nsync in black and white

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

in porco, veritas

written for Nopseud for MTYG 2014

November 2012

Brian was on a mission.

Brian had a job to do, and he was going to do it, he was going to do it perfectly. Make his kid happy, make his wife proud. He was going to be SuperDad.

Yeah, a superhero, that sounded good. A superhero with an awesome superhero costume. No spandex, though, because sure, he was in good shape, but seriously, spandex? With… a suit of armor and—okay, maybe not the whole suit. Just a breastplate, something shiny. A gold one. And a cloak. He could totally rock a cloak. A full suit of armor might be uncomfortable.

He'd never worn armor, not even for a video shoot, and hey, that was something to consider for the next Backstreet single, all of them in suits of armor, gleaming in the sunshine. They could get lightweight ones made that the guys would be able to dance in. It would make a great metaphor for, uh. Something. Show 'em what you're made of would work with armor, definitely, all about being strong and proud, and nothing said strong like a gleaming breastplate. And a cloak. Cloaks were cool.

Brian swept imperiously down the aisle, his imaginary cloak billowing around him. He might not be sure where he was going, but he was striding the heck out of the place. On a mission. He smote the air with his imaginary sword and even skipped a little as he reached the end of the aisle. It wasn't exactly superheroic, but he was feeling good.

"Hey, Brian!"

Brian halted. That voice was not the usual timbre of Eager Fan Wanting A Selfie, but fans did come in all shapes and sizes, so he put on his professional smile and turned towards the guy.

Oh. Yikes. Lance Bass. Lance Bass in sunglasses and a sage green T-shirt that was a bit tighter than Brian thought it really needed to be. "Hi." He tried again, with more enthusiasm. "Hi, Lance!"

"Good to see you, man. How're you doin'?" That was a very big, friendly grin, but what with the sunglasses, it was impossible to tell if Lance had noticed the skipping.

"I'm good, you know, just…" he waved vaguely at the shelves.

"I didn't know you had a dog. What kind is it?" Lance asked. He was carrying two huge bags of something called Canine Caviar. Brian's eyes swiveled. They were in the dog food aisle.

"No, I don't—I'm actually looking for a pet. For Baylee. He'll be ten this birthday, and he wants a pet."

"Oh my God, he's never ten years old! That's just—wow. I remember when he was just a tiny thing, little miniature Brian following you everywhere. Ten! He's just a great age to get a pet," Lance said, beaming. "You know, I could—let me give you the address of the shelter where I got my dogs. It's a great place, and there's always so many puppies needing a good home." He was checking his phone as he talked.

Brian held up a hand. "Thanks, but, no. I'm not looking for a dog." They were too much work, apparently.

Lance looked disappointed. "Oh, right. Uh. The shelter does cats, too, at least, I think they have a different—"

"Not a cat, either," Brian said. "Allergies."

"Oh," Lance said, again. "So, what kind of pet are you..?"

"I'm not sure." This was the part of Brian's mission that he hadn't actually worked out yet. "I'm sorta looking for something different."

"You should get him a ferret!" Lance said. "I had a ferret back when we were touring. They're great pets, really smart and they love company and they're so much fun to play with. And you can get these amazing litter trays now that clean everything up so you don't need to worry about the smell. Ferrets are cool, and they're easy to handle. 'Course their teeth are pretty sharp, but Dirk only bit me a couple times, he was really intelligent and you know, you can train them to do tricks and stuff."

Brian did not think his wife would be impressed if he came home with something that would draw blood, but he smiled politely and said he would keep that in mind.

"Plus, you can take a ferret on a tour bus. Totally portable. Your family go with you on tour, right? When are you guys planning to tour next? I heard you started on your new album."

"That's right. We were in London in the summer, all five of us."

"Yeah, you got Kevin back." Lance looked wistful. "How's that working out for you all? Must be strange having to get back into the old groove again after you worked out how to do everything with four."

"It is kinda strange," Brian agreed. "But, you know. It's good to be all together again. Feels right. We'll be touring with the new album next year. And the old stuff, of course, you know what fans are like." Actually, Lance probably didn't, he realized belatedly. Oops.

"So, uh. I guess—good luck with finding the right pet. And if you change your mind about wanting a dog, you should think about getting one from a shelter."

"I will," Brian promised, and waved as Lance headed towards the registers.

What was it about Lance Bass, anyways? Brian had never felt quite comfortable around Lance. No, that wasn't right, the kid had been okay back when they first met. A gawky adolescent, thrown in the deep end and putting up the best face he could, and kinda sweet with it. And that amazing voice, which Brian didn't exactly envy, he was perfectly happy with his own voice, but Lance had that mellow bass even when he was just a kid.

But Lance had changed, he'd gotten… it was hard to define what it was, but there was definitely something about Lance that Brian found unsettling. Not all the time, of course not. Mostly he just didn't think about Lance Bass, because why should he?

And right now, he had other things to think about. The mysterious, magical pet that was going to solve all his problems. Not much point hanging around in the dog food aisle.

It took him a while to find any actual animals. This place was a maze. Maybe somebody was running a giant experiment on the humans, looking down from the ceiling to see how long it took everybody to find their way around. Eventually he gave up and accosted someone in a bright blue shirt who led him to the cages. He didn't get to press the button and win a treat.

Still a superhero, though. He settled his cloak carefully on his shoulders and looked into the cages.

There were rabbits, from tiny little dark brown ones to a gigantic one with floppy ears that looked like the King Rabbit of Rabbitland, and Brian got a mental image of Baylee with a giant king rabbit in his arms and for a moment he was real tempted, but he had a feeling the allergy thing might be a problem with a bunny. There were guinea pigs, but after staring at them for five minutes, Brian was convinced his kid would not be impressed with a small, round, hairy thing that didn't seem to do anything except be a small, round, hairy thing.

Leighanne had prohibited hamsters. Those tiny, stubby tails (she actually shuddered, and now he was looking at a hamster he understood exactly what she meant), plus, they'd die after maybe a year, two years, max, and Baylee did not need to be traumatized like that. There were some bigger things in a large cage, like something between a mouse and a squirrel. Degus, he read. He'd never heard of them. They looked kinda interesting, and also, their tails were perfectly normal tails not hideous bald spikes, but the information sheet said they needed company and he had been strictly forbidden to buy more than one pet.

