To be fair, it's nearly Thursday by the time Kris finally gets The Call.
He considers letting it go to voicemail or, better yet, pitching the shiny iMonster out a window, but, "Allen."
"Oh, thank fuckin' God."
Kris signs. Calls like this are familiar, and typical, and never ever signal good news. Or tolerable news. Or—well. He eyes the window with renewed interest. "Hey, Megan. How's Asia?"
"I wish for every inch of this continent to wither and sink, and for no soul to ever speak its name again lest their heads be beaten in with lead shovels. On fire." A pause during which Kris ponders the whereabouts of his slippers. "The soup's awesome. How are you?"
"Awake," Kris admits. Under the bed? Too easy. Bathroom or hallway, maybe? "Managed to finish a book yesterday. It was a novel experience," he adds hopefully.
Her eye roll is audible and deeply, deeply satisfying. "...Cook stopped by?"
"Yeah, we shot pool." The slippers are under the bed. Fancy that. Kris swings his legs down and into the beaten cotton-elastic-whatever. "It was nice, we talked about Archie doing the release party in Chicago. You know they got Trotter's to host?"
"Super." Her cheer is manic. "You have to come back now."
"Actually," Kris says, "I don't. I really, really don't."
"You really, really, really do."
"Look, do we have to go through the long version?" Kris stands up, rubbing drowsy kinks out of his neck, and wondering how to curtail this conversation in a way that he hasn't fifty-five times before. Inspiration is lacking. "I promise whatever stunt he's pulling, whoever he's threatening to sue or murder, just get them on line with the lawyers and dump him near a shoe store until he gets bored." He sighs, and doesn't add again.
"We can't find him."
Kris sits back down. "When's my flight?"
Kris has been fired forty-nine times to date. It wouldn't be so bad (probably) if not for the fact that forty-five of those occurred in the past year. Twelve occurred in the same month. He once got fired twice in an hour, and, really, that sort of thing is crap for anybody's ego.
The past year has also taught Kris to deal very, very well with taking crap.
It still wouldn't be so—ridiculous, if not for the fact that Kris has been fired forty-nine times, twelve in the same month, twice in an hour, by the same person every single Goddamn time.
Kris has quit twice.
The math speaks eloquently of the difference between Kris Allen and Adam Lambert.
Then again, so does the therapy bill.
The first thing Kris does upon landing in Narita Airport is not a) find his luggage, or b) crack his back, or c) visit a non-airborne bathroom. Doing any of those things would be good and normal, but that is not Kris' life.
Instead, the first thing Kris does is call Simon.
The first thing Simon says is, "Kill the bloody idiot."
"Yeah, I'm thinking no." Kris rubs his eyes, trying to work out the jet lag lodged between his left pupil and frontal lobe. "Justifiable homicide is not covered by our insurance. Also I'm pretty sure his legs are still independently insured by Lloyd's—who signed off on that, by the way?—so no cracking kneecaps." He considers. "We could confiscate his flat iron."
"He'd suicide. And sue. Or start another Facebook bloodbath."
"Album sales hiked twelve percent," Kris says.
"My blood pressure doubled."
The sheer grouchiness of the comment makes Kris smile. "Understood."
"Just..." Simon sighs, tired like he's earned it. "Just find him. Talk to him. He listens to you."
"That's an ugly urban myth."
"Find him, Kristopher." And suddenly Simon sounds a lot less like the tired man who's Kris' godfather, and a lot more like the California Leviathan who's Kris' boss. "Flog him or bribe him, I don't care, but deal with it."
Kris sighs. He's earned it, too.
The thing is Kris didn't so much get hired by Adam as inherit him.
The month it happened, Adam was halfway through the Diamond Desert European tour and aiming for a Grammy. Unfortunately on the way there he'd also gone through three therapists, five stylists, two light techs, seven choreographers, an innumerable mass of interns and a Norwegian sushi chef nobody had actual record of hiring. His sixth PA of the year had quit via conference call—from Vancouver.
Simon said you need a distraction and Kris said no more hookers and Simon admitted that, yes, perhaps that was excessive and Kris said two is excessive, five is a sporting event and Simon said I have a job for you and Kris said I'm going back to bed and Simon said your mother is speed dial three and two days and one emergency luggage purchase later Kris was standing in a very la-di-da French hotel room looking down at the unconscious form of one Adam Lambert, international rock star slash glam icon slash media frenzy.
Kris looked down at the pale, slack face and wondered what part of this was supposed to plug the hemorrhage of ending a five year relationship three months before your supposed wedding. He looked at the glossy black nails and wondered why his life was so wrecked that he'd been able to settle all his affairs in two hours after Simon's offer. (Which was bloody terrorism, damn it, no matter how many nice presents the man dished out every Christmas or how awesome the guitar lessons from ZZ Top were or how he financed Daniel's cheer team after the school cut funding.) He looked at the ravaged minibar, the untouched bed, the boot in the shower, the Vodka splotched carpeting, and wondered what would Jesus do—if Jesus had aced marketing instead of wood shop.
But mostly he wondered, "Dude, where are your pants?"
Watching Adam wake for the first time was—educational.
It was, Kris thought then (and many, many mornings-cum-afternoon after) a bit like seeing a grizzly in spring, and a bit like watching a U-boat surface, and a bit like witnessing The Mummy Returns..With Glitter. There was groaning and shuffling, and the sense of a myth in the making once the whole mess actually turned vertical.
"Morning," Kris said.
"Fuck," said Adam. His eyeliner was wrecked and most of the foundation had migrated to the carpeting, but he still looked...famous. If poorly maintained.
Kris sighed, because man, his life and knelt. Adam blinked owlishly while Kris dug out a WetOne and outright gawked when Kris started wiping. It was a quick fix, at best; there was only so much restoration possible without access to a sink. And maybe a pair of hedge clippers because what the hell was happening with the hair—
Kris blinked. "What?"
"You should get double—shit, wait, did Marty pay you upfront?" One ring-decked hand scrubbed at a newly cleansed cheek. "He's supposed to take care of that crap.”
Marty, Kris remembered, quit last month. Janice quit last week which was why Kris was here supposedly, and Jesus Christ did Adam think Kris was a—but Mr. Living Legend was already scrambling for his pants pockets seeming only mildly aware that they were attached to pants that he was not, in fact, actually wearing. Instead the designer leather was folded neatly on a chair. More confused blinking met the discovery, before a slow, lawless grin melted across Adam's face.
"Triple," he said and Kris was being kissed. Really totally kissed, tongue on lips, on teeth, on tongue, sour aftertaste of a long night slipping onto his tongue. The pressure on his mouth was heavy-hot, suffocating, shoving the moment so far off-kilter it actually took him a moment to notice Adam wrapping ringed fingers around his wrist and moving Kris' hand onto something damp, hot, large, and definitely not in the contract.
"Oh, hell no." Kris pulled free, pressed the heel of his hand against Adam's forehead, and pushed. Liquor more than leverage was on his side; Adam wobbled, then went sprawling on his ass.
"What the hell?" Adam yelped. "Bitch, you are so fired."
"Shut up." Kris got up, tossing the crumpled WetOne onto Adam's chest. "Please. Just, be quiet." He paused. "And you can't fire a hooker the morning after, it's a breach of contracted payment unless there was a nonperforming party."
"There was a party?" Adam got an elbow under him, rising. "Where are your friends?"
"Mr. Lambert." Kris said. "I'm not your hooker."
Adam's brow scrunched. "...Tommy's?"
Adam was mostly sober by the time he tried firing Kris again. He was also dressed, scrubbed and combed, and glaring at a plate of brioche.
Well, that and Kris.
"Seriously," he said. "You're fired. Get the fuck out. Now."
"I heard you fine the first three times." Kris slid the buttery roll away. A cold bottle Perrier briskly took its place. "Do you know when your photo shoot is today?"
Adam paused, bottle half tilted. "There's a photo shoot?"
"Car will be here in fifteen." Kris nodded. "Finish that first."
"Who the hell hired you? Who approved it? I didn't—ow, ow, fucking-A ow."
Kris rapped his knuckles against the driver's headrest. "Peut-on s’arrêter ici?" The car slowed to a halt. Kris was out the door before Adam could finish his latest "what the fuck are you" inquiry. He popped back in a mere five minutes later.
"He wouldn't go," Adam spat, eyes cut vengefully at the driver's head. "I hate this fucking nation. Give me England."
Kris made a mental oath to always hire native transport with native speakers, and dumped the paper bag in Adam's lap. He wasn't surprised when it was volleyed back into his.
"I don't do fucking carbs, asshole!"
"No crumpet, no happy pills." Kris patted his shirt pocket, making the mini-case of ibuprofen rattle teasingly. “Eat it.”
"I'm going to kill you," Adam promised flatly. "Painfully. By Russians. Large, mean Russians. With dogs. What's your name?"
"Rumpelstiltskin," Kris said and closed his eyes, half-napping, until they reached the studio.
"The Cook nutjob?"
"No. He's with Archuleta."
"That brat looks like a Mouseketeer."
"Yet still beat you for the TV Guide Award."
"Is a woman and with Fantasia."
"Is still with Underwood."
"She hates me."
"You crashed her tour bus."
"Once! By accident! It was dark! We were in Vegas!"
"It was three in the afternoon. In Oregon. You told the police, and I quote, the stop sign was taunting you."
"Jordin. Also a woman."
"I hate you. Whoever you are."
"Understood. Photographer's here, let's go."
Kris looked up, chewing. Swallowed. "Yes?"
Palms flat on the table, Adam leaned in to glower. "Kris fucking Allen. As in Simon's kid."
"Godson." Gingerly, Kris wiped his mouth with a napkin. What the French did with boeuf bourguignon should have been taboo, it was so good. "Congratulations. Have you tried this yet? The sauce is amazing."
"No," Adam said. "I haven't tried the fucking pork stew—"
"—because I was busy trying to ID the parasite 19E is shoving up my ass. And, lo, it's Simon fucking Cowell's fucking godson."
What kind of wine did they use with the stock? It didn't taste like cooking wine, but...oh, wait, Adam was still talking.
"—motherfucking cockbiters who think I'm going to roll over ass up and just take—"
Maybe it was Bordeaux instead Burgundy; the flavor was rich enough. Though, it could have been a good Chianti instead.
"—and the leprous horse they rode in on, because nobody is going to—"
He should ask the hotel concierge if a recipe was available. Mama would love it, she was always trying new projects lately. Her and...Katy...and...
"Enough." Kris set down his glass. Carefully, no sloshing. Adam's eyes narrowed. "Right now there are four major theories about you in the business. The first is that you're insane and the second is that you'll be found dead in a preposterously comprising position by next Easter. The third is that you're too big of a drama queen to notice your own crash into the tarmac."
