Brush the Gray From Out Your Skies
Empty liquor bottles everywhere. A trademark for AJ McLean's every hotel room these days. He doesn't even bother trying to throw them away in time anymore, like you know he did in the beginning. Yet another sign of defeat that you have trouble accepting.
The hotel room is dark, the faint smell of sweat and cigarettes still hanging in the air. It doesn't bother you as much anymore; you've gotten used to it. You even know that if you look through the darkness, towards the corner of the room and right beside the wooden dresser, you'll see him. Curled into a ball like always, complete with his stylish clothes and flawless appearance, sobbing like a baby.
You know it. You've seen it so many times. And yet, you can't make yourself take another step. You can't face that desperation. That dark, deep hopelessness. On days like these, when AJ McLean breaks down and cries, everything around him disappears and he reeks of desperation. The tang of that makes you wanna run to the bathroom and throw up until your stomach is empty.
Then you feel a warm hand on your shoulder, and Brian smiles at you. The panic fades a little bit. Even if Brian is only smiling to support you, even if the last thing he wants to do right now is smile, it always makes you feel a bit better. You're not alone in this. You never were.
He kisses you, thin lips tasting yours only briefly, and you sigh. The smile turns into a knowing smirk as he takes your hand and leads you both towards the huddled form on the floor.
He lifts his head from his hands and you can hardly see the tear streaks in this darkness. "I'm sorry," he chokes, shoulders quivering even as he tries to pull himself together. "I - I didn't do this so you guys would - you don't have to-"
"Shh." Brian sinks to his knees, his smile so reassuring and loving, and you know AJ won't stand a chance. "Come on," he whispers as he reaches for one of AJ's trembling hands and entwines their fingers. "We'll take care of you."
AJ shudders and another sob escapes him. Another minute passes before he nods. Brian's smile grows a little wider, and he gets up on his own before offering his hand to the other man. AJ takes it and gets up, legs shaky and unsteady beneath him. He sways, and the alcohol on his breath nearly suffocates you at first. Another thing you've gotten used to.
When finally he's on his feet, he turns to face you almost immediately. Brian's moved behind him, holding him, fingers gently caressing his fabric-covered stomach. "Howie," AJ croaks, and Brian rests his chin on AJ's shoulder, closes his eyes, plants a small kiss on his neck. It's strange how clearly you can see that bit of tension slowly leaving AJ's body, and you know why you still can't tear yourself away from this. Why you still think it's beautiful.
He tries again. "Howie, you don't have to ... I'll understand. I don't-" He pauses, eyes struggling to focus, and you hate him, you hate him, it's his choice to do this and it's crushing all of them, but you love him, too, and you can't stand to see self-loathing like that in his eyes. "I don't deserve this anyway."
You smile as best you can; hoping it'll look more genuine than it feels. You take the small step that is necessary for the two of you to be close enough to touch, and your hand seems to take on a mind of its own as it runs down AJ's face. He takes a shaky breath, but refuses to look aside, even to close his eyes. Sometimes you still wonder how a man as strong in will as he is could fall so deeply into addiction.
"Do you think I could turn you away?" you ask roughly, and he lets out a harsh breath, closes his eyes and shakes again. "AJ, God - you mean so much to ... to all of us and - when have I ever been able to-?"
You finally understand that he's shaking with relief, and you give up trying to explain with words. Your arms wrap around him until you're holding Brian in the embrace as well. You rest your head on AJ's free shoulder, feeling Brian's hands between you and AJ, and they're warm, so warm, and then AJ's hands are on your back and in your hair and his shaky breath is right next to your ear.
"I don't know what you deserve," you whisper, and the words are sharp, out of breath, "but I'll give you everything. Do you hear me? I don't set limits on loving you, AJ. I never have."
AJ chokes on his sobs, and Brian immediately rocks all of you gently, whispers, "we've got you, AJ, we've got you," until it becomes a quiet hum and the room is filled with the sound - so comforting, so beautiful that you want to stand here and listen to it always, hold them like this always.
The heart-wrenching weeping from AJ diminishes, slowly, slowly, until he's merely sniffling, body turning weak with exhaustion in your arms. You step away just enough to look at him, to make sure that he's calmed down. He looks back at you with blood-shot eyes, eyelashes moistened enough to stick together, and you can't bring yourself to smile at him. Not this time. You kiss him instead, and maybe that was the better choice after all. He moans into your mouth, more out of relief than pleasure, and falls closer into you willingly. There's salty tears and vodka on his lips, and you want to lick it all away, make sure there's no trace left of it for him to clean up later.
