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Popslash: Hi De Woe 1/2 - Saving the Vorwuls since 3289
...in a cage!
turps33
turps33
Popslash: Hi De Woe 1/2
I can't thank msktranny, ephemera_pop and especially nopsued enough for their help with this. I changed so many details and they let me wibble when I realised that the thing wasn't flowing at all.

Basically. This is an AU set in a British holiday camp. Where Justin is the newbie, the BSB all have roles. Certain people are given cameos and Justin wonders why the fuck people can't see.



"I'm Justin Timberlake," Justin says, setting his case on the ground. "I'm working here this summer."

"Good for you."

Thrown by the gruff reply, Justin shrugs his backpack further onto his shoulder, hating the feel of damp material trapped under the strap. "They said I'd be on a list."

The guard clicks his gum and takes off his cap. He pushes back his sweaty hair and there's a red ring around his forehead, a shallow indentation that's hidden when he lets his hair fall forward. He picks up a clipboard and holds a pen between his teeth as he runs his finger down a list. Justin hopes he doesn't have to use the pen, because that would be just gross.

"Tailor, Timberland, Timberlake. There you are. You need to check in at workers' services. Take a right at the donkey derby, walk past the Seashell restaurant and through the plaza. Keep going until you see the outdoor pool. It's the first building on the left after that."

"Thank you," Justin says. He smiles, but the guard -- Ricky -- is already back inside his booth and sitting in front of the fan.

It's no big deal. Justin has time to meet new people. It's why he'd finished his A Levels and decided to work for the summer instead of staying at home. There's only so many holidays you can spend lounging at the Country Club and Justin wants some independence, his own money and fun. He just wishes he wasn't so hot and sweaty. Standing for hours on an over-crowded train is no way to start his summer. Still, he's here now. His home for the next three months. He knows it's going to be fantastic.

The wheels of his case bump over the ground and Justin tightens his grip as he crosses the road. He's never actually seen a donkey derby -- never been in a holiday camp in fact -- but it has to be the open-fronted, striped-roofed structure with the row of plastic donkeys and soft toys hanging from the cross-beams. Which yeah. Justin eyes the donkeys as he walks past and smiles at the girl who's busy sorting out a bag of spotted fuzzy snakes. She smiles back and waves a snake in his direction and Justin would stop to chat, but he needs to check in and be assigned his role. He doubts he'll be a yellow coat, he's too young for that, but maybe one of the Street Gang, or even singing in Star Stage. Whatever. It's not like he won't be amazing at whatever job he's assigned.

Justin hums as he strides past the restaurant and through the dome-topped plaza. It's a big area with a central cafe and plastic tables and chairs arranged next to a stage. There's hardly anyone here right now, just a few families sitting with their cases, but it's easy to picture it filled with chattering people and Justin slows, imagining standing up there, singing and dancing, captivating the crowd with his moves.

"Hey, kid. If you're not doing anything, steady the ladder."

Justin looks up and notices a guy standing at the top of a stepladder. He's securing the end of a string of lights around the trunk of a potted palm tree, and Justin sets down his case and moves to wrap both hands around the sides of the ladder.

"Thanks."

The guy's upper body is hidden by the fronds of the palm, but Justin's got a perfect view of muscled calves, ragged cargo shorts and trainers that are years out of date.

"I'm Justin." Justin introduces himself, because while he'll have his own group of entertainer friends, it never hurts to talk to everyone. Who knows if he'll need a light bulb changed or a new lock put on his door?

"Chris." The palm tree fronds shake and a string of lights snake past Justin's ear. "I'd offer my hand, but I'm like, miles from the ground and don't really want to let go."

Justin looks from the soles of Chris' trainers to the tiled floor. "You're a few meters up."

"Like I said, miles."

The string sways and then jerks up and Chris' hands appear and disappear in Justin's vision as he wraps the lights around the trunk of the tree. It's soothing in the way that the fronds rustle as the string is deftly wrapped in carefully spaced spirals. Justin approves, because if something is going to be done it should be done right.

"I'm coming down."

Justin steps back, but keeps one hand on the ladder. He watches as more of Chris is exposed, a plain black t-shirt, some kind of weird medallion hanging around his neck, dark hair and eyes and a bright smile. Justin smiles in return, the one that shows all his teeth and sparkling eyes.

"Jesus, kid. Turn it down a notch. Keep it for the teens, they'll cream their knickers when they see you."

"Right," Justin says, losing the smile, because while Chris doesn't sound mean, Justin doesn't like the way he's looking at him, like Justin is amusing him somehow.

