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The Road Less Travelled

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WARNINGS: None of these warnings apply to the Kris/Adam relationship. [Rough sex, borderline abusive sex, prostitution, adultery, stalking.] Everything that happens in this fic is consensual (except the stalking), but sometimes people want things that are not good for them and for all the wrong reasons.
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Kris gets the number at some industry event. It's one of those wink, wink, nudge, nudge, if you ever feel like letting off some steam things. He doesn't know why he saved it, or why, two months after his divorce, he decides to use it.

The call is ordinary, almost mundane; if someone taped it (and Kris thinks that maybe they do) it would seems almost like a normal business transaction. He answers all their questions with a flush climbing up his cheeks and shameful lust curling at the pit of his stomach.

"Do you have a preference?"

"Tall, dark hair."

"Do you want it to hurt?"

"Yes."

He sets up his first meeting on a Thursday with someone named Han. They give him a safe word (catnip), but he never uses it - not even when it hurts so much he thinks he's going to die. He needs it to hurt because that's the only way he can keep from thinking, remembering, wanting, needing.

One meeting becomes two, then three, then five, until it happens every other day. It's expensive, but he can afford it. Katy didn't ask for much in the divorce and this is the only indulgence he allows himself. He still lives in a hotel, but it's not the flashy one his management wanted to set him up in. It's smaller, tucked away on a back road, and his two-room suite is modest enough that he doesn't feel he has to apologize for using the bathroom.

Within a month he's covered in bruises - on his thighs, arms, shoulders and chest – ranging from dark purple to a fading yellow, and he doesn't sit down unless he has to. He knows he's pushing himself too far – that it's only a matter of time before someone notices – but he needs it. The only time he actually sleeps these days is after a session, when he's wrung out and aching all over. The rest of the time he greets dawn with burning eyes and his guitar resting limply over his knees wondering where the music went.

*


Adam is the only real person Kris sees these days, and only because Adam keeps pushing. He talks to his mom and Cale and Charles on the phone, but they're back in Arkansas and Kris can't make himself go there. He failed everyone, most of all himself, and it doesn't matter how many times they tell him it takes two people to end a marriage. He knows the weight belongs on his shoulders and no one else's.

Katy didn't distance herself with lame excuses and a busy schedule. Katy didn't feel better whenever he was away. Katy didn't fall in love with someone else. Katy didn't betray their vows. Kris did all of those things, and it eats him up inside. The worst part is that if he had the ability to go back in time and change the path of his life, he wouldn't change a single thing.

"It's kind of pretty, don't you think?" Adam says, stretching his legs out before him.

They're sitting on a bench overlooking the harbor. Above them seagulls shriek, circling the looming ships like vultures, and below them the harbor bustles with life. Kris follows one of the workers with his eyes, he's wearing an orange vest over his t-shirt and his bulging biceps makes Kris think of Han. He shifts in his seat and nods, it's pretty because it's ugly.

"Eat your ice cream," Adam says, nudging Kris with his shoulder. "I'm not cleaning up the mess if it melts all over your clothes."

Kris smiles, a lopsided tilt of his lips, and obediently licks at the messy ice cream. He can feel Adam watching him and want curls low in his belly. If he was another person he would make a show of it, licking at the ice cream like he would a cock, but he's just Kris Allen and he's done with taking risks.

"That's a nasty bruise," Adam says. He reaches out to touch a finger to Kris's bicep where the lower edge of a bruise is peeking out from under his shirt. "What did you do?"

Kris's breath sticks in his throat and he swallows thickly. "Tripped and fell," he murmurs, averting his gaze. Adam's fingers burn on his skin, gentle, so very gentle.

Adam pushes his sleeve up and makes a small sound at the back of his throat. "Fell," he says, voice dry. "Right."

For a moment his hand grips Kris's arm and Kris doesn't have to look to know he's aligning his fingertips with the dark ghost of someone else's touch. Then he pulls away and shakes his head.

Kris is breathless and hard, and he wishes he was somewhere – anywhere – else. He doesn't expect Adam to get it - how could he when Kris doesn't get it himself - but he expects Adam to say something. He doesn't, and when Kris looks up Adam is staring down at the docks, an unreadable look on his face.

Kris drops his ice cream into the trash can next to the bench and curls his hands into fists on his lap. His fingers are sticky with sugar and his lips feel numb. He guesses there's nothing to do now but wait.

*


Han is six feet tall with dark skin and narrow eyes. His hands are never gentle and Kris can feel him for days afterwards. Bryan is even taller with unruly brown hair and kind hands. He's young, probably younger than Kris, and he never makes Kris cry. When Kris finally reaches the end of his rope he's glad it's with Bryan.

He should have cancelled his appointment. Two days with hardly any sleep or food, and with a raging fever has made him slow and sluggish, unable to complete a thought and even less a sentence, but instead he pops a couple of painkillers and pretends that everything fine.

Bryan can tell that everything isn't fine, but it's his job to do what the client wants. So before their time is up Kris finds himself face down on the rug with Bryan deep inside him while his unforgiving fingers wring an orgasm out of Kris's tired body. He collapses afterwards, head swimming and breath burning in his throat. His heart trips too fast and too loud, and for several minutes he can't do anything but shiver and breathe.

"Fuck," Bryan says, crouching next to him. "Are you okay?"

Kris makes a sound at the back of his throat, pulling away from Bryan's gentle fingers on his forehead. He's not okay, he doesn't know if he will ever be okay again.

"You're burning up," Bryan says, licking his lips. "Shit."

Kris blinks at him, curling in on himself. Everything aches and his blood sings a sweet lullaby in his ears. He wants to sleep, everything will be okay if he can sleep.

"I'm calling your emergency contact," Bryan says behind him. "Okay?"

Kris makes a sound that's supposed to be no, but that Bryan interprets as yes. Kris thinks he would've as well, if he'd been Bryan. Kris is in no shape to be making decisions about his life at the moment. He hears Bryan fiddle with his phone and then mercifully, he passes out.

*


Kris wakes up in bed with cool, clammy fingers on his forehead and a pounding ache between his temples. He doesn't want to open his eyes, his stomach already knotting with tension, because he knows those fingers, knows that scent, and he doesn't want to see the disgust in Adam's eyes.

"I know you're awake," Adam says, and he sounds tired, sad.

Kris doesn't answer but he blinks his eyes open. Adam stares at him, anger visible in the tight set of his mouth and the frown between his eyebrows, but his fingers card through Kris's hair, slow and gentle.

"What the fuck were you…" Adam swallows, cutting himself off. "I'm not mad," he says instead, which is obviously a lie. "Not at you."

Kris looks away, sickened by the way want still slithers through his loins, making his heart beat faster. Even if Adam does want him, Kris doesn't deserve him. He turns away completely and curls up on his side, nauseous and stupid.

"The doctor's on his way," Adam says, moving his hand to touch Kris's shoulder. "Maybe you'd like to shower first."

Kris doesn't want to shower and he doesn't want to see a doctor, but he doesn't say anything when Adam helps him out of bed and leads him to the bathroom. He just silently notes Adam's heavy makeup, and fancy clothes, realizing he pulled Adam away from some party. He feels bad about it, but then, he feels bad about everything.

Adam doesn't leave the bathroom while Kris showers. Kris can see him move around outside, a black and blue shadow blurred by the pattern on the shower stall door. When Kris turns the water off and steps out of the shower, it's into a huge white towel and Adam's open arms. He wants to protest, the water will ruin Adam's fancy shirt for sure, but how can he say no when being cradled in Adam's arms is the only thing he wants.

Adam hugs him tight, and Kris hears his heart beating panic-fast against his ear. "You scared me," Adam says, his voice breaking on the words. "Jesus Christ Kris… I thought you were dead."

Kris lets his eyes slip shut and inhales Adam's familiar scent, rubbing his cheek against the soft silk of Adam's shirt. He wants to stay in this moment forever, wrapped up in terrycloth and Adam's arms, but of course the universe has other plans. There's a knock on the door and Adam lets his arms fall after dutifully knotting the towel in the back.

"That ought to be the doctor," he says. "Don't bother getting dressed."

Kris feels like a scolded child as he pads into the bedroom on bare feet and sits down gingerly on the edge of the bed. He smoothes the towel out over his thighs and stares straight ahead without seeing a thing. His head is full of cotton and even adjusting his position seems like too much work.

The doctor turns out to be a man in his early fifties with graying hair and clever blue eyes. Kris blushes miserably while he pokes and prods, examining Kris quickly and efficiently. He draws several vials of blood and takes a q-tip swab from Kris's urethra, explaining that he will call with the results once he gets them back from the lab.

Kris watches as he carefully puts the swab into a vial and packs it away with the blood samples. He feels exposed, as if he opened his heart for this stranger to see, even though he's barely said a word. Maybe it's because his heartache is written all over his skin, and in the sunken set of his eyes, he doesn't know.

Doctor Roberts, that's how he introduced himself, sits down on the edge of the bed with a prescription pad open on his lap. "I'm going to prescribe a mild dose of antibiotics, for what I suspect is an upper respiratory infection. If you don't notice a significant change for the better within a few days I want you to call me, okay?"

Kris nods, and pulls the sheets further up his chest, for some reason it seems vitally important that he cover up his nipples. Doctor Roberts bends forward and pulls a small tube out of his bag, putting it down on the nightstand.

"The cream is for the rectal tearing. It prevents infection and also works as a local anesthetic which I think you will appreciate. You can use it up to five times a day."

Kris nods again and his blush spills in under the sheet.

"I shouldn't have to tell you to avoid anal intercourse until the tears are fully healed, but I think I might have to."

Kris squeezes his eyes shut and turns his head away, tuning Dr. Roberts out as he starts talking about sexually transmitted diseases. He knows Han and Bryan are clean, it's in their contract, and they always used protection, but it doesn't matter. He's stupid, stupid, stupid.

"Hey," Dr. Roberts says, touching a cool hand to Kris's shoulder. "It's okay. There is nothing shameful in enjoying rough sex, but you have to remember to take care of yourself too. For the next few days I want you to do nothing but sleep, eat and drink water."

"Sleep…" Kris snorts, if it was only that easy.

"I could prescribe you some mild sleeping pills," Dr. Roberts says. "But to be honest I'd rather not."

"I don't want them," Kris says. "I just need to sort myself out."

Dr. Roberts pulls a card out of his pocket and puts it down next to the tube on the nightstand. Kris doesn't need his explanation to know what it is, the number for a therapist, but he still listens and nods in all the right places. There's no shame in seeking therapy, there's nothing wrong with being sad, everyone slips up some time. Kris wonders if everyone falls in love with their best friend, but he doesn't ask, it's probably filed under 'everyone slips up some time.'

Once he's done talking Dr. Roberts gets up from the bed, giving Kris a kind smile. "All the best in the future, Kris. I'll let you know about those test results."

"Thank you," Kris says, and he finds that he means it.

Dr. Roberts smiles once more and then he's gone, leaving Kris to his thoughts.

*


Once Dr. Roberts leaves Adam takes Kris home. He wanted to right after the divorce and Kris guesses he sees his chance now that Kris is in no state to argue. Besides Adam makes the choice easy, it's either Adam or his mom, and Kris couldn't bear to see the worry on his mother's face over what he's let himself become.

For a whole week Kris is waited on hand and foot, by Adam, Brad, Danielle, Drake and on one memorable occasion, Tommy. He gets all meals delivered to his bedside, there's an endless supply of feel-good movies, and no one asks any questions, not even Adam. He sleeps more than he thought he would be able to, but it's rarely more than two hours in a row before he wakes up from a dream he can't remember, and he eats more than he ingested in the last two months put together.

He knows it won't last. Once the bruises are faded and the fever but a memory, he starts waiting for the fall out. When it finally comes, it's nothing like he expected.

Ten days into his extended stay at Adam's place he's left alone for long enough to place a call to the agency, asking for Bryan. He wants to thank him, and apologize for the way he behaved. The receptionist (or whatever she is) tells him to set up a meeting and without thinking Kris makes an appointment for the next day at time he should be the only one in the house.

He feels horrible about it. Adam's place isn't plagued by paps, but what if someone sees Bryan coming or going and starts digging - what would they find? He doesn't have a lot of options though, the agency wouldn't let him set up a meeting in a public place and Adam canceled his room reservation. He doesn't trust himself enough to rent a room in a seedy motel for a few hours, because he's afraid that if they're anywhere but here, he'd beg for it.

Even though he knows he can't let anything happen, and he honestly just wants to thank Bryan, preferably with a check if Bryan'll let him, there's still a thrum of excitement at the pit of stomach as he opens the door to let Bryan in, checking over his shoulder to see if there are any paps lingering in the driveway.

"You look better," Bryan says as he toes off his shoes. "I almost thought you were going to die on me last time."

Kris smiles, rubbing his sweaty palms against his thighs. Bryan looks good, tan and healthy, in baggy blue jeans and a tight t-shirt. Kris looks at his hands, big and strong, and for a moment his mind flashes to the last time he had those hands on his body. The thought makes him flush while his dick swells and he averts his gaze. It's not about that this time. It will never be about that again.

Kris leads Bryan into the living room, but he's too nervous to sit down. "Nice place," Bryan remarks, looking around as he puts his bag down on the floor.

"It's not mine," Kris says, eyes flittering about the room as if he expects Adam to suddenly appear from behind one of the couches.

Bryan reaches out for him, his fingers touching Kris's shoulder before Kris finds the presence of mind to jump away.

"No," Kris almost shouts despite the desire welling up within him. "That's not… that's not why I called you."

Bryan looks down, raising his eyebrows and Kris has to fight an urge to cover himself.

"I just wanted to thank you," Kris says quickly. "You could have just left me there, but you didn't."

Bryan shrugs with a half smile. "It would have looked bad if you died. It's protocol to call the emergency contact if something like that happens."

Kris licks his lips and shifts his feet. "I'm sorry I put you through that."

Bryan makes a face. "It was pretty freaky and your boyfriend screamed bloody murder at me. I didn't think you were involved with anyone."

"I'm not," Kris says, shaking his head. "I wouldn't… I'm not."

