Albums are rarely tracked in the order they were recorded.
track one: I feel for you
"So," and Chris pulls up a chair, scowling. Justin watches him sit down. "I got a week off from promos and you call me up to drag my ass back into the studio?" He folds his arms across the back of the stool. "I gotta say, that's not so friendly."
"Oh shut up," Justin replies, because it's just Chris's way of giving him a hard time, making sure he knows that nothing comes easily. "We'll be done here in a sec, we're just laying down some backing vocals for this one."
"And this one is?" He looks over Justin's shoulder at the handwritten notes. "'I'll work harder for you girl'?"
Chris isn't the only one in the studio. Trace and one of his friends are hanging around out back, and so are a couple of Pharrell's buddies. It's a real party. Justin hands him a beer. "You don't like beer," Chris says.
"Oh, uh, yeah. I've got some Southern Comfort," and Chris is laughing at him before he gets the words out. The noise is welcome.
Justin already feels more grounded with Chris standing off to the side and sipping beer with Chad. Justin leans away, bobbing his head to the beat and then says, "Okay, and here, right, we gotta-- Chris, you gotta sing with Laurie because you've got the highest voice, man."
"Sing? Dude, that wasn't on the--"
Justin laughs, hauling Chris up out of the stool, and says, "Fuck off," because Chris is already smiling and his cheeks are flushed, foot tapping. "It's the last thing, man." Because the song is done in a day, a day of vocals and it's almost done, it feels done.
"Yeah, okay already," Chris says, shaking his head and grinning. Justin's pretty sure he likes it. He gets everyone to stand around a couple of other mics, and everybody sings when he points, even Chris. It feels good.
"Gentlemen, goodnight," and Chad laughs in the background, and then, "ladies, good morning," and Chris winks and Laurie giggles on the track. Justin nods at Pharrell behind the mixing board. Everyone's singing on his track and the song is finished in a day and looking over, Justin knows that Chris knows it's finished, too. Justin doesn't really care if the album is ever released at all.
track two: you will know the difference
Pharrell is a fucking genius and so that makes things hard at first. He layers beats like he's making bean dip. Justin thinks this beat's got more layers than seven layer dip. He thought about actually saying that after the first time through, but he couldn't decide if it would sound stupid if he said it out loud.
Chris likes the seven-layer bean dip from 7-11 and whenever Justin says it's nasty, Chris says, "It tastes a lot better when you know it's not the only thing you can afford."
That never made much sense because of course they could afford better than this, they could get bean dip flown in from Mexico except then it finally did make sense and Justin felt like an ass so he doesn't say anything about it anymore.
So Justin doesn't tell Pharrell the thing about the bean dip. He just grins and says, "Yeah, man, yeah," every time Pharrell brings in a new sound and if Justin thinks that the back beat is thick like sour cream, he keeps it to himself.
The deal was that the camera crews would leave at midnight, every day, always, no matter what. It's a carved-out illusion of privacy, but Justin clings to it anyway. Sometimes, most of the time, they keep working after MTV goes home, because it's like the music's in his veins and it's pumping and looking for a way out. He thinks if they just get this first song out, they can slow down. They're setting a tone. They're setting tone over tone over tone and there's still something missing.
"There's still something missing," Pharrell says, three am on the third day and Justin thinks cheese or possibly just the green onions sprinkled on the top for show but he doesn't say that. He nods, bites his lip to show he's serious about the nodding.
Pharrell taps his fingers across the board and even that sounds like music and then he says, "I want you to get up and kick the wall."
Justin looks up, waits for the rest, the part that will make this part make sense, but Pharrell just waits.
Justin frowns finally. "Huh?"
"Your body is like an instrument, there's beat inside your body. Just like everything else. You can feel it in here," Pharrell rubs a thumb against the back of his wrist, "but you gotta get it out somehow. Kick the wall. Go on, do it."