Chris pushes a roll of duct tape over his wrist and picks up the ladder, holding them under his arm. "You don't look like a typical guest. Your first day, right?"

"Yeah," says Justin, and wonders what a typical guest looks like. "I wanted to work this summer. So I auditioned, and here I am."

Chris looks directly at Justin, amusement still apparent in his expression. "And here you are."

Unsettled, Justin says "I'd better go."

"Right. I'll see you around."

"Sure," Justin says and he grabs his case, having to side-step smartly away when Chris spots someone he knows and spins around, the ladder barely missing Justin's chest.

It takes almost fifteen minutes to find workers' services. The door is hidden behind a stack of boxes and racks of plastic covered clothes. Justin runs his fingers over a yellow blazer and a pair of sparkling dungarees and hopes his costume isn't lame. Not that it matters that much. The fact is, Justin can make anything look good.

A bell jingles as he opens the door. Thankfully it's cool inside, the air stirred by two oscillating fans. There's one next to the woman sitting behind the counter and she looks over and sets down her magazine, indicating that he should come closer.

"Hello, duck. You're here to sign in?"

Justin frowns, because duck? But, ducks aside, she appears friendly, and Justin sets down his case and walks over. "Justin Timberlake. I was told to come here, I'm starting in the entertainment department today."

"Good, good." She turns toward a computer and clicks the mouse, opening a series of pages. She types in Justin's name, then hesitates when she reads the screen. "You're on here, but not as part of the entertainment team."

Hands braced against the counter, Justin leans so he can see the screen. "There has to be some kind of mistake. I auditioned and they said I'd got in."

"And you're sure it was part of the entertainment team?"

Justin is sure, and he swings his bag off his back. He's got his important documents zipped inside. His ID and blank checks from his mum, and the letter from Turplins saying he'd got a job. He pulls it out and begins to read. Very impressed at your interview...would like to offer you a position...arrive the 1st of July Frantic, Justin reads again, but nothing changes. There's no mention of him being on a specific team. "I thought. I mean. I auditioned as a performer."

The woman pats Justin on his hand. "So do most of our staff." She looks at the computer again and clicks the mouse. Toward the back of the room, a printer begins to whir. "You're down as part of the catering team. Specifically front of house catering, so no kitchens or washing up for you. You'll be on one of the stalls."

That would be a relief, if Justin wasn't reeling at getting things so wrong.

The woman disappears behind a row of metal shelves, then reappears, setting pages of forms and a key on the counter. "You're sharing a caravan on the staff field. It's five quid the first time you lose the key, ten after that. You need to meet your supervisor at five, but all that's on here." She taps her nail against the stack of print outs and then looks at Justin. "Now, uniform. What are you, a medium, extra tall?"

Justin looks at her, and says, glumly, "I guess."

Justin has the plastic-wrapped package wedged under his arm and it sticks unpleasantly to his bare skin. There's sweat tricking down the side of his face and his hand hurts from tugging his stupid case over this endless stupid field. Apparently the caravan he's been assigned is situated on the far side of the camp. Past the fairground and monorail station, through a tunnel and then straight on. For miles. He passes rows of caravans, and they're not even good caravans. They look old and some have dented sides and towels pinned up as curtains and Justin has to weave through a collection of lawn chairs and deflated balls and an incredible amount of discarded stuff covered in sparkles.

Justin hates it, especially when he steps on something squishy and looks down to see a used condom glued to the sole of his trainer.

Horrified, he scrapes it off on the grass and blinks against the burning in his eyes. It's all too tempting to turn around and just leave. He could go back home, lounge by his pool. Sip a cold drink with his mum and pretend this horrific day hasn't happened. Except for one thing. Justin's never been a quitter. He's not about to start now.

He finally finds his caravan five minutes later. It's right at the edge of the field and there's a Barbie towel draped over a nearby hedge. All of the windows and both doors are open, and when Justin steps close he almost recoils at the smell of old sweat and rotten food. Hesitantly, he steps inside.

"Hello," Justin says. He can hear music coming from one of the bedrooms and the TV is playing some show with a guy with a tan and bright smile. Justin scowls, hating anyone that can smile right now. Dropping his case he unpeels the plastic from his arm and balances the package on a stack of dog-eared entertainment guides. He looks around and there's clutter everywhere. A row of small soft toys are lined on the narrow window sill and the table is covered in burn marks and dirty bowls. Justin doesn't want to look too closely at the sink with its mountain of dirty dishes, or the bin which is so full that egg shells and used tea bags circle it on the floor. It's squalor, and Justin's skin itches as he imagines insects and germs.

"Hey, Nick, is that...oh."