Adam's mouth tightened into a glossy line. The glamorous magazine clothes had been peeled off but not the makeup. His eyes were still dramatic and lurid, skin unbelievably flawless, hair a study in artificial spontaneity. His lips were the exact wet shade of coral.
"What's number four?" he asked finally.
Adam's hands turned very, very still on the table.
Kris said, "You think you're hot stuff? Okay, sure, you are. You're Adam Lambert. You've got the AMA's, People's Sexiest vote three years straight—no laughing—you've got a lipstick line but, really? You're a disaster. You've got three houses but live in hotels, which you hate and destroy, and it's a moot point anyway because you don't sleep: you pass out. You cancel shows and then whine about the press. You cancel interviews and whine about coverage. There are labor unions forging clauses against working with you. The only thing keeping you out of rehab is the inability to keep down alcohol when within twenty feet of a camera phone, which brings us to your glorious YouTube eminence. If you ever lose your cell you're doomed because you don't spend enough time with your sycophant "friends" to actually remember their numbers. Hell, I'm not even sure you can match names with faces. Your album release has been pushed back four times because you've only finished three tracks. You got arrested in Disney World. You're so out of practice socializing normally that you can't remember if you did or didn't rent a hooker to fall asleep with."
Kris sat back to spoon up the last of the stew. Cooler now, but still delicious.
"Fuck you," Adam said quietly. Resigned.
"In your present state? Not a chance." Kris folded his napkin and stood. "Come on, you've got an interview at five."
Basically, it's forensics.
Adam's hotel room is a private suite; nobody had to evict or bribe the neighbors. Adam dislikes knowing someone on the other side of the wall can hear him. Since his usual coping strategy for this is to stage an obscene clamor, Kris has long been an advocate of buy-outs.
The walk in closet is half pristine and half ravaged, meaning the luggage arrived before the rock star as Adam tends to kick out the "peons" ("Interns. Adam, they're interns.") early on but refuses to do any organizing on his own. Kris does a flash inventory, carding through the designer grub: Milan knits sandwiched between Berlin weaves and Polish leather, a caravan of boots. A week's absence is enough to fall out of sync with Adam's wardrobe; Kris recognizes some clothing, but not the majority, not enough to judge the owner's plans. The Oprah shawl is there, though, so Adam is likely still in the country as he refuses to fly without the damn curtain—as many delayed flights will testify. Loudly and expensively.
There's a swarm of pens, colorful and absurd and cute, hiding in the bathroom, because Adam can't write at a table, in a chair, or in bed. The bedspread is wrinkled but intact; Adam hasn't slept. There's a crumpled pack of—menus? That tells him...well, no, actually that eccentricity is new. Adam's recreational paperwork usually entails warrants, bills, or rounds of creepily amusing fan poetry. So, all right, the menus are weird; Kris ignores them. He doesn't—can't—ignore the creased Fodor's guides or Tokyo rail schedule in the laptop's browsing history. Or the half-empty bags of cashews (“No the nuts on the bottom do not taste different. No, they are not 'loser' flavored. No, I don't care if you like the top. No, I will not bring you another bag. Because it's three AM and we're in Berlin, so eat your damn loser nuts, Adam.”) or the fact that Adam's wallet isn't in any of his wardrobe's ridiculous pockets. Overall, the room is a hotbox of clue and signs, and they are the telling kind.
What the room tells him is—disturbing.
Adam is, or was, thinking. Planning.
It tells Kris that things are worse than he thought. He sits down on the insufficiently rumpled bed and thinks some more. After a moment, he lets himself fall back onto the sheets.
For a moment—one blissful, tempting, deboned moment—Kris allows himself to feel tired. He's got a handful of hours before jet lag barges in and he'd probably only need a third of that to charter his return flight. An excellent sign of him coming back too soon is how easy it was. Security let him in immediately, the hotel didn't balk, a stray lighting tech offered him gum in the elevator and asked if he'd decided “the magenta issue”. (Magenta, what? When Kris had left—had quit, damn it—Adam was campaigning for blue fog and Purple Rain.) The Tokyo office publicist recognized him on sight and offered an interview schedule before saying hello.
He fucking quit, for real, and nobody seemed to notice. Or, worse, nobody believed it.
Lolling in—on—Adam Lambert's bed probably isn't helping, though.
Kris looks up at the ceiling and admits, “This is a problem.”
Adam spent the first month of their acquaintance doing two things. Number one was trying everything in his power, and scope of imagination, to get rid of Kris.
Number two was trying to get Kris.
For his own part, Kris had a hard time deciding which was the more annoying endeavor. On the one hand, Adam's incessant "amnesiac blackouts" regarding call-in's, fittings, studio checks and, hell, breakfast were—well, annoying. The same went for his newborn inability to wake up anywhere within a three hour range of the prescribed time or his quest to hijack Kris' iPod. He also bribed (blackmailed) the airline crew to unload Kris' luggage in the wrong state, glued his shoelaces, and somehow sabotaged the hot water plumbing the one (heinous) time they had to share a room. Dumping Pop Rocks in Kris' Pepsi was more nostalgic than murderous in comparison, though by that time the message was obvious.
Or it would have been, if not for goal number two.
Kris figured things couldn't turn more awkward after the "not-your-hooker" incident. Kris was wrong. Awkward—awkward was good, awkward was ice cream and puppies compared to what Adam proceeded to put him through. He touched. He teased. He tugged and petted, and winked. He lost his shirt so frequently, Kris considered buying a heater (or setting Adam on fire but that merely a brief, mad, beautiful fantasy.) He openly offered in terms that should have cost $4.99 a minute.
It was preposterous.
"He's either setting me up or schizophrenic," he told Cook. "Possibly both and how are we going to spin that in Vanity Fair?"
"Or he likes you."
Kris sighed. "Cook, he reprogrammed the numbers in my phone. I tried calling my mother yesterday. Do you know what I got?"
"Two orders of mu shoo and the General Khan special." It was fortunate that take out dives were the only numbers Adam could remember without his phone. Though, really, how much take out was he eating...Kris made a mental note to pencil in some vegetarian hotspots into Adam's schedule.
"Okay, so he pulls your pigtails a little too hard," Cook laughed, because Cook was a lucky dick whose job was handling the sweetest talent in the western hemisphere even if, darn it, the kid did look like a Mouseketeer. "Screw him, give him one less thing to bug you with."
"How is sleeping with him supposed to help me?" Kris said and it was rhetorical, rhetorical, except Cook suddenly turned suspiciously quiet. And, oh, how well Kris knew this particular shade of quiet. He gritted his teeth and said, "I am not using Adam Lambert for rebound sex."
"Could be passable."
"So is rabies," Kris said.
The problem was Adam didn't understand why Kris wouldn't sleep with him.
"I don't understand why you won't sleep with me," Adam said.
"Seriously?" Kris looked up, slotted spoon dripping. "You don't—seriously? I can't believe we actually have to discuss this. Do people honestly never say no to you?"
"Yes." Adam shrugged. "Except for work crap and that's mostly just you."
Which was, Kris admitted, true. So very, very inexhaustibly true. Kris' entire job seemed to revolve around telling Adam no (or at least confirming the no's of other people.) No, Adam, you can't have a flaming headdress. No, Adam, they don't have inflatable beds. No, Adam, Versace won't custom design your toothbrush. No, Adam, Nickelback was not sent back in time from a pseudo-grunge tuneless future to destroy you. No, Adam, the gum isn't diet. No, Adam.
Kris switched tactics. "Do you have any reasons why I should sleep with you aside from the fact that you want to?"
"How is that a minor factor?" And, Heaven help them, Adam sounded sincere. "But, fine. I'll humor thee, Pocket Planner so—"
"Stop calling me that."
"—first, you've micromanaged my schedule to the point that there's no time to find anyone else. You've practically hobbled me. Which, okay, kinky but not as a solo act. Second, the reason for the first, according to you and the other hyenas, is that nobody trusts me to find someone who won't sell out to the paps. Well, unless you're planning to back stab your goddaddy—a course of action I heartily endorse, by the way—that makes you the safest bet. Third, I'm good and you're tense: do the math. Four—hello, are you actually listening?"
"No," Kris said. The potatoes had finished draining. He turned to rinsing the cooked greens. Adam loomed over his shoulder.
"What is that?"
"You're cooking weed. I get a twenty minute sermon on toking up slightly while recording and you're cooking weed in a hotel kitchen."
"Hotboxing a studio room is nothing slight," Kris said. "And technically it's weeds. My 's' makes it legal."
"By all means, Kristopher, enlighten me about the legalizing powers of your ass."
"Hush up and pass me the knife."
He got half of what he asked for. "We have room service, you know."
"I know." Kris started chopping, then mashing. "Coincidentally, there's a cap with room service on ordering anything liquid and alcoholic after nine and before two, and the front desk won't issue you a replacement room key if, for some magical reason, you vanish from your room in the middle of the night regardless of the fact that you have a seven AM interview. Do not threaten them with dogs. Also, I have your room key."
"Did I mention the displaced possession issues?" Adam's mouth was rigid, edging on surly. "Because that is so on the list. Next to the lack of heart."
"I'm a Business major," Kris said peaceably. "Your argument is invalid. We need oil for this."
"I don't think I like you that much anymore," but the bottle found Kris' hand regardless. He worked it into the mash, moistening the potatoes before adding the blanched greens. Adam watched him with lordly disdain.
"I can't believe I'm losing my Saturday night to a man who makes his own bread crumbs."
"Right." Kris glanced up. "You could find something else to do. This needs at least twenty minutes to bake."
"Coincidentally," Adam smiled. Uh-oh. "I can think of a way to shorten the wait."
"Me too," Kris said. He picked up the dishtowel. "Do you want to wash or dry?"
Kris can order coffee in nine languages, decaf in two. Sometimes that worries him. Times like now, however, it's a certifiable survival skill, because some conversations are not to be entered jet-lagged and uncaffeinated. The coffee he gets is American (Ah-meh-rih-kahn), diluted but still resolutely inky. Kris downs the brew and dials.
"I don't have him."
Kris sighs. "I figured, thanks. But do you have any idea who would?"
"Your luckless replacements already asked and I told them: no."
"Yeah, you did," Kris says very, very carefully. "But now I'm asking."
"Mister Allen," Brad says in the scalding tone of an outraged Southern dame. "Are you accusing me of lying to the help?"
"You lied to me all the time! Hell, you smuggled him to out to Australia!"
"Once. Learn to let things go, sweetness." Brad sounds indulgent rather than incensed, though Kris isn't sure it's an improvement. "That was a whole other era. I didn't like you then."
