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

by Cody

* ** * **

JC willed himself to say something, anything, but all he could do was stare when Justin told him to take off his shirt. JC watched helplessly as Justin's flirty No, it can't be flirty. smile twisted into a frown. "Nevermind." Justin mumbled, turning and walking away.

JC's mind screamed, Stop him! Say something! but his body remained defiantly immobile. JC watched in wistful anguish as Justin approached Wade, who looked the Justin over with obvious lust. JC couldn't hear the conversation, but his heart lurched with jealousy as Wade touched Justin's cheek, Get your filthy hand away from him before I rip it off! JC threatened silently, his hands curling into fists.

Justin grinned at something Wade said, and Wade trailed a finger down Justin's chest. The possessive caveman part of JC's brain kicked into overdrive when he saw this, and he charged forward and seized Wade's wrist, pulling him away from Justin roughly. Both men looked at JC in shock. JC's eyes widened, he was equally stunned by his actions. "We should get going." JC heard hardly recognized his voice, his tone coldly feirce. "C'mon, Just." JC released Wade's wrist and grabbed Justin's, willing himself not to react to the jolt of electricity he felt whenever he touched his best friend. "Let's go, guys!" JC ordered the rest of his band mates as he headed for the limo, still guiding Justin.

* ** * ** *

Somehow in the process of getting into the limo, JC's hand slipped into Justin's. Neither man released their grasp, each waiting for the other to pull away first. JC had calmed down, but the caveman in him was secretly satisfied to have Justin safely away from Wade and sitting close to him in the limo. Their hands laid between them, lightly entwined. What does this mean? Justin's mind reeled, Is JC jealous of Wade? Justin felt giddy at the thought of JC getting jealous over him and couldn't supress a small laugh. He felt JC squeeze his hand and returned the pressure.

"Are you guys holding hands?" Joey asked suddenly.

"No." Justin blushed, releasing JC's hand quickly. Fucking Joey! Justin did his best not to glare at the New Yorker.

"It looked like it from here," Joey laughed, "I guess it was just the position your hands were in."

Chris seemed to find this hilarious, "Aww, twinkies holding hands!"

"Shut up!" Justin snapped, angry that he'd had to let go of JC's hand. I don't want JC to feel embarrassed. he thought, glancing at JC's expressionless face, which was turned towards the window.

"Hey, JC," Lance said as he hung up his cell.

"Hmm?" JC grunted, not looking away from the window. He didn't want anyone to see his face, afraid his expression belied his thoughts. Justin couldn't have been flirting with me earlier. Look how he freaked out when Joey caught us holding hands. He's straight as a ruler.

"I just arranged for Wade's assistant to be at our next rehearsal instead of him." Lance gave JC a 'your welcome' smile.

"What? Why?" JC shot Lance a paranoid look. Does he know? How could he?! JC thought frantically.

"Cause you're mad at him, right? You looked like he was getting on your nerves today." Lance shoved Chris's hand away as the older man attempted to give him a Wet Willy, "Do it and die, Lucky."

"Uh, yhea, well" JC shrugged, "He was getting on my nerves a little, I guess...but it was no big deal." He was secretly thrilled that Wade wouldn't have another chance to flirt with Justin.

"Well, you're welcome." Lance said before answering his ringing cell.

"Yhea, thanks," JC turned back to the window. He wanted to grab Justin's hand, pull it into his lap, and hold it tightly. He sighed and silently repeated his Lust Mantra.

* ** * ** *

Justin's heart sank as he listened to the exchange between Lance and JC. JC's mad at Wade, that's why he pulled me away and stormed out of the studio. God, I should've known! I'm such a loser, I actually thought JC was jealous over me! Justin's cell rang and he answered it despondently, "Speak."

"Hey, J! What's wrong?" Britney's voice was laced with instant concern.

"Oh, hey, Brit." Justin muttered, "It's nothing."

"I'll just assume it's about that little dreamboat JC. Am I wrong?" Britney tried to lighten the mood.

"No," Justin admitted, laughing a little despite himself.

"Is he around?" Britney asked when Justin didn't elaborate.

"Uh...yhea." Justin snuck a glance at JC.

"Well, then, call me later and tell me what happened, okay? I've got a photo shoot, anyway, so I can't really talk right now, either."

"Okay," Justin agreed, "I'll talk to you later. Love ya."

"Love you, too." Brit replied before hanging up.

Justin sat in silence as the limo rolled on, watching Chris and Joey thumb wrestle.

* ** * ** *

JC tensed as he heard Justin say Britney's name. Damn, that bitch is always blowing up his cell! he thought rudely, then immediately felt bad, But why shouldn't she? She is his girlfriend. And she's not a bitch, either, as much as I wish she was. Nonetheless, JC felt the usual surge of envy when Justin said good bye. "Talk to you later. Love ya." JC pretended Justin was talking to him, then rolled his eyes. God, I'm pathetic.

