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A small crowd had gathered outside the Carter house in Las Vegas, anxiously awaiting the Boys’ safe return. When Nick landed Lance’s spaceship neatly on the front lawn, the group of people - plus one pandaskunk - broke into wild applause.

“Thank god you’re home!” Lauren cried with relief, launching herself into her husband’s arms the moment he set foot on the ground. “We were so worried!”

“I’m all right,” Nick reassured her, brushing his lips over hers. “Just glad to be back.” He let go of his wife, then bent down to hug his son and scoop his baby girl up off her blanket in the grass. Odin clung to his legs, while Saoirse burbled happily in his arms. Nick could hardly take his eyes off the faces of his family; by the soft glow of the Christmas lights blazing in the trees and bushes around them, he drank in every detail of their features, grateful that his vision had finally gone back to normal.

Beside him, Brian was enjoying a similar reunion with Leighanne and Baylee. Kevin, AJ, and Howie hung back, watching the scene unfold with smiles on their faces. Meanwhile, the rest of the Carter clan had gathered around Aaron, who was clearly enjoying all the attention.

“I almost didn’t make it,” Nick heard his brother’s voice rise above the crowd, “but I knew I had to keep fighting… you know, for Nick.”

Looking up, Nick locked eyes with Aaron, who shot him an arrogant smirk. Nick’s blood boiled. The two brothers had barely spoken on the long flight home; Nick stayed in the cockpit with Kevin as his co-pilot, while Aaron sat by himself in the back, giving the rest of the group a wide berth. After what he had done, Aaron should have been grateful to Brian and the other Backstreet Boys for sparing his life, yet here he was, acting like he had been the one to save them all.

To make matters worse, Nick realized he didn’t even recognize half the people who had enveloped his brother in a big group hug. Besides his mother, sisters, nieces, and brother-in-law, there were at least six others huddled around Aaron, all of them women. “Oh, Aaron!” he could hear them cooing in syrupy, high-pitched voices, as their hands roamed over his body. “You’re our hero!”

“What are all these random people doing on our property?” Nick asked Lauren, his upper lip curling in disgust.

His wife rolled her eyes. “I don’t know, but if I had to take a guess, I’d say your brother invited them here,” Lauren said, giving him an exasperated look as she pointed out the oversized sweatshirt one of the girls was wearing, which was emblazoned with a picture of a lion and the letters LMG. “They just started showing up on the street a few minutes ago. He must have given them the code to get through the front gates. I was about to call security when you guys landed.”

“I’m gonna kill him, I swear,” said Nick through gritted teeth, as he started across the grass toward Aaron. The Christmas lights his brother had helped him hang looked like colorful blurs in the corners of his eyes as he zeroed in on Aaron’s smug face, clenching his hands into fists. “You’re full of shit, Aaron!” he shouted at his brother. “You are literally a lying sack of shit!”

“Whoa, watch it there, bro!” Aaron warned, holding up his hands in defense as Nick approached him. His little circle of LMG girls tightened protectively around him, turning to glare at Nick, as if daring him to try touching one of them. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about!” Nick replied hotly. He could feel a vein in his forehead throbbing as blood rushed to his face, his cheeks flushing bright red. “Why don’t you tell your adoring fans how you hired a fucking bounty hunter to come here and kidnap me for Melissa Fucking Schuman?! How you only pretended to get kidnapped yourself so you could keep playing the victim, like you always do! How you tried to have me and the Boys killed!”

“Aaron, is that true?” asked Jane Carter, crossing her arms over her chest as she frowned at her younger son.

Aaron’s mouth dropped open. “Of course not, Mom! How could you even think I would do something like that to my own brother? Don’t you know me any better than that?” he protested, looking scandalized. “Nick’s the one who’s lying!”

“Oh yeah? Ask any of them!” shouted Nick, flinging his arm toward his four bandmates. “They were all there to hear you threaten to have us thrown into the fucking Starlack pit to be slowly digested over a period of a thousand fucking years, so don’t even try to deny it!”

