rescue me by topaz: the to the rescue mix by ninjetti
The frickin' phone was ringing, which just figured, because Chris had just gotten home from work and plopped down on the couch. If he was lucky and went right to bed he might even get five hours of sleep, but his brain was too occupied to be quiet. Between rehearsals and work he had maybe six or seven hours of free time, but that free time was also including eating, showering, his share of the chores around the house that he fortunately got to do on his days off from one of his two jobs, and of course: sleeping. If he could ever sleep. There was so much going on, worrying about his family, the guys, their struggling careers as *Nsync and all the details involved with that, as well as working his regular jobs waiting tables at Outback Steakhouse and singing at Universal that Chris' mind was too full to turn off.
He wasn't going to be able to sleep.
Chris couldn't sleep, and the ringing phone was not helping him at least try to relax, either. Lynn had taken Justin to the store, JC was in the shower, and Lance was out on a date, so no one was going to answer it anytime soon. Chris threw an arm over his face, hiding his eyes in his inner elbow, and waited for the answering machine to pick up, knowing the insufferable noise would stop after five rings. It had to have been five rings by now, didn't it?
The phone cut off in the middle of the fifth ring. . .only to start up again a moment later.
Chris turned over and screamed a swear word into the throw pillow, then rolled off the couch and crossed the living room to where the phone was mounted to the wall. Whoever was calling, it was someone who knew their answering machine was set to five rings and was avoiding letting it pick up, so it was probably important. If something had happened to Lynn and Justin, her car had been broken into or something, she would just call and leave a message saying so, letting Chris and JC know what was going on and what she was doing about it. If she needed help, she wouldn't hesitate to leave a message saying so, unless it was something so urgent she needed them to know immediately. Lance was borrowing Joey's beloved Buick to meet his date, so it wasn't like it was Joey calling for Lance. Joey worked two jobs as well as rehearsals just like Chris and JC did, so he wouldn't be calling unless it was important; his schedule was just as full as theirs were.
"Yeah, yeah," Chris muttered into the handset after snatching it off its hook, knowing whoever was on the other end would be expecting that sort of answer from him. He was supposed to be going to bed; he just hoped the reassurance of his surly answer was enough to overcome some of whatever the emergency was. If it was something really bad, Chris would have a spectacularly awful day tomorrow, so he was hoping a little sarcastic support would be enough to tide things over. As long as it wasn't a medical emergency; Chris knew he didn't have the reserves to deal with something like that, and JC didn't really, either.
"Chris, thank God," Lance's relieved voice said on the other end of the line. "Um, Joey's gonna kill me; his car died. It's on the side of the I-4, just north of West Fairbanks Ave. I'm in the Winter Park Diner, corner of Fairbanks and Blue Heron Drive."
"Mmf," Chris grunted in comment, but he was already going back down the hall to his and Lance's room to grab his keys. "Don't do anything stupid like going back to check on the car," he told Lance, then hung up. Chris grabbed his keys and put the phone's handset back, then stuffed his feet into his shoes and left to go rescue Lance.
Poor Lance. The diner didn't look particularly pop-friendly, and Lance was quite obviously aware of that fact, even though he was trying to hide it. He was concentrating so hard on trying not to look out of place and bothered that he didn't even notice Chris come into the diner. The waitress was scowling in Lance's direction, probably because he only had a cup of coffee and was occupying prime real estate at the counter. Sure, he was sitting there so that Chris would be able to find him right away, but the waitress pretty obviously thought valuable counter seating would be more appropriately filled by customers who bought a full meal instead of just a cup of coffee. The next two men at the counter were having a snickering conversation about something, and judging by the way the second one kept leaning back slightly to stare at Lance past the first man's back, Chris had a pretty good guess what they found so amusing.
Lance was so absorbed in trying to appear casual he still didn't notice Chris was there until he shook Lance's shoulder. Chris wasn't sure what expression was on his face when Lance looked up; he was trying for casually indifferent but Lance blinked in surprise when he met he Chris' eyes. Chris didn't say anything, just indicated the door with his head, trying to get Lance moving. Lance fumbled in his pocket to pay for his coffee as he slid off the stool; Chris just rolled his eyes and sighed as he dropped a few bills on the counter and steered Lance at the door. Kid was desperately awaiting rescue but not ready to go. Not that Chris could blame Lance for wanting to leave with the way the asshats next to him were carrying on. Poor guy probably thought the whole place was laughing at him. Chris glared at the two men at the counter as he turned away, letting his sneer slide over the waitress and the rest of her diner as it went, just to demonstrate their lack of impression on him. If they couldn't see what a great guy Lance was, then they didn't deserve any attention anyway.
