In the morning they all met up in a room down the hall for breakfast, then Carter, JC and Fiona headed out with a security guard to see the Statue of Liberty.  They returned to the hotel in time to change their clothes and head for the theater to see Joey's matinee performance of Rent.  Chris rode over with them and two security guards met them there.

            They were ushered as a group in through the front doors and lead to their seats with a large body guard on either end of their aisle.  During the fifteen minutes they had before the show started they discovered that none of them had seen the show before but they'd all heard great things about it.  They were interrupted only a few times by autograph seekers and both JC and Chris were happy to oblige, reminding each person that came up that Joey was going to tear the place up as soon as the lights went down.

            As the show began Carter could feel JC tense up.  As soon as Joey stepped to the center of the stage, the audience went unusually quiet.  JC held his breath as Joey looked out over the audience for a second before his eyes flitted over the group in the third row, and he began his introductory monologue.  Fiona smiled widely and bounced her feet as the electricity in the theater flowed over everyone in the audience.  Unconsciously she reached out and took JC's hand in hers to give him a little squeeze.

            If Carter hadn't been sitting on the other side of JC she'd have taken his hand as well, but instead she just held tight to JC's throughout the first half of the show.  Several times she felt his eyes on her, but she never once looked away from the stage.  The show was mesmerizing and as the plot came to light Fiona felt her heart stop, then start again at a quicker pace.

            During the intermission she turned to JC and put her hand over her chest, "Wow.  It's… he's… I can't believe that's Joey.  He's amazing."  She gushed as she stood up to stretch her legs.  "Honestly."

            "He's always had a flair for theatrics."  JC smiled, and then looked over his shoulder at Carter.  "What'd you think?"

            "It's good."  Carter nodded.  "I like the music.  I'll have to pick up the CD or something."

            "Definitely."  Fiona agreed.  The bodyguards on the end of the rows looked at JC expectantly then nodded when JC and Carter stepped around Fiona.

            "We'll be right back."  JC said softly as Carter took a step closer to him and 'accidentally' bumped into his back.

            "Okay."  She smiled slowly, not missing a single touch between them, and sat back in her chair.

            "It's so weird to see him up there and have him not be Joey."  Chris said as he sat back down after letting the others out of the row.

            "Yeah.  I kept forgetting that it's him."

            "He's totally into Mark."

            "Yeah."  Fiona nodded and couldn’t stop smiling.  "Man, I'm going to be a puddle of tears when this is over.  I can already tell."  She laughed though her voice warbled.

            "I know what you mean."  Chris nodded and licked his lips quickly.  "He should have warned us or something."

            "Yeah.  Or they could put an insert in the playbill."

            "Warning: May cause excessive eye watering and Kleenex passing."  Chris joked.

            "Exactly."  Fiona smiled and looked around the small theater.  She was startled to see so many eyes on her, or them actually.

            Her surprise must have shown on her face because Chris leaned over and whispered, "Is anyone looking?"

            "Like.  Everyone."  She nodded.

            "Do I have a booger on my cheek or something?"

            Fiona laughed nervously, "No."

            "Then it must be you."

            "What?"

            "Well it's not often that I get to be seen with a beautiful young lady at a Broadway show, you know.  They're probably wondering just how much I paid you to sit with me."  Chris waggled his eyebrows then sat back in his seat.

            "I – what?"  Fiona did a double take as Chris' words sank in.  She smiled slowly and shook her head.  "You're nuts."

            "Yeah, well… that's what they tell me."  He shrugged then turned to respond to the security guard tapping his shoulder.  Three girls stood on the aisle with giddy smiles and playbills, almost too shy to ask for an autograph.  Chris happily signed them as he leaned across the two empty seats, then shook their hands and righted himself.  JC and Carter slid back down the aisle and took their seats after another few minutes.

            The house lights flickered as the guards took their seats at either end of the aisle and everyone filed back into the theater from the tiny lobby.

            As the lights went down, Fiona took a deep breath and folded her playbill in her lap.  Her sweaty hands had made finger prints in the black ink and she was sure that by the end of the night she'd have ruined it.  But she couldn't help it.  The music started and she was once again entranced by the company on the stage in front of her.

            "Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes… Five hundred, twenty five thousand moments so dear… Five hundred, twenty five thousand, six hundred minutes… How do you measure, measure a year?"  The company sang in line on the stage.

            Fiona sat completely submerged in the song as they sang in almost perfect harmony.  Those who were off were off in a way that made the entire production seem more real.  Every word of the song struck at her heart and her hand found its way into JC's again.  He gave her a reassuring squeeze and smiled at her quickly.  She felt foolish sitting there with tears running down her face and she hoped that the cast didn't think that she was nuts, if they could even see her.

            The emotions in the second half were portrayed so realistically Fiona truly believed that the characters were real.  Seeing Joey tear up and the rest of the cast literally slip into a depression that was so thick she was sure she could touch it if she tried, was much more than she expected.  Through it all JC held her hand and she noticed that he held Carter's in his other hand.  The three of them were connected and knowing that made Fiona feel much better about crying over the show.  If anyone would understand everything that was going on in her mind, it'd be the two men sitting to her right.

            When the performance ended Fiona swallowed several times and bit the inside of her cheek to keep her bottom lip from trembling.  "Wow."  Fiona whispered as she reached up to swipe at the tears on her cheeks.  The entire audience was on their feet giving the actors the standing ovation they all deserved.  "My God, that was… wow."  She clapped and looked up at JC with tear filled eyes.

            His own lashes were wet as he clapped slowly and watched her eyes continue to water.  JC smiled and looked over at Carter, who was keeping an eye on Fiona with a concerned look.  "She okay?"  He mouthed to JC with a quick nod in her direction.

            JC nodded briefly and bumped shoulders with Carter just to have contact.  "We're going back."  JC said softly, keeping his eyes on Carter's to make sure he understood.

            "Okay."  Carter nodded and leaned forward to tap Fiona's arm as she clapped.

            She glanced quickly and smiled, then returned her gaze to the cast on the edge of the stage.  "Wasn't that amazing?"  She asked as she wiped her nose quickly.  “Wow.”  She said again.

            JC put his arm over Fiona's shoulders in a half-hug and brushed his lips across her ear lobe, “We’re going backstage for a few minutes to avoid the crowds.  Just hold my hand and keep up, okay?”

            Fiona nodded and turned sideways to follow JC out of the aisle with bodyguards everywhere she looked.  They walked to a side door and through the backstage area to where the cast was spread out.  Half of them were heading to changing rooms while the others were mingling in the halls laughing and talking amongst themselves.

            “Jace!”  Joey bounced up on his toes to see him over the crowd of actors.  “Over here!”

            "There he is."  Fiona smiled and pointed him out.

            "Okay.  Cool… you guys can uh, wait here.  I'm gonna go say hi and bring him over."  JC smiled as his heart skipped a beat.

            "I… its okay?"

            "Yeah.  Chris will be here in a second."  JC nodded then quickly dropped a kiss on Carter's lips.  "Keep her in line.  No screaming like a teeny."  JC shook his finger at Fiona.

            "I won't."  She nodded and bounced, looking like she might actually squeal.

            "Carter…"  JC cast him a worried glance.