You don't want to think anymore as you pull away and hold each of their hands in your own, leading them toward the bed. You sit down on the soft mattress and scoot backwards until your back is against the headboard, legs bent and spread. You try to smile again, but it feels unnatural now. Nevertheless, you reach your hand out for AJ, an open invitation that is completely up to him to take. You desperately wish you could know what he's thinking as he hesitates, eyes going from you to Brian and back again. It's a brief hesitation. Whatever he was fighting in his mind, he won it, and he takes your hand and slides onto the mattress. It dips and sways as he settles between your legs, back to chest, head resting comfortably on your shoulder. Your hands instinctively wrap around him and the sigh that escapes AJ isn't troubled, but relaxed, as if he's letting go of something.
Brian is still standing on the side of the bed, looking at you both with a soft smile on his face. You don't know how he can look at you like that - you see it more and more often now and it still astounds you. He winks at you, and you grin in return, and for a moment it all feels easy. It feels safe. Then he looks away and you have to tighten your hold on AJ in a sad attempt to retain that feeling.
Wordlessly, Brian pulls his shirt over his head and throws it to the floor. There isn't much ceremony to it. He slips onto the mattress and crawls forward until he's between AJ's legs before sitting back on his heels. He coaxes AJ to sit up straight and removes his sweater with a bit of difficulty before he lets him settle back against your chest. Then he scoots closer until he's right up against AJ, their foreheads touching effortlessly.
"Feel better?" he asks quietly, that ghost of a smile still on his lips as he traces lazy circles on AJ's bare shoulder.
"Yes," AJ breathes, once again going lax in your arms. "Brian..."
"You want something?" he grins, almost the picture of innocence, and you want to kiss him for making you all relax this way, but it isn't your turn and you know it. Instead you let your hands run up and down AJ's arms as you nuzzle your face into the back of his neck, kissing dark skin there. His breathing grows slower, deeper, and you smile, knowing he can feel it.
"Brian," AJ whispers again, and the name sounds more desperate this time. Brian smiles and nods, tracing a hand down AJ's chest as he presses his lips against the other man's.
You can hear small sounds in the darkness. A moan, a gasp of breath, lips moving in turns both hard and soft against each other. Finally you lift your head from AJ's neck to see it yourself. They're beautiful, holding one another close and caressing each other with lips and hands and encouraging noises. There's nothing forceful or wild about it - it's gentle and lazy and comforting. AJ's hands are in Brian's hair, gently massaging, and Brian moans in regret as he finally breaks away, breathing harsh and ragged. He presses his brow to AJ's again and closes his eyes as he steadies himself, and that act shows more love than anything else physical either of you could've done tonight.
A few minutes pass with nothing but the sound of breathing growing increasingly slower. Finally AJ's head falls back against your shoulder and this time there's no sound as the tears run down his cheeks. You nuzzle your cheek against his, kiss the wet trails and he lets you do as you please. You can see Brian now working on AJ's neck, kissing and nibbling slowly, with no ulterior motives in mind. Then you feel his hand settle on your wrist, move under your shirt-arm and run over your bare skin over and over again and you wonder if it'd be okay if you kept them both with you always.
AJ is like a rag doll in your hands, having no strength for anything but receiving what you give him. You run your fingers through his hair and he turns his head slowly so you can kiss him, tasting salt and Brian on his lips. You know he's not indifferent about this - the tiny sounds he makes aren't exactly a protest - but there is nothing left in him to give you. You nibble at his lower lip one last time before you kiss his cheek, the side of his eye, his forehead. He's mumbling now, incoherent words you can't hear until you lean closer and you hear, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," being repeated over and over again.
You sigh as quietly as you can, and move to take Brian's hand in your own. He looks up at you, then nods silently. Together you work at rolling AJ out of your grasp and onto the mattress. The two of you lie down on either side of him, and when Brian's fingers lock with your own over AJ's waist you can settle down comfortably.
"Sleep," you say gently and AJ turns saddened eyes to you and say, "I won't do it again, I promise," and that's even worse than the apologies, because he knows you hate it when people go back on their word.
You close your eyes and edge closer to him until he's all around you, his breathing soft against your face. "Go to sleep," you repeat and you can hear as much as feel him sigh as he tries to settle himself. The hand in yours squeezes tightly and you can't help but smile, because you're not alone in this.
There were days when AJ McLean was so drunk he couldn't take two steps without falling over. Others when the alcohol affected him so deeply that he crashed hotel rooms and hit his bandmates and hurt people more than he could possibly understand. Lastly, the alcohol could have the entire opposite effect and there'd be days when he was helpless and scared, knowing he was addicted to something that could end up killing him.
On those days, you and Brian could help him in the only possible way you could think of. That was the only time he would let you love him.