Justin stands up, feeling self-conscious as all fucking hell walking over to the edge of the room. He kicks the wall softly and feels like an idiot. He waits for Pharrell to start laughing and the crew to come bursting around the corner with a boom mic, but when he turns, he just sees Pharrell, nodding encouragingly. So he kicks the wall again, harder this time.
Three times and it's almost like just another dance move, one, two and maybe a little shimmy when his leg swings back. He turns his head to look at Pharrell again and he's nodding up and down like a bobble head except Pharrell's too fucking cool to let someone make a bobble with his face. "That's exactly it, exactly." Pharrell says. "Now every time you think you've lost the beat, I want you to kick the wall."
He's a fucking genius. Justin rubs his foot.
track three: what would you do if I encouraged you?
No matter what anyone else thinks, he'd rather talk about the music. When they were writing the album, he spent a lot of time thinking about how he'd explain the process to reporters. Like a dam bursting, like a river of words running through him, when it rains it pours, he thought. He likes water metaphors.
But the interviewers just go from Britney to Janet to Lance in space and back again, like he'll forget that he's decided not to answer if they start over from the top. Sometimes all he wants to say is "Britney, Janet, Lance, why you always wanna be talkin' about the last three people I fucked?" just to see what they'd say. Whenever anyone ever asks about the music, it's worse, they make it sound like he has Michael locked up in a closet somewhere in the recording studio.
Jive makes him let the cameras stay while he's being told he has to put some of the weight back on or they're going to have to re-fit all his clothes. They make him let the cameras stay while he deep throats a tongue depressor. The camera keeps rolling backstage after the performance while he pretends he needs the towel to wipe sweat out of his eyes.
A fancy-ass marketing consultant firm out of New York is running the promo. They get to tell the crew to take a hike whenever they want. Justin and the publicist all alone in a nice big room and it'd almost be quiet pleasant alone time except for her voice.
"We've got you with Cosmo Girl tomorrow. Whoever they're sending over knows not to ask questions about Janet or Britney."
"You know, we've discussed this before. Trying to tell your side of things can only hurt you. Let everyone go on thinking it was her fault, you can't get any better than that."
"You know, it really actually was her fault."
"I'm sure," she says with a fake sincerity that cracks like cheap plaster when she smiles. "Just let the album stand for itself," she says.
He sighs. "They never want to talk about the album."
track four: I wanna be your answer
It's been a long summer and an even longer fall and sometimes Justin catches himself in the mirror, in photographs, on television screens and thinks he looks he's right on the verge of getting the joke. He keeps waiting for someone to feed him the punch line.
When everyone in his personal cloud of people lets him down by doing exactly what he asks, Justin calls Chris and asks him to come hang out for a while.
Chris is Chris, he says he'll make his own way out there and he shows up three days later at a photo shoot. Justin is on the beach and Chris stands behind the photographer and makes funny faces. The photographer doesn't even notice, just click, click, click and "Hold that, just like that," when Justin starts grinning and laughing at Chris with two fingers stuck up his nose.
Chris hangs back until Justin's finished and then he's all over Justin like a madman. Justin rubs his palm over Chris' shaved head and says, "Very nice, man, way better than that punk shit."
Chris shoves Justin away half-heartedly, says, "What'dya know, I was out in Missouri and a pop princess broke my heart. I woke up the next morning and decided to shave my head."
Justin frowns, bites his lip. He reminds himself that living in a bubble where people only threw softballs when it came to Britney was why he called Chris in the first place. Even Trace does back flips to avoid mentioning her. But not Chris, which is why he asked Chris to come out in the first place. He doesn't necessarily want Chris to know that, though, because he'd never let him forget it.
And so, when Chris says, "What's the deal, man, what do you have goin' now?" Justin grins big.
He says, "I'm done for the day. I was thinking I might go out and get me some pie tonight." He smacks his lips. "You know what I'm sayin'?"
