in the heart, a little house

She's utterly gorgeous, and completely unaware of Justin, but since she's a yoga teacher, that's about right. Yoga people are above such things, Justin feels sure. Plus, it's probably wrong to perv on a holy woman, or whatever she is. He shifts uncomfortably, watching as she flows across the mats and settles into an easy tangle of limbs and closes her eyes.

After a few minutes Justin shifts again, pushing his legs out in front of him on the mat. He's bored already, watching everybody in the class stretching slowly, making silly breathy noises through the nose. He has a million things to do. Chris and Joey want his notes from Statistics. And Lance'll have his ass in a basket if he doesn't get the new choreography down by next week. Way too much to do to be sitting around like this.

"Jeez, when is this class even gonna start," he whispers to the guy next to him. The guy jerks a little and his head comes up off the floor, and Justin hears a snort behind him because his voice really carries, sometimes he forgets. The guy opens his eyes and smiles.

The teacher says something in a soft, low voice, but Justin doesn't catch it. The guy's eyes are the bluest he's ever seen. He can't look away until the guy rises like water flowing downhill, and everybody in the class is standing except Justin, lying there poleaxed.

In a little bit he scrambles up, peering around furtively. No one seems to notice he's out of step. The teacher moves slowly, pushing her hands over her head and then touching her palms to the floor, and Justin tries to follow her movements exactly, but he's the only one, it seems. Everyone else... they're doing it, but not together. It's ragged. Justin shakes his head. They have a lot to learn.

The guy with the eyes is rail thin but muscular, and he's the slowest one of all. Everything the teacher does, he finishes up way after the rest of the class, moving his body like he's swimming through syrup. Justin wonders about him, why he's there. Why anyone's there, for that matter. This stretching, it's a nice warmup, that's all. And the teacher's not revealing any heavy secrets, as far as Justin can tell, just describing how her bones are made of glass or something. Justin wants to roll his eyes so bad.

Yoga is supposed to be, like, this great spiritual thing. To Justin, it just seems dumb. Until they start chanting, and the guy's voice fills the room. His eyes are closed, his face serene. It's the most... Justin can't figure it out, but it's the rightest thing he's ever heard.

..........

"I'm too what?"

Lance crosses his arms and looks down his nose. Justin hates that look, essential deadpan snark, but Lance's opinion about his craft means a lot so he lets it go. It wasn't easy getting into Lance's troupe, one of the most respected dance companies in town. Lance hadn't been sure about accepting him although he nailed the auditions, Justin feels sure. He had to fast talk his way in, though, and his reward is the nose look, often. He knows he'll learn a lot from Lance, plus punch up his resume, if Lance doesn't drive him fricking insane first.

"Too perfect, Justin. Too technical. You have all the moves, but it's like I can see you thinking about them all the time."

Justin throws his hands out in an involuntary spasm of irritation. "You're yelling at me for thinking? Dude."

Lance gives him the look again, GOD.

"Now that was more like it, actually. But we're not doing any pieces based on immaturity right now, so you'll just have to save that particular move."

The choreographer steps forward and Lance tilts his head to listen for a moment. When he turns his attention back to Justin, his voice is cool as always, deep and bland, but Justin can hear the difference. Lance is done with him. "Anyway, Justin. You are going to continue with the yoga class, because your dancing will benefit. And there you have it." He turns away.

Glaring at the filthy rotten snickerers around him does no good, but it sure feels great, and so does shooting them the finger behind his back. Justin musters up every ounce of patience in his soul to try again.

"Lance, Lance, I understand that you're trying to teach me a lesson here. No. I mean, you know. You know, teach me. But Lance! Yoga. I feel like a retard in there. Please, Lance, come on."

Lance waves him off. "Dance, puppets," he says, his standard session opener, and the music begins and everyone moves into place. Justin slumps and kicks at the floor, and sneaks another glare at the snickerers as he takes his mark. It's a sad, sad day when begging does no good, but that's Lance for you.

..........

So here he is, back on the mats again. Again the sleepy silence, nobody talking before the beginning of class at all, and who are these people, pod aliens? No talking at all, not natural. Justin squats crosslegged, feeling like a kid, and looks around the room with a sigh.

The guy with the eyes is over there by the wall with the big windows, but he's not looking out at the gorgeous day. He's got his long legs stretched out flat on the floor and Justin's back twinges just looking at him, his face all smashed into his knees like that, but he seems perfectly comfortable, his hands resting on his ankles and his shirt pulled up over the small of his back. Justin looks away quickly.

The teacher finishes her bending and stretching and sits still, and everybody else ends up sitting too, looking back at her. "Yoga," she says as though she only just thought of it, "is the restraint of the modifications of the mind."

Let the eye rolling begin, Justin thinks, and she turns her head and it's like she's talking right to him, looking at him for the first time.

"Strong emotion is so distracting," she says. "So, oftentimes we try to control it by holding it still in the tissues of our bodies. Yoga teaches us that we can let all that emotion go, and pretty soon we're not reacting to every little ripple across the pond. Today I'd like for you to think about that, and when you feel any discomfort in your practice, just watch it come and go. You don't always have to respond."

She closes her eyes and breathes in through her nose, and did she really just tell them to be robots or something? Lance won't like that. But Justin has to admit he has no clue what she's really getting at. Her words make sense, sort of, only not on a level Justin can actually, like, understand. He shrugs a little and sneaks a peek over at the guy, who opens his eyes and looks back. Justin whips his gaze away at lightspeed. The teacher opens her eyes too and smiles, suddenly.

"Of course, if your body is telling you it feels extreme pain, then please do listen to that and back off." She closes her eyes again and a few people around Justin make appreciative noises. What was that, yoga humor? Justin watches the teacher doubtfully until she stands up and starts moving, and finally class begins.

