All these poses now no longer boyish made me a man ah but who cares what that is and you said watch my head about it baby…
~Rufus Wainwright: “Poses”~
Nick has tattoos all over his body, and sometimes when its late, and they’re alone and he’s too tired to argue, he’ll let Aaron see them. He’ll bare arms, chest, legs, and Aaron will study him like a textbook, with eyes and fingers, and learn him by heart.
They room together when they’re on tour. At first it was to save money, but now they do it because Aaron like the sound of Nick talking him to sleep, the way he hums when he brushes his teeth, sings while he showers. He likes hearing about all the crazy shit Backstreet have done, the stuff he doesn’t get to do because he’s not old enough.
Tattoos are part of that, and he likes it when Nick tells a story as each tattoo is revealed, voice low and soft and soothing. “I got this one in Florida, right when Millennium came out. Me and AJ got drunk and he ended up getting one on his ass.” “After I got it done, I saw fucking Timberlake looking at the exact same design, and I had to rip off the bandages to show mine to him.” “When this one was finished, it swelled up so bad I had to wear shorts for two months, even though it was winter and we were touring Europe.”
Usually though, it’s a quiet, solemn thing, done when its nighttime and the only light comes from the TV, or filtered through the curtain of Aaron’s bunk. Nick’s eyes flicker, to Aaron’s and then away, as he strips his clothes off piece by piece. He’ll lean back against the headboard and just…watch. Watch Aaron trace his tattoos with fascinated fingers and eyes that are wide and soft, and move whichever way Aaron turns him.
Sometimes Nick will lie on his stomach, barely dozing, and Aaron will be wide awake, tracing KAOS over the arch of Nick’s spine. He likes that one the best, the thick but elegant letters in a line over Nick’s back, which is wide and tan but somehow…Aaron doesn’t have the words for it. If he was moving, it would be graceful, but as it is its just. Beautiful.
Nick is beautiful. A work of art, and his body is like a canvas with a painting that only Aaron gets to see. Some of them no one else has seen, like the one of Mandy’s name that Nick got right before they broke up, or the tiny cross on his ankle. No one’s seen all of them, not even Aaron, because Nick never takes his shorts off, but Aaron can see the very top of a dark word or symbol, peeking out of the top of his boxers. It’s the first one he got, the one AJ took him to get when he was too young to go by himself. His first.
Nick will never let him see that one.
But it’s okay, because Aaron gets to see all the rest of him. Gets to see the good and the bad and the beautiful. The art. The scar.
Aaron gets to see what Nick is too afraid to show anyone else.
* * *
Someone is poking at his shoulder.
Aaron awakens, and everything is hazy and strange, like he’s still dreaming. He mumbles, “waah?,” quieting when Nick shushes him because Nick knows best, most of the time. They’re on the bus. Its nighttime, and he can hear Dad snoring in the back. For some reason, they’re stopped, and it can’t be an accident or an emergency because Dad is sleeping.
He opens his mouth to ask, but Nick covers Aaron’s mouth with his hand and hisses “shh,” again, almost scolding, so he shuts up. Aaron submits to him, lets himself be pulled from his bunk and stripped down to boxers. Grumbles a little as Nick slides him into t-shirt and jeans, but lets Nick sit him down again so he can push Aaron’s feet into socks and sneakers. It reminds him of being a kid, sort of, Nick dressing him to go out on stage, back when he first opened for Backstreet.
When he’s dressed, Nick quietly takes him by the hand and leads him out of the bus, without leaving a note or explaining what’s going on. Outside, the sky is almost black, streetlights casting tiny glowing circles everywhere. They’re parked in a lot somewhere, secluded and shadowed, and Aaron wonders just what the hell is going on.
He turns to Nick to question it, but all Nick does is grin and squeeze his hand. “Come on, little man. Follow the leader.”
Nick starts walking, and Aaron drags behind, trying to cover his yawns with the back of his hand. “Nick, where are we going?” .
“Time for you to become a man, AC.” And that’s all the explanation he gets.
Until they arrive at their destination. The place is tiny, barely noticeable at the end of the street, except for the dully flashing neon lights above. Aaron looks up at Nick questioningly. His older brother looks vaguely frightening in this light, alien, half pink-tinted and half darkly shadowed. Almost like a stranger, or a dream.
