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Maximum Exposure

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Photographers could occasionally be cool, Chris thought, but mostly they were morons. He picked disconsolately at the strap of his overalls, which persisted in sliding off one shoulder because the little adjustment thingy was broken.

He wasn't used to having to make do with clothes that didn't fit right, anymore, but he didn't have much choice this time. Nobody would be swing-dancing in commercials for these overalls; they were built for function, not fashion, and had obviously had a long, hard life; stained with grease, bagging at the knees, they had been mended several times with uneven stitches in thread that didn't match. Val, the photographer, had borrowed them from one of the farmhands.

He found Lance’s bag and started digging around for a safety pin, because Lance always had safety pins and Kleenex and Band-Aids and lotion and extra buttons and bug spray and random things like that. They all made fun of him for it, but it was still Lance they came to first when something got smeared or split or lost or broken.

“Hey Chris, what’s-” Justin broke off when he saw Chris rummaging in Lance’s stuff. “Whatcha need?”

“Safety pin,” Chris said, holding one up. It was a big one, sturdy, not like the little brass ones Val had offered, that just bent when he tried to force them through the denim.

“Lemme get it,” Justin said, and Chris surrendered the pin. Justin twisted his hands in the strap, struggling with the pin, then jerked his hand back, cursing.

“Got my thumb, dammit,” he said, shaking his hand. “I can’t see. Here, c’mere.” He pulled Chris over by the window into the light, and bent over his task, his shorn head tickling Chris’ cheek like a stubbly kiss. Chris turned his head, breathing in the sweet smell of his shampoo. Justin still used the expensive salon stuff that smelled like bananas, even though he had no hair to speak of and could probably have just scrubbed a bar of Ivory over his head and been done with it. He'd been horrified when Chris had suggested that he try it, though, which was just as well, because Chris had secretly come to associate that banana smell with sex, with the way he liked to bury his nose in the soft hair at the nape of Justin's neck while they were fucking. It was embarrassing and stupid, so Justin had of course figured it out, and had gotten Johnny to add bananas to the rider, telling the other guys that he was on a special diet. They'd ended up having a lot of sex in dressing rooms, towards the end of the last tour.

"There," Justin said, and smiled proudly at Chris, straightening his overall straps with a little pat. "All fixed."

"My hero," Chris said, fluttering his eyelashes. Justin's hands had lingered on his shoulders, absently stroking. Justin's hands were very warm.

"That's me," Justin said. His hands moved closer, cupping the back of Chris' neck, thumbs trailing over the dip in between his collarbones.

Somebody pounded on the door. "Chris! Get your ass out here, man, we're all dressed except you," Joey called.

Justin let his hands slide down, brushing over Chris' chest as they fell. "Duty calls," he said.

Chris grinned. "C'mon, kid," he said. "Let's go look pretty for the camera."

Justin raised an eyebrow. "That'll take more effort for some of us than others," he said, and started laughing when Chris smacked his ass. He was still laughing when they found the others, sitting on a group of hay bales that were piled next to an honest-to-goodness red barn.

They nearly always went to studios for photo shoots, but every once in a while they’d get some photographer who was tired of taking studio portraits of moodily-lit celebrities and who had enough clout that Johnny would insist that they agree to do the shoot at the beach, or at a grocery store, or in the middle of the Hogansville, SC Watermelon Festival, or some such thing. Val worked for Newsweek, and she’d won awards, and Johnny thought that if they gave her what she wanted they had a good chance at a cover, so they’d driven unenthusiastically to the address Val had sent, which turned out to be a picturesque farm, complete with a kindly farmer, who turned out to be Val’s grandfather. It could almost have come directly from a movie, Chris thought, except that in place of the apple-cheeked farmer’s wife he’d half-expected to come bustling out of the kitchen with a plate of cookies, there was a youngish woman with oldish skin in tight jeans and a bad dye job, who chain-smoked Virginia Slims and insisted on being called “Tiffanee- with two Es.” Old MacDonald had a trophy wife, Chris thought. E-I-E-I-O.

Tiffanee, as it happened, was a fan. She greeted them wearing a t-shirt with a large photograph of Justin’s head on the front. His expression was… peculiar.

“Holy shit,” Joey whispered. “Were you stoned when they took that?”

“Shut up,” Justin hissed. “It was like right after I had my wisdom teeth out.”

“Man, people will buy some crazy-ass shit,” Chris said.

Justin smacked the back of his head.