Chris rolls his eyes. "I get it, you fucking twelve year old. Not of the apple variety. I wish you'd cut it out with that. That and getting your shit waxed. What the fuck do you get that crap? Your dick is not a car, dude. For one thing, you don't have nine of them."
Justin nods happily, because fuck whatever it is he's saying, this is Chris.
"Dude," Chris says, "You're thinking about having nine dicks now. Aren't you?"
Justin raises his eyebrows. "Now you can't stop thinking about me having nine dicks, can you?"
"Shut the fuck up."
"So where are you staying, man?"
"What, you're too good to put my ass up, now? I can make my own way to the new casa Timberlake while you go out dessert diving. Is your security code still 'thriller'?"
"Nah, man. It's not. It's still being decorated. I've been staying at the Marmont."
"Right, I forgot. That's the other thing we gotta talk about. Do you have any idea what kind of an ass you sound like when you talk about shabby-chic? Your seven million-dollar mansion? Not shabby. Believe me, I know shabby. Shabby was that couch in my old apartment that I lifted from an alley behind a Chinese place. I had to evict a family of mice before it was fit to sit on."
"Dude, I slept on that couch," and Justin's feeling better already.
"Dude, I had sex on that couch. I'm just saying, you don't know shabby for shit."
track five: better left unsaid
When the track is finally finished, Justin gets an engineer to put it on a CD and bugs Trace until Trace shows him how to turn it into an mp3.
He emails it to Chris because Chris checks his email more often than his phone out in the desert. It's a good song, he wants Chris to hear it and when he tries to hold the phone up in the middle of a session, Chris always says he can't hear a damn thing.
The title of the email is "Something New." Justin writes, "It's not a gesture. Don't give it away to your crazy Internet friends, okay?" and hits send.
Chris writes back a day later: "It's not a gesture? What is it, then, an excuse? You better be prepared to talk about it. I know you think they won't ask but they'll ask. They'll ask about that and they'll ask who fucked her in the next breath. They'll ask everything. You don't have the rest of us to pinch hit for you anymore. Just be sure you know what the truth is."
These are the things Justin knows are true.
One time, Justin went with Britney to a fitting for some award thing. It was the kind of thing that would have been sweet except that it was snide. Ever since he'd written "Gone," she'd taken to saying, "Do you wanna come with me, baby? I don't want to leave you alone to write a song about it," every time she had to go somewhere.
She came out in a too short, too tight dress and before he could say she looked beautiful, she said, "You know, it's just. When I was little, I used to look through all my momma's old photo albums and she'd show me her pictures from when she went to homecoming and prom and stuff. And I'll never have that, if I have a little girl."
Whenever Britney talked about kids, it made Justin's hands clammy and his stomach rumble like a subway car. So he grinned and told her she should start saving her Rolling Stone magazines and then kicked himself when her face fell.
He made up for it, though, he called his publicist the next day and asked her if she could get him pictures of the two of them together, nice ones, award shows and stuff. He put them in an album for her all by himself. Justin was a nice guy, he knew how to make a gesture.
One time Britney and Wade had sex in a nondescript but excruciatingly well-lit hotel room and they video taped it. Judging from the blinking date and time stamp that seemed to always be hovering over Wade's ass, Wade had shipped it out to Justin on tour one week after it'd been made. Fed Ex. Over night. Justin wasn't sure what kind of gesture that was supposed to be.
track six: got time, but I don't mind
"Justin, why did you do a disco song?"
"Fuck you! Disco."
"I mean, I like it," which sounds sincere enough. The digital network means that every single nuance of Chris's irony is crystal clear when he continues, "but it's disco. Like, mutated disco, Godzilla-disco grown underground and rise from the sewer to tear through Japan."
"You know, I think you're meaner than the other critics."
"I like it, but dude. What does Pharrell have you smoking?"
"How was Minnesota?"
