Brian was pale; his breathing labored and his heartbeat was erratic. On the other side of him, Ororo slept on her side with her hand resting lightly on his arm. Up in first class, past the curtain, his wife and Harry, along with AJ and Howie, were attempting to sleep. Kevin was up in the cockpit with the pilots getting his chance to fly the plane. Nick was a few meters away, locked down in his wheelchair looking both wistful and forlorn.
The curtain was pulled aside and Kevin stepped through. He glanced at Nick and saw the boy’s pain in his blue eyes. He tried to give an encouraging smile, then turned to Harold.
“How is he?” he asked, nodding to Brian.
Harold sighed. “No change.”
“Do you really think Dr. Finnigan can help?”
“This will work.” Harold placed a gentle hand on Brian’s head. “It has to work.”
A quiet moan came from Brian’s lips and he leaned his head into Harold’s hand. “Dad?” he murmured.
Harold reached down and took Brian’s hand. “I’m here, son.”
Brian’s eyes weakly fluttered open. The pale blue orbs tried to take in the surroundings. “Where… are we?” he asked.
“We’re going home, Brian,” Harold replied.
“Yes; to Kentucky. Dr. Finnigan thinks there might be a way to help you.”
“Home,” Brian said again.
“Yes, Brian,” Harold replied. “Now go back to sleep. You need to save your strength.”
“Mm… love you, dad,” Brian murmured as he drifted off to sleep.
“I love you, too, son.”
Dr. Remus Finnigan was waiting for them on the ground when they landed. Stairs were attached, and he climbed up. Howie was waiting for him and led him past first class to where Brian lay. Harold was holding Brian’s hand while Ororo dabbed Brian’s face with a cold cloth. The others looked up as Finnigan entered. Kevin stepped closer and explained.
“He’s having another attack of pain.”
“Can you tell how bad it is?” Remus asked.
“Not as bad as it usually is,” Ororo replied. “But it’s still bad enough to make him break out in a sweat. Usually there’s a lot of thrashing around involved.”
Remus carefully lowered onto the edge of the bed and studied Brian. His face was pale, and lines of pain etched his features. The hand that was clutching his father’s was trembling slightly. If this wasn’t as bad as it usually was, Remus was almost afraid to see how bad it could get.
Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me. I hope it works.
A soft voice full of fear spoke from behind him. “Can you save him?”
Remus turned around and saw a blond youth sitting in a wheelchair, his crystal blue eyes pleading to him to save his friend.
“I’ll do what I can,” he said.
Tears threatened to fall from Nick’s eyes. “Please try,” he begged. “He’s my best friend.”
Remus nodded. “We need to move him off the plane,” he pointed out. “How’d you get him on in the first place?”
“Very carefully,” AJ replied.
Harold carried his son into a facility he hadn’t set eyes on in twenty-five years as Remus led the way. It was the same place where Remus and he, along with several others, began their work on mutant experimentation. The memories filled his heart with guilt as he glanced down at the boy that had been the only successful product of this experimentation.
We’ll help you Brian, he silently promised. Everything will be all right.
“Brings back memories, doesn’t it, Harold?” Remus asked as he turned a knob, bringing the lights up.
“Yes.” None of them pleasant now.
Remus glanced at his colleague, hearing the warning tone in his voice. He motioned for Harold to lay Brian on a nearby cushioned table. Moving over to a monitor once Brian was on the table, Remus pressed a few buttons and a large scanner lowered from the ceiling.
“What’s that?” Howie asked.
“This little beauty,” Finnigan explained as he secured the scanner in place over Brian’s body, “is going to tell us what’s wrong with Brian.”
“We know what’s wrong with him,” Harry muttered, speaking for the first time since the flight. “His body’s breaking down.”
Remus glanced over at the older Littrell boy. “Indeed? Well, Harry, I just might be able to see why his body is breaking down and figure out how to help.”
Harry retreated back into silence and glanced over at his little brother on the table. He was surprised to see Brian’s head slowly moving back and forth, quiet moans spilling from him. Harry rushed to his side, fearing another attack. But seeing none of the usual pain on Brian’s face, another thought struck him.
“Turn the lights down.”
Remus looked up at him. “What?”
“I think Brian can feel the electricity. Turn the lights down.”
The lights were lowered as instructed and Brian began to still. Harry turned to Remus.
“Do you think he’ll feel the machine when it scans him?” he asked.
“There’s only one way to find out,” Remus replied. He keyed the proper sequence into the computer and the scanner activated.
Brian’s back arched and a howl of pain escaped his lips. Harry clasped Brian’s hand in fear, wishing that they still had the morphine. But it had been left on the plane when Remus told them that the morphine would do Brian no good anymore. A few seconds later, it was over. Brian relaxed on the table; Harry could feel him trembling from the pain.
“It’s all right, Brian,” he soothed. “We’re trying to help you.”
“Mom…” Brian moaned.
Harry looked back at the others and was shocked to see his mother not with them. “Where’s mom?”
“I’ll look for her,” Harold announced as he headed for the door.
He found Jackie a few meters outside the door, quietly crying. She leaned into his embrace when he wrapped his arms around her.