Some parts of class are cool, like when she tells them to imagine their guts sliding around a pole, stomach liver intestines revolving around the spine when their bodies twist. Very horror movie, Justin can appreciate that, although he can't help but picture a little alien head nosing around in there, looking for a way out. But when she tells them to imagine lines drawn in space beyond the stretch of a hand or a foot, Justin invariably overbalances and lurches across the mat. It's tremendously embarrassing, although no one seems to notice when he does a quick side to side check. Still, a dancer, losing his balance. Humiliating.

Mostly, though, Justin can't get past the part of his soul that mocks fiercely whenever she says "imagine your arms are the branches of a tree" or something completely woo-woo like that. Really love your peaches wanna shake your tree, Justin thinks to himself and topples over sideways. The guy, of course, is standing straight and tall and totally at ease on one foot when Justin glances over, and he slowly folds forward to put his hands on the floor as Justin watches enviously. Very bendy. Justin can imagine some advantages to that. Also, the guy has a fantastic ass. Justin frowns and looks down at his foot but it looks nothing like the roots of a tree, not even when he spreads his toes.

And then they chant.

It's even more amazing than the last time. The guy just sits there, this skinny guy with his eyes closed, but when he opens his mouth this huge sound comes out. His voice is rich and full and perfect, and it goes on and on and on until it settles right into Justin's bones, and pretty soon he feels a sound struggling up to meet it from his own chest, so he opens his mouth and lets it out. He watches the guy and hums, and just hums and hums and watches his calm face, and when the chant starts to fade and everyone falls into silence, Justin doesn't want to stop. When they lay down to meditate or whatever it is they do, Justin's insides are still reverberating.

He thinks about that for a while, wonders idly if the little alien in his guts was chanting too, and wonders what the guy thinks about when he chants, although truthfully Justin doesn't remember thinking, just the sound. Just the sound and the breathing, and the teacher is telling them to breathe now so he does, because he wants to get it right. And then she's telling them to get in touch with their inner something-or-other, but by then Justin's all cozy and muzzy and her words drift by on the current. Joey's toasting him with a Guinness while Chris whispers in the yoga teacher's ear and she giggles, huh, and the guy's looking at him with hunger in those catlike eyes, licking his lips, and this is the best dream ever.

When Justin wakes up and wipes drool from his cheek, no one's left in the room except the teacher packing up her stuff and the guy sitting on the floor with his eyes closed and legs all twisted together, somewhere else completely. Falling asleep during meditation! Probably snoring while everyone listened and laughed! Justin feels hopeless.

The teacher slings her pack across her body and glances at Justin, smiling when he grimaces apologetically but she doesn't say a word, just crosses the mat and sinks down into an effortless squat in front of the guy.

"Good morning," she murmurs.

He opens his eyes and it's like he's a million miles away. "Hmm," he says, drawing in a huge breath and moving his shoulders a little. She pats the mat in front of him and gets up to leave, glancing at Justin again as she drifts through the door.

"Thanks, Lila," the guy says and looks around like he can't believe he's here, and sees Justin and looks around again. "Oh," he says, smiling.

"Good class," Justin offers. The guy makes another humming noise but he doesn't really answer, so Justin waits while he gets his books and his shoes and then follows him out of the gym silently.

Out in the sunshine the guy's blinking and stretching like after a nap, and Justin catches a glimpse of skin between his sweatpants and t-shirt and bites his lip to stop staring. The guy looks at him sideways out of the corner of his eye, and his lips quirk up in a tiny smile.

"Hey, so --" Justin begins, but the guy turns away quickly.

"Um, bye," he says, and takes off. Justin watches him for a while until he realizes his mouth is open in arrested surprise. The guy's practically stumbling across the grass to the stone fountain near the music building, shoulders hunched, cradling his books to him like someone'll knock them out of his arms. Justin's hot sexy blue-eyed yoga demon with the gorgeous voice is, apparently, a geek of the first water. Figures.

..........

Of course Justin has to keep an extra-sharp eye on the guy after that, looking for signs of impending geekfit or something, who knows. Even Justin has to admit he's hopeless like that. Strange people fascinate him. But in the big room with the mats and the windows the guy is anything but a geek. He's strong and limber, totally smooth and sure, and his voice, wow. And every time he catches Justin watching him, blinks up from some scrunched up position and catches Justin's eye, Justin's stomach does this odd flippy thing that he likes. It's just, those eyes. Plus, whenever he's in the room with the mats the guy's filled with, like, this peace. It's really cool.

In the real world Justin would think he had a crush on the guy, but that's not possible, as if, a person like that. It must be the funky yoga mojo finally working, making him more insightful, more aware of other people. Whatever. At any rate, he has to admit all the meditating and chanting and tying his body up in knots has made him a lot calmer. He almost doesn't jump out of his skin when someone grabs him after the fourth class and whirls him around, and when someone else noogies his head as he hangs there limp, he makes no effort at all to smash them into pulp. He just feels too good. Yoga is bad for the self-defense, it seems. After a few minutes the someone sets Justin upright again, and it's Joey of course and Chris is there too, swinging Justin's bag around his head like a bolo.

"Hey there, Justin," Chris says.

"Gimme my pack, you shit," Justin says, grinning widely.

"Such language," Chris says, but he hands over the bag. Justin heads for the student union and they trail after him across the quad, kicking leaves and pushing each other like the children they are.

"You goin' to class today, J?" Joey asks.

"Eh."

Maybe he will, maybe not. Joey nods, and Justin knows he's thinking the same thing, because Joey's just like him, only with music. If it's not a core class who cares, and Statistics, not so vital, to Justin's way of thinking. Beside him Chris cackles so Justin glances at him suspiciously.

"How's yooooooga, Justin?"

"Shut up! We're learning all kinds of important mystical techniques. It's very very cool."