He starts inside, but Aaron refuses to move until Nick looks down at him, smiling reassuringly. “Its okay, Aaron. You don’t have to if you don’t want to.”
And Aaron steels himself and walks inside.
Inside, it looks…like a tattoo parlor. Like every tattoo parlor in every movie he’s ever seen, except that there’s a nice normal-looking guy, maybe Howie’s age, standing behind a counter instead of a big burly biker. When Nick and Aaron walks in, he smiles. “Carter. I was beginning to think you weren’t gonna show up.”
Nick smiles and slaps his hand, still holding onto Aaron’s with his other. “Kyle. Good to see you again, man. This is Aaron.”
Kyle’s smile dims a little as he looks at Aaron. “How old did you say he was, again?”
“Sixteen.” Nick lies flawlessly. Its kind of one of his good points.
“Hmm.” Kyle frowns a little, and Aaron squeezes Nick’s hand extra-hard. He wants this. He wants this so bad he can taste it, and he wants it to happen tonight. He’s not sure why Nick is doing this for him, but he’s grateful. Nick understands.
“Come on,” Nick says, smiling like the charming bastard that he is. “I already told you I’ll pay you double.”
Kyle rolls his eyes and mutters what sounds like, “fucking pop star,” but he locks the front door and then leads the way, behind a curtain to a room only a little larger than the entrance. On the walls are pictures of tattoos already inscribed on people’s flesh. Aaron can recognize at least one of Nick’s, two of AJ’s.
Nick urges him forward, and Aaron sits down on what looks like a dentist’s chair without the instruments, pulling Nick with him to kneel at his feet. “Do you know what you want?” Nick says, voice low, breath hot on Aaron’s face. Aaron nods, eyes feeling huge in his face. This barely feels like reality.
Kyle comes back in, shutting the curtain behind him. He glares a bit at Nick, but sighs and sits on the stool next to Aaron’s seat. “You know what you want and where, kid?”
“Yeah,” Aaron says, but his voice sticks in his throat. He coughs and says it again. “Yeah. Can I have something to write with?”
Kyle sighs again and hands him a blank piece of paper and a pen. “You sound like you’ve barely hit fucking puberty.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Nick says, raising his voice. He lets go of Aaron’s hand so he can write, but Aaron just shoves the paper and the pen into his hands. “Huh?”
“Write our name,” Aaron says. Nick looks confused, and Aaron smiles at him. “Our name, Nick. Carter.” Nick’s brow furrows, but he writes it, and when he’s done Aaron hands it back to Kyle. “This. On my back.”
“It’ll have to be low,” Nick adds, “so our parents don’t find it.” Kyle looks worried, and Nick swears under his breath. “Triple,” he says flatly.
“Done,” Kyle says.
When he goes to get the gun and the inks, Nick mutters, “Greedy fucker.” Aaron laughs, and Nick squeezes his hand again. “You okay?”
“I think so,” Aaron says. And he does think so. If Nick could do this as many times as he has, Aaron can do it this once.
Aaron nods, a little. At that Nick stands, pulling Aaron with him, out of the chair, and then lies in it himself. Aaron crawls on top of him, a little uneasy, but he feels Nick’s arms wrap around him in a hug and he’s instantly reassured. This is his big brother. Nick would never let him get hurt.
When Kyle comes in, he starts a little. “You sure this kid’s your brother?”
“Fuck off,” Nick says easily. Aaron can hear it rumble in his chest, where his ear is pressed to it. Nick’s hands run up and down his back soothingly.
“Take off your shirt, kid, and pull your pants down. Kind of hard to tattoo your back with your fucking clothes in the way.”
“Oh. Right.” Aaron sits up, and his eye catches Nick’s. He’s straddling him now, and its…weird. He looks away, trying to look anywhere but at Nick, and pulls his shirt off. His pants are harder. He fumbles nervously with the buttons, barely has them undone when Nick pulls them down his hips, letting them bunch around his thighs. He lays back down, his head on his brother’s chest, and feels Nick’s hands push his boxers down until they’re right above his butt, then settle low on his back. Aaron’s arms wrap around Nick’s neck of their own volition.