Bryan laughs. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah," Kris murmurs, biting down on his lower lip. "Pretty sure."

"Oh," Bryan says. "It's like that."

Kris isn't sure what this virtual stranger got from his face, but he's right. It is like that and Kris doesn't see it changing any time soon.

"Anyway," Kris says, steering the conversation away from Adam. He's giving too much away already. Bryan never hinted that he knows who Kris is, but it's probably a pipe dream to think that he doesn't know Adam. "I just wanted to give you this." He fishes an envelope out of his back pocket and hands it to Bryan. "It's a check."

Bryan blinks, eyebrows shooting for his hairline.

"I left the recipient line empty," Kris says. "I'm thinking Bryan isn't your real name and if you don't want the money you can just give it away. I know you don't think you did anything special, but it meant a lot to me."

Bryan turns the envelope over in his hands a few times before tucking it into his bag unopened. "Thanks," he says and he sounds like he means it. "You know this isn't going to make me see the error of my ways, right?"

Kris actually laughs, it's been too long since he did that, and shakes his head. "I figured it wouldn't and it's not about that. It's just, thank you and a little bit goodbye."

Bryan smiles. "I think I'll miss you," he says. "And I'm happy that you seem happier. The sadness is your eyes always got to me."

It's only been eleven days, but somehow it feels like years and no time at all. Kris is happier here, even if he's more miserable at the same time. When Bryan reaches out again he doesn't shy away and they share a long hard hug. Of course that's when Adam decides to show up.

They get no warning before Bryan is pulled backwards with enough force to stumble and fall flat on his ass.

"What the FUCK is going on here?" Adam shouts, eyes focused on Bryan who is crawling away from him. "How dare you even touch him you good for nothing fucking WHORE?"

Kris gapes, he's never seen Adam so angry. Pure hatred burns out of his eyes and his mouth is so twisted he doesn't even look human. He takes a step towards Bryan, who lifts a hand to protect himself, and Kris realizes he'd better act before Adam does something he'll regret.

"Adam, no," he says, reaching out to grab Adam's arm. "He didn't hurt me."

"This time," Adam hisses, turning his eyes on Kris. "I saw the bruises."

"It's okay," Kris says. "I got this. Just… go wait in the kitchen. Please."

Kris's pulse thunders in his ears, and for a tense moment he thinks that Adam's going to break free and go after Bryan, then Adam deflates, visibly sinking in on himself.

"Yeah," he says. "Yeah, whatever. I'll be in the kitchen."

Kris bites down on his lower lip and waits until the door closes behind Adam before turning to Bryan.
"I'm so sorry about that," he says.

Bryan doesn't look upset, he looks thoughtful more than anything. "Are you sure he isn't your boyfriend?" he asks.

Kris nods, worrying at his lower lip. He's not sure why he took this risk in the first place, and this is why he shouldn't have. Maybe some tiny part of him wanted Adam to know, wanted him to react, but he didn't think the reaction would be this explosive. He looks at Bryan, who is scrambling up from the floor and grabbing his bag.

"I'm sorry," he says again. "He shouldn't have said those things."

Bryan shrugs. "We all say stupid things when we're in love," he says calmly, giving Kris a lopsided smile.

Kris opens and closes his mouth several times. He kind of wants to make Bryan say it again, and again, and again, milking the moment for all it's worth, but in the end he just shakes his head.

"It's not like that," he says. "And again, I'm sorry."

"Goodbye, Kris," Bryan says. "It's been quite a ride knowing you."

"Bye," Kris echoes and he watches the door long after it's closed.

*


Adam's sitting on the kitchen counter with his head in his hands when Kris comes in, and he doesn't look up. Kris heart trips a mile a minute and his breath is stuck in his throat. He doesn't even know how to start this conversation.

"You know, I thought I might have to set up some rules," Adam says, face still in his hands. "Like… don't forget to eat and don't fret yourself into an early grave. I never thought I would have to make one for don't let your boyfriend hurt you while you're still under my roof."

"Adam…" Kris starts, moving closer to touch Adam's arm. "It wasn't like that."

"Yeah? Then tell me what it's like, Kris, 'cause I just don't get it."

Adam looks up and his eyes are so full of hurt Kris can't even deal with it. It seems that no matter what he does he keeps on hurting the people around him.

"I was stupid enough to think that if it would ever be a guy it would be me," Adam says, fixing his eyes above Kris's head. "Not some guy you met in a bar."

Kris snorts. "Adam… he's a prostitute."

Adam's eyes snaps down at that, locking with Kris's. "What?" he squeaks.

"He's a prostitute. From a high class escort agency." Kris averts his gaze, biting down on his lower lip. "Can you imagine the scandal if that little tidbit ever made the press?"

"Kris…"

Kris shrugs, pulling away from Adam. He moves to the window, staring out the garden without seeing a thing. His stomach is tied up in knots and he's going to throw up any minute now.

"I wanted to be punished," he says. "I wanted it to hurt."

"Why?" Adam asks, coming up to stand behind Kris.

Kris shrugs and shakes his head at the same time. He doesn't know how to explain it without putting everything out there. Adam's hands come up to rest on his shoulders, and Kris leans into the touch.

"I wanted to be overwhelmed," he finally says. "I didn't want to think anymore, didn't want to feel. I just wanted someone to take everything out of my hands."

"You can have that without pain," Adam murmurs, pressing his lips against Kris's hair. "You can let yourself lose control without waking up covered in bruises."

Kris should pull away, but instead he turns his head so that Adam's lips graces his temple and lifts his hand to cover Adam's on his shoulder. "I know," he whispers, closing his eyes. "I know."

He understands what Adam's offering, what he has maybe been offering all along, but he's not ready yet. It would be so easy to lose himself in Adam, but if he does that now he's never going to deal with everything that happened. He's just going to bury it under love, want, need and Adam deserves better. Kris deserves better. He made mistakes, but when it comes down to it, you can't rule your heart and maybe it's time he owns up to that.

*


The following day Adam leaves on a trip to New York with his band and for the first time since his breakdown Kris is left to his own devices for more than a couple of hours. Adam doesn't even arrange for someone to check up on him, maybe he can sense that Kris is in a better place emotionally. Kris makes good use of the time, dealing with a number of things he's been avoiding for weeks now.

He calls his mom, his dad and his brother, breaking the news that he's bisexual as gently as possible. It feels odd, but liberating to admit it out loud. It's like it wasn't real before it was out in open. He also tries to prepare them for a possible sex scandal in the vaguest terms he can think of. They need to know before the news of the past American Idol's fall from grace hits the newsstands.

They're the hardest calls he's ever had to make, even worse than telling them about the divorce. When he told them about that he was so numb that the words didn't even register, and thinking back he can't remember what he said. This time he's hyper-aware, weighing his every word, and when he finally hangs up the phone for the last time his fingers tremble with nerves. He sits eerily still for the longest while, just breathing into the silence until it finally feels as if he can move without throwing up.

It wasn't bad, not exactly, he's pretty sure his family guessed that he was bisexual a long time ago (possibly around the time every other word out of his mouth was 'Adam'), but it wasn't easy. He believes that his family would love him no matter what, but that doesn't give him the right to constantly push the boundaries and it feels like lately that's the only thing he's been doing.

Adam calls him later that night, still high from his performance, and the rough-wild edge to his voice settles deep in Kris's stomach. They don't talk about anything important, Adam spends most of the call trying (and failing) to describe his outfit, and Kris laughs so much his chest hurts. It's like they used to be before everything happened and when Kris hangs up he has the biggest smile on his face.

His phone beeps with a text message five seconds later and reading it he bursts out laughing all over again, clutching at his ribs.

Did I mention the hat? It's purple, very classy.

Kris doesn't answer, but the grin stays on his face. For the first time in forever he sleeps almost a full night, and even when he wakes up with dawn he feels fortified, as if he slept way more than five hours.

In the morning, after his second cup of coffee - right around the time normal people get up - Kris calls his handler, Lizzie, for the first time in forever. He knows she's been in steady contact with Adam, all of Kris's people have been, but Kris hasn't actually talked to her since everything went pear-shaped.

It's a good conversation, even though Kris obviously woke her up, and putting down the phone with a meeting planned two weeks from now, Kris feels so much better. He knows he's in for a lot of grief, posturing, and possibly threats from the record company, but somehow that doesn't worry him. He's been down at the very bottom - the only place to go from here is up.

He takes his breakfast out on the back porch and allows himself to enjoy the morning before making the hardest call of all. He hasn't talked to Katy since the divorce; he knows through his mom that she's back in Arkansas and doing fine, but he still expects the conversation to be beyond awkward. Unfortunately, the sunshine, the chirping birds and the bright spots of flowers in the flower beds do nothing to calm his nerves and he abandons his breakfast halfway through, grabbing his phone with clammy fingers.

Katy picks up after the third ring and hearing her voice is such a shock that Kris forgets he's supposed to say something.

"Kris?" she asks.

"Yeah," he says. "Yeah, I'm here."

He can almost hear her smiling, and something in his chest unclenches.

"How are you?" he asks, picking idly at a loose thread on his jeans.

"I've been better," she says, voice soft and low. "I don't know… I guess it's hard sometimes. I spent so many years loving you that I can't figure out how to even look at someone new."

Kris swallows. It's difficult to deal with the fact that he checked out of their marriage so long before she did. He loved her, he wanted it to work somehow, but in his heart he had already moved on.

"I'm sorry," he says, even though it's woefully inadequate.

She sighs. "I know you are," she says. "It doesn't make me feel better, but I know you didn't want it to end like this."

Kris doesn't answer, he looks out over the garden instead. There are so many things he would like to say to Katy, but he doesn't know where to start, or if he even should say them at all.

"How's Adam?" Katy asks, after a while.

"He's good," Kris answers. "He's in New York right now."

"Are you… I mean… I kinda thought with the divorce that you would…" Katy breaks off with a shaky sigh. "It's okay, I mean… It's okay if you are…"

"We're not a couple," Kris says, breathing out with a whoosh. "But I think… hope… that maybe with time we will be."

"I'm happy for you," Katy says weakly and Kris wonders how much it cost her to say that.

"You don't have to be," Kris says. "And if we ever come out as a couple the media will probably be pretty rough for you and I just want you to know that…" He takes a deep breath. "I really did love you, and I wanted it to work. It was never about being with you so I wouldn't have to be gay."

"I know." Katy sounds sad, almost wistful. "Part of me will probably always wish it turned out differently but I think we did the right thing. It wasn't just you and it wasn't just Adam, it was a million little things, you know?"

"Yeah," Kris murmurs. "Yeah, I do know."

They talk for a few more minutes before Kris lets her go with a promise to call again. He feels empty when he puts the phone down, and he wonders what she would say if she really knew.

It wasn't just Adam, and it was just a million little things. It was also Kris, and too many beers on too little sleep, and a man with fire in his pretty brown eyes. It was rushed and rough and over within an hour, but the bruises stayed for days and the guilt will stay forever. There's nothing to gain from telling her now, except maybe penance for his sins, but he can't do that to her. He's not sure he can even do it to himself.

The call leaves him in an odd mood and he spends the rest of the morning plucking out melancholy melodies on his guitar. He doesn't know if they'll ever make it into songs, but playing makes him feel better.

He has lunch at the kitchen table and then brings his guitar outside again. This time a song starts to come to him and when he takes a break, hours later, it's getting dark and he has five missed calls from Adam. He was so lost in his work, jotting down notes and strumming the melody that he didn't even hear the phone.

He grabs a snack from the kitchen and then calls Adam. He picks up after the first ring, sounding kind of breathless.

"What the actual fuck, Kris?" he demands by way of greeting.

Kris blinks, looking up at the dark sky. "Hello to you too."

Adam breathes out, his exhale whooshing over the microphone and Kris smiles. "You can't not pick up when I call," Adam says, sounding a little less angry. "I have a very active imagination."

"Over active," Kris corrects absently. It probably makes him an asshole but he likes that Adam worries.

"Whatever," Adam says and Kris knows him well enough to know he's smiling. "So how are you doing?"

"I'm good," Kris says, stretching his legs out before him. "The house's kinda empty without you."

"Your life is kinda empty without me," Adam responds and even though it's a joke, it's kind of sad how true it is.

"Yeah," Kris admits softly. "Yeah, it is."

Adam doesn't say anything for a few moments and Kris lets his eyes slip shut, listening to the sound of Adam moving around.

"I…" Adam starts but then he breaks off. "We'll talk when I get home, okay?"

"Okay," Kris says, blinking his eyes open again. "Want me to pick you up at the airport?"

Adam hesitates for a moment. "No, we've got a car arranged."

"Cool."

Kris stretches and yawns, glancing at the clock. It's getting late.

"So what were you doing when you didn't pick up the phone?" Adam asks and there's a nuance of something in his voice that Kris can't interpret. It's disconcerting; he knows enough of Adam's nuances to write a thesis about them.

"Messing around with my guitar," Kris answers, shrugging even though Adam can't see it. He's not ready to call it a song, but he thinks that maybe he's getting there.

"Yeah?" Adam sounds hopeful, as if he thinks it means more than it does, but then maybe it does mean more, it's been forever since Kris played with any kind of intent.

"Yeah," Kris answers.

"So… Did you write something?"

Kris makes a face, of course Adam would ask. "I don't know," he says. "I mean… I do know that I wrote something. I just don't know if it's any good."

"Play it for me?"

Kris is going to say no, he really is, but the thing with Adam is that he always gets his way in the end and maybe he kind of wants to play it for Adam even if he's not ready to admit it.

"It's not finished," he warns, but he's already reaching for the guitar, hitting the speaker on the phone and putting it on the table.

He plays the intro three times before he finally finds courage enough to form the words. The lyrics come slowly and his voice breaks here and there, but despite the melancholy haunting edge it's so obviously a love song and too obviously about Adam.

When he finishes, his fingers tremble against the strings and his heart bangs hard enough against his ribcage to make him feel dizzy. Adam isn't talking and for every moment of silence Kris's heart sinks lower in his chest. He thought that Adam knew. God knows that Kris can't keep his emotions off his face.

"Kris," Adam starts and his voice is soft, the kind of soft it only gets when he's about to tell Kris something he doesn't want to hear.

