by Betty Plotnick

Lay down your weapons and love your neighbor as yourself
In the nightfall when the light falls
-- "Our Deliverance," Indigo Girls

/For every strange and bitter moment, there was never a better time/

Justin and Britney, whose three-year relationship had been one long shower of music and bubbles and pink rose petals, broke up in a rain of fire that shocked everyone but Lance.

"They didn't fall in love with any sense of moderation," he reminded JC on the phone. "What makes you think they'd fall out of love any differently?"

"But they were...so in love," JC said, his voice trailing off as though he realized how the words sounded as he was speaking them.

Lance snorted, and circled the date in his day planner in dark blue ink. "And now they're so not."

"I bet they still are," JC said. "If they'd just talk to each other...."

"C, honey. She called him a cocksucking faggot, and he called her a talentless phony. Do you think maybe talking isn't working out for them?" In tiny, blocked letters, he wrote beside the date, JUSTIN.

"I don't know, maybe," JC said, which always meant that he still thought you were wrong, but wasn't quite sure why anymore. "You're going to call him, right?"

"Of course I am," Lance said. He skipped three boxes ahead in his planner, and carefully wrote under Sunday's date, CALL HIM. He put the pen down. He picked it back up, underlined the words, and set it down again. "God, what kind of a friend do you think I am?"

Lance smiled a little as JC babbled through a shocked apology for implying. He tested the edge of one tooth with his tongue.

On Sunday afternoon, he called Justin and said, "You should come over."

"Why? I know you're on her side," Justin said sulkily. Lance could hear water running in the background.

"I'm not on her side. I think you did the right thing. Come over tonight."

There was a long silence, except for the sound of water, and eventually the squeal of faucets, and then nothing. "Actually, though, I can't. Chris is coming over here."

"Actually, though, he's not. I just talked to him."

"And said what?" Justin's voice scaled upward in prim shock, and Lance put one leg up along the back of his sofa and folded one arm behind his head, smiling up at the chandelier.

"That while I knew his heart was in the right place, keeping you completely lit for three days straight was bad parenting, and I was taking over the suicide watch tonight."

"He's not my fucking dad, and neither are you. And fuck you, I'm not suicidal. Like I'd give her the satisfaction."

"Look, breakups suck, but alcohol poisoning sucks a whole lot worse. Would you just trust me? Get cleaned up, get dressed, get out of your fucking house."

"Whatever," Justin said, and hung up on him. Lance smiled, and pulled his shirt loose from his waistband, stroking his fingertips over his stomach lightly. Drunk, Justin's eyes were all dilated pupil with a corona of midnight blue, and he breathed heavily and forgot not to let his hips do that thing when he walked, and Lance had always wanted to fuck him drunk, while Justin was flushed and slithery and suggestible.

Lance would have bet a hundred thousand dollars and his grandmother's chocolate mousse recipe that Chris hadn't taken advantage of Justin, or gotten him drunk for any reason other than to help ease the pain of his broken heart.

Chris was decent that way.

The Justin that arrived on Lance's doorstep at eight o'clock didn't look suicidal, or broken hearted, or needy. He looked pissed off. He folded his arms, pulling the too-small Pink Floyd t-shirt -- Chris's -- tighter across his chest, and he said, "Let's get this over with."

Lance held the door open for Justin to storm through. "Get what over with?" he said innocently, as he locked the door.

"You brought me here to tell me what I should be doing, right? Or what I should've done, or what I should never have done, or what I'm gonna do. You've always got some goddamn opinion about other people's lives."

"Just yours. It's how I get back at you for being such a controlling bitch when we're in the studio." That made Justin smile; he always took it as a perverse sort of compliment when people called him a control freak. He was the only person Lance knew who did that, other than himself. Justin dropped bonelessly onto the couch and stared at the chandelier, drumming his fingers on its back. "I told you," Lance said, shoving Justin's feet off so that he could sit down. "I think you did the right thing. Isn't that what the other guys said?"

Justin made a spiral in the air with his hand. "I dunno, I guess. JC mostly said, 'Oh, poor baby.' Joey said I could do better. Chris said, 'Less thinking, more drinking.'"

"Hung over?"

He grinned ruefully. "I had to dig myself out of my own grave this morning. I feel okay now, though. It took you three fucking days to call me? What's that about?"

"I figured you had enough people breathing down your neck."

Justin chewed on his thumbnail and said, "Did you talk to her?"

"Yeah, but you know what? The best thing for you is to forget about what she's doing. It's none of your business anymore."

"I can't just -- be like that, just all of a sudden not give a shit about her. Just because you can be like that with your exes."

"Justin, give me a break. I hold the patent on exes you can't get rid of."

His eyes widened slightly, and he kicked at Lance's ankle, his foot sweeping along Lance's thick carpet and leaving a dark stripe of back-pressed fibers. "Could you be any fucking colder, Lance? Jesus."

"You want me to poor-baby you, you want to hear everything gets easier and you'll be over her in no time? Well, poor baby, and it does, and you will, and you know I suck at this stuff, so that's not why you came here."

"You told me to come!"

Lance rolled his eyes. "And you always do what I tell you to do." Justin shrugged.

Justin pried off his sneaker on the bottom edge of the couch and let his foot rest casually on top of Lance's bare foot. Lance reminded himself not to smile, wrote it down in his head and underlined it.

"Maybe I just. Maybe you could tell me how you do it. Stay friends with all of them, after."

"Don't have much choice."

"You're no fucking help, you know that?"

"Of course I'm not. That's why I didn't call you. Look, Britney isn't cool with you wanting to suck cock. What am I going to say that's going to make you feel better about that? It sucks."

"It hurts."

Lance looked down at his hands, at his index finger crooked around the opposite thumb. "I know," he said, and almost changed his mind about the whole thing.

"Which was the worst?" Justin was asking him, drawing Lance back up to reality. "Like -- which breakup?"

"Well, I guess the worst was Chris by default. I didn't get dumped by Joey or JC." He was a little surprised at himself for making it sound like he got dumped by Chris, when really it was pretty much just a natural thing; didn't everyone quit fucking the person they were fucking when they were seventeen, and usually sooner rather than later? Not that Justin seemed to be paying attention to the answer to his own question, so Lance guessed it didn't matter.