“This is all our fault, Harold.”
“Everything is going to be okay, Jackie,” Harold comforted. “I’ve got faith that Remus will be able to help our boy.” He gave her a squeeze. “Come on, now. Brian asked for you.”
“Yes. The lights were turned down because Harry guessed that Brian could feel the electricity. It was extremely painful when the scanner was turned on.”
“And that’s when he called for me?”
“Yes. He needs you, honey,” Harold said as they headed back to the room. “He probably hasn’t completely forgiven me.”
Remus was reviewing the information from the scan when Harold and Jackie entered. “Heavens.”
“What is it?” Nick demanded.
Remus shook his head in disbelief. “There are far too many mutant powers trying to manifest in Brian. I’m guessing this last one, the ability to change into an animal, happened while he was gone?”
“It must have,” Howie replied. “All we knew when he came back was that he could change into a hawk. Whatever it was, it happened in the two weeks that he was gone.”
“Where were you when this happened?” Remus inquired.
“A small town just outside of Pocatello, Idaho,” Kevin replied.
“Well, no wonder the fans reacted the way they did,” Remus said. “Pocatello is not a mutant-friendly place.”
Ella’s a mutant, Kevin thought. How was she able to keep her identity a secret for so long if that town wasn’t mutant-friendly?
“Can something be done?”
All eyes turned to Ororo as she stood by Brian’s side. She had been so quiet that it was a surprise to hear her speak. Jackie went to her and gave her a warm embrace, then turned to her son lying on the table.
Dr. Finnigan looked over the information he’d received from the scan a second time. “There… might be a possibility.”
All eyes were upon the doctor now, waiting to hear what this possibility might be. Anything that could help Brian, they’d accept.
“I can’t reverse what is happening in Brian’s body with all these powers manifesting in him. But, I can transfer some of the powers to another willing volunteer.”
“Just how do you plan on doing this?” AJ inquired.
"Well, this device is a genetic splicer," he explained. "Essentially, the machine is able to take genetic pattern readings, recognize and identify them, and pull out specific combinations to extract. Then the-"
"No, wait a minute," AJ said. "English. Please."
The doc thought for a moment. "Simply, then... this device can pick out particular mutant patterns... the patterns that correspond to particular powers... and extract them from everywhere in his body. Then, the pattern can be transferred into another's body. That person will then have the selected mutant power, permanently."
"So it's out of Brian, and into whomever."
"And the danger is..."
"The danger is, the person receiving the powers must have no mental resistance to the change. In this case, thoughts really can kill. If the person has any doubts, harbors any misgivings, then the transfer will corrupt and the feedback could most definitely be harmful."
AJ swallowed. "Harmful... like how?"
"If the powers are transferring, but a block is erected, then the energies will surge back into Brian's body... and would surely overload his system. Fatally."
A.J’s face paled. "Fatally?"
"Yes," the doctor said. "And the backlash would most likely destroy the person who rejected it as well. That's why the volunteer must be very willing, very sincere."
AJ gulped. “I… don’t think I’ll be able to go through with it.”
“Me either,” Howie quietly agreed.
Kevin and Nick turned to their friends in shock. AJ took a deep breath.
“I don’t think I’d be able to go through it without doubting,” he said. “I want to help Brian, honest, but… I don’t think I’m ready for something like that.”
There was silence as Nick and Kevin thought about what AJ had said. In truth, he and Howie were doing the right thing by backing out because of their doubts.
“I think Brian would understand,” Nick said.
“You really think so?” Howie asked.
Nick smiled. “Yeah.” He took a deep breath and turned to the doctor. “So… when do we get started?”
"Right now," the doctor said. "If you're ready, and sure about it." He looked at Kevin and Nick with a very serious expression. "Your lives are about to change forever."
“We’re certain,” Kevin said with determination.
"How long is this gonna take?" Nick asked as Harry helped him into the tube he would lay in during the transfer. Brian had already been put and secured into his own tube just a few feet away, still unconscious.
"The process takes about 20 minutes," the doctor explained. "Five minutes for the machine to sort out the patterns, and fifteen to collect and redistribute them. The procedure must be done slowly."
“Are we going to feel anything?” Kevin wondered as he climbed into his own tube. “We’ll be asleep, right?”
“Yes, Kevin. You’ll both be asleep. You’ll be given some anesthesia, and then we’ll begin. As for being able to feel anything, it’s quite possible. Most likely, you might feel a little pain.”
Anything for Brian, the two friends thought, as they were strapped into their tubes. AJ and Howie gazed down at their friends just before the lids of the tubes were closed.
“Good luck,” AJ said then gave Kevin a mock-salute.
Kevin just smiled. “Thanks man.”
“Time to get started!” the doctor called.
The tubes were sealed and the anesthesia administered. The two remaining Backstreet Boys waited with Brian’s family, Ororo, and the doctor at the monitor. Taking a deep breath, Dr. Finnigan typed in the sequence to begin the transfer.