The thing is Kris likes Brad, too. It's surprising, confusing, and truly unexpected but—well. He's not the softest piece of Adam's past or the calmest or, God help them, the quietest. Brad is flashy, brassy, and self-professedly pathologically incapable of leaving any situation like he found it. On the other hand, he's also one of the few bold souls comfortable with cutting Adam down to size (even if he does make morally eroding comments regarding Adam and size in the process) and the only ex in stock able to compete with Adam's daring. Brad's also sparkly enough in his own right to be a convenient emergency red carpet partner and secure enough not to backstab his way to the spotlight.
(Kris is less clear as to why Brad likes him exactly. Though he's fairly certain it's related to Brad's cameo as The Rebound and Kris' significant contribution to axing a drunken wedding attempt in the Netherlands.)
"Brad, I'm desperate." Or, at least, quickly getting there. "Is there somebody he'd be with? Someone new?"
"Actually, he's horribly solitary lately. Not exactly by choice, I think. Oh, while I have you on the line, help me out: what's the word for when the plane's loaded but the pilot parachutes out before it leaves the ground?"
"Foresight," Kris snaps.
"Hmm, no, starts with a K. Let's try C-O-W-A-R-D."
"That's a C."
"Yet it fits so well."
Kris doesn't want to go into this. Not with Brad, not with Cook, not with anybody. He quit, fine, but he didn't...didn't...
Kris really, really doesn't want to go into this.
"Just...just tell me if you've heard from him. Please."
Maybe it's the please or maybe it's because Brad knows the deal better than most or maybe it's because Kris is already in this too deep to fend off. "Last I heard from him was Fashion Week. He called to congratulate about the New York show. Which was fabulous, by the way, where was your RSVP?"
"I sent flowers."
"Adam sent wine." Brad laughs, sounding surprised against his will. "A crate of—hold on a second, Cass put it somewhere here, ah—Paitin Barbera d’Alba, 2006. Two years ago it'd be handcuffs and inflatable sheep. Now I get Amontillado or Bourgogne rouge with Hallmark cards, footnotes included. I do not need to know how to pronounce Funtanaliras, Kris, let alone how to spell it."
"That's not my fault," Kris says. "I didn't steal his interest." Damn it. "Interests."
"No," Brad agrees. "But you changed the standard."
It's not that Kris didn't think Adam was capable of ruining his (rare, painfully and woefully rare) days off. He just honestly believed Adam would be too busy capitalizing on Kris' temporary absence to bother. After two months touring and two weeks caged in a studio, he figured Adam would be rushing out for cocktails and ill-advised escapades before Kris finished tying his sneakers.
Kris was wrong.
"Come in, come in!" The hostess, Madeline, was fluttering. "Your friend's already waiting inside."
"My friend?" Because, dear sweet Lord in Heaven, no. No.
"Yes," she beamed. "He popped up about half an hour ago. Poor boy, he forgot the house number. You're lucky we found him wandering past."
"Oh. Right." Kris set his jaw. "Lucky."
Inside, Adam was waiting, the damn brat. Kris barely had time to absorb the toned down display—low-rez boots, jeans snug as purple on a grape, a vintage tee—and to heartily curse the smug face—gloss and black lashes, no eye shadow—before Adam was up and at him.
"Kristopher! You are late, late for a very important date." He slung one arm around Kris' shoulders, the other busy chaperoning the wine glass in his hand. "You missed the truffle honey cups." He leaned in. "Have you ever had honey cups, Kris? They are awesome. Kick awesome."
Kris was going to kill him.
"You don't even like wine," Kris tried. "You like martinis."
"Half of that accusation is wholly irrefutable," Adam agreed. "Yet here I am. In your winery. Sipping your vino."
He raised his glass pointedly; Kris fought the urge to find a barrel to drown in.
"Is this about Vegas?" he asked instead. "Because I can't explain any better than before. We can't book the venue this month; it skewers your recording time."
"It's not about Vegas," Adam snapped. "I'm over Vegas. Vegas is done. While on the subject, threatening to call my mother was stabbing below the belt even for you."
"You locked yourself in the bathroom."
"That's no excuse."
"Maybe not when it's your bathroom," Kris said. "But the Olive Garden people were getting hysterical. We do not want another Denny's episode."
"Also, entirely not my fault."
"The district court of Omaha, Nebraska strongly disagrees," Kris reminded. He sighed. "Look, you win. Alright? You found me, your judo beats my judo, hail to the king, whatever. So, please, call a cab or whatever sap you conned into driving you out here and go—I don't know. Go buy some more insanely complicated shoes, visit the baby pandas at the zoo, whatever. It's my day off, Adam: go abuse the opportunity."
"I don't want to."
"For God's sake, why not?" Kris would not tear at his hair, he would not. For one thing, his barber needed the business; he had kids in med school. "You've whined about it constantly. Every day for the past two months I've put up with you moaning about missing your, and I quote, 'fun'."
"And if I go and actually have it, you'll spend the next two months lecturing. Or sighing. Or doing that thing, with your mouth." Kris blinked; Adam threw up his hands, unfinished wine sloshing alarmingly. "The thing! Where you're all disappointed by my shoddy existence yet stalwartly resigned to its presence in your life. Your lip pushes out and then you bite it a bit and—hell no. I'm not putting up with it for another two months."
Kris' had the ugly suspicion he'd met this particular cut of reasoning before. "Is this about the sleeping together that we are definitely not doing? Are we honestly back to that again?"
"What? No. No." The glass paused its shaky aeronautics. "Wait, would it help?"
"Well, then," Adam said. "Let's taste some wine."
Kris spent the rest of the afternoon waiting for the situation to detonate into a blazing percussion of horror, chaos, and shrill drama...only to be justifiably frazzled when it didn't.
He expected Adam to mock; he didn't. He expected Adam to taunt the rules; he asked for pointers. Aside from a wobbly moment when one well-meaning woman asked Adam if he preferred to spit or swallow, Adam was...charming. He sipped cabernet sauvignon and nibbled home-dried bresaola and sniffed corks like an eager puppy flush out of the pen—and people loved him.
The tasting's theme was cold reds. Red wine, Kris explained to an eerily attentive Adam, was traditionally thought best served at room temperature. Which was a bit of a fool's game because what the heck did "room temperature" really mean, anyway? Heavy wines like Bordeaux didn't suffer the cold happily but even some of the greatest vintages needed a lick of cool to prosper. Something near sixty-five degrees max, Kris explained and Christ on a cracker was Adam taking notes? Typing them into his iPhone, sure, but still...
It was surreal.
And wasn't that a universal joke, because otherwise the tasting was pretty much perfect. They'd set up a private, cozy terrace with curly-backed chairs straight out of a Jane Austen's garden party and big, leafy beech trees filtering through just enough sun to warmly paint the back of Kris' neck. The crowd was a good mix, too, no status-seekers and score-chasers, just people who knew what they liked and wanted to enjoy it. Madeline and her husband arranged an entertaining selection, fun stuff (Brouilly, Chiroubles, a juicy zweigelt from Austria) but didn't ignore the classics, like a fresh, straightforward barbera. They even found a zinfandel that worked cold, a lighter treat from Nalle.
Throughout it all, Adam hung on the sidelines being, not quiet exactly, but uncharacteristically close to the mild side of the spectrum. He wasn't bouncing quite as energetically when they reached the second course, but he still carried a charge. It was hard to ignore him, harder to resist seeking his attention, impossible to look away.
Kris tried to anyway.
Kris didn't get drunk.
He had smart rules about that sort of thing: never more than two beers (if any) with dinner, never more than three shots a night, never more than two of anything at a party (if it was work). Kris simply wasn't the type, personally or professionally. He'd waded through too many messes on the job to court disaster off the clock.
Plus he sure as hell wasn't going to waste a 2006 Chinon Les Granges by guzzling it.
Which unfortunately left him completely without excuse for making out with Adam Lambert in the wine cellar.
It was good.
That was the mad, electric thought whisking Kris' brain while he did it. Kissing Adam was good. Shivery and nice, sweet as summer light, and the way he pulled at Kris' lower lip was amazing. Adam's mouth tasted like wine, Adam's hair was thickly soft between his fingers, Adam's hand on his back was—was moving disconcertingly south, actually.
Kris pulled back, laughing. "Hey, now."
"Oh, don't even," Adam said. There was a blush rising underneath the thin make up and his eyes were bright. It was—distracting. Kris' hand clenched in the thick hair automatically, tugging harder than he planned to. Adam made highly encouraging sounds, still so weirdly good, but Kris couldn't help hesitating a little, mouth slow on Adam's neck. Ok, weird was weird, but maybe if he just—
"Pretend I'm blond," Adam laughed in his ear and Kris froze.
It was like being shot—or spat on.
His blood rushed painfully upward; face burning, Kris shoved a hand at Adam's chest with enough force to send them both stumbling. Sanity jumped back behind the wheel and punched the horn: what the hell was he doing?
"What? What, Kris, come on. It was joke." Because it was, it was a joke to Adam. Kris could see it in his face. The "good behavior" before meant nothing; Adam was out to have fun.
With whatever was available.
Kris' jacket was draped over one of the fancy chairs upstairs somewhere, but it didn't matter, the car keys were in his jeans' pocket. He tossed them at Adam blindly. What the hell, it was only a rental. “GPS is in the glove compartment, the hotel's programmed in. Try to be back before eleven tomorrow.”
“What?” Adam didn't look amused anymore. He looked stubborn, or at least working his way into the mood. “Wait a minute, Kris, what are—I'm not leaving. I blew off my whole schedule for this, what am I supposed to do?"
"Whatever you want," Kris said. His face felt cold, the dizzying surge of heat receding into placid, flat anger. "You can do whatever you want, Adam. Just keep the burnin' hell away from me until you're done."
“It was just a fucking joke!” Adam shouted but Kris was already up the cellar stairs and out, away. Gone.
"I trust you," Leila says.
Somewhere near the fifth month, Adam decided to start having breakfast.
He wasn't very good at it.
Speaking in the man's defense (as was Kris' sad lot in life) Kris admitted that it wasn't so much a matter of Adam not being a morning person as it was him being a shamelessly enthusiastic night person. He'd gotten used to Adam's blitzkriegs through dance floors and kamikaze bar crawls, and the custom-designed consequences that inevitably followed. A sudden predilection for celebrating food before noon was—atypical.
The roulette of chef employments-cum-elimination was decidedly less so. Kris volunteered to take charge of the insanity for two reasons. The first was that leaving Adam alone in the kitchen was on par with arming blind monkeys. Second, years of autographs had instilled in Adam the ability to sign his name without any conscious awareness of doing it. It wasn't the most morally healthy way of dealing with contractual updates but then Kris wasn't in a very morally healthy career field.
It did, however, keep Kris' mornings busy.
