When The Dealing's Done
by Mere

"I don't know why they call it, umm," JC says, cranes his neck up, waves his left hand around, "a failed marriage. However many years it went on, years that they were happy, man, it's not like those don't mean anything. Just because it ended."

JC closes his eyes and bites his lip, sinks back into the couch cushions. Chris knows he's running through his own words again, as good as can see them on the back of JC's eyelids. He would say something about how wrong JC is, but he's tired of that, and not with Justin right there.

"It wasn't years," Chris says instead. "Nine months for them, that's all."

JC is silent a moment and Chris looks over to see if he's fallen asleep. "I was speaking in general," JC says. He reaches out to touch the edge of Chris' sleeve and Chris moves away.

Justin clears his throat. "Whatever," he says, "I'm going to bed, so if y'all want to argue now and pretend I can't hear you from the bunks." He pushes himself up gracefully off the floor, brushes the wall with his fingers as the bus goes over a bump. Chris watches him pull the curtain closed and slide out of view.

"Chris, it's all right," JC says. He rolls over on his side so they're face to face and Chris looks away. "It, you know, it hurts me too."

"I don't care, you don't get to be hurt," Chris says. He stands up and walks to the kitchen, wishes he could walk farther when he hears the couch springs creak and JC's footfalls coming up behind him, stopping at the doorway. JC won't say anything until he turns around, but after a while there's nothing else to stare at in the refrigerator and he has to.

"It's just a break," JC says. "I think it'll be good for you, too. To have some time away. You don't always need to make it so, so-"

Chris snorts. "Oh, fucking excuse me for not making it easy enough for you to dump me. I guess I should have learned by now to be more sensitive to your feelings while you go through this difficult process of dumping me. Fucking shut up, OK?" He looks up and JC is looking down, looking tired, bags under his eyes and forehead creased. Good, he thinks, wishes he could hurt JC more, wishes he could bring himself to do it.

"I'm really sorry," JC says. "Umm. I think I'm going to bed too. Last show tomorrow, maybe you should."

"Calm down, I'm not going to fuck up the show," Chris says, his own voice loud and angry. He stares at JC but JC doesn't move. You're always sorry, Chris thinks. "Just go away, go to bed."

JC sighs. "Tomorrow, then," he says, and walks away, shoulders held high and tense, switching the lights off as he goes. Chris waits a few minutes before following him, stops at his usual chair and sits down. The bus is dark, lights from the road flashing barely through the windows. The cushion on the seat is worn almost through at the edges and he wonders what will happen tomorrow when someone unpacks the bus, if it'll be re-upholstered, thrown into storage, thrown away. He could probably ask for it if he wanted it, but he doesn't think he does.


After the show there's a party, because of course they have to have one, pretend there's something to celebrate. That they're going on vacation. Even though they were all asked to at least make a decent appearance, JC cut out early, which is annoying. When Chris does that, he gets yelled at. Even Joey doesn't look too happy, and Joey being not too happy in a roomful of people partying pretty much equals abject misery in anyone else. That makes Chris feel a little better, for a moment, which in turn makes him feel like a shit.

Justin sits down next to him, throws an arm around his shoulders and kisses his cheek. "There you are, honey, I've been looking all over," he says and giggles madly.

"And here I thought I'd finally lost you," Chris says.

Justin tugs him closer. "No such luck," voice cheery and breath smelling like beer. "Gonna have to try harder than that."

Across the room someone says 'hey, Justin', clear and loud, and Justin's head swivels in that direction. "Don't run out without finding me," he says as he stands up, almost knocks over Chris' drink, "I'm serious," and then he's gone. If he were smart, Chris thinks, he would leave now. Justin won't care, not really. By tomorrow he won't even remember.

He isn't, though, and he never has been. He stays until everyone else is gone.


There are 37 new emails waiting for Chris the next time he checks, and he deletes all but three of them. Johnny's latest rundown of the shitloads of money they made this time around, his sister's new baby, and JC's travel plans, the update he sends to everyone. Chris thinks it would have been nice of JC to leave him off the list for once. It would have been nice not to know when JC would be in LA, to be able to go where he wanted without knowing who would be there.

That's not how JC sees it, though -- "but what if you had to reach me, what if something happened?" -- and Chris has never won that kind of argument, even though sometimes it feels like arguing with JC is the only thing he really knows how to do.

Chris stares at the screen until Kariya barks and nudges his leg, then he gets up to feed her. There's no dog food in the cabinets, and when he checks, the fridge is empty except for some eggs that he remembers buying before the tour and an empty carton of orange juice. Finally he finds some organic soy burgers in the freezer, so he heats one up in the microwave and then puts it in the dog dish. Kariya wags her tail and gnaws at it happily. Good enough, Chris thinks, finds his glasses and car keys and heads out to the supermarket.

His cell phone rings while he's waiting in the checkout line and he checks to make sure it's someone he wants to talk to before answering. "Sup, man?"

"Did you listen to my messages?" Johnny says, "had to switch the flight, you'll be leaving on Tuesday now."

"Huh," Chris says, frowns at the rack of magazines. "Where am I going?"

Johnny sighs. "Connecticut. Hosting that concert and some press stuff while you're out there. You agreed to, back in -"

"Hang on," Chris says, thinking, oh fuck - "is this the thing with-"

"Make sure JC remembers too. I'll be sending over-"

Chris interrupts, says, "I don't know where JC is," and then, "he can do it by himself anyway, I'm not."