A door opens and steam clouds out of the room, pulled toward outside. The boy who appears has a spotted towel wrapped around his waist, slicked back hair and an accent that reminds Justin of watching Coronation Street with his mum.

"You're not Nick." The boy looks past Justin, taking in the case and uniform package. "And apparently you're moving in."

"Unfortunately." It's not the polite thing to say, or the smartest because no matter how much he hates the idea, it seems this is Justin's temporary home.

"My mam would have a fit if she saw this place." The boy grins and pushes open a door with his bare foot. "Thankfully she never will. Let me get dressed and I'll show you your bed. Sit down, watch Neighbours, I won't be long." He enters the bedroom, and then sticks his head back out. "I'm Lance by the way."

"Justin."

There's some kind of muffled acknowledgement, and Justin feels stupid standing there, listening to the rustles and squeaks that's Lance getting dressed. Still, Justin stays where he is because the couch is covered in clothes that he just knows are dirty. It's that kind of place.

"Do you want a drink?"

Lance appears again. He's wearing dark trousers and is pulling on a beige polo-shirt and Justin can't help noticing the line of his back, or the way freckles cover Lance's shoulders. Looking away before he's caught, Justin says, "Sure."

"No clean glasses, figures." Lance's hair is sticking up in damp spikes, and he sighs as he crouches and opens the small fridge. Looking inside he takes out two cans of pop and passes one to Justin. "It's not usually this bad, but Jason got a new job at Frontins. It was his leaving party last night."

"Right," Justin says dubiously, because seriously, this mess is clearly more than a day old.

"And truthfully, some of the others are slobs."

Which is nothing that Justin hasn't already figured out. He says nothing, just snaps open his can and takes a long drink.

"So, I suppose I'd better give you the tour," Lance says without moving. He holds out his arm, using his can of pop to point. "Lounge, it's communal space so anything left out there is fair game. Fridge, two people share a shelf, you'll need to put your name over Jason's. Bathroom, first come first shower and a tip. There's a lot of us sharing one toilet, so don't drink any yellow liquid in a bottle."

Grimacing, Justin hopes Lance is joking, but somehow knows he's not.

"Take it from someone who knows." Lance frowns and points at the door at the end of the caravan. "That's Nick and Brian's room, next to it Jack and Maxwell's, then there's us."

Lance steps into the room he'd gone into earlier. Justin follows and finds himself in a stifling hot room that's smaller than his walk in wardrobe at home. There are two narrow beds with a tiny gap between, and a row of cupboards attached to the wall. Lance's bed is obviously the one next to the window. He's got piles of clothes arranged on the covers, an open comic book wedged under the pillow and a caricature of himself taped to the wall.

"Home sweet home," Lance says, sitting on his bed.

Justin sits too, elbows on his knees as he slumps forward. He's too hot, tired, and he's still got to go and work. Right at this moment all Justin wants to do is go home. His real home with his mum and his own room and things.

"It gets better," Lance says suddenly, and when Justin looks up Lance is looking right back at him. "My first day was horrible. But I got to know people, and you will too."

"I guess." Justin sits up straight and takes another drink. Rolling the cold can between his palms, he admits, "I thought I was coming here to perform, turns out I'm selling food."

"I thought I was coming to sing, and ended up inside the Alfred the alpaca costume," Lance says.

"Sucks," Justin says and thinks, maybe his job isn't that bad after all.

By the time Justin has unpacked -- as best he can anyway, most of his clothes don't fit in the tiny cupboards and have had to be left in his case -- there's only thirty minutes before he needs to be at work. He eyes his schedule, and then carefully folds and shoves it in the back pocket of his black chinos and fusses with the collar of his polo shirt, making sure it lies flat.

When he leaves the bedroom he sees that Lance has made a space for himself on the couch and is watching some kids' show that seems to involve a lot of shouting and mess. He's also talking to someone who's lying sprawled on his back on the piles of clothes, bare chested and wearing yellow shorts, blond hair falling back to expose tanned skin and a sunburned nose.

"Hi," the stranger lifts his hand and waves lazily. "Nick."

"Justin." When he walks into the main room Justin wrinkles his nose and sees a bag from Burger King lying on the floor, which explains the smell of grease and onions which is mixing with the strong scent of chlorine.

Shifting a little, Nick lets his head hang off the edge of the couch and grins an upside down grin. "Want a burger? Brian gives me the waste stock." He twists around and pulls a burger out of the bag, stuffing the whole thing in his mouth. He grins around the bun and patty, swallowing when Lance reaches out and tugs at his hair.

"Seriously, can you be any more gross?"

