Prompt #04: Insides
Brian had taken to wearing sweatshirts. It had to be a conscious choice, AJ decided, because he clearly remembered actually seeing skin on Brian every once in a while before. It wasn't like Brian was ever the type to rip his shirt in half and perform concerts bare-chested - like some people best to leave unmentioned - but he'd been known to wear just a wifebeater sometimes, and show the audience quick flashes of his stomach. The grin on his face when he did that had always been completely without restraint; Brian loved to tease, and he'd had nothing to hide.
But now Brian wore sweatshirts.
AJ glanced at him nervously. He'd shown up at Brian's hotel room about an hour ago - uninvited, of course, but that was hardly news. Brian had been good about it, though, for the first time in a while. For some strange reason, Brian had been almost like his old self again today. They'd played a little cards and watched some TV, and now they were just lounging on the couch. Brian was flipping through a magazine he'd found in his nightstand, and AJ was tying and untying one of the strings in his hood. He took the string in his mouth, chewed a little as he thought, and spat it back out.
"I'm bored," he announced. He shifted nervously in his seat.
Brian didn't even look up from his magazine.
He turned a page. "What?"
AJ cleared his throat. "Wanna do something?"
"I don't know." AJ worked the knot on the string loose again. "Basketball or something."
Brian finally looked up, smiling a little. "You suck at basketball."
"Well, I was hoping you'd focus on the 'or something' part," AJ grinned back. There was no point in denying it, really; they all knew he was horrible at basketball. He might even be worse than some of the girls on the crew. At least he was still better than Howie.
Brian snorted and focused back on his magazine. "Not right now," he said. "Maybe Nick is up for it. I'd go ask him if I were you."
"I'm not hanging out with Nick right now," AJ replied evenly. He pulled his legs up to hug them close as he continued, "You've been in here by yourself too much." Avoiding us, he wanted to say, but there was no point in stating the obvious. "Come on, one game. I might let you win if you ask nicely."
"I said no," Brian repeated, turning the page almost violently. AJ actually jumped a little.
His first instinct was to snap back - to stalk out of the room and slam the door behind him, even. He didn't need this shit. Plenty of people actually wanted to spend time with him. But ever since the surgery, all he saw when he looked at Brian was an injured animal with its claws out. Hissing at everyone who got too close; licking its wounds when no one was looking.
But he was starting to run out of options. Nothing had gotten through to Brian yet and lately he'd been so … different. AJ almost couldn't recognize him at times. Still, he held on, because he knew that Brian didn't want to be this way; he was clearly getting more miserable every day. There wasn't anything for AJ to do except to keep trying and failing and trying again.
So instead, he planted one foot on the floor and leaned forward. "Can I see it?" he asked, letting Brian hear the small crack his voice made.
Brian's eyes stopped moving across the page. There was a faint tightening around his lips, a brief twitch, and he blinked twice. "See what?" he asked levelly.
"You know what-"
"See what?" Brian asked again, sharper, as he looked up.
AJ looked at him for a long moment. Brian snorted, full of contempt, and AJ stumbled over the words, "Your -- your scar. Can I see your scar?"
Something in Brian's eyes hardened as soon as the words they'd both been waiting for were out. AJ knew that this wasn't a time to back down, so he forced himself to keep his gaze steady, to stay calm and wait. Finally Brian took a deep breath through his nose. "I think you need to go now," he said.
AJ started to reach out. "Brian, come on-"
"I'm tired," he said as he stood up, away from AJ's touch, and headed for the door. "The doctors keep saying I need to catch up on my sleep."
AJ watched as Brian opened his door and turned back, looking up expectantly. He did look tired, but of course AJ wasn't that stupid. Still, he got up after a moment and followed, burying his hands deep in his pockets.
He stopped at the door and hesitated a beat before speaking. "You need to tell me-"
"I don't need to tell you anything," Brian said. His entire demeanor had shifted; he looked and sounded exhausted, like he was two seconds away from giving up on everything.