“And these are my babies!” Tiffanee was saying, and she opened a door. There was a flurry of yapping and fuzz that eventually resolved itself into two small light brown poodles, their hair shaved close all over except for a ball of curls on the tips of their tails and a fluffy topknot on each small head. They had BeDazzled bandannas tied around their necks.

“This is Timber,” said Tiffanee, indicating the dog with the blue bandanna, “and this is Lake.” Lake had a pink one. “They’re named after their mommy’s favorite singer.” She looked at Justin expectantly.

Joey snorted, loudly, then turned it into a coughing fit. Lance patted his back, smirking. Chris not-laughed so hard he felt tears sting his eyes. Justin went bright red.

JC started petting the dogs. “Hey, Justin,” he said. “Their hair looks just like yours used to.”

Justin choked. Tiffanee beamed. “That’s just what I thought!” she said.

The door slammed. Val came in, a variety of camera bags slung over her shoulders. “I keep telling you, Granny, no pestering the clients,” she said.

Tiffanee glared at her. “I was just trying to be a good hostess.” Val grinned, showing a few too many teeth.

“OK, guys,” she said. “Let’s get out there.” They followed her outside in a straggly line, with Timber and Lake, who had taken a liking to JC, trailing behind them.

"Hey, look!" JC said. "They have a peacock." It was, unquestionably, a peacock, albeit a somewhat bedraggled-looking one. JC started following it around, squawking at it in an attempt to get it to open its tail. Timber and Lake followed him.

"Come with me, Joey," said Val, waving a steel pail at him. "You're going to milk a cow."

"Cool," said Joey. "Can I squirt milk in the cat's mouth like they do on TV?"

Val blinked at him. "Correction," she said. "You're going to pretend to milk a cow." They went into the barn.

Justin came around the side of the house, Timber and Lake yapping at his heels. "Hey," he said, dropping to the ground beside Chris's hay bale. Chris bumped Justin's shoulder with his knee.

"Nice outfits," Lance said, with a smug grin. The farmer only had two hired men, and hence two sets of appropriately broken-in overalls; Lance had gotten to wear a pair of worn-out jeans and a faded denim work shirt with the sleeves rolled up over his forearms.

"It's hot," Justin grumbled, picking at a place on the knee of his overalls that had been patched with red corduroy. "I wanted to wear mine with no shirt, but Val laughed at me."

Chris looked at him in amazement. "Please tell me you wanted to make an ironic commentary on new wave."

Justin looked puzzled. "What?"

"You didn't seriously want to dress like a member of Dexy's Midnight Runners, did you?"

"Who's that?"

Chris groaned, falling backwards dramatically. "Shit," he said. "Sweet holy-- Lance?" he sat up, turning towards Lance, who was snickering. "Tell me the truth, man, I can take it. Am I a dirty old man?" He flung an arm out, thwacking Justin in the head.

"Ow," said Justin. Chris rubbed absently at the place he'd hit.

Lance crossed his arms and leaned against the barn wall, smirking. "Don't worry, man," he said to Chris. "As long as he continues to act older than you do, you're OK."

Chris sighed. "This weekend," he said to Justin, "you are watching all those episodes of Totally 80s that JC taped off VH1."

The peacock stalked by, looking ruffled. JC trailed behind it, carrying a long stick; Timber and Lake, looking a little dusty, brought up the rear. Lake’s bandanna was askew.

"Um, C?" said Lance. "Be careful with that thing."

"I'm not hurting him," JC said. "I just nudged him a little."

"No, I mean-- look, I had a bad petting zoo experience as a child. Birds can get mean if you mess with 'em."

"I'll be careful," JC said. "Oh, hey, maybe if I gave him some corn." He wandered off in the direction of the chicken coop.

"Sometimes," Chris said, "I wonder about that boy."

Justin leaned back against Chris' legs. Chris let his hand slip down over his bristly hair, coming to rest on the warm skin exposed by the stretched-out neck of his t-shirt.

"OW!" came Joey's voice from inside the barn. "SHITFUCKDAMMIT!"

Looking at each other in concern, they got up and went to see what was going on. They met Joey coming out of the barn, leaning heavily on Val and limping, cursing with each step. "Shit-- fuck-- ow-- shit," he said, as Val lowered him to the hay bale. "Damn fucking cow kicked me," he said, indignantly.

"Who could blame her?" Val said. "I told you not to actually pull anything."

"It's sort of a conditioned response with him," Chris said dryly. Justin cracked up, bending over and holding his stomach, leaning against the barn wall. Joey glared at them.

"Oh, sure, mock my pain," he said.