Justin went out last night and it was fun and all, but he gets tired of explaining why he's out by himself. He's not sure what he can do to fix it, saying, "Chris is in Minnesota, getting down with goats, and I don't know about Lance, okay, we don't have to talk to know we're cool with each other," never seems like the right thing. It's the best version of the truth he knows how to tell, but when the truth isn't good enough, he has Chris on speed dial for everything else.
"How was Colorado?"
"Not so flat. How was Janet?"
"Man, someone printed something?"
All one hundred watts of Chris's irony are clear as if he were making fun of Justin in the same room. "Just a bit."
track seven: bump into me
"What rhymes with between?" Justin says, without saying hello.
"Spleen?" Chris replies. He doesn't say hello either. They're like that.
"Something I can, uh, use?" Justin says, but he's laughing, because the point of doing the writing himself was that he'd never have to be embarrassed to sing his own songs again.
"Come on, you can use that." Chris sounds in good spirits. "'You are my heart, girl, and everything in between, you're my lungs and my liver, my stomach, my spleen.'"
"Yeah, man, yeah. I'll keep that in mind." Justin doesn't know why he thought that Chris would actually want to take this seriously, and somewhere deep in him he knew Chris wasn't likely to. It's still frustrating as fuck to find out for real.
"Hey, you're the one who asked. " Chris doesn't sound so cheerful anymore. "You know JC's the one who sleeps with his rhyming dictionary."
Justin sighs. "You know I can't do that."
"Oh, for fuck's sake," and now Chris is just impatient and the phone is still crystal clear, doesn't cut out at all. Justin has no idea how AT&T knows to keep the signal perfect whenever Chris wants to tell him off or make fun of him.
Proving AT&T right, Chris adds, "It's like, it's possibly conceited of you to even think he's mad at you, given that you aren't the only solo artist out there. Maybe he's secretly got a hate-on for Nick. I don't think they've spoken in a few months either."
"What the fuck does that mean?" Justin maybe resents the fact that Chris wasn't willing to just take him seriously enough to tell him what rhymes with 'between', he had to do all this shit instead. Calling Chris to be taken seriously, though, is one of Justin's massive flaws as a human being. He admits this.
Chris replies, "It means that you don't need to call me to find out what rhymes with between." Chris is a train on railroad tracks, steaming towards his conclusion. "And maybe Nick has a rhyming dictionary, I've got his number somewhere if you're that determined to avoid JC. But you get my point."
"Oh, I got it, I just don't want it." That's almost rhythmic enough to be part of a song. Justin doesn't want that, either.
"Call him." Chris used up all his words a moment ago.
"He rhymes girl with girl, you know."
Chris snorts. "Well, we can't all have your talent."
"That's not what I meant. I just -- I called you. Is all." Justin gets ready to hang up, because this phone call with Chris proves that one more thing Justin's not going to get is respect for the album.
"Keen. Glean. Queen. Clean. Mean. Green." He lists them off in quick succession, and half of Justin's brain is already trying to come up with a line while the rest is sitting there not knowing what to say.
He settles for, "Green?" in a questioning tone, because there's no way to tell whether that's a serious rhyme or whether Chris is jerking him off.
"Green," Chris says, and doesn't crack up. Justin still can't tell.
"Yeah, okay. Yeah."
track eight: across an ocean for you
Chris comes to LA and hangs out, and Justin magically finds time in his schedule to hang out with him. Except hanging out with Chris turns into this huge learning experience, like Chris is tired of the L.A. he knows and drags Justin out to the desert and all these modern art museums. Justin thinks Chris has been hanging out with JC too much, but can't convince him to just give it all up.
Staring at a clear plexi-glass cube, full of dolls and teddy bears, all covered in red and black spray paint, Justin says, "The artist's struggle with their childhood is really apparent here."
Chris grabs him by the elbow, drags him into the next gallery. "You are not JC, you can't pull off not knowing about art." Justin sighs, because he tried and still.