AJ looked at him. "I'm not gonna stop," he said calmly. "I don't care if you're kicking and screaming the entire way, I'm gonna keep at this until - until we're okay again. I don't want you to keep doing this to yourself."
Brian just held his gaze, not saying a word. After a while, AJ nodded to no one in particular and stepped out into the hallway. It was a few more seconds before the heard the door click softly shut behind him.
AJ was trying not to stare.
One blissful thing about this tour was the breaks they had during the solo performances. Kevin was out there now, so he probably still had a good ten minutes to go. Taking a swig from his water bottle, he watched Brian leaning up against a wall and trying to look casual about fighting for his breath.
He had to get back into the swing of things obviously, they all knew that. It didn't make it easier, but they knew it. He watched as Nick approached him, putting a hesitant hand on his shoulder and asking a question. Brian looked up and said something that made Nick drop his hand again. Squaring his jaw, he made his 'I'm trying to look nonchalant so you won't know how much that hurt' face. AJ was familiar with it. Shortly after that, Nick walked away again, kicking an empty bucket on the way.
Brian watched him leave, an unreadable look on his face, but when his eyes shifted to AJ his expression immediately changed. AJ didn't look down, which probably only aggravated him even more.
This was what he did for Brian. Other people could comfort him and make him laugh, and AJ could do that, too, but more importantly he could push him. He could make Brian angry. An angry Brian was right up there on the list of things he wanted along with nuclear war and abused animals, but an angry Brian spoke the truth and was honest about his problems. If that was what it took, then AJ would do it as much as he needed to. Even if it meant Brian being angry with him always.
That night, when he knocked on Brian's door, he waited in vain for ten minutes before going back to his own room.
The second night he went to Brian's door and knocked, it was flung open almost as soon as his knuckles had connected with the wood. AJ jumped back, momentarily shocked, and Brian's eyes narrowed.
"What makes you think it'll help?" he demanded. "Why, why do you think seeing it will-"
"Can I come in, please?" AJ said faintly, looking down both ends of the hallway. He really didn't want to do this where people could interrupt them.
Brian stared at him, mouth still open, ready to retaliate if needed. Instead he shook his head and opened the door wider for AJ to slip past him. Their arms brushed in the process and AJ felt the short hairs stand up at the contact. He was rubbing the arm absentmindedly when he heard the door click shut again, and when he turned around Brian was leaning up against it. He made a vague 'go on' gesture.
The sun was going down outside, bathing the room in a soft red glow and deepening the shadows. The narrow entryway was already dark enough that Brian's features were out of focus. AJ let out a deep breath. "I don't know if…" He trailed off, watching Brian stand up straight. "I don't know, okay?" he tried again. "I just think we have to - I want to try, because … I want to understand this. What happened to you."
"What happened to me," Brian repeated slowly, an odd smile forming on his face.
"Yeah," AJ replied. He fiddled with the hem of his shirt and blurted, "I don't know what else to do."
Brian watched him, his eyes roaming carefully over AJ's face. It seemed like several minutes passed this way. AJ just waited, trying not to move too much or let his gaze wander. Showing hesitation right now would only make Brian bolt for the nearest exit. AJ always struggled to read him, closed up bundle of energy that he was, but every once in a while AJ just knew what to do, and those brief flashes made all the questioning worth it.
The deep intake of breath Brian took sounded desperately loud all of a sudden. He gave a brief nod, more a small head-jerk than anything else, and began walking. AJ watched as Brian brushed past him and headed for the couch. He plopped down rather unceremoniously, looking everywhere but at AJ as he grabbed the hem of his sweatshirt. It was pulled off quickly and tossed aside; underneath it was a white wifebeater. AJ had to bite down on his lip to keep from smiling, because of course, of course Brian was wearing layers in early summer. The tip of the scar was peeking out, an angry flash of dark red, and Brian met AJ's gaze squarely before removing the remaining piece of clothing.