            "I'll keep an eye on her."  Carter laughed and nodded as JC ducked through the crowd to follow Joey back to his changing room.

            "Hey man, you were great out there."  JC raised his voice to be heard over the voices in the hall.

            "Don’t sound so surprised, asshole."  Joey laughed and reached over his head to pull his sweater off.

            "I'm not surprised."  JC shook his head.  "You've got talent coming out your ears.  There was never a doubt that you'd be a huge hit on Broadway."

            "Hrmph."  Joey made a discouraging sound in his throat as he bent to take his shoes off.

            "Honey, you've got Diva written all over you."  JC snapped his fingers and threw his invisible waist length hair over his shoulder.

            "You're a spaz."  Joey laughed, but appreciated the support.  "So you liked it?"  He asked as he got serious for a moment.

            "I… yeah.  I really liked it."  JC licked his lips as his smile fell a little.

            "But…?"

            "But no… nothing."

            "What is it?  Was it that note I goofed in 'La vie Boheme'?"

            "What?  No, I didn't notice."

            "It was bad."

            "That wasn't it."

            "Then what?"  Joey undid his pants and pulled them off as he reached for his street clothes.  "Tell me.  I can handle it.  Especially coming from you."

            "It was just… it wasn't what I expected.  It was a lot more emotional than I was prepared for, you know?"  He sighed deeply.  "I guess… well I guess I just take it a little more personally than I thought I would.”  JC said softly as he mumbled in the direction of his lap.

            “What’s that mean?”  Joey asked as he zipped his fly.  Carefully, he reached up and removed the glasses that were part of his costume for the play.  He was no longer Mark; instead he wanted to be Joey for a moment.

            “That just means that I take it more personally now.  It’s affecting me now.”

            What is?  Dude, you’ve been gay forever… why are you getting all mushy now?”

            “I’ve never seen Rent Joe.  You know that.”

            “Yeah, and?”

            “And you didn’t tell me it was about… AIDS and all that.”

            “Well yeah but… I guess I thought you knew.  What difference does it make anyway?”

            “Because I’ve got a friend with AIDS and it just… it really made me think.” JC’s voice caught in his throat.

            “You know someone with AIDS?”  Joey’s left eyebrow rose in question and for a moment JC almost smiled.  Joey was the only person he knew who could raise just one eyebrow and make it look natural.

            “Yeah.”  JC cleared his throat and looked at a blank spot over Joey’s shoulder.

            “Wh – “  Joey began, then stopped and stiffened noticeably.  He set his jaw and breathed out through his nose as his eyes grew smaller.  “Carter?”

            JC met Joey’s stare and pursed his lips without saying a word.  They held eye contact for a minute before Joey blinked twice in a row.  “Would it make a difference?”

            “Would it – “  Joey inhaled sharply.  “Fuck yes it would make a difference.  It’s Carter?”

            “Listen Joey… the fact that I have a friend with AIDS doesn’t change anything.  You asked why I got all emotional, well that’s it.”

            “Answer me JC.”

            “It’s none of your business.  That’s their private life.  We have to respect that.”

            “When their private life is fucking my friend with the AIDS virus, I think it stops being private, don’t you?”  Joey lowered his voice and leaned in.  “Fuck it.  You just answered me.”  A muscle twitched in Joey’s jaw as his breaths erupted in short bursts from his nose.

            “No.”

            “Yeah you did Jace.  By not saying anything you answered me.  What the fuck are you doing?  Are you crazy?  I mean… it’s not bad enough that you – “  He stopped before he could say something he didn’t mean while insulting one of his closest friends.  “Why would you do that?”

            JC’s teeth clanked as he snapped his mouth shut to take a deep breath.  “It’s not Carter you insensitive ass.”

            “Too late to cover it.”

            “Fiona.  Okay?  Fiona is sick and that’s why I was all emotional.  And why she was too.  Seeing it put to life on stage like that was just a little too close to home.  She’s living the story practically.  Can’t you see how that would affect some people like this?”

            Joey's mouth opened and closed a few times before he actually spoke.  "Fiona?"

            "Yes."

            "She's… she's sick?"  Joey sat heavily in the metal chair.

            "Yes."

            "She doesn't look… I mean… she is?"

            "Yes Joey.  She's sick.  She doesn't look sick because she'd having a good month or whatever.  Since I've known her she hasn't had anything more than a cold.  But she's still sick man.  And I just found out last week so it's all still new for me and seeing that show out there…"  JC waved his arm in the general direction of the stage.  "Well I mean come on. It was like…"  JC put his hands on his chest and took a deep breath.  "It just got me.  I got it, you know what I mean?"

            Joey nodded slowly, "I know."

            "So."  JC sighed and licked his lips as his heart raced.  "It's just weird to see you up there doing this show.  You're amazing Joey.  You really are."

            "Jace…"

            "You are." JC reached over and tilted Joey's chin up.  "And seeing you do this with… with all the emotion that you have, it just kills me man.  You're that good."

            "I'm sorry."

            "Don't be."

            "No.  I mean I'm sorry I thought it was Carter."

            "It's okay."  JC leaned back slowly.  "But uh… don't say anything.  If she wanted you to know she'd have said something already."

            "I won't say anything."  Joey shook his head and sighed heavily.  "I just… I can't believe she's sick.  That kind of… I mean, we've met AIDS patients while doing the show, of course we have.  Some really cool people.  But this is… I mean, I know her.  Kinda.  More than them."

            "I know."  JC nodded.  "It makes it all mean more."

            "Yeah."  Joey smiled in agreement.

            "So see?  You're doing a great thing out there every night."  He smiled and kissed Joey quickly, remembering the feeling of Joey's full lips against his.

            "Thanks."  Joey whispered when JC took a step back.

            Carter softly cleared his throat from the doorway and tapped softly, "Excuse me."

            "H-hey."  JC blushed quickly and looked over his shoulder at Carter.  "I didn't know you were there."

            "I just… Chris wanted me to come and tell you that the car will be around front in a minute."

            "Okay."

            "And he wanted to know if Joey was coming back with us."

            "No.  I have my car here."  Joey shook his head.

            "Okay."  Carter nodded and stepped back into the hall.

            "I'll see you later, okay?"  JC asked as he pulled Joey in for a hug.

            "Okay.  G'night.  And thanks."

            "No problem."  JC kissed his cheek then turned to leave.

            "You were awesome tonight."  Carter added from the hall.

            "Thank you.  I'm glad you could come." Joey gave Carter a genuine smile that had more behind it than before.

            "Me too."  Carter reached for JC's hand as he stepped through the door.

            "I'll walk you guys out in just a minute." Joey added as JC and Carter started down the hall.

            JC waved in response then turned to Carter.  "I'm sorry about that."

            "What?"

            "Back there.  With Joey."  JC said softly, sure that Carter had seen the innocent kiss that showed that at one time it might not have been.

            "What with Joey?"

            "The –"  JC stopped himself.  "How long were you standing there?"

            "I walked up and knocked."  Carter shrugged.  "Why?  What happened?"

            "Nothing."  JC said quickly.

            "Hey wait."  Carter stopped walking and tugged on JC's hand.  "What?"