Kris doesn't even realize what he's doing until his hand is scrabbling over the table, and he disconnects the call with his heart lodged in his throat. Adam calls right back, of course, but Kris doesn't pick up. He just sits there and stares at Adam's face flashing across the screen. The call goes to voicemail and so do the three calls after that until Kris turns his phone off.

Then he just sits there, staring into the garden with a blush staining his cheeks. He doesn't know what to do with himself. Somehow being here, surrounded by all of Adam's things, sleeping in his goddamned bed, he forgot there was a reason they never talked about this. Kris can handle a lot of things, has handled a lot of things, but he doesn't know if he can handle Adam rejecting him.

It takes forever but he manages to get up from the chair, bringing his guitar and the dishes inside. He leans the guitar against the wall and puts the dishes into the dishwasher; then he just stands there staring at the shiny surface of the countertop, heart beating too fast and too loud. He knows that Adam loves him and he knows that somehow they will move past this. It will hurt and it will suck and it will be like getting divorced all over again only ten times more painful, but he will survive it.

The problem is that he doesn't think he'll ever get over Adam. He never felt like this about anyone before, not even Katy, and even thinking about moving on makes him feel breathless and panicked. This is why he never told Adam, because living with his stupid tangled-up too-intense feelings was bearable as long as he could pretend that someday they would be real - maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but some day far off in the future well beyond the horizon. Adam rejecting him would shut the door on that option, and maybe it would be better if he just left.

He's still thinking about it when the doorbell rings, nearly startling him out of his skin. He glances at his watch, it's 2 AM. He doesn't make any move to open it, yet he's not surprised when Brad's voice rings out through the house.

"Hello, hello, anybody home?"

Kris forces himself to let go of the counter, turning around to lean against it. "In the kitchen."

Brad swaggers in as if he owns the place, dressed in skin-tight bright purple jeans and a glittery top with downy feathers around the neckline. For someone who was obviously just pulled out of a club, he looks cheerful.

"There you are, sugar," he says, pulling the words out in a hilarious drawl. "You put his royal highness into quite a mood."

Kris rolls his eyes and shrugs, but his hands are getting sweaty. Brad tuts, shaking his head as if Kris is an errant child, and worms his phone out of his pocket with a hip shimmy that's probably illegal in some states. He taps the screen a couple of times and then lifts his phone to his ear, Kris doesn't ask who he's calling. It doesn't take a genius to figure it out.

"He's alive," Brad says into the phone, grinning at Kris as if he's mighty proud of him for that accomplishment.

He listens for half a second and then holds the phone out for Kris. Kris shakes his head. He doesn't want Adam to chew him out again.

"If you don't take it, I will sit on you and force you to talk to him," Brad says, the steel in his words belying his easy smile. "And I had beans for lunch."

Kris manages a half hearted smile and reaches out for the phone, hoping that Brad doesn't notice the tremor of his fingers. He brings the phone to his ear, looking anywhere but Brad.

"Hi," he says.

"Jesus fucking CHRIST on a fucking STICK you fucking ASSHOLE," Adam shouts and Kris pulls the phone away from his ear, giving Brad a pleading look.

Brad shakes his head and crosses his arms over his chest.

"Sorry," Kris mumbles, turning his back on Brad because he's not sure he wants anyone to be able to read his facial expressions right now, least of all Adam's ex boyfriend.

"What were you thinking, Kris? Jesus FUCK."

Kris winces, flattening his free hand against the countertop. The stone is smooth and cold against his palm and he focuses on that instead of the hot flush of his cheeks and the churn of his stomach.

"Sorry," he says again, empty and pointless.

"You can't keep doing this to me," Adam says. "You can't."

"Sorry," he whispers, biting down hard on his lower lip. "I'll be gone when you get home."

"No, Kris, that's not what I…"

"Sorry," Kris says again and disconnects the call.

He hands the phone back to Brad. If Brad wants him to talk to Adam again, he will have to sit on him.

"Kris?" Brad asks, sounding uneasy, but Kris pushes past him, heading upstairs.

"Come on," Brad says, following after him. "He was just upset. You scared him."

Kris ignores him, pulling his bag out of the closet and tossing things into it in a haphazard mess. He doesn't care that it's the middle of the night. He has to get out. Away.

"You're going to break his heart," Brad says from the doorway.

"He'll get over it," Kris says harshly, throwing a handful of shirts into the bag. They spill over the edge, and one of them rolls out on the bed. Kris picks it up and forces it to stay on top of the pile.

"Fuck," Brad says, crossing the floor to wrap his arms around Kris from behind. "You don't want to do this."

"Yes, I do," Kris says, trying to shrug out of the embrace, but Brad is surprisingly strong for his size.

"No, you don't," Brad responds, tightening his hold enough that Kris can't breathe.

"I have to," Kris says, trying to flatten the pile enough that he can close the bag.

Brad smells of alcohol and some kind of lemony aftershave. Kris wonders when that smell became familiar.

"I don't know what to do anymore," he whispers, blinking rapidly. "Whatever I do, I end up hurting him and I just want…"

"To run away?" Brad asks. "Stick your head in the sand? You'll have to face him eventually."

"Not if I stay away," Kris mutters, trying to break free of the embrace with renewed vigor.

Brad lets go so suddenly that Kris stumbles forward, falling onto the bed with flailing arms. The edge of the bag catches his mouth and he rolls to the side with a pained sound, blood spilling down his chin.

"Oh fuck," Brad says, eyes wide as saucers.

Kris blinks against the tears that well up and runs his tongue over his teeth to see that they're all still in place. They are, but his mouth tastes like copper and when he raises his fingers to prod at his lips they come away sticky with blood.

"Shit," Brad says, color draining from his face and Kris wonders if he's going to faint.

Kris doesn't want to run away anymore, he's tired and miserable and his mouth hurts. Brad finally jerks out of his stupor and pulls Kris up from the bed, tugging him into the bathroom.

"Sit," he says, pointing at the toilet and Kris gratefully sinks down on it.

Brad runs a towel under the tap and gives it to Kris, making him press the cold terrycloth against his split lip.

"I'm sorry about that," Brad says, still looking queasy.

"It's okay," Kris mumbles into the towel. At least the pain served to clear his head. Brad's right, running away won't do him any good. He'd just end up in a motel room somewhere and next thing he'd be calling the agency, throwing himself back into a loop of meaningless sex and self-hatred.

"Adam's gonna kill me," Brad says, eyes opening wide.

Kris manages half a smile. It feels funny because his lip is already swelling. "We'll say I ran into a door."

As if on cue Brad's phone starts ringing and he shimmies it out of his pocket again, giving Kris a panicked look. Kris rolls his eyes at him. Brad is clearly overreacting.

"Adam? Hey," Brad says, sounding way too cheerful. "How are you?"

Kris rolls his eyes again, this time so hard he feels dizzy and Brad's face falls.

"Of course he's fine. Why wouldn't he be fine?"

Brad fidgets, pulling at his glittery top.

"No, he's right here."

Brad winds the hem of his shirt around his fingers and Kris stares at the narrow strip of hair leading down into his pants. For some reason he figured Brad to be the type to wax.

"It's not my fault he doesn't want to talk to you," Brad whines. "Well, I don't know why."

Brad looks up. "Why don't you want to talk to Adam?"

Kris shrugs, tearing his eyes away from Brad's stomach with a flush. "I just don't," he says into the towel, not caring if he sounds like he's five.

"Adam wants to talk to you," Brad says, holding the phone out with a hopeful look.

Kris sighs and takes it. He can always hang up again. "Yeah," he mutters, pulling the towel away for a moment.

"Just hear me out this time," Adam says. "Okay?"

Kris hums in agreement, staring down at the floor by his feet. He didn't notice Brad's golden boots before; they're really kind of awesome.

"I love you," Adam says.

Kris waits for Adam to continue, but he doesn't.

"Is that all?" Kris asks when the silence stretches out, unable to keep from grinning. It hurts, and he's pretty sure his lip starts bleeding again.

"Well," Adam says. "I was planning on my speech being a lot longer than that, but I didn't want you to hang up again."

Kris chuckles and squeezes his eyes shut. "Just come home, Adam," he says softly. "Just come home."

He doesn't know what will happen when Adam comes home, but anything is better than this forced separation. He glances up to find Brad smiling at him with this weird look on his face that Kris can't place.

"Your lip's bleeding again," Brad whispers, or tries to whisper, the amount of alcohol in his system and the awesome acoustics of the bathroom conspire against him.

"Why's your lip bleeding?" Adam asks, clearly alarmed.

"Uhh…" Kris says, staring wide-eyed at Brad. "I walked into a door?"

He dabs at his lip with the towel and winces.

"Put Brad on again," Adam says. "I want to have a word with him."

Kris mouths 'sorry' at Brad as he hands the phone back, making a vague gesture towards the bedroom. "I'm gonna unpack my bag," he says, failing as much as Brad when it comes to whispering.

He flinches at Adam's falsetto What bag? that's loud enough to be heard even though Brad has the phone against his ear. Brad gives him an uncharitable look and waves him away.

It takes a lot longer to move everything back to its rightful place than it took to throw it into the bag and when Kris is finally finished the clock radio by the bed boasts 4AM and Brad's watching him from the door to the bathroom.

"You should wash your face," Brad says. "You look like an extra from a vampire movie."

Kris nods, but sits down on the edge of the bed instead of heading for the bathroom. His mind is reeling, confused thoughts playing a game of chase that has no rules. Brad sighs and comes over to sit next to him, slinging an arm across Kris's shoulders.

"Fucking things up with Adam is probably the stupidest thing I've ever done," Brad says. "Don't make that mistake."

Kris wants to say that he's not planning on it, but then he didn't plan on getting divorced either and that worked out well for him. He sighs, letting his head hang down between his shoulders. He thought he was making progress but maybe he's just been treading water all this time.

"I thought I'd be with Katy forever," he says, staring down on his hands. There are speckles of drying blood on his fingers, making him look as if he got into a bar fight.

"Forever is a very long time," Brad says, fingers tight on Kris's shoulder.

Kris shakes his head, Brad just doesn't get it. "I thought I'd be with her forever and then one morning I woke up and realized I'd completely checked out of our marriage. What kind of person does that make me?"

"The human kind," Brad says kindly.

Kris looks up at him and Brad stares back until Kris feels as if Brad can see into his soul, stripping away all his layers and leaving him bare. He wants to tell Brad, wants to tell him what he did, but maybe he doesn't have to. Maybe Brad can read between the lines and see that Kris did more than just check out emotionally. Maybe he doesn't care.

"People fuck up," Brad says. "That's how life goes and the only thing you can really do about it is to take a deep breath, close your eyes and try again."

Kris tears his eyes away, letting them flit about the room. "What if I fuck up again?" he asks. "What if I can't make it work? What if I wake up one morning and realize I'm not even there?"

"What if you walk away from the best thing to ever happen to you just because you're scared? What if you'll never feel this way about anyone ever again and you just let it go? What if it's really your happily ever after but you're too chicken shit to let it in? We could do this all fucking night, Kris, but when push comes to shove the only thing that matters is can you really let him go?"

Kris's heart pounds against his ribcage, blood singing in his ears. "I don't know," he whispers. "I really don't know."

"Well, maybe you ought to figure that out."

Brad sounds about as tired as Kris feels and Kris carefully shrugs his arm off his shoulders. "I'm gonna wash my face," he says and pushes himself up from the bed.

The emotional roller coaster of the last few days has him feeling empty, as if all of the emotion was drained out of him with the last crazy loop, and now he's just an empty shell. Maybe he needs time and space to sort himself out. More time than the few hours remaining until morning, more space than he'll ever get curled up between Adam's sheets.

Brad is asleep when Kris comes back out of the bathroom, body splayed over the bed. Kris watches him for the longest time, before silently walking out of the room. He heads downstairs and takes a seat on the couch to wait. He doesn't know exactly when Adam gets home, but it doesn't matter; he'll wait as long as he has to.

*


Adam doesn't show up until noon, and by then Brad has already left, complaining endlessly about having to do the walk of shame without ever having removed a single item of clothing. Kris is in the kitchen pouring his third cup of coffee when Adam's voice rings out and the shock of hearing it almost makes him drop the cup. Coffee spills over the edges and runs over the back of his hand, soaking into his sleeve. He watches it drip down on the counter while he waits for Adam to find him, doing his best to not think of anything at all.

"Hey," Adam says, coming into the kitchen at last. "What are you doing?"

Kris shrugs, staring at the reddened skin on the back of his hand. "Making a mess."

"Oh." Adam comes up behind him and gently pries the cup from Kris's fingers. "Come here."

Kris lets Adam tug him to the sink, shivering when cold water sluices over his skin. Adam holds his hand in a loose grip, fingers rubbing over Kris's wrist.

"Did you stay up all night?" he asks, mouth just a hair's breadth away from Kris's ear.

Kris nods. Adam sighs and slips his free arm around Kris's waist, pulling him back against Adam's chest.

"What am I gonna do with you, huh?" he asks.

"I don't know," Kris answers, letting his eyes slip shut.

Adam pulls Kris's hand out from under the spray and turns the tap off, before embracing him with both arms.

"I'm so scared," Kris whispers, tilting his head to lean against Adam's arm. "What if I fuck this up too?"

Adam's arms tighten and he presses his face into Kris's hair. "I don't know," he says. "I really don't know."

Kris has no idea how long they stay like that, slowly rocking back and forth, but eventually Adam lets him go. He feels naked without Adam's arms around him, lost and exposed, and the only thing he wants is to dive right back into them. He sucks in a deep breath and squares his shoulders. Somehow he has to make everything alright, because losing Adam is out of the question.

"I'm sorry about last night," he says, staring out the window at the back yard. The apple trees are ripe with apples and Kris realizes he spent most of summer in a weird kind of daze, not quite here, not quite there. "Actually I'm sorry for the last few months."

"You don't have to apologize," Adam says, but he sounds as tired as Kris feels. In Kris's world Adam has all the answers, but maybe he's just as lost as Kris.