"I broke up with Sean."
Kris paused his cutting, then resumed. "Ah."
"A crumb of surprise would be appreciated," Adam frowned. "Can you pretend not to be omniscient about my life, just for today? It's creepy and unholy as all fu—hey, are you making monkey bread?" He leaned forward to poke the dough, deftly avoiding a swat from the oven mitt. "Are you mad at me? You only bake when you're mad at me."
"No, I only bake with chocolate when I'm mad at you."
"You tiny evil bitch," Adam nodded peaceably.
In response Kris set aside the bowl and picked up the remote. Adam's kitchen was a marvel of modern engineering and consumer overkill, which meant he had a plasma screen installed and the dishwater could probably do calculus. Since so far the only thing Kris knew Adam to actually do in the room was forage like a sad squirrel in winter and assemble truly mediocre cups of tea, the glorious architecture was excruciating.
He punched mute simultaneously with the power button, and went back to the batter.
After a long, silent moment, Adam slumped a few inches further down on the counter. "Perez is a living case against the Geneva Convention."
Personally, Kris agreed but hating Hilton was like denouncing Ebola; it didn't need saying. Instead, he focused on layering the dough pieces, building neat, curved rows atop the bottom layer of roasted pecans. On the other side of the counter, Adam commandeered the leftover nuts.
"Simon's pissed?" he crunched.
"He made sounds I've never heard an Englishman make before. And I've met Sting." Kris wiped his hands. "Quit smirking. He's threatening to rent you to Dancing With The Stars again."
"American or Australian?"
"Crikey." Adam's cheek sank onto the marble counter. He radiated all the awareness of a melting panda. "What'd you do?"
"What I always do when you do what you do," Kris said, setting the pastry dish into the oven and bumping it closed with his hip. "Saved your ungrateful, unfortunate butt. Which is why tonight you're going to crawl into a pair of designer jeans, put on your rings, and hit the club opening like an avalanche."
"What's the club?" Adam asked.
"What's the difference?" He dug out his phone and slid it forward. "Pick one. Hell, pick three. We need a lot of E! time to beat this down to size."
Adam pushed the phone with one glossy fingertip, spinning it idly on the counter top. Kris watched him for a moment, then turned back to the cutting board.
Kris was midway down an orange when Adam said, "Did you like him?"
The knife paused. "What?"
"Sean," Adam said. "Did you like him?"
That was...unexpected. Kris looked back over his shoulder, hand still closed on the knife handle; Adam had pushed himself up, arms fully extended against the counter edge and eyes fully open, awake. Serious.
"No," Kris said finally. "I didn't."
Adam nodded, unsurprised. "But you let it happen."
"Let it—Adam, I'm not your Dad or your rabbi. Since when do I have a say in who you take to the prom?"
"Why not? You've annexed everything else. Where I sing, when I sleep, what I drive, what I eat..." Unexpectedly, Adam grinned. "You're like a teensy well-meaning barnacle. Or like a plaid Jiminy Cricket."
"In the book the cricket gets killed with a hammer by a narcissistic blockhead," Kris said. "I am not your conscience, Adam; I am your manager. I manage your professional life in the small, pathetic hope that it'll survive your personality long enough to blossom into an HBO special. I do not supervise your personal choices; I babysit their consequences."
"Oh, Sean wasn't a choice," Adam said, head tilting back. "Sean was an inspiration. Sean was an impulse buy. Sean was—toffee."
"Toffee. Sean was toffee." Kris took half of the newly split orange and pressed it down on the juicer –hard. "Sean was—okay, I'm regretting this already but..."
"Nowhere near as good as chocolate, but pleasantly sticky."
"I lied," Adam said.
Kris raised his brows. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. About Sean." Adam's head slowly thunked back against the wall. "He wasn't an impulse, he was a type. A type of problem. My type. Kris, I think I need a new type. I think this type isn't working out.”
Kris considered. He was, despite a very good childhood, upstanding upbringing, healthy GPA and morally sound intentions, crouching on the floor of a West Hollywood bathroom at the heel of a come-hither club plagued with a raging case of hip. Simply getting to the stalls had been part arctic expedition, part trapeze act; Kris had to navigate a sea of designer skin (seriously, when had backs on dresses become illegal?) and custom-built orthodontistry. He was pretty sure the squiggle crinkling down his neck was someone's phone number and absolutely certain this wasn't his idea of a Good Time. Yet here he was.
With Adam Lambert.
"Stop that," Adam snapped. "We're undergoing a profound revelation here, no disappointed exhalations allowed. I'm heartbroken and need emotional guidance which you're contractually obligated to provide or—or I swear to God, I will go mack on an Olsen twin until NBC makes a music video about it. This is a serious, changing moment. I don't plan to have many."
"Then why do you insist on having them in bathrooms?" Kris exhaled. On cue, the door behind him rattled and failed to move the faux-rococo sofa blocking its way. "Or at least why not the men's room?"
"The lighting's better here." Because, well, Adam.
Kris punched him.
Not hard, not painfully, but hit him well and sure right in the shoulder. Adam's head popped up, mouth twisting into indignation on reflex.
"Okay, you know what? No. Actually: hell, no." Kris didn't glare but acknowledged the temptation. "You want to host a pity party with you and a hundred local sycophants that's your call, man. But do not expect me to play wingman. Sean did not break your heart; he sold you out and you kicked him out of a limo. That is not a love story, it's barely a PR anecdote. Your manicurist was higher on speed dial."
And Kris was ready to go on a winning stretch of more of the same, examples and details included, all until Adam's elbows dropped between his knees and he said, "I liked him."
The anger drained out like someone broke a glass.
"I'll make you a promise, superstar." Kris sat back on his haunches, tugging at Adam's collar till he could see blue eyes. "Next time you fall in love—for real, note the distinction, Lambert—I'll be your date for the aftermath. Drunk or sober, scout's honor, next time I'll sit with you through every ounce of drama. We'll drink, bitch, drunk-dial the object of your destruction—whatever. No matter the time or place, let me know and I'll cross oceans to get there.
"But. Not. This. Time." Kris rapped his knuckles against Adam's forehead, accentuating each word. "We clear, VIP?"
"Dick," Adam said.
"Up?" Adam held out one arm, the second pushing him up clumsily. Kris snorted—what, seriously?—but grabbed the arm and pulled, the leather of Adam's jacket surprisingly soft in his grip. A hundred and sixty pounds of rock star settled heavily against his shoulder.
"Seriously, though," Kris said. "Bathrooms."
It was like trying to handcuff an octopus.
That was drunk off its ass.
“Shhh,” Adam hissed in his ear. “Be vewy, vewy shhhh. Or Krisfa-Krisdo-Krislo-the guy, my guy, will hear us. And he'll huff and he'll puff but he never blows you.”
“For the record,” Kris said, trying to juggle Adam's weight upright, “I'm really enjoying our time together. Thank you for doing that to my car. I'll bill you for the exorcism."
Adam giggled into Kris' neck.
One hour. He'd left him alone for one single bloody hour and, bam wham bingo, there was Mr. Freakin' Lambert bobbing for lime wedges between some model-cum-actor's hotpants'ed thighs. Kris had to all but lasso Adam to get him safely out and into the car.
Changing moment, my aunt's fanny.
On the other hand, it was just as well Adam was too blitzed to find the floor; the level of manhandling Kris did to get him up the stairs and into bed was—troubling. At one point Kris resorted to simply grabbing the man around the waist and dragging backwards until they both hit the bed. Which was brilliantly effective save for the part where Adam landed on top of him in a boneless, warm heap of leather and silver-plated baubles.
"Wheee," Adam offered weakly. The sound had a very familiar flavor.
"Do not," Kris growled, struggling to spit Adam's stupid shirt out of his mouth, "fall asleep on me. Adam. Adam. I will kill—Adam!"
"Wha?" The smothering weight shifted. "Kris? Kris, why are—am I in your bed?"
"No." Kris shoved at one thick shoulder; it was like prodding brick. "Move. Now."
Adam seemed to consider this. "Are you in my bed?"
"Not by choice, so don't think—now, what?" Fingers prodded his face, tapped his nose, pushed into his hair then fell out to tap Kris' mouth. "Stop it."
"Your face." Adam's thumbs skimmed his jaw. Clumsy, like a child petting. "Who did your face?"
"Mattel." Kris caught Adam's wrist, moving the examining hand away, and Adam let him. Clearly he was entering that brief, rare phase of inebriation where obedience reigned. Another couple of minutes, Kris knew, and he'd be pure cast-iron jell-o.
"I like your face," Adam said in the earnest tone of the devoutly wasted. "It has nose like a koala. A monkey-ish koala. 'Cause you feed me, but won't fuck me."
O...kay. Kris didn't know how to touch that one. Instead, he shoved harder until Adam (finally!) rolled gracelessly onto his back. The exercise left Kris more tired than it should have. He sat up, trying to rub the night out of his neck.
A heavy palm flopped against his back, scratching weakly at Kris' shirt. It took Kris a long moment to realize Adam was murmuring there, there.
"S'ok, baby, I've got you," Adam slurred kindly and Kris couldn't help it, he really couldn't.
He laughed and laughed, and maybe he was a little less than sober himself because it was suddenly so plainly hilarious. His life and Adam, and parties and how many calls he'd have to field tomorrow while making sour cream waffles and basil omelets (with a side order of bacon, because Adam's hangovers were unforgivably kosher and Kris wasn't a saint.)
"Yeah," Kris said. "You got me."
Kris sighs. He likes Tommy, honestly, because Tommy is incredibly easy to like. He's low maintenance and clubby, and has genius fingers on the strings. But he's also loyal to a fault and that's not playing in Kris' favor at the moment.
"Listen, man, if you know anything about where he skipped off to you've got to tell me." Kris tries to sound serious because this is. "He could be in trouble."
There's something like a scoff from the other end of the line. It's about as intimidating as a kitten roaring, but. "You know, he's not always the fucking disaster you act like he is. Adam can take care of himself."
"Yes," Kris says. "Except he doesn't. Where is he, Tommy?"
"I don't know." It sounds mulish enough to be sincere. "We landed and he just—just vanished. Houdini to the damn max. I don't have a clue where."
"Would you tell me if you did?"
"Why, what would you do?" The edge is back in his voice. "You quit, man."
"He fired me," Kris says.
The scoff is more python than kitten the second time around. "Fuck that noise. Adam never meant it seriously, ever, and you fucking know it. Don't pull that shit on me, Kris; you walked out on him."