He hitches the bag up his shoulder irritably, feeling the mellow of a few minutes ago draining away. Joey smacks him on the back of the head companionably and says to Chris, "It's very very required for J not to get kicked out of Lance's company."

"Ooooooohhhhh, Lance's company," Chris says. "A test of loyalty, or what? Because I mean, yoga."

Justin makes a face and gestures helplessly. He has no desire to explain to his friends why Lance wants him in this yoga class. They would never understand anyway, both of them singing since birth practically, no doubt about their talent at all.

"Whoa," Chris says suddenly.

Justin looks up and there's his blue-eyed geek loping by, head down, graceful and clumsy all at once, holding his books like a shield. He must have finally gotten done with that pose, moving like a glacier the way he does.

"Hey!" Justin says, pleased for no accountable reason. The guy jumps a mile and looks at him and blushes to the roots of his unruly hair.

"Hi," he mumbles, then smiles suddenly and Justin feels like clutching his heart, it's so amazing to see. The guy glances at Chris and Joey and says "Oh! Oh, hey," and then he's off, practically running away but his head's up and his back, straight. After a minute Justin becomes aware that his mouth is hanging open and he's staring after the guy, so he pulls himself together.

Chris and Joey are staring with their mouths open too, but they're looking at him, and Justin squirms, waiting for it. But then Chris shakes his head like he's waking up.

"Dude, you know JC?"

Chris's voice is solemn and impressed. Joey looks at him and says, "Wow," and Chris nods back and clearly JC must be like the King of the Geeks, the Geek Overlord or something, and Chris and Joey his loyal subjects. Justin shrugs.

"That guy? Yeah, he's in my yoga class."

They gape at him for a minute, then Joey says to Chris, "JC's in his yoga class." Chris makes an oh, my god! face back and what the fuck, they both turn and look at Justin again.

"You been hanging out in the wrong places, man," Joey says. "You don't have a clue, do you?"

"He doesn't have a clue," Chris affirms. "When was the last time you hit the Basement?"

Justin shrugs irritably. "It's not my kind of place, I guess," he says.

"True, no one shushes you if you sneeze there," Chris says. "Justin, my boring young friend... Justin. I hardly know how to tell you this. That guy in your yoga class is JC Chasez."

"So? He has a last name. I can see why you're thrilled."

"JC Chasez? Flyers everywhere? Stencils all over buildings and sidewalks? His show is tomorrow night?"

"His show," Justin says. "The Basement? He's, what. A singer?"

Chris grabs Joey and swings him around, almost mowing down a group of backpacked freshmen who scatter like birds across the pavement. "Joey. Joey! He wants to know if JC's a singer."

Joey lowers his head and they commiserate in silence for a minute, shaking their heads mournfully.

"Guys, come on," Justin says.

"Okay," Joey says. "Justin, yes. JC is a singer. Although that's a little like calling the Pope a good Catholic. You'll just have to come to the show tomorrow night and see for yourself."

"I can't," Justin says, feeling like a tool. "I can't stay out. I have yoga in the morning."

"Yoga, huh." Chris looks at Joey speculatively.

"No!" Justin says, suddenly desperate. "Absolutely not. No way."

"We'll pick you up at nine," Joey says and shakes his arm affectionately, and Chris grins at him and nods like one of those bobbleheads in the back window of a car.

..........

It really isn't Justin's kind of place, all cracked black concrete and graffitti on the walls and people with strangely colored hair and metal sprouting out of their faces, but Joey says "Honey, I'm home!" to the bartender and makes several smoochy noises as she smirks and pushes the dreads out of her eyes. Chris is busy talking to every single person in the place in turn, it seems, so Justin settles back with a Bud and looks around.

It's a good crowd. A great crowd, actually, and Justin can see why Joey and Chris insisted they get here so early. People are lined up along the walls and all the tables are full, the dance floor's already packed with a jam of moving bodies, everybody's boogying to the background music but oriented toward the small stage, waiting, excited, buzzing with energy. Justin can see posters all over with JC's face staring out at him, and damn, he looks wild, he looks fine, and the place is filled with his fans. It's crazy.

It takes forever for the show to start of course, Justin's forgotten what it's like in this kind of bar, but at least Joey keeps handing him beers and there's always something to watch, somebody dancing or shouting or oh, making out. People are getting really amped up, the air is thick with smoke and body heat and excitement, and when the music gets really loud and then cuts off suddenly, Justin's gripping the edge of his seat and leaning forward eagerly. And then JC steps out.

It's really him. Justin can't believe it, it's really him, but the crowd knows and they go fucking mad, just this slight guy in jeans and a t-shirt but he takes the stage and takes them over like he was born to it. The way he dances, Justin doesn't think he can ever go back to Lance's company again. The way he sings, Justin's hard and ready in a second and off his seat and dancing in the crowd without a thought.

It's not his kind of music at all, but he never wants it to end. It's like he's alive, finally, and awake, and he never ever wants it to end. It never will end, it can't, just this crazy pulsing music and JC's sly rough voice winding all through him, and dancing with all the other manic fuckers screaming right alongside, it has to go on forever. But then suddenly the lights are up and JC's off the stage and Joey's pulling him along behind Chris and they're spilling out into the empty streets with the rest of the raging crowd.

"Oh my god, oh my god!" Justin says, hugging himself in shock. "You didn't tell me! Oh my god!"

"We told you," Joey says, wrapping his arms around Justin and jumping up and down with him on the sidewalk.

"Oh, my god," Justin repeats, dazed, and Chris laughs like a hyena.

..........

