we invented the remix 5

bitter burn beautiful by smartlikejustin: the smooth like gravel mix by soal fiamma

Lance checks his watch. 8:45 a.m. This isn't one of his more well thought out plans, he has to admit. When he was lying awake at 5:00 in the morning, counting the many ways he'd like to launch Chris's ass into the middle of next week, the idea of showing up on Chris's doorstep hadn't seemed so lame. Now that he's here, though, parked outside Chris's gated community contemplating the unsettling prospect of confronting an uncaffeinated and almost certainly unrested Chris without any of the other guys around for back up, he's starting to have second thoughts.

8:50 a.m. Confrontation isn't the only option, he reminds himself. He could just set fire to shoes and drop them through the mailbox. Chris would get the message. Plus, he'd have to get a new hall rug, and there's be a certain satisfaction in that.

9:00 a.m. Lance gives his left armpit an experimental sniff. Maybe he'll just sneak in and have a quick shower before he makes up his mind.

9:05. Maybe he should ask Joey to call Chris and ask him if he's had his morning coffee yet. With a couple of cups of coffee under his belt, Chris will at least be rational. Or as rational as Chris gets, anyway. Rational enough to give Lance a straight answer about why he's been such a fucking dick these last few weeks.

He's just dialed the first few digits of Joey's cell when the gates slide open and spit out another morning commuter. It isn't until a second car rolls out after the first and they both round the corner at the bottom of the street that Lance recognizes the vehicles. Chris, with Lonnie hot on his heels.

"Jerk," he says, peeling off down the road after them. "Like I'm in the mood for following you all over the city."

Forty-five minutes later, Lance follows Chris into the parking lot of one of the lamest, dingiest excuses for a mall he's ever seen. The interior is every bit as run-down and seedy as the exterior suggested. A bunch of crap stores selling discounted goods that look like they’ve been stored in the basements of better malls for the past two decades and clothes that are going to fall apart the first time you throw them in the washing machine. Not that Chris throws his own clothes into the washing machine these days. Not that any of them do.

Hanging back, Lance trails Lonnie as Lonnie trails Chris past a store that sells faded baseball cards, a greeting card shop with a display of tattered pink hearts dangling over mangy looking stuffed bears, and a beauty salon where a raddled-looking stylist is sporting smeary lipstick and a huge hairdo that fell out of fashion right after women stopped wearing shoulder pads up to their earlobes and parachute pants.

Lance is so busy being appalled at her startling ability to commit sixteen simultaneous fashion faux pas that he almost forgets to duck out of sight when Chris turns around and heads back to the food fair. While Chris stares moodily at the menu above the coffee shop, Lance ducks into a second-rate sporting goods store to buy a wide-brimmed fisherman's hat. It's a completely lame hat, at least two sizes too big for him, but it covers almost a good chunk of his face, so it's unlikely Chris will.

Back at the food fair, he spots Chris immediately, leaning against a pillar and glowering alternately at the cup in his hand and at the other denizens of the mall, a collection of depressed-looking women with small children, suspicious old men and crack dealers. Chris seems to be in a foul mood, which, what else is new these days. Lance can't remember the last time Chris wasn't sulking or yelling or generally being a total fuckhead.

Lance watches Chris take a sip of coffee and can't resist snickering meanly to himself at Chris's wince of pain as the too hot coffee meets his mouth. He feels bad about it almost immediately, and even worse when Chris goes ahead and takes another sip. Silly fucker can't take care of himself to save his life. Lance wants to walk over, yank the cup out of his hand and tell him not to be such a moron, but he just watches.

Justin was the first of the other guys to notice something was wrong. Or at least he was the first to mention it. JC had probably noticed, but he didn't like to interfere in the interband spats unless they really started to interfere with the work. If Joey had noticed, he would have said something. He didn't let anyone shovel the kind of shit at Lance that Chris had been doing lately.

The first time he witnessed Chris being a fuckhead to Lance, Justin didn't say anything, but Lance could tell he'd noticed. They were killing time during a rehearsal break, and Lance was filling Justin in on the status of his latest movie project. At almost the same time Lance noticed Justin's eyes glaze over, Chris looked up from the magazine he was thumbing through and said, Yo, J, you should tell Lance that he's boring-ass movie shit is putting you to sleep."