"And now I'm back," Kris says. "I'm back, I'm here, I'm a couple thousand miles away from my own, sane bed chocking down a ten bloody hour flight jet lag hangover for the sake of freaking out a gaggle of schoolgirls in a—a," he looks around, "a swamp of big-eyed green pandas. I've been unsafely overcaffeinated since yesterday morning, which counts as two mornings thanks to the time zone crossing, not that it's worth a damn because I'm still so tired I can taste my own spleen. All because our hellbent virtuoso decided to go MIA in a country where he doesn't know enough of the language to buy gum!"
"Whatever, man," Tommy grumbles. However, it's a gone from a boil to a simmer, the acid missing. "You totally left us to the dogs. This last drone monkey, he keeps bringing pizza and Sprite. Dumbass can't grill cheese. Things are getting desperate, dude; last week we tried to bake tomatoes, right? We figured it'd be okay since we got, like, three bags from the market to practice on."
"You sent someone to a farmer's market? For tomatoes?"
"What? No, dude, we went on our own. It was awesome, they had this mountain of Brandywines and yellow Striped Germans and, you know, those clunky purplish ones? You know which ones I mean?"
"Krims," Kris says automatically.
"Yeah! So we bought a truckload of them and everything, and at first it was fine. We did that thing you used to do, where you squeeze the guts onto the bread. But then we tried to roast the fat, red fuckers to make the garlicky soup in your diary and it—"
"Wait, my recipe journal? You have my recipe journal?"
"—was utter shit. Adam messed up with the onions or whatever, because it was jacked. Piss awful, no joke."
"How did you get my—oh, I don't believe this. Did you steal it?"
"...no?" Tommy tries. "No, dude. Adam found it. In, like, mixed with his luggage or something."
Because, of course, Kris keeps his notes on frisée aux lardons and soda bread next to Adam Lambert's moisturizer. That pushy, sticky-fingered, glitter soaked bandit.
"You were gone," Tommy plows on bravely. "We—he—I mean, fuck it. Kris, you suddenly weren't there. What was he supposed to do with that?"
"Not this," Kris sighs.
They never should have let him have lasers.
In Kris' opinion lasers weren't the cause of it, per se, but they were the apocalyptic starting point. Lasers created atmosphere, mood—and few things were more dangerous than Adam in a “mood”. It was even worse when “mood” happened in Vegas. Kris had spent a healthy week courting insomnia preparing for Vegas. What started as an increase in lighting spun into an expansion of lights and props and that, somehow, evolved into a plague of artistic pyrotechnics and flammable machinations. The single was firmly lodged in the top ten and Adam was dead set on riding the high.
Which, Kris thought sourly, explained the rockets.
The final dress rehearsal had been fine and all the more torturous because of it; Kris kept expecting the trapeze webs to rip, or the firework geyser to detonate, or the damn wings—wings!—to catch on fire. Instead, the whole ludicrous carnival performed successfully and Kris resigned himself to a week long stretch of paranoia and nervous show people. 19E had outsourced to a local wizard cult for the set up, which meant Kris wasn't responsible for double checking every cog and sequin, and could relax, or at least freak out, at a sedate pace. For once, Adam was someone else's problem.
Which was just as well, really, because two days and one night before the plane found McCarran Airport Adam fired him again. It had been a predictable, unremarkable sort of skirmish: Adam wanted something, Kris said no, audio pyrotechnics erupted. The only difference was that by that point Kris was too stale and sleepless to humor the game; when Adam said “fired” Kris said “fine” and went back to crash near Tommy's guitars.
He took a separate cab to the hotel.
Of course, it was still the same hotel as Adam's because Kris didn't have time to garnish his grand gesture with new reservations. He had a shower, unpacked his bag, ordered pancakes and juice, and spent a thrilling forty minutes reassuring Simon that no, he hadn't actually quit and yes, he'd go back to work after Vegas, and, okay, no, he didn't know how Adam had gotten Simon's house number but he'd try to confiscate it.
As it was, either Simon finally answered Adam's calls or someone mailed a memo, because nobody peeped a vowel of protest when Kris showed up to eyeball the set up or spy on rehearsal. Backstage Monte shoved over automatically to make room, LP stole his coffee, Tommy napped with his head in Kris' lap and Cam tweeted it. Adam ignored Kris pointedly and completely which pretty much brought the whole thing up to par.
Kris made a note to watch the show from somewhere close, comfortable, and annoyingly prominent.
The worst thing about Adam was that he...wasn't that bad. Good, even. Possibly great. Potentially awesome.
.........okay, fine, Kris told his whining conscience as he claimed his seat. Adam Lambert was a gilded, rarefied, bona fide one hundred and ten sweet percent muthatruckin' rock star.
It was a weird thing to consciously remember: Kris spent his days (and nights, oh so many nights) tending to the minutia and technical details of Adam's celebrity godhood. He knew the ins and outs of the bolts and gears, the work that went into making Adam be, well, Adam. The Adam Kris knew was a wild grab bag of willful impulses, mid-grade mania, unrepentant mood swings, and midnight calls for designer smoothies. He was reckless, mercurial, and demanding. He was childish and melodramatic. He was exhausting. But mostly the Adam Kris knew was a person. Admittedly sometimes—okay, always—he was a challenge, too, but still something within human parameters.
The Adam on stage was anything but.
He didn't glow, he didn't sparkle, he didn't fit any luminescent clichés; Adam burned—and took the world with him. He caught the crowd's thirst like a lightning rod and threw it back in waves, in storms. People reached for him like they were begging, yelling and laughing until it was a boiling roar of affection. They wanted him.
It wasn't even about sex (okay, fine, it was more than a tiny bit about sex) because Kris was a veteran; he knew sex sold, it didn't keep. Adam's career would never have survived his habits if he'd been fodder only. But when he sang...
When Adam sang, you could forgive him anything. Promise him everything.
Maybe the lasers were a good idea, Kris thought right before the stage collapsed.
In Kris' experience disasters weren't measured by the size of the accident; they were measured by the volume of the crowd's response. Which was why he didn't need to finish watching the stage collapse to know that this—this was going to be a bad one.
For one thing, the auditorium was stuffed like a truffled turkey; it was a sold-out show with scarce elbowroom, let alone much breathing space for butts, backs, and raw enthusiasm. With the show's exuberance at a high, happy decibel, the closeness was intimate and thrilling. Now, it was smothering. A couple of the front rows got whipped by the collapse; Kris climbed up from his own impromptu flop into the mercilessly sturdy elbow rest, feeling a budding ache at the back of his head and the steady, rising march of nerves in his stomach. There were just so, so many ways this could go so, so very badly.
Could be worse, professional optimism offered.
Then Adam laughed.
There we go, said veteran reality.
The laughter kept rolling sudden and startling, and perfectly, wondrously clear. Whatever the stage crew had botched, they'd spared the acoustics. (Which in no way deterred Kris' plan to find the careless dicks for a weenie roast.)
“Now that,” Adam grinned, “was an introduction.”
It was insane. Adam was standing in the middle of the wreck; he'd been sidelined by a falling prop—Kris had watched him stagger upright, momentarily nauseous at the sight—but by some (ungodly, precious) miracle was spared any significant damage. (Kris had a veteran eye regarding Adam and damage.) Some segment of the architecture of his jacket, his ridiculous jacket, had been crunched flat, there was dust in his hair, but he was beaming at the crowd like a prophet. He looked tall. He looked vicious. He looked brilliant.
He had them pinned.
Gripped by the moment, it seemed anything could happen if only Adam started it: a rant, a riot, a religion. Kris felt the room's pulse teeter on the fault line, waiting. He looked at Adam and, for a moment, that one diamond moment, wasn't sure of what he was seeing.
Adam launched into song without warning or courtesy, the band diving hard to catch up. It was nothing off the album, new or old. Instead he shot out Bowie, a gush of old school adrenaline scalding the crowd. It was the wrong song to douse the tension, like biting a live wire to quell it. It should have been the wrong song. It should have made things too hot, too hard to control. It should have made the whole mess too big for even Adam to handle.
And it was out of control. The whole thing was wild and sizzling and lawless—and Adam owned every inch of it. Kris suddenly knew exactly what he was looking at.
A muthatruckin' rock star.
Closing out disasters, Kris thought, was like...like making pancakes. You had to be sure to keep things even, to avoid letting any cluster of trouble, or batter, bunch in one place to spoil. You had to keep in mind the hot spots. You had to avoid panicking over some lumps in the batter and instead focus on the overall process.
...okay, fine, so managing disaster wasn't damn squat like making pancakes but there were at least four news crews salivating in the parking lot, Simon was howling on hold, fans were lingering and trying to immortalize the sea of cracked neon masonry, and Kris' head hurt. If he wanted to think about pancakes rather than potential apocalypse struggling to erupt like an evil zit on his boy's reputation, he bloody well could.
Also, he just thought of Adam Lambert as “his boy”, so clearly his mental faculties were permissibly suspect.
Still, Kris managed to scrape enough gray matter together to start quenching the small fires; he set Sarver on clearing out the auditorium, calmed down Simon to the point where the man was using consonants again, and rang Anoop's office to fortify for any legal fallout. The whole lot didn't take long, because Kris was very good at his job even while supposedly unemployed, but it was long enough to feel a little guilty and exhausted by the time Mike confirmed the evacuation and lack of injuries.
Then he asked “How'd it go with Adam?” and Kris just blinked at him.
“Why, what's wrong with him?” Adam couldn't be—he wasn't hurt. Kris had seen Adam leave the stage unaided and proud, ushered out by a devout tsunami of shrieking. Adam was fine. He had to be.
He just had to.
“I just thought,” Mike said and made dim, troubling motions in the air unreadable to Kris' spidey sense.
“Double check that everyone's out,” Kris said. He was halfway to the door before Mike finished nodding agreement.
Backstage was backstage no matter what the stage in question, meaning there was always a maze of too-little light and overhangs. The on-going gumbo of frazzled staff—their own and local—didn't add any zen to the mix. Luckily, Adam's dressing room was surprisingly low on harried personnel.
Probably because of the yelling.
“Then go out and check the fuck again! Interview the whole fucking damn crowd if you have to.” Adam's voice could do really amazing things sometimes. Like grow fangs. “Flash a picture, call the cops, I don't care—”
“You usually don't,” Kris admitted stepping inside. “But let's not discuss the flashing issues again.”
Having waded through a bog of chaos and confusion, it was equal parts gratifying and unsettling to suddenly have everyone's attention targeting him exclusively. Cam dragged a hand down her face in something like a full body sigh. LP exhaled, hard. Tommy butted his head against Monte's shoulder in relief, and Monte stepped back from his grip on Adam's shoulder. The on-site handler, a lanky blond in a macramé mini and bangles, immediately squeaked out from beneath Adam's looming temper.
“Mr. Allen! You're—here,” she trilled in gross relief. Kris didn't blame her; Adam could loom like an avalanche.