"She's cool with everyone else," Justin said, his voice a thin plea, as though he knew that logic couldn't possibly apply here, but couldn't help appealing to logic anyway. "I mean, she loves you, she loves Joey. That shit she said, that's not Brit, she's just not like that. I thought -- I thought you were supposed to be able to tell your friends anything. I thought you could fucking count on them."

"She's not your friend, Justin."

"I wanted her to be."

"Yeah. Well. Maybe that's the whole problem."

Justin sat up, stretching out his hand to balance himself on Lance's knee. "I want what you have," he said. Not a plea, now. Nothing short of a command. "I want friends."

His hand was still on Lance's knee, and Lance ignored it carefully, keeping his eyes on Justin's. They were dark and dilated, but laser-focused. "With benefits?"

"Why not? God," he said, and his voice cracked on a laugh that came out a little louder than Lance expected it to. "I've waited three goddamn years and passed up more opportunities than I can fucking count. For her, and it don't mean shit to her. So...the hell with it, right?"

"Hmm," Lance said. He dropped his eyes, because he was afraid there was anger boiling up in them, and that was counter-productive. Still, though. Really. Justin thought the way that Lance had arranged his life was easier? Lance could write a book on strange and bitter breakups; this Britney thing, this was just Justin getting his feet wet.

Justin's hand slid under his jaw, the skin of it warm and slightly rough, especially compared to Lance's skin, well-tended with sixty-dollar-a-bottle moisturizers. "You asked me over because you figured I was desperate, didn't you?" he said softly, and tilted his head, waiting to be kissed..

"You came because you figured I was easy, didn't you?" Lance said, and kissed him.


/Beneath my surface a song is rising
It may be simple while it hides its true intent/

"So what do you think?" Chris asked, setting a cup of coffee on the tabletop in front of Lance.

"I think." It was hard, for just a minute, to keep his realities straight, to remember whether Chris was one of the people he could say anything to or not. He was. "I think I'll never understand why you want to spend your vacation on a bus."

"It's not a bus," Chris said, affronted. "It's a recreational vehicle. Which, you can see, makes it very different from the bus, which is a professional vehicle. A, uh. What's the opposite of recreation? Fuck, I need to read a book or something. Anyway, the thing is, I get to drive. Also," he said casually, standing over Lance but looking out the window, "here's this thing. You're taking out my boy now, huh?"

The coffee was too hot, and it made the skin on the top of Lance's mouth feel scraped raw. "We're hanging out," Lance said carefully.

"You never used to. Shit, you hung out more with Britney."

"What's this about?" Lance said. The table was mostly hollow, and the mug was heavy and ceramic, and it sounded like Lance was slamming it down, even though he wasn't. "We're hanging out now. Is that a problem? Is there something I should know?"

"If it's. If it's, like, a publicity stunt or whatever, you could tell me that. Making sure he gets his picture taken getting on with his life."

"It's just him getting on with his life. The pictures are a perk. I'm not going out with him as his publicist, for God's sake."

"As his boyfriend?"

"Mind your own damn business," Lance said, and then couldn't imagine what had moved him to say a thing like that. Maybe because his mouth hurt and he was sitting on another fucking bus. "I mean, I know that sounds harsh, and I'm sorry, but seriously. The way you're skating around, like it's too scandalous even to just come out and ask. I'm not his boyfriend, all right? But he's single for the first time in his adult life, he's legal, he's got, you know, things he wants to try. So what?"

"I wish it wasn't you, is all. Which, I know I sound like a bastard..."

"You sound like a jealous bastard," Lance confirmed, staring darkly into his coffee.

Chris didn't answer for a moment, and when he did, his voice had a forced sort of humor in it. "I don't even want to know which of you guys you think I'm jealous of. But that's not what this is about. You're just.... Come on, Lance. You know he's not your type."

Lance sipped his coffee, waiting until he could stay calm before responding. It didn't quite work. "Are you kidding me? He's a damn fire hazard, he's so hot, and he's all pent-up and he's got shit to prove. You've never been fucked like I'm getting fucked lately."

"That's my point exactly." Chris was doing a much better job than Lance of sounding calm, which was a rare and unwelcome experience for Lance. "That's not Justin, and if you want to act like it is, then he's gonna get hurt. You know Justin. The kid is a one...person...person. He got cut loose, and okay, you know and I know that it was never the most rock-solid relationship going, but Justin thought they were gonna make it, and they didn't. He's angry and lonely and freaked, and he's never had a whole lot in the way of good sex before, between Brit being neurotic and Justin being gay. He doesn't sport-fuck like you do; he's not, you know, experienced with any of this, sex and emotional shit, any of it. He's got no defenses."

"Well, he's got you, doesn't he?"

Chris studied him, and then picked up Lance's mug. "Excuse me, hello? Don't come into my recreational vehicle, drink my Starbuck's, and then talk to me like I'm trying to put something over on you. I wouldn't lie to you, Bass, and I wouldn't, whatever, cut into your action just for the hell of it. This is Justin. He just got smashed to shit less than a month ago, and he may be your new special friend, but you were not the one there listening to him cry in his fucking sleep, so don't try to draw me in like I'm playing some angle, here. I know him a thousand times better than you do, and I'm telling you, you're taking advantage of him. You...probably don't mean to or whatever, but you are."

"Because he's never been nailed to a mattress before, I'm taking advantage? Jesus, come on. He's a grown man, he's not made of spun sugar. Justin is a stubborn motherfucker, and he always gets what he wants, and you need to relax and deal with the fact that if he can run his own career, he can certainly run his own sex life. He's not seventeen, after all, not that you had any of these delicate-virgin scruples when I was seventeen. It's just Justin, huh?"

"You were different," Chris said slowly, and Lance snorted. "You're...totally different people. That's exactly what I'm saying. Think about who you're dealing with: Justin believes in love."

For a moment, Lance remembered everything, all six months inside ten seconds. Chris, shoving him playfully, catching him when he stumbled with one hand on Lance's ass and one hand around his arm. Chris, making him mewl with fast, stinging bites on his stomach, then looking up with a sharp-toothed smile and his hair falling in front of his laughing eyes. Chris, resting against him on a bus at the edge of dawn, his arm around Lance's shoulder and his breath hot and cinnamon-flavored on Lance's neck. Chris, leaning over as they waited in the lobby of a radio station, whispering, Know what I was just thinking we've never done before? with his hand in Lance's hair and his voice vibrating through Lance's ear and all the way down his spine.