Next time Justin sees him he's just the same guy getting ready for class by the windows, nowhere near the powerhouse he was on stage, yeah, but not the awkward rabbit either, a mystery. Justin watches him stretch until he realizes he's watching and turns his head away, but pretty soon he's looking over there again and JC looks back. There's a strange serious expression on his face and he's not nervous, Justin doesn't think, but he's also not smiley like he sometimes gets. Just serious, like he has unexpected things going through his mind, a man of unexpected depths, clearly. Suddenly Justin realizes he's staring again and whips his head around to watch his feet instead. Thank god Joey and Chris never showed up after all.

When Lila glides into class he's still wondering about JC's expression, but she starts to talk about diet and body types and stuff like that and it's interesting and practical stuff for once. Justin's just wishing he had his notebook and mechanical pencil when the door to the gym slams open and Chris strides in.

"Hey!" he says, loud as usual. Everyone looks up and Justin winces, although Chris is pretty much just grinning, oblivious.

Surprisingly, Lila says "Hey!" back, and Chris nods and looks around and down at his feet on the mat and steps backwards onto the gym floor. "Oops," he says, and starts to take off his shoes.

"Just find a spot when you're ready and relax," Lila says.

"Cool," Chris says, and does. Not even a glance at Justin and suddenly he's part of the class, one of them, and Justin really wishes he could seethe about that but it seems like too much effort. He's too calm. Yoga sucks for righteous indignation.

They do the usual bending and balancing, or not-balancing in Justin's case, GOD, and Chris snorts and giggles his way through it unashamed, and surprisingly there's no feeling of disapproval in the workout space, just Lila smiling more than usual and JC smiling less, but not because of Chris. At least Justin doesn't think so. JC meets his eyes every time he looks over and looks away immediately, and Justin wonders if he's being an asshole or something, making JC feel uncomfortable. He doesn't want that at all.

"Okay," Lila says after a few minutes. "Let's try something a little different today."

Next thing he knows Justin's standing alone in the middle of the mats while everyone else pairs off. "Partners yoga" sounds like something from one of Joey's special videos, and Justin gets a bad, bad feeling as he realizes the only other unpaired person in the room is JC, who's looking intently out the window. "Hmm," Lila says, laying a gentle hand on Justin's shoulder. "Tall."

A really bad feeling, a sinking feeling, and JC's face changes too and somehow that makes it worse. "I think you could work with JC, though. He's just about your height," Lila says, and fuck. She pats Justin and he finds himself lurching toward JC, and JC watches him with that serious expression for a minute, but then he smiles and everything is okay.

"Hey," Justin says, cool as a cucumber, a totally non-threatening cucumber, chill as fuck.

"Hi," JC says. "Um --" He makes a spinning motion with his hand so Justin turns around.

It's a shock all up and down his body when JC backs up and stands there head to head with him like mom's gonna compare how much they've grown. JC's hair tickles the back of Justin's neck and his shoulderblades are a little bony, and he's not as serene and unaffected as Justin thought he'd be, his whole body is thrumming against Justin's. Every tiny move he makes sends a fingernail scrape of awareness across Justin's skin and down into his bones. This could get ugly. Justin resolves to behave and holds his breath.

"All righty," Lila says. "Some of you know the drill. Just some easy poses, some forward and backward bends. The idea is to listen to your partner's body, to move in the best way for you both, to help your partner achieve the position and vice versa. Young man, I don't believe Randy needs any help moving that part of her body."

Laughter and vague scuffling, but Justin is dying, dying, he wants to be dead. The idea of helping JC to achieve a position is just too... he can feel his skin getting more and more sensitized, flushed and hotter, and the hairs on his arms stand up when JC whispers "I'll go first" and starts to bend forward, so that Justin is draped belly-up over his back like a sacrificial offering. JC, going first. Justin's whole head is turning blue from lack of oxygen. JC, bending over and going first. Justin gurgles and chokes and falls right off the side of JC's body, onto the mat.

When he opens his eyes JC is kneeling next to him, watching him with interest. "Wow," he says. "Are you okay?"

"Is he okay?" Lila calls from across the room. Justin waves a hand in the air weakly.

"Wanna try again?"

JC's smiling like he knows a secret. Justin sighs. "Yeah."

"Maybe you should, like, breathe more often."

Justin gives him a dark look and JC's smile turns into the biggest geekiest most eye-crinkling grin Justin's ever seen, absolutely fucking appealing. Justin pushes himself up from the mat and prepares for his doom.

But actually things are easier now, a little less intense, and Justin is able to set the itchy simmering thing aside and just do the yoga with JC. It's pretty cool, because he gets to the point where he can feel how far JC needs to stretch, and he can almost feel which muscles are preventing JC from going just a little farther, and when he's flopped over backwards himself he figures out a way to breathe in time with JC that helps JC to hold him right at the edge of bending too far. Pretty cool, but also weird. He feels like he knows JC's body better than his own by the end of the session. That's kind of... he doesn't know what.

"Thanks, man," JC murmurs when they're done, and Justin nods, suddenly unable to speak. But he sends his voice out during the chanting and tries to blend it with JC's, and JC opens his eyes and looks at him and doesn't look away.

..........

So suddenly Chris is into yoga like it was his idea in the first place, like he invented it for fuck's sake, and he's all about asking Lila nine million questions after class which she answers with no apparent irritation, astonishing. Justin tags along with him because it gives him an excuse to watch JC winding up his final poses, because there's something about how JC doesn't seem to be moving at all until suddenly he's there that makes Justin feel a little lightheaded. He watches JC opening his eyes one day and smiling a cat smile of utter contentment, arching his spine on the mat, mmm, and realizes that not only is he licking his lips, but Chris and Lila are watching him, Chris with an expression of horrifying glee, and Lila like something's just occurred to her, shit.

"What," Justin says, lifting his chin.