            "I kissed him kind of.  I mean.  Nothing big, nothing more than like how I'd kiss Fiona or whatever."

            "I…"  Carter blushed and looked confused for a second.  "You kissed him like you'd kiss Fiona?"

            "Yeah."

            "Why?"  Carter frowned.  "I'm confused."

            "Well we used to…"  JC shrugged.  "And after the show, I was just kind of in awe and he… I don’t know."

            "So wait, you... you and..."  Carter looked back toward the hall leading to Joey's dressing room.

            "Yeah."  JC followed his gaze.  "Joey."

            "Really?"  Carter sighed softly and pulled his lip between his teeth.  "I… I didn't know that."

            "It's not like it was headline news."

            "No, I know… but…"  Carter shrugged and tapped his toe against the floorboards.  "I don't know, I just thought… you know… that you would have said something."

            "It's in the past."

            "He's right there."  He looked toward the hall again.

            "We're friends."

            "You were more than that."

            "We were, yeah."  JC nodded, then reached to place a hand on Carter's shoulder.  "Listen, Joey and I are friends.  We've moved on, both of us have.  I have you and he has his daughter."

            "His daughter?"

            "That little bundle of pink with curls he carries around half the time?"  JC smiled.

            "He has a daughter?"

            "Yeah."  JC laughed softly.  "Now that's been in the news, I know that much."

            "I don't…"

            "Listen.  Joey and I have always been close.  We all have really, but he and I were close.  In that way.  We had a relationship kind of for a while, but it wouldn't have worked out.  The five of us are too close that for two of us to become exclusive… well it's just not right."  He shook his head and leaned in closer to Carter.  "More than a year ago we decided to cool it for a bit, and move on.  He moved onto Kelly and now he's got his daughter… I moved onto clubbing and now I've got you."  He kissed Carter and smiled from his mouth to his eyes.

            "Can you do me a favor then?"

            "Anything?"

            "Can you not kiss him?  Not even like how you kiss Fiona?"

            JC smiled and laughed softly, "I can do that."

            "It's just –"  JC cut him off with a kiss to show that he wasn't just saying that to make him happy.  With just a few quick moves Carter was against the wall feeling and tasting all of JC.

            "You're the only one I want to kiss Carter."  JC spoke the words into his mouth and for the first time didn't care that anyone, or everyone, around him was watching.

            Carter reluctantly ended the kiss before he was completely satisfied and quickly drew the back of his hand over his lips.  "We should go." He looked over JC's shoulder and blushed.

            "Yeah."  JC's eyebrow twitched as he smirked.  He draped his arm casually over Carter's shoulders and steered him toward the exit where Chris and Fiona were waiting.

            "Are you guys ready to go?" Chris asked as his feet tapped anxiously.

            "Are you in some kind of hurry?" JC asked.

            "Well I don't know about you, but I'm kinda hungry."

            "Okay, okay.  We're leaving."  JC put his other arm around Chris' shoulders and hugged both men to him.  "Hey anytime you wanna join us, Chris, you just let me know."

            "Um.  Yeah."  Chris rolled out from under JC's arm.  "You're cute, but no."

            "I meant for dinner."  JC smiled.

            "Sure you did."  Carter blushed then smiled at Chris.

            "Don’t worry about it, I'm used to it."  Chris sighed and nodded at their security guards, signaling that they were ready to leave.

            They fought the crowds through to the exit and hopped into the awaiting car.  "So seriously.  I'm hungry.  What are the plans for dinner?"  Chris asked.

            "Um." JC looked to Cater.  "We have plans."

            "We do?"  Carter turned quickly to look at JC.

            "Yes.  We do."  JC smiled.  "I told you about it last night.  It was going to be a surprise."

            "Dude.  Don't look at me.  I just asked what we were doing.  I didn't try to spoil anything."  Chris held up his hands defensively.

            "I didn't say you did."  JC rolled his eyes.  "But yeah.  We… have uh, plans."

            "What kind of plans?"  Carter asked softly.

            "Just plans."

            "So basically what you're saying is that we don't have plans for dinner."  Chris waved his hand around indication himself and Fiona.

            "Um."

            "That would be no."  Fiona laughed and sat back in the seat.

            "Awesome.  Then do you want to grab something across the street?"  Chris asked.

            "Across the street?"

            "From the hotel.  There's a Jewish deli like, half a block up."  He bounced in his seat.  "I'm not Jewish or anything, but I heard they've got killer hot sandwiches."

            "I thought you were gonna go to the Carnegie Deli?"  JC asked.

            "It's too far to walk." Chris shook his head.  "But it doesn't matter.  Did you wanna come?" He asked Fiona.

            "Oh.  Okay, I…"  She looked from Chris to Carter then to JC.  "Sure."

            "We'll take Jackson with us and everything."

            Fiona nodded politely.  "That sounds good."

            "Right on." He tapped his feet against the hollow floor and turned his attention to the streets outside.

            When they got to the hotel they all went to their rooms.  Chris promised he'd call Fiona in a little while so they could go grab something to eat as Carter and JC ducked into their room alone.

            "You brought your suit, right?"

            "We've had this conversation."  Carter blushed.  "Is that… we're going somewhere nice?"

            "Absolutely."  JC nodded as he opened the closet and took out his fine pressed dress shirt.  "We're going somewhere real nice."

            "Are… I mean, are you sure?"

            "I'm sure." JC caught his eye in the mirror.  "I've been there before.  It's nice."

            "No.  I mean are you sure you want to go?  Because that's like… it's just you and me."

            "Uh huh."

            "Like a date."

            "Precisely."

            "So then… then what's Fiona here for if you're going to take me out on a date in public anyway?"  Carter asked quickly.

            JC paused and licked his lips thoughtfully.  Carter had a point, but JC didn't know how to explain it without it all coming out wrong.  "This isn't really like that.  I mean.  It's a nice restaurant.  Couples go there, but families go there… business partners go there.  You and I sitting together won't draw any kind of attention."

            "Yeah but."  Carter sighed.  Walking the red carpet with him wouldn't have drawn attention to them either.  Justin had said himself that he walked the red carpet with his guy friends all the time.  "Never mind."

            "It's different."  JC turned around and rested his hand on Carter's shoulder.  "At the awards and stuff like that there are camera and paparazzi guaranteed.  There's no escaping them there… and with something like this, the chance of their being photographers all over the place are slim.  There may be a few… but not nearly as bad as the awards."

            Carter sighed softly as he lowered his eyes and took his slacks out of his suitcase.  He understood what JC was getting at, but it only made him more uncomfortable.  "Okay."

            "It'll be fun.  We'll have a nice evening."  JC squeezed Carter's shoulder and smiled.  "I promise."  He dropped a quick kiss on Carter's closed lips then returned to the closet.  "But we do need to get going.  We have reservations."

            They dressed in the small changing area, bumping into each other with every move.  Mostly by accident, but other times the contact was entirely intentional.

            "Hey… do you think Fiona would want to come?"  JC asked as he struggled with his tie in the mirror.

            "Um."  Carter looked up from tying his shoes.  "I… maybe?"

            "What?"

            "Well she might want to come.  I don’t know."  He shrugged.

            "But…?"

            "It's a date.  Kind of.  Do you want her to come?"

