by Icebun &Pablo

Words have power. Chris knows that.

Certain words can mean different things to different people. When JC writes words to his songs, Chris knows how so many millions of girls will react. They'll scream and they'll start to cry and their mouths sometimes form a giant letter 'O'. They tend to repeat their own words over and over, like 'Oh my god' and Chris imagines when they're alone, the words they repeat are quite different.

Some words can tear through you; eat away at you piece by piece. Some words are so powerful that you never forget them.

'I'm releasing a solo album, but I won't be gone long. It's not like I'm leaving or anything.'

Some words can also lose power the more readily they're repeated.

Chris remembers quite vividly the first time he said 'fuck' inside the range of his mother's hearing. She'd turned an interesting shade of red and without thinking had extended her hand and slapped him. Hollow sound echoed by her own look of shock, Chris had instinctively moved his own hand up to he side of his face. There was a dull tingle and his skin felt slightly hot.

Chris had almost been as surprised as his mother was.




"Chris. Is that you?"

Chris takes a few moments before he responds into the phone that he doesn't remember picking up but that mysteriously he's holding against his ear.

His throat is scratchy and feels kind of raw in a painfully over-used way. He vaguely remembers singing in some bar last night when he probably shouldn't have been and the too much drinking that got him there in the first place.


"Yeah, it's me. You sound wrecked, man."

Chris pushes back the covers. After his eyes adjust to the faint light in his room he notices he's sleeping in the shirt he wore out last night. Well, the shirt he thinks he wore out last night. His memory, like his vision is still a little blurry.

"Happy Birthday!"

Lance's voice is overly loud for this time of the morning and Chris considers simply hanging up on his friend. The cheeriness of his voice alone causes little dots to cloud Chris' vision.

"Man, keep it down. It's too early in the morning for that much volume."

Lance is laughing at him, not even attempting to cover the deep throaty chuckle that escapes his mouth.

"Dude, it's mid afternoon here."

Words slip slowly out of Chris' mouth, "Yeah, well here it's the middle of the fucking night, okay?"

There's blissful silence from the other end of the phone but before Chris can really enjoy it, Lance's voice cuts back in.

"It's what? Just after eight in the morning?"

"Like I said, middle of the night."

Chris just ignores Lance's exasperated tone.

He tries unsuccessfully to climb out of bed, almost has to set the phone down when his legs get tangled in the heavy covers of his bed. Ends up settling for hanging just his legs over the side.

"So there's this tribe that lives in the middle of the Amazonian Rainforest that has absolutely no contact with the western world, and they have this ritual, right?"

Chris just snorts a little through his nose, rests himself on the edge of his bed and listens.

"Okay, so on the morning of a tribe members' thirty-first birthday, the whole tribe gathers around..."

"Wait, wait, wait ..."

Chris may be feeling like shit but that doesn't make him a total moron.

"So Lance, this tribe has had no contact with the western world, right?"

"Uh... yeah, that's right."

"Okay, so how do you know about this ritual then?"

There's a slight pause and Chris can practically visualise the way that Lance must look. He always looks the same when he's trying to think his way out of a situation.

"Uh... National Geographic?"

"Makes sense to me."

"So can I finish the story now, because if you have any more questions I'm more than happy to hold. It's not like I'm calling long distance or anything."

"And you're telling me you can't afford it? How much vodka did you drink in Russia, Lance?"

"Not as much as you did last night by the sounds."

"Hey, I heard that."

There's an audible sigh that Chris wouldn't be surprised if he could hear across the Atlantic without the benefit of a long distance phone call.

"So there's this tribe..."

"Yeah, yeah middle of the Amazonian Rainforest... never even heard of the Backstreet Boys let alone *NSYNC, I get the picture, Lance."


"Okay, I'm sorry... keep going."

"So on the day of a tribe members' thirty-first birthday the other tribe members strip him naked, cover him in goats' milk and then rub this red clay from the banks of the Amazon all over his body."

"Uh... Lance, do I want to know where this is going?"

"Well if you keep questioning me you may never find out."

Chris knows not to push it so instead he stays silent.

"So naked, covered in goats' milk and clay and for the whole day this one tribe member is treated like the Chief, no matter who he is and you know why? Because it's his birthday."

"Seriously, Lance, if you try and strip me naked and cover me in anything I'm gonna personally kick your ass."

"It wasn't so long ago that you would have been quite happy for me to strip you naked."

"Yeah, well a lot's changed since then, 'k?"

"Damn, you weren't this cranky when you turned thirty."

"Fuck you, Lance."