“Yeah,” Kris said. “Listen, I've got our head of security checking on the crowd but he seriously needs backup. If you could start herding the press, we'd really appreciate it.”
“Of course, yes. Right. I'll just...” She glanced at Adam.
Adam frowned, and it didn't look pretty. “Go.”
“Right,” Kris said as the poor woman scuttled out. “Ok, grab whatever junk you want to keep and hustle to the back; I want everyone in the van five minutes ago. Don't talk, just walk.”
The band marched; Adam didn't.
“What?” Kris sighed.
“You weren't answering your cell,” Adam said accusingly. Which was really not a tone he had much right to, especially not with Kris' headache gaining stature.
“I was soothing Simon. And calling Anoop,” Kris added dryly. “Someone's going to pay in kidneys for this fiasco and it's not going to be you. We're going to sue Vegas, it'll be fun. Come on, let's go.”
“You weren't answering your cell,” Adam repeated and Kris had to pause and look at him this time, because the tone wouldn't allow otherwise. Adam hadn't yet peeled off the remnants of his costume; his face was damp but colorful, the leather detailing on his vest intimidating as biker tattoos. He looked like something distracting and flashy, and too complicated.
“What's with your hair?” Adam hissed, reaching out to paw him without so much as a by-your-leave as usual. And, as usual, Kris reared back automatically and halfheartedly...only to wobble precariously as something sparked up painfully. It was kind of weird, all the more because Adam suddenly didn't look pissed or teasing, but wide-eyed and white, staring at his palm like the Devil spat in it.
“My hair is fine.” Kris said, lowering his hand from tentatively exploring the stubborn ache. Though, huh, was he sweating that much? His palm felt damp.
Puzzled, he looked down.
And saw red.
“O...kay. That's, um. Interesting? I think I probably got clipped by an elbow or a flying piece of masonry. All right, I'll take care of it once every thing's loaded and we—Lambert, put me down!”
The concussion was minor; the consequences were...claustrophobic.
Kris endured a round of British worry which was only marginally less scouring than Southern worry, which he also got a dose of thanks to Simon's surrendering and calling his mother. A brief, merciless teleconference ended in the general consensus that Kris was A) reckless about his health and B) ten years old. Kris didn't protest the mothering or the Simon'ing. He didn't protest the painkillers. He didn't protest the room change.
In hindsight, that wasn't even his first mistake.
“Can someone explain how this happened?” Kris wondered. "Use diagrams and small words."
Adam crossed his arms and tried to look stern. “You're supposed to be resting, doctor's orders.”
“In your bed?” Kris clarified because clarity was sorely lacking. “I'm in your bed.”
“It's a nice bed.”
It was. “And you're here because...see, that part got lost in translation.”
“It's a big bed,” Adam said. “And I'm lying on the covers, that totally doesn't count as—as anything.”
“It doesn't answer my question either,” Kris said.
“Someone is supposed to stay with you. To make sure you don't throw up the pain pills or fall asleep and, I don't know, throw up and choke and have your funeral be a paparazzi hot flash.” Adam sounded very, very serious.
“I hope you're appreciating the irony of that statement.”
Adam shrugged, but didn't move off the bed.
Kris sighed. "Pass the drugs."
The first time, Kris woke up queasy and disoriented, and missing his pants. The last part was something his brain had to dig through four layers of mental cotton candy to catch.
The room was dim, curtains tugged shut with every lamp off; the main source of light came from the muted television. Kris woozily blinked at the silent Dreamgirls before trying to focus on the more pressing matter of A) missing leg wear and B) his stomach trying to crawl out his throat. He pawed free of the tight blankets—he was tucked in, what the heck?—and pushed out of bed.
Don't throw up, he warned himself. Minor nausea was tolerable as long he did not actually upchuck. I forbid it. It is forbidden. Do not throw up.
And, um, don't fall down either.
He'd gotten two steps to the door before his knees melted. Sorry, Kris' brain provided as everything below started a slow motion collapse. The bruise from this one, he decided, was going to be downright artistic. With a little luck he'd dent something, or bust open his nose, or—
—or land face first into Adam Lambert's bare chest. Yeah, sure, that'd be awesome.
"Whoa," Adam repeated, softer, as he carefully eased Kris upright. "Hang in there, pussycat."
"Whoa, whoa-oh-oh," Kris half-hummed. The skin under his cheek was damp and warm, smelling cleanly of soap. Kris was always the kind of guy who preferred that over perfume. Though he didn't mind Adam's cologne anymore, not really.
"What?" Adam's frown was loud. "Okay, actually, I so don't care; we're going back to bed now. Come on, left foot, right foot..."
The verbal instructions didn't help much; Adam practically carried Kris back to bed. Lying down again felt infinitely better. Kris savored the moment before carefully rolling onto his side to peer at Adam. In the shallow light of the room the famous face was bare and simple.
"You lost your makeup," Kris said.
"Skin care is eighty percent discipline and thirty percent sanitation," Adam said. He frowned. "Figures you'd wake up in the five minutes—just five minutes—I'm in the bathroom. Jerk."
Kris' mouth quirked. "You're never just five minutes anything."
"Shut it, Gumby," Adam said. "How's the head?"
"Probably structurally sound, even if it doesn't feel like it," Kris said. Talking was easier with his eyes closed. "Sorry you had to lug me."
"Oh, please; you're dandelion fluff," Adam said. "I used to lug our drummer up four flights in three inch platforms."
"LP?" Kris asked.
"What—oh, not him. The drummer from my first band. I mean, the band before...you know."
Before Adam Lambert was Adam Lambert. It was an odd notion, the thought that once upon a time Adam was a face in the crowd instead of the spotlight looking down on it. He might've had a life once, a sober existence that didn't involve mismatched time zones or sharing your day with a megacorp of entertainment cyborgs. Once upon a time, neither did Kris'.
Then again, nobody Tweeted about which Texaco stall Kris peed at.
"I don't want to be famous," Kris heard someone say. It took too of a long moment to realize it was him.
"O...kay," Adam said. His fingers tickled through Kris' bangs. "Did something shake loose in there? Should I be fetching the doctor? Because Monte totally volunteered for kidnapping duty if we need him back."
That, Kris thought, was probably less of a joke that it should've been. "Shut up. You're not allowed to get arrested while I'm injured. Simon would send you to Sing Sing."
"Still better than my mother putting me on JDate." The fingers kept combing his hair. It felt—nice. "How does that work, anyway?"
"How does what?"
"You and Simon. For a guy who doesn't like fame you sure as hell picked the wrong godparent."
"I don't dislike fame," Kris said. "I just think some people are better at it than others."
"Let me guess; I suck at it." Adam's tone was wry.
"Only when you're angry at being unhappy." And Kris honestly didn't know where the hell that came from. From the stunned hush perched at his right, neither did Adam.
The doctor had cautioned about "difficult" foods which Kris read as "avoid steak" and Adam as "flog room service until someone weeps or flees."
"I asked for soup," he growled.
Kris sighed. "Do they have soup?"
"They should," Adam snapped like a bear trap. "What kind of five-star hotel doesn't have soup? The last place had soup. There's always soup!"
"Adam, there's always soup because I make it," Kris said. "Which is a moot point, anyway, because you hate soup."
"Wait, you do?" Adam settled back down. "Oh. Right. I guess you do. The fuck is up with that, by the way, you and the Julia Child act? Kris, are you secretly French?"
"She was American. And I like cooking, that's all."
"So go rule the food business. The stuff you make is better than whatever we're stuck with at hot spots. Holy fuck, remember that place in Denver? They served foam. With, like, dabs of yogurt paste and carbonated plums. And then the pepper butter chapstick? Tommy's still traumatized." Adam leaned in on his elbows, eyes warming up to the subject. "Yeah, seriously, let's do that. Open up a restaurant or something."
"I don't like cooking for strangers," Kris said. "I like home cooking."
Adam black brows jumped. "Stewing tomatoes on a tour bus is home cooking? Kris, we had to use CD cases for plates."
"It's not about where you are, it's about who you're feeding," Kris said. It came out sounding thick; the painkillers were finally seeping in. Blurry, he let himself sink into the feeling.
The fog covered Adam's soft, "I like your soup."
They ended up watching Dreamgirls after all because they couldn't agree on anything else. Poker was out; it was too much like being on a bus. Plus, Adam was a filthy, shameless cheater and Kris refused to gamble with permission slips regarding his phone, his time, or anything involving Adam's dysfunctional vendetta against plaid.
They were picking through the hotel's sacrificial offering of hot-house berries, smoked Gouda, applesauce and toast, watching Hudson deliver her showpiece, when Adam asked, "Do you believe in love at first sight?"
"That depends," Kris frowned. "Is he legal, were you sober, and how much are the photos going to cost us?"
"No, that's not—shut up. I'm serious." Adam propped himself on both elbows, brows pulled together. "This is serious. I think. Maybe."
O...kay. Serious or not, it was certainly new. Kris tried to think past the painkillers. "I think it's complicated." He paused, careful. "Is there a reason you're asking?"
"Just—this song." Adam shrugged. "It's a love song."
"Honestly?" Kris frowned at the screen. "It's not exactly optimistic. I mean, you only get one night even if it's with someone you want that badly? That's cold."
"But that's my point, in a way. I think...I think the 'at first sight' thing is about timing." Adam rolled his lip, a rare habit usually barred for fear of smudged gloss. He poked at a cheese cube until Kris reached out to claim it. "Maybe you meet someone, someone who could be so good, but it's the wrong moment. You're too busy or too drunk, or too unhappy, and you don't recognize what's happening. Or you mistake it for something ordinary and annoying."
"Maybe first sight doesn't actually mean the first time you ever see someone, but the time you really see them," Adam continued. "Like inspiration, the right moment happens and causes a breakthrough; the whole idea hasn't been mapped out yet, but you can still see it'd be amazing. Once you, you know, figure out what you're looking at."
Kris looked at Adam. "Did you steal one of my painkillers?"
“I don't hate it,” Kris protested. "I mean, it's hardly a prison sentence."
“Wow, that's inspiring.” Adam rolled his eyes, following the turn to collapse backwards on the covers. “You should do speeches. Hey, kids, need to find a life path? Shut your eyes, click your heels, and pick whatever isn't on par with doing twenty to life. Sesame Street could do a special.”
“This isn't a life path,” Kris frowned. “It's a job.”
“Which, let's be honest, leaves you no time to have a life.” Adam snorted, like a disgruntled rabbit.
"The thing is..."
"What?" Adam thumbed his ear; Kris batted at him, idly.
"I'm good with disasters," he said. "When something is definitely wrong or definitely going to go wrong, that's when the situation makes good sense to me. I can see my place in that, I can see the point of being there."
"That's a little twisted," Adam said.