Ooh, reptiles! He didn't even need to ask how Leighanne would feel if he brought home a snake, but a gecko… geckos were pretty cool, weren't they? Would Baylee like a Crested Gecko, or a Bearded Dragon? Having a dragon for a pet sounded neat.

There were sheets about caring for reptiles. Uh oh. Salmonella. No, that wasn't going to work.

Fish?

Boring.

Brian sighed. This mission was going to be a heck of a lot harder than he'd thought. Still, he had a list of other pet stores. Adjusting his invisible cloak, he strode back outside.

There was a purple bus over to the far right of the lot. Gold writing on the side. He squinted at it, and found his feet taking him closer until he could read the fancy script, In Animalibus Veritas.

"Welcome to the Animal Bus," intoned a vampirical teenager with black hair and too many piercings. "Rare and unusual pets our specialty." She did not raise her eyes from her cellphone.

"Ah. Hi. I'm looking for a pet? For my son?"

She lifted a shoulder as if to indicate that he might get on board, so he did. Inside the bus were a surprising number of cages, variously sized, housing an array of animals he mostly didn't even recognize. What the—was that a mountain lion? It raised its dark head and stared flatly at Brian, who stepped back, intimidated. Leighanne definitely wouldn't let Baylee have one of those.

"I'm not sure what's—" he began, but the teenage attendant was paying him no attention whatever, and in any case, how much help was a kid like that going to be? He'd just take a quick look around and then drive to the next store on his list.

A monkey! A monkey with a moustache! Baylee would love a monkey. Brian would get about a million Dad points if he took home a monkey. "Hey, there, little fella!" He peered into its cage, and the monkey reached a tiny hand through the bars and grabbed a fistful of his hair. There was an undignified struggle, and the monkey made off towards the back of its cage with several strands of Brian's precious hair in its paw, and chittered at him triumphantly. Brian scowled at it from a safe distance. Definitely not a monkey. A mobile depilatory was the last thing Brian needed in his life.

There was a thing like a tiny purse in the next cage. Pink fairy armadillo, the sign read. Unusual, and most likely hypo-allergenic. Brian tried to imagine his son in ecstasies of joy over a pink fairy anything, and failed.

"That's the advanced section," the bored teenager stated. "You want beginners. Other side."

"Oh. Right."

Crested newt… it was smiling at him, but—nah.

Through the bars of the next cage, a small snout lifted enquiringly. Brian crouched, and looked, and was enchanted. It was the tiniest pig he had ever seen. It was adorable. It was pale pink with black spots and bright, intelligent eyes and the dearest little smile and it was exactly, totally what Brian needed. Chords of superheroic triumph rang in his mind as he stroked the little creature's nose.

"Hello," he crooned. "Aren't you the cutest? You wanna come home with me?"

He would have sworn the piglet nodded.

It was quite a struggle to get everything back to his car. Brian had to wrangle a piglet in a piglet carrier, bedding, food, bowls, toys, a litter tray, and a printout of instructions on the care and maintenance of teacup pigs. And a booster seat, so that she could see out as he drove her home. She seemed pleased with the fleece-lined box, and it attached to the car seat easily enough. Brian loaded everything else into the trunk, then checked that his little pig was secure. She squeaked as if to reassure him, and twitched her nose, and she was just so cute he had to kiss her on the snout. Baylee was going to be so—oops.

Well, crap.

He couldn't take her home. It was almost a week to Baylee's birthday, and there was no way he could hide a pig in the house for that long. Brian slumped in the driver's seat and very nearly swore.

He got out his phone. "Okay, so, you get to go stay with one of your uncles for a while," he explained. "Your Uncle Kevin will take good care… hmm. You know what, your Uncle Kevin is being kind of elusive right now. He disappears back home the instant we finish our discussions, never hangs around to chat like a normal human being." The piglet grunted. "I mean, sure, he has a wife and kid to go home to, but you'd think—He said something about Kristin working on a new project, I think." Something about cooking? Brian wasn't sure. But he scrolled past Kevin's number.

"Now, Uncle Nick doesn't have any children. Trouble with Nick is, he might just forget to give you your dinner." A little piggy squeak of protest. "And I'm guessing he he isn't gonna be big on toilet training, either. So then there's AJ, and I know your Uncle AJ would totally adore you. One look at your cute little nose and—yeah, he'll probably want to keep you, but I don't know that he'd be much better than Nick about feeding you regular."

There was a derisive snort from the booster basket.

"And he won't house-train you either, and he'll end up giving you to his Mom to look after. Huh." Now if Denise lived in Hollywood, he could—nah, it wouldn't be fair.

Besides, there was a responsible adult a bit closer to hand who probably owed him a favor, if he could remember what it might be. "Uncle Howie is our man. He won't let you starve, or run out in the street. Yeah, Uncle Howie would love to take care of you, except," Brian remembered, "his wife is pregnant, you see, and I don't think…" Howie got so paranoid last time Leigh was expecting, no way he'd let a strange animal into their house. "Not even you, even though you are adorable, yes you are!" Also, James was only three. The sulky assistant had said teacup pigs were great with older kids, but hadn't mentioned how she would get along with someone whose fingers were small enough to fit right up her nose. "You know what, your Daddy's best friends are useless in a crisis. Useless."

Brian did know other people in LA. Even if he hated the place and was only here to finish recording and work out logistics for next year, he did know people. He just didn't know them well enough to trust them with his—with Baylee's adorable new pet.

There was someone, though, who might—

The miniature pig snorted at him encouragingly.

Brian scrolled through his contact list.
 

"Oh, my God—how cute is that! That is the cutest thing ever! Come here, little piggy, come to Papa Lance. Oh, you are adorable, aren't you!" Brian was not at all surprised to see that Lance could not resist the piglet's twitching nose. When the tiniest pig in the world twitched its nose at you, you just had to kiss it. Fact.

"Her name is Spangles," Brian said. Lance blinked at him. "Thanks for doing this, man, I really appreciate it. I couldn't pass up the chance to get this little girl, or the next customer to happen along would have taken her."

"You did right," Lance said. "She's awesome. I bet Baylee will love her."