Nick purses his lips, as if he's in deep thought and Justin is caught between wanting to know what he's going to say, and not wanting to at all.

"You know those socks you like? They're great to jerk off into."

Lewdly, Nick humps the air, but Lance just looks coolly back at him. "That stain on your shorts? It wasn't mayonnaise."

"I knew it!" Nick laughs and lifts his head so he can look at Lance. "I can go better. Last week I tea bagged Brian when he was asleep. Dangled the boys right over his nose."

"Impressive. You could have lost your balls on the inhale."

"You know it." Nick fists the air, his smile blinding. "I'm the grossest of all."

Lance pushes himself to his feet, says, casually. "I've had sex in the Alfred Alpaca costume."

"Dude. Respect." Solemnly, Nick holds his hand up and high-fives Lance. "You win."

"Like it was in doubt." Lance grins and looks at Justin. "I'll walk over with you, if we go now you might escape Nick's rant. He hasn't had anyone new to listen to it for a while."

"Rant?" Chewed up burger flies from Nick's mouth. He swallows hard. "It's not a rant, it's a valid complaint. Be a lifeguard they said. You'll be by the sea they said. You can still surf they said. But did they say that sea was the north sea? No. It's cold and grey and...."

"Has no good waves and there's things floating in it," Lance interrupts, obviously following a well recited script. He grins at Nick and pulls Justin by the arm toward the door.

A last look at Nick, because -- tea bagging? -- Justin follows Lance outside. Thankfully it's cooled down somewhat, the harsh midday sun replaced by a gentler heat and shadows that are just starting to stretch across the ground. In the distance Justin can hear the thump of music and the excited screams from the direction of the fairground. The sound of people talking as they lounge on the grass, looking up and sometimes waving as Justin and Lance walk past.

It's nice, peaceful, like Justin's been given a buffer before plunging into work.

"You'll be working under AJ, he's a good guy." Lance smiles as they pass a caravan with a werewolf painted on the main window, a skinny guy sitting texting on the steps. "As long as you get the work done he doesn't mind if you watch the shows, until you get sick of them anyway."

"I won't get sick of watching." Performing is all he's ever wanted to do and while watching is second best, he can't imagine not wanting to see.

"Tell me that in two weeks when you've listened to Puppet Man so often you can hear it in your sleep. I don't know how they stand it."

"They?"

Lance side-steps an empty pizza box. "The Street Gang, they do those shows three times a day, six days a week. It would drive me mad." He looks at Justin then. "Have you ever worked at a place like this before?"

"I've volunteered at a beauty pageant."

Eyebrow raised, Lance looks at Justin.

"Close, but you need a crash course on holiday camp survival. One, always remember the kids are vicious. Don't be distracted by how angelic they look. If they have a chance they'll be on you like a pack of savage beasts. Two. Keep smiling. It doesn't matter if you're having the worst day, the guests don't want to know. Three. Watch out for the jailbait. The last thing you want is to be bagged by a hormonal teen. Four. Don't turn your back when Geek's around. He's a maniac."

It's good advice, but Justin can't understand how he's supposed to keep an eye out for a geek. Half the people they're passing fit that label with their sweat-stained uniforms and hair pulled back with a variety of hair accessories, all of which seem to sparkle in some way. Justin's even seen three people wearing glittering springy dealy boppers. Obviously you take a job here and style goes out of the window. It's fucking scary.

Lance keeps talking. "Geek's one of the Street Gang. The one wearing a sparkly blue wig, blue and green make-up and dungarees."

"Stylish."

"It makes him visible at least. Until he gets in the middle of the vicious hordes of kids anyway, then he blends in with all their flashy glittery crap."

Hands curled into fists, Lance kicks at dandelion, making it explode into a cloud of seeds.

"He sounds like an ass," Justin says.

Lance shrugs. "He is, he's cool though. He doesn't mind me hanging around, not like some of them. Elitist jerks. Just because they get to dance and sing."

"So we don't get to mix with the entertainers?" Justin says, dismayed.

"Some of them. Joey's cool. He's a yellow coat. So's Howie. Kevin's teaches ballroom dancing, but he's Brian's cousin so we see him sometimes. Then Chris and JC."

"And that's it? Out of everyone." Justin can see his hopes of integrating himself with the entertainers washing away. How's he supposed to charm them if he doesn't get time to shine?

"That's it."

They're leaving the staff field now, joining the steady streams of people heading toward the plaza. There's a mixture of people. Adults dressed up, their kids hanging onto their hands, chattering in their best dresses and shining shoes. Others who haven't dressed up at all and those that seem to want to be anywhere but here. They all keep walking, clattering heels, the thud of sneakers and childish laughter. Buggies with Alfred Alpaca balloons tied to their handles and babies asleep with bare feet and chubby faces.