"So what're we gonna do today? After lunch, I mean?" Joey wondered, "We have the rest of the day off!"

"That's what you think!" Lance laughed, "We have an interview with Seventeen magazine, we have to meet with our stylists to figure out costumes and hairstyles for the VMA's, and we have to pick out what we're going to wear when we're not performing. It's two now, we'll probably be done around seven. *Then* we have the rest of the night off."

"What time's the interview?" Chris asked.

"Three," Lance told him, "So we have to have a fast lunch."

"Well, I don't know about you guys, but I'm starving!" Joey said, "They work us like dogs and don't even feed us on time!"

"They don't work us like dogs," Chris contradicted, "There are animal labor laws. It's more like they work us like robots."

"Well, this robot is Hon-gree!" Joey bellowed, patting his stomach for emphasis.

* ** * ** *

Seventeen magazine had sent a young woman to interview them, and she agreed to accompany them to a restaurant. "Thanks for agreeing to this," JC gave her a grateful smile. "After rehearsal we all wanted to take showers, and we only had half an hour before the interview, and we hadn't eaten since--"

"There's no need to thank me," she assured him, "*Nsync is the biggest pop act on the planet. You could've shown up naked and asked to hold the interview in a dumpster and I wouldn't have minded. Actually, if you'd showed naked I really wouldn't have minded!" she teased.

JC laughed, not noticing the way Justin's eyes narrowed at the joke. "What's your name?" Justin asked the reporter, his tone mildly hostile.

"Dana," the woman smiled at him, but he didn't return it. "And you're Justin, right?" Justin nodded and looked down at his plate, indicating that he didnít wish to be spoken to.

The interview went smoothly, Dana asked the usual questions about what they were up to professionally. Then she cleared her throat, "And now for some questions that are none of my business," she joked.

"Uh-oh." Joey grinned.

"Shoot!" Chris encouraged her, "We have nothing to hide!" His band mates gave him a look. "Okay, we have things to hide," Chris amended, "but ask us, anyway."

"I'm sure you saw this coming," Dana smiled apologetically, "but I have some romantic questions for you." She turned towards Joey, "Okay, Mr. Fatone, what exactly do you look for in a girl?"

Joey considered for a moment before answering, "Someone who's kind, affectionate, and has a good sense of humor. But what I really like is a girl that's--"

"Drunk?" Chris guessed, causing everyone except Joey to crack up.

"Confidant." Joey finished, glaring at Chris.

"Okay, Lance. Britney or Christina?" Dana saw Lance's expression and rolled her eyes, "I know, goofy question. Just pick."

"Umm...Britney, I guess." Lance blushed, darting a glance at Justin, who seemed amused by his preference.

"Ooh!" Chris instigated, "Poofu's after yo' woman, Curly!"

"So, Britney and you are really together?" Dana looked at Justin eagerly.

"I'm so sick of that question." Justin evaded.

Dana let it go and turned towards Chris, "Chris, is it true you and your long-time girlfriend are engaged?"

"Not that I know of!" Chris quipped, "I can call her and check, if you want!"

Dana laughed and looked at JC, "Your turn." She told him. "JC, tell me, have you ever been in love?"

JC blushed, forcing himself not to look at Justin. He looked at Dana instead. "Yes."

Sensing something, she asked, "Are you in love now?"

"Yes." JC whispered, feeling everyone's eyes on him, especially one particular pair of a very, very beautiful blue.

"Who is it?" Justin blurted, then resisted the urge to slap his hand over his mouth.

JC took a deep breath, hoping he wouldn't regret his answer,"It's..."

* ** * ** *

JC almost said it, he almost told them all what he'd been dying to say out loud for years: that he was in love with Justin Randall Timberlake. Justin the Talented, Exquisite, Perfect Angel. Justin who could do anything, who had the kind of voice songwriters dream of, the kind of beauty artists ache to create, who possessed qualities mortal words could only fumble to describe, ever coming short of truly honoring his magnificence. Justin his best friend.

But at the last moment he chickened out. "It's kind of personal." JC finished lamely, looking down at his plate. I wish I could just fucking tell him! JC thought miserably,Why is it so hard for me to just say, "Justin, I love you?" Whoever said "I love you" are just three little words must've never been in love with their best friend!

"Well, we've got to go, but it was great to meet you, Dana." Lance stood up, reaching to shake Dana's hand. "Oh, my pleasure!" Dana smiled flirtatiously,"Good luck with the VMA's. I'm sure you're performance will be wonderful!"

"We're doing something no one's ever done before!" Joey boasted.

"Shut up, bigmouth! Don't ruin it!" Chris elbowed the Italian, "It's supposed to be a surprise!"

"Ow!" Joey protested, holding his side where he'd been poked, "I didn't say anything!"

"Well, don't!" Chris warned him.