            "Well I don't want to just ditch her here.  I mean, she doesn't know anyone really."

            "The guys know her."  Carter frowned.  "She's going to have dinner with Chris and the guard guy."

            "Well yeah, but…"  JC sighed.  "I just don't want to ditch her.  I brought her here and she's doing me a favor.  You know?"

            "I know she doesn't see it that way."  Carter shook his head and stood up.  "She won't be upset if we leave.  I promise."

            "Because she can come."  JC said quickly.

            "If we invite her we might as well invite all the guys."

            JC made a face as he turned around, "I don't want everyone there."

            "Then there you go."  Carter laughed.

            "Okay.  Just you and me."  He turned back to the mirror and smiled at Carter in the reflection.  "Dangit, I can never get this right.  It's always like, crooked."

            "Here."  Carter walked up behind JC, dropped his arms over his shoulders and straightened the tie perfectly.  "There.  See?  Now you're beautiful."  He dropped a quick peck on JC's cheek, then laughed and stepped away.  Carter knocked on the door between their room and Fiona's.  "Fi?  Are you in there?"

            "Yeah?"  She called through the door before opening it.  "Wow... look at you, all dressed up and everything."

            He smiled and blushed quickly, "We're heading out."

            "Do you know where you're going yet?"

            "Not yet."  Carter looked over his shoulder at JC.  "He won't tell me.

            "It's a surprise."  JC rolled his eyes and brought his hand to his hair again, to make sure everything was perfect.

            "Well have fun."  She threw her arms around Carter's neck, careful not to wrinkle his shirt.  "Don't to anything I wouldn't do."

            Carter snorted and shook his head, "Is there anything you wouldn't do?"

            "I can think of a few."  She laughed and gave him a gentle push.  "Go.  Have fun.  I'll see you when you guys get back."  JC cleared his throat by the door, "Or you know… maybe not."  She amended quickly.

            "Good night Fiona."  JC smiled from the door.

            "Good night guys."

            "Are you going to be okay for dinner?"

            "Yeah.  I'm going out with Chris and… that guy.  The guard."  She shrugged.  "I'm just gonna hang out here after that, don't worry your pretty little head."

            "Have fun."  Carter said softly.

            "You too."  Fiona whispered back with a devious smile.  They left their room and Fiona shut the adjoining door quietly.

            For twenty minutes she kicked back and relaxed for a bit, it took much more energy than she thought it would to be around the guys.  They hadn't done much, but she was happy to have the time to just lie on the cool comforter and stare at the ceiling.  When her watch beeped at her, she rose to take her meds that didn't require food, then tucked the last three into her pocket.  She'd take them at dinner if Chris ever decided to call.

            She was just getting ready to worry when her phone rang and Chris' laughing voice boomed through the ear piece, "Hey are you ready to go?"

            "Um, yeah.  I'm ready."

            "Awesome.  Meet me at the elevators in like, now."

            "Okay."  Fiona smiled and hung up before grabbing her room key and heading out.  She met Chris and Jackson at the elevators and made small talk until the elevator arrived.  "Is Justin coming?"  Fiona asked softly as they rode down to the lobby.

            "He's already there." Jackson answered.

            "He is?"  Chris creased his brow up at the guard.

            "He ate already, but he's gonna sit with you guys."  Jackson shrugged.  "Hey, I just work here."

            Chris laughed and tapped the button for the lobby until the doors opened.  "Hold on tight, it's gonna be a bumpy ride."  He ducked his head and held his arm out like a football player, then barreled into the lobby laughing.

            Fiona followed a step behind with Jackson at her side.  They managed to get to the restaurant without any trouble, but as soon as they were seated in the booth with Justin and his security guard, they were approached for autographs and photos.  Fiona pressed herself against the wall and concentrated on the menu in front of her.  After a few minutes the waiter came over and the guards politely asked the fans to back off so that the guys could eat in peace.

            Throughout the meal Justin kept up a steady dialogue basically with himself.  He filled Chris in on the differences between solo work and group work then detailed his plans for his upcoming tour.  Chris only half listened as he ate, noticing that Justin was mostly looking at Fiona, who couldn't have any idea what he was talking about.

            Fiona smiled and nodded appropriately while trying to pay attention to what Justin was saying.  He seemed amused and excited over everything he said, while Chris only looked mildly interested.  She was sure he'd heard it all before.  A dozen times probably.

            When they finally left, Fiona stood to the side with Jackson while the boys signed more autographs and smiled for cameras before crossing the street again to go back to their rooms.

            "Wanna cruise over and watch a movie or something?  Chris asked as they walked up the hall ten minutes later.  "Those two will be out all night if JC has anything to say about it."

            "Oh.  Well, I was…"  Fiona frowned.  She was going to what?  Go back to her room and watch a movie by herself?  She mentally kicked herself for even pondering going back to her room when the chance to hang out with two of America's biggest pop stars was staring her in the face.  "Sure."

            "We're not watching any chick flicks though.  'Devine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood' is on but we're not watching it."

            "Okay."  Fiona laughed.

            "So yeah, we'll go to my room. Justin?  Come to my room."  Chris shouted down the hall as Justin opened his door.

            "What?"

            "My room.  Movies."

            "I got things to do."

            "Well come down after."

            "Okay."  Justin rolled his eyes and disappeared into his room.

            "He thinks he's all kinds of important now because he's got voicemail.  I swear."  Chris rolled his eyes and unlocked his door.  "After you."

            Fiona stepped into the room and stood nervously against the wall.  As the door shut behind her she felt her pulse quicken, she was in a member of Nsync's hotel room.  While she shouldn't have been as nervous as she was considering that JC had spent the last month or so hanging out on her couch, she couldn't help smiling like a teenager. Nothing seemed real.

            Chris fell onto the small couch and turned the TV on. He ordered up an action movie without waiting to take a vote, then patted the seat cushion next to him.  "Make yourself comfortable.  Justin'll be a while so you can have the good seat."

            "Ahh, thank you."  She sat down and kicked her shoes off.

            They made it through the first movie without Justin, though Chris didn't appear too worried.  He stood up and excused himself to the bathroom, asking her to pick the next non-girly movie.

            Fiona pursed her lips and looked over the selection, but before she could reach for the remote Chris' cell phone rang on the table in front of her.  "Can you grab that?"  Chris shouted from behind the closed door.

            "I… what?"

            "The phone.  Grab it before it goes to voicemail."  He shouted back.

            Fiona reached forward and flipped the phone open as she'd seen him do several time.  "H-hello?

            "Are the party boys back yet?" Joey asked when Fiona answered the phone.

            "What?"

            "What?  Who's this?"  Joey asked.

            "Fiona.  Who's this?"

            "This is Joey." He laughed.  "What're you doing answering Chris' phone?"

            "He told me to grab it."

            "Oh.  So are they back yet?"

            "They?"

            "JC and uh, Carter."

            "Oh.  No, not yet."  Fiona shook her head.

            "What does he want?"  Chris shouted from the bathroom.

            "He's asking if Carter and JC are back."  Fiona shouted back.

            "They aren't."

            "I know."  She smiled and shook her head.  "Are… did you want me to get Chris?"

            "Where is he?"