"How special," Lance said, and stood up. "Take him off the damn pedestal, Chris. He's young, single, and, until recently, unbelievably repressed. He doesn't need his honor defended. He needs to get laid, preferably by somebody I don't need to draw up a confidentiality agreement for. It's that simple."

"Sounds like you've got it all figured out," Chris said, and he didn't look happy, but he put his hand on Lance's shoulder and pushed him back down, and he changed the subject, rattling on about the quality of baked goods at Starbuck's until it was just easiest to believe that the conversation was over.


He didn't make Justin beg for it harder. He could read it, the wild thrill of more, more, more in the reflection of Justin's eyes, until Justin's head fell forward. Lance ran his tongue from deep between Justin's shoulder blades up into the new, soft curls at the back of Justin's neck, and Justin made a quaking, growling sound at least two octaves below the piercing scream of Justin's palm skidding against the mirror.

"Chris wants you," Lance said against his neck, and Justin's pulse surged, his shoulders tightening. "He's pissed off at me. He's jealous."

"That's stupid," Justin said, his voice rusty. "Not Chris."

"You just never noticed."

"I would. Notice." Justin was breathing in sets of twos, two short, hard inhales, an exhale broken raggedly in half, like he was counting beats for choreography.

Lance turned the trembling of his fingers into a tease as they slid down the taut muscles of Justin's stomach, the lube on his fingers mingling, juicy and slick, with the sweat on Justin's skin. "You never noticed how bad I wanted you," he heard himself say.

Justin raised his head, his eyes dark and dilated as though he were drunk, and he smiled, not sweetly. "The hell I didn't." Lance shoved him forward, flushed skin against the cold glass with Lance's hand closing around his cock, and Justin shuddered and stopped breathing. Then he started to beg, the need rising out of him like music.


/For every pleasure exacts its pain
How you hurt me, how you were good to me/

Justin was the first person he told about his discussions with the Russians, and then only because Justin was in his day planner and wouldn't shut up about Russian names and The Hunt for Red October.

"For serious?" he said when Lance explained, and Lance rolled his eyes. He knew Justin didn't have to talk like an idiot; he was just never sure why Justin seemed to prefer it that way. "In space, like, on a shuttle?"

"No, Justin. On the back of a big, giant bird."

"I got your bird," Justin said, flipping him one. Lance glared at him, and managed to keep glaring as Justin slid it, along with his index finger, into his own mouth.

"It's just a possibility," Lance told him.

Not having received quite the reaction he wanted, Justin pushed Lance's chair away from the desk and straddled his lap. "You know what's a sure thing?" he said, and Lance closed his eyes and tipped his head back for Justin's wet fingers to slide down his cheek and Justin's warm mouth to close over his.

"You're such a whore," Lance murmured, as the kiss tapered off, and Justin grinned and stroked Lance's mouth one last time with his tongue. Lance pressed his hand to Justin's face, and they stayed nose to nose for a moment, trading breaths. Justin's patience expired first. It always did. He reached for Lance's belt, and Lance smiled and bit at his lip. "Whore," he said again, sweetly.

"Don't I got a right to be?" Justin said.


"It's weird. Just...weird," JC said. "I mean. There's you, and I know you. And there's Justin, and I know him, too."

"How is that weird? You know everyone I know." Lance tried to take the shirt, silver silk with a red paisley pattern, out of JC's hands, but as soon as he hung it back on the rack, JC picked it up again without comment and tucked it under his arm. JC's idea of shopping dates involved sharing feelings about everything under the sun, except for the actual shopping, which was non-negotiable.

"It's weird because now I've slept with you. And you're serious about somebody else now, so. And, you know. It's Justin."

"Okay, first, shut up," Lance said pleasantly. "The mall may be closed, but it's still a public place. And second, nobody is serious about anybody."

That seemed to hold JC for a little while, until he was running his fingers over a pair of jeans with satin appliques. Without looking up at Lance, he said, "Were you ever?"

"God, no. Serious about Justin? He's so...sloppy. Emotionally. I'd have to kill him if we were in a relationship."

"I meant, ever serious. Ever. Like, with me?"

Lance checked a price tag and decided that he didn't trust anything made of cashmere that was that price regularly. If it was marked on sale, maybe, but if that was all the designer wanted for it to begin with, then he had no confidence in it, and neither should Lance. "C. Let's not talk about this, okay?"

JC didn't argue with him, but Lance caught him out of the corner of his eye a few minutes later, staring at Lance while his back was turned with a pensive frown, the same one he'd worn two years ago, right before he said, "It's like you're here but you're not here," and then, after a bunch of things Lance tried to say that didn't really come out intelligibly, "It just doesn't seem like we're very good at being together. That's just how it feels." You couldn't argue about how things feel, especially not with JC. So Lance had put his clothes on and gone home, and that was that, and now JC wanted to know if he'd ever been serious.

JC used to kiss him softly, more than softly, his lips touching Lance's neck as if he were afraid Lance's skin would burn him, but his hands ran up and down Lance's torso, shoving him down into hotel mattresses and leaving fingerbone-bruises on his sides. JC would throw his clothes over lamps, bathing the room in red or pink or purple, and whisper strange endearments between Lance's ribs, things like with you, it feels like flying and I want to break apart when you look at me, but not in a scary way, more like hatching and I dreamt this, the real kind of dream, in my sleep, like maybe it all comes from a higher place, do you think? He seemed to drink from between Lance's lips, and no matter how many times he made Lance come, Lance could never sleep afterwards. He would just lie awake, watching the shining red or pink or purple length of JC's rising and falling back, and he'd be afraid to touch because it could wake JC up, and afraid to breathe because it could wake Lance up.

"There's nothing wrong with doing things the easy way, for once," Lance said. He sounded defensive. JC didn't seem to notice. "Justin and I are very good at what we do," he added, a bit nastily. JC didn't seem to notice that either.


"What should I say?"

Lance shifted his hips up, but Justin didn't seem to notice, just kept stroking Lance's cock slowly. "I thought...you weren't planning to say anything." He thought about making a joke, something about stonewalling, and Stonewall, but it seemed like a lot of work at the moment, especially since it was Justin, who never really seemed to get Lance's sense of humor. And quite possibly had never heard of Stonewall anyway.

Justin sank from his elbow down to his side, eye-level with Lance. His hand never changed its rhythm. "Yeah, but...I don't think it's working. You know, I don't think it's coming across like we're okay, like it was a mutual thing or whatever. I think I look like I'm dodging something."