"Yeah, that's a slam dunk." Brian grinned. "Leighanne is going to be real impressed with me. But I'm sorry to spring her on you like this, I should have thought it through."

"No problem, seriously. But, uh, I think we ought to introduce her to the dogs, just to make sure…" Dang it, Lance had dogs—how could Brian have forgotten Lance had dogs? It would be all kinds of unfortunate if the dogs thought Spangles was food. "Let's go into the back yard." Lance strode confidently ahead. Since Lance was still clutching the piglet, Brian didn't have much choice but to follow.

Two quite large dogs were snoozing on the grass, and a smaller, scruffy one bounced up to investigate.

"Hey, Lily," Lance said. "Come and meet your new friend."

He set the little pig down, and there was a lot of sniffing and grunting. Brian had never seen a pig wag its tail before. Her tiny rump vibrated so hard he was surprised she didn't fall down. After a few seconds the dog took off across the yard with Spangles at her heels, for all the world as though they were doing a guided tour of the territory.

Lance grinned. "That's my Lily. She's a charmer, just like Spangles. Looks like they decided to be friends."

"I think Spangles likes the company," Brian said. "The girl in the bus said they're sociable animals."

"Well, she won't be alone here," Lance said. "You wanna get the rest of her stuff out of your car? Put it in the vestibule, I'll stay here and watch, just in case. Ah, look, Foster's awake." One of the big dogs lifted its head, and did a perfect double take as the piglet streaked past.

When Brian came back to the yard after depositing a heap of piggy stuff in Lance's foyer, all four animals were playing with a big rubber ball. The dogs would retrieve it in their jaws and present it, covered with slobber, for Lance to throw again. The pig pushed it to him with her snout like she was a basket ball player—actually, no, not even a little bit like a basketball player. But she managed.

"I think she'll fit in just fine," Lance said.

"It's just for a few days," Brian said, looking worriedly at his new pet. "Baylee's birthday is next week, November twenty-sixth."

"You could come over to visit," Lance suggested. "So she doesn't forget you. Oh, hey, maybe bring over a T-shirt of Baylee's so she gets used to his scent? Or does that only work with dogs?"

"Yeah," Brian said. "I should do that." He stared at the gambolling piglet, oddly reluctant to leave, until Lance offered him tea, at which Brian shook himself and said no, he needed to get going. The little pig scampered across and stood up on her hind legs to snort at him in an eloquent way, then grunted a decisive goodbye and went back to her game.

"I'll be here tomorrow," Brian said. "Call me if I forgot anything she needs, okay?"

Driving back to the rented house, Brian talked sternly to himself. He must not spoil Baylee's birthday surprise. He wouldn't mention a thing about Spangles until Baylee was safely in bed. He could hardly wait to tell Leighanne, she'd be real impressed that he managed to find something so perfect, but he could wait until Baylee was asleep.

Things didn't quite work out as planned, though, because about three minutes after he said goodnight to Baylee—and sometimes, Brian missed being able to sit on the kid's bed and read him a story—Kevin showed up. And that meant Baylee got to come downstairs in his pajamas to say hi, and after they got him back to bed Leighanne had to spend a while fussing over Kevin, and eventually when they all got settled down with a glass of iced tea Kevin came out with the news that Kristin was expecting again, and that got a whole new conversation going.

After Kevin left, Brian decided not to bring up the subject of Baylee's magnificent new pet. Tomorrow, there wouldn't be any other news to overshadow Spangles. He'd tell her tomorrow.
 

He was flying through the night sky, stars everywhere twinkling like sequins, red and green and silver, and his mighty golden cloak of righteousness streaming behind him and dancing with a life of its own. Beside him glided Spangles with her little piggy feet outstretched and her cloak flowing—it was green—and she winked and he whooped and they whirled and looped the loop until the stars began to spin like a carousel, up and down and round and round and round. And a honky tonk piano played hero music.
 

Lance's boyfriend answered the door. He seemed to know who Brian was and why he was there—which was awkward, because Brian couldn't remember his name—and escorted him straight through the house to the back yard where Lance was lounging by the pool in green swim trunks, sunglasses and nothing else.

"Hey," Lance said, lazily. Next to him, the piglet was lying on her belly on a bright turquoise towel. She was wearing the world's tiniest pair of sunglasses, and she glistened.

Lance grinned. "We're just chillin'," he explained. "Have a seat. You want a drink? Iced tea? Soda?"

Brian accepted a soda from the boyfriend, who muttered something and disappeared back into the house.

"He's working," Lance explained. "Got to go with the inspiration. So, um, Spangles is doing fine."

"She looks, uh, shiny?"

"Sunscreen. Don't want her to burn."

"Ah. Good call." Brian took a long pull at his soda. It was difficult to figure out where to look, with Lance being all… like that. Ah, the dogs were flopped in the shade. But he couldn't think of anything to say about them.

Luckily, the piglet woke up. She greeted Brian with excitement, and looked for all the world as though she was parading her fabulous new sunglasses for his benefit. Then she trotted over to Lance and squealed imperatively.

"You want to swim now, Spangles?" Lance looked up and smiled at Brian. "She loves it. I was kinda worried, but she swims like a natural. Does Baylee swim? 'Cause if he doesn't, she'll be a great help if he wants to have lessons, I bet." He removed the piglet's sunglasses and she blinked and shook her head, then the both of them leaped into the pool with a terrific splash that woke the dogs.
 

On the ride home, Brian could not rid his mind of the image of his minuscule piglet swimming in tight, churning circles around Lance Bass.
 

A golden god, muscular and trim, shook the spray from his hair and dived, and he followed eagerly. Deep under the water everything was green and golden, shafts of sunlight and swaying fronds of seaweed, shoals of little pink pigfish shivered past, and below them was spread an array of glittering sealife. The two of them circled one another, gyrated in a sensual dance, closer and closer, sliding hands over sleek shoulders and strong arms and down to silver scales, metallic as armor, clashing like cymbals as their tails twined. Only all of a sudden he had to get away, he needed to breathe and he broke for the surface and flailed wildly—
 

Brian hit the floor with a thump. He took a deep breath, realized he was not actually drowning, and crawled back onto the couch.