            "In the bathroom."

            "Shit.  No.  You don't have to get him.  It's probably wiser if you don't.  But listen, when he gets out, if you can still breathe, tell him to bring you to Suede."

            "To Suede?"

            "Yeah, it's a club."

            "A club?"

            "Yes.  A club."  Joey laughed.  "I host parties there on Tuesday's but I'm going tonight just to kick it.  So grab Chris and Justin and come meet me."

            "I don't know where Justin is."

            "Chris will know."

            "I…"

            "Listen.  My phone's gonna die.  Chris knows where it is.  I'll be there in twenty minutes.  Get – "  His phone cut out and Fiona was left holding a dead phone in her hand.

            "What'd he want?"  Chris asked as he stepped out of the bathroom drying his hands on the hem of his shirt.

            "Um, we're supposed to go to Suede?"

            "Suede?"

            "It's a club.  He said you'd know."

            "Yeah, no, I know what it is."  Chris nodded.  "Okay.  So we're supposed to go there?"

            "We're supposed to get Justin and meet Joey there."

            "Where's Justin?"

            "He said you'd know."

            Chris sighed heavily, "Do I look like the Shell answer man?  Sheesh.  Okay so now we've got to track down Justin and get to Suede?"

            "I guess."

            "Do you want to go?"

            "What're my options?"

            "Well you can stay here I guess.  If you want."

            "Oh."

            "Or you can come."

            "You're going?"

            "Heck yeah."  He laughed.  "You don't not go to a Joey party."

            "Okay."  She looked down at her outfit.  "Is this okay?"

            "I'm going in this.  So yeah, you're fine.  Grab your purse or whatever."

            "It's in my room."

            "We'll stop on the way out."  And with that they left the room and headed down the hall.

 

            By the time they got to Suede, Joey was obviously there. His voice reverberated off the ceiling and echoed out onto the street.  "Some fool has given him the mic." Chris shook his head as Jackson escorted them into the club, bypassing the line that had formed outside.

            "That's a bad thing?"

            "You'll see."  Chris rolled his eyes as Justin practically tackled him just inside the door.  "Hey how'd you beat us here?"

            "I got a cooler taxi driver than you did." Justin shrugged and handed one of the drinks in his hand to Chris.  "I didn't know if you drank so I…"  He shrugged, then offered her his drink.

            "No, I …"  She shook her head.  She hadn't had a drink in years and with the medication she was on, it was better that she didn't.  "What is it?"  She heard herself ask the question before her mind even knew she was going to.

            "This is a midori sour.  It's kind of a girlie drink." He shrugged.  "I'm man enough to drink it though."

            "There's no umbrella in it."  Chris whirled his finger over Justin's drink and laughed.  "Did you ask them not to put one in there?"

            "It doesn't come with an umbrella."  Justin rolled his eyes.

            "Can I taste it?"

            "You can have it."  Justin smile and handed it to her.  She cautiously took a sip and puckered her lips.  "Ah ha, see?  They don't call it sour for nothing."  Justin laughed and put his hand on Fiona's back.  "Would you rather have something else?"

            "No, thank you."  She shook her head.

            "Do you want to finish that?"

            Fiona looked at the drink in her hand.  She'd had a big dinner, so surely one drink wouldn't be a problem.  She nodded, then raised her glass to toast Chris' outstretched brown drink.  "What are you drinking?"

            "This is Jameson.  On the rocks."

            "Whiskey?"

            "Oh yes.  The good stuff."  Chris took a large mouthful then swallowed loudly.  "Awesome.  Do you want a sip?"

            "Oh, no thanks.  I don’t even like the smell of whiskey."

            "No one does."  Chris made a face as Justin disappeared to get himself another drink.  "But then again you don't drink it for the scent, you know?"  Chris laughed out loud and turned Fiona by her shoulder towards the stage where Joey was standing and waving them over.

 

            Justin met up with them after a few minutes and the night passed in a blur of drinks, dances and lots of laughing.  Fiona found herself sweating on the dance floor, not even caring what she looked like.  Justin's hands found their way to her waist and guided her effortlessly across the dance floor and back again.  She could have had two left feet and somehow she knew he'd make her look good.

            Flashes went off all around them and Fiona knew she recognized at least a dozen other people there, but Chris and Justin stayed close enough to deflect anyone who got near.  By the time Joey rounded them up to leave, the club was almost empty and the streets were buzzing with hurried taxi's whisking people home after the bars closed.

            They took two separate cabs back to the hotel and parked along the curb.  The two security guards stepped out first and held the door for the uncoordinated passengers.

            "Bagels.  We need bagels."  Chris said as he stumbled out of the cab.

            "And cream cheese." Justin laughed and draped his arm over Chris' shoulders.  "You think room service would bring us some?"

            "I think they might.  If we call up and ask."

            "You guys gonna be okay?" Joey tucked his hands in his pockets and stood beside the open taxi door.

            "Oh come on.  You're not coming up?"

            "Nah, I'm heading home."

            "Punk."

            "Whatever.  You guys okay?"  He asked again.

            "We'll be fine."

            "Thanks Joey."  Fiona smiled as she pulled the heavy glass doors open.  "I had a great time."

            "Good, I'm glad."  Joey smiled and waved.  "It was nice to meet you."

            "You too."  Fiona waited until Chris and Justin were inside before she let the door shut.  She walked over to the taxi and gave Joey a big hug.  "You were great on stage."

            "Thank you."  He said genuinely.  He patted her back and kissed her cheek quickly then took a step back.  "Are you heading back to LA tomorrow?"

            "Yeah."

            "Then I probably won't see you before you go."

            "Well next time you're in LA…"

            "Yeah.  I'll see you later." He laughed then slid into the taxi and gave his address to the driver.  Joey waved once more through the back window before Fiona went into the hotel and met the others by the elevators.

            "Bagels and cream cheese in my room."  Justin said slowly as he leaned against the closed elevator doors.

            "I'll bring the booze."

            "No more booze."  Justin shook his head and looked at Fiona.  "How are you feeling?"

            "I'm okay."

            "Yeah?"

            "I only had two drinks."

            "Only two?"  Chris asked as the elevator dinged.  The doors opened and Justin practically fell onto the carpeted floor.  "Smooth.  Real smooth."  He laughed then hit the button for their floor when the door shut again.

            "I'm not supposed to have any alcohol… so two is plenty."

            "You're not supposed to have any?  Says who?"

            "Everyone."  Fiona blushed quickly and hit the button for their floor three more times.  "This thing doesn't go very fast."

            "It goes fast enough." Justin said with his eyes closed.

            "If he hurls on the elevator, I'm gonna kill him."  Chris plastered himself to the opposite wall.

            "I'm not gonna hurl."  Justin frowned, but kept his eyes shut tight.

            "You better not."

            "I'm not."  He breathed deep and let it out as the doors opened again.  They all stepped out and filed down to Justin's room.

            "I… maybe I should just go to bed.  We're supposed to start early tomorrow."  Fiona stopped in front of her door.

            "No, come on.  Come on down and eat a bagel.  You'll feel better in the morning if you get some bread in your stomach to soak up the alcohol."  Justin waved her over.  "Trust me."