It helps create an atmosphere of expectation, that something exciting will happen when they reach and enter the giant dome and the further they walk, the more excited talk and laughter he hears, the easier Justin feels, until the tight knot that had taken up residence in his chest begins to fade.

"It's got a feeling of its own hasn't it?" Lance stops walking before they enter the arcade. "I'm going to meet Joey and get suited up. Watch out for me later, I'll give you a wave." He grins and briefly touches Justin's arm. "Good luck."

Justin suspects he'll need it. The dome is crowded with people now, all the tables full and he has to squeeze past the queue waiting to get into Star Stage. He walks past a stall selling hot dogs, another with popcorn and a table surrounded by kids getting temporary tattoos applied by a short man with a beaming smile. Next to them is a man sitting on the ground, his dark hair falling into his eyes as draws a caricature of a woman sitting in a folding chair, and then, finally, the pancake stall.

There's a man sitting on a stool. He's got tattoos up both arms and is wearing a white shirt and tie. He looks over dark sunglasses when Justin approaches and then deliberately looks at his watch.

"You're on time, good."

Justin looks at his own watch. He's actually five minutes early, but despite the temptation to point that out, he keeps quiet, and just goes to stand behind the stall.

"Can you mix batter, pour it onto a hotplate without burning yourself, add fillings and serve to a ravenous horde?"

Fixed with a direct stare, Justin concentrates on the actual words trying to cut through yet another new accent. He looks at the hot plates, the boxes of batter mix and tubs of fillings and while normally the au pair or his mum makes meals for him. Surely this can't be too hard?

"Sure."

"Good." The man smiles then and pats Justin's arm. "AJ. I think you and me are going to get on just fine."

"Justin."

There's an awkward moment when Justin doesn't know if he's supposed to pat back or hug or something, but AJ doesn't seem to notice, just flicks switches and crouches as he pulls out a jug of prepared batter from the small under-counter fridge. He sets it down and picks up a giant ladle and brandishes it near Justin's face.

"One scoop of this equals one pancake. Wait until the hot plate is hot, scoop up the batter, ladle it out and watch until it browns then flip. Easy."

Demonstrating, AJ quickly pours out a scoop of batter before picking up a spatula. Hip propped against his stool he waits a moment before flipping the pancake with expert grace. It does look easy, and Justin's reaching for the ladle when AJ holds up a hand.

"Hold it. Hat and apron first."

AJ unhooks a stripped apron from the side of the stall and takes a hat complete with attached hair net from its pocket. Resigned, Justin holds out his hand. It seems to take forever before he manages to cram his curls into the net, and Justin can feel how his cheeks are flushing as AJ hops onto the stool and eats the pancake, ripping it apart with his fingers.

"Looking good, baby." AJ chews slowly as he looks at Justin, seemingly satisfied. "Give it a try."

"Okay," Justin says. He repeats the steps in his head. Scoop, pour, wait, flip, serve. It's a simple five point routine and he feels confident as he picks up the ladle and sinks it into the batter.

Things don't go well. Justin's first pancake is more blob shaped than round. The second burnt black on one side. And the third is lying on the ground after an enthusiastic flip sent it flying through the air. Pancakes are harder to perfect than they look, and Justin's all too aware of his audience. The caricature artist who's trying to hide his grin behind his hair, and the one next door who's applying tattoos and making no attempt to hide his giggles. Justin hates them all.

"Ignore them, they're dicks. You'll get it," AJ says.

He's bent over, scraping pancake from the floor which makes his trousers pull tight around his arse. Justin turns away before he's caught looking. He's got no problem with people knowing he's gay, but perving over his boss is no way to start his first shift. Plus, looking just makes things uncomfortable and Justin gets tired of feeling like a perpetually horny teen. Which granted, he is, but still, he likes to maintain an image that he's always fully in control. It's why he straightens his shoulders, picks up the ladle, and approaches the hot plate, determined to succeed.

This time the pancake is perfect, and Justin grins as he slides it onto a paper plate with a deft twist of his wrist, bowing slightly when his audience applauds.

"Told you," AJ says. He stands and looks solemnly up at Justin. "Now my young apprentice. We learn the fine art of toppings."

It turns out that squeezing chocolate sauce and sprinkling various toppings is a no-brainer. In fact, soon Justin's enjoying the sound of sugar crunching as he dips his spoon into the container, the rattle of chocolate drops and the cool feel of the can as he squirts whipped cream onto the disgusting concoction that AJ's just ordered. Picking up the plate he attempts to hand it over, but AJ shakes his head and curls his lip.