That was one weird dream.
 

"I've been making a few notes on a new pilot," Lance said. "I'm thinking of pitching a series about celebrity pets, but with a difference. Not so much about the celebrities themselves, actually more about the animals. Put them through their paces, show off which ones make the best pets, what they can do, you know? People need more education before they take on animals. I'm thinking, this would be a fun way to show them they don't really want, like, a wolf or a giant turtle. To show people what makes a good pet."

Brian was doubtful, but he didn't watch reality TV, which seemed to be Lance's Thing. "You could get AJ on, with his dogs," he ventured. "I'm not sure how smart they are, he hasn't trained them to do tricks or anything. But that might be more AJ's fault than the dogs. He's way too soft on them to ever get them to do anything like they should."

Lance shrugged. "It's awful easy to spoil them. I'm maybe not the best dog owner myself. But I don't think you'll have a big problem with Spangles. She's incredibly smart, and she likes to be busy, but she isn't really interested in food. You could do that clicker training instead of treats. I think she does stuff for fun."

"They do say pigs are intelligent animals."

"Certainly true about your little pig. Look at her right now!"

Brian glanced through the huge windows. In the yard, the dogs and the piglet were playing chase. The bigger animals were a lot faster over the ground than Spangles, but as she had a knack of darting underneath the dogs when they got close, strictly speaking they never actually caught her. Brian laughed. "That is one smart piglet."

"I'd, um. Yeah, I'd like to use her in the pilot? She totally has star quality. You can practically see her sparkle."

"Oh, uh. I don't know, I mean, I don't really want my kid…"

"No, no, totally, I understand. We could pretend she was yours, though, just for the show. She'd be perfect. And, well, it'd be more of a draw that way."

Brian, conscious that he owed Lance a huge favor, said he would have to see how it fit into his schedule.

"So, Baylee's birthday. I guess you'll want to take her home with you the day before? How are you going to present her? Like, in a gift-wrapped box, or do you have something else in mind?"

That… was a tougher question than Lance knew. Leighanne would come around when she actually met the piglet, he was sure, but right now she was pretty pissed at him. How was he to know she'd already bought Baylee an iPad? The kid had said he wanted a pet! They'd talked about it! He'd thought all Leighanne's objections to different kinds of animal were, well, serious, while all the time she'd been talking around it instead of coming right out and saying she didn't think Baylee was ready, that it was just a phase and he'd be onto the next thing before they even got through the first box of pet food. Brian thought she was being unreasonable, expecting him to get all that from her excuses, and he'd made the ultimate mistake. He'd told her so.

It was a good thing he hadn't bought a dog, because the dog house was occupied right now and there was no telling when he was getting out of it.
 

In the spotlight, a solo piglet in a glittery tutu, grunting out Show You The Shape Of My Heart with Brian and AJ as synchronized backup, a chorus of mournful dogs, and Lance Bass the impresario in top hat and tails.
 

Brian's dreams were getting to be downright peculiar. He had been wearing sequins. And stockings.
 

Were they just supposed to ignore the two albums they'd done as a foursome? Brian didn't think that was right. Sure, he'd be more than fine with never doing PDA in public again, and nobody would miss She's A Dream, but there were some great numbers on those albums, and if they could rearrange five voices for four, they could rearrange four voices for five. He could understand Kevin not wanting to perform those songs—Kevin could shut up and take it, in his opinion, Kevin owed them—but why were AJ and Howie so eager to dump those songs? Howie had liked getting solos!

He argued the whole case again in his head as he drove out to Lance's place after the meeting, but he was just as frustrated when he arrived as when he'd left. At least Nick had been on his side. More or less. Nick liked doing the booty grab.

The piglet was playing a game on Lance's iPad. Brian stared, and accepted his regular soda without noticing.

"Told you she was smart," Lance said.

"I don't—what is that?"

"It's for cats, really. Mice running around on the screen. You should see the scores she's gotten."

Brian began to laugh.
 

He was running through a ruined city, urgency pounding through him and a repetitive bass beat throbbing in his head. Every so often he leaped vertically, swung his sword, fell back to the ground and kept on running, smiting as he went. He leaped from one platform to another, then failed to make his jump and fell and found he was running through a maze and being chased by hungry octopuses and escaped into another city landscape and kept running, running, not breathing or getting tired but very, very confused.

Above him, Spangles was wielding a controller.
 

"See, I'm beginning to think maybe my couch is… cursed."

"Your couch?" Lance sounded bemused, and Brian couldn't blame him. But what else could be giving him such weird dreams? He'd spent time on buses and in hotel rooms all around the world, slept standing up, even, back in the day, and he'd never had dreams like this.

"You never know with rentals," he said, darkly. "You never know what you're gonna get. And we didn't bother renting something big, because we're going home soon, beginning of December when we get all the plans in place, you know, we have to be home for Christmas. So there isn't a spare bedroom. And the couch isn't, I mean, it's okay, it's actually quite comfortable, only I keep getting these dreams. It has to be the couch."

"Maybe it's worrying about the new album, and the tour?" Lance suggested. "They say stress comes out in strange ways."

"Mmm, but making an album isn't exactly new," Brian said. "And the recording's mostly done, and I'm good with it, I think we did a good job. And okay, we're having a few disagreements about how we're going to do the show, but I guess that's not surprising, we have to get back into the groove with five of us but we will, we always do… I think it has to be the couch."

"I had a weird dream last—uh, a couple of nights ago. I guess I've been spending a lot of time thinking about this celebrity pets pilot, and this little lady got right up in my dream and stole the show, didn't you, sweetie, yes, you did!"

Spangles snorted companionably. She was sitting between them on Lance's entirely curse-free couch. Lance's dogs were lazing at their feet. Must be nice, Brian thought, to be able to have as many pets in the house as you wanted and not be turfed out of your own bed by your own wife, not that Lance had a wife, but it didn't seem fair. He had been trying to do the right thing.

"You know what you need?" Lance said. "You need a massage. Wait a sec—" he delved into a pocket and pulled out his phone. "I have this amazing masseuse. After she's done with you you feel like you got no bones left, and all those aches and pains? Gone. No way you can't sleep after a massage from Trudi. Give her a call, tell her I gave you her number."