It should have been just a typical Chris slam, the kind of provocative thing he said fifty times a day in an attempt to entice one of them into a wrestling match or a pinching endurance contest, but this was different. Something spiteful in his tone, the mean twist of his face told Lance that this was meant to sting.

Lance blinked and tried to make his face go blank. Never show them your underbelly. One of the first lessons Chris had ever taught him. By the time Justin had turned his startled face away from Chris, Lance had his game face back on.

Justin tried to pretend nothing had happened, making a couple of jokes about the choreography, and soon he and Chris were laughing together and everything seemed to be sliding slowly back to normal.

"So, Chris, wanna go to the Magic game with me tonight?" Justin asked. "I got tickets. Best seats in the house."

Chris shrugged. "Nah, I don't think so J. I think I'm just gonna chill tonight."

Lance checked his PDA to see if he was free to coerce Justin into taking him to the game instead. "Oh, hey, Chris, don't forget you wanted me to help you with those FuMan projections tonight." Cool. This would the perfect time to find out what was picking Chris's ass.

There was a pause. Then, without even looking at Lance, Chris smiled at Justin and said, "Whatever. Sounds cool, J. Pick me up?"

Poor Justin. He stared at Chris like Chris had just cut off Lance's pinky, looked at Lance, looked back at Chris. He didn't seem to know what to do with his eyes or his mouth which kept emitting "ums" and "ahs" as he tried to figure out how to salvage the situation. Finally, he nodded slowly and said, "Yeah. 6:30 okay?"

When Chris left, Justin poked Lance to get his attention.

"Yo, dude. What's up with you and Chris?" Justin was clearly trying to sound concerned, but Lance could tell he was pissed, and not with Chris either, which was fucking typical.

"Mind your own business, Justin." Lance said, as though there was business to mind, as though Lance had some freaking clue what had crawled up Chris's ass.

"Fuck you, Lance. What did you do to him, anyway? He's never like this."

"Fuck you back, asshole. I didn't do a thing. What makes you think I did anything? He's the one behaving like a two-year old."

Justin glared at him. "If you're fucking him over, I'll kick your ass, dude."

"Oh, shut up," Lance said, irritated at the injustice of having to endure Justin's idiotic threats because Chris was a freaking asshat. Still and always. "Just shut up, Timberlake, and then go fuck yourself and take your stupid best friend with you."

Fuck it, he decided as he walked away. It was Chris's issue, and when Chris wanted to grow up and deal with it, he knew where to find Lance.

Chris gulps down the last of his coffee and tosses the container in a nearby trash can. From the vantage point of a smoke shop on the other side of the food fair, Lance watches him wipe his hands on his pants and run his tongue back and forth over his lips and teeth. It looks…sexy. Lance slams the door on that thought. Pointless. He's already wasted enough of his life speculating about the taste of that tongue, and now that Chris so clearly hates his guts for no apparent reason, the fantasy is even more ridiculous than ever.

As Chris starts moving through the mall again, Lance tugs his hat down even lower, peering around to see where Lonnie has got to. He spots him, standing against the same pillar Chris had been leaning against, arms folded across his chest, sunglasses not even remotely hiding the fact that he's staring right at Lance. When Lance puts his finger to his lips and nods toward Chris, Lonnie just shrugs and shakes his head in his patented oh-lord-preserve-me-from-these-boybander-dramas way.

With a nod of gratitude, Lance looks back at Chris who has paused to examine a hideous tie at a kiosk a few yards away. For a moment, Lance thinks he might actually be thinking about buying it, an electric blue monstrosity festooned with small red dots that might be apples or cherries or possibly little red planets. Hard to tell from this distance. Not hard to tell, though, that only a circus performer could get away with wearing a tie that ugly in public. He wouldn't put it past Chris to try, though.

Lance can't quite see what Chris is doing with the tie. Checking the price? (Oh, please, God, no.) Stroking it? Holy shit, Lance thinks as he moves in a little closer. He's shredding it!

And now the vendor is coming around the corner of the kiosk, professional salesman's smile plastered on his face, but it's looking pretty strained, even more so when the guy catches sight of what Chris is doing to his tie. Lonnie moves in with a placating gesture as Chris walks away.