"You are."

Justin frowned at him. "Fuck you, who cares? I'm not asking you what's true. I know what's true. I'm asking you what you think I should say on the record."

Stifling a groan -- Christ, that relentless, controlled precision, so fucking Justin -- Lance scrubbed his forearm across his eyes and tried to think. "Okay. Say...it was about trust. Don't say, like, fidelity, cheating, anything that clear-cut. Just say, you know. Trust is the foundation of any good blah, blah, blah. Where there is no trust, there can be no love."

"I don't think I'm gonna be quoting Moulin Rouge."

Lance grinned, his eyes still covered. "Fine, but can I still pretend you're Ewan McGregor?"

Justin squeezed, and Lance nearly swallowed his tongue. "Not that you need to. You know I'm your deepest, darkest fantasy." After a pause, and not in that sexy voice, Justin said, "Really, you think, trust? That won't make it sound like she was cheating on me? Because I don't want.... I'm not trying to start rumors. They just, they won't back off, you know. Until I say why."

"I'm not saying make it about trusting her. Make it about her trusting you."

He seemed to think about that for a long time, until Lance had long since found better things to think about than this conversation. "That's kinda true, too, you know? I mean, it was about -- me and other people, even though there was no me and other people. Kinda."

"Thought you didn't care what was true?"

"I don't," he said, too firmly. And then he added, "Whatever, you know?" much too casually. But he started jacking Lance's cock harder and faster, and it didn't much matter, if it ever really did, because hands, Justin's fucking hand.

It was so much, it almost hurt. So good that it almost hurt.


He had lunch with Joey, and neither of them brought up Justin's name. Forty-five minutes in, Joey said, "How's your love life?" It sounded casual, except for the way Joey was looking at his plate, pulling tiny parsley leaves off their tiny parsley stem as though it were a job that really needed to be done.

"Good. It's good."

And that was it with Joey.


Justin got an unhealthy joy out of fucking in Britney's bedroom, on top of the Yertle the Turtle bedspread. He was noisier in that room, too, as though he thought there was some kind of direct video link between Britney in Los Angeles and the room in Lance's house, and he wanted to put on a good show.

Lance had never thought that Justin had the best voice in the group, but it sounded awfully good when he was coming, breathless and bird-like, oddly pure. They'd almost stopped fucking with Justin's face pressed down into the mattress, just because Lance liked to hear all the little nuances in his voice. It was "Yeah, yeah, fuck, yeah," in the beginning, sleek and gleeful, and in the heat of it there were no words, only a lean, melodic wail that came in rhythmic stops and starts and was punctuated by light laughter. If Lance stopped just before Justin came, held him frozen and pinned where he was, if he bit hard and deliberately on Justin's neck and let his fingers trail over Justin's ass, then Justin pressed his eyes shut and said, "God, Lance, fuck, fuck," impatiently, until he devolved into a feathery, diffuse voice like light filtered through a dirty window, and he said, "Lance, oh, Lance," and tipped his head back, throat up, fingers stroking for purchase low on the back of Lance's neck.

Justin had the best soundtrack. Lance might have told him that once, during those dangerous five minutes right afterward. Justin laughed a little, and wrapped his arms and legs around Lance and rolled them both to their sides, nose to nose. Lance had to close his eyes, but he could still feel Justin looking at him, and also, of course, Justin's lips brushing his face.

"So, Mr. Expert," Justin said, "who's the best lay in 'N Sync?"

"I am," Lance said coolly.

Justin was the most gloriously responsive, the one who could make you feel omnipotent while you drew shudders and keens out of him. JC made time stop; you could lose days in JC's bed, you could lose your own name and everything else except the taste of his lips. Chris had a trick of making you feel special, like everything he did to you he was inventing on the spot, just for the two of you. And Joey, there was just something about Joey. It had felt like coming off of heroin when Lance and Joey broke up, and Lance still looked at him sometimes and fiended.

"Of course, of course," Justin laughed. "I should've known. Can't touch you."

"Nope," Lance said. Justin kissed him, and he endured it quietly.


He caught himself missing Justin on his first trip to Russia, so he got himself a boyfriend who gave better head than Justin did. Or, well, at least as good. Very comparable.

He wondered if he should get Justin to introduce him to some of his rapper friends. Find out if the way Justin sucked cock was in any way linked to the ability to beatbox, because Lance thought maybe it was.

One night he realized, on the verge of sleep, that he missed lying on top of Justin while Justin held up flash cards behind his head and quizzed him on his Russian irregular verbs.

He killed that thought as fast as he could.


/We may be looking for our deliverance, but it has already been sent
It's in the nightfall when the light falls/

Seeing Justin again after a month was strange, because it made Lance start to doubt his whole memory of the two of them. In Lance's head, Justin was glossy with sweat, naked and golden and twined into exotic positions that defined his muscles perfectly, and he was panting out Lance's name, or else maybe saying arch, tantalizing things like desperate and sure thing and deepest, darkest.

Justin in the studio, though, he knew that Justin even better. Justin smiled when he came into the booth with his coffee and saw Lance making small talk with Pharrell, and he even put his arm around Lance's shoulders, but his head was still on the other side of the glass, with the music.

Real world, Lance reminded himself. In the real world, Justin wasn't his personal menu of erotic options; he was this person, this intent young man in baggy layers of Abercrombie & Fitch and Pony, taking his coffee as though it were medication and breaking his serious frown to smile when it was called for, a smile that was flat and shiny like photo-quality paper.

It was a welcome jolt of sanity. When they had a little bit of privacy, Lance didn't even know what to do with it, or which Justin he was supposed to be alone with.

Justin kissed him, a long kiss that was just the far side of good-friends. Lance touched his hip timidly, and then when nothing went wrong, curled his fingers around it. Justin moved slightly, but not enough to shake Lance's hand, and he put a strong, confident kiss on Lance's cheek.

"How's, uh. How's everything?" Lance asked.

"Better now," Justin said, pulling Lance back against him and going in for another kiss, this one just the near side of making out.

They ended up on the green couch, with both Justin's shirts rucked up under his arms and Justin's hand wedged between their bodies, indiscriminately groping at his own dick and Lance's. "I'm so fucking glad you're back," Justin said, and Lance sucked harder on his nipple, thinking, We're so good at this, fuck everybody, because the two of us can do no wrong. He thought briefly about the security camera in the corner, and made a mental note to buy this tape off of studio security, preferably before anyone had a chance to look at it. "I need a blow job today like you wouldn't believe."