For the first five minutes, not much happened; the hum of the machine and the beeping of the monitors were the only sounds. Then, a green symbol appeared on the main panel of the device, and the transfers began. Instantly, both Nick and Kevin began straining against their straps, even though they were in a drug-induced sleep. The pain on their faces told the others that they must have been feeling extreme anguish. Brian was suffering too... but he wasn't thrashing around as much. Belatedly, they realized it was because he was already so weak. But the flickers of pain that contorted his face were evidence enough that he, too, was hurting.
As each agonizing minute ticked by, the hum of the machine increased, as did the pain the three young men were feeling. A fine sheen of sweat appeared on Kevin's forehead; Nick's jaw clenched tightly. There was no mistake that the pain was increasing. Even Brian, in his weakened state, had begun a barely audible moan. The minutes ticked by far too slowly.
Finally, the green of the monitor blinked out, replaced by a glowing blue. The hum of the machine decreased rapidly, and all eyes watched eagerly for a response. All three Boys stilled, lapsing into a deep unconscious state far beyond that which the anesthesia had produced. The doctor ran several quick tests, and then hit the controls that opened the tubes.
A quick but thorough check brought relief to his eyes. "It was successful," he declared, wiping his brow. "Brian should show improvement almost at once."
"What about Kev and Nick?" asked Howie, his eyes full of concern.
"They'll be unconscious for a good while, their bodies have to adjust to the changes. It might be two days before they awaken. Brian should come around much sooner than that, since his powers were extracted... a much easier procedure."
"Which power will Kevin have? And Nick?"
The doctor shook his head and said, "I'm afraid I can't tell. The machine selects the most compatible patterns for the new body, the one that has the best chance of matching the DNA already there. There's no way to tell what power each one received now, we'll have to wait until they develop."
"How long might that be?" Howie said.
"A week or so," came the reply. "It will start slowly, and increase in strength as the individual adapts to the changes while healing."
Something’s missing. What is it? I feel… strange.
Brian realized that he was lying on his side on a bed; a soft, comfortable bed with a cover that kept him both cool and warm at the same time. He vaguely remembered fleeting images; a weakness that was harming his body, a presence that gave him comfort but no healing; he remembered pain, excruciating pain. It felt like something was being ripped from his body. Then… nothing, a blissful blackness of healing.
Slowly, Brian opened his eyes and saw someone standing by the window, waiting for him to wake up.
Harold Littrell turned from the window in surprise at hearing his name called. A smile lit up his face and eyes as he saw Brian awake. He was at Brian’s side immediately.
“How are you feeling, Brian?”
“Strange…” Brian replied. “I feel like… something’s missing.”
Harold licked his lips. “There is. Dr. Finnigan was able to extract two of your mutant powers and put them into Kevin and Nick.”
Brian’s eyes widened. “What?”
“They volunteered,” Harold explained. “It was the only way, and your best chance to survive. The entire process took twenty minutes. It was the longest twenty minutes of my life.”
“Are they all right?”
“They’re fine,” Harold replied. “They’re asleep, though, while their bodies are adjusting to the change. Remus reckons that they’ll be out for another day or so. You’ve been asleep for about a day, yourself.”
Slowly, with his dad’s help, Brian sat up and looked around the room.
“Where are we?” he asked.
Harold hesitated a moment, then replied. “We’re at the facility where Remus and I, along with several others began our… our experimenting.”
Brian looked at his father, seeing worry and true hesitation there. He realized what bringing him here must have cost the man. Behind the worry and hesitation, there was a need in his eyes. Brian knew, then, that the words had to be said.
"D-dad," he began, trying to find the right thing to say. "I know this wasn't easy... I know we haven't seen eye to eye lately. I was just so angry... angry and hurt. I felt like everything was a lie, one that you created."
"I never meant to hurt you, son," Harold said, his voice rough with emotion. "I used to watch you sleep at night, when you were young. Your mother and I would come into your room, and just… watch. You were always special to us, and the circumstances of your birth didn't seem important as the years went by. It got harder and harder to tell you the truth," he continued. "And maybe we fooled ourselves into thinking that everything would just... turn out right. But when your powers manifested, and the truth was revealed...” The older man paused. "We thought we'd lost you. Truly lost you. I understand that you have a right to be angry, but... we've never stopped loving you, never stopped thinking of you as our special, beloved, gifted son."
Brian felt an ache in his heart; the sincerity was real, his father truly did love him. "Dad," he said, his voice shaking with emotion, "I... I want to be your son; I want to make you proud.”
Harold leaned forward and embraced Brian as tightly as he could. "Oh, Brian," he breathed, "you've always made us proud."
Brian felt the wave of love and truth wash over him, and he hugged his father tighter. It felt... right.
"Dad," he said, "I'm sorry. Can we... can we just begin again?"
"There's nothing I'd like more," Harold replied.
The two spent another moment in an embrace, letting the past go. Finally they drew apart, and Harold offered his son a smile. "I think your mother would like a rerun of this conversation," he said. "It's what she's been praying for ever since that day you discovered the truth."
“Yes," Brian said, smiling. "Let's not keep her waiting."
A few minutes later, father, mother and son were reunited, at last... this time, for good.