By the time Lonnie has paid for the tie and smoothed over the vendor's justifiable ire, Chris has ensconced himself at the counter of a gloomy little sandwich shop with no customers and a fug of stale grease that's discernable even from Lance's observation post twenty feet away. He can't believe Chris is seriously thinking of ordering anything from the grubby guy with the food splattered apron who's swabbing indifferently at the counter with a cloth that looks like it was last laundered during the Clinton administration. If Chris goes and gets himself a case of botulism, it's going to be a bitch reorganizing their concert schedule.

And if he thinks he's getting a visit from Lance when he's recuperating in hospital, he can just think again.

"So, hey."

Lance glanced up from his laptop. "Hmm?"

JC smiled tentatively. "So. Uh." He reached over and patted Lance's arm, giving it a comforting squeeze before breaking contact. "Chris seems a little. I don't know."

"What, JC? I'm kind of busy, here." Lance waved toward his laptop, trying to look like he was doing something more important than forwarding stripper jokes to Joey. The only thing worse than Chris treating him like he was a pariah was everyone else trying to get him to talk about it. What was there to say? Chris was an ass. End of story.

"It's just. I don't know, Lance. I'm just."

JC made a couple of flappy gestures with his hands that might have been meant to convey confusion, but looked more like he was being attacked by wasps. Which Lance sort of wished he was, because this conversation wasn't really one he wanted to have right now. He'd thought whatever was bothering Chris would have blown over by now.

It hadn't, though. Over the last few weeks Chris's irritation with Lance had escalated rather than faded, and it didn't seem to matter whether Lance was pleasant or snide or ignored the situation entirely. At first he thought Chris was just going through one of his bitchy phases, because it wasn't like that hadn't happened at least half a dozen times every time they worked on a new CD or went on tour or spent countless days together at the compound. This had gone on too long, though, and besides, when Chris was in bitch mode, he took it out on everyone, even Justin. This time, the only person he seemed to be gunning for was Lance. Whatever this was, it was personal.

And that didn't make any sense either. Lance had racked his brain for days trying to remember what the he might have said or to make Chris so angry. Nothing. He hadn't even played a practical joke on him for weeks, and Chris had already taken his revenge for the last one in spades. Lance was still trying to figure out how to get the smell of cat piss out of his new love seat. There was no earthly reason he could think for Chris to be so pissed with him.

"It's just," JC continued, "It's just that. Well, really, we're all a bit. You know. Worried. Well, maybe not worried, exactly. More concerned, I guess. I mean, dude, it doesn't take an eye surgeon to see that you guys aren't exactly getting along these days."

"Eye surgeons don't have super vision, you know."

"Um. What? Don't change the subject, cat. This is serious. Your spat with Chris is starting to interfere with that group. Everyone's on eggshells around the two of you. What did you do to piss him off this bad?"

"Why does everyone assume this is fault?" Lance snapped the laptop shut and started gathering his papers, stuffing them into his bag. "Chris is the asshole in the situation, in case that had escaped your notice. I'm just the poor slob who's unlucky enough to be on the receiving end of his assholiness. How does that make this my fault?"

"Dude, no, that's not what we're saying. It's not what I'm saying." JC pulled Lance in for a hug and ruffled his hair, making Lance want to bite off his fingers, because it's not like he hadn't spent a good half hour getting his hair to look half-way decent that morning. It was JC, though. Yelling at him for hugging you would be like hiding your grandma's dentures.

"Look, C, you want to know what's going on? Go ask Chris, okay?" Lance hugged JC back and disentangled himself. "And don't forget to let me know when you find out, okay?"

Lance can't believe his eyes. Chris is standing in the All-For-A-Dollar store in plain view of the store clerk and anyone passing by, blatantly taking items off the shelf and shoving them into his pockets. What the hell? It looks like he just stole a lipstick, for god's sake. What on earth has gotten into him? For a minute Lance thinks Chris has spotted him and is just trying to get a rise out of him, but Chris doesn't look his way. He just pockets something else – more makeup, Lance thinks – and moves to a different aisle.

The store clerk is staring at Chris, goggle-eyed and obviously nervous. She's glancing from Chris to the phone to Lonnie, who's moved in behind Chris, shaking his head fondly like Chris is a particularly rambunctious five-year old, and she looks like she wants to go hide in the back room. Lance can't blame her. Chris has his I-dare-you face on, and he's making no effort whatsoever to hide what he's doing. She's probably seen her share of whack jobs and is worried that if she reaches for the phone Chris will fly into a rage and start trashing the store. She's probably afraid that if he does, it's going to come out of her paycheque.