Somehow, it touched a single icicle to the base of Lance's spine. "Hope you haven't been waiting around for me," he said, carefully neutral.

Justin kissed him, but the kiss dissipated quickly, and he was frowning when he pulled back. "Well, not -- hey, fuck, are you dumping me?"

Lance pushed up, holding himself in the same position but a few inches above Justin's body. He couldn't help glancing down. Real world, he thought, Justin's smooth skin over tight muscles and the gentle arch of his body and the hard-on in his khakis. Justin. "I'm not your rebound girl," Lance said, each syllable slow and deliberate. "I only agreed to this at all-- "

"You only agreed to this at all? It was your fucking idea!"

"-- because you said you wanted something different, you wanted-- " What I had. "-- something uncomplicated."

"Look, I'm stressed out, I haven't been sleeping, and I want to get off. What's complicated about that, for Christ's sake?"

"Then why don't you?" Lance said, climbing off of him. Justin propped himself up on one elbow, his mouth slightly open with shock, not lust. As if rejection were a death squad from some third-world military regime, an unfortunate thing that he'd heard of but never really imagined he'd face himself. Fucker. "Fucking listen to yourself, Justin. If you're that hard up, then do something about it. Get a boyfriend, get a fuck buddy, get a whore. Get three blow jobs in a row from three different Gucci models, do whatever the hell you want. Isn't that what you're always saying? That from now on, you're going to get what you want?"

"I want." Lance shot him his most dangerous glare, double-edged and tempered steel, and Justin closed his mouth. Lance fixed his belt buckle and watched Justin at the edge of his vision, sitting up and adjusting his rumpled clothes. "Okay," Justin said after a moment, in a tone that pretended to be placating but really hid anger. "You know what? Fine, you're right, it's not like you're -- You're right." He made a flourish with his wrist for dramatic emphasis as he snapped his phone open and said, "I could have anyone in the state of Virginia here in five minutes."

"Now you're catching on," Lance said, and walked out.


He went back twice, waiting for Justin's Mercedes to disappear from the lot. It was finally gone at a quarter til ten, and Lance gave the head of security five hundred dollars for the tape. He'd done the same thing dozens of times, and not just when he was on it; all the other guys left things like that lying around behind them, as if they believed in privacy that occurred in nature, as if you didn't have to fight for it.

Dozens of times, and not for personal reasons. He destroyed the tapes, because it was good business.

He put this one in the VCR.

Even in the darkness, Lance could see his fingers shake as he fast-forwarded through hours of emptiness and strangers. Guilt, he told himself, because he knew himself well enough to know that it wasn't only, or even mostly, the parts with himself on it that he was looking for.

Not that he didn't stop to watch those. There was sound on the tape, although the quality wasn't great; when Lance turned it up loud enough to catch "Better now," the dry white noise on the tape buzzed painfully loud in his closed and locked hotel room.

He watched himself making out with Justin and thought they looked good together. He didn't remember doing that, kissing the place under Justin's ear and just behind his jaw, and he didn't realize how clearly you could see their tongues as they kissed, and he closed his eyes and pressed the heel of his hand to his crotch. He could feel the rapid pulse beating inside his thigh.

They argued, and then it was just Justin, alone in the room. He dropped the phone on the couch and sprang up, pacing until he burst out with a string of obscenities and kicked over a table. He stood with his hands shoved into his pockets, staring at it. Lance wondered if he was remembering the time he'd thrown a chair while they were recording Celebrity, and how Joey had grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and said, "No, no, no. You do not get to turn into that guy, sorry." On the tape, Justin picked up the table.

He made his phone call, then, and said, "Man, I wanna hit you up for a favor, okay? Can you come to the studio? I'm just -- I need a break, dude, really bad." He paused, and laughed. Lance didn't think he saw that smile very often on Justin. "Cool, and bring a couple things, okay? Krispy Kremes, and Coke." He laughed again, that especially wild laugh he had that crossed the line from jovial regular guy into manic freak. "Don't fucking tempt me. I'm talking the kind you can't get out of the Pepsi machines." He listened to something else, and said, his voice deliberately vampy, "No, you are, peaches," and hung up. Lance muted the tape to spare his ears from the buzz of the recording cut with nothing but silence.

The display showed a lot more than five minutes passing. Closer to forty, and most of the time the room was empty. Lance paused it on the image of Justin coming back in, doughnuts in one arm and a six-pack in the other, Chris behind him, and poured a glass of water. The tape sounded excruciatingly loud when Lance sat back down and pressed play.

They sat side by side on the couch, angled very slightly toward each other. Justin reached to open a can of soda, but Chris intercepted him, catching Justin's head in his hands. "Okay," he said. "Let's have a look." Justin rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. "Say ahh."

Justin opened his mouth obligingly, and Chris peered into his mouth, looking absurdly serious. Lance had seen this before, years ago, the whole game. Chris used to do it every time Justin was tired and sulky, but that was a long time ago, when Justin was just a fucking child, just the too-eager, tagalong kid that Chris and Lance used to make fun of, gently and never where Justin could hear, because they also did like him. Especially Chris.

Chris checked in both his ears, and pried his eyelids open wider, making critical humming noises, and finished by slapping Justin's cheeks lightly and saying, "I think you're gonna live." Justin smiled, a thousand watts, and put his head down on Chris' leg, picking apart a doughnut and eating it crumb by crumb. Chris stroked his hair and said, "You want to tell me about it?"

"Senorita is kicking my ass."

"Don't be afraid to hit a girl," Chris advised, smacking Justin's chest lightly, making his legs jerk and startling a sound out of him that Lance could only barely hear. He thought he knew how it sounded anyway, though, laughter with a baseline of annoyance, a uniquely Justin noise.

"I mean it. It's just not doing what I want it to do."

"It will. They always do, don't they?" Justin made a skeptical noise and Chris said, "Hey, I only look stupid. You're not worried about the music."

"I'm just tired, I guess."

"You missing Lance?"

"Lance is, uh. Lance is here. In town."

"Ah," Chris said. "Justin...."

"I know. I know, you don't have to. I fucking know, okay?"