“My true fans know I would never do that!” Aaron insisted, as he looked around at the handful of girls who still supported him. “This is just another false accusation for the smear campaign you and your BSB gang stalkers have been running against me to distract people from the bad press you got for being a fucking serial rapist!” His own delusional fans nodded, adamant in their defense of him.

Watching their heads all bob in unison, Nick shook his own head in disbelief. “I don’t know if you’re actually as insane as you act, or if you’re just that desperate for attention, but one thing is clear: you’re still jealous of me, just like you’ve always been,” he hissed at his brother. “None of these girls would even know your name if it wasn’t for me! But I’m not out to ruin your career, Aaron; you’ve done that all by yourself. ”

There was nothing Aaron could say to counter this, for it was an undeniable truth. He never would have made it in the music business had it not been for his big brother and the Backstreet Boys, and everyone knew it. So Aaron tried a different tactic: “Yeah? Well, guess what, Nick? You and the Backstreet Boys are over! You’re nothing but a bunch of old, washed-up has-beens who rely on nineties nostalgia to sell tickets,” he sneered. “Meanwhile, I’m the best thing in music right now. Ruined career? Nah, bro - I'm just getting started! I’m the future! I’m the best Carter brother by far!”

Nick snorted. “Yeah, you keep telling yourself that, Aaron.”

Aaron raised his eyebrows. “Don’t believe me? Fine. Then let’s settle this, once and for all. I hereby challenge you to a sing-off!”

Nick couldn’t contain his laughter. “Challenge accepted,” he agreed, smirking. “Get ready, ‘cause you’re goin’ down, little bro!”

“Not on your life,” said Aaron, narrowing his eyes. He was totally serious about this, Nick realized.

Forced to choose sides, the fans, friends, and family members who had gathered in the front yard slowly drifted apart as the Carter brothers prepared to battle each other through song. On one side stood Nick, backed by Lauren, Odin, Saoirse, Angel, Corey, Harper, BJ, Bella, and the Backstreet Boys. On the opposite side were Aaron and his small group of supporters: the six LMG girls.

Jane stood by herself in the middle, unable to choose a side. “I love you both!” she insisted, as her eyes darted between her two sons.

“Love you too, Mama!” Aaron called back, blowing her a kiss.

Nick said nothing.

Their mother cleared her throat awkwardly and announced, “Let the official Carter Brothers Sing-Off begin!”

Out of nowhere, a jangly jazz tune started to play. Nick stepped forward first, feeling confident as he fixed his eyes upon Aaron.

“I’m Mister Nick Carter. I’m Mister Pop,” he sang, whipping off his hat and holding it over his heart. “I’m Mister Backstreet Boy. I’m Mister Back-on-Top.”

Performing a slick spin, he added,
“Fans call me a heartthrob, whoever I touch
Turns to mush in my clutch.
I’m too much!”

He blew a kiss to Lauren, who let out a loud teenybopper squeal as she pretended to catch it, looking admiringly at her husband.

Aaron snorted, rolling his eyes as he sang a scalding rebuttal:
“He’s Mister Nick Carter. He’s Mister Gross.
He’s Mister Gimme-a-Blowjob, even though no means no.
Girls call him abuser. Whoever he’s raped
Turned to tears on their date.
He’s no saint!”

Wagging his finger, Nick countered,
“I never would sleep with a girl without her clear consent.
I’d rather be alone than leave a woman with regrets.”

Behind him, Brian, AJ, Howie, and Kevin crooned in perfect, four-part harmony,
“He’s Mister Nick Carter. He’s Mister Frack.
He’s Mister ‘I Got You.’ He’s Mister ‘Backstreet’s Back.’”

“Fans call me a hottie,” Nick continued with a smirk. “Whoever I tweet.
Starts to melt through her screen.
I’m too sweet!”

“Tooooooo sweet!” echoed the Backstreet Boys, striking one of their classic boyband poses with Nick front and center, flashing an irresistible smile.

Aaron made a gagging noise, pretending to vomit before he swaggered forward to perform his own autobiographical number.

“I’m Mister Aaron Carter. I’m Mister Rap,” he started, flashing some sort of gang sign.
“I’m Mister Beat Maker. I’m Mister Remixed Crap.
I call myself Joker. Whatever I say
Makes the news the next day.
I love fame!”