"It's not for me." He slides off his stool and stands on the low wall that backs the stall, looking towards the doors to outside before jumping back down. "It's for JC, though how he can eat this shit and still look the way he does I'll never know."

Justin holds onto the plate and looks at the crowds of people that are walking through the plaza, trying to spot JC. Which is stupid because he's got no idea what JC looks like, just knows that he likes disgusting pancake topping combinations and if it's the same person Lance mentioned, is one of the entertainers. Which he has to be. Surely there's not more than one person called JC in a place like this?

"There's the fucker now." AJ points and Justin's summer suddenly gets a whole lot more interesting. JC is gorgeous. Tall and thin with loose curls that bounce around his shoulders as he walks. He's carrying a backpack shaped like Animal from the Muppets, and is wearing obscenely tight jeans and flip flops with a yellow flower on the toe strap. Justin thinks he's in lust.

"Is that for me?"

Up close he's even better, with brilliant blue eyes and an easy smile as he holds out his hands and makes gimme gestures.

"Greedy bitch." AJ pushes his sunglasses to the top of his head and levels a look at JC. "One day your frankly disgusting pancake won't be ready, and then what will you do?"

JC grins and takes the plate from Justin. "You're breaking my heart, man. Don't be threatening to withhold the pancakes."

"Pancake," AJ stresses. "There's only so much spillage I can account for to feed your skinny ass."

"You're a prince among men," JC says, and then takes a bite of pancake. It's a gross sight as he eats the whole thing in two bites, cream oozing from the corners of his mouth. Except when he's finished he sucks at his fingers and Justin has to busy himself levelling the chocolate chips in their container. It's either that or brand his dick on the hot plate, and wouldn't that be the perfect ending to this day?

"Justin."

Fingers snap in front of Justin's face, and he turns to see that AJ's staring at him, looking amused.

"This is JC, he tries to sing and dance in Star Stage. JC, Justin. He's my new pancake bitch."

Which is something Justin would protest, except it's becoming readily apparent that it's true, and really, he's been called worse.

"Hi," JC says. He smiles and then runs his finger over the plate, scooping up the last swirls of cream and chocolate. "It's good, did you make it?"

"Yeah." Justin feels himself beaming, and he would tone down his smile but it really has been a sucky day. If he wants to take pleasure from a compliment on his pancake making skills from a hot stranger he will.

AJ tsks and takes off his sunglasses. "Nice ego, kid." But there's no malice in the remark, and Justin keeps smiling as AJ tucks his glasses in his pocket and looks at his watch and asks, "You ready?"

Justin's not sure what he's supposed to be ready for, but he nods anyway, and then jumps slightly when loud music suddenly fills the air. It's a mixture of thudding bass and trumpets with, bizarrely, jingling bells. The sound seems to energise the crowd and as children begin to run, settling themselves down on the floor next to the stage, their excited squeals mingling with the sound of drums. It's barely organised chaos, and Justin can't help staring.

"It gets worse, man." JC drops his empty plate in the bin and looks at the rapidly increasing mob of children, all of whom seem to be waving some kind of illuminated toy, either swords or flashing balls on sticks that turn their faces red and yellow and green, Justin can't imagine how it could possibly get worse, but AJ's nodding an agreement.

"Wait until they start screeching." Shuddering, he turns to JC. "You sticking around to see Chris?"

"No," JC says, and he shrugs his shoulders so Animal is situated higher on his back. "I see that fucker enough. Anyway, we're meeting for drinks after shift. You should come with, you too, Justin."

"That's....thanks. I will." Internally, Justin groans. He couldn't sound like a bigger dork if he tried, but JC doesn't seem to notice, just waves as he steps back, letting the crowd carry him away.

"Time to open up."

Thoughts of intimate drinking sessions with JC abruptly interrupted, Justin looks at AJ who flexes his hands before taking the closed for training sign off the counter.

Within minutes there's a queue of people at the stall and Justin's kept busy adding toppings to the pancakes AJ slides onto paper plates. It's not hard work exactly, but Justin does have to concentrate to understand the variety of accents, some of which are so broad that he struggles to decide if they really want strawberry jam and cheese or if he's hearing things wrong. Mostly he is. On one horrible occasion he wasn't.

They're so busy that Justin doesn't even get the chance to watch the show. Just has an impression of brightly coloured figures on the stage and a lot of screeching from the kids. It makes Justin's ears ring, add that to the fact he's exhausted and his feet are aching and it's no surprise that he doesn't notice the maniac that suddenly launches himself at Justin's back.