"Always," said Chris. He bent over to look at Joey's calf, which was already developing a dark bruise in the shape of a cloven hoof, right on top of the healed scar from when Joey had gotten his leg caught in the trapdoor. "Aw, hey," he said. "You didn't rip anything open, did you?"

"I don't think it's anything too bad," Joey said. "It just hurt like a motherfucker."

"I'll get you some ice," Val offered.

"I have some Advil in my bag," Lance said. "You want some?"

"Yeah, that'd be good," Joey said. "Thanks, man."

"No problem," said Lance, and he and Val walked off together.

They heard a strange, high-pitched cry, and then JC came running around the side of the barn, closely followed by the peacock, who was hissing angrily and trying to peck him. Timber and Lake, yapping frantically, darted behind the hay bale. JC scrambled on top of an overturned feed bin and stood there, looking down at the peacock in dismay. "Get him off," he said. "Guys?"

Chris and Justin exchanged glances, and then ran at the peacock, yelling and waving their arms, driving it towards the chicken coop. JC climbed off the feed bin and stood behind Joey, watching anxiously over his shoulder as the peacock was shut up with the chickens, who clucked over the newcomer in consternation.

Chris and Justin returned, dusting their hands off in exaggerated bravado. "Taken care of," Chris said. "You have no further need to fear the wrath of the peacock."

"What did you do?" Justin asked. "That bird was pissed, man."

JC flushed. "I just wanted to see his tail. I don't think I hurt him, I just.... annoyed him, I guess." He looked around. "Where are Lance and Val?"

"They went to get stuff to fix Joey's leg," Justin said.

"His leg? What happened?"

Chris grinned. "He got a little too freaky with one of the milk cows, and she kicked him."

"They get milked every day," Joey said. "She shouldn't have minded, I didn't pull that hard."


They did a series of group shots next, sitting on the corral fence, lounging on the hay bales, playing “king of the mountain” on the same feed trough JC had climbed when the peacock had chased him. They pretended to play tug-of-war, Joey on one end of the rope while the others balanced themselves on the other end so they looked like they were pulling really hard. Timber and Lake, wanting to play, grabbed the trailing end of the rope, much to Val’s amusement. She whispered something to Joey, and he let go of the rope; their balance disrupted, they all fell backwards, narrowly missing the dogs. Val, giggling, took pictures of them sprawled in the dirt, Joey cracking up as he watched, the startled dogs licking JC anxiously.

She posed them all climbing a long ladder up to the hayloft, then Joey pretended like he was falling off, and JC grabbed him hard by the back waistband of his jeans, overbalancing and making the ladder tilt for a few dizzying seconds before Lance pulled JC back to the middle of it and it leveled out.

“OK,” said Val. “Perhaps we’ll stay on the ground for the rest of the day.”

“I was kidding,” Joey told JC irritably, limping a little.

“It wasn’t funny,” JC said. “I thought you were gonna fall. You hurt your leg again already today.”

“Yeah, Joe,” Justin said. “That wedgie was totally given in love.” Chris reached up and flicked Justin’s ear.

Val led them to a haystack, and they slid down it, one by one and then together, Chris rolling down head-over-heels, Justin and Lance tumbling behind him, JC throwing his arms in the air and yelling “Whoo!” like he was on a roller coaster while Joey, grinning, slid on his stomach like the haystack was a Slip-N-Slide. At the bottom, Val snapped pictures of JC, flushed and happy, flopped over in the loose straw talking quietly to Joey, and of Justin picking hay out of Chris’ hair.

Timber and Lake had sidled up to JC, and were sitting side-by-side, gazing up at him with adoring brown eyes, their wagging tails clearing half-moon shapes in the sawdust on the floor. Occasionally, he’d reach over and scratch their heads, and they would try to lick his hands. Val snapped pictures of them, muttering things like, “puppies,” and “too fucking cute,” as she swapped out her lenses.

“Justin,” she said at last. “It’s your turn.”

“I don’t have to do anything with that peacock, do I?” Justin asked, anxiously. “Or Joey’s cow? Cause they’re already pissed off.”

Val grinned. “Nope,” she said. “You’re going to chase a pig.”

Justin blinked.

“Don’t be a baby,” Val said. “I know you’ve seen people do this on TV.”

Justin looked unconvinced. “A pig,” he said.

“It’s just a little pig.” She shoved him unceremoniously into the pigpen and shut the gate. He stood there, looking around nervously, trying not to get mud on his shoes.

