"With A Little Help From My Friends"
Part One: "A Delicious Sort of Torment"

by Cody

* ** * **

Chris kneeled in his seat, facing the back of the plane, and eased a straw into one of the nostrils of the passenger behind him. The man stirred slightly but didn't wake up. "Shh!" Chris hushed Justin, who was giggling softly. Justin turned his head and looked out the window, trying to repress his laughter. Chris then pulled a stick of eyeliner out of his pocket and showed it to Joey, who was sitting in the window seat next to Chris and in front of Justin's.

"Where'd you get that?" Joey asked, grinning.

"I swiped it at the photo shoot this morning." Chris's brow was furrowed in concentration as he applied a curling moustache to the sleeping passenger's upper lip. He stopped to admire his handiwork for a moment, and then wrote DORK in big letters on the passenger's forehead.

Lance, who was sitting in the seat across from Chris, hung up the phone he'd been on and turned to Chris. "I just talked to Becky from management and ---" he stopped short when he saw the sleeping man sitting next to Justin, who was staring hard out the window and turning red from his effort to hold back his laughter. "That's not nice, you guys." Lance scolded them, and the motherly admonishment proved to be the breaking point of the trio's self-control. They burst into hysterical laughter, waking up the dozing passenger.

"What's going on?" JC asked sleepily, the straw falling from his nose as he spoke. "Very funny, Chris." He scowled, picking up the straw from his lap and throwing it at Chris. This only made them laugh harder.

"Eww, gross!" Chris cried, tossing the straw into Joey's lap.

"I don't want it!" Joey protested, tossing it at Justin. Justin threw it at Lance. It hit the bass on the head and fell on the floor. They were all laughing now. The other passengers of the first class were looking at them like they were crazy, especially the ones who caught sight of JC's face.

"Guys, seriously!" Lance hushed them, "I just talked to Becky from management. Bad news."

"What, they bumped us for Backstreet?" Chris guessed. *Nsync was currently on their way to New York to perform at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards.

"Yhea, right!" Joey smirked.

"The hotels in New York are really packed, what with the VMA's and all," Lance explained, "Our hotel offered us a discount if we'd share rooms and management told them that would be fine."

"What?!" Chris exclaimed, "But I already told Dani we'd be sharing a room! We hardly ever get to see each other!"

"Well, we have three rooms, so one of us can have their own. I'm willing to share and let Chris and Dani take the single." Lance offered.

"Me, too." Joey agreed.

"Us, too!" Justin answered for himself and JC.

"Hey, speak for yourself!" JC joked, "I should get my own room, not the Straw Bandit!"

"Shut up, Dork." Chris retorted, referring to the big black letters scrawled across JC's forehead.

"Who are you calling a dork?" JC raised an eyebrow.

"You." Chris grinned, "It's written all over your face." He turned back around in his seat and put on a set of headphones.

"What's that supposed to mean?" JC gave Joey a puzzled look as his bandmates cracked up. "That doesn't even make sense!" JC looked at Lance, who just shook his head and picked the phone back up, chuckling. "Why is that funny?" JC appealed to Justin, who was biting his lip to keep from laughing. Damn, I love when he does that.

"C'mere." Justin stood up and grabbed JC's hand, pulling him out of his seat. JC stood up and let Justin push him towards the bathroom.

"What are we doing?" JC asked as Justin took him into the bathroom. "Oh," JC said, looking at himself in the mirror, "Fucking Chris."

Justin grinned and shoved JC down onto the toilet. Justin took a few paper towels, dampened them, and proceeded to wipe the DORK from JC's forehead. "Is it coming off?" JC asked worriedly.

"Yhea, he just used eyeliner. It's not permanent ink or anything." Justin laughed, moving on to wipe the moustache off JC.

"With Chris I wouldn't be surprised." JC grumbled as Justin threw away the paper towels. "All gone?" JC asked, looking up at his friend expectantly.

"Almost," Justin reached out and rubbed away a tiny spot on JC's upper lip. Their eyes met and for a moment they froze, Justin's thumb against JC's lips, his palm on JC's cheek and his fingers curled under his chin.

Justin started to pull his hand away slowly and JC caught his wrist. "Thanks." JC said softly, holding Justin's gaze. They were so close in the little bathroom, Justin was standing between JC's knees. They heard footsteps coming towards the bathroom and Justin broke eye contact, moving to leave. JC stood up to follow.