Yelling, Justin spins around and he would call for security but AJ seems more long-suffering than anything, and anyway, the glittering blue hair and heavily made up face would be a give away that this is someone from the entertainment staff.

"Hi," the maniac says, and he presses a kiss to Justin's cheek. "I'm Geek."

Which, of course he is. Aware that he's been watched, Justin pulls on a smile and doesn't flinch when Geek kisses his other cheek and tightens his knees.

"My feet hurt, take me to the stage."

Biting back a response that contains words that the watching children don't need to hear, Justin looks at AJ who shrugs and goes back to making pancakes. "Take him, but straight back."

Geek isn't heavy, but his knees are hard and he's snuffling in Justin's ear, which is all kinds of disgusting, and Justin wants to get to the stage as soon as possible, but somehow they've acquired a tail of kids who're following close behind, laughing as Geek pretends to twirl a lasso and yells, 'yeehaw'!

It's not the impression Justin wants to make at all and he's working up his temper when he sees the caricature guy give him a beaming smile and the tattoo giggler a thumbs up and Justin realises to them this is normal. More a badge of acceptance than anything and Justin's bad temper melts away and he can't resist trotting a little, smiling as he approaches the stage and Geek jumps off with a last smacking kiss.

"Thanks." Geek winks, his blue mascara sparkling in the light, then climbs up on stage, joining the rest of the gang who immediately break into song. It's tempting to stay and watch, because while the costumes are ridiculous the performance is good. Justin can see the talent and professionalism under the thick make-up and insane hair. It's something he appreciates, but he doesn't stick around, all too aware of the line that still snakes away from the pancake stall.

Stepping between two tiny girls who're watching the show with rapt attention, Justin blinks when he sees a giant alpaca appear from behind a door marked staff only. The alpaca is wearing a cropped yellow top and no pants and has a smile that makes it look more deranged than anything. It also seems to have a body guard, one of the yellow coats who's holding its hand as they step into view.

Instantly a small boy yells, and another begins to cry, sobbing as his parents crouch down and urge him to wave at Albert. He doesn't, just sobs louder until they relent and take him away. Justin doesn't blame him for being afraid. He's a little taken aback himself when the alpaca begins to wildly wave in his direction.

Justin waves weakly back, and is about to head back to the stall when the alpaca plods close and bends its furry head next to Justin's.

"How's it going?"

"Okay," Justin says. He takes a step back, worried that the alpaca is coming on to him somehow. Because Geeks, alpacas, such is Justin's life lately.

The alpaca puts its hands on its hips and laughs, a muffled sound from deep inside its head. "Justin, it's me, Lance."

"Right. I knew that."

"Sure you did." Lance rests a furry hand on Justin's shoulder. "The moron in the yellow coat is Joey."

Joey grins, and when he speaks it's like Justin's back in London, wandering the shops of Soho. "Lance tells me you've moved into the cess pit."

"I guess," Justin says.

Lance swats at Joey's head with his paw. "Like your caravan is any better."

"Is Nick still keeping that burger in his room to see how far the mould will spread?"

"Yeah."

"Point proven." Joey pokes a finger against the alpaca's belly and looks at Justin. "I swear, you need a hazmat suit to go into Nick and Brian's bedroom." He suddenly turns in place, smiling as he wags a finger at a boy who's creeping up close. "No kicking Albert, you'll make him sad."

"Fucking kids," Lance says, so softly only Justin can hear. "I need to go to photo ops, I'll see you later, okay?"

He walks away, Joey at his side and Justin goes back to the stall, mouthing a sorry at AJ's pointed look.

When Justin cleans the last jug he's ready to drop with exhaustion. It's been a long night and what he wants to do is crawl into his bed and sleep. Especially as he feels so gross. His shirt is clinging wetly to the small of his back and when he tugs off his hat he knows his hair will be in sweaty curls that are plastered against his head. Which is never an attractive look, and really it would be better if Justin just went back to the caravan already. Not that he will when there's people to be met and hot entertainers to look at.

"Ready, Pancake Bitch?"

Justin takes off his apron and looks at AJ. "You do realise I have an actual name?"

"I do," AJ says. "I'm just not going to use it."

Which is fair enough. It's not like Justin can force his new boss to do anything, and the honesty of his answer is oddly endearing. Still, he has to provide some kind of token protest and adopts his best annoyed expression. AJ looks right back, at least Justin assumes he does. AJ's eyes are hidden behind his dark glasses and he could be looking at the ceiling or at tattoo guy who's chatting on his mobile as he packs up his stall.