Val came around the corner of the barn, leading a pig on a leash. Joey, Lance, and Chris were walking with her; JC trailed behind, a poodle under each arm. They all found places to sit where they had a good view of the pigpen.

“This is Francis Bacon,” Val said. “Francis likes to play chase, so you two shouldn’t have a problem. Move.” She elbowed Justin out of the way and led the pig into the pen, snapping off his collar. He shook his head in an oddly doglike gesture and trotted to the middle of the pen. Justin eyed him suspiciously. Val took a picture of him, and then one of the pig.

“Come on,” she said. “Try to catch him.”

“But he’s just standing there,” Justin said.

“He’ll move when you do,” Val replied. “Pigs aren’t stupid animals. He knows not to tire himself out when there’s no reason.”

Joey snorted.

“Oh, don’t even start, Mr. Grope-The-Cow,” Justin said. He took a slow step toward Francis Bacon, who watched him impassively. Justin edged closer; the pig sniffed a corncob that was lying near his foot. Bracing his feet, Justin swooped down and grabbed; Francis Bacon grunted and lunged into one of his legs, hitting it hard with the dome of his skull. Justin yelped, jumped, slipped, and fell over, arms windmilling as he tried in vain to regain his balance. Val’s camera made satisfied mechanical noises.

Chris, Joey, and Lance started laughing. JC, who had been petting his lapful of poodle and humming quietly, looked up, startled by the noise.

“Are you OK?” he asked Justin.

“Yeah,” he said, scowling at the others.

“I think you’re supposed to kind of hug it around the middle,” he offered. “I saw a guy do that on TV.” On his lap, Timber yowled and flopped over; JC started scratching his belly. Val, who’d just changed film, took pictures of Timber’s hind leg thumping against JC’s abs.

“He likes me,” JC said to Joey, with a happy smile. Joey blinked.

“Well, yeah,” he said, reaching over to tickle under Lake’s chin with a big finger. Val made a strange noise and lunged for her other camera. Justin, who now had mud inside his socks, coughed loudly.

“Is that enough with the pig thing?” he asked.

Val glanced up from the viewfinder of her camera. "God, not even," she said. "You hardly even tried."

"What? I tried! He knocked me over!"

"So balance better next time. You're supposed to be the limber one."

Justin glared at Lance and Chris, who were nearly bent double with silent laughter. "That pig’s a psycho!"

Val snorted. "He's one of Tiffanee's pets, Justin. You're lucky Poppa wouldn’t let her name him Randall, because that was her original plan."

Chris fell over. Lance sagged against the barn wall. Joey and JC were talking softly, not paying attention.

"Well, Randall was his brother's name," Val said. "He didn't think it was respectful. Anyway, stop bitching and catch the pig so I can take some decent pictures. That was the most half-assed pig chasing I've ever seen."

Justin scowled and stood up in one fluid motion. He looked at his muddy hands in distaste and wiped them on his thighs. He looked around until he found Francis Bacon, who was munching on something nasty in the trough. He walked quietly to the edge of the pen, a little ways away from the pig.

Justin and the pig watched each other out of the corners of their eyes. Chris could see the muscles in Justin's calves tense. He got up off the ground and moved closer.

"I," Justin said, loudly, "am not half-assed." With a twist and a lunge he flung himself at Francis Bacon.

"Oh, yes," Val said, sounding a bit too much like she was starring in a Herbal Essences commercial. She started running around the pen taking pictures, murmuring approvingly as Justin and the pig rolled around. Justin had gotten both hands around one of the pig's hind legs and was holding on like grim death as Francis Bacon kicked, squealed, and thrashed in his attempts to free himself. Finally, with a triumphant squeal, he wrenched his leg free and darted into a corner of the pen, backing up to the wall. Justin let his forehead drop wearily onto his still-outstretched arm.

“Please tell me that was enough,” he said, not looking up, his voice echoing oddly in the space between his mouth and the muddy ground.

“Oh, I think so,” Val replied, absently. “I got some lovely shots when Francis was kicking the mud back at you. Splatter patterns.”

“Wonderful.” Justin pushed himself up a little, then sank back into the mud, groaning. Chris hopped down from his perch on the pigpen fence and wandered over, nudging Justin with the toe of his shoe.

“Get up,” he said. “We aren’t done, man.” He nodded towards where JC, Joey, and Lance were waiting, leaning against the fence.

“Gimme a hand up,” Justin said.

Chris snorted. “Yeah, right,” he said. “You should know better by now than to expect me to fall for that.”

“No, seriously, Chris. The ground’s all torn up. I keep slipping, I need something to brace me.”