He hated himself for flinching. Brian's eyes went wide and he immediately grabbed for the wifebeater again as AJ stumbled forward, almost tripping himself. "No, I'm sorry," he exclaimed in a whoosh of breath, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean - I was just - God, please, Rok. Please."
Brian looked down at the shirt he still had clenched in his hand, his fist so tight it was shaking a little. "Please don't do that again," he said quietly.
AJ shook his head even though Brian wasn't looking at him. "I - I won't, I promise," he rasped, taking a few more steps towards the couch. He sank down on the coffee table, directly in front of Brian, and tried to get his heart to stop racing. It was just Brian. It was still him. Brian was staring fixedly at his own hands, his shoulders almost drawn up to his ears. AJ looked at him.
The scar was still so new, a dark line separating his chest in two. A couple of tiny scabs still clung to it; dried up blood, most likely. Faint black and yellow bruises were still visible at the end of it, and AJ felt something in him go cold at the thought of how hard they'd had to work on him to produce those.
Brian shifted. He cleared his throat, lifting the hand clutching his wifebeater. "Okay, I think that's-"
"No, wait," AJ said, his voice barely audible. He met Brian's wide, startled eyes. "Please. Not yet."
Brian was flushed all the way down to his chest, from embarrassment probably, but he just bit his lip and nodded. AJ could feel his eyes on him as he went back to looking at the scar. "Does it hurt?" he asked hesitantly.
It was a moment before Brian answered. "A little. Not so much anymore."
AJ nodded silently in reply. He watched Brian's chest rise and fall with each shallow breath. The scar moved with it, a part of Brian now, like his fingers and his eyes and his recovering heart. AJ's breath hitched as he leaned forward, supporting his elbows on his knees. "Can I?" he rasped, reaching out one of his arms in a silent question.
Brian's expression changed from confusion to fear in a matter of one second. "I don't think-"
"I won't hurt you," AJ whispered, stilling Brian's words immediately. He wasn't really sure why he was asking, given that he had already stretched his luck pretty far by now, but something stirring deep inside of him needed the contact, the feel of it under his fingertips. He needed it to be real.
The shadows on Brian's face were getting deeper still. The last rays from the sun were moving in his hair, over his chest, bathing him in red and orange light. An awful, raw sound rose from the back of his throat as he leaned into the couch, exposing himself even further. He looked at AJ, eyes gone darker, and jerked another nod.
AJ couldn't reach him this way. He was surprised to feel his legs shaking as he stood up, watching Brian carefully for any signs that he should back off. But Brian had closed his eyes, taking in one deep breath at a time. Without thinking much further, AJ stepped forward and sat back down, perched on the end of Brian's knees. Brian's eyes flew back open. "What're you doing?" he asked, moving to sit back up.
"Relax." AJ pushed Brian's shoulders back as gently as he could, leaning forward with the pressure. "You were too far away, s'all."
Brian opened his mouth to object, but just then AJ's hands began sliding down and whatever he'd tried to say dissolved into a rough exhale. AJ removed his hands briefly, trying not to startle, and just watched as Brian squeezed his eyes tightly shut. When he lowered one hand to brush the fingertips over the bottom of the scar, Brian's stomach muscles contracted and his breaths got startlingly louder in the heavy silence. AJ tried again, as gentle a touch as he could manage, and Brian took a deep, shuddering breath before his shoulders lowered a little, giving AJ as much permission as he would get right now.
The scar stood out from the rest of his body, not only by vision but by feel as well. AJ traced the line up to Brian's collarbone, getting a feel of the sensitive skin. It was rough where scabs still lingered, but infinitely soft everywhere else. Much softer than he had expected. His eyes flickered to Brian's face, never quite comfortable that he was allowed to do this, but Brian kept his eyes closed. His breaths were coming out in short puffs now, not as loud as the ones before, but still slightly out of his control. AJ ran his fingers down Brian's chest and heard as much as felt the little breathless gasp it induced.