Nick laughed and shook his head as he mocked Aaron with a verse of his own.
“He’s Mister Aaron Carter. He’s Mister Thug.
He’s Mister Bipolar. He’s Mister High-on-Drugs.
They call him a meth-head. Whatever he huffs
Starts to fuck his head up.
It’s too much!”

Glaring at him, Aaron argued,
“I don’t smoke crack or crystal meth. I swear I’m sober and clean!
I don’t use drugs or alcohol, except for whiskey and weed.”

“Oh, and air duster,” he admitted conversationally, as if he’d forgotten he was supposed to be singing. “Did I tell you my doctor says I’m developing esophagull cancer and don’t have long to live?”

Before he could put his foot any further into his mouth, his fans from LMG hurried forward and did an awkward kick line as they chorused, slightly off-key,
“He’s Mister Aaron Carter, best in the biz.
He’s not playing your game, but you are playing his.”

“I call myself Joker,” Aaron came back in on the beat. “Spinning my Black Web.
Just to mess with your head.
I’m the best!”

“Theeeeee best!” echoed his cult members, waving jazz hands on both sides of his head.

After the Carter brothers’ family and friends had finished clapping politely, they both turned to their mother and said, “Well??”

Jane raised her eyebrows. “Well what?”

“Who won?” Nick wanted to know.

“Yeah, Mom,” added Aaron, smirking. “You didn’t choose a side, so now you have to be the judge. Tell us, who’s the better son - I mean, singer. Me… or Nick?” He batted his eyes at his mother, then glared at his brother.

Shaking her head, Jane took a step backwards. “Oh, boys, I really can’t decide something like that. You know I think you’re both incredibly talented…”

“C’mon, Mom. Cut the crap already, and tell us the truth,” Nick interrupted her. “We can take it. Right, Aaron?”

Aaron returned his smirk with a simper of his own. “That’s right, Nick. We’re ready to hear it, Mom.”

Jane sighed, throwing up her hands. “All right, fine,” she replied flatly. “Of course, Aaron, you’re the better son. You were there for your family at your sister’s funeral, and you’ve been so supportive of me these last few months - well, except for when you stole my dogs and left me for dead on Uncle Steve’s doorstep. You’re still more considerate than your brother, who’s barely spoken to me in five years.”

She shot Nick a dirty look. He shrugged and nodded, not as bothered by it as he once might have been. Over the years, he had built up a defensive wall between himself and the rest of his family. Her words bounced right off it, no longer able to hurt him.

“All that being said,” Jane continued, before Aaron could start celebrating his victory, “Nick is clearly the better singer.”

Aaron froze in mid fist-pump. “Wait… what?!” he sputtered in disbelief.

“Sorry to burst your bubble, sweetheart, but he always has been,” added Jane with an apologetic shrug. “Why do you think we encouraged you to rap?”

Aaron’s face contorted into an angry scowl. “This is bullshit!” he spat. “Fuck you, Mom! Fuck you, Nick! Fuck you all! I hate this fucking family!” He stomped off down the street like the bratty teenager he had once been and never fully evolved from. As he stalked away, they could hear him mumbling under his breath, “I’m still the best thing in music. I’m a multitalented, motherfucking thug!”

Nick looked at his mother. “Thanks, Mom,” he said quietly, offering her a tiny smile.

Jane sighed, shaking her head sadly as she watched her other son disappear into darkness. “What are we going to do with him?”

“Um, excuse me, Mama Jane? I mean… Mrs. Carter?” One of Aaron’s fans approached her awkwardly, followed closely by the other members of his cult. “We’re sorry to interrupt, but Aaron promised us if we came to this address, we could pick up the custom hoodies he made for us, like, four months ago. Do you know where we get those?”

“So that’s how he lured you all here,” said Lauren with a smirk, shaking her head. “Sorry, ladies, but you’re never getting those hoodies. Your fearless leader has been scamming fans like you for months. Your best bet is to file a report with your bank and hope they’ll refund your money. Good luck.”

“No one asked you, bitch!” the girl replied, glaring at Lauren.