"Hey, Justin helping you get that crud off your face?" Joey laughed as he reached the bathroom door.

"Yhea," JC nodded, watching Justin pass Joey and return to his seat.

"Well, get lost, I gotta pee." Joey pushed past JC, shoving him out of the bathroom and closing the door behind him.

JC walked down the aisle to his seat in a daze. His lips were still tingling from Justin's touch. Did I just imagine that moment? he wondered, sitting next to his bandmate, who's face was turned towards the window, his eyes closed. I must have. JC decided, studying Justin's beautiful profile. He had always loved Justin, ever since they first met he had felt a connection to him. But when they met Justin had been just a kid, barely twelve. JC had thought he was baby-cute, but hadn't been physically attracted to him. Once Justin really hit puberty, around fifteen, and begun filling out, JC had found himself more and more attracted to him. Over the years the newfound physical attraction and the long-time love had molded together to create a delicious sort of torment. JC wanted Justin, lived for Justin, but would never tell him. JC couldn't bare the thought of rejection, or even having Justin the tiniest bit uncomfortable around him. The friendship was way too important for him to risk losing it. Plus, Justin was straight. He was with Britney, everyone knew that. Rumours flew, grainy pictures of them kissing were published in tabloids, Britney would drop little remarks like "I kiss him sometimes." into interviews. They were constantly on the phone, or e-mailing. It hurt JC everytime he heard Justin say goodbye to Britney on the phone.

"Bye, Brit. Love ya."

Just a casual afterthought, but it ripped JC's heart in half everytime he heard it. He hated that he had these feelings for Justin. Why Justin, of all people? Why his best friend? He'd dated girls before he'd met Justin, and he'd dated girls since, but none made him feel the way he felt when he was with his best friend. JC wasn't interested in other guys, either. Just Justin. Always Justin. JC sighed, tearing his eyes away from Justin's profile and leaning his head back. He was going to force himself to fall asleep.

"Josh?" It was Justin's voice, soft and almost shy. JC opened his eyes and looked at his friend. "You can lean on me if you want."

JC smiled at the offer, leaning his head on Justin's shoulder and closing his eyes again. Justin rested his head lightly on JC's. JC inhaled the scent of the man he loved, and was comforted by the smell. He felt sleep coming over him easily now.

* ** * ** *

JC stretched out on the first queen-sized bed in the room. He knew Justin liked to have the bed farthest from the door. Meanwhile, Justin was outside on the balcony, looking out upon the city. He was impressed by it, but in his mind it couldn't compare to the fresh beauty of Tennessee. His cell phone rang. "Hello?" he answered it.

"Hey! It's me!" a female voice greeted him enthusiastically.

"Hey, Brit! Where are you?" Justin grinned at the sound of her voice. Next to JC and the guys, Britney was his closest friend.

"I'm in the hotel, I just got in town! Y'all wanna have dinner tonight?" Britney was going to be performing at the VMA's, too, which meant the two friends would be able to spend some time together for once.

"Of course!" Justin accepted the invitation happily, "We'll meet you in your room in half an hour." He glanced into the room and saw JC lying on his bed, an arm slung over his eyes. Justin lowered his voice discreetly, "You have to see JC. He's been working out. He looks so hot!" Justin paused, then amended, "Not that he hasn't always been fine as hell. He just looks better than ever. "

"I can hardly wait." Britney giggled. "Okay, I'm gonna get ready now. Oh, yhea, I'm in room 811."

Justin raised his voice as he stepped back into the room, "Hey! We're in 901! That's only one floor away! That's so cool!"

JC grinned at Justin's enthusiasm. He's so adorable! the brunette thought, lifting his arm from his eyes to watch Justin walk into the room from the balcony.

"Okay, see you in a few minutes. Love ya." Justin hung up his cell, not noticing the way JC's grin faded at his words. He went to the bathroom and checked out his fro. "That was Britney," He told JC, not taking his eyes off his reflection. "She wants to have dinner tonight."

"Oh." Was all JC said.

"In half an hour." Justin added, pulling his t-shirt over his head. He went to his suitcase and took out a baby blue shirt made of soft, stretchy material that was both loose and clung to his well-developed chest when he wore it. He decided not to change out of the denim jeans he was already wearing.

"Oh." JC repeated, forcing himself not to watch Justin put on the shirt.

"Well, are you gonna get ready or what?" Justin demanded.

