spreads wider.

It's a little after two in the morning and Lance is sitting at the bottom of the steps in his pajama pants and an old sweatshirt of JC's, slumped against the wall asleep. He startles awake when Joey shakes him gently awake.

"Hey, buddy," Joey whispers, his breath warm against Lance's cheek. "Sorry. I lost track of time."

Lance blinks sleepily up at him, gives him a small smile. Joey reeks of sex, and the flush on his cheeks and the stupid grin on his face gives it away. Lance wrinkles his nose.

"Sorry, I know, I stink," Joey mumbles and holds out his hand to pull Lance up.

Lance is still disoriented, half asleep, and he stumbles, falling forward into Joey. "Sorry," he says against Joey's shoulder. Something about the way Joey's hand settles at his waist makes him wish he could stay there forever.

Nobody cares if Lance is gay.

It comes out one morning at breakfast, the five of them talking over each other, except for JC who's slumped half asleep with his head on Lance's shoulder, smelling sweet and clean. Lance likes mornings almost as much as he likes waiting for Joey.

Justin's talking about this girl he just met at the mall, who shyly gave him her phone number and told him to call her.

"Whoo! Justin's got a girlfriend!" Joey says, throwing his arm around Justin's shoulder and yanking him against him so Justin's nose is pressed into his armpit.

"Shut up," Justin growls, cheeks growing pink. It's ridiculously cute.

"I think it's cool," Lance says and Justin grins and they slap hands.

"What about you, Lance?" Chris says from across the table, reaching for the milk. "You got a girlfriend?"

Lance shakes his head. "No."

"Boyfriend?" Chris presses and the table quiets, waiting for what Lance is sure isn't as big a secret as he thought it was.

Lance pauses for a minute. "No," he says finally, "not anymore."

There's no shock or surprise on anyone's face. Justin pulls away from Joey and leans closer to Lance, looking for the gossip. "What happened?"

Lance shrugs. "I got this call to come be in a band with a bunch of losers and I said yes," he says and grins.

Chris looks thoughtfully at him for a minute. "Good choice," he says.

The following months are a whirl of endless rehearsals and promotional concerts and then they go to Europe to try to see if anyone wants them over there.

Germany is all about long days and endless free time.

There's too much time spent sitting around, trying to amuse each other and stay out of trouble.

What happens instead is, Lance falls in love with Joey.

He doesn't mean to and he ignores it, like an itch or a bruise. Joey's his best friend. It's not surprising to Lance that he thinks his feelings for Joey fall into the love category. But he's determined to ignore it because Joey's out every night, falling into a different girl's bed and stumbling home as the sun's coming up and he's sure he's the furthest thing from Joey's heart.

It gets hard to ignore. Joey has no sense of personal space. He gets homesick a lot and comes looking for Lance and a hug. Lance was never much of a hugger but Joey makes it seem like the best thing in the world, the way he wraps his whole body around Lance and doesn't let go until he's had enough. And Joey always smells good, not like cologne but soap and hair gel. And when he smiles, it's like Lance has been in the dark his whole life and is only now feeling the sunshine on his face. Joey likes to talk late at night, comes to Lance's room and they sit together with pillows and blankets in the narrow hallway, heads bent together, Lance listening to Joey's voice until they fall asleep.

Lance is not the shy quiet boy the magazines seem to think he is, but he's also not brazen or forward. He's not going to do anything stupid, make a move or anything, because Joey likes girls and Lance likes Joey too much to ruin the friendship by doing something stupid.

The US album hits and Joey starts dating a plainly pretty girl he knew back home and dated on and off before Germany. Her name is Kelly. Lance hates her on principal but the thing that pisses him off most is how much he really likes her.

She's the female version of Joey. If Lance hadn't known since he was seven that he was gay, he would have fallen in love with her.

They don't get to see each other a lot which means Lance listens to Joey talk about her in the middle of long drives across the country and late nights after concerts when they can't sleep.

Lance loves Joey so he lets him talk, listens to the slow, soothing tone of his voice and thinks, maybe someday.