"I know you say you know, but then look at you." Chris' small hand stroked over Justin's face, black-painted nails and braided leather bracelets, and Justin closed his eyes. Lance couldn't see that from the camera angle, but he just knew that, too. Justin always closed his eyes when someone touched his face that way. "Look, you know I'm your friend, so I'm going to be a dick, okay? You are fucking smarter than this, Justin. You've seen him do this, over and over you've seen him, and it always ends the same way. Did you seriously think it would be different this time? Because it's you now?"

"Shut up," Justin said, or something like that. It was low, just an indistinct, petulant hum.

"Kiddo, I love you. I love you like crazy," Chris said, in that tone that people said they loved you before they said something like but you're a moron. Or but I think we were better as friends. Or but I won't let you do this to me anymore.

Lance stopped the tape, and destroyed it.


Justin came by his hotel the next night and said, "Maybe we should go out. For a drink? Nothing weird, or -- just friends. Whatever."

"Just friends."

"Well." Justin smirked, but it looked like a professional smile, not a real one. "Good friends." Lance took a fistful of Justin's black shirt and jerked him through the door.

After he blew Justin up against the door, with Justin's right hand clenched around the doorknob and his left hand scrabbling at the hinge over his head, and after they fucked on the floor, Justin mumbled an apology against Lance's shoulder. Lance drew his thumb down the lower half of Justin's spine and said, "It got maybe a little blown out of proportion."

Justin kissed him underneath the chin. "Can I ask you something?"

"Can I stop you?"

Justin smiled obligingly and said, "Seriously. Why did you and Chris break up?"

"Chris was older than me," Lance said. Familiar ground; he'd had this talk with Joey and with JC before now. "A lot older."

"Not that much-- "

"No, a lot. The difference between seventeen and twenty-four is massive. I mean, it was fun. The sex and all was fun. He taught me a lot, and, you know, there are a lot worse ways to learn than from your friends." Justin smiled again, and slithered his leg between Lance's. "But when you get older, you have different priorities and all. Chris had kind of already done his young and single thing. He was looking for more of a relationship, and I was... Fuck, I was a kid. It all worked out. Dani, Dani was great for him."

"Yeah," Justin sighed. "I miss Dani. So, it was a mutual thing? Because, a while back, you said it was kind of a rough breakup, and Chris...." He stopped awkwardly.

"It's okay. Chris thinks it was a mutual thing. And I told you I got dumped."

"I noticed that. Little discrepancy in your stories, there."

"Little bit, maybe. Well. I guess it felt kind of like getting dumped, at the time. But, you know, I'm a lot older myself now, and that's not how I see it anymore. Looking back, I know what he meant. He just wanted me to have all my options open while I was young and stupid, and I think he was right. Retroactively, I think he was right. That's what I want for you, too."

Justin yawned, muffling the sound against Lance's chest. "I get that."

He didn't ask for any more explanations, but as they were falling asleep, Lance slid an arm around Justin's waist and said, "You'll see why it's important later on, when you're getting into relationships. If it's not so new, if you have some experience, you'll be able to protect yourself better. I'm trying to help you grow up, here."

"Don't patronize me," Justin said on another jaw-cracking yawn, but he didn't sound angry. "In this business? I know how to protect myself. It's just that, you know, ideally, you have relationships because it's the place where you don't have to."

"Real life is never ideal."

"And if I ever forget that," Justin said, "I'm sure you'll be around to remind me."


/It's in our blind trust that love will find us, just like it has before/

JC visited him in Houston, which was nice for a lot of reasons, but especially because he was so excited by all the machinery and the NASA procedures that it made Lance remember that it was exciting, and not just a hell of a lot of work.

"I could never do it," JC said, shaking his head. "I mean, it's so small! And all that time in there? Oh, my God, I can't imagine."

"You're taller than I am."

"Not that much taller, and plus-- " Lance put his hands on JC's shoulders and kissed him. He had to bend down to do it, because he was standing, and JC was sitting on the bed. "Oh, my God," JC said again, after.

"I think we...." Lance ran his fingers along JC's collar, his thumb sliding inside against the hot, smooth skin of JC's neck. "Do you want to?"

JC took hold of his hand and moved it off of JC's skin. "Of course I want to," he said, gazing up at Lance with kicked-puppy eyes. "But I can't. I mean..." He smiled at Lance and squeezed his hand. "I had you when I thought you loved me. It wouldn't be the same, going back now."

"Okay," Lance said. "Sorry."

But it wasn't too awkward, and they lay down together on the king-sized bed, JC's head near his shoulder. JC offered him a joint, and Lance kicked him in the knee and said, "Yeah, if I'm going to fuck up my childhood dream, I think it's not going to be because I failed a fucking drug test, if that's okay with you." JC apologized profusely, and Lance kicked him again just to make him giggle.

"I love hearing you talk about space," JC said, his voice throaty. Lance was looking at the ceiling, but he could feel JC looking at him. "I love how I can hear the way you feel about it."

"I do have feelings, you know," Lance said shortly. "I mean, just like everybody else."

JC was quiet for a long time, and then said, "Sometimes I wish you didn't. Sometimes I think it would be easier to think you just...didn't feel anything, than to think you do and you don't think you're allowed to say."

"I know I'm allowed. Maybe I don't fucking feel like it."

"Maybe that's even worse."


He called Justin after the VMAs. Justin was just drunk enough that his words had a kind of slipperiness, but still sober enough to sound like Justin. "I fucked it up, and I don't want to talk about it, but thank you anyway," Justin said.

Nothing about it looked fucked up to Lance, but then he hadn't watched with a very professional eye. He'd been too fascinated with the smoothness of Justin's movements, the way muscle and bone that Lance knew to be entirely solid and strong could turn into wind and water when the music started. The steps, the details, he hadn't watched for any of that.

But he knew that Justin was a complicated motherfucker, and he needed to believe a number of divergent things at the same time, including that he was flawless and that he was a fighter who could overcome mistakes, and Lance also knew that there were people out there covering that first angle perfectly well. So he said, "Maybe the routine is too hard."

"It's not too fucking hard," Justin snapped. "I fucking hate you."

"Well, if it's not too hard, then get it right, for Christ's sake. Where do you think you're dancing, Ladies' Night at the strip club in Hoboken? Don't bring your B game to live television, Justin, or if you do, don't whine about how it comes off."

"God, I think I miss you," Justin said, sounding slightly disgusted with himself.

Lance smiled in the darkness of his hotel room, stroking the curve of his own shoulder the way Justin did when Justin was in bed with him. "Now, forget about the fucking show and hit the after-parties."