There was something prickling in the back of his mind; something that reminded him that this wasn't exactly what boys normally did together. But every other part of his body was humming with the feel of this, whispering Brian's letting you touch him and Brian trusts you and that - that was everything.
His hands seemed to have taken on a mind of their own. One of them fell over Brian's heart, feeling the rapid thudding that was too fast to be normal. AJ looked at the scar again and immediately his head started to spin.
"They were in here," he said, voice filled with wonder. "They held your heart, and - your heart - they touched it, and-" the shiver that ran through Brian didn't look pleasant, "they fixed it. They fixed you."
Brian finally opened his eyes, a slow process, and even longer than that before he looked up. His pupils were so dilated that only tiny rings of the blue irises remained. Warmth was spreading in the pit of AJ's stomach, some place deep and dark and so powerful that he became light-headed with it. But it couldn't be - it couldn't be that, because this was Brian. Brian was a guy. Brian didn't make him want to sprout poetry and buy chocolates by the truckload.
Taking in a shaky breath, he turned his focus back on the scar. He was surprised when he found he didn't have to reach as far as before, and only then did he discover that he had shifted closer without realizing it. He was almost in Brian's lap now, knees planted on either side of him, and this was probably the time he should get off of him and leave (and avoid him for several weeks.) Instead he let his fingers run over the faint bruises near Brian's midsection.
It was clear to see that they'd been much bigger and far more colorful just a few weeks ago. He was careful, not wanting to hurt, so when his fingers brushed over Brian's stomach he wasn't expecting the hitch in Brian's breath or the flutter in his abdominal muscles. AJ bit his lip hard and tried not to touch again, but God, he couldn't help it - he let his fingers brush over that place a second time, and the sound Brian made was unlike anything he'd ever heard before. He sat up sharply, causing AJ to slide even further into his lap. This close, pressed together in such a way, there was no way not to acknowledge that Brian was hard.
"Get off of me," Brian hissed from behind clenched teeth.
AJ pushed back to get just a little distance. "No," he breathed, surprising them both, "Look, it's - it's okay. I understand. It's…"
"How do you know what-" The end of Brian's sentence ended in a breathy sound as AJ touched him again. His eyes slid half shut, and the heat in AJ's stomach flared when he saw that, burned through his body in such an intense flash that he thought he could pass out from it. He recognized it now. It was the same kind of heat he'd felt the first time a girl had let him remove her bra, or when she'd nibbled at his ear and wrapped her long legs around him. It was nowhere near in the same realm as that, though, because this was Brian he was touching, who he wanted to touch more than anyone else right now.
His head fell into the crook of Brian's neck, weak with overwhelming sensation. He was careful not to press into the scar, but every other thought than that shot straight out of his head, because this close he could feel Brian's harsh breaths against his own shoulder, coming hot and fast. He shifted, feeling the friction, and God, he was hard, too, what the hell was he doing? "Brian," he whispered, mouthing the name into sweat-salty skin, and there was a noise, a dark, needy noise in the back of Brian's throat, reluctant but strong, so bare that AJ had to do something. He was trembling all over now, God, it was all just instinct at this point, and he watched his own hands like they were someone else's, moving, sliding down until the fingertips were pressed right above Brian's jeans, a whisper of a touch, and then Brian gasped right in his ear--
The knock had the same effect on him as if he was just waking up from a nightmare; heart pounding, sweaty and not quite aware, but scared out of his mind. He pushed off as hard as he could, fighting to get his limbs to work properly, and then he was running, running with nowhere to go. He ended up in the corner right by the window, crossing his arms over his chest, and he was going to cry like a fucking girl. His throat burned, and he forced himself to keep swallowing despite his dry mouth as he listened to Brian opening the door behind him.
"Hey." Howie's voice. AJ closed his eyes and waited. "What happened to you guys? We just had that had phone conference with Jive we've been trying to get for weeks."
"Shit." Brian sounded like he'd just smoked three cigarettes in a row, and AJ had done that to him, he'd … he'd almost… "Sorry, man, we forgot. Did y'all manage without us?"