“Yeah, stay out of it, whore!” added another one of Aaron’s fans, as they turned and walked away.

“Cunt!” a third shouted over her shoulder as they hurried after him.

“Keep it classy, Love Money Gang!” Lauren called, rolling her eyes at Nick. “Come on… let’s get the kids inside. They’ve heard more than enough for tonight.”

As they all headed up to the house, Nick heard a soft set of footsteps rustling over the grass. From out of the darkness emerged Petunia the pandaskunk. In the midst of fighting with Aaron, he had almost forgotten about her.

“Petunia!” he exclaimed happily, throwing his arms around her big, fluffy body. “It’s good to see you, girl.”

“It’s good to see you, too, Nick,” Petunia replied quietly. “I’m glad you made it home safe. But…” She hesitated. “You didn’t bring back my baby, huh?”

“We’re so sorry, Petunia,” Brian apologized, coming up alongside Nick. “We couldn’t find JP anywhere on the Planet of Misfit Fans. But Aaron said he didn’t hire the bounty hunter to take the baby. He thinks someone else did.”

“Not that you can trust a word my shithead brother says,” Nick added, rolling his eyes. “Petunia, I saw little Pandakin on board the bounty hunter’s ship, right before he froze me in carbonite. I just don’t know where else he would have taken him.”

Brian frowned as they both considered the obvious question: Who else would be interested in a baby pandaskunk?


The Mandalorian had moved the egg-shaped cradle into the cockpit of his ship. As he approached the blue planet, he heard a small cooing sound coming from his passenger.

No, not my passenger, he reminded himself. My prisoner.

Still, he couldn’t help but crack a rare smile behind his helmet as he turned and looked at the baby pandaskunk, which had sat up on its hindquarters inside the cradle. He had to admit, it really was quite cute. He had never been commissioned to bring in such an adorable bounty before.

In the back of his mind, he wondered vaguely why his client wanted it so badly, but he cut off that thought before he allowed it to bloom. It wasn’t his place to wonder. His only purpose was to transport the creature to the client, no questions asked. Part of the reason he had become such a well-respected member of the Bounty Hunters’ Guild was because he could be counted upon to complete his assignments, to do the job he had been hired for and nothing more.

As he neared the end of his current mission, he heard a high-pitched beep coming from the control panel, signaling a message. He pressed a button, projecting a hologram of his guild master, Greef Karga, above the dashboard.

“Mando,” Karga greeted him. “I’ve received your transmission. Wonderful news. Upon your return, deliver the quarry directly to the client. I have no idea if she wants to stuff it or keep it for a pet, but she’s very antsy. Safe passage. You know where to find me.”

The hologram flickered and faded away at the end of the message. The Mandalorian glanced again at the baby pandaskunk, who had climbed out of its cradle and started pawing curiously at the control stick in front of the co-pilot’s seat. “It’s not a toy,” he said, frowning, and pushed the creature’s paw away. “Or food,” he added, as it tried chewing on the stick instead. Picking it up by the scruff of its neck, he tossed the pandaskunk back into its cradle. “Stay put,” he warned in his sternest voice possible. The baby just cocked its furry head at him and blinked its big, black eyes. The Mandalorian forced himself to look away.

Upon entering the planet’s atmosphere, he guided his ship toward a long, narrow peninsula, which appeared to point, finger-like, at a chain of islands off the coast of two large, interconnected continents. The vast ocean vanished from view as he made his descent, heading for a spot near the middle of the peninsula. As the ship lost altitude and came closer to sea level, he could see the sprawling complex, surrounded by green swampland.

After landing, the Mandalorian left his ship at Docking Bay 7 and made the long trek to his client’s headquarters, the cradle floating at his side. The baby pandaskunk sat placidly inside it, looking around with an expression of bright interest as they passed people and buildings. It seemed completely oblivious to the fact that the bounty hunter was leading it to a cruel fate - a fact not even the bounty hunter knew for sure, but feared nonetheless. He was all too familiar with the type of people who hired his kind to do their dirty work.

It’s none of my business what happens to it once it’s out of my hands, he thought, forcing himself to stay focused on the mission and the compensation he would receive once it was complete.