The next gallery has a video of Britney in slo-mo playing, over and over and over again. The sound is muted and instead, squeaks and groans and hisses play over speakers in the ceiling. The lighting is dark, red and blue gels over spots. The walls are covered in photographs of Britney's oversized face, painted over in colors that don't match the lights.
"Wow," Chris says, eyebrow raised. "This is fucked-up shit."
Justin has maybe never hated modern art more than the last three days of following after Chris through faux-marble hallways and looking at paintings of stripes for hours on end. But this one gallery, Britney moving slowly while whale song screeches around them, he maybe gets a bit of it. "Shut up, it's art, man."
"It's some guy with an oversized NEA grant who really hates your ex-girlfriend," and Chris peers at one of the pictures as the gel moves from red to purple to blue. Her face is distorted, looks false and garish.
JC would have gotten it -- Justin just sits down on the bench marked 'for optimum viewing' and wants lunch. "Well, yeah, it's that, too."
"You know, you just think you're bitter."
Chris is still staring at the wall, and the way the colors are moving on his face is a little nauseating. "What are you talking about?" Justin asks, and looks down at his shoes because really, there's no need to get a stomachache just to appreciate a fucking museum.
"I mean, it's not like anyone can really blame you," and Chris gives up and sits down. Chris maybe doesn't like art as much as he likes new things. He continues, "If I had to give interviews about Britney all day long, I'd be bitter, too."
Justin folds his arms. "It's press, man, it's the same old--"
"But I think," just like Justin hadn't spoken at all. Britney's on the beach, on the television, and it sounds like somewhere near the ceiling, a killer whale is being tortured. Fucking modern art. Chris continues, "I think you've forgotten that the day you and Britney broke up, you came out of your bunk, told me it was over and asked me if I thought we should buy a new Playstation, 'cause the one we had was getting fuzzy from all the times we've stepped on it."
"So, what." Stupid whales. Stupid JC, ever giving Chris this thing for museums. "You're inside my head now?"
"No, I've been inside your head always." Chris waves an arm in the direction of the television, but Justin doesn't look because the lights are still flashing weird and circus-freaky. "You've convinced yourself that bitter heart-broken boy is the way to pimp this album and you've forgotten that breaking up with her was the best decision you've ever made."
The lights are never going to calm down, they've been talking for ten, fifteen minutes now and still Britney's smiling face is purple, red, blue and purple again, like a bruise on the wall. "This isn't art," Justin says. "Fuck you."
Chris takes pity on him and says they can skip the next exhibit and go to a movie. "In English," Justin says warily. "No subtitles and no symbolism either."
track nine: you know me inside out
Chris insists on theater-hopping into a second movie on principle, because chain theaters are over-priced and evil. Justin points out that they have enough money to buy a ticket for every person in the theater, and popcorn, too.
Chris stares at him for a long moment, exasperated. "You've never been a broke college student, have you?"
But it's fun, Chris and Justin, sitting in the back of the theater in the dark. Justin leans back in his seat, waiting for the movie to start and cracking his knuckles against his neck. Pop, pop, pop and he doesn't even have to look over, he just kicks Chris in the ankle and says, "You're putting M & Ms in the fucking popcorn, aren't you?"
Chris chuckles. "'Course I am."
"You know I hate that."
Chris shakes the popcorn around, getting the M & Ms all the way down to the bottom of the box, because he's thoughtful like that. "So what? I'm not here to make your life easy. This isn't a rider, you can pick around them for once in your life. Even the brown ones."
Justin looks over, confused. "Huh? I though, like, they didn't make brown ones anymore."
Chris throws a piece of popcorn at Justin. It hits him between the eyes and he reaches up to wipe the grease off Justin's face. "You know what? You're so ignorant, I can't even talk to you."
"Whatever, you love me," Justin says, grinning. But before Chris can deny it, the movie starts.
