backstreet boys

Fiction by Pen . . . . . not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment

Unnatural

another MTYG test story, but thanks to JM for some useful advice on the Boys

It's not usually weird like this.

It's always at least a little bit weird, with these guys, nobody ever quite knows what's going to happen. However many rehearsals, however many performances, there's always something. And every audience is the same, and every audience is different, and the girls here in Tokyo are like the girls everywhere, and different like the girls everywhere. But he's back in the swing of it now, he is, and really, that's not what's weird about tonight.

It's—AJ can't quite believe what he's seeing, and is seriously wondering whether he is delusional—it's Brian.

Sure, Brian always bounces around like a maniac, that's what Brian does, but he isn't playing the fool tonight, he's urging them on, on with the show, let's get through this. And he doesn't... this is so weird. He doesn't seem like he's having fun. He seems... stressed. Maybe even angry. Brian!

Something isn't right, and really, the likelihood that it's Brian who isn't right is just so small, AJ knows he must be seeing things wrong, because there's no way Brian is this demented creature AJ thinks he's seeing. It must be AJ, it must be AJ's mind. He does this, he knows he does it, inside his head he tries to make Brian be less than he is, be dirty and soiled just so that... so that he doesn't feel so dirty himself.

That's what AJ's subconscious does to him at night. He dreams about Brian, and it's wrong.

Not during the day, though, during the day he can put aside those thoughts and see what Brian really is, true and clear and honest and so, so much better than anything AJ, in the self-consciousness of his own sins, can ever touch.

So it must be AJ, painting something onto Brian that Brian isn't really doing, because when does Brian ever short-change an audience? When does he ever not want to play, on stage, and make everybody in the arena feel happy? It must be AJ.

Except, Howie looks troubled, and AJ sees him sidle closer to Kevin for a quick exchange. And Nick, Brian's chief playmate and victim, isn't looking as sunny as he usually does, is looking just a bit bewildered.

They're all feeling it now, and the urgency sends the show spinning on to its end, not that they miss out any of the numbers, they'd never do that, but there's no space between, hardly time to catch their breath before they go straight into the next number, and the next, and at last it's time for encores and—man, Brian sounds really rough there, he's almost growling—and a mad dash offstage.

Brian leaves skidmarks on the stage, practically, and when they get to the dressing room he's already done, he's running right out again, pulling a hoodie over his head as he pushes past them, doesn't even look at them. The four of them stare at the space where he was, a moment ago, and they go in to change out of sweaty stage gear, and there's Brian's clothes all over the floor. Brian never throws his clothes down like that. He was always on at Nick and AJ to pick up their stuff, treat the backstage staff with respect, always.

"What the hell is wrong?"

Aj thought he was thinking it, but it turns out, Kevin said it. Kevin's looking pissed, but worried, too. It's a very familiar expression, and AJ doesn't want to see it even if, this time, he didn't put it there on Kevin's face.

"Maybe he's missing Leighanne?" Nick sounds tentative, as if he's making a suggestion he doesn't believe, and he's right, it isn't a big enough reason for Brian to be behaving so weirdly. It's not like they haven't been separated before, when Backstreet are touring.

"Maybe something happened, back home, that he didn't tell us," Howie says, and that's more like it. AJ feels a lurch of terror as Kevin calls out the door to the nearest security guard and asks if there's anything on the news. What happened in September's still too bright and harsh in everyone's mind. September, when the world changed. But there's nothing, nothing big happened, nothing to make Brian turn into somebody else. Kevin's face is still stony with worry as he gets out his cell and talks to Kristen, doesn't even check to see what the time is back home before he calls her.

It's an uncomfortable one-sided conversation to hear, but eventually Kevin has to accept that no, there's nothing wrong with anyone in the family, so far as Kristin knows. He makes her promise to call around, though, then stands there, listening, with one hand rubbing tiredly at his scalp and his face like marble.

"I don't think so," he says at last. "Not Brian. Not so far. But I guess..." Then it's the pretty goodbyes, and AJ tries not to listen to those even though Kevin is kind of sweet, nearly eighteen months and still in the honeymoon phase.

"We'd best be getting back," he tells them after he ends the call. AJ doesn't miss the look Kevin and Howie exchange, but he doesn't understand it, either. Doesn't matter. He just wants to go find Brian, to find out what's wrong, and make it better. Brian shouldn't be like this. Whatever this is.