"Yeah, get sloppy drunk and let the whole fucking insincere world tell me I looked great and I can't fail."

"Sincerely," Lance said, "you did look great."

"It's the industry," Justin said. "Everyone looks great, for whatever that's worth."

"So be more than that," Lance said.

It was easy to know what Justin wanted to hear. He didn't hide it very well.


He hardly expected to get killed in a shuttle disaster, but still, day after day and week after week of sternly delivered safety lectures had to have some kind of effect. Sometimes, when it was quiet, when Lance was in bed or in the shower, he could hardly help but stare at snapshots of his life, wondering what it would look like if he suddenly vanished from out of the middle of it.

He had a will, of course, that provided for his parents, that established a foundation for children's science education, that deeded the house in Mississippi to Brianna. Those were his responsibilities, and they were taken care of.

But there were things that no lawyer could see to, things that could potentially go undone forever. Sometimes, when the room was quiet and Lance was being honest with himself, he realized that there were a lot of those things. Too many to face all at once, in the weeks before his launch date.

There was one, though, that seemed to stick in his head once he thought of it. One thing, and it was better than nothing. Accomplishing small things was still accomplishing something, so he called Joey.

"I think I need to say that I'm sorry," he said. "I know it's -- I mean, I know it's been years, and it's kind of stupid and pointless now. But." He wasn't sure, was he supposed to tell the whole story at this point? Because Joey kind of already knew it, seeing as how he was there at the time. And frankly it was embarrassing, and he didn't want to go over the details again.

"I got angry," Lance said. "And I should've listened instead of...of getting angry. And I'm. Sorry."

The ego wanted its day in court, too; he wanted to add, But you said that I was cold, you said I pushed you away, and of course I was angry, because I thought your job was to want me exactly the way I was, not to ask me to change, and you wanted me to change, Joey, and I thought you were perfect and you saw all my flaws and said them all out loud, and I know you didn't do it to hurt me but I hated you for knowing me and I hated you for not adoring me the way I adored you, so I threw the fucking ring at you and I told you to find someone else, then, and you did, and I hate you a little for that, too, and how can it really be my fault, Joey, really, when it was you who could see everything about me except that one thing that I really, really needed you to see?

Joey said, "It's not like I didn't forgive you a hundred years ago."

"I know."

He was quiet a minute, and then he said, "Actually, you know the funny thing? I'm sort of glad it happened the way it did."

"Well, you and Kelly, you do kind of belong together. And with Bri, and everything."

"Not that. Not just the fact that we broke up, but the way it happened.."

Lance gave a gruff sort of chuckle. "With the throwing of jewelry and the 'go to hell'?"

"Yeah," Joey laughed, "the whole enchilada. Because, Lance, I think it was the only time in our whole relationship that I knew exactly what was going on in your head. You could've just said, Okay, fine, let's break up then, and I wouldn't to this day know for sure if you'd ever really felt anything for me or not."

"I did."

"Oh, I know. Nobody throws a hissyfit like that over a guy that never mattered in the first place."

"Well, then maybe I'm not sorry," Lance said lightly, and Joey laughed and started talking about the show and the inflatable duck that Brianna wouldn't get in Joey's brand new kiddie pool without and the clubs in New York, while Lance put him on speakerphone so that he could lie down alone in his dark hotel room and think about space.


The one time that he went out drinking with Chris and Justin was exactly the kind of unmitigated disaster that he'd known it would be. He only did it because Justin whined so fucking much when he wanted something.

"Seriously," Chris said, "what the hell is wrong with you, anyway?"

"If there were something wrong with me," Lance said, staring down at Chris with his eyes narrowed in feline contempt, "your charming bedside manner would hardly tempt me to pour my heart out."

"A transplant couldn't get your heart out of you."

"Guys, fucking stop it," Justin said, sounding tired. "This is insane."

"You don't know me, you don't know shit about me. You think because you used to see me every day, you know me?"

"No, I don't think-- "

"Because ever since I started seeing Justin, you've been right fucking there, telling him what I'm like and how he needs to feel about me, and fuck you, anyway! I know what I'm doing!"

"Everybody knows what you're doing! You're getting him all starry-eyed -- "

"Hi, I'm in the room, Chris," Justin said.

" -- and then one of these days it's going to be, Oh, by the way, Justin and I aren't a thing anymore, but there's no hard feelings, everybody carry on."

"So what are you so bent out of shape about -- the fact that I've had relationships before, or the fact that my exes can still stand to be around me?"

"And by the way," Justin said, "I'm not gonna be his ex, because I'm not his boyfriend."

"No, I'm bent out of shape because you're fucking sleeping your way through my friends, you're taking risks with the group-- "

"That's bullshit, don't play the group card, I never hurt the group. None of us are that unprofessional, least of all Justin."

" -- and you hurt people. I don't know what you say to them, I don't know what it is about you, but they always fall for you, and they always end up fucked up and depressed."

"I don't say anything, it's not up to me how everybody else feels. I never made any promises, I never said it was love, and I'm not in control of anyone but myself. I'm not any fucking different from you, Chris, and it's fun while it lasts and then I get on with my fucking life, so why don't you go scream at Joey and JC instead, why isn't it their fault for not being able to deal with the way things go down sometimes in the real world?"

"You are fucking unbelievable. This is my fault, it's their fault, this is everybody's fault but yours? All I ever did was tell you to live your life, try shit out, make your own mistakes."

"Well, then I guess that's what I did, isn't it?"

"Yeah, well, you're supposed to make them once, not three times with the three most important people in the world to me. At some point, it's not a mistake anymore, it's a fucking condition."

"I'm going home," Justin said. "Fuck both of you. No, I'm dead serious. Fuck you, Chris, because I don't need this from you, and I know you're edgy because I got hurt once before and I made you go through it with me, and I'm sorry, maybe I should've handled it alone and not dragged you in, but it doesn't give you the right to step in and try to force everyone who might even potentially hurt me again out of my life, and even if you did have that right, you're screwing it up, because I'm not Joey or JC, and you're wrong about what's going on with me. And fuck you, Lance, because, look, I'm sorry Chris dumped you, okay, but so what? Everybody gets dumped, and if you're too chickenshit to try again, that's on you, nobody else. I don't care if you only want to sleep with people that you think you can have until you don't want them anymore, and then they go back to being friends or strangers or whatever they were before they sucked your dick, but just admit that's what you do and quit being all defensive about it. Goodnight, and I plan to be unbelievably pissed off for twenty-four hours, so nobody call me until after that."