Chris talks Lonnie into separate cars, and so on the drive back to the hotel, Chris drives and Justin fiddles with the stereo. His song comes on three different stations before he turns the radio off altogether.
"What?" Chris says, "I like that song. That Justin Timberlake, he's soooo dreamy."
Justin laughs a little bit, fiddles with his shoelaces. "Do you, uh, maybe have a poster of him up on your wall?"
"You know it."
Justin turns and stares out the window for a while. Then, he says, "I think Chad hates me."
"Why?" Chris says, but he doesn't seem that concerned, which is a little annoying.
"I dunno," Justin says, because now that he's said it, he just feels stupid. "Just, you know, maybe he thinks I'm stealing Pharrell away from him."
"Do I hate Pharrell?"
"Uh, no, I don't think so."
"Okay then. So Chad doesn't hate you."
Justin thinks this over for a bit. "I think Chad hates me."
"He never says 'god bless you' when I sneeze."
"Well, okay then."
They get back to the hotel and it's late and Justin has some kind of contrived-as-fuck photo shoot at sunrise in the morning and so he says, "I should sleep."
Chris nods. "Well, I'll just go entertain myself, then," he says, "thanks for making time to hang out with me."
Justin grabs him by the shoulder. "Chris, man, don't be like that." He pauses, searches Chris's face. "Do you really think Pharrell's stealing me away from you?"
Chris laughs, but it's hollow. "Of course not, baby, I know you'll always come back to me."
Justin looks down at their feet, mingled together on the asphalt. Even back when he was shorter than Chris, his feet were always bigger. Stupid big feet. "I will, you know," he says, quickly. He leans in, meaning to do something friendly like bump Chris in the cheekbone with his nose. Instead, it ends up a kiss. It's not planned, it's badly executed, he only really catches the left-hand corner of Chris' mouth, but it's enough for Justin to know he has to pull back.
He puts two fingers over his lips and says, "We should have brunch tomorrow," before Chris can say anything. "Brunch," Justin says, again, "and now I should sleep."
Chris raises his eyes, but doesn't say anything. Justin knows he's getting off easy.
track ten: let me show you
Two hours in bed, counting specks on the ceiling and Justin's phone rings. He doesn't even have a chance to say hello before Chris blurts out, "This is stupid. You should just invite me over for sex first. Brunch is only really worth eating if you're all glowy because of sex."
Justin laughs, because if it goes down like this, maybe it can all be okay.
Chris shows up at the door five minutes later and says, "You know what? I've been thinking."
"Yeah, while you were walking down the hallway?" His hands are calmly at his side when Chris puts his hands on Justin's shoulders and pushes him backwards into the room.
Justin's hands stay at his side when Chris drops his hands too, drops his hands to stare up at Justin and tilts his head. "You wanna fuck me, tell me it's because you've wanted to do it since you were sixteen. Don't think you can get away with this by pretending to be rebound boy."
"But I'm--" Hands at his sides and even now Chris is turning it into some big joke.
"You know what?" Chris is already stripping his shirt off, dropping it carelessly onto the floor. He's staring right at Justin, and it's not mean, Chris isn't being mean when he says it. That's the worst part. "Cry me a river, build a bridge and sing a song about it."
It feels like that should be a big declaration, hearts and flowers and trumpets and tears and gasping. Justin's mostly watching Chris fiddle with his belt buckle and realizing that he really, really wants Chris. The belt buckle is making this little "shhhshh" sound as Chris pulls the end of his belt in and out of it, the leather scraping against the metal.
Justin wrote a lot of lines in songs that used the word 'love' and yet Chris just joked his way into saying it. Justin swallows, looking at Chris's belt. Chris isn't being mean, he's just, he's being Chris and getting things out in the open. Plus, framed by the doorsill he looks like a painting. Justin blurts, "How do you know how long I've been in love with you?"
"You've wanted me one day longer than I've wanted you." Chris has no joke in his voice at all, no joke and lots of something else. Want, want want want and Justin's hands leave his sides. Want. That one word is enough.