"Yeah, no problem, we just…" Howie faltered, and AJ felt himself go taut with tension. "Is he okay?"
There was a pause. "He's fine," Brian said brusquely, leaving no room for more questions. "We'll talk later, okay? Tell Kevin we're sorry."
"Oh. Okay." Howie sounded hesitant. "See you later, AJ," he added to deaf ears and then a soft "bye" before the door shut again. AJ heard feet padding across the carpet, and then nothing. For the longest time.
"You gonna turn around?" Brian finally asked, loud and merciless.
AJ tried to speak, to breathe even, but the tightening in his chest got worse the more effort he put into it. "I don't know," he managed to croak, taking in a shuddering breath as soon as he'd spoken.
He'd just had his hands on another guy for the first time in his life, and there was something … something that, if he didn't think about the logistics or the consequences or the classifications, felt so distinctly right about it that it made him sway on his feet. He could throw up right now without having to try very hard.
There was a faint rustling behind him, then footsteps again, and AJ forced himself to stay calm. Brian went around him, facing him, meeting AJ's gaze with guarded eyes. His sweatshirt was back on; AJ was disappointed that Brian had put that barrier back up, and hand in hand with disappointment came more fear, wrapping him up tightly, suffocating him with the knowledge that he really wanted to see Brian that stripped down again, in every sense of the word.
Maybe it wasn't about guys in general. Maybe it was about Brian. That thought felt a little less overwhelming. Wanting to be that close to him - no, it couldn't be wrong, because he'd made him feel good. He'd made that constant betrayal in his eyes go away for a while.
"I-" he tried to say, but the word was more a raspy exhale than anything else. "I've never -- never done that before. With a … with a…" The short laugh he forced sounded hollow. He slumped back against the wall with a soft thump. "God, I can't even say it."
"Try," Brian said simply.
His eyes were bright, still dark with arousal from -- God, from what they'd just done, from what he'd done to him. AJ stared back, seeing something in Brian's eyes, remembering the way he'd fisted the couch pillows tight in his hands, the way he'd moved when AJ had touched him in the right places.
Brian snorted humorlessly in the silence that followed. "You don't know what you want."
AJ's gaze didn't waver. The realization hit him as fast as a snap of his fingers. "But you do," he said slowly, his voice wavering. "You wouldn't have stopped me, would you? I would've kept going and you wouldn't have-"
"No one's touched me in months," Brian snapped, moving forward, "It wasn't-"
"But it was me," AJ choked, watching Brian's eyes go wide with fear, "I was the one touching you - you let me see - you haven't let anyone close enough to-"
"That wasn't about me," Brian snarled, and he was so close now, pinning AJ against the wall. "You think I haven't seen you sneak looks whenever you can? You're curious and you're so goddamn blind to it that it's ridiculous. You wanted to find out what it was like, and this was the perfect excuse, right?"
AJ's mouth dropped open. "What the hell do you think of me? I didn't come in here to get off, I wanted to help you get past all of this-"
"I am not weak." AJ startled when Brian hit the wall hard a couple of inches from his head. "Who do you think you are?" he hissed, out of breath, "You have no idea what it was like, the way I've felt ever since they told me I was having heart problems again. They cut me open, AJ. They had to strap me down because I was shaking so hard right before surgery, and now I'm afraid to touch my own scar because I keep having the insane idea that something might tear, but I haven't said anything, I haven't complained, so don't you come in here and - and ask questions and be sympathetic just because you've got a guilty conscience. I don't need it."
Brian was breathing hard now, and AJ couldn't be blind to the raw pain he saw there anymore. "Brian, please-"
"You weren't there," he went on, quieter, the words tumbling out now, "None of y'all were, you let me push it back and get sicker, and - and - you call yourselves brothers, what-?"