Chris had parked on the street, and as Lance and Chris got into the car, a last echo of laughing hilarity reached their ears from the diner as someone else opened the door to enter or leave. Lance frowned with infuriated disgust as he slammed the door to Chris' old beater with innappropriate violence. Chris just raised a single eyebrow at Lance's little show of temper, but he figured Lance had probably needed it.
"You break anything and Mama Bass is getting the bill," Chris told him, hoping to get Lance to open up when he attempted to justify himself, but it didn't work. Lance only took a deep breath and stared out the window, resolutely silent as Chris started the car and pulled away from the curb. Lance hadn't had to walk more than half a mile to reach the diner, and he remained silent for the entire length of the short drive. Chris took his cue from Lance, figuring he'd speak up when he was good and ready, and pulled over behind Joey's Buick on the side of the I-4 without saying a word.
Lance got out of the car when Chris did, following him to the front of Joey's car and handing the keys over without having to be asked. He'd locked the doors at least, no dummy was Lance despite what laughing diner patrons may have thought. Chris unlocked the Buick and slid behind the wheel, inserting the key in the ignition and turning it and only raising an eyebrow when absolutely nothing happened. Dead as a doornail indeed.
Chris popped the hood and went to look under it, thankful he had a miniature flashlight on his keychain because Joey's beloved Buick was too ancient to have a convenience bulb built into the hood. Sure enough, when he shined the flashlight over the electrical, one of the battery leads was connected just fine, but the other wasn't. It looked like it was still connected, just a bit crooked, but that didn't look particularly out of place, given the Buick's age. When Chris flipped up the contact's cover, he could see it had worked its way loose and see it was no longer in contact with the battery's terminal.
Trying to run a car that old with no battery, just the alternator, and after dark with the headlights on? No wonder Joey's Buick had died on Lance, probably at the first stop. Lance was lucky to have gotten as far as he he had. Chris pulled a pair of pliers from his car out of his pocket and got to work; it only took a minute to finish loosening the contact and slide it back into its proper position, then tighten it down properly. Chris had been worried that maybe the battery might have been run down, because if that were why the car had died, he didn't have jumper cables and had no idea if Joey's Buick did or not, but since it was just a connection issue, the battery should be fine.
Chris grinned slightly when the Buick's engine turned over without a problem, but Lance didn't smile or even look relieved, although Chris knew he must be. Chris got out of the car and watched as Lance silently got in it, fastidiously checking the mirrors and fastening his seat belt. Chris shook his head and trotted back to his own car, jumping in and pulling into the first possible break in traffic. He supposed that was slightly mean; Lance would wait for an appreciable gap in the I-4's traffic before pulling away from the curb, because he didn't have anything like Chris' level of driving experience yet, and he was driving someone else's car, to boot. Joey's car, as a matter of fact, the car which Joey had an ongoing love affair with and had only loaned to Lance out of the generousness of his big Italian heart and because Lance was his best friend. Lance would probably drive like a grandma the whole way home, just in fear of anything else happening to the Buick.
Knowing he would beat Lance home and probably by a fair margin, Chris decided he was going to shower, and if he still couldn't sleep after that, he'd make Lance open up about whatever was bothering him. A burden shared was less burdening, or however that old adage went. Chris was too tired to remember.
He got home in short order, nodding to JC where he was relaxing on the couch with his headphones on and tugging on Justin's curls as he went by. Justin was playing Nintendo and gave an obligatory squawk of protest, but he knew Chris had to get to bed, so he didn't even bother to pause his game to say anything. Chris had already crossed the living room and was headed to the room he shared with Lance anyway.
Chris stripped off and wrapped a towel around his waist, grabbing a pair of shorts to wear to bed and heading down the hall to the bathroom. He took just a little bit of extra time in the shower, hoping the pressure of the hot water might unkink enough of the tension in him that he could possibly go to sleep. Maybe if he could get his body to relax, his mind might follow suit. But he knew that was a vain hope, so he began to wonder about Lance's evening. Obviously, having to be rescued and listening to people laugh at him while he waited hadn't made Lance's night, but he'd been so quiet. Silent, actually.
As he thought about it, Lance's behavior made Chris wonder what else had happened, how Lance's Charming College Boy from Rollins had treated him. Considering how tense Lance had been, Chris began to suspect the answer was "not very well, actually", which only made Chris' tension rise, along with his blood pressure. He forced himself to relax, knowing Lance didn't need Chris to defend his honor or whatever. Chris would just have to coax the details out of Lance, just to make sure. Just in case.