            Fiona sighed and smiled, then followed them to Justin's room.  The three of them went inside and Justin went for the phone immediately.  "Yeah hi.  I'm up in room…"  He paused and thought for a moment.  "Yeah.  That's the number." He smiled as the person on the other end gave him his room number.  "Do you think we could get some bagels and cream cheese up here?  Really?  Okay yeah, like… I don't know.  Mixed?  Blueberry ones, for sure.  Yeah, a couple of those too.  Uh huh.  Okay.  Great.  Okay thanks.  Bye."  He hung up and fell into the deep recliner chair by the table.  "They'll be here in a couple minutes."

            "Great."  Chris covered his mouth as he yawned and hopped up onto the tiled counter of the mini kitchen.

            "Excuse me."  Fiona copied Chris' yawn, then stepped around the chair into the bathroom.

            When she stepped out a minute later Chris was gone and Justin was snoring lightly in the chair.  "Where'd Chris go?"

            Justin's snoring stopped immediately and he opened his eyes, "He was tired."

            "Oh."

            "But the bagels will be here any minute."

            "Okay."  She fiddled with her hands as someone rapped on the door.  Justin answered it and gave the guy a tip as he took the platter.

            "Oh yum."  He took a warm blueberry bagel and tore it in half.  With one quick move he spread cream cheese on it and took a bite.  "Oh this is good.  You really should eat one."  Justin stood up straight and stretched his arms over his head with his bagel in his hand.  His shirt was already too short for him, so when he stretched it exposed a sliver of his toned stomach.  Fiona couldn't take her eyes off of it.

            "Thank you."  She nodded and leaned on the counter to put her bagel together.  She took a bite of a cinnamon looking one and rolled her eyes in ecstasy.  It was possibly the best bagel and cream cheese she'd ever had.  But seeing as how it was three in the morning and she'd had a few drinks, she was pretty sure that anything she had right then would be the best she'd ever had.  Including Justin.  She caught herself thinking about that and blushed as she took another bite.

            "So… did you have a good time tonight?"  Justin asked softly as he leaned on the counter across from Fiona.

            "Yeah.  This is… tonight was fun."  She lazily looked up to meet his eyes.  They were bluer than she originally thought and found herself staring.  "Thank you for inviting me.  Or well, Joey invited me… but…"  She licked a bit of cream cheese from the corner of her mouth and smiled.

            "Anytime.  Joey knows how to throw a good party and since JC and Carter took off..."  Justin shrugged.  "I'm glad you decided to come."  He smiled and sighed gently as the warm breakfast scent of his bagel sailed across to Fiona's nose.

            "Me too."  She tried not to yawn again, but failed.  As she brought her hand up to cover her mouth, Justin brought his hand to her cheek and their fingers collided.

            "Sorry." He laughed nervously and blushed as he tore his eyes away from hers.

            Suddenly Fiona saw everything clearly.  JC had been right; Justin was hitting on her.  The alcohol in her system hummed and she thought for a second that if she didn't stop everything right then, that it would be too late and she wouldn't be able to stop anything.  Justin held eye contact as he moved in closer, licking his lips at the last possible second.

            "I have AIDS."  She said quickly as her brow flashed into a frown and she pulled back. In the second that the word left her mouth she watched Justin's expression go from embarrassed to confused.  With another deep breath she stood up straight and left Justin's room before either of them could say anything.

            In the hall one of the guards looked up and smiled as she half stumbled down the hall to her room.  He watched carefully and offered to get her door for her, but she refused as tears welled up in her eyes.  She let herself into her room and shut the door tightly behind her.  As the latch clicked the hot tears overflowed and trailed their way down her cheeks.  That was not how she wanted her night to end; not at all.  But she'd ruined it now and there was no going back to recover what it might have been.

            With her back against the door Fiona cried softly for a few minutes, then crossed the room and collapsed across the bed.  As her head hit the pillow she saw that it was after four in the morning, a mere three hours before they would be meeting for breakfast.  "I'll skip it."  She thought as she wiped her eyes on the pillow case, then closed them and fell into a dreamless sleep where nothing of the night before was real.

 

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

            "Fiona darling."  Carter called through their adjoining door.

            "What?"  She grumbled into her pillow.  Without looking at the clock she knew it was far too early to be up.

            "I know you probably didn't get in until sunrise, but we're going to breakfast, wanna come?"  He asked through the door.

            "No."

            "Open up.  I can't hear you."  He tapped on the door frame and she could hear him smile.

            "No."  She said louder."

            "No you don't want to open up?  Or no you don't want to go?"

            "Just no."

            "Fiona.  Don't play games."  Carter tapped on the door again to annoy her.  "Come on babe.  Open up.  We're going in our pajamas so you don't even really have to get dressed."

            Fiona dragged herself out of the bed and yanked the door open, not waiting to see if Carter would come in before turning back to her bed.

            "Or… you know… you could just wear what you had on last night."  Carter frowned and stepped into the room, propping the door open with a shoe so that he wouldn't get locked out.  "Where'd you guys go?"

            "Joey's party thing at Suede."

            "Ouch.  You look like you…"  Carter paused and chose his words carefully, "…had an interesting time…"

            "Uh huh.  Interesting."

            "I see.  Well come on, let's go get some orange juice in you.  You'll feel better."

            "Carter, I really just want to go back to sleep.  I didn't get in until like, three in the morning."  Fiona whined.

            "Three in the morning?"

            "Come on Fi."  JC called from their room.  "It's our last day.  We're just going to grab breakfast then come back and get ready to go out."

            "What time are we leaving today?"

            "Not till like, six tonight."

            "I mean when are we leaving to do whatever we're doing today?"  Fiona clarified with a soft sigh.

            "We can leave whenever we want."  Carter shrugged.  "We're just doing museums today, right Jace?"

            "We can do whatever you want."  JC said loudly.

            "See?  We're just doing museums so we can leave whenever we want."  Carter smiled, then bent to kiss Fiona's forehead, inconspicuously checking her temperature.  "Are you feeling okay?"

            "Yeah."

            "You're sure?"

            "Hung over a bit, but I'm fine."  Fiona grumbled.

            "You drank last night?"  Carter's eyebrows rose in surprise.  "Really?"

            "I really did."

            "How much?"

            "Like, two drinks.  I think."

            "Only two?"  Carter smirked.  "You're such a lightweight."

            "Yeah, yeah.  Whatever."

            "So come on.  Let's go get some breakfast… and maybe a Bloody Mary to take the edge off."

            "Ugh. Shut up."  Fiona rolled over and held her arms up.  Carter grabbed her hands and pulled her to her feet.  "Let me change my clothes."

            "You've got five minutes."

            "I'll only need three."  She blew a kiss in his direction then headed for the bathroom.

            Four minutes later she came out wearing jeans and a sweater with her hair brushed.  "Okay."  She mumbled as she stepped into the boys room.  JC was brushing his teeth in his red and white pajama bottoms and wife beater while Carter fidgeted with the lock on his luggage wearing sweat bottoms and a tight Nestle Quik t-shirt.

            "Well there see?  You almost look human."  Carter laughed and dropped his arm over her shoulders.

            "Did you guys have fun last night?"

            "Yes."  JC and Carter answered in unison.