"What? Nothing," Chris says happily and nods at Lila and takes off like the complete loser he is, and Justin's left with Lila, totally unable to think of anything to say. What do you say to a yoga teacher? Justin doesn't think he can fake the chakra talk, not at all. She's still looking at him with that strange knowledge in her eyes, though, so Justin figures a good preemptive strike is in order.

"So, like, I was wondering. Not wondering, really, so much as thinking. Thinking... I was wondering if you could, like, really kick my ass with this yoga stuff. I think I could use it."

"Kick your ass," Lila says.

"Yeah," Justin says, cutting a glance sideways. JC's piling up his books, has his shoes on already. "A real workout. You know."

"Hmm," Lila says. "Yes. I think I know what you mean. JC!"

Justin freezes absolutely still but it doesn't help, JC turns around with a questioning expression and then looks at Justin and his eyes, they're, oh. Justin can't look away. JC doesn't look away either, and Justin can hear some words or something but they don't make sense, and JC's got such a guarded thing going on deep in his gaze, it's too bad, Justin wonders what that's about. Then JC says "Okay, yes" and leaves, and Justin shakes his head to try to clear it.

"No?" Lila says.

"Huh?"

"If Tuesday mornings aren't okay, I'm sure JC will reschedule."

"Tuesday... reschedule?"

Lila pats his arm. "JC will help you with some extra yoga practice, Justin. Before your chemistry lab on Tuesdays. He's a good match for you, I think you'll do well." She smiles at him warmly, seemingly unaware of the sheer panic filling Justin's soul, and Justin stands there for a long time trying to fix it up in his head, but he can't convince himself that this is a horrible, very bad, doomed to disaster plan, even though it is. It's a chance to be close to JC.

..........

JC's already sitting on the mat when Justin pushes the door open hesitantly. He opens his eyes and smiles and says "Hey" and Justin's trapped.

"Hi," he says grimly, dropping his bag to the floor with a loud thunk.

"I think," JC says, rising in a single flowing movement, "We should... you don't have much experience with yoga, do you?"

Justin wants to be offended and scathing but he just can't. "Is it that obvious?" he says, and JC smiles, friendly and knowing.

"I can tell you're a dancer," he says, and his smile changes, focuses somehow. Justin feels such a zing all through him that it takes him a minute to realize JC didn't answer, not really, but that's okay. JC motions to the mats, so Justin toes off his shoes.

JC waits until he's ready and then cocks his head to the side. "We should start with the basics, yeah?"

Justin shrugs. He's not sure what the basics are, exactly.

"Yeah. Okay, so, I think, hmm. Why don't you stand in mountain pose and let me see how you do it?"

Justin looks at JC uncertainly, and JC blushes a little. "Um, just stand there?"

He can do that. Probably. Justin nods and tries to relax.

And tries, and tries some more. The problem is that JC's walking around him, looking at him, humming under his breath as though he doesn't know he's doing it, and Justin's growing more intensely aware of him by the minute, by the second. JC, looking at him. JC, checking him out. Justin squeezes his eyes shut.

"Okay, um."

Oh, it's torture, the sweep of JC's eyes, Justin can feel it. He wants to know what JC thinks of him, but he doesn't want to know, and everything inside him's clashing together, like, even though he tries make it stop for JC's sake. But then JC comes closer and Justin can't keep his eyes closed.

"You're holding a lot of tension right here." JC rests a hand on Justin's shoulder, right by his neck. "And here." His chest, right over his heart. "And you're not breathing."

Justin drags in a sudden breath. "Sorry," he manages, but his voice is hoarse. He's looking at JC's mouth, he knows it dimly, but he can't make himself look away.

"It's okay," JC says, amused. "Just --" He falls silent. Justin closes his eyes again, willing himself to calm down, trying to ignore his total awareness of JC's body, way too close to his own. Except, JC's not breathing either.

"Um."

JC sounds nervous. Justin's going to lose him. He stands as still as he can, trying to think fluffy, non-threatening thoughts, trying not to think. After a minute JC shifts a little closer, amazingly.

"Breathe," he whispers, and his hand on Justin's chest gets heavier. Justin opens his eyes, peering through his lashes. JC's watching him, that close, biting his lip.

"I will if you will," Justin mutters, and JC smiles suddenly.

"You first."

Oh. Justin takes in a long breath, his chest moving under JC's hand, an inhalation that fills him with warmth and light, transforms all of his tension into a hum that spreads throughout his body. After an eternity JC says "Hmm" and steps even closer, the quiet sound matching the thrill deep in Justin's bones, and then JC nudges up against him all at once.

He stands there and doesn't move. Just presses up against Justin, face next to his and breathing on his neck, all up on him like they're doing some stretching thing together. But JC's trembling a lot, not at all sure of himself it seems, and way too soon his voice breaks and the hum fades.

So Justin snakes a hand around his body, settles his palm onto the small of JC's back and lets a tiny trickle of sound escape his throat. JC startles against him and his hand over Justin's heart starts to push. Justin murmurs, "Hey, hey," right into his ear, but it doesn't help, JC draws in a ragged breath and pushes and he's gone, the metal door to the workout space clanging shut and all the warmth in the room and in Justin, gone.

"Fuck," Justin says.

..........

JC's not in class next time, first time ever.

And the next time they're supposed to work together Justin waits for most of the hour, sits on the mats and stretches as the sun pours through the dusty air, but JC never shows up. Finally he puts his shoes back on and goes home.

JC's not in class the time after that either, and Lila comes out of her calming stretches with a glance around the room, and looks at the spot near the windows and then at Justin.

"Today I'd like to talk about the concept of surrender," she says.

Justin doesn't really listen. Something seems to have happened to him, happened to his insides, and he feels so much lately like he fucked up bad, but he has no idea why. He's just a fuckup, maybe, or maybe he's just really a lot dumber than he thought he was, it's possible. Lila leads them into a position and Justin takes it listlessly, arms spread wide and head thrown back, chest wide open and his heart throbbing hard, and all he can think about is JC, where JC is, what he's thinking about, what he's feeling, if he's okay. JC.