"So, Ringos." AJ takes off his own apron and stretches before untucking his shirt. Taking off his tie he shoves it in his pocket and undoes his top buttons before pulling on a black beanie. "It's not a staff only place, but most of the guests stick to the bigger venues so we tend to get left alone. Especially as it's adults only."

Which is fantastic news because Justin likes kids but he's about had his fill for one night. "So it's like, the place to hang out?"

"If by hang out you mean drink pissy larger and share plates of chips, yeah." AJ looks over his shoulder, what for Justin doesn't know because the plaza is nearly empty now. Only a few stray guests and tired-eyed employees cleaning tables and packing up their stalls. "Fucking Kevin's always late. He's probably gone to Kristen's caravan, horny fucker."

"Kevin?"

"Brian's cousin, Kevin. He's a ballroom dancer instructor," AJ says.

Justin tries to remember if he knew this already, but he's been told so many names today that they're all running together. Though he does remember Brian. "Brian, right. The one Nick tea bagged."

"That him," AJ says. "If he ever asks you to touch his finger say no."

"Isn't it pull your finger?" Justin asks.

AJ pushes his sunglasses down his nose and looks at Justin. "It's where his finger has been you have to worry about. He's king of stink finger."

Which is so many kinds of wrong that Justin can't even begin to count. "Will he be at Ringos?"

AJ looks over at Burger King and shrugs. "He's a burger flipper but I can't see him working. That doesn't mean he's not off screwing Nick somewhere. Don't worry, there'll be people there."

"Good," Justin says, relieved that he's spending the summer with people who won't care who he sleeps with. He also feels his reserves of energy kick in at the prospect of hopefully meeting some of the entertainment team, and of course, JC.

It turns out that Ringos is on the outskirts of the camp. It's a small building with light-up cacti arranged around the doors and plastic chillies hanging from the ceiling, looping around the glass lamps that hang above the booths that line one wall. A bar and tables fill the rest of the space. Near the back of the room, three of the tables have been pushed together and he sees Lance and Joey sitting together, their chairs close. Across the table is Nick, and someone sitting plastered to his side, which has to be Brian, small and blond with one of the biggest smiles Justin has ever seen. Then further back, at the end table, JC. He's leaning forward talking to someone who's leaning in too, and Justin can't help smiling, because JC's as hot as he remembers. Hotter even, and Justin heads in his direction, wanting to talk.

Then stops. Because from this angle he can see that JC's not actually talking but sucking on some kind of pink stick held by the light-stringing janitor. Which is mystifying in itself, but JC seems to be enjoying it all too much, his cheeks hollowed and as Justin watches he sees a flash of tongue as JC licks along the stick and over the janitor's fingers. It's an intimate gesture, and Justin can't help feeling uncomfortable, but no one else seems to care, even when JC slides his mouth off the stick so he can kiss the janitor on his mouth, his eyes sliding closed when the janitor licks over JC's lips.

"Jesus, public place here." AJ pulls out a chair and sits opposite JC. "You'll make Pancake Bitch blush."

"No, it's okay," Justin says, and tries not to stare.

JC pulls back with a last smack of his lips, says, grinning. "Chris bought me rock." He grabs the janitor's hand that's holding the rock and holds it up, presenting the spit-slick pink stick. "Want to lick my stick?"

"Hell no," AJ says. Justin considers it first, but it really does look disgusting, one end a faded pink and anyway, even hot guys have germs.

"It's good," the janitor, Chris says. He grins then bites the end off the rock, crunching it between his teeth. "Hey kid, thanks for the ride earlier."

At first Justin doesn't understand what he means, because all he did was hold a ladder. Then realisation hits and he imagines Chris' dark eyes surrounded by blue shadow and sparkles, his mouth coated with blue lipstick, the jeans and t-shirt swapped for dungarees. "You're Geek? But you were stringing lights."

"You were?" Brian asks, and he leans forward so he can looks along the tables. "I sense a losing bet."

Chris leans back in his chair. "I bet Bob I could get five numbers."

"And?" Brian prompts.

"And I only got four."

"Sucks to be you, man," Brian says, laughing. "Tell me you got the number of the red-head with the sweet rack at least."

"As if I wouldn't." Chris digs in his front pocket and throws a scrap of paper onto the table. Which seems to be a signal because everyone is rummaging in their own pockets and wallets and soon the tables are covered with telephone numbers written on everything from a beer mat to a gilt-edged business card. JC, Justin notices, has one of the biggest piles of all, and he presses a kiss to Chris' cheek before picking up his glass and holding it in the air.

"To surviving another week."

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