Chris regarded him skeptically. “I’m having a hard time believing that you don’t intend to take advantage of this situation.”

“You know me pretty well,” Justin said, and wrapped both hands around Chris’ ankles.

“Oh, don’t even,” Chris said, trying to step free, but Justin gave a wicked grin and a hard yank, and Chris toppled backwards onto the muddy ground.

“Now might be a good time to run away,” Lance told Justin, who was kneeling in the mud, pointing at Chris and laughing. “Too late,” he added, as Chris flung himself at Justin’s chest, cutting him off with an odd wheeze.

Lance stood for a moment, watching them roll around in the mud, trying to pin each other down. “Joey,” he said, very quietly.

“Yeah?”

Lance nodded towards the pigpen, and then towards Val, who was on the other side of the pen, taking pictures. “Go wrestle with Chris and Justin.”

“What? Why?”

Lance raised an eyebrow. “Look where Justin’s hand is.”

“Oh.” Joey sighed. “I swear, even I was not that horny when I was his age.”

“Yes, you were.”

“Well, OK, yes. But not at photo shoots.”

“Not until recently,” Lance said, glancing over to where JC, arms full of dog, was leaning on the fence watching.

“That-- he,” Joey said. “We aren’t... Um.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Lance said. “Just go roll around in the-- hey!”

Joey, laughing, dumped Lance unceremoniously on top of Justin. “Damn,” he said. “I think I pulled a hamstring.”

Lance and Chris exchanged glances. Moments later, Joey was on his back on the ground. Lance and Chris each pinned an arm, while Justin sat on his knees, grinning. “Hey, C!” he called. “C’mere!”

JC set down the dogs and vaulted lightly over the fence. He straddled Joey, sitting low on his belly, and smiled so widely that his eyes crinkled up.

“Oh no,” said Joey. “JC. C’mon, man.” He tried to shake the others off, his body rolling underneath them, but couldn’t get free. He was not, he thought grimly, turned on by this. He just wasn’t.

JC cracked his knuckles ostentatiously, wiggling his long fingers as though warming up to do piano exercises. Chris pulled up Joey’s T-shirt, helpfully exposing his bare belly. From a few feet away, Joey could hear Val muttering to herself, saying things like, “no, f-14, you bastard!” and taking pictures without a break.

“No, dammit, please, guys,” Joey said, anticipatory laughter already welling up in his chest. Justin sat more firmly on his legs.

With a theatrical flourish, JC started tickling him, his fingers traveling mercilessly over his ribs and stomach, up his sides. “Stoooooop,” he gasped, helplessly laughing. He tried to throw the others off; with one heave he managed to get his right arm back from Chris.

“Heads up!” Chris yelled. “He’s loose!”

It was all rather muddled, after that; after a little while he forgot why he was supposed to be mad and just enjoyed trying to tackle the others. Eventually, they all ended up in a heap, Justin on the bottom, exhausted and sore from laughing.

"Get off," Justin said. "You're squashing me." JC got up and held out a hand for Joey, hiccupping a little in the aftermath of mirth. Lance followed them, intermittent deep chuckles vibrating in his chest. Chris dropped his head onto Justin's shoulder, relieved to be free of their weight. Justin arched a little beneath him, pushing the curve of his ass into Chris' groin. Chris bit back a moan and thwacked Justin's head with a muddy hand.

"Cameras, infant," he said, into Justin's ear. Justin twisted his head to regard Chris with impossibly innocent eyes.

"I don't know what you're talking about, Chris," he said, and Chris wanted very much to nibble on the clean line of his cheekbone. He scrambled to his feet, absurdly thankful for the baggy fit of Val's grandfather's farmhand's overalls.

"There's one more set of group shots, I’d like to do, but I need you in different clothes for those," Val said. "You two need a shower first; you're filthy." She looked critically at the other three. "You guys can do with new clothes and some wet washcloths," she decided. "Chris and Justin, there are showers next to the room where you changed. I'll send one of the guys by with your clothes."

"Cool," Justin said. "C'mon, Chris." He rose, slipping a little in his haste, and pushed Chris in the direction of the outbuilding where they had gotten dressed.

As they rounded the corner of the barn, out of sight of the others, Justin caught Chris by one strap of his overalls and pulled him close, licking at his mouth with the abandon of an excited puppy. Chris stumbled under the onslaught, opening to Justin's clumsy, eager kisses. He ran soothing hands down Justin's sides, pressing up into him. Justin, still pulling at Chris' overalls, had managed to pull loose the strap that he'd pinned earlier and was sliding a hot, grubby hand under layers of denim and cotton to take hold of Chris' ass.