Joey kisses him for the first time somewhere between Kansas City and St. Louis, in the middle of their first tour. Lance has had close to three years with Joey, and he knows everything there is to know about him. But he didn't know this.

The bus is quiet, JC, Justin and Chris are in the back watching a movie and Joey and Lance are up front, sitting side by side in the booth, reading a fan magazine, heads bent close together, laughing quietly. Joey just cut his hair again and the tips are red. Lance thinks he looks good. Joey's arm is thrown casually over the back of the seat. He smells good.

Lance says something that makes Joey laugh and they lift their heads at the same time, colliding into each other with a dull thunk.

"Ow, fuck," Joey mutters, wincing, still half laughing.

"Sorry," Lance wheezes, fingers pressing against his own forehead.

"I'm bruised, scarred for life," Joey laughs. Lance rubs his fingers over the spot on Joey's forehead and it isn't until he feels Joey's breath on his cheek that he realizes how close they are.

Joey stops laughing a split second before he surges forward, mouth clashing clumsily with Lance's.

Lance catches his breath, feels like the wind was knocked out of him and freezes, does nothing, and feels like an idiot. This is what he's waited for, this is what he's wanted and all he can do is nothing.

He feels Joey start to pull away and that frantic this is your only chance feeling overwhelms Lance and he hooks his fingers in the neck of Joey's shirt and pulls him back. He opens his mouth and kisses Joey because this is what he wants.

Joey sighs a little and Lance can feel his smile underneath his own lips. Joey's tongue licks the corner of Lance's mouth and Lance pulls away, breathing hard, feeling like he's standing on the edge of some dangerous fall and it's now or never.

He wipes his fingers over his lips and stares blankly at Joey, who's breathing hard, eyes wide, looking a little lost.

"Sorry. Shit, I'm sorry," Lance whispers and gets up awkwardly.

He walks quickly to the back of the bus before Joey can say anything.

The pace of a first-time headlining tour doesn't allow for much time to talk and Lance successfully manages to avoid Joey for three days before Joey comes to JC's room where Lance has been sleeping, early in the morning.

JC sleeps like the dead. Lance answers the door in his boxer shorts, and Joey's on the other side, fully dressed. "Hey," he says. "Let's talk."

Lance looks at him blankly, not wanting at all to talk to Joey. "Okay," he says after a minute. "Let me get dressed."

"I think I should apologize," Joey says later when Lance is dressed. They're downstairs in the deserted hotel restaurant. They're in a booth in the back, and Joey's bouncing his leg nervously. "I think I freaked you out."

"It's fine," Lance says, staring at the table. "Forget about it." Lance isn't going to forget about it, not for a long time at any rate, but it's kind of sweet in a bitter sort of way that Joey thinks he needs to apologize.

"It's not fine. Lance." Joey exhales sharply. "Lance. Look at me."

Lance drags his eyes up to Joey's.

"I'm sorry," Joey says. "I just. I'm sorry. I want us to be fine."

Lance bares his teeth in an imitation of a grin. "We're fine, Joe. Promise."

Joey looks like he doesn't believe him but he wants to.

It happens again, six months later when they're in the studio to record the Christmas album.

They're passed out together on one of the sofas in the back. Lance wakes up and Joey's pressed against his side, his leg thrown over Lance's hip, one hand resting possessively on Lance's stomach. His breath is warm against Lance's neck.

Lance doesn't move. He listens to Joey breathe, counts the minutes and wonders if there's a way to save them.

When he turns to look at Joey, Joey's eyes are open, heavy lidded, sleepy.

Lance's breath catches and the intimacy of their positions stirs him. He moves to get up and Joey's fingers tighten in his shirt. "Stay," he mumbles. He brushes his mouth over Lance's cheek and Lance freezes.

"Joey," Lance whispers. This feels dangerous.

Joey says, "Lance. I want to," and kisses the corner of Lance's mouth.

And Lance isn't strong enough to say no.

Before this, Lance spent all of his waking time with Joey. Now they spend all of their sleeping time together, making out under the covers when they should be asleep, hands moving everywhere.

Lance doesn't think it'll ever be enough.

It's accidental, in all the give and take, push and pull, frantic fumbling of first love.