Chris briskly rubbed himself dry and pulled on his shorts, then draped his towel over his shoulders, figuring his hair was still short enough to drip-dry in fairly short order. It was growing out, but it wasn't that long yet, and Chris was more interested in making sure Lance was as okay as he was pretending to be than in keeping his pillow pristinely dry. Not like he was going to be sleeping anytime soon anyway, damnit.
Lance was in their room, lying on his bed reading with the little overhead light above his bed and doing that thing where he purposely ignored the world around him. It was a good trick, useful when people were trying to be subtle jerks like at the diner, but there was no reason for it here and now. Lance was obviously avoiding JC and Justin and maybe even Lynn; he would probably want to avoid Chris, too, if he'd thought it through that far, but Chris was willing to bet Lance had seen Chris was in the shower and decided alone-in-the-room was good enough. Chris knew Lance was still getting used to sharing his space, to sharing it with Chris instead of a family member specifically, but the fact that Lance was hiding just meant he didn't want to talk about his night.
Right, sit there and stew on your problems, Bass, that's healthy. We'll see about that.
Chris dropped onto his bed with a groan, pulling his pillow over his head and knowing it would get an immediate reaction out of Lance.
"Sorry, sorry..." Lance said hastily, and Chris could hear him scrambling off of his bed. "I'll just...let me get my stuff," he finished, and Chris could hear Lance crossing the room towards the light switch as he said it. Chris thought that was kind of funny, actually: how was Lance going to find his stuff in the dark?
"Nah, man," Chris said, from under the pillow. "You're fine. I'm too fucking wired to sleep." Chris heard Lance settle back onto his bed; he could practically hear the tentative in Lance's movements. He figured Lance was probably looking at him, maybe even openly, since Chris' head was under a pillow. Chris was unselfconscious enough to bare a little skin around Lance without caring; heck, Lance had come out to the four of them, five counting Justin's mom, just come right out to a bunch of strangers. Lance didn't want a secret that could hang the group up being hidden like it was something ugly, and Chris respected that. Hell, Chris hadn't told anyone he was bi; Lance had bigger balls than he did. The last thing Chris was going to do was go out of his way to keep himself covered, do anythihg to make Lance self-conscious or uncomfortable. He could look if he liked.
But that wasn't the point. The plan was to get Lance to open up, share his problems so they didn't eat him from the inside out, so Chris needed to say something to get Lance talking, before he just decided to leave and let Chris try to go to sleep anyway.
"Fuck," Chris said, deciding the truth would actually work. And there was the whole Best Policy thing. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, I'm so fucking tired and my brain won't shut the fuck up."
"Count sheep?" Lance suggested, and Chris could tell from the sound of his voice he hadn't even looked up from his book. He was willing to bet he could keep listening and not hear any pages turn, though; Lance was using his book as a prop, just another way to hide.
"They give me nightmares," was Chris' deft answer to that suggestion. The fact that he could say anything at any time meant that Lance couldn't be sure whether Chris meant it or not, much less call him on it.
"JC swears by whatever tea it is that's supposed to be relaxing," Lance tried, but at least now he sounded like he was sincerely trying to help. Of course, the tea JC swore by changed every few days, and if it did work, Chris would have been on it weeks ago.
Chris raised his pillow just enough to free his mouth and made a flatulatory noise with his upper lip in response.
"I'll bet Lynn will make you warm milk if you ask her nicely." Knowing he could make his own suggestion next, what with the third time being the charm and all, Chris pulled out all the stops and made an even mre rude sound in reply. Besides, that had been Lance's fourth try, if you counted the sheep, and Chris wasn't going to support Lance's support of Justin's Southern Mama's Boy habits. Lynn could make Justin warm milk, thanksmuch.
"That's all I've got," Lance admitted, and Chris smiled beneath his pillow, silently congratulating himself for a plan well-executed. "Tell me a story?" he asked, making sure to put just a hint of toddler in his voice, not enough to make it obnoxious and dismissable.
"Lord, Chris. Where do you come up with this stuff?" Lance asked, and Chris could hear that Lance was muttering the question into the hand he'd put over his face. Chris rolled over to face Lance, letting his grin spread as he saw Lance bracing himself because it fit his next move so well.