"Mmmm," Chris said, moving back a little from Justin's mouth. "Justin. Hey. People can see-- God--" Justin was taking shameless advantage of his height, bending over Chris, enveloping him in long limbs and slightly gritty kisses. He was talking into Chris' mouth in that way he had, nonsensical mutters that occasionally firmed into something recognizable; Chris' name, usually, or God's, or sometimes some truly inventive profanity. It was impossible to sneak around with Justin, because he couldn't shut up during sex. That was ok, though. Chris liked it.

He felt something slither off one shoulder and realized that Justin had undone his other strap. He grabbed Justin's shoulders and pushed him away, locking his elbows to hold him at arm's length despite his protests. "God, J," he panted. "Wait until we get inside, man, anyone could walk by here. You want Tiffanee-with-two-Es taking Polaroids of us?"

Justin sagged in his hands, then stepped away, bending over with his hands on his knees as he struggled to regain his composure. Chris, leaning against the side of the barn, refastened his one functioning strap.

"I'm sorry," Justin said.

"It's OK, Jup," Chris said. "You know I feel the same, we just can't, here."

"I know," Justin said, straightening. "I'm sorry I made you stop me." He lifted a hand to Chris' face, tracing lightly around his mouth. "You have mud on your face," he said. "You look like you've been eating chocolate."

Chris swiped the back of his hand over his mouth. "I could make a really horrible comment about you being sweet, right now," he said, starting to walk again. "But I love you, so I'll refrain."

Justin groaned. "God, you're cheesy," he said, then groped Chris quickly before smacking his ass and sprinting away toward the dressing rooms.

"You're a dead man, Timberlake!" Chris shouted, taking off after him.

Justin laughed, slamming the dressing room door.

He already had the shower on and was stripping with commendable enthusiasm by the time Chris got the door open. He was completely brown where his clothes hadn’t covered him, bits of half-dried mud flaking off over his joints, and random streaks and smears on his golden body where the mud had worked its way under his clothes. The shower reminded Chris of the ones he’d seen in the dorms when he was in college; a largish stall with a smaller changing area in front of it. The air was heavy with steam.

He managed, barely, to get his clothes off before Justin grabbed him with greedy hands and pulled him into the stall. He hit the wall with a thud that drove the breath from his lungs, and before he had a chance to get it back, Justin’s mouth sealed over his, Justin’s tongue slipped in.

The tiles against his back were cold, and the spray of the shower hitting his legs was warm, and Justin’s body pressing into his was rough with dirt, slick in patches where he’d gotten wet already. Chris’ hands slid and stuck by turns along his flanks. He was getting dizzy from lack of air.

Justin pulled away, slowly, as though it hurt his mouth not to be touching Chris. He was still so close that Chris couldn’t quite get his face into focus; he saw two Justins, hovering in front of him. Justin’s breath was hotter than the steam. Chris reached up and ran a hand over his short hair, stiff with mud. He thought he remembered putting a handful on top of Justin’s head.

“All day, Justin said, and started sliding down Chris’ body, leaving brief incendiary bites and kisses in random places on his way down. “I waited and waited.”

“Since this morning,” Chris said, but he was smiling.

“It was last night,” Justin muttered, around a nipple. Chris felt his body clench. “Four AM-- shit—is this morning,” he gasped.

“It was before we went to sleep,” Justin said, then thrust his tongue into Chris’ navel, smiling happily at the startled noise he made. “Before we went to sleep means last night.”

Chris started to argue, but decided against any course of action that might cause Justin to stop mouthing at the hollow of his hip. Little drops of water were bouncing off the tile and hitting Justin, making tiny clean streaks on his skin. Justin’s little scrub of beard was tickling the top of his thigh. He groaned.

“Okay,” he said. “Last night. Justin, for God’s sake…”

Justin slid his wet mouth quickly up the left side of Chris’ cock, ending up with his lips just resting against the tip. Chris whimpered, trying to thrust against him, but Justin’s big hands were on his pelvis, holding him firmly back against the tile. Chris slammed his head back; the pain where he hit the wall only distracted him a little from the pulsing ache at his groin. Justin was absolutely still, his lips slicked with pre-ejaculate where the tip of Chris’ cock was brushing them. Every time he exhaled, Chris could feel it.

Justin smiled. It was an evil smile, Chris thought, a science-fiction overlord taking-over-the-world smile. The pull of it moving against him made him shudder and gasp.