Kris turns around to lean against the counter, and looks at Adam, really looks at him. He's lost a lot of weight, cheeks hollowed and jaw-line sharper than Kris ever saw it. He's pale under his freckles and his lips look bitten raw, reddened and chapped. Kris has been leaning on Adam for a long time and it's obvious that the weight of Kris's problems has taken its toll.

"I think I should go back home," Kris says, scanning Adam's face for any kind of clue that he's doing the right thing, but Adam's expression is impressively impassive.

"I bet they miss you," he says, which isn't an answer to Kris's unspoken question.

Kris nods. The thought of going home makes him nauseous, but he can't stick his head in the sand forever. He's been neglecting everyone since the divorce and maybe it's time he starts picking up the pieces.

"I…" Kris starts, but he cuts himself off because he doesn't even know what he's trying to say. He wants to make everything alright with Adam, but he doesn't know where to start. He doesn't want his friendship with Adam to be another thing left in tatters, damaged by the Kris Allen freight train of heartache.

"You don't have to say anything," Adam says. "I understand." His eyes are dull and his face lifeless, but Kris decides to take his words at face value. He's tired of second guessing everything, himself most of all.

*


When Kris arrives back home two tense days later the sun shines from a bright blue sky and his mom hugs him so hard his ribs creak under the strain. He buries his face against her neck, the last few months already feeling like a bad dream.

"You lost so much weight," she says, when she finally lets him go, holding him at arm's length to look him up and down.

"It's nothing a few weeks of home-cooked meals won't fix," he says, looking over her shoulder to where his dad waits. Kris's stomach churns. All his life his dad has been a rock, always there to offer advice, or a shoulder to cry on. He can't bear the thought of how disappointed he must be with Kris right now and even thinking about it tears him up inside.

Kim steps to the side and Kris is left face-to-face with his dad. They look at each other and the din of the airport dies away until the only thing Kris can hear is the thunder of his pulse. Then Neil opens his arms and Kris walks right into them, clinging to his dad as if he's the last piece of wood left after a shipwreck.

"I missed you, son," Neil says, voice thick with emotion and Kris swallows dryly, his eyes stinging with held-back tears.

"I'm so sorry," he whispers. "I'm so sorry I made a mess out of everything."

"It's okay." Neil tightens his hold of Kris's shoulder. "Everything's going to be okay now."

Kris wants to believe him. He wants to believe that Arkansas and the wide open arms of his family will be the only thing he needs to fix himself, but he thinks that maybe his issues run deeper than that. He thinks that maybe his issues and in turn the only possibly solution, dropped him off at the airport a few hours ago with huge shades perched on his nose and a cap pulled down over his forehead. More, he thinks, to hide from Kris than from any lurking paparazzi. Things have been weird between them ever since Kris made his decision to go home and he hopes that some distance will help salvage their friendship, if nothing else.

Neil eventually lets go and picks up Kris's bag as if he's twelve and coming home from a field trip, and leads the way towards the exit. Kris falls into step with him mom, slinging an arm around her shoulders, and somewhere deep inside he starts to relax. He did the right thing.

*


Kris stays in Arkansas for over a month. He eats his mother's home-cooked meals, shoots the shit with his brother, talks a lot with his dad, and even lets himself be talked into going to a few therapy sessions. It helps, in a way, to talk his problems out with a stranger, but at the same time it feels weird to expose himself like that. He finds himself holding back vital parts of information and eventually he stops going, hoping that he can put himself back together on his own. He does try to think more about how his actions affect those around him though, and he hopes he can keep it in mind when things become tougher again.

He flies in and out of LA a couple of times for meetings with the label, but he doesn't stay with Adam. The tabloids are full of pictures of Adam with his new boyfriend and while it hurts so much Kris almost can't breathe, he keeps his distance. Partly because he likes to think he's noble enough to not begrudge Adam his happiness and partly because he's a fucking coward, terrified of disturbing the fragile balance of their friendship.

They talk on the phone every now and then, random conversations about what Kris had for breakfast or Adam's latest photo shoot. The kind of conversations they used to have before everything got fucked up. Adam doesn't ask how Kris is doing and Kris doesn't ask who Adam's doing. It makes their conversations into a minefield at times, but Kris isn't ready to face their issues and Adam seems to be feeling the same way.

When they don't talk, they text. Text messages have always been a huge part of their friendship, a way to keep in contact when busy schedules and insane hours make talking almost impossible, and Kris didn't realize how much he missed it until he starts receiving daily updates on Adam's wardrobe, his schedule and whatever random little thing Adam happens to be thinking about again. It makes him feel closer to Adam than he did while sleeping in Adam's bed and he's not going to do anything to risk it.

Eventually, Kris starts looking for a new apartment in LA. He's got enough material to start recording his second album and while the label has been wonderfully patient, the buzz created by his divorce is starting to die down on the heels of the latest scandal involving stars shining much brighter than himself, and with it their demands on his time grow. Adam insists on being involved in the proceedings, which is how Kris finds himself looking at apartments with Adam and Lizzie as his wingmen.

It's weird to see Adam again. He seems so much larger than Kris remembers him, the happy shine back in his eyes and his jaw line not quite as sharp. It makes Kris ache to know that someone else put him back together, but he swallows back his sorrow. He's the one that messed up and now he has to live with it. Adam won't stand for weirdness though and within seconds he sweeps Kris up in a crushing hug, stealing the breath right out of his lungs.

"I missed you, man," he says, and he doesn't sound like he means anything but what he's saying.

"I missed you too," Kris answers with his face against Adam's neck. When Adam releases him, Kris has to fight to pry his fingers from Adam's shirt, feeling dizzy and disoriented with want. He almost forgot what being close to Adam feels like, but it's coming back to him now, settling like a bonfire of want at the pit of his stomach and a weight over his shoulders.

Despite Kris's rampaging emotions it turns out to be a good day. They look at seven different apartments before Kris eventually settles on one in the Grove, not far from where he used to live. It's a three-room studio on the top floor of an apartment building with a tiny secluded roof terrace as its biggest selling point. Kris doesn't even care about the outdated kitchen, or the truly horrendous wallpaper in the master bedroom, once he makes it up to the terrace.

He stands there, looking out on the neighborhood below him and the valley in the distance and just knows he found the right place.

"Wow, you can almost see my house from here," Adam says, coming up behind Kris.

Kris doesn't answer, swallowing against the emotions welling up inside. He wants to tell Adam to back off and that he still needs time, but he owes Adam so much more than that. Adam puts a hand on his shoulder and Kris doesn't think he manages to hide his involuntary shiver, because Adam lifts his hand again as if he burned himself on Kris's skin.

"I…" Adam starts, but the arrival of Lizzie cuts him off.

"Amazing," Lizzie says from her spot at the door and Kris doesn't think he's ever been so grateful for an unintentional cock-block before.

He turns around and gives Adam a lopsided smile, as if to say what can you do? but the intensity of Adam's eyes makes the actual words get stuck in his throat.

"I should get going," Adam says, with an unconvincing smile. "I have a party to attend tonight."

Kris nods, pretending it doesn't sting. Maybe they weren't ready to see each other in person, no matter how put together Adam seemed.

"See you later, buddy," Adam says, giving Kris's shoulder a hearty clap before brushing past Lizzie and heading down the stairs

Lizzie looks after him before turning to Kris. "I'm sorry," she says. "Did I interrupt something?"

Kris shakes his head, turning back to stare out over the neighborhood. He wonders if it'll always be like this from now on – half-expressed emotions on the heels of conversations never had, until they can't even be in the same room without the innuendo going through the roof.

*


Kris moves into his apartment during the last week of August. The kitchen has been remodeled and all the walls have received a fresh coat of paint, the scent of which still lingers in the air. In the end he decided not to take any of his old stuff out of storage so everything in the apartment is newly bought. He didn't put a lot of consideration into his choices or how they would match, but the end result is an oddly pleasing mix of colors and styles.

Lizzie helps him put the finishing touches to the place, taking him shopping for cutlery, tableware, curtains and bed linens, making sure the place doesn't end up as nondescript as a hotel room. Adam does his part by showing up every other day bringing presents - plants for the living room, a miniature lime tree for the terrace, a chandelier, and ten different kinds of throw pillows.

Other people start showing up as well; Cale comes for a visit and stays for a week. It's good to catch up and they spend most of the nights up on the terrace messing around with lyrics and melodies until the sun is climbing up over the horizon, gleaming on the leaves of Kris's lime tree. It's good, normal, and Kris finally feels as if he's found his footing again.

Once Cale leaves (leaving behind a new bedspread for the guest room, a tablecloth for the kitchen table and a truly horrendous unicorn statue that Kris puts on the buffet because it reminds him of Adam) Kris starts doing interviews again. He goes on Oprah, on Ellen, on Letterman and Leno, talking and talking and talking until his throat is parched and his heart empty. His heartache gets reduced to a few carefully rehearsed lines about growing apart, until it starts to feel as if it's been years, not months, since the divorce.

Pictures surface of Katy with a new man and Kris does another round of interviews, telling everyone how happy is for her and how he's much too busy to be dating right now. It's tiring, and insane, and he would much rather keep his mouth shut and bury himself in the recording studio, but the label felt, and he agreed, that it would be better to do the divorce talk now than when his album comes out.

Through the tabloids he knows that Adam's still seeing what's-his-face. He's petite and pretty with the kind of scruff that Adam seems to favor and unruly blond hair. He was a background dancer for GaGa on her latest tour and on his bad days Kris wonders if that's what drew Adam to him in the first place. Adam still doesn't talk about him to Kris, but he mentions his name in passing every now and then, aware, of course, that Kris knows by now. Kris never asks about him, he thinks he's better off not knowing the true nature of their relationship. It must be pretty serious for Adam to be seen out with him time and time again, even if he still evades questions about whether he's taken or not.

In mid-September Kris meets Marcus at an industry event. He's pretty and soft spoken, with green eyes hidden behind wire-rim glasses and hair that isn't ginger but wanting to be. He's a songwriter who's just starting to make a name for himself, and he shyly tells Kris he has a song that he thinks would be perfect for Kris's voice. He looks as if he's expecting Kris to turn him down and the startled smile on his face when Kris says he'd love to hear it makes it worth the potential awkwardness.

The song turns out to be brilliant, but way too happy-go-lucky to fit on Kris's album. Kris records a version of it anyway, deciding to keep it for later use. Marcus is more than happy to let Kris have it and together with the label they work out a deal that benefits them both. The story could have ended there, but Marcus is easy to talk to and Kris had forgotten what it was like to have someone around that doesn't care about all his baggage and little by little they become friends.

Kris knows, of course, that Marcus is offering more than friendship, but he doesn't take him up on it until Adam takes Jeremy to his first official event as The Boyfriend. It probably makes him an asshole, but it's Marcus or the escort agency and in end he goes with the lesser of two evils.

"I know I'm not Mr. Right," Marcus says afterwards, trailing a hand down Kris's sweaty back. "But I'm okay with being Mr. Right Now."

He's lying, of course, but Kris can't bring himself to care. "I'm gonna break your heart," he warns, staring at the wall and the painting Adam brought on his latest visit. It's a mythical forest scene and Kris likes looking at it. It's full of details and every time he studies it he finds something new.

"I'm a big boy," Marcus murmurs, pressing a kiss to the nape of Kris's neck. "I can take care of myself."

Kris notices a tiny owl hiding among the leaves of one of the trees, big yellow eyes glaring at him with disapproval. He rolls over and takes in Marcus's flushed face. He looks happy and relaxed, his bangs sticking to his forehead with perspiration.

"I don't want to be the bad guy," Kris says, carefully brushing Marcus's hair back from his face.

"Then don't be," Marcus says, and leans closer to give Kris a kiss.

It's easy to get lost in the slick slide of skin against skin, in kisses that go on forever, and for once Kris doesn't think too much, he just goes with the flow.

*


Adam finds out about Marcus by accident. Kris honors their don't ask, don't tell policy and since Kris is still in the closet he can't find out from the tabloids like Kris did about Jeremy. Usually, they hang out in Marcus's apartment, partly because the risk of getting spotted is smaller outside the Grove, and partly because Adam has a tendency to drop by uninvited.

This time though, they spent the night at Kris's, and when Adam randomly shows up at seven AM with a huge vase clutched in his arms Kris momentarily forgets about Marcus still being asleep in his bed.

"That thing's huge," Kris says as he steps aside to let Adam in.

"But it'll look awesome between the windows in the living room," Adam answers, setting his course for the intended spot.

He puts the vase down and takes a step back, hums to himself and moves it a little more to the right, before stepping back again.

"See," he says. "Awesome."

Kris blinks blearily at the display. The vase does look awesome and the swirly blue pattern matches the colors of the painting hanging above it that was a gift from his mom.

"Nice," he says, scrubbing a hand over his face.

"Where's the enthusiasm, Kristopher?" Adam asks, with a grin. "Here I come bearing awesome gifts and all I get is an inarticulate nice. You suck."

"It's 7 AM," Kris mutters. "If you want enthusiasm you have to wait until I've had a cup of coffee."

"Coffee," Adam says in a way that hints he's already had more than enough. "There's coffee?"

"Not yet there isn't," Kris says, but he starts walking towards the kitchen none-the-less. There's no getting rid of Adam once the idea of coffee has presented itself.

"What are you doing up so early anyway?" he asks, once he got the coffeemaker running.

Adam shrugs. "Couldn't sleep," he answers.

Something about the way he's holding himself tells Kris there's more to his answer than he's letting on, but Kris is getting really good at not asking. Their friendship no longer feel as strained as it did in the beginning, but there's still a huge chunk of it missing, an elephant in the room they are getting adept at sidestepping even when it tries to shit upon their heads.

If he wasn't so damned tired of performing it, Kris would record a new version of The Truth for his sophomore album. It's just as true now as it was back then. Sometimes he thinks he should call Pat and ask him if he has any other songs lying around that would be good for Kris, preferably something happy and light, because God knows The Truth turned out to be prophetic enough.

"So how's the recording going?" Adam asks, leaning back in his chair and crossing his legs at the ankles. He's wearing the ridiculous leopard print boots that Kris hates and skinny grey jeans.

"It's good," Kris says with a shrug.