"Huh?" JC looked up and saw Justin pulling the shirt over his muscular chest.

"We're meeting her in her room in half an hour. Move your butt." Justin went to JC's bedside and nudged him with his foot as he slipped into a denim jacket. "I'm gonna tell Chris and them." Justin took his room key and left.

JC was relieved that Justin wasn't going to be alone with Britney, pleased that he'd get to have dinner with him, aroused by how beautiful he'd looked in that outfit, guilty for begrudging Justin his happiness with Britney, and sorry for himself for his confusing state of emotions. He sighed and went to the closet, looking for something to wear. He pulled out some charcoal slacks and a grey turtleneck. The shirt smelled like Justin. He must've borrowed it without permission. JC smiled. Even though he sometimes stretched things out, JC liked it when Justin wore his clothes. Especially because his scent would linger on it afterwards. JC slipped on the shirt, which hung just a little looser than it used to, and ran a comb through his hair. Justin walked back into the room, stopping short when he saw JC.

"What?" JC asked self-consciously.

"You look great." Justin said, then blushed. Thank God the light's off! The room was lit by the fading sunlight coming in through the open curtains, and the bathroom light, but Justin's blush was safely lost in the shadows of the room.

"Thanks." JC grinned, "So do you, of course."

"Of course, "Justin flashed a cocky grin, coming to JC's side to check himself out in the mirror above the dresser.

"Egomaniac." JC accused, reaching out to ruffle Justin's hair.

"Don't touch the fro!" Justin ducked away from JC's hand, "You don't get this beautiful by accident. It's a science." Justin patted his curls with exaggerated care.

JC was about to reply when a knock came at the door. "Let's go! We're ready." Lance called through the door.

"And hungry!" Joey added. Everyone laughed as they headed for the elevator.

* ** * ** *

"How's the sweet and sour chicken?" Justin asked, looking at his friend's plate. They were all in Britney's hotel room, they'd decided to order in Chinese. Chris, Lance, and Joey sat on the couch, Britney was sitting Indian-style on an armchair, and Justin and JC were sharing the loveseat.

"Pretty good. A little too sweet." JC smiled, lifting up a piece of chicken with his chopsticks, "Wanna try it?"

"Sure," Justin leaned in closer to take the meat into his mouth, unconsciously putting a hand on JC's thigh. JC stiffened at the contact as he watched Justin's lips wrap around the meat and slide off the chopsticks. Their eyes met, and Justin squeezed JC's thigh without really meaning to.

The room erupted in laughter, and Justin looked over at Joey with a slightly stunned expression, taking his hand off JC. Joey was covering his eyes with his hand in embarrassment and telling Chris to shut up.

"Oh, it was classic!" Chris hooted, recalling what had happened on the plane ride to New York. He'd already told the story of his prank on JC. "The stewardess totally shot Joey down! I wish I'd videotaped that!"

"I said shut up, Chris!" Joey scowled.

"Hey, how about you and I go somewhere sometime?" Chris impersonated Joey with a heavy New York accent. "I can't believe that one didn't work, Joe! She must be gay!"

Justin laughed at the cheesy pick-up line, "Yhea, Joey, why didn't you just say 'If I told you you had a nice body would you hold it against me?'"

"Fuck you, Curly." Joey glared as everyone laughed.

"No, thanks, Joe." Justin grinned, "You're not my type."

"Then fuck JC," Joey picked JC randomly because he was sitting next to Justin.

"Hey, there's a lady present, watch your language!" Britney joked.

"Really? Where?" Joey pretended to look around for one.

JC could feel himself blush, and darted a glance at Justin. JC could still feel where Justin's hand had rested on his thigh. He forced himself not to read too much into it. We're friends. Friends touch. Justin and I have always been affectionate with each other. He repeated the familiar thoughts that had become like a mantra over the years. Everytime he found himself reading too much into Justin's behavior, he would remind himself that it was all in his head. His Lust Mantra.

The rest of dinner past quickly, they ate and laughed until past eleven. "We should go clubbing." Joey suggested.

"We have rehearsal tomorrow." JC reminded him.

"So what? I wanna dance!" Joey danced around a little in his seat.

"You'll be dancing all day tomorrow. Tonight we sleep." JC told him as they stood up to go.

"Well, I'm gonna chill here for a while," Justin said.

"Oooh," Chris teased, "Wonder what you two are gonna do?"

"Just talk." Justin laughed a little, punching Chris lightly in the shoulder.