He called Justin forty-eight hours later, from the airport. "Still friends?" he said, and then added, "For serious?"

"Not if you called to make fun of me," Justin said, but he was laughing.

"I'm going back over. I'll probably be there until, you know, the whole way."

"You could have come over last night, you know. Said goodbye."

"I know. Next time."

"The whole point is, next time won't be goodbye."

"Next time it'll be hello, then, won't it?"

"Hello," Justin said softly.

"Hi," Lance said, and thought, God, I think I miss you, too.


He didn't see Justin again until after everything else in the world had fallen apart.

They started calling first class to board, and Lance didn't move. He listened to the words, Russian and English, Moscow to New York, and he sat right where he was, with his day planner in his lap and his briefcase by his feet. Freddy said his name, twice. Dre moved across the aisle and pulled out his cellphone.

"I'm not going," Lance finally said. Nobody was terribly happy with that, but Lance couldn't have cared less. He really, when you got right down to it, didn't have much to call his own except a small fortune and the ability to upend the schedules of everybody around him on a whim if he so fucking desired.

Maybe he'd lost a lot in his life, but he'd gained a few things, too, and damned if anyone could make him get on that airplane if he didn't want to go.

He stayed by the glass, watching the plane take off. He didn't answer Freddy or Dre when they spoke to him. His day planner was open on his knees, the time and number of his flight written in red, and Lance crossed it out neatly with three parallel lines. Underneath he wrote, in tiny, squared-off capitals, JUSTIN.

He did it again, larger. Again, right over the flight information, in thick blocks of black ink. JUSTIN

JUSTIN JUSTIN JUSTIN He knew he'd have to get a new planner, copy everything for the rest of the year into it, burn this one. It wasn't important; he could take care of that tomorrow.

He wrote JUSTIN, his handwriting devolving insanely, thick and fierce and angry. JUSTIN JUSTIN

"I want a flight to London," he said, over half an hour after the plane to New York that he wasn't on had taken off. He closed his planner and slipped it inside his briefcase. His hands were smeared with black ink. They looked mangled.


Justin was impossible to miss, raised half above the crowd, sitting on the bar. His shirt was silvered silk, a shade or two darker than blood, and his arms were over his head as he moved like wind and water, even sitting still, in perfect time to the music. Lance almost didn't mind going unnoticed in the crowd of admirers circling in Justin's orbit. It was nice to get this ground-level view of him, smiling and perfect inside his own skin, untouchable and omnipotent in his natural environment.

Justin's eyes fell on him, and that was all right, too.

Lance stepped in behind the girl who'd bagged the most coveted spot in the club, standing in between Justin's casually splayed legs. She leaned back into him without bothering to look back at him; the show was all for Justin, letting her hips shimmy willingly against Lance, arching her back to display her tits. Justin smiled down at her, blinding. Lance could tell when the smile shifted to one meant for him, because actual humor blossomed inside it.

"Hey," Justin said over the music. "Boy like you, place like this?"

"The usual," Lance said. He draped his arms along the girl's and lifted them to rest on Justin's shoulders. He pressed harder against her, his longer reach putting the heels of his hands over her fingers and his fingers against Justin's back, where there was silk and heat and muscle.

Later, Justin's back was still silk and heat and muscle, although the shirt was long gone, and sweat slid over his skin instead of fabric. Lance put his mouth between Justin's shoulderblades, and he could feel Justin's groans vibrating through his teeth, and it was surreal, almost unbelievable, that they could have been dancing for hours and still have the strength to fuck like this, hot and hard and needy, for what felt like hours more.

Only Justin, however, was technically superhuman, so only Justin got up afterward to shower. Lance took the opportunity to power-nap, and he woke up with Justin looking through his bags for fresh clothes. The sun was just beginning to come up, leaving the yellow bedspread orange and Justin's skin golden where it wasn't covered by the towel slung around his waist.

"Hello," Lance said. Even though he hadn't been asleep more than twenty minutes, his voice had that early-morning scratch to it.

"Hey, I've got breakfast with some people. It's business, or I'd invite you."

"Okay. How's promotion going?"

"I fucking hate it, of course, it's worse than ever. I'm beginning to be with JC; the music industry is the mortal enemy of music itself, because at this point I never want to make another record as long as I live."

"You'll bounce back."

"I usually do. Oh, but, fuck, I'm stupid. You, how are you?"

"I'll bounce back."

"Of course you will." Justin dropped the towel and started getting dressed. "You're the toughest son of a bitch I know, that's why you're cool."

"I need to -- Justin, I need to tell you, to talk to you for a second."

"Quick like a bunny," Justin said. "It's promotion, you know the drill. I fall behind first thing in the morning, my life is worth shit all day long."

"I was thinking about...Chris, that thing we did with Chris? And he said that I slept, slept my way through y'all and-- "

"Yeah, I remember. Look, you got that straightened out with him, right? I mean, you've called him since then and all? Because if you guys don't make up or whatever, there's no fucking way anybody's going to believe I didn't break the group up, and that's gonna piss me off."

"Okay, I'm not talking about Chris. I'm just, the things he said. About hurting people. I just wanted. You should know. That's not really ever how I...wanted it to be. How I want it to be."

Justin looked at him a minute, frowning slightly, as he shrugged on his jacket. Then he grinned and said, "Damn, you're cute when you're acting all human. I know, I know, for God's sake, I get it. You're old, I'm young, you were easy, I was desperate, you're the best lay in 'N Sync, I'm dating everyone. Do I need to take out a billboard? Write a song? I'm not in love with you, I'm not your boyfriend, I'm not hanging around waiting for you, and I'm not hurt. Chris is a spaz, Chris is Chris; don't let him make you feel guilty, for fuck's sake What matters is that you and I get it, right?"

"Right," Lance said.

Justin leaned down and kissed him, long and sweet and just the near side of nasty. "Thanks for last night," he said. "No shit, you really are about the best out there."

"Mr. Expert," Lance said dryly.

Justin laughed, and did a little swivel with his hips. "It's all about the love of learning, baby. You gonna be in town for a while?"

"A while."

"Cool, keep your phone on you."

Everything was shatteringly silent when Justin closed the door behind himself.

"Hello," Lance said.


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