He doesn't tell Adam about how it's a constant struggle to be personal, but not too personal. About breaks that last too long because his voice keeps cracking and lyrics that snake around him until he feels like there's a snare around his throat. What he does record sends the labels into flutters of happiness and makes everyone else look at him with worry in their eyes. It's raw and honest, the songs carried more by the power of the lyrics than the instrumental dress up and it's not a pretty picture they paint.

Adam's sophomore album In My Head is already in the stores, and his first single Get Lucky debuted as number one on the Billboard charts. The album is eclectic and but not as sprawling as his first one, held together by excellent producing and Adam's eerie vocals.

Kris listens to it way too much, especially the seven songs that list Adam as a co-writer, and on bad days it helps to think that maybe they were at least a little bit inspired by him.

The coffeemaker stops chugging and Kris carefully pours two cups, handing one to Adam. There seems to be a constant tremor just beneath his skin whenever Adam's around these days and the last thing he wants is for Adam to notice. He knows he should be over Adam by now, but he's really not at all.

The conversation turns to safer topics while they drink their coffee. Adam tells Kris about his plans for tour and Kris laughs where he's supposed to and offers input where he should. It's almost like old times and for a moment Kris lets himself forget about everything, want and need getting lost in the pleasing cadence of Adam's voice and the way he waves his hands around.

Then Marcus walks in, decapitating the conversation with his low-hanging pajama pants and bed-messy hair. Marcus blinks a couple of times at the sight of Adam, a tiny frown forming between his brows, and Kris is torn between his desire to smooth it out and his desire to placate Adam, who's staring at Marcus as if he's covered in slime.

In the end, he chooses Marcus, because insanity lies down every other possible road and he knows it. He gets up from his chair and walks over to where Marcus is standing, pressing a demonstrative kiss to his slack lips.

"Morning baby," he murmurs, heart beating hard enough to echo in his ears.

"Morning," Marcus responds, sliding an arm across Kris's shoulders. "You're up early."

"Unexpected visitor," Kris says, turning around to face Adam at last. "Adam, this is Marcus. I don't believe you've met."

Adam's eyes narrow, but he gets up from his chair to shake Marcus's hand.

"Adam," he says, voice tightly clipped.

"Marcus," Marcus answers and he mostly sounds confused.

"I better get going," Adam says, words almost tumbling over each other. "Places to be, boyfriends to fuck. You know how it is."

He pins Kris with a stare so intense Kris's breath get stuck in his throat. He can't even begin to translate the emotion hidden in the blue depths of Adam's eyes before Adam's gone. The front door slams behind him seconds later and Kris sucks in a much needed breath.

"Okay, that was odd," Marcus says, lifting his arm from around Kris's shoulder and making a beeline for the coffee. "Is he always like that?"

Kris is still having trouble breathing right, as if Adam's stare sucked the breath from his lungs, but he manages an awkward shrug and a smile that is probably anything but reassuring.

"He can be a bit abrupt sometimes," he lies, trying to act as if nothing just happened, but somewhere deep inside he knows something just did, he's just not sure what it was. If the look Marcus gives him is anything to judge from, he knows it too.

All morning Kris fights his need to call Adam to apologize. He's not sure why, it's not like Adam gave him advance warning for Jeremy, but he can't stop feeling as if he screwed up something important. Above all, Adam is his best friend and just dropping the boyfriend on his lap was a shitty thing to do, even if Adam didn't give him the same courtesy. He gets that it's not quite the same thing, though, with Adam being Adam and Kris being, well, Kris.

He ends up calling Adam after lunch, hiding out in the bathroom because he is above all a fucking coward and he doesn't want to sow discord with Marcus, but Adam doesn't pick up and Kris can't think of a single thing to tell his voicemail. He stuffs the phone back in his pocket and goes back out to Marcus with a fake smile on his lips. The entire thing has him feeling unsettled and it seems to him that the vase is glaring at him from its spot along the wall.

*


He doesn't hear from Adam for almost a month, but he hears a lot about him. Suddenly, the tabloids are full of Adam entering and exiting clubs at night, rumors of diva-like behavior, and pictures of him and Jeremy that look anything but cozy. Kris tries calling, but the calls all go to voicemail and eventually he just gives up. He doesn't know what he'd say to Adam anyway. He can't apologize for having a boyfriend, or for not telling Adam about him. For all he knows Adam's behavior might have nothing to do with Kris and everything to do with Jeremy.

Marcus isn't happy about Kris's obvious obsession with Adam. Every time he sees Kris check his phone, or pull up a gossip blog on the computer, a frown appears on his face and his words get tight and clipped. They don't argue at first, but there's a barely concealed fury to Marcus's touch, as if anger is always simmering just below the surface.

Kris finds himself thriving on it. Needling and wheedling until Marcus cracks, pounding Kris into the bed in a way he would never have done before. Soon bruises are smattering Kris's skin again, reminders of a time and place he shouldn't want to revisit but finds himself unable to break up with. It's tearing Marcus apart, Kris can see it in the guarded way Marcus looks at him now and the scathing edge to his words, but he can't make himself stop craving the punishment, pushing and pushing until he gets what he wants.

They fall into a weird kind of pattern, arguments that aren't arguments, sex that isn't gentle, followed by guilt and whispered conversations in the wee hours of the morning. Kris doesn't sleep enough, and he doesn't eat enough. The only time he doesn't feel dead inside is when Marcus's fingers are digging into his skin, pushing and pulling as if Kris is a ragdoll there for his pleasure only. He knows it's not healthy, but he can't stop craving it.

He's almost done recording and it leaves him with more free time than he knows what to do with. He spends a lot of time wandering aimlessly around WeHo, ignoring the paparazzi that never seem to be far away these days, and waits for things to magically start making sense. He mostly sees Marcus at night, gone is their easy friendship and the laughs they used to share. The only thing that keeps them together now is an emotion far more brutal than love, and Kris hates what he's let them become. Marcus was such an open trusting guy when Kris met him and now there's a calculating look to his eyes and a near constant frown on his face.

It all comes to head one night after dinner with a few friends from the studio. It's one of those nights when dinner turns into a party and for a few scant hours Kris feels almost human again, happy and carefree, laughing with his friends.

He drinks more than he should, getting loose-limbed and tipsy from just a few beers, and he lets down his guard enough that he doesn't care that Marcus is all over him. Their relationship isn't exactly a secret among the people that know them and Kris is tired of always being cautious.

It's a good night, one of the few Kris has had in a good long while, and he's not prepared for the argument that starts as soon as they walk through the door.

"You're never going to tell them, are you?" Marcus says as soon as the door is locked behind them, dropping his arms from around Kris's shoulders.

"Tell them what?" Kris asks, he's tired and mellow and for once he doesn't want to fight.

"About this." Marcus makes an annoyed gesture. "About us."

Kris shrugs, averting his eyes. Marcus doesn't understand, he probably never will.

"It's about him, isn't it?" Marcus hisses, eyes narrowed behind his glasses.

Or maybe he understands just fine.

Kris just shrugs again. There's no point in denying it when it's so obviously true. Marcus clenches his jaw, letting a loud breath out through his nose. He reminds Kris of a bull about to charge and he can't help his amused snort.

"Exactly what about this is funny to you? Tell me Kris, because I really don't understand."

"Well," Kris says, as he toes his shoes off. "You kinda looked like a bull about to charge right now."

Marcus doesn't look the slightest bit amused and Kris mournfully thinks that Adam would have gotten it. Adam always gets it.

"Can't we just not argue?" Kris asks, heading for the living room. "Tonight was a good night. Can't we just leave it at that?"

"Good night for you, maybe," Marcus says, coming up behind him. "But I spent the entire night feeling like your dirty little secret."

Kris snorts again, because Kris has dirty secrets Marcus could never even imagine.

"Yeah, I can tell this whole thing is nothing but a joke to you," Marcus hisses, and Kris spins around to face him. He warned Marcus right from the start, but of course he didn't listen and now he's trying to make it all Kris's fault. Maybe things would have been different if Marcus had been different; somewhere at the back of his mind Kris is well aware that Marcus shouldn't be so easy to push.

The argument follows the same pattern it always does with accusations being thrown left and right, voices raised and bodies animated, but there's a new kind of edge to it, an angry desperation birthed from the fact that they both know this is the end. It reminds Kris too much of his last few fights with Katy, and when Marcus finally pushes him down on the bed, pulling at his jeans with forceful fingers, he welcomes it, letting himself get lost for a moment in the complete lack of control.

It's not careful and regulated like it was with Bryan and Han what feels like a life time ago. There's no safe word or easy way out. There's only the slick slide of skin, the pain of fingers pulling too hard, and the twisted pleasure of being used.

Marcus turns him over and pushes him down into the bed, hands heavy on Kris's shoulder blades as he pushes into him with only the barest of preparation. It hurts too much and for the first time Kris realizes that he's not just handing the control over to someone else, he's lost it completely. He struggles weakly against Marcus's hold, fighting for breath when his face gets rubbed into the pillows with Marcus's ruthless thrusts, but when Marcus lets him up he doesn't try to get away. Instead he pushes back, arching his back, wordlessly begging for more and harder. He wants it to hurt, needs it to hurt. He craves the tainted edge of pain and pleasure to wipe the churning thoughts from his mind.

He's terrified and elated at the same time, pushing back while pulling away. He rides the edge for as long as he can, until he comes so hard it almost hurts with Marcus's unrelenting fingers wrapped around his cock. He lets Marcus push him into the bed afterwards, limply rolling with the thrusts until Marcus comes with a choked off cry, biting down hard on Kris's shoulder. He doesn't move when Marcus rolls off him and tosses the condom, breathing into the pillow with his eyes squeezed shut. The mellow of his orgasm is already dissipating and with it comes a panic he doesn't know how to suppress.

Marcus falls asleep easily, his breath evening out into snuffled snores. Kris used to think it was cute, now the sound just fills him with resentment. The only problem is that he doesn't know who he hates more, himself or Marcus.

Eventually he staggers out of bed, sore and aching, with his heart beating triple time and his head spinning. His shoulder throbs where Marcus bit him and there's not an inch of skin that doesn't feel scratched or bruised. He pulls on a pair of pajama pants he finds on the floor and grabs a t-shirt out of the closet, before heading up to the roof.
Panic threatens to well up inside and he sucks in terrified little breaths, trembling from head to toe. He collapses in one of the chaise lounges, biting back a whimper when his ass connects with the seat. It's never been this bad before, not since he was down to rock bottom, and he really needs to get a grip.

"What the fuck am I doing?" he murmurs, pulling his legs up and pressing his forehead against his knees.

The night doesn't answer him, but when he finally straightens up, the initial panic having subsided, he knows there's only one thing to do. He has to break up with Marcus.

In the end, it's easy. Marcus takes one look at Kris's serious face, grabs whatever items of clothing he has scattered across Kris's apartment and leaves. They don't see each other again and Kris throws himself back into working on the album so that he won't have to feel anything. He drives everyone around him up the wall with his anal retentiveness, but falling into bed exhausted every night is better than ever having to think.

*

Christmas comes and goes. It's different and awkward and not even the Merry Christmas text Kris gets from Adam makes him feel better. He answers in kind, of course, something teasing about how he didn't think Adam celebrated it, but the radio silence continues until New Year's Eve when Adam calls drunk and almost incoherent from some party, whispering things Kris can't make out over the din in the background. Kris tries calling him back on New Year's Day, but Adam doesn't pick up and when his next three calls go unanswered as well, he stops trying.

This time, spending time at home doesn't work as a magical fix-me-up and Kris lands back in LA just as tense and unhappy as he was when he left, throwing himself into putting the finishing touches on his album in a way that drives everyone around him insane. He finds himself pulling away from human contact again and this time there's no Adam to force him out of his shell. Cale tries, Andrew tries, Charles tries, his family tries, even Katy tries, but Kris only plays along for as long as he has to before pulling away again, spending most of his nights up on the terrace, greeting dawn with aching eyes.

In mid-February, just before Adam's supposed to go to Europe on a pre-tour before his big Instant Gratification Tour in the summer, the blogs explode with news of Adam's and Jeremy's break up. There have been rumblings for a while, pictures of the two of them out separately and quotes from "initiated sources," but Kris refused to believe it, all too familiar with how gossip blogs like to make shit up. Now, Adam confirms it on his twitter, and Jeremy is quoted as saying the break up was an amiable one, and somehow, even though he knows he shouldn't, Kris starts to hope.

Adam doesn't call though, and when he starts texting Kris again it's nonsensical things about what city he's in or what he had for dinner. Kris answers in kind, struggling to keep the tone light at all times. He's so pathetically grateful that Adam hasn't completely given up on their friendship that he'd text Adam about fluffy bunnies if he had to.

Kris wraps the album in March. Adam's in Germany at the time, but he has flowers delivered to Kris at the studio with a little plush unicorn dangling from the tie. It's apparently a part of Adam's official tour merchandize but Kris puts it on his key chain anyway, not caring in the slightest what it might look like.

He has a copy of the CD FedEx-ed to Adam's hotel overnight. He debates what to write on the sleeve forever until he just scrawls The Road Less Travelled – Kris Allen on it and slips it into an envelope. He wonders what Adam will think about the title, if it'll make him laugh, or if he'll just find it pretentious. He supposes it doesn't matter. He shouldn't need Adam's validation for every little thing.

For a scant few days Kris feels almost normal again, as if he's finally finding his footing in a world where he doesn't have Marcus or Adam to lean on and his feelings for Adam are reduced to a distant ache at the pit of his stomach. Then all hell breaks loose and Kris realizes he's not nearly as put together as he thought he was.

Kris doesn't know who leaks the pictures, or why they sat on them for this long, but he supposes it doesn't matter. What matters is that his relationship with Marcus is suddenly common knowledge, pictures of them talking, kissing, laughing, shouting at him from the front page of every blog and tabloid. He can't even remember when half the pictures were taken, but it's obvious that someone spent a lot of time following him around.

The media storm that follows is insane and the label has Kris release a carefully worded statement on his bisexuality and the state of his relationship with Marcus before hiding him away in a non-descript hotel, much like the one he used to stay in after his divorce.