Brian accepted the number warily.

"If you've been sleeping on—I mean, stressing on all that stuff, a good massage will really help."

"You know, it just might," Brian said, and while Lance got up to pour iced tea, he called the number and miraculously managed to get talk Trudi the masseuse into giving him an emergency appointment for tomorrow evening. It could have been any time, because Howie had made an executive decision that they were putting off the meeting to discuss video treatments for another day, but the masseuse had been booked solid. Brian was not happy, because it felt like he was never going to have the chance to bring out his idea for a video treatment, and anyway, who died and made Howie the boss? It was true that Howie had always been the real grown-up of the group, but it could easily have been a mutual decision if he hadn't thrown his weight about.

He patted Spangles, absently. "Howie must be made of plutonium," he said. "Or something else that's really dense. 'Cause to look at him you wouldn't think he even had any weight to throw about."

The piglet grunted.

"Plus," Brian added, "that masseuse is going to be able to retire at thirty, the rates she charges." He had no objection to paying a professional to do a good job, but seriously, she got paid that much to massage Lance Bass? "He could just offer the job to the highest bidder. There'd be a line a mile long," he whispered to Spangles, who grinned her little piggy grin at him and encouraged him to scratch the special spot on her back.

"I have this awesome idea for one of the songs," Brian explained when Lance came back, "I mean, we're not absolutely, totally, completely certain it's going to be the second single, but really, we are, 'cause we know this stuff, we've done it so many times. And I'm thinking, it's a song about being strong, and we've never done armor, I have this amazing vision of us all with these gold kind of," he gestured at his own chest, "but I just have this feeling the guys are not going to be with me on this, and it's just."

"Frustrating, huh?"

"There's only so many things you can do in a video, you know?"

"Yeah, you already did some amazing ones. What was that one where Howie ripped his face off and turned into the evil stalker fan? That was so cool. And the space one, I liked that. And the one where you were all monsters. Although," Lance considered, "I wasn't too sure about Nick in the mummy outfit. But the rest of you were awesome."

"Yeah, concept videos are so much fun. Like the one with you guys as puppets," Brian said, politely. "I mean, we've all done the ones where we just stand there and look pretty."

"Tell me about it," said Lance, and hummed a few bars of Gone. Brian had never cared for the song, but it sounded downright sexy in Lance's register.

"It's good to have a concept."

"You know what my favorite was? Of Backstreet's, I mean—that one where you were the eighties hair band. That was awesome."

"Yeah, Kevin thought that one up." Brian grinned reminiscently. "Or, we sort of all did, but it was Kevin wrote it up. That was a lot of fun."

"You looked good with all that long blond hair," Lance said, slyly. "Kevin was kinda scary."

"And Nick had that, that, I don't even know what that thing was he was wearing, with the studs! That was hilarious. It took him about a half hour to go to the bathroom. And you know what, Howie looked, I mean, it was a good look for him."

"Oh, yeah," Lance said. "Although, man, AJ drew the short straw, am I right?"

Brian laughed. "Totally. And he kept trying to hitch that thing up and then pull it down again 'cause it gave him a wedgie."

"The comedy ones are the most fun," Lance said. "I mean, doing the puppets, that was crazy awesome. Man, it has been a long time."

"You ever thought of going solo? Making your own album?"

"If I could find the right song, I'd do it in a heartbeat. I don't know about a whole album. Be a bit strange, without my boys, but I guess it could be fun."

"It is. It's good. We've all done work on our own. Excepting Kevin. I don't think being in musical theater counts."

"That's right. Ahaha, AJ's crazy video with the dancing furries. Man, that was enough to give me nightmares!"

Brian cringed. Spangles stirred, and settled her little head comfortingly on his thigh.
 

"Brian. Stay right there. AJ, you too. Kevin, Nick, come here."

Kevin and Nick did as they were told. Brian would have, too. Brian really wanted to go there and stand up close to Howie, because Howie was so hot with that mane of dark hair and his eyes smudged and his leopard print pants were so tight and he—but Brian had to stay here. Howie had told him to.

Howie looked so tiny standing in the spotlight between Nick and Kevin, but he didn't seem to notice. He reached one gloved hand up and pulled Nick down for a long, lewd kiss. Behind him, Kevin smoothed his hands down over Howie's toned, beautiful arms, and mouthed his neck. Brian licked his lips. Beside him, AJ whimpered. The audience murmured and shifted.

Something tore. Nick's shirt parted and slid down, and he struggled to get his hands free of it. Howie's mouth was even more red, his lips fuller, and he parted them to whisper something to Nick, who sank to his knees and began to nuzzle Howie's thighs and crotch. Kevin's hands undid Howie's leather vest, peeled it away, and Kevin kissed his way down Howie's spine and knelt behind him.

Kevin was naked on his knees, and Howie was naked but for the scarf tied around his bicep and his fingerless black leather gloves, and Nick was shirtless in front of him with his face buried in Howie's groin. Howie's black-gloved hands framed Nick's head, his fingers carding Nick's long blond locks, guiding him up and down, and oh, God, the sounds, slick and sucking and Nick moaning for more, and Brian strained uselessly at his zebra pants, he wanted that too, he wanted to be on his knees in front of Howie but he wasn't allowed, not yet, not yet.

"AJ, get Brian naked," Howie ordered. AJ started on the buckles on Brian's left side, and he fumbled for himself at the ones on the right, and his belt and pants were gone and AJ unzipped the leather shirt and it was gone, Brian was naked. As he moved, his long hair brushed across his shoulders and made him shiver.

The shouts from the audience were louder and louder. Howie, his legs wide, bent forward so that Kevin could spread his ass cheeks and lick between while Nick worked harder at his cock. Then his gloved hands tugged at Nick's head, and Nick stood, and Kevin stood, and they lifted Howie between them and spread his legs around Nick's hips as Kevin slid his cock into him from behind. Even as he and Nick kissed, Howie beckoned to Brian and AJ and the audience screamed with joy as they closed in.

Brian pressed into Kevin, rutting against his thigh and pulling him down for a wet, wide kiss, his hand tangling in the wild curls of Kevin's hair. AJ shoved Nick's crazy crotch-strap down and slid spit-slicked fingers into him, and Brian snaked a hand round to grasp Nick's cock and pump it as AJ thrust into Nick.