"Laaaaance," Chris said in a sing-song voice as he grinned. "Laaaaance. Tell me a sto-ry," he finished, batting his eyelashes pleadingly. It probably made him look insane when combined with the grin, but that was okay. Chris knew he could take appearing insane to the bank.
"Once upon a time, there was this royal pain in the a--..." Lance started, then ducked the pillow Chris flung at him. Lance smiled his best innocent smile in response. "What?" he asked, as if he didn't know.
"Not that kind of a story," Chris said, flopping back down onto his bed, sprawling flat since he no longer had a pillow. "Tell me a truuuuuue story."
"The other one wasn't?" Lance asked, smirking doubtfully.
"Tell me the story of your date," Chris said, shifting gears from toddler-parody to Sarcastic Old Man, toned down but still over-the-top enough to be distinct from his normal level of sarcasm and greater experience. "Let me live vicariously, because who the fuck can remember the last time I had anything remotely resembling a life." Chris was pretty sure he hadn't dropped into his normal tone of sarcastic complaint when he said that. He hoped.
"Oh," Lance said, frowning guiltily. He looked like he didn't want to answer, which Chris already knew, but also like he felt he had to. Probably because Chris had come and picked him up, not to mention covered his coffee. So Chris felt justified guilting Lance into answering, which had been the point of his whole scheme here, anyway. "It was, um, okay," Lance finished, shifting uncomfortably.
Good grief. Was Lance that embarrassed to share details of his love life? Even a first date?
"Whoa. Way to thrill me, Bass. At least JC'll tell me what he had for dinner before he gets all modest and circumspect," Chris said drolly, knowing there was more to whatever had happened to ruin Lance's night than just that and Joey's car breaking down.
"Chicken fingers and fries," Lance snapped back, getting irritated. "And a Coke."
Okay, fine. If Lance was going to be pissy about it, he could deal with his own burdens, without keeping Chris awake. He was only trying to help. Or get to sleep.
"Right," Chris answered, just as shortly. "Sorry, didn't mean to pry." Lance's mouth dropped open in surprise. "I..." he began to protest, but Chris cut him off.
"No, really," Chris said, pulling his covers up and rolling away to turn his back on Lance. "Forget I asked."
Chris waited, knowing Lance's genteel Southern manners would make him give in and open up.
"It sucked, okay?" Lance said despondently a moment later.
He sounded so dejected, geeze. Chris needed to cheer Lance up, pronto. He'd known that, but he hadn't realized just how upset Lance really was with his evening. Ever ready to crack wise (even when it wasn't wise to do so, here's hoping not this time...) Chris tipped his head back until he could see Lance, meet his eyes. It wasn't hard, since he was on his side with no pillow under his head anyway.
"How can you screw up chicken fingers?" he asked, suppressing his smirk because he was only joking to get Lance to open up, lighten up, not to pick on him.
"Not the dinner, Chris. The whole night. The high point of the whole stupid thing was having to be rescued," Lance answered, then took a deep breath and stared at his book. Chris clearly heard the by you that Lance didn't say out loud.
Chris stayed quiet, not moving. He knew Lance was aware of his gaze, and he knew Lance was familiar with the focus Chris could apply when something was important, like when rehearsals started to go too far out of control or a performance took a wrong turn. Chris knew Lance would respond to that intensity.
"It was just," Lance let his pent-up breath out with a sigh, looking up to meet Chris' eyes. "Stupid."
"C'mon, a nice college boy from Rollins?" Chris laughed sharply, making it clear he thought the guy must be a loser if the night he'd given Lance was that bad. "He asked you to dinner and a movie. If he was any more your type, he'd be you," Chris finished sarcastically, egging Lance on to explain himself in detail.
Lance looked down, picking at the spine of his book.
"He wasn't," Lance said, shrugging as he continued to avoid Chris' expectant gaze. "My type."
Chris remained still, just kept his eyes focused on Lance. He knew how everyone saw him, crazy-manic and hyperactive, but they generally forgot he had almost become a psychologist. He knew how much of an impact it made when he finally held still, not to mention the intensity of his focus when he actually chose to use it on something, rare as those occasions might be. Chris waited Lance out, resisting the urge to smirk when Lance started speaking, almost looking like he was surprised he was doing it.
"He was so… pompous. He couldn't shut up long enough to hear anything I might say; he was way too impressed with himself and how busy college kept you, not like high school, and how it sucked that his dad insisted that he work a whole four hours a week -four hours, Chris, four hours, he probably spends more time than that looking at his perfect face in the mirror- and, and it was so ridiculous, I couldn't help laughing at him. I mean, really. He's not working two jobs and rehearsing ten hours a day, like you and JC and Joey. He's not even working as hard as Justin..."