"I didn't!" Joey shoved Chris, "You don't have to hit!" They headed off towards the exit, bickering as they walked.

Lance looked at Justin and JC, who were still sitting at the table, JC staring at his plate and Justin staring at JC. "You guys coming?" Lance asked, raising his eyebrows. JC nodded but didn't look up. Justin didn't reply at all. Lance shrugged and left.

"JC," Justin whispered once Lance was out of earshot.

JC gulped, keeping his eyes on his plate. "Hmm?" he managed to respond.

"JC, look at me." Hearing the hurt in Justin's voice, JC looked up involuntarily. He was shocked at how upset Justin looked. "You're in love?"

"Uh...yhea," JC tried to break his eyes away from Justin's, but he couldn't.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Justin looked so sad, JC wanted to reach out and stroke his cheek.

"It's personal." JC knew how stupid that excuse was, but he said it anyway.

"But, we tell each other everything." Tears were forming in Justin's eyes, "Nothing's ever been too personal before."

"This is different." JC couldn't stand this, seeing how upset he was making Justin. Whenever Justin cried, JC's first reaction was always an incredible anger. He wanted to go and destroy the cause of Justin's pain. JC felt the anger building inside himself, and it only multiplied because he was the source of Justin's pain, and there was nothing he could do to take the pain away. If I told Justin the person I love is him, it would hurt him even more. JC unconsciously curled his hands into fists, his fingernails biting into the skin of his palms. He didn't even notice the physical pain; his emotional distress so overwhelmed his senses that there was no room in his mind for any other sensation.

"How is this different? Why can't you tell me?" Justin's voice faltered, and that lovely voice breaking only served to remind JC of how precious and fragile Justin was, and how much he should never be unhappy. JC's frustration from having to keep a secret from his best friend, from having this incredible love that had no chance of being returned, from how unfair everything was, mixed with his anger, and he just blew up.

"I just can't! I can't okay? Leave me the hell alone!" JC immediately regretted his harsh words as he watched Justin's eyes water. "Justin..." he reached for him.

Justin backed out of reach, holding back his tears, "I thought we trusted each other, but I guess I was wrong. You want to keep secrets? Fine. I don't give a fuck." He turned and walked away quickly.

"Justin!" JC called after him, but Justin didn't stop, he just flicked JC off and kept going.

* ** * ** *

"Where are Jace and Curly?" Chris scooted over to make room for Lance in the limo.

"They're talking. I think Justin's mad at JC for not telling him he was in love." Lance said, "Did you see the look on his face? Justin's really upset."

"But JC never told any of us," Joey pointed out.

"Yhea, but JC and Justin are best friends. They tell each other everything." Chris explained.

"I was surprised JC'd never told the group, but I was really shocked that he'd never told Justin." Lance said, checking all the phone messages he'd received during the interview.

"Well, I don't mind if JC has secrets," Joey shrugged, "There's stuff I don't tell you guys, too."

"Like what?" Chris demanded.

"Stuff." Joey tried to sound ambiguous.

"There's no stuff," Chris scoffed, "You're too much of a big-mouth."

"Oh, there's stuff!" Joey assured him, "There's tons of stuff."

"Name one thing!" Chris challenged him.

"No. It's too personal." Joey folded his arms and sat back in his seat.

"Ha!" Chris laughed, "Yhea, right! You--"

"Shh." Lance hushed them as he spotted Justin heading for the limo. Justin and JC always shared one seat, leaving Joey, Chris, and Lance to share the other, but when Justin reached the car door, he stopped and looked pointedly at Lance, who sighed and got out of the limo.

"Thanks," Justin muttered as he slid into Lance's usual seat. Lance was on the phone so he just nodded in welcome.

JC showed up a few seconds later, and when he saw the change in seating arrangements he looked at Justin in surprise, but Justin ignored him. JC sat next to Lance and felt like crying. After he'd yelled at Justin, all his anger had evaporated, and it was replaced by an intense guilt and sadness. He tried to catch Justin's eye, but Justin was looking everywhere but at JC.I really screwed up this time. JC thought desolately, How can I get him to forgive me without telling him I love him? I don't want to lie to him, that would just make things worse.

Joey and Chris were extra boisterous as they road to the studio, trying to make up for the tension between JC and Justin. JC forced a smile to show them he appreciated their efforts. Justin ignored everyone and stared at his hands. JC watched Justin, wanting to take the Jusitn's hands into his own and kiss them. He wanted to wipe away the remnants of tears from Justin's cheeks with his lips. He wanted to tell Justin how much he'd always, always love him. Wholly, madly, deeply. Forever.

But when JC finally managed to catch Justin's gaze, he found it cold and wounded, and JC looked away quickly. He felt as though he'd just made the biggest mistake of his life; and maybe he had.

Chapter Two: Candlelight, Roses, and Other Disasters

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