He figures he could cry if he let himself, but he doesn't, he just hangs there, suspended, numb. But when he hears Chris's yelp from the corner of the room and a huge thud on the mat, the dead silence and then a few quiet snickers, Justin sneaks a hand up to his face and rubs his eyes.

Chanting helps. Chanting smooths everything out and Justin goes where the music leads him as always and it really helps, the certainty in Lila's voice, the crystalline intensity of Chris's pure, high tones. But Justin realizes the sound is different now, thinner somehow, not complete. He shouldn't be able to separate them out like that, all of their individual voices, they should blend, they've always blended before. He knows why, of course.

Something's missing, something's gone.

..........

He's still in a mute kind of place when he gets to his dance practice that night, doesn't say a word to anyone because he can't find any way to express what he feels like inside. Everybody's watching him, he knows, and at any other time Jane would be asking him what's up or Mark would be elbowing him for the juicy dirt, but he guesses his face must show something they can't figure out how to approach. Even Lance is watching him carefully, eyes narrowed and arms crossed. Justin doesn't care. He thinks he knows his stuff, but whatever. It'll be too something or not something enough, and lately he can't really figure out what right is supposed to look like anyway.

He almost can't make himself dance at first when the music comes up, but they're doing this piece on loss and loneliness right now and Justin's lips twist because it's fucking perfect somehow. He moves his body, trying to remember the exact steps the way Lance wanted to see them done, the right flow the way the choreographer taught him, but he can't stop thinking about how the chanting sounded without JC's voice, and how the part that was missing from the music was a lot like the place inside his chest that still hurts. And he keeps feeling JC's upset as though it's his own, feeling the shock of JC's hand, over and over, pushing him away. All of those things get in the way of Justin's dance, he thinks, because they fill him up and roll over him and move through him, until suddenly it's done and he's panting and hanging over his own knees and the rest of the dancers are silent around him.

After a minute he hears Lance's voice, cool as always, but his words straighten Justin up immediately.

"Puppets, I want you to remember how that looked. That was exactly what I'm looking for, dancing from the heart. Justin, thank you."

Lance holds Justin's gaze for a minute and there's a kind of secret compassion in his eyes, an understanding that Justin has to look away from. He guesses he just got everything he thought he wanted, but maybe Lance knows there's still an aching hollow in his chest, an emptiness that Justin doesn't think will be filled.

..........

He's just about lost hope when JC slips into the gym one day a few weeks later, late like he never is, and he won't look Justin in the eye or Lila either as he makes his way toward the windows. He looks really subdued and it's hard because Justin's pretty sure he did that, he's still doing that, because he can't seem to take his eyes off JC. It's like... it's like cold water or fresh air or something, seeing him again, and there's a current pulling Justin's gaze straight across the room that he doesn't even try to fight. He's thought about JC so much, imagined his face and his body in the hours and days since JC touched him, but seeing him, the real thing, he looks completely different.

Lila is gentle with them, leads them through what she calls calming poses and comfort poses and makes them stay smooshed up in a fetal position for a really long time. It's nice, Justin has to admit. He finds he can breathe better after a while, is surprised to realize he hasn't been, and thinking it over he can't remember the last time he really filled his chest up with air. That should be funny, he thinks, but it isn't. Apparently the human body can live for a long time without something it absolutely needs.

JC's done first for once, gets up to leave the very second after Lila tells them "peace." Justin watches him reach for the metal bar on the door to the gym, filled with something like sadness, maybe, or maybe it's guilt, he can't tell. He closes his eyes but the sound of the door never comes.

When he opens his eyes it's to see Lila talking to JC while Chris orbits them like some wild comet, getting in the way of folks trying to put on their shoes and gather up their stuff. Interesting. Justin climbs to his feet and heads to the edge of the mats, trying not to be obvious, but the look on JC's face... polite boredom? Can that be? It doesn't match anything Justin has ever seen before between JC and Lila, so he sidles closer to listen.

"So, I really think the Tibetan pronunciation of Om Mani Padme Hum adds an entirely different vibe to the chant, don't you agree, Chris?"

"Oh, totally!" Chris says. "It's not even the same chant! Oh, my god!" He's nodding fiercely, and Lila shoots him a look that clearly says she needs him at about a three right now, but JC doesn't even notice.

"Well, um, you know what--" he mumbles, and Lila glances at Justin and widens her eyes, and it's like she's telling him he's stupid, what the fuck, but then she runs right over JC's weak response serenely.

"But I can see Justin's waiting for you, so I'll let you go. Chris, a word with you?"

She takes off, moving pretty quickly for someone who flows, and Chris trails after her rolling his eyes. That's also pretty interesting, but Justin forgets about it immediately when JC looks through him like they've never met and reaches for the door.

"JC--"

He stops, hallelujah, but he doesn't turn around. It's okay, Justin can work with that.

"You comin' to practice tomorrow?"

"Justin," JC says. That's all, just his name. Justin waits, but JC's silent, hunched over himself, closed up.

"Please, JC," Justin says quietly, and it's all he can think of to say. JC doesn't answer for a long time, and Justin permits himself a tiny sigh and thinks about what to do next, watches JC's still profile and thinks about how he can't really think of a thing. But then JC turns his head a little and says "All right" and it's like Justin's released from prison or something, set free.

..........

JC's late and Justin doesn't think he's coming for a while there, so he sits on the mat near the windows because the warm sunlight makes him feel better. But then the door to the gym opens slowly and JC steps through and smiles at him and then frowns, and Justin bounces up to his feet.

"Hi," he says kind of formally, his throat all tight. "I was wondering if you'd help me with some balancing positions today. Because I can't, um, balance. Because my balance is, uh... " He shuts his mouth firmly.