“Just black, right?” Kyle asks. Aaron can’t speak. He just nods.
When Kyle starts, it’s just like…a hum. And then there’s pain, burning buzzing pain that feels like it’s not only in his skin but in his muscle, his bone, his blood. When he whimpers, Nick kisses the top of his head and whispers sympathy into his ear.
It gets better after that. The pain is so intense that its almost not pain anymore, its something else. The hum of the tattoo gun becomes almost like a song, the pain in his back becomes more like a burn, like the burn he feels onstage, stitch in his side and music in his blood and the audience screaming at him.
He starts to get hard against Nick’s stomach.
When he feels it, he starts to panic, wants to pull away, but he’s trapped between Nick and Kyle, and he can’t go sideways because he’ll ruin the tattoo. Nick moves slightly beneath him, and Aaron gasps.
Feels Nick freeze beneath him.
And then Nick’s hands tighten on his back, and Nick leans again to whisper into his ear. “Its okay, AC, it happens all the time. Its okay.”
Aaron whimpers. Tries to make it quiet. It feels like it goes on forever, the humming and the pain and the pleasure, and the only thing anchoring him is Nick’s lips on the top of his head, Nick’s heartbeat beneath his ear. Nick’s hands.
When it finally stops, Aaron laughs a little, nervously. Kyle gently bandages the new tattoo, and Nick murmurs something soft into Aaron’s ear and then lifts him up, pulling his boxers then his jeans up for him. Aaron isn’t sure he’ll be able to look Nick in the eye, but Nick makes him, peering into his face and wiping up the tears at the sides of his eyes. Aaron swipes at his runny nose and attempts a smile. Nick smiles back and kisses him on the cheek, then lets Aaron get off him.
Aaron barely listens as Nick gets the information on how to care for it, then pulls a wad of cash out of his wallet that looks far too large. Kyle accepts it with only a smile and leaves the room, letting them be alone.
When he’s gone, Aaron sits back down in the chair, suddenly breathless. He can’t believe he just did that. He has a tattoo now, just like Nick. It…doesn’t feel quite real yet, even though it stings like the needle is still in his flesh. When he catches his breath and looks up, Nick is kneeling down in front of him.
“You okay, little man?” Aaron nods. His face feels hot and tear-smudged, swollen. Nick brushes his fingers under Aaron’s eyes again, and this time when Aaron tilts his head up for a kiss, Nick’s lips meet his.
The kiss is soft, dry, dreamlike. It doesn’t feel strange, maybe because nothing has felt really real since Nick woke him up on the bus.
Nick pulls back, and when he smiles, it looks a little bit strained. “Lets go, AC.” He takes Aaron by the hand again, pulls him up, and they walk out of the tattoo parlor without even saying goodbye to Kyle. Aaron feels changed, different. Older.
They walk back to the parking lot in the moonlight, and Aaron lets his fingers entwine with Nick’s. His hand feels tiny in comparison. They have to tiptoe through the bus, but all is silent—Dad is still asleep in the back, nothing is moving. When they get to the bunks, Aaron strips down to his boxers and watches as Nick does the same.
Nick looks different somehow, too. His face is impassive, his thick body somehow less graceful in the thin blue light. His eyes are dark and unfamiliar.
He still looks beautiful. His tattoos are dark shadows on his body.
Inside the bunk, Aaron forgets. Sucks in a pained breath as he lies down on his fresh tattoo, and has turn over onto his stomach quickly. Nick slides in alongside him before Aaron has to ask, and when he closes the curtain it’s completely black, but its okay. Aaron doesn’t need to see to feel Nick’s hands on his spine, stroking his flesh lightly, or to hear Nick’s voice talking him to sleep.
The last thing he feels is Nick’s lips on his forehead, barely brushing over his skin in a kiss. The last thing he hears is, “Love, Aaron. That’s what my first says. Love.”
Notes: Dude, I’ve never gotten a tattoo. Or been in a tattoo parlor. I had to read over the tattooing bits of Alicia Malone and Amatia’s “Ourosburos”, CJ Marlowe’s “Down the Rabbit Hole,” and Julad’s “Beauty’s Gentle Pleasures” to get through this. So, um, thanks you guys! And thanks to Brodes for finding the pic that inspired the story.