Marcus is livid, screaming at Kris for using their relationship as a way to gain publicity, only to sell his story to the highest bidder the next day. Kris supposes he should be grateful that Marcus leaves the darker aspects of their relationship out of the interview he tapes - instead he paints a picture of a gentle romance that fizzled out naturally because they wanted different things from life - but he's just angry.

Adam doesn't say anything for a couple of days, even though Kris is sure the media is hounding him for a comment, and when he finally does he breaks Kris's heart into tiny little pieces. It's just a short clip, obviously filmed in an airport, and Adam looks pissed more than anything else.

"Adam, Adam, could I get a comment on Kris Allen's coming out?" The interviewer has a thick foreign accent and he sounds breathless as if he's struggling to keep up with Adam's determined stride.

Adam spins around, pinning the camera with a cold look. "Sure," he drawls. "Yes, I knew. No, we're not involved."

He starts walking again, but the interviewer chases after him. "Does that mean you have been involved?"

Adam turns again. "No," he says, voice cold. "There is not now nor has there ever been any kind of relationship between me and Kris Allen. You can quote me on that."

Adam looks like his going to say something more, but Lane shows up out of nowhere, grabbing his arm and pulling him along. She says something Kris can't make out and then Adam's dragged out of the frame, the camera panning over Monte and Tommy walking past for a moment before it cuts off.

Kris knows that Adam's telling the truth and he knows that Adam couldn't very well say anything else, but it still hits him like a blow to the chest. He replays the clip over and over, scanning Adam's face for any kind of clue that he's lying but there's nothing there, not even a hint that Kris means more to him than a casual friend.

Kris turns the computer off and puts it to the side, grabbing his phone from where it's resting on the table. Everyone and their mother called him in the last couple of days, everyone but Adam. The only thing he got from Adam was a text message that said Stay put. Kris interpreted it to mean Kris should do what the label tells him because Adam doesn't care anymore, but he still brings Adam's number up on the screen now, hitting dial before he can change his mind.

The call goes straight to voicemail and Kris listens to an impersonal voice rattling off Adam's number while trying to think of something to say.

"Hi," he says. "It's me… uhm… Kris. I just wanted to…" He sucks in a breath, trying to make sense of his jumbled thoughts. "I guess I just wanted to apologize... that uhm… that you got dragged into this mess. Uhm… Call me, man. I really… I really miss you."

Kris disconnects the call and puts the phone back down on the table. The empty computer screen glares at him and he pushes up from the couch, walking aimlessly around the room. For every minute his phone isn't ringing his heart sinks in his chest and when Adam still hasn't called him two hours later, Kris grabs his phone again, punching in another number, one that he should have forgotten by now, but that's been at the front of his mind for weeks.

Bryan looks just like Kris remembers him. His hair might be a little longer and his tan a little deeper, but his eyes are the same calm hazel and his lopsided smile just as pretty.

"Hey," he says, stepping past Kris into the room. "Somehow I never expected to see you again."

Kris closes the door behind him after a quick scan of the corridor. He's pretty sure he would have known if the paps had found him and the corridor is mercifully empty.

"I… yeah," Kris says inanely. "Hi."

Bryan chuckles and puts his bag down on the floor. Kris glances at it, he knows what kinds of things are hidden within and the thought makes him equal parts excited and terrified.

"So," Bryan says, rocking back on his heels. "What can I do for you today?"

Kris mind flashes through all the possible scenarios, on his knees with his cheek pressed to the rug, on the bed, on the couch, tied up and gagged, spanked, used, abused, fucked 'til he's aching with it, but in the end he just shrugs, worrying at his lower lip. He thought he was at rock bottom again, desperate and aching like he was before, but looking at Bryan now he doesn't think he is.

He wants it, there's no question about that. He wants to be stripped of all control, he wants someone else to call the shots, he wants Bryan to hold him down and fuck him hard, but at the same time he's wondering if it's worth it.

"I…" Kris looks at Bryan feeling lost. "I don't know."

He looks at his phone, still silent on the coffee table, and realizes he doesn't even know what time it is in Europe. Maybe he called in the middle of the night, maybe he called during a show, or maybe Adam is on a plane. There are a million legit reasons for Adam to not call him back right away and maybe Kris needs to stop wallowing in self-pity. He isn't doing himself any favors.

He looks back at Bryan. "I think that maybe I don't want anything?"

Bryan smiles. "That's an awfully expensive change of heart," he says.

Kris smiles too and it feels more genuine than any smile he's pasted on his face in the last few weeks. "Yeah," he says, scrubbing at the back of his neck. "But I think it's worth it."

Bryan laughs, shaking his head as he picks up his bag again. "I'm not gonna push," he says. "Because I think you actually mean it."

"Thank you," Kris says, because he's pretty sure his resolve is about as sturdy as a spider web. "And uhm… goodbye, I suppose."

"Bye," Bryan says, laughter still dancing in his voice. Then he brushes past Kris and slips out the door, walking out of Kris's life as easily as he entered it.

Kris looks at the door for the longest time, trying to decipher his conflicting emotions. He feels oddly liberated, as if he just broke free of shackles he didn't even realize were holding him down. He thought he'd closed the chapter on his time with the agency when he gave Bryan that check, but maybe he needed this too.

Slowly he turns his back to the door and walks over to one of the windows, pulling the curtains apart. The sun is shining outside and he squints against the sudden glare, realizing he hasn't as much as looked outside since he first pulled the curtains. Maybe it's no wonder he's going stir crazy, he's not the type to sit on his ass for days upon days.

He looks down on the street. His room faces the front of the hotel and he can just make out the entrance below him, shielded by the overhang above the door. A big black car pulls up to the curb and he watches as the doorman moves forward to open the car door. An eerily familiar lanky frame jumps out of the car, visible only for a moment in a flash of black and grey before disappearing under the overhang, but it's enough to send Kris's pulse skyrocketing through the roof.

The car stays idle at the curb for a moment, the driver probably talking to the doorman through the open passenger window, then it inches forward and disappears down the street. Kris stays at the window with his fingers pressed flat against the glass, contemplating the state of his mind. He must be going crazy, there's no other explanation.

He starts when there's a knock on his door, a flush rising in his cheeks. It's probably just Bryan, coming to see if he changed his mind, or Lizzie dropping by with the latest news. He keeps telling himself that as he crosses the floor, bracing himself for disappointment, but he knows what he saw and when he opens the door to find Adam there it's not the shock it should be.

"Hi," Adam says, and his smile might be brighter than the sun.

"Uh," Kris says, because it's still quite a shock.

Adam looks amazing, a little too skinny, but his hair sticks out in wonderful disarray and his black jeans make his legs go on forever. Kris stares a little at his legs, then he stares a little at Adam's ridiculous belt and then he stares a little at the print on Adam's t-shirt just visible between the flaps of his cardigan. Then he finally lifts his eyes and stares a lot at Adam's face. Adam's wonderful, familiar, beautiful face and it hits him with full force just how much he missed him.

"Come here," Adam says, opening his arms, and Kris doesn't need more incentive than that, pretty much throwing himself at Adam. Adam laughs and staggers backwards, wrapping his arms tight around Kris's back.

"I just missed you so much," Kris breathes against Adam's neck. "So, so much."

"I missed you too," Adam says softly, lifting a hand to cup the back of Kris's neck. "Let's just… not be stupid anymore."

"What are you doing here?" Kris mumbles without lifting his face from the crook of Adam's neck. "You're supposed to be in Europe."

Adam doesn't answer at first, frog marching Kris backwards so that he can kick the door shut behind them. He doesn't try to break the hug and Kris is very grateful. He's pretty sure he's physically unable to let go of his death grip of Adam's shirt.

"I'm here to friendnap you," Adam finally says, loosening his hold to look down on Kris. "I thought you could use a change of scenery."

Kris blinks, looking up into Adam's face. He's got a feeling there's a lot more to it than that, but he's not sure he's ready to press the issue yet, if he'll ever be.

"You're friendnapping me to Europe?" Kris kind of wonders how that's going to work with his other commitments. Sure, he's in hiding right now, but eventually he'll have to face the media circus and get back to work since the album is set to be released in May.

"Yup," Adam says, looking pleased with himself. "I cleared it with your management… and your mom."

"I see how it is," Kris says, finally managing to let go of Adam's shirt. "The tabloids drag me out of the closet kicking and screaming and now you wanna be my friend again."

Adam grins, but it fades quickly, his eyes growing serious. "I've always been your friend," he says, reaching up to touch Kris's cheek. "And if I ever made you feel like maybe you weren't welcome in my life, I'm sorry. It's just…" Adam shakes his head with a frustrated sound. "Can we talk more later?"

Kris nods, finally pulling away. "Yeah, okay."

He's disappointed and relieved at the same time. They've gotten really good at non-conversation over the last forever and he kind of wants to break that habit, but maybe right now isn't the best time for it.

"Okay," Adam says, rubbing his hands together. "Let's pack up your stuff."

Packing doesn't take long with Adam's help. It's not like Kris bothered to actually unpack, he mostly just created a mess across the floor. Adam tuts, carefully refolding Kris's clothes and putting them back into the bag.

"We're gonna have to get you a thicker jacket," he says conversationally, while Kris scans the room for any bits and pieces he might have missed. "Sweden is really fucking cold."

"Okay," Kris agrees, stuffing his laptop into his shoulder bag and his phone into his pocket. He feels nervous and excited all at once, heart fluttering like a moth against a light.

"You ready?" Adam asks, coming out of the bedroom with Kris's bag in tow and his guitar case in hand. "I got your passport from Lizzie and she promised to deal with the check-out details too."

Kris licks his lips and nods. He's amazed at the amount of planning Adam put into this. After all, sending Kris an airline ticket would have worked just as well.

"I have to tell you," Adam says, as he shoos Kris towards the door. "I'm really not looking forward to my second fourteen hour flight in a day. You better keep me entertained, bitch."

Kris isn't going to promise any such thing, he's already exhausted, but he nods anyway, heart tripping a little. He can't believe Adam's willing to spend more than a day in transit just to save Kris from his own stupidity.

"You're worth it," Adam says, as if Kris actually gave him some kind of verbal answer. "You'll always be worth it."

Kris doesn't have time to respond before Adam's yanking the door open and leading the way out into the hallway. It's probably for the best, since Kris is pretty sure his response, if he was to be completely honest, would have ended up taking the entire trip.

*


Adam wasn't lying about Sweden being fricking cold. Despite the huge green parka Adam made him buy and the ridiculous boots Tommy picked out (Kris is never going shoe shopping with Tommy again, he feels as if he's on stilts), Kris is frozen to the core and he's pretty sure his toes are in danger of falling off. He thought it would be nice to see something other than the tour bus and hotel, but obviously he was wrong; five minutes looking at the old town and he's about ready to cry uncle.

Adam's off doing press with Lane in tow, Monte and Tommy are at some guitar store (Kris considered going with them but in the end he opted for some alone time), LP and Cam are taking advantage of the hotel spa facilities, the dancers are practicing some new risqué move for the show tonight, and Sutan is most likely hiding under a duvet and three blankets. It kind of makes Kris feel awesome that he knows all that. In just three days he's been included in Adam's "glamily" (or whatever it is he calls them on this tour) as if he were always around.

It makes Kris long to be on the road again, surrounded by his own tour-family and he thinks that was part of Adam's plan. Sitting at home just thinking about it, touring is scary and strenuous and exhausting but when you're wrapped up in it, it's warm, familiar and pretty damned fun. Unless Kris's album completely tanks (it's a possibility - there probably is such a thing as too personal) he'll be touring pretty much all summer and right now he's looking forward to the change of pace, and summer, he's really looking forward to summer.

Kris is just about to turn back for the hotel when his phone rings, vibrating against his hip and he fishes it out of his pocket with stiff fingers, wincing as he pulls off a glove to press answer.

"Kris," he says, looking down the mostly deserted alley ahead of him.

"Uh… Hi."

Kris's phone almost slips out of his cold-stiff fingers with his violent start. He didn't expect to hear from Marcus ever again.

"Hi," Kris repeats, because he doesn't really know what else to say. Maybe it's a sign of progress that it's less awkward to talk to Katy these days.

"I guess you're wondering why I'm calling," Marcus says.

"You could say that," Kris answers, looking around for some kind of shelter. There's a persistent wind blowing along the alley and his hands are already cold enough.

"Are you… Can you talk for a minute?"

Kris ponders saying no, but he has a feeling that if he hangs up now, he'll never hear from Marcus again and he kind of wants to know what he has on his mind.

"Yeah," he says. "Yeah, I can talk."

He starts walking back toward the hotel. He doubts he's been recognized but the chance of someone eavesdropping on his conversation is a lot smaller if he's moving. He thinks Adam taught him that.

"I know where the pictures came from," Marcus says, and Kris's heart picks up speed.

He never even thought to wonder where the pictures came from. He just assumed they came from some diligent paparazzi, who'd heard rumors about Kris's proclivities. Sure, he and Marcus kept it low-key but they were still seen out enough for some people to start whispering. It's hard to keep a secret in LA.

"It was one of my terms for doing that interview and it took them a while to find the original source, but I finally have a name."

Something in the way Marcus says it makes Kris suspect he won't like the answer.

"Who was it?" Kris asks, voice weak.

He can see the hotel in the distance, coming closer with every hurried step.

"A PI," Marcus says. "Norman Haddock, if that means anything to you."

Kris shakes his head, before he realizes that Marcus can't see him. "I… No, never heard of him."

"You sure?" Marcus asks. "Because he's an old friend of someone you know very well."

Kris's heart thuds hard against his ribcage. Norman Haddock doesn't mean anything to him, but if he squeezes his eyes shut, he sees the glossy red lips and immaculate blonde locks of Nora, one of Adam's cross-dressing friends.

"Name's Nora," she'd said, giving Kris her hand to kiss. "Nora Haddock, like the captain."

"No," Kris whispers, more to himself than Marcus. "It can't be. Adam wouldn't do that."

"Are you sure?" Marcus sounds smug all of a sudden as if bringing Kris bad news is the best thing to have happened to him in a while.

"Yes," Kris says haughtily even if he's nothing of the sort. "I'm sure."