"Wait, everybody together, keep time," Howie gasped, with one hand on his own erection, and they all matched him, faster and faster as the audience clapped, stamped and grunted thunderously and they all came at once, shouting together as an explosion of glitter rained down on everyone.
 

Brian woke up. His eye sockets were stretched so wide he thought he might never be able to blink again.

He had got to make up with Leighanne.
 

"I guess I have to say goodbye to Spangles," Lance said, as he handed over Brian's soda. They were stretched out by the pool, both of them. Brian had shed his shirt and tennis shoes and was enjoying the sunshine. Lance's dogs and the piglet were basking, too. Lance had been liberal with the sunscreen again, but Spangles was not wearing her sunglasses. Brian mentioned this, and Lance laughed. "I think it gave the dogs a complex," he said. "So she stopped wearing them. But I kept them, if you want to take them along with the rest of her stuff."

"Thanks, I will," Brian said. If Leighanne could not be won over by a piglet in sunglasses, something was fundamentally wrong with his world. "But I have to figure out how to smuggle her into the house without Baylee seeing her."

"I could drive over later, if that works for you. I'm—we're recording the show today, but I can bring Spangles and all her stuff to your place after."

"That'd be perfect, if—I mean, I don't want to put you to the trouble…"

"No problem, man, seriously."

They settled back on the loungers in comfortable silence. It was nice. It was relaxing. Funny, really, Brian would never have expected to be so relaxed in Lance's company, but he'd gotten into the habit of coming over to see his piglet and somehow it wasn't a chore anymore, it was… nice. No pressure.

It was easier than being at home, right now. Brian had been as abject as he knew how, talking to Leighanne this morning about Baylee's birthday gift, and she was still not happy with him when he left to go to the meeting about the video treatments. And then the guys had given him a hard time with his suggestion of shiny gold breastplates and cloaks, although in the end they had agreed to think it over.

Yeah, he would miss coming over to Lance's place to check in on the piglet. Lance Bass was way more interesting than he'd thought. Not that he ever thought Lance was dull, exactly, but it turned out Lance was smart and funny and he had a lot to say about all kinds of things Brian hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about. And they had a lot in common, more'n he'd realized. Lance's stories of growing up, of his family, sounded so familiar.

There was still that niggling something about Lance that unsettled him, but Brian was resigned to never figuring out what it might be. It didn't matter. Lance was a good guy.
 

"Lance is going to sneak the piglet into the house later, and all the, uh, stuff I bought for her. You know, food bowls and such."

"I'm still not committed to this piglet notion," Leighanne pointed out. "I've been checking the internet, reading up on these so-called teacup pigs. They grow to full size, and then you're stuck with a giant pig rooting up all the plants in the yard and crapping on the carpets."

"Spangles is very smart. She never crapped on Lance's carpets." At least, if she had, Lance had not mentioned it. "Honestly, she'll be fine."

"Hmm."

"Don't make any definite decision until you see her," Brian pleaded.

"I know, I promised. I will do my best to keep an open mind. If the piglet works out, we'll keep the iPad for Christmas. I just don't know why you didn't buy the kid a dog, if you had to buy him a pet."

Brian didn't attempt to argue. He'd got his concession, the rest was up to Spangles. What he really wanted to do was sidle around to the subject of not having to sleep on the couch tonight. "I booked a masseuse to come over this evening."

"A masseuse? Coming here? Oh, honey, that's so sweet. It is a little stressful, being away from home all this time. A massage will be a real treat."

"That's what I thought," Brian said, startled but recovering manfully. "You've been working hard, and I've been busy with the guys, so."

"And it is… kinda difficult to get to sleep without you there," she admitted.
 

So while Leighanne was upstairs getting a shockingly expensive massage, Brian received Spangles and her paraphernalia and put her into her piggy crate for the night, and thanked Lance again, and hugged him sincerely, and Lance said anytime and went off home, and Brian arranged Spangles' sleeping blanket and her water and food bowls and the various bits and pieces in the kitchen, and looked in on his sleeping son, and grinned. Baylee was going to have the best birthday ever.

He was totally a superhero dad. Brian Littrell, SuperDad. He could almost feel the wind ruffling his hair as he flew, his mighty cloak streaming behind him.

Footsteps on the stairs alerted him in time for him to stop posing and behave like a normal person, so he paid Lance's masseuse without blushing, and added a huge tip for coming out at such short notice and so late at night. After she'd gone, he headed straight upstairs, only to find…

Leighanne was fast asleep. Not exactly what he'd been hoping for.

But at least he had permission to sleep in his own bed again, so he got himself ready for bed and slid happily between the sheets next to his wife and turned out the bedside light. Big day tomorrow.
 

A bed. A big bed. A big, comfortable bed, exactly the right amount of hard, exactly the right amount of soft. Crisp clean sheets with that crisp clean sheet smell. Fluffy pillows everywhere, like clouds, a bed surrounded by fluffy clouds.

When Brian stretched out, his right hand touched Lance's left.

"Hey there."

"Hi."

They rolled onto their sides and looked at one another.

"You know, you're kind of beautiful."

"You, too. So… you wanna make something of it?"

Lance grinned, and Brian grinned, and they slid closer across the fine cotton. Lance's hand went to Brian's shoulder and glided down his arm. It felt good, and Brian's fingers twitched and twined with Lance's for a moment, then Lance rested his hand warm on Brian's hip.

"Do we kiss now?"

"Yeah, I think so."

Brian shifted onto his back, and Lance curved over him and lowered his head to kiss Brian's mouth, tiny kisses as delicate as moth wings, there was all the time in the world. Carefully, taking that time, the kiss deepened and widened. Tongues, swift and wet, explored one another, tasted the roughness of lips and the smooth flesh inside. Their hands moved over one another's bodies, and it felt so good, hard muscles under his palms and the assured strength in the caresses sweeping across his body.

Lance broke from Brian's mouth and began to kiss the tight cords of his neck, closing his teeth now and again, and sliding lower, to Brian's tattooed shoulder then down his chest to the tight nipple waiting for his attention. Brian clutched at him, wanting everything at once, wanting none of it to stop. He pushed Lance backwards and began to caress his thighs, hairs rough under his palm, and then that perfect, satin-smooth place in the curve of his hip bone.

