The Complete Picture

Beta: Thanks to bachelor_girl and luzmaria8, who made valuable suggestions -- some of which I had to ignore due to lack of time...
Note: Response to Jenn's Backstreet Gallery Challenge, where I picked a photo of Pollyanna Dorough at a function with her brother, Nick and AJ:

Pollyanna with Howie, AJ and Nick (standing a bit to the side)

Pollyanna loved spending time with Howie and his bandmates. Over the years, especially after she became Howie's 'date' for festive occasions, she had started to feel almost like a part of the group at times. She loved the other guys almost as much as she loved her brother.

Over time, they had all become part of each other's families, and Pollyanna enjoyed spending time with the growing group of Backstreet women. At first it had only been the mothers, especially AJ's mom Denise. Later Kristin had stopped being a shadow and became Backstreet's First Lady, soon followed by Leighanne. There had been occasional girlfriends of AJ and Nick, but they hadn't really 'belonged', had not necessarily been allowed into their close circle.

Pollyanna was fiercely protective of Howie and the others -- there was no way some flavor of the week was going to get the chance to sell them out, not if she had a say in it. Especially not by telling the world that yes, Howie Dorough was gay.

Pollyanna knew that nothing could stop the rumours -- and truth be told, in the last years Howie had stopped being so paranoid and had become much more comfortable with who he was -- but she would be damned if something else than a conscious decision on his part was going to out him to the public.

Everyone who mattered knew, of course, and when Sarah came along and seemed to be there to stay, AJ told her as well -- but not before asking Howie, who only laughed and said that Sarah had probably figured it out already. So, Sarah had become a part of their 'family' and everyone had been happy to see AJ slowly get so much better -- so much more himself -- after a long time when they had felt him slipping away from them, and had felt powerless to stop him.

Of course, not everything was always wonderful, and Pollyanna was very aware of everything that went on behind the scenes, with management, record companies, Leighanne's pregnancy, and Nick‘s desire to go solo. In fact, Pollyanna probably knew more than most. She had been with them for so long she had become part of the background, practically invisible, even more so than Kristin, Leighanne and Sarah, in part because she was 'only' Howie's sister.

Therefore, Pollyanna was pretty sure that nobody except for her had noticed that the tension between Howie and Nick was not purely due to Jive's maneuver and Nick's decision. But then, nobody except her had a key to Howie's condo and walked in to find them asleep in Howie's bed, curled around each other.

It had been a beautiful sight and Pollyanna remembered wondering why they hadn't told anyone. She had asked Howie, later, after backing out of the apartment without waking them up. He had sighed a bit and said: "Because it's nothing worth telling." And because she was his sister and had known him longer than anyone else, she had understood and simply hugged him, never mentioning it again. But that didn't stop her from noticing when whatever they had shared had turned from 'nothing worth telling' to simply 'nothing'.

She was only glad that Howie had AJ again.

She remembered the two of them when Backstreet had started out. Despite their vastly different personalities -- or maybe because of them -- they had clicked right from the beginning, becoming practically inseparable. It had hurt her to see them drift apart as AJ's problems escalated out of control, and it had made her happy to see them rebuild their friendship after AJ's time in rehab.

Pollyanna knew that Howie saw AJ often and that they talked on the phone almost daily. And, because she was Howie's sister and AJ's friend, she couldn't help but notice that this time, there was something different about their friendship. There was something different in the way Howie's eyes crinkled when he smiled at AJ, and in the way AJ's body relaxed when they touched, in the way their eyes would meet and they would share a laugh.

Sarah was Pollyanna's friend, too, but Pollyanna didn't think she should know about this. Especially not because she was not even sure if Howie and AJ themselves knew.

Then came a time when, all of a sudden, all of that was over, and AJ seemed to be distance himself again. Pollyanna tried to talk to Howie about it, but once again he pretended as if everything was alright, even when, to her, it was pretty clear that nothing was alright.

Much to Pollyanna's surprise the solution came from Sarah, who called to tell her about AJ relapsing and cheating on her. Then there was a pause, and Sarah almost whispered: "I think it's my fault, for stopping him from being with who he needs to be with. It's just... I was jealous and I didn't want to lose him -- and see where it got me..."

Pollyanna wasn't quite sure what to say, how to react. She was worried about AJ, felt sorry for Sarah, and angry at the same time because her actions had hurt Howie.

Sarah went on, probably relieved to talk to someone she could be honest with: "Howie was good for AJ -- but I didn't see it before it was too late."

Pollyanna could honestly say that she hadn't seen that coming, but Sarah had always been smarter than people gave her credit for. Slowly things began to click into place, forming a complete picture.

"Maybe it's not too late, sweetie -- you and AJ are good together and he knows it, so don't give up yet." She tried to comfort Sarah, but was already halfway out the door when they hung up. She drove over to Howie's place, not caring that it was pretty late when she got there.

Opening the door silently, she let herself in, unsurprised to find the apartment dark and quiet. She made her way to the bedroom and found what she had expected -- Howie holding AJ, or maybe AJ holding Howie, the distinction was not quite clear, their bodies fitting together perfectly, the way she had always known they would.

Stirring, Howie slowly lifted his head from AJ's shoulder, careful not to disturb the sleeping man. Pollyanna smiled tenderly, warmth flooding her senses at the peace she saw shining in Howie's face as their eyes met.

Sarah was right, Howie was good for AJ -- but there was the other half of the picture, too, the whole of which only Pollyanna saw: AJ was good for Howie, too.


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