On his way out of the store, Chris picks up a day-glo yellow yo-yo and, eyes fixed on the clerk who can't tear her own eyes away from him, drops it into his jacket pocket.

"Have a nice day," he says as he walks back into the mall.

Thank God for Lonnie. So far Chris has skirted botulism, getting busted for vandalism, and being arrested for shoplifting. What next, Lance wonders. If he knocks over that old guy with walker he's glaring at now, even Lonnie's not going to be able to save his bacon. And Lance for sure isn't going to bail him out.

Lance holds his breath when Chris approaches a lingerie store. After what Chris has put Lonnie through already this morning, he shouldn't have to contend with Chris racing around this God-forsaken mall in a corset and silk stockings.

Fortunately, Chris doesn't give the lingerie store more than a passing glance. He doesn't pause again until he reaches a bookstore at the end of the mall. Not much damage he can do in there, Lance reassures himself. Unless he starts ripping the books apart like he did that tie. Or decides to steal a few. Or sets the place on fire.

Chris seems to have decided to start behaving like a normal person, though. He paws through the sales bins, reading the back covers and inside jackets of a few books, putting them back again. One book in particular seems to pique his interest, and he spends a few minutes thumbing through it before taking it up to the counter and paying for it. Lance is desperately curious to know what he's bought, but he can't even make out the cover illustration let alone the title.

One thing's for sure. Both Lonnie and Lance are going to need a couple of stiff drinks before this morning is done.

"You've got to come, dude. Justin's going to be so disappointed if you don't. It's his birthday, Lance. You have to be here."

Lance considered hanging up, but it was Joey and he could never hang up on Joey. Even when Joey was being an annoying fuck and interrupting a perfectly good evening of watching re-runs on TV, getting acquainted with a bottle of Scotch and devising ways to make Chris pay for being such a shit.

"Justin will have another birthday next year, Joe. I'll go to that one. And the one after. But right now I'm in the middle of. Um. A thing. With some. You know. People."

Lance cranked up the volume on the TV. Beer commercial. The perfect background noise for a fake party. "It's an industry thing. I was lucky to get an invite. It's an opportunity I can't really pass up, Joe. Oh, fuck." He fumbled with the remote as the theme for "Friends" started blaring but only succeeded in turning the volume even louder.

"Riiight," said Joey. "I'm sure Rachel and Ross and the gang will understand. Look, I know Chris is being a jerk, but he'll get over it. He always does. You've ignored him a million and one times in the past. What's one more time? Come on."

"Easy for you to say. He's not jumping down your throat every time you open your mouth."

"This is getting kind of ridiculous, Lance. Why don't you just ask him what's wrong?"

"Why don't you?" Lance said petulantly. God, this whole stupid situation was turning him into a twelve-year old. And that hadn’t been too much fun the first time around.

"I did." Joey sighed. "He wouldn't answer. He's really angry with you, Lance. I don't what you guys are fighting about, but I wish one of you would yank your head out of your ass and apologize because this is getting really old."

"Dude, if I had any idea what I'd done, I would apologize."

"Okay. Whatever. You need to suck it up and get your ass over here right now."

"Fuck you," Lance said, but he was already yanking open his hall closet and pulling on a jacket. Joey was right. There was no way he was going to miss Justin's birthday just because Chris was a total tool. Besides, Chris was probably counting on him not showing up so he'd have one more thing to hate him for. Fuck that noise. If Chris wanted to hate him, he could go right ahead and find his own inscrutable reasons.

As he locked his front door, he couldn't help feeling a little rush of glee as he thought about how annoyed Chris was going to be when Lance made his entrance.

Lance edges along behind Chris as he carries his newly purchased book over to a wooden bench that's covered in graffiti and cigarette burns and assorted stains that Lance wouldn't plant his ass on if he was paid.

Chris runs his fingers over the book a few times but doesn't open it, just sits there on the edge of the bench, tense and stiff, anger radiating from him like heat from an oven. Lance wonders how Chris would react if he went over and offered him a back rub. The idea makes him smile, as he moves up behind Chris. Back rub. Yeah, right. A smack upside the head, maybe.