There's a silence on Johnny's end. "What do you mean," Johnny says, trying to sound patient.

"I mean I don't fucking know where he is, he can do the stuff by himself, and I'm not going to Connecticut. I have other plans."

"I said you'd both be there," Johnny says. "You promised to do this months ago. I need you to do this."

"I can't. I'm busy."

"You sure as hell can. I don't know what's going on, if you two broke up again, and I don't really care, either, Chris, because - are you listening to me? - because you're just going to have to suck it up and deal."

"He's a mental case," Chris says.

Johnny snorts. "You're both mental cases. Do your job."

"Fuck off," Chris says, and hangs up. Six days later he's doped up and on a plane.


JC meets him at the hotel along with some PR people, one of whom is saying "there's not all that much to go over, really, we could just leave the sheets with you..."

"I want to make sure," JC says, smiling at her. So now we need chaperones, Chris thinks. JC usually hates this stuff.

An hour and twenty minutes later everything is gone over as well as it could possibly be and Chris would probably be ready to bash his own head in out of sheer boredom if he wasn't still kind of high from the flight. "Want to go find the bar and get drunk with me?" he says to JC, who is staring out at the beautiful view.

"No thanks," JC says.

"Want to get drunk with me and then fuck and get back together in the morning?"

JC turns around. "What?"

"Never mind," Chris says.


"If you could be a baby again for a day," JC says the next day when they're sitting in a conference room between one interview and another, "and, like, remember how it felt-"

"It feels pretty shitty, I bet," Chris says, "literally. With the, uh, diaper."

JC frowns. "Not like that, no, with a baby's brain, I mean. Or a two year old or something, where you hadn't learned to talk yet."

There's a knock on the door, then a girl comes in holding a white paper bag, saying, "Here's your lunch, sorry it took so long, they were supposed to deliver it forty minutes ago-" and sets it down on the dark wood table.

"No problem," Chris says, as she opens it up and sets the first package down in front of JC. Neither of them turn around to look at her. "Anyway, why would you want to-"

"Oh, hey," JC says as he sees what's written on the label, "I asked for no tomato on the sandwich - could you maybe-"

"Sorry, sorry," the assistant girl says, "I really don't know why the place was so, usually they're good, really, I'll get it fixed," picks it back up and stumbles a little on the way back out the door. She's wearing high heels.

"This sucks, man, I'm hungry," JC says, and Chris makes a rude sound.

"You could have picked it apart yourself, then," he says, drumming on the table with a pen. "A baby. Right, like you don't already know how it is, having your mom prepare all your fucking food for you."

JC sighs, crinkling his nose. "I just hate how they're so slimy."

"Freak," Chris says. The pen goes flying, hits a window, and JC covers a smile with his hand. Chris just grins, says, "whoops."

"So would you do it?"

"C, no one remembers that stuff, kid stuff. You're not supposed to. That way you can like, reconstruct it in your head all nostalgically and forget about how much it actually sucked at the time."

JC pauses for a moment. "I just. I think it would be better if we remembered, like, where we came from, and we could be more self-aware. And it would help parents be better parents, and stuff. I think other people do remember it, like when you hear stories about - things that happened when they were just babies."

"They're probably lying," Chris says, doubtful. "If you're really that curious, go get hypnotized and find out for yourself."


They do the show that night and it's like any other show, except less interesting because they don't perform and no one sings live. Afterwards JC presses into his side and says, "let's get drunk, OK?"

Chris knows the right answer and says yes anyway. JC is humming a little, wired off the energy from the stage. When he reaches up with cold fingers to brush something off Chris' face, Chris catches his wrist and tugs in, and he's almost surprised for a second when JC jerks away.

When he has five drinks in him he leans across the table and says, "I changed my mind. About the memory thing. I think it's just you."

"Huh?" JC says, and blinks at him.

"Everyone else does remember. You're like, deficient, or something, like selective amnesia, you always think-" Chris stops, gulps a drink. It always comes out nastier than he expects.

JC frowns. "I don't know what you mean."

"You still think that this time you're going to be happy by yourself even though you keep doing this and it's never worked before. You get restless and instead of just dealing with it like everyone else you have to pretend like it's some great spiritual epiphany or - that's not the right word. You have to keep putting everyone through this-"

"Me," JC says, angry now, "right, I'm the one who can't recognize my mistakes. You're such an idiot sometimes, you're such a-"

"I know all my mistakes," Chris says. "Believe me, I can tell what a huge fucking mistake you are."

"Then why can't you." JC's voice is louder than it should be just to carry over the noise in the room.

"Because I'm an idiot," Chris says, and laughs. "My therapist says I don't know how to let go of things."

JC bites his lip against a grin and says, "you don't even have a therapist."

"I do now because of you, jerk-off," Chris mutters loudly, but it's a joke, now, the moment has blown over. JC does smile, this time, takes another drink. "Johnny thinks we're both mental cases, you know."

"Yeah, well," JC says. He rolls his eyes when Chris bumps their knees together but doesn't shift away. "I'm serious, Chris, we're not going to get right back together this time."

Chris doesn't even have to pretend he believes it.


They're on the same plane back to Orlando, both wearing dark sunglasses for protection against fans and hangover. "That was a nice place," JC says, "that resort."

"We could have stayed longer," Chris says.


Chris turns sideways to face JC. "What?"

"I think," JC says, "you would be happier if you could learn to be satisfied, you know, with what you have."

"Probably," Chris agrees, and reaches for JC's hand anyway.


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