"Well, I just wanted to let you know. Thought you'd appreciate the closure."

Kris's eyes narrow but he bites down on his scathing retort as he is walking through the doors of the hotel. He doesn't want to make a scene in the lobby and he certainly doesn't want to give Marcus the satisfaction of knowing he's upset.

"Thanks," he says, words tightly clipped. "I would have appreciated it more if it wasn't just a cheap trick to sow discord."

"It's not a trick," Marcus says angrily. "It's the truth, whether you want to hear it or not."

Kris stabs at the elevator button repeatedly, as if that will make the elevator arrive faster.

"And what were your completely altruistic reasons to find out in the first place?" Kris asks. "Concern for my well being? For yours? If it'd just been a pap like any other, what would you have done then? Followed him into a dark alley to beat the crap out of him?"

"You know I'm not like that."

"Oh really? I think I still have a few of the bruises that say you are."

The elevator finally arrives and Kris steps into it before he can make a complete fool of himself. He doesn't think anyone heard his end of the hushed conversation, or that they cared if they did, but he's seconds away from screaming at the top of his lungs and he doesn't want an audience for that. He expects the call to cut off, and maybe that would be for the better, but nothing happens when the door slides shut. He can still hear Marcus breathing at the other end of the line.

"That's a low blow and you know it," Marcus retorts. "If you hadn't been so fucked up we would have never ended up there."

"I'm the fucked up one? You're the one that got off on manhandling me."

Marcus huffs out a sigh. "Let's just not do this, okay? I thought you might like to know that your precious friend is the one that set you up for this, but obviously I was wrong."

Kris grinds his teeth together and presses the phone against his ear so hard it hurts. The sudden sting reminds him of where he is and he sucks in a breath.

"Thanks I guess," he says shortly. "I think it's better for both of us if we don't talk again."

He disconnects the call without waiting for Marcus's response and stuffs the phone into his pocket. His hand throbs with the returning blood and when he looks at it it's an angry shade of red. He slams it hard against the elevator wall, hard enough to make the cart shudder, and the stab of pain that laces up his arm is enough to ground him for the moment. The elevator doors open with a ding, and he steps out, walking toward the room he shares with Adam with his eyes on the carpeted floor.

The room has been cleaned in his absence, the remains of their room service breakfast cleared from the table by the window, but Kris couldn't care less. He walks straight over to Adam's bedroom and yanks the door open. It's empty, Adam's still out doing interviews, and Kris doesn't even feel as if he's intruding as he crosses the threshold; he's too angry for that.

He doesn't want Marcus to be right, but Haddock isn't the most common name, and it makes a weird kind of sense. Some of the photographs splashed across the tabloids were taken before there was even something to buzz about; paparazzi can be diligent, but that diligent? Kris doubts it.

Kris doesn't care about stealth as he tears through Adam's stuff. He's crossing a line that should never be crossed but he can't bring himself to care, strewing clothes across the floor and emptying out the few drawers that have been filled. There's an almost feverish edge to his search and when he finally finds what he was looking for, in Adam's biggest piece of luggage, he doesn't know what to do with himself.

He sits down hard on the floor and spreads the glossy HD prints out over the mess he made. There are tons of pictures of him, of Marcus and of the two of them together. Pictures of them kissing, touching, hugging, even one of them holding hands and Kris can't even recall them ever doing that. He recognizes only a few from the tabloids and the blogs, which is evidence all in itself. Adam's betrayal spelled out in high definition photographs.

He hears the door opening in the main room and then Adam's voice rings out. Kris doesn't answer, arranging the pictures into some kind of pattern, trying to find the earliest one. He picks one up, it's a picture of him alone, having lunch at St Felix and he knows for a fact it was taken before he even met Marcus.

He looks up when the door to Adam's room swings open, taking in Adam's immaculate appearance. He's in full glam gear today, acting it out for the press, and the dark swatches of eye shadow across his lids make him look alien, unattainable.

"What the fuck are you…" Adam trails off when he spots the photographs littered around Kris, eyes widening for a moment. "I can explain," he says then, but he sounds about as empty as Kris feels.

"Really?" Kris asks, letting the picture in his hand flutter to the floor. "You can explain having me followed and selling my secret to the tabloids? Go ahead, because that ought to be some explanation."

"Shit," Adam says, scrubbing a hand over his face that completely messes up his makeup. "I didn't sell the pictures, Norman did."

"Same difference," Kris says harshly. He just wants to understand, or maybe he wants to be somewhere else all together. His hand throbs in time with his erratic pulse and his head aches with the strain of holding himself together. He doesn't know how to deal with this.

"Norman's an old friend," Adam says tiredly. "And I've gotten him out of a tight spot or two, I never thought he'd betray me like that. If I even thought it was a possibility I would never have…" Adam makes a grimace. "He should have come to me first, I would have paid anything to keep it out of the press."

Kris doesn't even know if that matters. The question is why Adam had him followed in the first place, and why, now that things did blow up in his face, he never thought to tell Kris about his hand in it all.

"I just want to know why," Kris says tiredly, staring at the mess of pictures and things surrounding him. "Why would you do something like that?"

"I was worried," Adam says. "We weren't as close there for a while, and I just wanted to keep an eye on you." He makes some sort of gesture that Kris doesn't understand. "I told him to stop after a month, nothing was happening and we were getting closer again… Then I found out about Marcus and…" Adam shakes his head. "I just… I snapped."

Kris shakes his head, picking up a random picture without even looking at it. He doesn't know if Adam's motivation matters, he doesn't know if anything matters anymore. It seems that every time he starts picking up the scattered pieces of himself something comes along that breaks him all over again.

Adam moves across the floor, crouching down to gather up the scattered pictures. "I was going to tell you," he says, voice subdued. "I was… but you seemed so fragile and I just wanted to wait a little longer, but I suppose there's never a right time for something like this." He pauses, staring at the picture at the top of his pile. "I don't know how long I can keep doing this," he says, his voice getting quiet. "You keep letting people hurt you and I just can't…"

Kris lifts his gaze to look at the picture Adam's staring at. It's just him, hailing down a cab, but there's a line of bruises running like a cheap string of pearls along the underside of his arm. He averts his eyes, staring at the picture in his own hand instead, but the bruises are there too, dark smudges against his fair skin.

He squeezes his eyes shut, letting the picture fall from his limp hand. "What if I'm too messed up to fix?" he asks, voice breaking at the end. "What if I'll never be okay again?"

"Don't even say that."

Adam abandons the pictures in favor of pulling Kris into his arms, hugging him hard against his chest.

"You'll be okay," he whispers, slowly rocking Kris back and forth. "I'll glue you back together myself if I have to."

It all begins and ends with Adam, it always did, and Kris doesn't even know if he's angry with him. He knows Adam didn't mean for the press to get a hold of the pictures and having someone follow him around isn't much different from Kris stalking the gossip blogs for any kind of tidbit about Adam. Maybe he'd have resorted to hiring someone as well, if Adam hadn't been famous enough to have paps following him around all the time.

Kris winds his good hand into Adam's shirt, letting the other rest limply against Adam's waist. He's beginning to think he hurt something important when he slammed it against the elevator wall, but he doesn't want to break the embrace to find out. Adam smells like all the good things in the world, like love and life and laughter and sunshine and really expensive cologne.

He thinks about all the odd twists and turns their relationship has taken over the years, about Idol, and tours, Kris's divorce and Adam's messy relationships. They've been through all that and somehow they still have each other. It's reassuring somehow, to think that maybe he can't fuck this up beyond repair, that maybe he'll always have Adam even if it's just as a friend.

"Let's clean this mess up, huh," Adam says, pressing a kiss into Kris's hair.

"Okay," Kris agrees meekly. Then a stray thought hits him. "Why did you bring them anyway?"

Adam snorts. "It seems kind of insane in retrospect but I was afraid someone would find them. I even tried locking them in the safe, but it didn't feel safe enough." Adam lets out a bitter laugh. "I shouldn't have bothered."

Adam pulls away to look him square in the eyes. "I really am sorry," he says. "When it hit the tabloids I put my fist through the drywall."

Kris smiles weakly, glancing down at where his hand rests against Adam's waist, noticeably swollen now that it's no longer deep frozen. "I believe you," he murmurs.

He thinks the conversation is over, but Adam starts talking again as he gathers up the pictures. "I know it was stupid to bring them," he says. "I know I should have locked them in the safe and tried to forget about the whole thing, but I… I just wanted to protect you and I thought that if I brought the pictures with me I could keep you safe." He looks up, his voice small. "I just wanted to keep you safe."

He sounds so dejected that Kris reaches out with his good hand to pull Adam in. This time it's Adam that clings, pressing his face into Kris's neck and letting out a shaky laugh. "We're quite the pair, aren't we?" he asks.

"Yeah," Kris murmurs, closing his eyes and breathing Adam in. "We are."

*


In the morning Kris's hand hurts like a bitch and looks like a mess. It's so swollen he can't bend his fingers and there's a dark purplish bruise spreading over the back of it. He stares at it for a long moment, then he digs a painkiller out of his toilet kit and steals a hoodie from Adam's carry on to cover it up. They're supposed to be on a plane for Gothenburg in three hours and he doesn't think there's time for a surprise trip to the ER.

He's happy he managed most of his packing the night before because there's no way he'd have been able to pack everything with a messed up hand. It was already hurting last night, but this is considerably worse, dull bone-deep throbs that spread up his arm and make him feel vaguely nauseous.

Somehow he makes it until about fifteen minutes before they're due to be picked up for the airport, at which point he completely cracks, sends a badly spelled text message to Adam, and grabs his messenger bag with his sights set on the lobby and a cab to the nearest emergency room. His hand hurts enough that he's getting worried and he realizes that getting on a plane with a possibly broken hand might not be the smartest thing he's ever done.

Of course Adam's in the lobby, standing just inside the doors with his phone clutched in his hand. He looks up when he hears Kris approaching and his eyes grow comically wide.

"What the actual fuck, Kris?" he almost shouts, crossing the floor to where Kris has stopped dead in his tracks. "God," he murmurs, when he gets close enough, reaching out to touch Kris's face. "Where are you hurt?" He doesn't wait for an answer before he starts patting Kris down.

Kris's cheeks burn with embarrassment and he tries to ignore the way people stare at them in more or less overt ways. Adam's in full glam regalia again, which clashes pretty spectacularly with his somber woolen overcoat, the beanie pulled down over his hair and the knit scarf wrapped three times around his neck. It's almost comical to see his heavily made up face peeking out in the glimpse between scarf and beanie, and his spiked boots don't come close to matching his coat.

"It's my hand," Kris mutters, when Adam's hands stray precariously close to his crotch. He doesn't want Adam to realize that the patting treatment has him half hard despite the fact that he's in so much pain he's considering just cutting off his hand to be done with it. "I tried that drywall thing except the wall didn't give."

Kris holds his hand out for inspection and Adam's eyes go wide as he carefully pushes the sleeve up to look at it.

"Jesus fuck, why didn't you say something?" Adam asks, gently running a fingertip over the bruise on Kris's hand.

"It wasn't so bad last night," Kris says. "I thought I'd be able to suck it up until we reached Gothenburg, but it really hurts like hell."

Adam cranes his neck to look out through the windows towards the street. "My driver's still there," he says. "Come on."

"You can't come," Kris protests. He's going to end up fucking up Adam's entire schedule.

"I don't have anything planned until tomorrow night," Adam says, grabbing Kris's good hand to tug him toward the doors. "We'll just catch a later plane."

Kris isn't entirely sure Adam's telling the truth and even if he is Lane will probably have an apoplectic fit when she finds out, but he can't deny that he's grateful for Adam's company. He wasn't looking forward to braving the Swedish healthcare system on his own.

The driver seems surprised when Adam and Kris slide into the car, but as soon as Adam shows him Kris's hand he's moving out into traffic.

*


It's almost an hour and a half later before Kris finally gets to see a doctor for more than two minutes, but at least they gave him something for the pain before sending him off to have x-rays. The doctor is a stern looking woman in her fifties and her name plate reads Irina (and a last name with lots of consonants and funny vowels). She's holding Kris's x-ray plates in her hand as she walks in, and after sparing Adam a curious glance (he stands out like a sore tooth against the washed out colors of the room), she fixes Kris with a stare.

"Congratulations, it's broken," she says, in heavily accented English as she put the plates to the side.

Kris clamps down on his inappropriate giggle and carefully doesn't even glance in Adam's direction. It's bad enough that he can hear Adam stifling a laugh.

It turns out to be another two hours, a new set of x-rays and a cast before Kris is finally free to go with a complimentary paper bag of painkillers safely tucked into his pocket and the x-rays stuffed into his bag. Adam says something about heading outside to call Lane about rebooking their flight while Irina is giving Kris last minutes instructions and her eyes turn almost comically wide.

"No planes today," she says, making a scary face at Kris. "Blood clots!!"

Kris has no idea if that is even true, but she certainly looks scary enough for him to nod quickly.

"No planes," he promises, exchanging a look with Adam. "I'll take the… train?"

She nods her approval and Kris looks at Adam again with an apologetic half-shrug. Adam doesn't say anything before disappearing out the door and Kris frowns. He's so not planning on letting Adam take the train with him.

Irina gives Kris stern instructions to check in with a doctor in three to four weeks to have the hand looked at, and forbids him to remove the cast before that. He could of course remove it at any time, since they opted to just mold a strip of plaster to his arm and then wrap it in place with an elastic bandage. The pretty nurse who did it explained that they went with that option because of the extensive swelling.

By the time Kris stumbles out through the ER doors it's dark outside and it takes him a moment to spot Adam, standing a little to the side with his phone pressed to his ear. He almost forgot about the cold while inside but now it hits him like a slap in the face, biting into his cheeks and the exposed fingers of his right hand. He needs to look into getting some mittens that are big enough to have room for the cast.

"Excellent." He hears Adam say into the phone. "That leaves us just enough time to have dinner."

"The driver'll be here in five minutes," Adam says when Kris comes up to him. "And Lane booked us on a train."