            "Where'd you go?"

            "Tavern on the green."  Carter sighed in content.  "It was just like in the movies."

            "You'll have to tell me all about it when I rise from the dead."

            "When will that be?"

            "Sometime after I get a good twenty ounces of coffee into me." Fiona forced a smiled, then crossed her arms over her chest and headed out.  JC and Carter practically fell over each other as they followed her out to the hall and couldn't keep their arms from snaking around each other.  "Where are we going?  Why don't we just order up?  You should have just let me sleep."  Fiona complained all the way to the elevators.

            "We're going to the room next to Justin's.  Breakfast has been sent up so we don't have to brave the crowds first thing in the morning."

            "Can we take it back to our room?"  Fiona struggled to fight a yawn but in the end let it out loudly.

            "Be social."  Carter frowned and kicked at her feet.

            She stumbled for a step then growled at Carter like an over-tired toddler.  "Stop."

            "Leave her alone."  JC laughed softly.  "She's obviously not a morning person."

            "Not when she's only had a few hours of sleep."

            "You partied last night?" JC pushed the door open and let them in with a quick nod to the others sitting around the table in the corner.

            "Let's get some food in her, then she'll talk."

            "I don't want food."  Fiona whined.  "I just want juice."

            "You need food with your meds."  Carter said softly as he eased up beside her.  "Did you bring them?"

            "Yes."  She patted her front pocket and licked her lips nervously.  Her eyes flitted over to the table where Justin and Chris were involved in a detailed story which required Justin's look of concentration and Chris' highly animated facial expressions.

            Fiona blushed furiously as she lowered her head and let her hair cover half of her face.  With a quick cough she reached for a small plate and a muffin.  Carter watched as she looked over at the table again and blushed even deeper as her breath caught in her throat.  "What's… what's going on here?"  Carter asked softly as he bumped Fiona's shoulder with his own.

            "Nothing." She whispered.

            "Fi?  You okay?"  JC asked as he moved in to bookend her with Carter.

            "I'm okay."  She insisted with a deep blush.  "I'm… I just… last night Justin and I – "

            "Dog!"  Carter's eyebrows shot up and he spoke louder than necessary.

            "Go girl."  JC added with a smile.

            "Shhhh!"  She hissed.  "You guys have one track minds, I swear.  We were in his room eating bagels or whatever."

            "At three in the morning?"

            "Three thirty."  Fiona sighed.  "But I told him."

            "You were eating bagels at three thirty in the morning?"  Carter asked.

            "And cream cheese."  Fiona nodded and gave him a look, "Did you even hear the rest of what I said?"

            "Yeah, but so what?  You told him…what?  That you're positive?"

            "Yeah."

            "What'd he say?"  JC asked quickly, automatically assuming the worst.

            "Nothing.  I left."

            "He didn't say anything at all?"  JC frowned.

            "I left.  He didn't really get a chance."  Fiona sighed and reached for a pineapple wedge.

            "Why?  What would he say?"  Carter asked JC.

            "Nothing.  I don't know."  JC said honestly.  "I mean…"  He looked across the room to where Justin and Chris were sitting at the table.  "He's open minded and cool and everything.  But like I said, sometimes he just doesn't think before he speaks."

            "Okay, so he didn't freak out, right?"  Carter looked back at Fiona.  "What's the problem?"

            "It's just… weird.  I don't even really know the guy and I go dropping that bomb on him?"

            "Well why'd you say anything?"

            "He was hitting on me."  Fiona explained quietly.

            "He's been hitting on you for two days now."  JC shrugged.

            "Well, okay but… okay last night I realized it and it freaked me out."

            "Did he kiss you?"  JC smirked and leaned closer.

            "No.  Almost.  I mean.  I think maybe… he might have."

            "Fiona."  Carter sighed and rolled his eyes.  "You amaze me.  You finally get the chance to get some action and you sabotage it?"

            "I know."  Fiona frowned.  "Trust me, I know."

            "It's not sabotaged."  JC shook his head.  "Justin is cool.  Just go act like nothing happened and it'll be okay."

            "I can't act like nothing happened."

            "Sure you can."  JC took her plate and headed for the table.

            "JC."

            "Come on."  He smiled and nodded for her and Carter to follow.  She walked over with her head down and a scowl on her face.  "Hey guys, you look like hell.  Did Joey party you out last night?"

            Chris nodded and blew on his coffee.  "And you'll notice he's not even here this morning."

            "Where is he?"  JC asked as he sat down and put Fiona's plate beside his.

            "At home.  The bastard's probably sleeping it off while we're forced to be social at…"  Chris reached for Justin's wrist and turned it to look at his watch.  Justin was in the middle of a bite so the eggs on his fork fell into his lap as Chris checked the time.  "… eight forty three in the morning."

            "Thanks."  Justin sighed and looked at the food in his lap.  "Get a watch."

            "I have one."  Chris smiled broadly, then went back to his coffee.

            "I swear."  Justin grumbled under his breath as he picked the eggs off of his jeans and set them on the edge of his plate.

            Fiona blushed and pulled her small plastic pill sorter out of her pocket.  She opened one section and poured the nine small pills into her hand.  "Can you pass me the juice please?"

            Carter poured her a small glass of orange juice from the carafe at the center of the table and handed it to Fiona.  "Drink it all."

            "Yes dad."  Fiona mumbled then tossed four pills in her mouth and swallowed.  She took the rest of them according to size and finished the whole glass of juice.

            "Now there's a nutrition freak for you.  How many vitamins do you take to stay looking that good?"  Chris laughed and made a point of looking Fiona up and down.

            "They aren't vitamins."  Fiona's voice dropped and she kicked JC under the table.  She hadn't missed his sideways glance or partial smile.

            "It's her cocktail."  Carter explained as though telling them she liked grapes.  Fiona aimed her feet to her other side and kicked Carter's shin.

            "At this hour?  Didn't you have enough last night?"  Chris laughed and looked over at Justin.  "You missed some." He pointed to Justin's chest and when he looked down, Chris brought his finger up and tweaked his nose.  "Every time man, every time.  How can you fall for that more than once?"  He laughed as Justin blushed even deeper.

            "It's… they're for… I'm HIV positive so it's my cocktail of medications to keep me healthy.  Kind of."  Fiona stuttered as she blushed.  She kept her eyes on her plate or her glass as silence vibrated throughout the room.

            "Oh."  Chris got serious for a moment.  "So… which ones are the uppers?"  He waggled his eyebrow at the plastic container by Fiona's plate.

            "Like you need uppers."  JC laughed and reached across the table to smack Chris' head.

            "Hey you know what, that's one thing I haven't tried yet."  Chris laughed and tore his chocolate croissant in half and held a piece out to Justin as a peace offering.  "Sorry.  I couldn't pass it up man, you're so gullible."

            Fiona was glad that the subject switched so carefully to something else, but she couldn't shake the panicky feeling in her chest, knowing that everyone in the room knew.  She could practically see the shift in their perspectives and it made her uncomfortable.

            As her breath quickened almost unnoticeably, she felt a warm hand on her knee.  Carter caught her eye and smiled as the hand gave her a gentle squeeze.  His lips moved but no sound escaped, and she saw him say, "I love you."