They end up mostly naked and kissing on the bed, Justin's fingers under Chris' back and Chris' lips on Justin's neck, when Justin feels he can't hold himself back. He says into the top of Chris' head, "You know, I really did miss you."
Chris backs off slightly, fingers dipping into Justin's waistband. "Did you go out and buy one of those stupid Winterland posters and kiss my face every time you were sad?"
It's maybe a joke, but his fingers are undoing Justin's jeans and so probably not, it's probably just a sign of relaxation. Then Justin thinks about Winterland and grimaces. "Uh, no. That's kind of freaky. Definitely not."
"So just the folder, then?" Fingers in Justin's waistband, slowly, slowly.
"Jesus, no." Because saying 'Winterland' almost immediately brought up Lou's face, Justin changes the subject. His hands don't know where to go, Chris's cheek, his hip, his ribs, his neck. They keep changing their minds. Justin says, "But I watched you on that sports show thing."
"Wow, J, I'm so touched you managed to catch my one television appearance this fall." Slowly, slowly, almost motionless. Chris licks his ear, wet and quick, in counterpoint, and it shouldn't really be sexy except it's such a Chris thing to do.
Justin shivers cause his ear's wet and cold and Chris is laying over him with barely anything on, but he says, "Hey, man, I watched it."
"Tell me at least that you jerked off while you were watching," and as Chris says 'jerking' he strokes two fingers along Justin's cock in his jeans. "Lie to me if you have to, my ego needs it right now."
"Ew, that's fucking disgusting," except it's anything but, just Chris' hand and Justin is coherent and having a conversation and any minute Chris could get him off. It's kind of hot.
"You say that while we're doing this?" and again, quick stroke, Justin's hips jump up of their own accord.
"Dude, I have two fucking words for you: Tom Arnold," Justin says, and works hard not to picture it in his mind because, yeah. Kind of really hot.
Chris laughs. "Okay, point."
"Besides, jacking off to a sports show?"
"Yeah, like you don't stick your hand in your pants every time Kobe's ass is on the highlights package."
Chris is relaxed enough to be joking about Kobe's ass, Justin realizes with a start. Then he realizes that Chris actually dissed Kobe. "That's so fucking different. I admire his command over the game as an athlete. It's very commanding. And, uh --" and something, Chris trails his tongue along Justin's throat while he's talking, and does that thing with his fingers again.
"Sexy?" Chris says into his neck.
"Shut up," because only the once, and Justin says, "What do you jack off to?"
"Led Zeppelin," Chris replies without hesitation, no trace of amusement anywhere in his voice.
"What the fuck?"
"That reminds me," Chris mumbles as he's wrestling Justin onto his back and stripping his jeans off, and the air over Justin's bare legs gives him goose bumps and a shiver, "the next Michael Jackson? Are you gonna get a monkey, too?"
"Oh my god," and Justin does sit up, legs splayed and hard, to glare at Chris. "Do not talk about Michael while we're having sex. I can't handle that. I'll be scarred for life."
"So you've noticed we're fucking over here? That's reassuring," Chris answers.
Justin takes a breath in, sucks it through his lips fast, as Chris pulls off his boxers. "Oh. Oh, yeah."
track eleven: my own little song for you
Late that night, Justin finally comes to and realizes that him and Chris are laying in bed. He stretches out, also realizing that the muscles in his neck and back that are almost permanently tense have somehow healed themselves. "I feel better, now. Calmer."
Chris rolls over onto his stomach. "It's because of the sex, isn't it?"
Justin grins, shoving him. Chris grins back. "Shut up, man. It's not that." Justin puts his chin in his hand, thinking. "It's just. You're surprisingly a very calming influence."
Chris places a kiss on Justin's shoulder with a loud smack, and then replies, "Yeah, but can't I tell people that you really needed some deep dicking?"