The scenery changed as he left the bustling outpost of Galaxy’s Edge and walked alongside a large and beautiful lake, which lead him to a land called Epcot. Before long, he was making his way through the winding cobblestone streets of a quaint, old-fashioned looking cityscape. Following the directions he had been given, he found himself standing in front of a narrow brick building. He looked up to double check the address of the townhouse before he rang the bell.

After a loud buzz, the door swung open to reveal a tall, bony woman in a tight, black dress and a long, white, fur coat lined in red satin. “Mando, darling!” she exclaimed in a posh British accent, flicking ash from her cigarette holder all over the front stoop.

“How are you?” he asked his client automatically.

“Miserable as usual. Perfectly wretched!” she replied, carefully patting her two-toned hair, half of which had been dyed black, while the rest was pure white. “Where is it?” she asked eagerly, craning her neck as she looked around. “Where is it? For heaven’s sake, where is it?”

The Mandolorian moved aside so she could see the cradle floating behind him.

“Yes!” the client gasped, her eyes gleaming in anticipation as she leaned toward the cradle. “Yes, yes, yes! How marvelous! How marvelous! How perfectly… ugh!” When she finally caught her first glimpse of the baby pandaskunk, she suddenly drew back, her upper lip curling in disgust. “Oh, the devil take it - it’s a mongrel! No stripes! No spots! No black fur at all! What a horrid little white rat! Ugh!” she scoffed, not bothering to hide her disappointment.

“It’s not a mongrel,” the Mandalorian said flatly. “It’ll get its markings in a few weeks. Just wait and see.”

“Oh... well, in that case, I’ll take it,” his client decided, her dark eyes brightening again. “Come in, darling, come in.” Waving her cigarette, she beckoned him inside.

As he followed her into a stuffy parlor, the cradle drifting along with him, his eyes lingered on the woman’s outerwear. “Is that a new fur coat?” he inquired. Initiating conversation was not something he often did; it felt forced and awkward.

His client didn’t seem to notice. She swelled with pride as she pulled the plush garment tighter around herself, her fingers sinking into the thick pelage. “My only true love, darling. I live for furs. I worship furs,” she declared, doing a little twirl. “After all, is there a woman in this wretched world who doesn’t?”

“I wouldn’t know, ma’am. I come from a galaxy far, far away,” the bounty hunter replied matter-of-factly.

“Your reputation was not unwarranted,” said the client, offering a thin-lipped smile as she perched herself upon a red settee.

Hidden behind the mask of his helmet, the Mandalorian’s eyes dropped to the white tiger skin rug lying on the floor in front of it, then drifted to the newborn pandaskunk. “What are your plans for it?” he asked before he could stop himself, struggling to maintain a conversational tone.

His client’s eyes narrowed, her smile fading into a frown. “How uncharacteristic for one of your reputation,” she responded, without answering the question. “You have taken commission and are about to receive payment. Is it not the Code of the Guild that these event are now forgotten?”

The bounty hunter hesitated for what felt like a long time, carefully considering his next words. Finally, he said, “I’m afraid I can’t give it up. Its poor mother… she’s probably heartbroken.” He was imagining how his own parents would have felt, had they lived to see him taken from them, instead of the other way around.

The woman’s eyes flashed with anger. “Mando, don’t be ridiculous!” she snapped, dropping her air of flattery. “Really, enough of this nonsense. I’ll pay you twice what it’s worth,” she added, as she took out her pocketbook. “Come now, I’m being more than generous. Such a large bounty for such a small package.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “The kid’s coming with me.”

“Why, you horrid Mandalorian!” seethed the client, her nostrils flaring. “You… you… All right!” She threw up her clawed hands. “Keep the little beast, for all I care! Do as you like with it. Drown it. But I warn you, Mando, we’re through! I’m through with you!”

The bounty hunter had nothing more to say. He simply turned his back on her and headed for the front door, the baby pandaskunk floating beside him.

“I’ll get even. Just wait!” The deranged woman followed closely at his heels, continuing to threaten him. “You’ll be sorry, you fool! You idiot!” she screeched before slamming the door shut behind him.

The Mandalorian walked on without looking back.