"Can you—can I—"

"Whatever you want."

The feel of a hard cock in his mouth, hot skin straining over muscle, the scent of male in his nostrils, the taste of sex, salt and clean, the feel of it under his tongue as he licked and sucked and did everything he could think of to give pleasure, the joy of it. The sensation of hot tongue on his cock, slick and wonderful, lips stretching around him, taking him in, sucking him hard, enjoying him, and wasn't that something.

"Wait, wait. I want to look at you."

They sat, legs entwined, just close enough to kiss, sharing the unfamiliar taste. Lance's hands moved over Brian's sides and Brian shivered and stroked his way over the smooth planes of Lance's chest. Then Brian closed his hand around Lance's erection, and gasped with pleasure as Lance's hand closed around his own cock. They worked each other, deliberate and careful, faster, faster, both hands pumping almost brutally, and Lance groaned his satisfaction and Brian cried out and they came, great spurts of cream over their hands and Brian's belly, slippery and gloriously messy and perfect.

Side by side they lay, sweaty and content, and a tiny pig with black spots made her way out of the clouds and up the bed until she could stand on Brian's chest and stare at him. Brian stroked her, and Lance's hand came over to stroke her too, and the piglet grinned her adorable piggy smile and gave a firm piglet kiss—sorta like squashing her nose onto theirs—to both of them.

And then Spangles rose into the air and disappeared in a great whoosh of glitter, and sparkles rained down onto them. Lance and Brian looked at one another, shrugged, and got back into it.
 

Brian woke up. He felt wonderfully relaxed, as though a puzzle had just resolved itself in his mind. Yeah, that one. He'd never imagined that he—that Lance was—that he was attracted to Lance. He'd not had those feelings for, oh, like, for ever. And he was never going to act on it. But that had been one amazing dream.

What's more, he had an erection like an iron bar, and beside him in bed his warm, curvy wife was stirring. He kissed her bare shoulder, followed up the line of her neck and nibbled at her ear. Leighanne loved that. "Hey, honey," he whispered.

"Mmmm. Mmm?"

"I just had the most amazing dream," he said.

"What was it about?" she said, hazily.

"You, baby."

*

In another part of the city, in a bed with sage green sheets, Lance woke up with a feeling of rueful surprise and an erection like an iron bar, and lost no time in snuggling up to his boyfriend.

"Hey," Michael said, sleepily. "Have you been dreaming again?"

"Mm hmm."

"I guess it was a good dream."

"It was an amazing dream." Lance's hand slid down over his man's perfect abs. "Let me tell you all about it."

*

"You got me a puppy! You got me a puppy!" Baylee yelled, bursting into the bedroom in his pajamas.

Brian, startled out of a profound and satisfied slumber, sat up with a jerk. Beside him, his wife grabbed the bedclothes and hauled them up to her chin.

"I found the stuff," Baylee said excitedly. "There's a bowl for food and a bowl for water and a cage for it to live in and a blanket and there's toys and everything, but I can't find the puppy!"

"Ah," said Brian. Something was wrong with this picture, but he couldn't figure out what.

"Baylee, honey," said Leighanne. "You know you aren't supposed to barge into Mama and Daddy's bedroom, now, don't you. You go get dressed, and Daddy and Mama will get dressed too, and we'll all go downstairs and see what you got for your birthday."

"It's a puppy!" Baylee repeated, but he went obediently out of the room.

Brian and Leighanne looked at one another. "So, did you hide the puppy?" Leighanne said, bewildered.

"I. No." Brian felt vaguely sick—how could he have failed to get his son's birthday present?

"Didn't we—I mean, we had a disagreement, but didn't you say you had everything arranged? Something about Lance Bass?"

For an instant Brian had a startling vision of Lance Bass, naked, erect, smiling from ear to ear. He blinked, and his head cleared. He remembered going to the pet store. He remembered buying bowls for food and water, and a crate, and a car booster, but… wait. Wait. Lance Bass?

Of course.

"Don't worry," he said, confidently. "I just need to make a quick phone call. If you go down and start breakfast, I'll be right there."

He scrolled through his contact list.

"Hey, Lance," he said, after a somnolent grunt at the other end announced that Lance was on the line. "Brian. Littrell. Uh, can I trouble you for the address of that shelter where you got your dogs?"

He strutted down the stairs and into the kitchen, where Leighanne was whisking pancake mixture and Baylee was jiggling in his chair.

"Now, son," Brian said, "see, the thing is, I could have gone to pick out a puppy for you, but you know, it's real important to get exactly the right pet. That means, you have to choose it for yourself, and it kinda has to choose you right back. So after we have breakfast we're all going over to the dog shelter and we're going to meet all the dogs they have there, and find the one that's meant to be yours."

"Oh, wow!" Baylee said, his eyes even starrier than before.
 

It took a while to get through the formalities, but mentioning Lance Bass's name helped. And not five minutes after they started looking along the line of cages, Baylee was completely in love with a woolly ball of bounciness that had yipped at him, licked his hands and stood on hind legs to greet him through the bars, all the while wagging its rear end so hard Brian honestly thought it was going to fall over.

They bought a new collar and lead and made a generous donation, and as they walked behind Baylee and Muffin—who were skipping—Leighanne murmured, "I would have gone for a pedigree pup, but this is better. Look at them, best friends already."

"Lance told me pound dogs are the best," Brian whispered back. "They have all that love to give, and they know how much it matters to be with someone who loves them back."

"You did good, honey," she said. "My hero." She squeezed his hand. Brian could feel an imaginary cloak rippling in the breeze.

*

Epilogue: April 2013

"Hey, Joe," Lance said, and was hauled in for a genuine Fatone hug. "You couldn't have waited for June to hold a house-warming? When the sun's had a chance to warm up properly?"

"Perfect T-shirt weather," Joey said, and in truth it was a balmy April day and plenty hot enough to enjoy a barbecue in Joey's new(ish) LA home. He and Kelly had had parties already but for some reason had waited until now to make a point of celebrating their move out here. "See, Michael's not complaining."