Kris nodded. "I know. It's being at your best when others are at their worst. But it makes me really, really good at this."
"This?" Dull, smooth nail tips flicked his ear. "This, like me?"
"Like anyone struggling to get things right." Kris turned his head, cheek dragging along the pillow's weave to find Adam's face. "You are an extreme case."
"Your masterpiece, your instant classic. The pièce de résistance." Adam grinned. "Face it, Allen, I'm your damn Sistine Chapel."
"Or my headstone," Kris sighed.
The next, final, time he woke up, Kris didn't open his eyes. He was wrapped in the gooey space between awareness and high-end painkillers. It was terribly distracting.
Somewhere behind him, Adam was talking on the phone.
"No, nobody seems to know for sure. Everyone's mooing and trying to cover their own ass. Reigning opinion is that someone screwed up when they were replacing the stage support last month. Didn't chew the gum thoroughly before using it to glue the gears, or something."
Heh. That was funny, kind of. It was something to remember, that Adam was sometimes funny; Kris liked it, sometimes.
"We're suing Vegas."
When he wasn't ridiculous.
"Anoop already has the—this not overreacting!" Kris didn't twitch, still tucked comfortably on his shoulder, but Adam's voiced lowered into a quieter, angry hiss. "I am acting on fully legitimate reasoning. Full of excellent reasons. Which are vastly reasonable. Mom, for fuck's sake, he was bleeding."
"Yeah, he'll be fine. It was mostly just a wide scratch and a smack to the skull. Of course, he had to practically be towed to the doctor. Fucking little hypocrite would rather bleed out than change his schedule."
That was unfair: Kris wasn't a hypocrite and it wasn't his schedule, it was Adam's. Everything Kris did was for Adam's benefit. Why couldn't the damn brat see that?
"Honestly? Mostly freaking out."
Kris did not. That was—
"We went to the casino medic, not an emergency room, and I seriously don't remember getting there. It was crazy, Mom. I was crazy. The only thing that Barbie handler was doing was smacking her collagen clogged lips."
...oh. Right. Adam freaked out. Because of him. That was—new. Kind of. It was hard knowing exactly what to do, when Adam was being the guy with the worry. Kris had trouble recognizing him, then.
"Fed him, doped him, packed him into bed, what else? It's our best date yet. If I'm really lucky he'll wake up and actually remember what we were fighting about on the plane. God knows I don't." There was a pause, a huff of unfunny laughter. "It's usually my fault, but—oh, hell, I don't know. It's weird lately, like the fighting doesn't have a point. I don't know why. Because he's perfect? And it's annoying? I mean, ninety percent of the time I know he's right and he knows that I know he's right, so I bribe the stewardess to salt his apple juice—and then I make him spill it before he drinks any."
Damn it. Kris liked those jeans.
"Okay, fine, I know why I do it—"
"—but what am I supposed to do about it? It's not like I can simply go and, well, anything. Mom, come on, it's Kris. I thought he was a hoo—pool boy when we first met. You think he trusts me to take the lead on anything outside the studio?"
That was harsh. Completely and justifiably true, but harsh. Kris made a blurry mental note to grant Adam more license in scheduling. Though, really, how was he to predict sudden thirsts for responsibility?
"Listen, sorry, but I've got to go. I need to see if they've divined what happened with the stage yet. Because my trusty Pocket Planner will want to know when he wakes up and I want to know before he wakes up so I can get a head start on burying the body. Bodies. I have a list and a desert."
Pause, then: "Is collagen biodegradable?"
That's my boy, Kris thought, drifting off again.
Cale calls while Kris is hiking through Shibuya. The area is a playground, crowding businessmen with high-schoolers, leaving Kris to try and catch his breath somewhere in the middle. Kris is still recovering from Harajuku; he'd hoped for clues of Adam sighting, but caught nothing.
"Your fish are lonely," Cale tells him.
Kris dodges some aqua pigtails. "They're fish, they can't be. Did you feed them?"
"If by feed you mean checked if the ridiculously expensive frou-frou dispenser did it, that'd be a yeah." Cale sounds annoyed. Kris tries to tally what time it is back in the States. It feels like he's been running around for weeks. "Why am I babysitting your guppies, anyway? Find your boy, come back, and baby 'em yourself."
"I'm trying," Kris says. There's coffee somewhere near, he can feel it.
"Uh-huh. No luck tracking him down, then."
"Not an inch." There! Starbucks, veer right! "Check the water temperature before you leave, 'kay? I don't want them freezing to death."
"In California. You think your tiny inbred goldfish will freeze in the mean, frigid nights of LA."
Kris sighs. "Shut up. They're delicate, they need looking after."
"Fragile fish and infatuated rock stars," Cale laughs as if there's something funny in the mess. "Your larger-than-life life is the stuff of sitcoms. I mean, in case you missed that."
Above the Starbucks, a giant screen rises into the blue like a signal. In the glass, Adam throws back his head, white throat long and bare, and tempts.
Larger than life couldn't begin to cover it.
In truth, Kris kind of hated his apartment.
It was, he knew, not a real estate issue because it was a nice apartment. Very nice, even: hardwood floors that gleamed like cold honey, six-foot tall windows, a select herd of suspiciously photogenic furniture, marble counter tops. But when people asked about his home, the best Kris managed was "the kitchen needs work", leaving the conversation to flounder helplessly.
He couldn't help it; the apartment had been his first major act after Things Were Over, a purchase orchestrated mostly by the label's resources rather than Kris' preference. He'd signed the lease mindlessly, and allowed a decorator out of sheer spite. Afterward, it seemed lame to pretend buying some posters and parking a guitar in the corner would grant relief.
But it was still his apartment, his and his alone, and Kris felt a dogged sense of duty to making the place habitable. Or at least palatable. If only he didn't feel so tired every time he walked in...
That, too, couldn't be blamed on floor plans or rental agreements. In fact, tonight it couldn't even be blamed on work. With the tour finally over, the entire Lambert agenda was back to roost in sunny Cali, exhausted but accomplished. Kris had personally grounded the contract guaranteeing the band two weeks of absolute freedom. Monte had hugged him.
Sometimes Kris' job wasn't entirely soulless.
He tossed his keys onto the counter, shucked off the too-nice jacket into a significantly less impressive bundle on the eco-friendly sofa. The sofa matched the drapes, and the jacket matched the Burberry shirt, the shoes that weren't sneakers, the cologne. He'd felt a little, well, silly about the cologne but he wanted, really wanted, to make the effort.
Even if he had yet to figure out why.
Shower, suggested Kris' priorities. Rinse your head, get some sleep, solve the ways of the world in the morning. Preferably while in the company of bagels.
It was fine advice. Kris headed for the bathroom, unbuttoning his shirt with one hand and reaching for the doorknob with the other. Feeling the buttons give, he entered the bathroom with a sigh.
And froze stupid at the sight of the contents of his tub.
"So," Adam said, "how was your date?"
Kris wasn't sure which was more disturbing, that Adam had broken into his bathroom or that he'd brought his own bubble bath. Though it was possible that he was fixating on either topic to avoid confronting the larger issue beneath. As in beneath the bubbles. As in Adam in his tub at night wearing eyeliner and a pint of berry scented froth.
Sometimes, Kris admitted it: his life was ridiculous.
"I brought fish," Adam said.
Kris blinked back into focus. "What?"
"Fish," Adam repeated. "I brought you some."
"Like...salmon?" Kris had an excellent chili glaze for salmon. Not that it'd help much with decoding the moment, but at least it solved the problem of lunch tomorrow.
"Like goldfish, I think," Adam said, detouring lunch. He nodded at the sink. "It was going to be angelfish but apparently they eat each other, and I didn't know your stance on housing cannibals."
"I missed that lesson in Sunday school," Kris frowned, getting up. Indeed, there was a fat, water-filled bag of fish in his sink. Bulbous dumb eyes stared at him through the plastic; Kris stared helplessly back.
"Adam," he said, "why did you bring me fish?"
"Because I figured a gift would buy me time to apologize," Adam shrugged. "And if the gift was alive you wouldn't throw it in my face."
That was strategic thinking, for Adam. The only problem was: “Adam, I spent three hours hunched over a dictionary trying to apologize to the Norwegian consulate for that stunt in April. The ABC receptionist recognizes my voice. And last month, after the charity auction? Perez sent me a fruit basket. My point is, breaking and entering into my apartment is not a breaking point." Kris paused. "And it's costing another piece of my sanity to have to realize that."
“So you're saying you wouldn't hit me in the face?” Adam tried.
“No,” Kris said. “I'm saying if this relationship ever reaches the point of violence, we'll skip straight to burying your remains in Spielberg's sand garden. Are we clear?"
"Great," Kris said. "Are you insane? Because you're acting insane. This is, what's happening here with you being here, is insane.”
Adam inched a little deeper into the water. “What happened to this not being an issue?”
“That's about breaking into my apartment. It doesn't cover commandeering my tub,” Kris said. Unfortunately, the snap came out more weary than fuming. “Make with the explaining.”
"Yeah, okay, but I really don't want to make this any weirder." Adam fidgeted. It made the bubbles—shimmy.
"Adam, you are naked and soaped up in my bathroom. How exactly could this get weirder?" Kris rubbed the back of his neck, feeling the tension begin its upward march. He could practically taste the headache. "Because, again, my bathroom. Naked. Why?"
"Well, okay, that's the thing." Arms braced on the tub, Adam stood up in one hard, fast lunge. Water and foam sluiced down his shoulders, his arms, his chest, his sodden jeans. "I'm kind of not."
Kris blinked. And sighed. Because, well, obviously. Obviously even ludicrous acts of random nudity couldn't be a straightforward matter in his life.
“This is not my fault,” Adam started.
Kris rubbed his face with his hand. “Get out and find whatever you can in the closet. I'll be in the kitchen.” After a moment he added, “Bring the fish.”
The fish ended up in a pot on the counter because Kris was the kind who went through life prepared, but he wasn't the sort who kept empty aquarium tanks in the closet. LA had yet to warp him that far.
"I don't have a problem with you dating," Adam said.
"That's good," Kris said, "Seeing as it's none of your business."
Adam waved him off, impatient. He'd excavated a pair of designer sweats that sat only a little bit insultingly high at the ankle. Kris was more hurt by the realization that he owned designer sweat pants. "I just think it's a seriously bad idea for you go after LA guys. Or girls. Avoid the LA brand in general. You're not LA."
"How am I not LA?" Kris frowned. "I live here, I work here, I root for the Lakers."
"You carry a candy thermometer in your backup shaving kit," Adam said. "Don't deny it, you made lollipops for the roadies."
"And we haven't lost a mic stand since," Kris pointed out, righteous instead of defensive, which he was absolutely and purely not. (Because candy was awesome and Adam was ridiculous, amen.)