"Sure, 'talk'. Is that what you kids are calling it these days?" Chris said in an old man voice.

"Whatever, grandpa." Justin rolled his eyes.

Lance laughed as Chris pretended to jump on Justin and choke him. He happened to look at JC and saw an odd expression on his face. He couldn't quite read it. It was...what? Jealousy? Sadness? Could JC have a thing for Britney? he wondered, looking over at her. She is beautiful. he mused, and sweet, and funny... and one of his best friend's girlfriend, he reminded himself.

Justin turned to JC, "I'll be in the room in an hour or so. I just wanna talk to Brit for a while."

"All right, " JC avoided Justin's eyes, "Do whatever you want." He forced himself to smile at Britney. It's not her fault I'm in love with her boyfriend. He patter her arm lightly, "Good to see you again, Brit."

"You, too, Jace." Britney kissed his cheek quickly, then proceeded to do the same to Chris, Joey, and Lance. "See you guys tomorrow."

The three men left, leaving Britney and Justin alone in the room. Britney sat on the bed cross-legged.

"Doesn't he look great?" Justin demanded, plopping down on the loveseat.

"Yhea, he does." Britney smiled, then added a bit wistfully, "So do you." She'd loved Justin since their MMC days, but she knew his heart belonged to JC. She was the only person in the world who knew about his secret love, it was the bond that held their friendship together. As much as she wished Justin could return her love, she was glad she knew of his feelings for JC. It assured her a place of importance in the life of the boy she'd loved since was a little girl. She still remembered the first time she'd found out...

Seven years ago...

Twelve year old Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake had been on MMC together for almost a year, and in that time they'd become pretty close. Not as close as Justin and JC Chasez, but that was different. Brit was closer to Justin's age, they were equals, not like JC, who was older and wiser. That friendship was more of a big brother/little brother thing.

The two youngest cast members of MMC were sitting in the otherwise empty set, waiting for their moms to pick them up. The rest of the cast and crew had scattered throughout the lot. "Truth or Dare?" the little brunette asked suddenly.

"Umm...truth." The blonde boy chose, concentrating on the yo-yo he was playing with. He wanted to learn how to "walk the dog", like he'd seen JC do earlier.

"Okay..." she began nervously, "If you could, uh, kiss one cast member, who would it be?"

The blonde began immediately began to answer, but Britney quickly cut him off, "You canít say Mickey."

"Damn." He grinned. He was silent for a while, a blush creeping steadily into his cheeks. He stopped playing with the yo-yo and just let it hang.

"What?" Britney coaxed, "Who is it? You can tell me."

"It's-- it's embarrassing." Justin's face was tomato red.

"Tell me. I won't blab, I promise. Cross my heart." She drew an x over her heart with her finger, holding her breath. Would he say her name?

"It's..." Justin couldn't bring himself to say the words out loud. He'd never told anyone about his secret crush. He was scared to.

"You can trust me, Justin." Britney promised him, screwing up the courage to take his hand in hers. Justin looked up doubtfully, but his expression changed when he saw the sincerity in her face. "I won't tell anyone. Ever."

"It's...it's not a girl." He managed to whisper, feeling like his heart was in his throat.

"What?" her eyes were filled with confusion.

"It's JC." He blurted, looking down at his feet. It felt so good to tell somebody. He had the sudden urge to laugh, or cry. He'd been hiding his feelings for almost a year, and now he'd finally shared them with another person.

"JC?" Britney repeated, more concerned with her disappointment than with the fact that JC was a boy.

"You promised you won't tell anyone, "Justin reminded her.

"I know. I won't." Britney looked into Justin's eyes, "I'd never do that to you." Justin smiled in relief. "Are you gonna tell JC?" she asked.

"No!" He answered quickly, "No, I can't tell JC! Not ever!"

"Why not?" Britney paused, "Oh, cause he has a girlfriend?"

"Yhea," Justin nodded, "JC doesn't like guys like that."

"But, you do." Britney was talking more to herself than to Justin.

"Yhea," Justin agreed. "I don't want JC to hate me."

"He would never hate you!" Britney assured him, taken aback by the idea of JC ever hating Justin.

Justin looked at her uncertainly, "Well, still, I just don't think I should."

So, Britney had never told a soul, not even her mother, about Justin's sexuality. She's even pretended to go out with him back in the MMC days to keep anyone from suspecting the truth. Namely, JC. Justin was always so paranoid that JC would figure him out.

