You want a part of me
But I'm not selling cheap
No, I'm not selling cheap...
~Celebrity Skin~

He doesn't know when he stopped being naÔve; he just knows that at some point along the way, he has stopped. In interviews people still call him "the quiet one, she shy one," and he plays up to it, flashing his big friendly grin at the camera, because he wants it to be true. It also means that anyone who sees that particular interview will trust him, and with the thousand new hyphenated jobs he's holding down, that's a good thing. He doesn't have time to actually earn anyone's trust.

He wonders sometimes when he stopped being trustworthy for real. Probably around the time when he stopped trusting other people. Which had a lot to do with the lawsuit, yes, and a lot to do with being basically raised in this industry, but a very firm part of him says that he probably would have turned out this way, anyway.

But even though almost everyone else is fooled-the cameras, the fans, the reporters-the guys, of course, have noticed a change in him. Itís partially his own fault, though, because he started flirting with them, acting like manager-actor-singer-dancer-performer Lance Bass! even when it was just them, which meant that within a week of his flirting, he was mind-fucking all of them, until all they saw was his easy grin and smooth movements.

It was just little things at first, light touches and coy glances from beneath his thick eyelashes, but since they were all so close it became blatant very, very quickly. It made him want to hate himself, for being the camp little bitch who gives the eye to all the straight boys, but he was too busy enjoying the straight boys giving him the eye right back to care too much. Besides, its not as if they had to flirt back. Its not as if they had to look at him hungrily, like he was a choice cut of meat. He only realized that it had gotten a little out of hand when once, while drunk as hell, he found himself sprawled across JC's bony knees, with JC's hot tongue in his ear.

It turned out that Justin was the one with the dirtiest mouth, and Joey was the cuddler.

But eventually it tapered off, with all of them, and they all went through the same stages at basically the same time, which was amusing as fuck. Confused, then flattered, then intrigued, then hurt, as they realized that they weren't the only ones on the receiving end of Lance's attention. But by that time he had stopped, with them anyway, so it was mostly record executives and other industry people.

Also by that time, he had started doing a little more than flirting, but the guys didn't need to know that. It was hard sometimes (and ha ha ha, wasn't that just the funniest joke) but mostly he could ignore that it was happening.

It made him look at other people differently. He started to wonder if the other guys had done this too, and decided that yes, they had. JC and Just with the MMC (and it hurt to think that, because they'd only been kids back then), and Chris, to get the band started; of course Chris had to have done something like this. All of them have this air of fractured innocence about them, now that he thinks about it. Everyone but Joey, that is, who could do something like this and really truly enjoy it.

But that thought is half-cruel and half-envious, because Joey is a joyful boy, and he always seems in control of how people feel about him. Beyond that, he can really act, who could really earn his way into Hollywood, if he so chose.

But the others, the others are pure jailbait, through and through. Justin, with his wet lips and hips that should be illegal (the video for Tearin' Up My Heart should have been fuckin' outlawed, Lance thinks once, watching Justin move), and JC with his wide wide eyes and skinny body; with that "oh, gee" quality that he had apparently never lost. And Chris, who was almost thirty but could still sulk like a child. Chris, who had beautiful old man eyes and a child's optimism.

He realized how cynical and desperate these thoughts were only after he stopped having them; when he was able to make a name for himself in the industry based on his own merits and the talent of the artists he represents. But it helped him; it helped him get through everything when he pictured Justin or Joey getting groped by a director instead of him. It made him feel like maybe they were all in it together, when really they were all avoiding him like they were scared if him; Justin regarding him with wide, hurt eyes, and the other guys surrounding him in a protective circle, because even if they had lost Lance to adulthood, they weren't going to lose their youngest.

When it all stopped, he felt almost normal again. Not the same kind of normal as before, when he was shy and unaware of any corruption within his little world, but a new kind of normal that made him almost happy.

'Almost' because the guys still weren't really talking to him, and so he took up the flirting again as a means of communication. Because it was a habit now, really; because it felt good to make Justin and JC giggle and blush, and because Joey's body was warm and comfortable when Lance sat on his lap. It didn't even make him feel dirty anymore, not really, because it was just the guys now and they loved him, even if sometimes they treated him like their own personal poseable Lance Bass action figure.

Halfway through the next tour one of the buses broke down, so they were all riding on one, getting in each other's hair and loving each other to death and hugging all the time, just to keep from killing each other. So it was just like old times, which felt nice, except that now he could exchange fuck-me eyes with JC, and pet Justin's curly head, and curl up on Joey for a nap. It was nice.

But now he was working on stuff for FreeLance on the back of the bus, and everyone else was in the front of the bus, all laughing and innocent, curled up together like puppies and he wanted to hit them, because when the rest of them touched each other there weren't sparks. They all still had something that he has lost.

He looked up at one point to find Chris staring at him with his huge liquid black eyes, tiny and elfin on the seat next to him until Lance snapped, "What?"

The Chris wasn't in the seat next to him, he was in Lance's seat and on Lance's lap and kissing him. There were soft lips on his that tasted like the butter from the popcorn they'd had earlier, and he was being kissed gently, sweetly; Chris's hands were stroking his neck, and his beard was lightly scratching Lance's face, and he was treating Lance like he was something beautiful, something pure. Every time he tried to stab his tongue into Chris' mouth, tried to make it hot and lewd and sex, Chris would stroke him gently and lick at him with tiny brushes of his tongue, and there were tears of frustration and confusion in Lance's eyes by the time Chris pulled away, and Lance was hard dammit, and panting and moaning, and he felt very young and very, very tainted.

And then he was crying, knees pulled up under his chin and his eyes squeezed tightly shut; Chris's hand gently petting his hair. He felt a kiss on his forehead, and then Chris was murmuring into his ear, "You don't have to act cheap, Lance. You're priceless." Another soft kiss and Chris went back to the front of the bus, causing another loud wave of giggles to hit Lance's ears.

He stopped crying soon, because he was unaccustomed to it now, and instead he sat quietly and thought about Chris's voice in his ear. Chris had a strange voice, always so high and clear that it was alarming, even after Lance had heard it almost every day for seven years. Chris generally sounded like a little kid just woken up from a nap, happy and out of it. Lately, though, he had started to sound like a grownup, quiet and serious with a slightly lower pitch to his voice, which made Lance sad. He'd wanted to take it all onto his shoulders; he'd wanted to become a grownup and let the rest of them stay young and innocent and beautiful.

But Chris was thirty years old, and heartbroken after his breakup with Dani, and more adult than Lance had ever given him credit for. He knew things.

He'd said that Lance was priceless.

Lance thought about that for awhile, then turned off his computer and went into the front of the bus. He sat down beside JC on the couch and watched Chris and Justin play some new racing game, smiling at Joey when he sat down. Joey glared back at him, but he was friendly and cuddly and Joey, and so never stayed mad at anyone for too long, which made Lance both love and hate him,

Lance sat back on the couch, and played with Joey's hair, and waited. Very hesitantly, JC's arms came around him, and Justin, sitting on the floor in front of the sofa, leaned back onto Lance's legs. Chris smiled up at him from the floor and he grinned back, little-kid-happy and feeling, for the first time in a long time, like maybe he wasn't a piece of merchandise.

THE END