JC sits at the edge of the mat, head down and long legs splayed out, and takes his shoes off. It takes him a while, and the alien really starts poking around in Justin's guts as he waits, but finally JC takes a deep breath and rises and drifts over. He looks at Justin, and out the window, and at Justin, and at his feet.

"I don't think I can do this," he says simply, and sits down on the mat.

A tremendous pain fills Justin and for a minute he can't speak. But JC's sitting on the mat with a look on his face like he's lost everything, like he's lonely and alone and maybe has to be for some reason, and it seems to Justin that he understands what JC's feeling, even if he has no clue what's going on, as usual. He sits on the mat too, not too close, and JC closes his eyes, but then he opens them.

"What are you so afraid of," Justin whispers. JC closes his eyes again, briefly.

"Everything."

Justin makes the softest possible rude noise, and JC ducks his head but Justin can see a little smile pulling at the edges of his mouth. The smile fades though and JC looks intensely uncomfortable all of a sudden. It takes him quite a while, but Justin waits patiently and eventually JC speaks.

"You."

"Me?" Justin says, edging closer, and JC lets him. "Me? I'm a lamb, I'm a kitten. Nope. Really, try again." He settles in with his leg against JC's leg and JC tenses up briefly, but then he relaxes, all at once.

"Okay," he says, and turns to Justin with a blinding, heart-stunning smile. Justin has barely a moment to think huh? and JC's right there in his face and moving closer, until his lips are touching Justin's lips and his fingers are touching Justin's neck and sliding up to cup his jaw. Justin can't help moaning right into JC's mouth and JC laughs at him quietly like he's growling, the hottest thing Justin's ever heard. Oh, shit, he thinks, because this is a JC he's only known hints of before, neither the geek nor the powerhouse, a JC straight out of Justin's fantasies.

"Okay," JC whispers again, his lips slipping across Justin's face like silk, and he sounds excited, he sounds into it. Justin gets ready for anything, fuck yeah. "I'm gonna go."

And just like that JC's up and across the gym, gathering up his stuff.

"Goddammit, JC," Justin says, collapsing back on the mat. "You suck so bad, you know that."

JC grins and nods. "Come to the show tonight," he says, his voice full of promise, and Justin scowls but JC pulls the metal door shut after him, smiling at Justin till the last second.

..........

JC's on fire that night, wailing and charging across the stage, so of course the crowd is on fire too and Justin feels like he could jump right out of his skin, the scene is so electric.

"YEAH," Chris says, pumping his fist in the air as he whirls by, and Justin's caught up in his wake and tossed around the crowd until he's crazy dancing like all of them, absolutely filled to the brim and wild with it, YEAH. JC lifts them up with his hands and they go, stirs them up with his body and they explode, and slipping and sliding all around it and through it is his sinuous voice, carrying them away. It's amazing like it always is, but also thrilling like a secret just for Justin, and he feels a hot something building deep inside, pounding up a notch every time JC searches him out in the crowd, turning around and around to find him wherever he's dancing.

He's sopping wet by the end, wiping his sleeve across his face as Joey drags him to the bar. Chris finds them and starts babbling right away, bouncing on his toes with glee, and Justin nods helplessly over and over because it was amazing, it was amazing, he's AMAZING, yes, FUCK. He holds a cold beer to his head and listens to Joey shout back, but his attention's still on the stage, watching that dark curtain at the back of the stage, waiting.

After an eternity JC steps out. Justin hears himself make a noise, and somehow Joey and Chris hear him too over the din of the bar, and both of them stop yelling at the same time and it's clear they don't know where to look, at him or at JC.

JC says something to one of the roadies as he winds a cord around his arm and they both laugh, JC throwing his head back with delight. Justin's hands clench at the sight of it, and then JC's hopping down off the stage easily and smiling as people surround him and looking past them to find Justin at the bar. Pretty soon, not soon enough, he's threading his way through the crowd.

"Hey," JC says, low-voiced, and Justin brings an arm up to hug him, he doesn't even think twice about it. JC says "Hey" again, softer, and hugs him back, except his hug isn't the polite arm-and-pat, it's a full-body grab and JC humming against him, the shifting muscles of his back as he pulls Justin in tight and the slight push of his hips against Justin's, just a hint. And then JC's turning his head and Justin can feel the breath on his face and fuck yeah, JC kisses him, just opens Justin's mouth with his own and licks inside, and it's like everything inside of Justin says yes and he slides his arms around JC's febrile body and groans out loud.

JC lets him up for air too soon and he's not happy about losing the slide of JC's tongue, but slowly Justin becomes aware that people are looking at them. Someone's saying "Ohhhhhh" with obvious astonishment and lust, and Chris is clutching his beer to his chest while Joey clutches the sleeve of Chris's shirt. JC makes an amused sound that dims Justin's vision a little and touches his lips to Justin's neck.

Finally Joey clears his throat and lets go of Chris's shirt, patting it down and straightening the wrinkles as best he can. People around them pretend to go back to their drinks and conversations. JC turns aside for a second to acknowledge some brave soul's compliment on the show, and Justin's left with his friends.

"Suddenly Justin's the second coolest person I know," Chris says, bereft.

Joey nods. "It's like my reality took a direct hit."

"Shots," Chris says decisively, and Joey calls the bartender and there's much more snark and bitchiness than that but Justin loses track, because JC's there again with a hand high on his back, stroking his neck with warm fingers. A shudder of light spirals down Justin's spine as JC whispers "Come on" in his ear and guides him toward the door, and he goes willingly.

..........