“What’s the magic word?” Justin said.

Little bastard.

“Please,” Chris said, in an utterly insincere tone. “Oh, please, mighty Justin, do me the honor of sucking my—"

He broke off, gasping, as Justin opened his lips and slid forward, never breaking eye contact as he took Chris down his hot, silky throat. Chris shuddered, struggling not to come. It was really fucked up, he thought, that Justin could look cherubic with his nose buried in Chris’ pubic hair.

Justin pulled back until only the end of Chris’ cock remained in his mouth, and flickered over the head with the tip of his tongue. Chris could hear himself, dimly, making embarrassing noises, but it seemed much less important to be quiet and much more important to pay attention to the way Justin kept glancing up at him through his eyelashes, to the way Justin’s cheek and jaw muscles flexed, each movement heralding a jolt of ecstasy. Justin hummed, and Chris knew he was going to come about half a second before he actually did. Around his jerking cock, Justin’s lips curved in a smug smile.

Chris felt himself sliding down the shower wall. Justin, sitting back on his heels, licked the corner of his mouth.

“C’mere,” Chris said, still a little breathless, and pulled on Justin’s arm. Justin, as pliant as if he’d been the one who’d just come, straddled Chris’ outstretched legs. Chris leaned back against the shower wall as Justin pressed up against his chest, sliding his cock lazily against his skin. Chris slid his hands up Justin’s arms, feeling the way the muscles bunched as Justin moved. “C’mere,” he said again, wrapping a hand around the back of Justin’s neck and pulling him gently down until he could nibble and suck at his candy-apple mouth, a little puffy now from being stretched around Chris’ cock. Justin made a happy little noise against his tongue, and started mumbling again.

Chris reached down, sent one hand to grasp Justin’s cock while the other stroked over his sleek back. Justin groaned and bucked into his hand, and a certain practiced flourish of Chris’ thumb made him cry out, burying his face in Chris’ neck as he pulsed his orgasm in between his fingers.

He’d thought, before, that Justin would be an insufferable lover, too cocky and sure of himself. And there was certainly a large helping of ego in the way Justin always took forever, liked to torture and tease him and make him beg for it. But that didn’t bother Chris, really, because of the way Justin melted and shuddered against him when the tables were turned, because of the sweet languid drape of long limbs, over and around him in their bed at night.

Or in the morning.

He heard JC’s voice, obviously pitched to carry. “Yeah, Chris and Justin both take a really long time in the shower,” he was saying. “I’ll just leave these clothes for them. Better stay here in case somebody’s not dressed.”

The door opened. “You know,” JC said, conversationally. “I’m really happy for you guys and all, but you should know that Val is asking what takes so long to rinse off a little mud. So. I’m leaving clothes on the bench.”

Justin snorted. They heard the door close, and JC saying, “Yeah, Justin’s finished, we’re just waiting on Chris,” as he walked away.

“We should get up,” Justin said into his neck, not moving.

“Mmm,” Chris said.

Justin sighed, shook his head a little, and sat up.

“My feet are asleep,” Chris said.

“I’m sorry.”

Chris shrugged. “Worth it, man.”

Justin grinned, and kissed him swiftly. “Yeah.”

They clambered to their feet and into the spray of the shower, which had gone from scalding to warm in the time since they’d turned it on. They washed each other with the ease born of practice, Justin bending down so Chris could make sure all the mud was out of his hair.

JC had brought, not only clothes, but clean, fluffy towels. They dried and dressed quickly; Chris was happy to note that the new outfits were cutoffs and tank tops, and that the overalls were nowhere to be seen. He hoped Val’s grandfather’s hired men weren’t pissed about the mud.

“Chris,” Justin said, stopping him just as he was about to open the door.

“Yeah?”

Justin came up behind him and wrapped strong arms around his middle, resting his chin on Chris’ shoulder. “Can we go home right after this?” The question tickled Chris’ ear.

Chris smiled, and leaned back into the embrace. “Sure,” he said. “We can get pizza.”

“I want mushrooms,” Justin said, and kissed him swiftly behind the angle of his jaw.

“I get sausage on my half,” Chris said, and pulled a little away.

Justin released him. “Only if I can have olives.”

“No olives.” Chris brushed a hand through his hair, hoping it looked just-out-of-the-shower mussed and not just-out-of-the-bedroom mussed.

“Just on half!”

“They make the whole pizza taste funky.”

“You’re just imagining that.” Justin reached over, brushing Chris’ hands aside, and fixed his hair with three sweeps of his fingers.