* * *

Getting into Brian's hotel room is easy enough, Kevin always has everybody's spare keys, but Brian is nowhere to be seen. Howie and Nick take turns cajoling through the locked bathroom door while AJ bites his nails. Kevin's on the phone to Kristin again, apparently being reassured that she's spoken to everyone important and no, there's nothing wrong.

"He won't let me in." Nick's tired now, and miserable.

"He'll fucking let me in," Kevin snarls. And he lifts his knee and kicks at the door, and AJ tries really hard not to remember how it feels to be on the other side of that door with the wrath of God coming through, and Kevin kicks it again until there's a crack and a shudder and he shoves his way inside. AJ, Nick and Howie crowd in through the open doorway to see what the hell is going to happen next.

All they can see of Brian is his back, in the farthest corner of the bathroom. Kevin doesn't waste any time, he goes over and puts a hand on Brian's shoulder, but Brian shrugs it off and won't turn around. Whatever Kevin says to him is too quiet for the three onlookers to hear, and the sound Brian makes doesn't seem to be words at all.

AJ's expecting it to be an epic battle, irresistible force meets immovable object, but something seems to change. Brian still has his hands over his face, but he turns, just a bit, towards Kevin, and there's something—

"Oh, honey," Kevin says, suddenly gentle as a new father. "Brian, it's okay. It's going to be okay."

"How?" says Brian, thickly, as if he's been sobbing, or has a mouthful of taffy.

"What is it, Frick? What's wrong?" Nick can't wait any longer. AJ and Howie surge forward a moment later, and Brian stares over his hands at them, and his face, the terror on his face scares the shit out of AJ, whatever is wrong, it's worse than any of them thought.

"What did I do?" Brian's voice never sounded so desolate. "I must have done something so wrong. God, what did I do?" AJ doesn't think he's talking to them.

AJ can't help it. He has to—reach out, move the hand gently aside from Brian's face. Brian's white, terrified face, helpless as a child's, his blue eyes bright with water and shame, and a pale ivory curve jutting up from either side of his mouth.

AJ forgets to breathe.

"Holy shit!" Nick practically screams the words. "What happened?"

Howie grabs him and pulls him away, does his best to calm him down, but Nick's volatile at the best of times, and this...

"Brian," Kevin says, and Christ, how can he be so calm? "Listen, Brian. It's not just you. It isn't something you did. Here. Feel." And AJ has to stop hyperventilating, stop reeling, for a minute, and watch Kevin take Brian's hand and guide it up to his own head, to part his dark, silky hair, to reveal, and AJ would really like to be hallucinating now, two stubby little horns. Almost black, and rough-textured like bark.

Kevin's still talking, and it takes an effort for AJ to hear what he's saying, because horns? "Howie has it, too. It's his ears. You know he wanted to cut his hair short, but the curls hide it, when they grow."

It's not just the tusks, AJ can tell, it's the fear and the horror clotting in Brian's throat that make his voice sound so wrong. "I can't hide, Kevin. I can't hide this. How can I go home to Leigh? How can I go home? I'm a monster."

AJ has to protest. "No. Not, not a monster. Not that, Brian."

Nick has come back into the equation now, there's a lot of noisy insistence that it's really not that obvious, or maybe they can get some kind of dentist in to pull them out, or file them down, or something. It isn't helping. Brian shrinks away and protests at the very thought someone else might see. It hurts to see him so afraid, so shattered.

"So why is this happening?" AJ asks, trying for the kind of calm that comes naturally to Kevin. "And how come you and Howie never told us about...?" He gestures vaguely. He can't quite bring himself to say 'that you have horns now'.

Kevin looks almost relieved, now the subject's in the open. Everyone does, really, except Brian, and AJ isn't sure there's anything that will make Brian feel better right now. "We don't exactly know why it's happening," Kevin says, "we think there has to be some sort of spell, a geis or something, Kristin's researching it but we haven't found out much yet. But it isn't permanent, believe me, it isn't permanent."

God, AJ thinks, oh, God, it isn't permanent. He starts to shake, and has to sit down on the side of the bath. The ridge at the back of his thigh isn't comfortable, but he doesn't think he can stay on his feet.

"How can you know that?" Brian growls.

"Because I don't have horns all the time," Kevin says, sounding a little bit exasperated, which is probably the most normal thing in this bathroom right now. "They... manifest for two, three days, when there's a new moon. And we didn't tell y'all because we hoped, I hoped, we could figure things out before anything happened to anybody else. Howie was right after me, but it's been months now, we thought you guys were in the clear."