            "I love you too."  She mouthed back with a quick blush.  Carter leaned over and placed a quick kiss on her cheek then turned his attention back to his bagel.  Fiona smiled and picked at her breakfast.  Carter had once again saved the day for her, and she wouldn't soon forget it.

 

            When they were done with breakfast, Fiona pulled Justin aside and apologized softly.  "Hey I… I'm sorry I just kinda… you know… last night."  She sighed and shoved her hands in her pockets.

            "Dude, don't worry about it.  You just took me by surprise and I wasn't sure if you were serious or not.  But I mean, why would you joke about something like that."

            "I wouldn't."

            "I know."  Justin nodded.

            "But I'm sorry I told you like that.  I really… I should have gone about it differently."

            "No problem.  Really."  Justin smiled and pulled her in for a hug.  His arms felt stiff against her shoulders and for a moment, Fiona felt as though he might push her away.

            "A politically correct hug."  Fiona thought to herself.  She knew the kind.  That was the kind of hug someone gave you when they found out and wanted to seem okay with it, when they wanted others to see that they were okay with it while inside they were screaming and begging for a shower.

            "You're cool."  He said as he stepped back and actually wiped his hands on the front of his jeans.

            Fiona smiled and tried not to let her emotions show on her face, "Thank you Justin.  So uh… so are you."

            "So what are you guys doing today?"  He looked nervously toward JC and Carter.

            "I don't know."  She shook her head and looked toward the door where JC and Carter were softly arguing with smiles on their faces.  "JC said something about museums, but… well I don’t think anything's definite yet.  We have to leave this afternoon, so I don’t think we'll do too much."

            "Ahh… yeah what time do you leave?"

            "Six I think.  Right near there."

            "That's cool."

            "What about you?"

            "I leave here in about an hour." Justin checked his watch.  "I'll probably be home by the time you guys leave."

            Fiona nodded and bit her lip with a quick frown, "Well then it was nice to meet you."  She smiled up at him and tilted her head to the side, forcing herself to look him in the eye.

            "You too."  He gave her a quick smile with the smallest of nods.  "I'll see you again, I'm sure."

            "Yeah."  Fiona sighed softly.  "I'll see you."  She turned quickly then, and strode across the room to where JC and Carter still stood.  "Can we go?"

            "Hey Fi, which museum would you rather go to?  The Guggenheim or the Natural History museum?"  Carter laughed as she brushed by.

            "I don't care.  Can we just go?"

            "What's wrong?"  Carter and JC followed her into the hall.

            "Nothing."

            "Nothing?"  Carter took two quick steps to catch up with her.  "Wait, Fiona…"

            "It's nothing Carter, don't worry about it."  She plastered an insincere smile on her face then continued down the hall.

            "Fi?"  JC caught up with them as she reached her room.

            "What happened?"

            "Nothing. Jeez, guys.  It's nothing."

            "What's nothing?"  Carter pressed.

            "Did Justin say something?"

            "No."  Fiona shook her head and pushed her door open.  Without her looking back she knew that they would follow her into the room.

            "What'd he do then?"  JC leaned against the wall and crossed his arms over his chest, this feeling of protectiveness towards Fiona was new and he wasn't sure how to harness it.

            "You guys, really.  It's nothing."

            "You keep saying that but it looks like someone sucker punched you in the stomach."  Carter frowned.

            "Carter, it's... he just... I don't know."  Fiona sighed and dropped herself across her bed, pulling her pillow under her head gently.  "He hugged me and it felt weird.  Like he didn't want to touch me but he felt like he had to."

            "He…"  JC blushed quickly.

            "I'm sure he – "

            "It's okay."  Fiona said into the pillow.  "Listen, he didn't freak out. He didn't run away or push me away or anything like that.  He was trying, that’s… that's important."

            "But if he made you feel uncomfortable or anything."  JC pursed his lips and looked torn.  "I mean…"

            "Don’t worry about it.  Like I said, he tried.  It's not a big deal.  Some people just don't know… that… I mean, I don't know.  They don't know how to feel when someone with AIDS touches them."

            "He touched you."

            "I know.  That's what I'm saying.  He tried.  It just felt weird."  Fiona turned her head away from them and sighed again.  "Not everyone is as okay with it as you guys."

            "But Fi, if he made you uncomfortable."  JC started to sound defensive.

            "I think I made him more uncomfortable than he made me."  She mumbled into the pillow.  "This is nothing new you guys, really.  He's a good guy."

            JC and Carter exchanged glances.  JC's was questioning and Carter's was sure.  Carter shook his head and sighed through his nose,  "Are you going to go back to sleep?"  He asked softly.

            "Yeah.  Just for a little bit."

            "We're going to go shower and get ready.  Did you still want to go to the museum with us?"

            "Um."  She thought for a minute.  "Sure, yeah.  Come get me when you're ready to go."

            "Okay."  Carter nodded and led JC through the door that connected their rooms.  He shut it behind him then turned to face JC.

            "Is she okay?"

            "She'll be fine."

            "But wait, is this,"  JC bit his lip,  "normal?"

            Carter shrugged, "Kind of.  Yeah."

            "Really?"

            "Yeah."  He licked his lips and furrowed his brow.  "JC, you have to know that some people are not okay with this.  Some people are still scared and they don't want to be around anyone who's sick."

            "No, I know that."

            "It's kind of like being gay.  Some people aren't cool with that and would definitely like you less if they knew.  You know that."

            "Yeah."

            "So it's kind of the same thing.  Kind of."

            "But not really."

            "Right."

            JC wrapped his arms around Carter's waist and kissed him quickly, "I'm sorry people treat her badly."

            "Most don't."  Carter shook his head.  "Justin didn't."

            "But if he made her –"

            "Don't worry about it.  She's right, he tried.  He hugged her and that's a good sign."

            "Yeah but he had to.  I mean, with us in the room right there he couldn't be rude to her.  Besides, he's got better manners than that."

            "That's a good thing, Jace."

            "I know."  JC nodded and rested his forehead against Carter's.  "But still.  I feel like I should say something."

            "To Fiona?"

            "To Justin."

            "Don't."  Carter took a step back.  "It would only make things weirder.  And besides, he was nice enough. You don't have to say anything."  JC still looked unsure as Carter put his hands on his hips.  "If Justin had been rude or inconsiderate, I'd be following you down the hall to bitch slap him myself.  You know I would.  But he wasn't… so just let it go."

            "I don't want anyone to make her feel like she's... I don't know, dirty or whatever."  JC set is jaw.

            Carter's lips turned into a slow smile.  "No one ever will.  Not as long as I'm around."

            "You're a good friend, Carter."

            "So are you."  He dropped a quick kiss on JC's lips then smiled, "Dibs on the shower."  He spun around JC and into the bathroom, laughing like a child as JC followed him across the dark tiles.

            Somehow JC kept surprising Carter.  Around every corner there was something new.  This new attitude toward Fiona was completely unexpected, but yet another way Carter felt that JC was growing and becoming more and more the man he needed to be.  Carter silently thanked Fiona, then turned the shower on with JC pressed against his back peppering his neck and shoulders with tiny kisses.

 

 

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Copyright 2003, Amy Lynn