“I’m serious, the olive taste gets, like, sucked into the tomato sauce and covers the whole pizza.”

“You’re on crack, man.” Justin opened the door, and they went to join the others, still debating.

They took a series of group shots where they swung on a rope as though about to jump in a pond, but never actually jumped, because Val told them there were leeches in it. Afterward, Val decided that she needed more pictures of Lance, and they went back to the barn.

They sat for a while, watching as Lance pitched hay bales under Val’s direction. He’d taken off the denim shirt, leaving just the tank top underneath it. The muscles in his arms and torso rippled with each powerful heave of the pitchfork. Tiny rivulets of sweat dampened his hair and defined the new cut of his biceps with a tracery of glistening moisture.

“Lance looks good,” JC said. He sat down behind Joey on the hay bale, lying down on his back so that he faced the sky.

“He hired Lonnie’s cousin,” Justin said. He’d stretched out on the ground, with his hands behind his head and his long legs splayed. Chris was laying perpendicular to him, with his head pillowed on Justin’s stomach. The soft rise and fall as Justin breathed made Chris want to go to sleep. “You know, the personal trainer?”

“I wonder how much he charges,” Joey said.

JC chuckled.

“What’s so funny? I’m serious.”

“But you hate working out,” JC said, getting up and draping himself over the hay bale, propping up his chin in one hand so he could see Joey. “And it’s not like you need to. Well, I mean, you do, but just like everybody does, you know, the Surgeon General and it’s good for your heart. But you don’t need a trainer for that. You can just, like, rollerblade or something.”

“Rollerblade?”

JC nodded, meeting Joey’s eyes with perfect sincerity. “Or, like, take the stairs at work instead of the elevator. I saw a thing about it on TV.”

Joey smiled. “I like rollerblading,” he said.

“Yeah, I know. Hey, maybe we could go. Sometime. I used to go with Chris but he won’t, anymore, since that thing with Johnny’s car and Busta and the potted fern.”

From the ground, Chris groaned, remembering. “Never mention that day in my presence.”

“I wasn’t talking to you,” JC said, with dignity.

“We could go rollerblading,” Joey said. “Maybe, um, Saturday? Like around two?”

“Saturday’s cool,” JC said, smiling. “We could go to that park.”

“Sure thing,” said Joey.

Lance rejoined them. “Val says we’re done,” he said. “I’m gonna go take a shower.”

They nodded. Lance hated being dirty longer than he had to.

“I’ll go get our bags,” JC told Joey.

“Kay.”

Joey stood, then winced, favoring his leg. “I’m gonna go get some Aleve from Val,” he said, nodding towards the house. “I’ll meet you back at the car.” JC nodded, and headed towards the changing rooms. Chris and Justin followed.

They’d packed after the shower, while JC and Joey had left their stuff strewn all over the place.

“Bye, JC,” Justin said, slinging his bag over his shoulder. JC waved vaguely from where he’d crawled under the table, looking for Joey’s other sneaker. Chris followed Justin, trying to zip his duffel and wondering why it was always harder to get the stuff back in at the end of the day.

On the way to the car, they ran into Joey, who was carrying a large peacock tail-feather carefully in one hand.

“Hey, cool,” Chris said. “That for JC?”

"Yeah," Joey said. He was quiet, for a moment, then blurted out, "I asked Tiffanee if he ever, like, shed or anything, and she said she had some extras, so." He looked at his feet. “And JC didn’t get to see the peacock open his tail like he wanted.”

“He’ll like it,” Chris said.

“Yeah.” Joey smiled. “Is he—”

“Dressing room.”

“Thanks, man.”

Justin came up behind Chris, following his gaze to where Joey was limping towards the dressing rooms. “You ready to go?”

“Yeah.”

Justin slung an arm around his shoulders, and they walked back to where they’d parked the Jeep.

“You really want olives?” Chris said, sliding into the passenger seat.

“We don’t have to,” Justin said. “We can get them on the side.”

“You don’t like them raw,” Chris said, buckling his seat belt. “I guess I can stand the olive funk. This time.”

Justin grinned at him. “You say that every time.”

“Yeah, well. If you weren’t so good in bed, I’d dump your high-maintenance ass.” He laid his hand over Justin’s, where it rested on his thigh.

“You love my high-maintenance ass.”

“Let’s not forget your modesty.”

“Hey, you gotta work it while you still got it,” Justin said. Behind them, the peacock crossed the gravel drive and headed for the pasture, tail feathers spread wide.

END