"Or you," Chris jumped in to say, wanting Lance to know he was appreciated. "Don't think we don't see how fucking hard you work at this."
"I--you--thanks," Lance stammered, and Chris was glad he had interrupted because Lance looked like he hadn't actually known.
"No problem," Chris answered, making sure Lance knew he meant it, saying it straight, no sarcasm, no teasing. Then he smirked and added the sarcasm back to his voice. "But really, Bass, laughing at your date? Smooth, very smooth. I can just picture it -the low, intimate lighting of...?"
"Ruby Tuesdays," Lance muttered, glancing away. "At the mall."
"Oh, yeah, classy," Chris smirked. "You were supposed to be impressed by his suave knowledge of the menu, kid. I'll bet laughing at him went over like the fucking proverbial lead balloon," he finished, his smirk spreading into a grin.
"Please. What did I care at that point?" Lance said dismissively, rolling his eyes. He looked like Chris' description of the evening would have been an improvement.
"Not arguing with you there. Laughing at the dumbasses'll keep you sane," Chris told him, wondering if Lance would realize how much of a Not Very Big Deal his night was in the grand scheme of things. Hopefully he would hand Chris the chance to explain as much to him.
"And alone," Lance mumbled, then pursed his lips in a frown of self-admonishment, probably for being a whiner or something. Or maybe he was biting his tongue, but Bingo, either way The perfect opening.
"Nah," Chris drawled with a laugh. "You're not even close to the Bad First Date Hall of Fame. Not that I would know anything about it myself, but if you want proof, it'll only take a beer or two to get the spaz downstairs -the other spaz, not the kid- to spill some of his more oblivious moments in dating history. You know that's gotta be a riot," Chris said with another grin.
Chris gave Lance a knowing look and a sly smirk, and Lance laughed, which had been the point. He could tell Lance had let go of some of his stress, Mission Accomplished.
"Thanks, but I'm pretty sure I'm not ready for dating tips from a buzzed JC," Lance drawled with a smirk of his own.
"Much as I hate to admit it, that's probably a wise move," Chris said with a nod. He stretched, kicking his damp towel in the general direction of the door, to take to the laundry room next time he got up. He turned to Lance to ask another question, this time out of his own curiosity. "So, if preppy college boys aren't your type, what is?"
Lance blinked like he found the question amusing. Chris watched him anyway, patiently waiting for an answer.
"Dunno," Lance shrugged, but Chris thought it looked like he was being honest when he did it. Like he hadn't figured out his type yet. He was still in high school, technically; maybe he hadn't.
"Well, think about it, and get back to me when you figure it out," Chris told him, letting Lance draw his own conclusions.
Lance watched Chris for a moment, carefully, examining his face, or maybe aspects of it. Maybe considered other aspects of Chris while he was at it, like his sarcasm and the way he'd come out to rescue you when your borrowed car died, maybe. Then Lance looked like he reached a conclusion.
"Yeah," Lance said, still looking at Chris' eyes from across the room. "I'll do that."
Time seemed to pause, and Chris wanted to grin, but he didn't want to break the spell of the moment either, until he yawned; he could help it. The moment passed, but the promise remained, and Chris gave Lance a small, quiet nod.
Lance got up from his bed, tossing Chris' pillow he had dodged before back to him.
"Thanks for coming to get me, and doing whatever to Joey's car so he won't kill me. I'm gonna go hang with the J's so you don't paralyze yourself on a back flip tomorrow because you didn't get your full three hours of sleep," Lance told him, smiling softly as he said it.
Chris let him get all the way to the door before he called out, making sure the smirk in his voice came through loud and clear. "Hey, Bass."
Lance turned and looked back over his shoulder.
"It's been a long time since I was the high point of anybody's night. I'm gonna write this date down so I'll remember it forever and ever," Chris told him, smiling all the while.
Lance's mouth twitched to one side in the beginning of a smirk, but then he cut it short to answer, completely deadpan:
"Wait, let me go raid JC's backpack for the pink markers."
Chris grinned, delighted with Lance's playing along.
"Oooo, do they smell like roses?" he asked, batting his eyelashes again.
"Watermelon," Lance replied, still completely deadpan. Chris snickered in reply.
"Even better. Dear Diary, Today was The Best Day Ever," Chris said with a happy grin, fluffing his pillow under his head.
Lance turned the light off on his way out the door.