"I'm looking forward to it," Michael said. "Lance told me you're a great party host."

"That is true," said Joey. "Although, I gotta warn you, certain members of Backstreet who go by the name of Nick Carter are making a big deal out of it being officially Backstreet Boys day on Monday. Chris may need your support."

"Well, if you must invite the enemy…" Lance said.

From somewhere in the back yard came a very unmanly shriek of horror.

Joey smiled evilly. This was unusual enough that Lance was about to remark on it when someone spoke up behind him.

"I guess AJ saw a spider, or somethin'. Hi, Joey." Brian Littrell, with his wife and son. Briahna swooped in from nowhere and bore Baylee away, and Leighanne went to greet Kelly, leaving Brian to bear the honor of the Backstreet Boys in the face of AJ's unmanliness.

"It might have been a bit bigger than a spider," Joey said.

"Out with it, Joe, what have you done?" said Lance.

"Who, me? I just provide delicious food, is what I do."

"Delicious, yet horrifying," Lance guessed.

"Please tell me it ain't one of those giant spider crabs," Brian said, "the ones that are all legs, like gigantic armored spiders. Those things creep me out."

"Oh, God, me too," said Michael.

"No, no, it's—it's an Italian specialty. Roast pork. You'll love it. Uh, there's other stuff to eat, burgers, and we're gonna grill some salmon for people who don't eat pork."

Lance looked at him skeptically. Joey, he deduced, had something going on that was supposed to scare everybody and elicit horrified shrieks. It would not work on him, he decided. It was hard to imagine that whatever Joey had cooked up could be scarier than some of the things Chris had dared him to eat, back in the day. He raised an interrogative eyebrow.

Joey broke, as Lance had known he would. "Okay, it's a pig, a whole pig, on a spit. I found this little tiny place that—see, they take out the bones, and they roll up the meat kinda like a roulade, and they set it up on a spike with grills all around it, and it roasts way quicker than it would if it had bones, and more even. The crackling should be awesome."

"Doesn't sound that scary," Lance said, still suspicious.

"It don't take a lot to scare AJ," Brian said. "Although I don't think even AJ would be scared of a pig roast."

"You should go through and see for yourself," Joey said. "There's beer and sodas and white wine, help yourselves." He gestured them to go on around to the back, and turned to greet another arrival.

JC waved a hello from a group on the left, and Michael went over to say hi. There was no sign of AJ, but over at the far side of the yard Lance could see Chris genuflecting to Nick Carter.

"To be fair," Brian said, grinning, "twenty years in a boyband is kind of a big deal. I mean, since we're still makin' albums and touring an' all."

"Go on, rub it in." Lance grinned back. "Hey, did you ever get to work out that video treatment you were thinking of, with the shiny gold breastplates?"

"Now, how the heck did you know about that?" Brian said, startled.

Lance paused. "You know, I don't even remember. It was just you mentioning the crab like a spider in armor, made me think of it. Maybe you said something when we bumped into one another in that pet store that time?"

Brian looked puzzled. "I guess. And man, thank you for putting me onto that shelter. Baylee loves that little dog so much."

"Always good to see a dog find a new home," Lance said. "And you already thanked me."

"I guess I did. Oh, speaking of pets, weren't you working on some project about celebrity pets?"

"Oh, yeah, I dropped that one. It didn't seem like the right approach. I mean, sure, lots of people have pretty strange pets. Paris had a kinkajou, and Vanilla Ice had a kangaroo, but I realized it made no sense to be encouraging people to go for exotic animals, not when there are so many regular animals needing good homes. And the exotic ones are better off living in their own habitats, right? I'm helping out with publicity for shelters and promoting dogs that are looking for owners, trying to get them placed using social media. Adopt this dog that Lance Bass cuddled, that kind of thing." He shrugged. "It seems like it's more useful."

"That's good, man. Sometimes it's better to go the direct route, do something tangible."

"It'll build, hopefully. So, what about your video?"

"The armor thing? See, I was coming at it ass backwards. What the song's really about is being open and honest, showing the strength you have within your own self, and you don't need armor for that, it's completely wrong. No, we're going in a different direction. Actually the opposite."

What, naked? Lance thought, but didn't voice it aloud. "I look forward to seeing what you came up with," he said instead. "Ah! Beer." He picked out a bottle for himself and one for Michael, who was still talking with JC.

Brian grabbed himself a soda from the ice-heaped selection. "Habit," he said with a shrug. Yeah, that figured.

"We should take a look at this Italian specialty Joey's so proud of," Lance suggested, and they headed for the grill array. "He did say a whole pig, except for the bones. I'm kinda curious to see how big the thing is."

"Oh, my," said Brian. "It's… big."

"Uh huh," Lance agreed, staring. The rolled roast pig was huge. But what Joey had totally neglected to convey, the rat, was that it still had its head on. And its tail. And somebody—Chris, Lance would bet cash it was Chris—had somehow fixed a pair of sunglasses onto its head so that they didn't fall off even as it rotated on its spit.

The giant roasting pig looked surprisingly chill, given its circumstances. Cheerful, almost, with that wide piggy grin on its huge piggy face.

Huh.

That reminded him of something—something—

A burst of bizarre memories dazzled him, how could he have forgotten a tiny piglet in sunglasses, swimming, playing with his dogs, and a selection of glitter-filled dreams culminating in—

Oh. My. God.

Lance looked up. On the other side of the roasting pig, Brian stared at him with an expression that most likely mirrored his own. Impossible it might be, impossible it certainly was, but Lance knew, knew for an absolute fact that Brian had had that same dream, the one he suddenly remembered with perfect clarity, the one where he and Brian—

They stared at one another for a frozen moment, and then Brian's wife came up to him and stole his soda, and he smiled at her, put an arm around her waist and drew her in. At the same moment, Lance's boyfriend said, "Is that for me?" and took the second beer from Lance's grasp. Lance looked back at Brian, and Brian looked at him over Leighanne's shoulder and gave a tiny nod of acknowledgment, and Lance took hold of Michael's hand and twined their fingers firmly together, and nodded back. Dreams were dreams, and life was life, and he'd choose this every time.
 

Joey's pig-on-a-stick was the best roast pork he'd ever eaten.

 

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