It might be a joke but the point is, maybe, Justin thinks. Maybe the point is that he gets the reference right away, easy enough that answering, "You know, I'm not a lesbian," is almost automatic.
Chris raises his eyebrows, and Justin almost reaches out to smooth them down. Brunch, tomorrow, and for the right reasons. Chris answers, "Dude, have you seen your bookshelf?"
track twelve: you don't have to pack everything
LA to New York always feels longer than it actually is, and not just because the time zones are fucking you over. Chris has been calling the private jet self indulgent for more than a year now, but now every time he starts to bring it up, Justin coughs "RV" and they change the subject.
"Dude, I'd just like to point out," Chris says, "JC? At your party last night. Therefore, does not hate you."
Justin doesn't even want to be having this conversation. "JC hates me. He hates me like Chad hates me." End of story.
"And since we established that Chad does not hate you through the soundest of all possible logic," Chris pauses. "You know what? This conversation is so stupid, I'm not even finishing that sentence."
"Fine then." JC probably doesn't hate Justin. JC's always resented processes, not people. The worst thing will be if JC ends up hating the process, but JC's not the point. He's finding his own way, and Justin's already got that one figured out.
"So, do you think everyone had a good time last night?"
Chris shrugs. "What do you care, you had a good time, right?"
"No, I want everyone to have a good time."
An overly dramatic sigh comes from beside him, where Chris is rooting around in his bag for something. Food, Justin thinks automatically. "If you really wanted everyone to have a good time, we'd've taken a commercial flight so I could get some god-damned peanuts. I never fly unless I get peanuts."
"So this is your big exception then, huh?" and Justin's already pulling out a Power Bar from his backpack.
"J, you're my permanent exception."
Justin doesn't say anything for a while because shit like that, that's a big declaration coming from Chris and he doesn't want to mess it up. He breaks the silence with, "I just think people are gonna be disappointed when there aren't, like, Polaroids of Brit and Wade screwing in with the booklet." He purses his lips. "Or my naked ass, just so they can be sure I don't have her name tattooed on it. I just want people to like the album and not just those fucks who got the whole thing early on the Internet."
Justin pauses for breath.
"Are you finished?" Chris asks calmly.
"Whatever. Yeah." Justin clams up because having the same conversation a dozen times over is not going to make him sound any less of a jackass. Obviously people are going to ask and speculate and he can't do anything about it.
"They like it. People do fucked-up things when they like shit."
"Yeah, I guess it's not like you were over there trying to get your hands on it with one of those stupid search program things a week early." He says it by accident, but doesn't want to take it back.
"Uh, you gave me a copy of the real thing two weeks ago."
"That's not - you know, it's okay." Justin shrugs in what he hopes is the right way. "It's okay that you didn't like the album."
"What are you talking about? I loved it."
"No, man, it's cool--"
"Shut up," Chris says, "I loved it."
Chris says things his own way, sometimes. But this, this is better.
track thirteen: when it was you and me
Back when he first made an overture about a project on his own, Justin was terrified the guys were gonna take it the wrong way, like they were gonna think he meant that *nsync wasn't good enough or something, like *nsync wasn't enough for him. And he apologized for a week straight, because it was what it looked like and what it, felt like, almost, except it wasn't.
A week in, Chris asked to see the songs he'd written. Justin handed them over and Chris laughed at him for being nervous. "Look," Justin said, "I'm not, I don't wanna do this, because. It's not a symbol or something, it's not that I wanna."
Chris shook his head and rolled his eyes. "I know that. The guys know that."
"How do you know the guys know that?" Because he was never, ever gonna leave, it wasn't anything like that, but that desperate urge, he couldn't say it, it wouldn't come out of his mouth. Every time he tried he ended up apologizing and promising he wasn't gonna ever leave.
"They know you, man," Chris said, "they all know why you want to do this. I know why you want to. Calm down," he said. "It's gonna be great."