Kris opens his mouth to protest Adam's inclusion on the train, but then he clamps it shut as Adam tugs him into an embrace. He doesn't actually want Adam to get on a plane without him. They may have issues, but Kris kind of wants to have Adam around all the time.

"What are we doing?" Adam asks, with his face against Kris's hair, but the question seems to be mostly rhetorical. "I mean… if someone had told me two years ago that I'd be hugging you outside a hospital in fucking Sweden, because you broke your hand being pissed at me, I'd have told them to get a life and that not everything you read on the internet is true." He laughs, pulling Kris even closer. "It's been a wild fucking ride, alright."

Kris hums his agreement against the raspy wool of Adam's coat. He's managed to worm his cold fingers in between Adam's buttons and he has no intention of moving before he has to. He doesn't know what they're doing either, but he thinks that maybe they're finally moving in the right direction, surprise visits to the ER notwithstanding.

*


When they finally board the train, Kris is beyond exhausted, running on fumes alone, and he's happy to find that the first class cabin is deserted save for a woman with her hair pulled into a tight bun who already has her laptop open before her. He's almost asleep as soon as he sinks down into the comfortable seat, but the way Adam reaches out to take his good hand makes him force his eyes open again to look at him. Adam twines their fingers together and gives Kris a small smile.

"Do you remember playing that song for me?" Adam asks. "It feels like a lifetime ago by now."

Kris nods, because how could he ever forget that night. He ended up naming the song Hear Me Out and it'll be a bonus track on his album. He sent the album to Adam when it was finished, but he didn't add the bonus tracks. He's not sure why, maybe he didn't want to know what Adam actually thought of the song that ended up changing the course of their friendship.

Logically, he knows that he was the one who changed it, but something about that song will always seem too personal, foreboding if you may, and he struggled a lot with his decision to put it on the album.

"I think about that song a lot," Adam says, staring out the window. "Every now and then I'll find myself humming it under my breath and wishing I'd made you play it again… It's not on your album."

"It's a bonus track," Kris says and his voice comes out weirdly choked.

"What did you end up calling it?"

"Hear Me Out."

Adam squeezes his eyes shut for a moment and when he opens them again he shakes his head minutely. "I'm listening," he murmurs. "Sometimes I think I've been listening since I met you."

A brightly lit train is probably the last setting Kris would ever have imagined for this conversation, but a glance at the only other passenger tells him that she's deeply immersed in whatever's happening on her laptop screen, and he looks up at Adam again, all the things he never said backing up on his tongue.

"You don't have to say anything," Adam says, squeezing his fingers. "I know this isn't a good time or place, but I just… I'm really happy to be here, on this train, with you. I guess that's what I'm trying to say."

Kris blinks, trying to get the words to align right in his tired brain. "I'm really happy that you're here too," he finally manages, ignoring the way he sounds completely choked up.

The train jerks into motion and Kris glances out the window, trying to make sense of his jumbled thoughts. Adam said he didn't have to say anything, but he feels like there are things he has to say, even if this isn't the right time, or the right place, because there never seems to be such a time or place. There are always such good reasons to keep his mouth shut, because speaking up scares the shit out of him.

"I cheated on Katy."

He mumbles the words, keeping his eyes locked on the window because he doesn't want to see Adam's reaction, but as soon as they slide away from the train station the dark outside turns the window into a mirror. Adam stares at the back of his head, gaze heavy and unreadable, but he doesn't look surprised.

Kris tears his eyes from the window to look at him. "I never admitted that out loud before," he says, hoping that Adam understands how much it means that Kris is telling him now. He wants to be stripped bare in front of Adam. He wants Adam's to know every dirty thing he hides inside before he makes up his mind for real. Adam deserves as much, and maybe Kris does too.

"I… I went to therapy for a while, after I left LA, but I never even told the therapist." He snorts. "Maybe I just suck at self-exploration."

Adam shakes his head and smiles slightly. "I won't say I knew," he says, reaching out to touch Kris's cheek. "But I suspected it. You changed so much towards the end with Katy. You had so much self-hatred and I know that part of it was because you couldn't make things work by pure force of will, but I always thought there was more to it."

Adam's smile morphs into a full grin and he gently pulls Kris into his side, letting Kris tuck his head into Adam's shoulder.

"I'm glad you told me," he says. "And for the record I don't think you suck at self-exploration, even if you are a bit slow sometimes."

The armrest digs into Kris's hip and he pulls it up and out of the way with a frustrated sound, inching closer so that his hip ends up against Adam's. He takes a moment to find a comfortable position, fighting the smile that wants to break out all over his face. Adam just called him slow, that's no reason to be happy, but he is. His secret is out in the open and instead of a slap in the face he got Adam's open arms. Sometimes a little honesty goes a long way.

He lets his eyes slip shut, blocking out the too bright light, and just focuses on breathing. Adam taught him that, a long time ago now, and it still works - the simple task of inhale and exhale washing through his mind like soothing waves. He falls asleep between one breath and the next, his last conscious thought being that he's not allowed to fuck up this time.

*


It's late, very late, when they finally stumble into Adam's hotel room, still attached at the hip. Adam doesn't seem like he's going to let go of Kris any time soon and Kris is so not giving up the most comfortable body pillow there ever was. There was some kind of mix up with the reservation and Kris got a keycard of his own stuffed into his duffel pocket, but he doesn't even stop to ask if he should sleep there.

They shed their clothes on the way to the bed in a way that isn't even remotely sexy (at least it isn't until Kris catches a glimpse of Adam's nipple piercings and is struck dumb with want until Adam nudges him into motion again). Then Adam disappears into the bathroom to remove his makeup and Kris face plants onto the bed. It's a comfortable bed, big, and theoretically he supposes they could share it without ever coming into contact. He should, probably, curl up in one corner and just go to sleep; he's too tired anyway to master any kind of coordination.

He drifts while he listens to Adam puttering about the bathroom. It reminds him of Idol, in a way, but that seems so long ago now. The memories are tinted a nostalgic shade of sepia and he no longer cares about the struggles, the confusion, the exhaustion that ran bone deep. He only remembers the good things, staying up all night to talk music, bonding over shitty movies, the simple domesticity they shared for so many months, first in the mansion and then, later, on a tour bus.

Looking back he can no longer pinpoint the exact moment his feelings began to shift from friendship into something else, but he thinks it happened a lot earlier than he would like to admit. There never was one single eureka moment, one moment where it all became clear. It's always been a string of moments that stretches from the first time they met to this moment here and now.

Adam comes out of the bathroom and Kris blinks his eyes open to look at him.

"You should brush your teeth," Adam says.

His face is scrubbed raw, pinkish and freckled, and Kris wants to touch so badly, but he pushes himself up instead, staggering past Adam and into the bathroom. He takes his time, brushing his teeth, peeing, washing his hands, and splashing water on his too hot face. Then he finally looks up to meet his own eyes in the mirror. It always startles him how much he looks exactly the same, his eyes are still brown, his hair a nondescript shade of brown, and even with the stubble covering the lower half of his face and the weight loss that hollowed out his cheeks, he still looks like the Kris Allen that fell out of Arkansas four years and a lifetime ago.

He scrubs the back of his good hand over his mouth and looks away from the mirror. He'll be twenty-seven in a few months, Adam already passed a milestone and turned thirty in January. They're getting older. Soon enough his shoulders will start to sag and his hair will give up whatever tenuous hold it has on his head. He imagines that Adam will put on weight, his belly growing into a gut and the lines of his face becoming loose and relaxed. It's not an unpleasant image. He wouldn't mind waking up to that thirty years from now.

He thought he found forever so many years ago, in the soft lines of Katy's body, her brilliant smile, the shiny swoop of her hair and maybe it would have been forever if he'd never auditioned for Idol, never moved beyond their safe little bubble of family, friends, and the comfort of the familiar.

He looks up to meet his own gaze again and thinks that maybe it's time he stopped hating himself for everything that happened. Katy has moved on; whenever he talks to her there's an astonished kind of happiness in her voice, as if she'd forgotten it was possible to feel this good. She doesn't begrudge him his happiness, no one does but himself.

He pushes away from the counter and goes back out into the bedroom. Adam's lying under the covers with his hands knotted under his head. He smiles when he spots Kris in the doorway, and Kris crosses the last few feet to the bed, getting in under the covers without hesitation. Adam shifts to accommodate him, and Kris curls up against his side, putting his head on Adam's shoulder. Adam slides one hand into Kris's hair and puts the other over Kris's fingers on his chest, careful to not rest any weight on the cast.

"Tomorrow we'll talk," Adam says. "I think we've put off the difficult conversations for long enough."

It doesn't sound ominous and Kris hums in agreement, tucking himself in closer just because he can. He took another painkiller before they got off the train and he can feel it dulling the edges of his thoughts. He doesn't think they're particularly strong, but he's exhausted enough that they hit him hard nonetheless. If he was to smoke a joint right now he's pretty sure he'd be tripping out of his mind and for some reason the thought makes him smile. He falls asleep with the smile still on his face and Adam's fingers moving in hypnotic circles against his scalp.

*


Kris has no idea what time it is when he wakes up, but it's easily the best night's sleep he's had in over a year. He's still curled up against Adam's side with his nose pushed into Adam's neck and he can tell from the pattern of Adam's breathing that he's awake.

"I missed your breathing," Adam says, voice a low rumble against Kris's ear. "Isn't that weird? I mean… I didn't realize until just now how much I missed listening to you sleep."

Kris pushes himself up to look at Adam. "You're such a creeper," he says, but he's pretty sure his smile belies his words.

Adam smiles back, the corners of his eyes crinkling. "How's the hand?"

Kris shrugs, carefully moving his fingers against Adam's skin. "Better, I think."

The cast seems a little loose and he makes a mental note to ask one of the medics at Adam's concert tonight to rewrap the elastic bandage. The swelling must have gone down overnight. It still hurts and the edge of the cast itches where it's resting against his knuckles, but it's a lot better than the fiery inferno of yesterday.

"I used to think I couldn't be happy without you," Adam says, rolling over on his side so that he's facing Kris on the pillows. "Then I realized it made no sense for my happiness to be tangled up in you because I was happy before I met you, you know."

Kris nods, staring into Adam's eyes.

"And I can be happy without you," Adam continues. "I can laugh, and date, and fall in love, and break up. I can do all that without you."

Kris swallows. He wants Adam to be happy, but the selfish angry part of him doesn't want Adam to be happy with anyone but him.

"But then I realized," Adam murmurs softly, reaching out to run a hand through Kris's hair. "That no matter how happy I can be without you, I will always be happier with you."

Adam's smile looks almost sad, and he buries his fingers into Kris's hair, cupping his head against his palm. "And I think that means something," he finishes. "Don't you?"

Kris screws his eyes shut and sucks in a deep breath. There's so much honesty in Adam's eyes, so much doubt and pain mixed with his love. Maybe they passed the point where they could be truly happy, where this could ever be simple. Maybe they passed the point where they could be good for each other instead of tearing each other apart, but Kris knows that he owes it to himself, to them, to try. It might be scary, overwhelming, even painful, but he's not turning Adam down again. Not now, not ever.

He opens his eyes and smiles. "I think it means everything," he whispers.

When their lips meet it's nothing like he thought it would be. He thought it'd be explosions and fireworks, loud and overstated, but instead it's soft, almost painfully so, languid and gentle. Adam's lips are chapped from the cold, dry and raspy, and his mouth is sour with morning breath. Their tongues meet, almost shyly, and Kris finds himself smiling into the kiss. He smiles until his cheeks hurt, until laughter starts bubbling in his chest. He smiles until he's dizzy with it, and against his lips Adam smiles back in kind.

The moment seems fragile, unreal, and when they finally break apart Kris is breathing too loud, his broken hand pressed against Adam's back.

"This is not why I friendnapped you," Adam says, pressing his fingertips into Kris's scalp.

"Don't lie," Kris murmurs, his smile spilling over the edges until he feels as if he's smiling with his entire body. "You were hoping I'd come down with a case of Stockholm Syndrome."

Adam looks startled for a moment, then he starts laughing and Kris can't help laughing with him. They laugh until they're breathless with it, dizzy and disoriented. They laugh until Kris's stomach cramps up and he has to struggle to draw a breath between hiccups.

Then Adam pulls him in and they're kissing again, slow, and slick, and sour, but most of all real. They breathe and laugh and smile and kiss, until Kris can't feel his lips, only the wet slide of Adam's tongue against his and the occasional sharp nip of teeth. It's uncoordinated, messy and perfect, and when they pull apart again he buries his face against Adam's neck gasping for breath.

Kris thinks with his lips against Adam's sticky skin. He thinks about things that were never said but should have been, about conversations they never had, about missed opportunities and wasted time. He thinks about love and fear and forever, but most of all he thinks about Adam.

He lifts his head to look at Adam, taking in the tired lines around his eyes and the way the harsh light of morning reveals every blemish and pockmark of his skin. Adam's lips are red and puffy from kissing and they stretch into a smile when Adam meets his eyes. Kris smiles back, unable to help it.

"Do you think we're too messed up to make this work?" he asks.

Adam doesn't even take a moment to consider it. "No."

Kris worries at his lower lip, trying to imagine how it will be. "Are you sure?"

Adam chuckles, lifting a hand to cup the side of Kris's face. "Yes." He smiles wider. "More than."

The End


Random notes (that are probably only relevant to me):

In my mind Jeremy is black, Han is maori, and Bryan looks a bit (okay, a lot) like Jared Padalecki. Few of these things are supported in the text, some of them might even be contradicted.

In My Head (the title of Adam's album) and Instant Gratification Tour (the name of the tour) are both courtesy of [info]dansetheblues.

The working title of this fic was Asshole!Kris. I've been told (twice!) that he's not actually an asshole in it.

The original actual title of the fic was Happier With You. I was told it gave away the ending so I'm saving it for the sequel. ;)

Adam should have plush unicorn toys for merch. Just saying.

Captain Haddock is a Tintin reference. (The comic, not my sister.)

The whole story at the hospital actually happened to a friend of mine. Except she broke her hand hitting her boyfriend and the hospital kind of misplaced her for a few hours.

I'm way too tired to be posting fic. Sorry if none of this makes sense.

Thanks for reading! <333