JC's apartment is this tiny little hole, decorated exactly as Justin imagined it would be with books and cds and wall-hangings and things, a cool hippie haven that Justin can't really focus on right now. He follows JC into the living room, watching as JC drops his keys into the mouth of a ceramic frog and slings his coat over the back of a chair, and for a second he's tempted to feel awkward and self-conscious but then JC gives him a gorgeous smile and puts his arms around Justin's body. Strangely, he's trembling.

"I'm so nervous," JC whispers.

"What? Get out," Justin says, and JC laughs, an abrupt puff against Justin's neck.

"You don't, you can't," he fumbles, and he's not the rock star or the rabbit or any of those people Justin thought he was, he's just honestly freaked out. A shock of pleasure expands through Justin's chest. JC cares what he thinks. He'd laugh at himself for that one, schoolgirlish as it sounds, but for some reason it's everything to him, it means everything in the world. Justin settles his arms around JC and turns to whisper in his ear, completely gratified when JC squirms against him and makes a helpless noise.

"Breathe."

JC gasps like he's drowning, then gasps again. "I have to --" he says desperately, and then he looks at Justin and bites his lip, and it looks for all the world like he's about to apologize, so Justin kisses him. It's the right thing, apparently, the rightest thing, because JC drills his hips in suddenly and opens his mouth.

Justin pulls away after a minute, loving JC's whimper of protest and the way he slides a hand up to guide Justin's mouth back to his, really loving how feline and hot JC's eyes look and how urgently he's twisting in Justin's arms. He's hard, and fuck, Justin really wants to find his bed and lay him down and touch him all over, but JC said he was nervous.

"Have to what," Justin says, his throat like sandpaper.

JC bites him on the neck and slides his mouth up to Justin's ear. "Have to kiss you," he whispers, and licks Justin's ear.

"Oh," Justin says. "Well, yeah." He slides a hand up under JC's shirt and JC makes a complicated sound that turns into words about halfway through.

"Have to touch you," he says, his voice shaking badly, and Justin's really getting the impression he misunderstood what 'nervous' was all about. He finds JC's mouth again and tries to walk him backwards through the apartment, figuring one of these doorways is the bedroom. JC braces a hand on the wall and stops him.

"Have to fuck you," he says, his eyes glinting suddenly with something wicked, "But not in the pantry, there's not enough room."

"GOD, JC," Justin says, and JC laughs and grabs his hand and drags him through a different door and pushes him down on a big messy bed and climbs on top of him, and he's skinny but dense and constantly in motion, rubbing against Justin and panting and making excited, happy sounds, so Justin knows for a fact now, absolute truth, that he and JC are on the same page.

He peels JC out of his clothes, not an easy task since JC won't stop wiggling and winding around him and distracting him with his hands and his mouth and his voice, and Justin ends up holding him down with one hand and stripping his pants off roughly with the other while JC makes cheesy impressed sounds and lifts his hips off the bed. Finally finally he's naked and Justin sits back and looks at him, at a loss.

"Well?" JC says, stretching, and Justin can't take his eyes off the trail of silky hair leading down to his cock, and oh shit, his cock, laying there all red and swollen like an exact fit for Justin's hand. Justin doesn't even know where to begin.

"Fine," JC says, sliding a hand down his abdomen. "I'll go first."

"Hey," Justin says in a loud voice, and JC grins at him. "Hey," Justin says again. "No, on second thought, go right ahead. I can watch for a bit."

"Watch and learn," JC says, smirking, but he swarms up Justin's body instead and pulls his shirt over his head, and bites his shoulder and his arm and his collarbone and licks his nipple, and by then Justin is so out of his mind, fingers threaded through JC's hair and moaning his brains out, that he doesn't realize his pants are gone till JC touches his cock and he explodes.

"Uh," he says weakly when he can. "Shit. Sorry."

"Wow," JC says in a tight voice. Justin focuses on him, and he's practically vibrating with need, incandescent with it. "That was fucking hot. Can I, I need to."

He makes an incomprehensible gesture, flailing almost, but Justin has a pretty clear idea what he wants. He pulls JC down until he can feel his cock stabbing up between them, slippery up and down with Justin's come, and he pulls JC's ass in again and again until JC picks up the rhythm perfectly and takes it over and jerks against him hard, gasping and biting Justin's shoulder and then tensing up, all at once.

It takes a long time for JC to relax again, a long time till he stops saying "Ahhhhh" every time he exhales, but it's not like Justin minds. He holds on till JC's done, figuring he'll be ready to go again himself in maybe two minutes tops, but then JC goes completely boneless on top of him and says "Mmm." Justin smiles ruefully and pats his sweaty back.

"I'm going to fuck you later," JC says in a blurry voice.

"Okay, good," Justin says, moving around under him, getting comfortable for the long haul.

"Maybe now," JC says with sudden interest, and Justin laughs, all the sweet feeling he could ever want moving through him in an instant, and he hugs JC as hard as he can until JC squeaks and hugs him back.

Afterwards JC sleeps well, on his belly with his face pressed against Justin's thigh, but Justin doesn't want to sleep at all. He wants nothing more than to lean back against JC's funky carved headboard with the sheet tucked around him and stroke JC's hair and watch him breathe.

..........

Lila's already there when Justin ambles into the workout space, already stretching herself into impossible poses in that charming and completely self-absorbed way she has, but she opens her eyes and smiles when Justin crosses the mats in silence. He smiles back when he's settled and looks around the room.

Everybody's doing their thing, Chris is sprawled out like a beached whale over in the corner, and holy shit, there's Joey in a self-conscious lump right next to him. JC's by the windows again. He has the most luxurious air of comfort about him, sitting with his forehead on his knees like he does, and warmth spreads through Justin like water because he knows why. He takes a deep breath, ready to sit cross-legged on the mat, maybe, or maybe lay down for a bit. JC turns his head and finds Justin unerringly.

JC smiles and Justin sees the whole world open up in his eyes.

August 2005