"I felt them growing," Brian blurts out. "On stage." He blinks rapidly, but a fat tear trickles down his cheek anyway.

AJ can't bear that, not crying, not Brian. He gets up and looks Brian straight in the eye, then lifts his hand and very carefully, just a fingertip, strokes the smooth curve of a tusk. It feels almost slippery, like soap. "Well," he says, "I think it's kinda sexy."

Brian's eyes go wide, and he makes a little choking sound. AJ stares into his eyes, willing Brian to understand what he means, that Brian isn't a monster, could never be a monster, not when AJ's in the room, and maybe it does work, because Brian's eyes are a little less moist, and a little more blue, and AJ has to shut his own eyes to say the next bit. "I... have... I didn't want anyone to know, I thought it was punishment for, you know, other stuff that I did. I... I have a tail."

"Bone!" Brian's face is all concern now, and isn't that just Brian through and through, when someone else needs comforting. AJ feels Brian's arms go around him, and he clings on tight, because he does need comforting, he's been so ashamed, how could he tell anybody? God, what a relief not to be the only one, he hid it last month and the month before, but there was no concert those nights, this time it was so hard, and it's such an ugly little tail, a pink gristly stalk halfway to his knee, he finds himself sobbing it out, and Brian makes soothing noises into his ear and doesn't even complain about the tears and snot on his neck.

There's another hand patting his back, AJ realizes. Probably Howie's, because Kevin is asking Nick if he's experienced any manifestations he'd like to tell them about. Nick says no, he must be too pure and innocent to sprout horns or whatever, and AJ feels Brian's chest suddenly shake, Brian's laughing, because right, Nicky, pure and innocent. Of course.

It's easier after that, with Nick making stupid, obscene jokes about what AJ could do with his tail, and Kevin obviously trying not to laugh, and Howie letting them see his strange, elongated, hairy ears. AJ can feel the tension in Brian's muscles, now that it's relaxing a bit, and he wipes his eyes on Brian's hoodie and pretends Nick's funny, which he sorta is, except AJ has a tail and Brian has tusks and this is so fucked up.

"Two days, three at most," Kevin promises, and hauls Nick out of the room.

"It'll be okay, Brian," says Howie. "We'll say you have a fever tomorrow, and switch the flight home for a day later, it'll be fine by then. Kevin and Kristin will figure it out soon, and meanwhile it's just once a month." Apparently, 'recurring but doesn't last long' is what Kevin meant by 'not permanent', which isn't exactly how AJ had understood it but what the hell.

Now it's just him and Brian, still holding on to one another, and AJ doesn't want to let go. It feels like he hadn't known just how scared he was until someone else was scared, too.

"AJ," Brian murmurs, "will you stay with me? Please?"

"Sure."

"You don't mind sharing the bed? I really need..."

"Uh. Oh. Sure. It's fine." Except if he has one of those dreams.

Reluctantly, it seems, Brian lets go and steps away from AJ. "Gonna have to call someone about the door," he mutters.

"Yeah, well, that's Kevin for you," AJ says wryly.

Brian looks at him sharply, but doesn't say anything more, just goes through into the bedroom and starts rummaging in the drawers. He tosses a clean T-shirt at AJ. "Did you shower already?" And it feels almost normal to call the first shower and strip off—until Brian's at the bathroom door again and says, "Can I touch it?" and AJ remembers that he's a monster now, but he stroked Brian's tusk so what can he say but yes?

He isn't anywhere near prepared for how it feels, Brian's hand on his tail. Like he's electrified, in a place that shouldn't even be a place.

"It looks... natural," Brian says, sounding puzzled instead of disgusted. "Like, it's supposed to be there."

"Your tusks are good," AJ says, stupidly, but it's true. They look right, which may be the weirdest thing in an evening of utter and total weird, but now he's seen those perfect ivory crescents at the corners of Brian's mouth, Brian looks complete with them there, it's like he'd be wrong, diminished, without them. He can't help but touch again. He strokes, and Brian's eyes close and he shudders, and whoa, suddenly there's a whole new thing happening here.

"I'm not Brian," Brian says, a little bit muffled.

"Yeah, you are."

"No. No. Brian Littrell does not have tusks. Ask anyone. Ask the fans. Ask my parents. My wife. This isn't—I'm not me, not tonight. And you're not AJ McLean."

"Because AJ doesn't have a tail."

"Right. We aren't us. This isn't real. But I need..."

"Yes," says AJ, with both hands to Brian's face and his thumbs at the places where lips part and tusks curve upward. "Me, too."

 

 

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