"What did you call me? Tell me what that means in English? It's no fair calling me names in Russian."

"Uh, Chris, that is English."

Chris doesn't answer and instead gets up unsteadily to his feet.

"Well, Happy Birthday, Chris. I'll let you go so you can wallow in your 'thirty-one-ness'. Just know that I'll still love you, even when you're past your prime."

"That's easy for you to say, Mr I'm-still-in-my-twenties."

"Don't worry, Chris. He'll call."

Chris can't answer before Lance has hung up. If Chris didn't know any better, he'd think today wasn't really his birthday at all.


Five minutes later while Chris is starting to make his way towards the bathroom the phone rings again. He thinks about just letting the machine pick it up but at the last minute he reaches out and flicks his phone on.


His voice is short; Chris isn't quite in the mood for this today.


"Hey, JC."

"Happy birthday, man."


There's silence from the other end of the phone, Chris runs his hand through his hair and when he wipes his face again he can smell smoke and beer. He can smell last night just a little too clearly and he really needs a shower.

"Well, I'll talk to you later, Chris. I love you."

"Sure thing."

Words repeated so often they almost bounce off Chris like he doesn't notice anymore.



Chris is starting to feel a little better, he's managed to stomach some juice and a bit of toast for breakfast and his appetite's starting to return.

He's showered and even managed a shave. Forty-five minutes under scalding hot water has almost made him feel human again. He's thinking about either spending some time soaking in the pool or grabbing himself a drink. It seems like the sort of way he should be spending his birthday after all.

He's trying to decide when the phone rings again.

"Hey Chris, it's me."

There's a loud crash from the other end of the phone and there's music playing so loudly that Joey has to practically scream to be heard.

Joey's voice is slightly slurred and Chris has a pretty good idea that Joey's night still hasn't ended. Either that, or Joey invited the rest of the party back to his place.

"Hey Joey."

"Happy Birthday, man. How does it feel being a whole year older than you were yesterday?"

"Well, actually, I'm only a day older than I was yesterday, so not really that different."

Joey's voice sounds confused through the loud clash of music that's filling Chris' ear.

"What? You were thirty yesterday, now you're thirty-one. That's a year, man."

Chris decides it's a whole lot easier to simply agree.

He sits back in his chair and puts his feet up. Chris is really regretting not getting that drink as he listens to Joey say the same words he said last year, how Chris is gonna have to watch out or he'll have to leave the band because they have this image to maintain and Chris having to tour with a walker and a live-in nurse is really gonna cramp Joey's style.

Chris is used to hearing it, so he just plays along.

Chris wonders if Joey's ever going to stop but then he hears another voice when Joey mercifully takes a sip of his drink and stops talking. It's unmistakeably feminine and Chris has no doubt Joey's used to hearing words just like that.

"Damn, Chris. I gotta go, love ya."

Chris snorts again and he's surprised to hear Joey speaking again.

"Don't worry, he'll call."

Blissful silence from the other end of the phone. Chris pours himself a drink and he still doesn't think it could possibly be his birthday.



Chris has run out of ice and despite the fact he hasn't run out of water he's drinking his scotch straight, regardless.

The phone hasn't rung since Joey called and Chris tells himself that that's a good thing. He's glad he doesn't have to hear any hollow words. Voices he barely knows wishing him well. Thirty-one years old and there isn't much anybody could say that would make Chris sit up and take notice.

He finishes his drink and contemplates getting another when there's a knock on the door. Chris thinks about pretending there's nobody home but he's pretty sure the fact that most of the lights are on is a little bit of a give away.

Another knock, this one more forceful.

"I'm coming."

His voice is raised and even Chris notices his words are slightly slurred.

He doesn't even bother to see who it is and instead pulls the door open quickly. Justin's standing on his doorstep, a surprised look on his face.

When he sees Chris his expression changes and he smiles. Wide, flash of white teeth and Chris only smiles along with him.

Justin's voice is low and Chris can hear each word he says.

"Happy Birthday, Chris."

Chris can't find any words of his own and can only manage to stare in response.

At Justin, who's standing in his doorway. Justin who's holding something in his hand: wrapped and cinched tightly closed with blue ribbon.

Now Chris feels like it's his birthday.

Justin who is moving closer, mouth up to Chris' ear and warmth of his body heat engulfing him.

"I love you."

Chris knows words have power because when Justin says those three words, his mouth so close to Chris' ear, breath warm against his skin and sending shivers through his entire body, Chris needs the support of Justin's arm around his waist to keep himself standing.


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