Lance hadn't been saving himself for Joey, but it feels like this is what he's been waiting for.

The first time is a little awkward and clumsy and Lance can't catch his breath. They lay there, the sounds of their breathing heavy in the still room until Lance rolls Joey over and mumbles into his mouth, "Let's do it again."

And they do. Whenever they can, whenever there's a free fifteen minutes. Lance feels like he has a secret and he can't stop smiling, grinning like an idiot any time Joey looks at him in the dressing room and cocks his head. Rushed blowjobs in the utility closet, handjobs in the bathroom, and one time Joey fucks him against the hood of a car out behind the venue, with just the cover of a Dumpster hiding them from sight.

In the midst of it all, Lance trips and falls head over feet and Joey's there to catch him.

Joey never stops dating Kelly. Lance never asks him to. Lance just think Joey has to much love to give and it doesn't bother him. Lance isn't stupid, he knows the deal. This isn't something they can go running around to Rolling Stone with. Lance is fine with that, he prefers to be at the back anyway, out of the spotlight and Joey is perfect for that because he's got Kelly on his arm. And Lance gets most of Joey anyway.

Lance loses himself, lets his weakness show one night in the middle of a snowstorm in Detroit, in between stops on the No Strings Tour.

Joey's leaning on his elbows over him, cheeks flushed, sweat matting his hair to his forehead, lips swollen, eyes dark. Lance digs his fingers into Joey's hips, holds on and lets go, head falling back, hips moving in time with Joey's thrusts.

Afterwards, Joey falls forward, his weight comforting, head on the pillow next to Lance's. Lance can't catch his breath, has no time to come down or stop himself from saying, "love you, Joey," into Joey's cheek.

He regrets it the minute it comes tumbling out. He can't see Joey's eyes but he feels Joey's reaction, the way he tenses completely.

He doesn't say anything and Lance lets it go.

In the morning, they pretend nothing's wrong, though everything's changed. Joey doesn't look Lance in the eye. He doesn't follow him into the shower or stand behind him while he brushes his teeth, poking him in the waist and trying to make him smile.

From then on, Lance learns to keep his feelings to himself.

"She's pregnant," Joey says before the come dries, before Lance has a chance to catch his breath before it's knocked out of him.

His head's on Joey's shoulder and he's not sure he heard right. He can't have heard right. "What?" he says, lifting his head up to look at Joey's eyes. Joey shows everything in his eyes.

"She's pregnant," Joey's mouth moves but Lance doesn't hear him through the rush of blood and white noise in his ears. Lance doesn't need to hear it again.

This was always a possibility, he tells himself. He was never going to be enough for Joey. But it never fully doused that little spark of hope that's been there since the beginning, when Joey could make him feel like he was the whole world to him.

Lance rolls over and sits up, feeling like the world just tipped upside down and he can't figure out where he is. "What." Lance stops, swallows, starts again. "What are you going to do?"

Joey looks up at Lance, his eyes big, dark and serious and Lance sees for the first time how lost Joey is. "I don't know," he says quietly, helplessly. He reaches out for Lance and Lance stands up abruptly, out of reach, and watches the hurt flicker across Joey's face. It's the first time Lance has ever pushed Joey away, denied him something and it hurts but this hurts more, the word baby hanging in the air between them.

Lance stands in the dark room, naked, head down. There's silence for a long, awkward moment and then, "tell me what to do," Joey says on a broken whisper.

This is not Lance's job. This is not Lance's place. He's not Joey's boyfriend, Joey's made that painfully clear over and over again. Lance has no responsibility in this.

And so he says, "I can't."

Briahna is born on a Sunday morning and Lance goes to the hospital. He holds her in his arms, his heart breaking all over again and slowly knitting back together when she opens her eyes and squints up at him. She looks just like Joey, big brown eyes and a wide mouth and Lance holds her and thinks, I can do this. He wants to be right. He wants to be able to be there and not feel like he's breaking every time he looks at her little face. He wants to get past this hollow feeling in his chest and look at Joey like he's nothing more than the best friend he's ever had. He wants to teach this little girl everything his parents taught him and be the kind of person she can be proud to know.