AJ didn't even think about his next move. Pulling Brian closer was as natural as breathing at that moment, and when he pressed their foreheads together there was a familiar warmth he hadn't even known he'd missed. He felt a distant, giddy sort of thrill when Brian didn't move away. "Jesus," he whispered, sliding his hand into Brian's hair. "I - we were all thinking about you, you have no idea. We were worried sick. It was so stupid, and we shouldn't have, I know, but … but you're okay now."
"No, I'm not," he whispered back, a breath of an inch away, wetting his lips as he shook his head. "I can barely touch it myself, and then when you - I thought it would hurt, or something would happen, but it just felt…" He exhaled, making breath ghost over AJ's lips. "I - I thought I could let you do it, let you get your experimenting out of the way, but - I would've stopped you."
AJ's hands slid downwards, stopping at Brian's sides and pulling him closer.
"It would've been easy," Brian gasped. "You would've started to deal with this, and I would get to … to make you feel - but you would walk away afterwards and I can't handle that. Not you. Not after you just touched me like that."
AJ was light-headed with it all, breathing hard, teetering on the edge on some new ground he was completely unfamiliar with. He moved forward, unsure of what he was trying to do, but it was decided for him as he stumbled over his feet and fell forward. They gripped each other's upper arms to keep from crashing, and then he was so close he could feel Brian's eyelashes flutter against his cheek. Brian's eyes were big, his breathing unsteady and his hold so tight that AJ knew there would be bruises later. When understanding flickered across his face, AJ couldn't see anything else, didn't want to see. It was a hesitant surrendering; a slight tilt of the head for a better angle and subtly wetting his lips, but it was undoubtedly permission Brian was giving.
AJ could feel blood pounding in his ears, drowning out every other sound he didn't need to hear. He could do it. The reality of that was so startling that the heat in his stomach flared up again, leaving residual tingles from head to toe. He could finish this, push Brian up against that wall and devour him, and Brian would let him, Brian even wanted him to. He could find that special place on Brian's neck that everyone had, the one that would make him squirm and it would be the most gorgeous thing in the world to see. He might even make those incredible noises again, maybe new ones, choked gasps and soft moans that AJ had never actually heard but was imagining now, so vividly. God, he could make them both feel so good.
AJ made a pained noise in the back of his throat as he moved back, just enough to look at Brian properly. Brian only looked back, dark eyes following his every move, and AJ despised himself for entertaining the thought of using Brian for even a second.
Brian shook his head, and his laugh was soft, barely audible. "Damn you," he said quietly, stepping back in one fluid motion.
AJ felt oddly cold. "I can't," he implored. "I can't, not when I don't know what the hell I want. I won't do that to you."
The tightening around Brian's lips was there again, but when he nodded AJ finally saw something of his old friend returning, the one who almost always forgave at the drop of a hat. This was a start, if anything.
AJ ran his hands up his arms, hugging himself. "What now?" he asked softly.
Brian shrugged, looking out the window. "It'll heal," he said. "The scar. Everything. It'll heal. Right?"
AJ nodded, worrying his lower lip. He was so exhausted he could barely stand, still shaking with pent up energy that he couldn't release. When Brian gently grabbed his arm and pulled him towards the couch, there was nothing left in him to make any kind of protest.
Grabbing a blanket from one of the chairs, Brian made AJ lie down and folded the blanket out over him, tucking it carefully around AJ's legs. Apparently he hadn't forgotten how cold AJ's feet always were. He managed a small smile when Brian sat down and leaned over him.
"I'll be in my room," he said. "If you need anything."
AJ nodded. For a fleeting moment it was like being a kid again, and he almost expected a lullaby or a bedtime story, but the way Brian was looking at him wasn't childlike in any way. Brian hesitated, then ran the back of his hand down the side of AJ's face, so brief but so strong in the message it sent. After that, he got back up and went into his bedroom without another word.
It was almost completely dark now. AJ shifted, cringing when the springs protested, and blinked up at the ceiling. His body was screaming for sleep, so wrung out with everything that had happened that he was almost amazed he didn't fall asleep immediately.
But he didn't sleep much that night.