When he reaches the bench, Lance takes in for the first time Chris's dishevelled appearance. His clothes look like he dragged them out of his laundry basket with his eyes closed, his fingernails are grubby and one of his sneakers is missing a shoelace. The tension he's exuding is almost palpable, and Lance thinks he should probably turn around and walk away.

Coulda, shoulda, he thinks, and almost before his mind catches up with his body, his hand lands gently on Chris's shoulder. There's a fraction of a second before Chris turns around, just enough time for his stomach to lurch and his heart to start thumping, but not quite enough time to turn tail and run.

Looking up at him, face unreadable, Chris asks "How'd you find me?" His voice is hoarse, like he hasn't spoken in days, but there's something there, something that sounds like seeing Lance hovering over him like a preying mantis isn't the worst thing he might have hoped for this morning, and Lance feels giddy surge of optimism.

Lance thinks about explaining how he's come to be here, but he doesn't want to interrupt the moment, doesn't want to say anything to tumble Chris back into his anger, so he just says, "Lonnie" and leaves it at that. They can sort out the details later.

It's enough. God knows, Chris has done enough this morning not to be even remotely surprised that Lonnie has called in reinforcements.

Moving around to the front of the bench, Lance nods at the empty space beside Chris and raises an eyebrow. Chris ignores him, but at least it's not outright rejection. Good enough. Taking a deep breath, he sits down carefully, waiting for Chris to freak out. Other than scooting farther along the bench, Chris doesn't seem to care, though.

Lance glances at the book in Chris's lap and snorts. NSync: The Unauthorized Story. "Oh, man. We looked like such idiots."

He can see Chris trying to hide a smile, and he presses his advantage.

"Chris." He waits for Chris to look at him, but Chris is too busy staring at the old guy snoring wetly a couple of benches away and then back at his stupid book. "Look. I don't know what this is about. I can't even apologize, because I don't even know what I did to piss you off. But this is. Dude, it kind of sucks."

As Lance turns his body to face him, Chris finally looks up and meets his eyes. This is so fucked up, Lance thinks. He doesn't know whether he wants to give Chris a hug or knee him in the nads. When Chris raises his hand, Lance is pretty sure he's about to get clocked, but as he's bracing himself for the blow, Chris reaches out to grip his bicep and haul him closer.

And then somehow, Chris's lips are mashed against his own, and Chris's tongue is demanding access, and just like that they're engaged in a round of deliciously sloppy tonsil hockey right in the middle of this seedy mall and maybe this is just the very best day of Lance's entire life up to now.

Chris pulls away much too soon, with a sharp little bite of apology to Lance's lower lip. He stares at Lance for a few seconds, and then glances back down at the cover of the book And for some reason, everything is suddenly to make sense.

"So that's it," Lance says, reaching out and turning Chris's face back up to him.

Chris looks confused, which is a pretty adorable look on him. He tries to read Lance's face, but obviously still doesn't have a clue. "That's what?"

"Why you're mad. It's not something I did." Running his tongue over his lips, still tingling from pressure of Chris's teeth, Lance feels like running through the mall, yelling and dancing and maybe stealing a yo-yo or a couple of tubes of lipstick. Here they were. After all these years. Far fucking out. "It's something I didn't do."

Chris has no idea what to make of that either, but it doesn't matter. Lance wants to kiss away the look of puzzlement on Chris's face, he wants to drag him out of this mall and haul him back to one of their places and get him naked and oh, whatever, kissing will do nicely for the moment. He slides in closer for a deeper, slicker, more languorous kiss, feeling the last of Chris's resistance melting away, smiling to himself as he feels Chris's fingers snaking through his hair and Chris's hand knotting in his shirt.

"Forgive me?" he whispers in Chris's ear. He knows he's already forgiven. He knows that Chris forgave him the moment their lips met, even if Chris hasn't figured it out yet.

He really should have known, Lance thinks, as they leave the mall. Chris and his kindergarten approach to life. The rules are pretty basic, really, so there's no excuse for Lance having missed the clues for as long as he has. There are variations, of course, but essentially Chris's philosophy has always boiled down to two basic principles: Hate someone? Torment the ever-loving shit out of them. Love someone? Ditto.

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