There, in the tiny hospital, Briahna tucked gently against his chest, it feels possible.

Lance isn't naive. He just didn't think Joey would ever get married.

He's wrong.

Lance doesn't try to hide the shock when Joey tells him about the proposal and the date.

"I love her. I want a family, Lance," Joey says on a rainy morning, lying in Lance's bed, naked and sleepy.

Lance just thinks, what about me?

Joey gets married.

Lance spends three weeks working on a toast. After the ceremony, he flushes it down the toilet. There's nothing left to say.

He's had seven glasses of champagne and half the contents of the flask tucked in his jacket pocket when it's his turn.

His hands are sweating and his face feels hot.

"I. I just wanted to say." Lance stops, looking at Joey's shining face, at Kelly's bright smile and perfect dress. He swallows, and starts again.

"I want to wish you all the happiness in the world," he says finally and gives Joey a smile that feels only slightly forced.

"To Kelly and Joey," he says, raising his glass, and there's a chorus of "To Kelly and Joey" and clinking glasses.

Joey finds him later, outside hiding behind a rose bush, sitting in the grass, his jacket next to him.

"Hey," Joey says, grinning ear to ear.

"Hey." Lance gives him a smile that's a lie.

Joey sits down next to Lance, close, shoulders touching. "Thanks, Lance," he says, nudging Lance with his shoulder. "That was a really nice toast."

The thing with Joey is, he's clueless. He always has been. He's sweet, and considerate but when it comes to the big picture he just doesn't get it. And Lance doesn't explain it to him, he never does, he just lets Joey go on thinking Lance is fine, that they're fine, that things are fine. Joey doesn't want to think differently. He doesn't want to know that Lance is head over feet in love, that this wedding is Lance's worst nightmare come true, that sitting here like this is slowly breaking Lance apart.

So Lance just lets Joey throw his arm around him and leans his head on Joey's shoulder. "You're welcome," he says and doesn't mean it.

The honeymoon is over a week before Joey shows up again. Lance is in the middle of laundry, washing dirty sheets that smell like sex, a souvenir from the night before and a nineteen-year-old god named Anthony.

Joey's tan and grinning, eyes crinkling around the corners. He pulls Lance into a huge hug and it's Joey's cluelessness that's breaking Lance's heart right now.

Lance feels like some bad habit Joey can't break. It's those times Lance hates Joey most.

Through it all, through everything, Lance never gets all that good at turning Joey away. All Joey has to do is look at him and smile, a smile Lance fell for the first time they met, the one that said "you're going to love me."

Marriage doesn't change anything. Lance doesn't know what he expected, but through the months before the wedding, he braced himself for Joey to throw himself into married life. He expected to have to get used to not seeing Joey around. But nothing changes. If anything, Joey's more enthusiastic about the whole thing, tumbles into Lance's bed, fucks Lance stupid, leaves him panting and gasping and goes wandering back to Kelly as though the whole thing is perfectly normal.

At this point it's been going on for nearly seven years, so to Joey, it probably does feel normal.

To Lance, it's just another little bit of him leaving with Joey, every time Joey goes back.

you've got no right to complain
do you have anyone to blame?

Joey's been married for almost two years now. He still mentions Kelly as though he's surprised, as though he's momentarily forgotten he married her.

Lance is the other woman now, though it feels worse than that. Because he knows better. He does this to himself, lets Joey into his house, his bed, his heart and lets Joey walk back out again, back to Kelly and Briahna and his perfect family. Lance blames only himself.

Lance rubs a hand over his face and gets to his feet, his knees feeling sore, his whole body feeling tired and old. He'll be thirty in a few weeks. He doesn't have the patience for this anymore. He doesn't have the heart.

"I'm going to shower," Lance says, and sidesteps when Joey reaches for him.

He pauses, his hand on the doorknob. When he looks over his shoulder, Joey's sitting on the edge of the bed, the sheet draped over his lap, looking lost. He's got lines around his eyes and he sits a little hunched over, like the weight of life's just getting to be too much.

Lance takes a deep breath and says, "go home, Joey."

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