Nowadays they kept the charade up, almost out of habit. They would attend events together, kiss in public every now and then, and make little comments to the press. Britney cherished the kisses they shared, even if they were just for show. They never outright "admitted" that they were together, though. There was no need for that. Justin just needed to make people think he was straight, not taken. Perhaps, subconsciously, he didn't want to even pretend to commit to anyone but JC.

Their deception served three purposes, really. The first was of course to conceal Justin's secret, the second was to distract the media from delving too deeply into Britney's actual love life, and the third was that it was good publicity. Who didn't love the idea of the world's most famous pop stars in love? Young, beautiful pop stars, at that.

Britney's actual love life wasn't very impressive, anyway. She dated, but she never really cared about any of the young men she saw. Only one man held her heart. A man who would never love her back, not the way she wanted him to. Her situation helped her sympathize with Justin, who knew how she felt about him. Strange as it sounds, her unreciprocated feelings only brought them closer, because she knew how he felt. Sometimes they would just hold each other and cry, feeling sorry for themselves and each other. Justin never blamed himself for not loving her back, because she didn't blame him. He knew it wasn't his fault, just as he knew it wasn't JC's fault that he didn't return Justin's love. It's just the way things were.

"What are you thinking about?" Justin asked Britney, breaking the silence they'd been sitting in.

"You." She answered, looking at him askance. "What were you thinking about?"

"JC." Justin admitted. They shared a rueful smile. They both knew what the other was thinking: If only Justin was straight, things would be so much easier. "You're beautiful, you know that?" Justin told her. She rolled her eyes. "No, really, you are. You could have any guy in the world."

Except the one I want. Britney thought, but she said aloud, "I know, I know. I'm irresistible."

"And modest, " Justin added with a grin. She couldn't help but grin back.

"So, how's everything with JC?" she asked, sincerely wanting to know.

"I don't know, " Justin sighed, "Sometimes there are these moments where it feels like maybe...I donít know. It's just wishful thinking, I'm sure. "

Britney's eyebrows raises, "Maybe it's not." She went to the loveseat and sat by him. "What kind of moments?"

"Just...moments. Like we touch and our eyes meet and it just feels like...something's there." Justin sighed dreamily.

"You've talked about moments like that for years." Britney reminded him.

"I know, but lately they've been happening a lot." Justin recalled the two incidents that had occurred just that day.

"Maybe you should talk to him," Britney suggested.

"No, no way." Justin quickly disagreed, "It's probably all in my head."

"You'll never know if you don't try." But even as she said the words she knew what his reply would be.

"But there's too much to loose. *Nsync could break up, or kick me out. The media could find out..." Justin didn't say the last, most terrifying scenario out loud, that JC could hate him.

"You know the group wouldn't kick you out, Justin. They might need a little time to get used to the idea, but they'd never kick you out." They'd had this conversation a million times before, but the next thing Britney said was new to the repertoire. "I think you should tell Chris."

"Chris?" Justin looked at her, surprised. Usually she urged him to tell JC, or the whole group. She'd never singled out Chris before. "Why Chris?"

"Because he's the one you're closest to, besides JC, and if he accepts you maybe it'll make it easier for you to tell the rest of the group." Britney wondered why she'd never thought of that before.

"Maybe," Justin considered, reluctant to get his hopes up.

"Just try it." Britney coaxed him, "If he freaks out we'll just say it was a joke. I'll back you up."

"I'll think about it," Justin yawned, "But not tonight. I'm gonna crash. It's nearly midnight and we have to be ready by eight."

"So you're waking up at, what, four? You'll need a few hours to primp." Britney teased.

"Pimps don't primp." Justin grinned, smoothing back his curls like John Travolta a la "Grease".

"Shut up!" Britney laughed, shoving him towards the door, "Go to sleep! I'll see you tomorrow."

"Okay, " Justin pulled her close and kissed her lightly on her forehead. "'Night, Brit. Thanks."

She nodded, closing the door behind him as he left. She didn't ask "Thanks for what?" She didn't have to. She went to clean up the mess from dinner and found Justin's denim jacket on the loveseat. He'd forgotten it. She picked it up and inhaled his delicious scent. She sighed, thinking of how beautiful he was, how sweet; thinking of how Life was so Unfair.

* ** * ** *

More of Part One...(My Advice: Get Out While You Still Can!)

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