"Doesn't change my point."
"Doesn't prove it, either, since no point exists." Frustrated, Kris turned to the sanity of his cupboard. "I'm making cocoa. You want?"
Adam's face struggled through an inner quandary. "Is it boring cocoa or...?"
"Yeah, I made a batch just yesterday." Kris smiled the smile of the righteously industrious. Also, because one chemically black eyebrow was twitching gently and that was more satisfying than pie. "Cinnamon spiced."
Adam wiggled a fingertip in the fish-pot. "Your Papa is a mean, mean man, Nemo."
"Okay, fine." Kris finished pouring the thick, peerless chocolate into his mug. (It said World's Best Coach. In Russian. Tommy was weird like that.) "Tell me you weren't waiting to grill my date."
"I don't give a rat's tit about your date," Adam said. He cradled his own cup protectively. "I was waiting for you and I got bored."
"Tub, Adam. You were in my tub."
"I wasn't planning to be in the tub when you came back!" Adam burst. "I was going to have a soak and bum on the couch with TiVo."
Kris snorted. "Yeah, because that's something we do. We're berry-scented TiVo buddies. Nothing about coming home to that would freak anyone out." The worm of suspicion morphed into a snake, jaws open. "Jesus. That, that's what you were planning, isn't it? You were hoping to freak Lee out. You were probably—seriously, were you planning to lounge in a towel for this stunt?"
Adam's face pinked. You had to know what to look for to spot it but, yes: blush in progress. "Relax, Pocket Planner; I wasn't going to moon your sweetheart."
"Why not, last April you did it to half of Sydney."
“A man cannot be held accountable for the whims of his wardrobe.” Adam plugged another marshmallow into his cup. “It was a malfunction.”
“It was a Twitter tag,” said Kris. “For a month.”
“Don't sleep with him.”
“...” said Kris.
“I'm serious.” Adam set down the cup. (It said My Honor Student Shot Your Werewolf. Monte, because Tommy was contagious.) “I was—look, yes, I confess; I was going to spook him a little. Just, you know, tease a bit to see if he had a spine, or the ability to show feeling above the neck. Don't look at me like that, I know what I'm worrying about; he played back up for me for a week and it was chilling. His face, Kris, it's like there's nothing there. Surprise after dinner would be healthy, like an emotional mint. It wasn't going to be anything more drastic than the towel. Fuck it, the towel factor wasn't even a sure thing, I was going to think it over in the bath. So I started filling the tub and...well."
"I panicked!" He threw his hands up in the air. Until he met Adam Kris didn't think people actually did that. "Okay? I freaked out. Is that what you want to hear? I heard the door open and it was barely past fucking nine and, and I thought you were back and I panicked." He leaned forward, palms rubbing his face. "I wouldn't have done it if I knew you came back alone."
“Or we could have been coming up for a cup of coffee,” Kris said wearily. He felt a familiar tension rubbing the back of his skull. “What's wrong with having coffee?
“This is LA.” Adam's fine eyes narrowed, wine turning into vinegar. “Nobody has coffee. We have sex. Coffee is sex, Kris.”
Kris' mouth twitched helplessly, momentarily defying orders and the utter theater of the situation. “See, this is why you're not allowed unchaperoned in Starbucks.”
“Whatever,” Adam muttered. “Don't have fucking coffee with him, either.”
The hell with cocoa; Kris really needed to bake something.
Kris rarely settled for taking the easy way.
His Dad taught him that any work worth doing is its own reward, and Kris believed it to the last grain of salt in his keeping. It set the standard for how he did things. It also went far in explaining that never mind how many busy hands preferred silicon molds for canelés, Kris was staying loyal to his copper molds. Kris loved his copper molds. Sure, you had to butter them like prepping for the second coming but it was the hands-on effort that added pride to the mix.
Of course, the fact that his Mama's motto is what reaches from hand to heart, goes through the mouth would better explain why Kris was baking tiny adorable French desserts in the middle of the night.
“It's, like, barely eleven,” Adam pointed out.
Kris ignored him in favor of whisking chilled batter into cohesion. He'd mixed the batch the day before, planning (optimistically) to make the custard-souled cakes as a treat when back at work. Of course, that was before work showed up and stuck its nosy—“Adam, get your paw out of the bowl.”
He popped the guilty digit into his mouth. “Sowwy, 'shmells nice.”
“You are five.”
“What-eva.” Adam had a cat's tongue, quick and pink, a darting swipe at the remaining sweetness on his fingers. “Anyway, where was I?”
"You're a stubborn prick, why doesn't anybody warn about that? But, fine." Adam laced his long fingers on the counter. "Let's backtrack. Tell me why you picked Lynn instead of Carol."
Carol was a studio receptionist; Lynn was a visiting set designer. Kris had dinner with Lynn the week before; it'd been a nice episode of good wine and grilled polenta cakes, so where the hell was Adam steering this? "I liked Lynn."
"You didn't like Carol?"
"What? No, I mean, she's great, what—"
"Yet you picked Lynn." Nothing sugary or kitten-cute now; the blue gaze was steely. Kris looked away, ducking to check the timer. "Lynn who was in town for a month, who you'd met barely a week before. As opposed to great little Carol who's been crushing on you for two months."
The oven door banged shut. "Maybe I don't want a crush."
"Maybe you don't want anybody who knows shit about you."
"Oh, for Christ's sake," Kris sighed. "Don't start, all right? Don't. Not everyone's life is a CW rerun, Adam. I went out with Lynn because she asked and I wanted to. I went out with Lee for the same reason. There's no drama here."
"And the fact that neither got a second date, just a friendly fuck-off call good bye?"
Kris hesitated. He didn't mean to, but, "I haven't called Lee about anything yet."
"Bullshit, baby." Adam's gorgeous voice turned the sarcasm into hard candy. "You had reservations at six and came home before ten. No way is Lee-boy getting a sophomore effort."
Kris left the kitchen; Adam followed. Spite, and sheer frustration, led Kris to the living room couch. Adam sat down on the opposite end, unflinching when Kris dumped the TiVo remote into his lap. "Here, catch up on Gossip Girl. You're suffering withdrawal."
Kris didn't move. Not even when Adam set the remote aside and scooted near, knee braced with one foot on the floor. It would've been awkward on anybody mortal. Adam probably just looked like a damp magazine glossy. Probably, because Kris wasn't turning to see. Not even when one warm, ring-less hand touched his knee. "Kris, listen for a moment. Please?"
Damn. He turned. "What?"
Adam's face was—open. "Come on, baby, who are you trying to fool here? You're psychic on sizing up people in the first go and, what, suddenly you're blind to picking dinner company that can last till dessert? That's ridiculous."
"It's dating." Kris slumped down against the overpriced weave of his overpriced furniture. "You go, you dine, you exchange vapid anecdotes about high school errors, you split the bill. It's normal."
"Then fuck normal." Adam's palm curved over his knee. "You deserve better."
Kris swallowed hard past the ache in his throat. Okay, whatever: this wasn't—unusual. It was just Adam being Adam with a characteristically inappropriate seizure of opportunity. Nothing new, really, save that Kris had fallen out of the habit of dodging the overtures. Adam hadn't aimed a real move on him in...in a while. Plus he really should have insisted on Adam borrowing a shirt to match the pants. Or simply borrowing a shirt, period. But in a minute, the old instincts would kick in and he'd—he'd move. Away. From Adam.
...okay, maybe two minutes.
“I have to check the oven,” Kris said. “It—it beeps when it reaches the set temperature but sometimes it's colder than it says it is. So I have to. I need to check.”
“Okay,” said Adam, removing his hand.
“Okay,” said Kris, not moving.
“Okay,” said Adam, and kissed him.
It used to be easy, so easy. Exhausting and stressful but—easy. Adam's temper and fevers, his demands and addictions, his pride: Kris used to know every fault and never feel strain, because he knew exactly what to do with each.
Because that was what his job boiled down to: knowing Adam. He knew which appointments brought profit and which fueled TMZ. He knew when Adam was tired, or drunk, or ready for take four. He knew what tired Adam. He knew his songs, and his hotel bookings, and his bassist's allergies. He knew his temper and his range and his coffee prejudices.
But what was he supposed to do with the rest of it? How was Kris supposed to handle a three AM Boy Meets World marathon on a bus somewhere between Rhode Island and Michigan? How could he compartmentalize buying sunflowers for the catering crew? How did anyone write off an afternoon of kettle shopping? Or the morning of twenty raincoats after he lost his in Boston? Where could he file cell photos of loquats asking r they gd wt tea? or a playlist of Sherlock crimes? What could he do with first class naps topped with sneak job manicures?
Kris arrived ready for Adam's agonies and disasters, even his successes. Everyone knew about the difficulty and the rewards; nobody thought to warn him about the sweetness.
But, oh, Adam could be sweet.
Adam's mouth was tropical: warm and rum-sweet, pliant. The taste tugged Kris back to the first time (stale, sudden, wrong) then the second (lush, reckless, stinging), before leaving him stranded in a closed, alcoholic moment of clarity; this is good. Fingers in his hair, on his jaw, the long line of arm pressed at his side, barring him from rolling off the couch.
He'd said yes to Lee, to Lynn, for the sake of feeling capable of saying yes to somebody, to anybody—so why not Adam and his body? Because maybe, God forbid, Adam was right; he didn't need to stick to strangers to avoid guilt, he just needed someone...wholly accessible. Someone fun.
Kris knew how Adam loved his fun.
He hadn't known this, though, not specifically: Adam was quiet. Kris could list on one hand the number of things Adam did quietly (and still have enough fingers free to “salute” Perez.) This was not one he would have bet on. Adam kissed Kris like he was breathing through him, pulling with unhurried, natural ease. A hand slipped low to palm Kris' hip. Something in his belly shivered awake, confused as to whether there was a hug in progress or a strip tease. The thought made him smile and Adam kissed the curve of it. Kris rolled his neck, eyes closing at the first, wet touch of tongue. Funny, how you weren't seriously aware of your pulse until someone else tried to swallow it—
Fuck, the oven. Groaning, Kris opened his eyes and put his hand on Adam's cheek to steer him off. “Hold on, I have to—”
Adam turned sharply, lips pressing against Kris' palm. His eyes were resolutely open. They probably had been all the while.
The look on his face wasn't about fun.
“Kris,” he started and Kris touched his mouth, asked for silence. He sat up. The something in his stomach wasn't indecipherable now; it was guilty. He should've known better, he did know better, he hadn't meant to...to....
“The canelés will be done in twenty, maybe less. They're great with coffee. Just coffee.” Kris swung his feet down onto the floor. Adam stayed sitting, watching him. Waiting. “If you're looking for anything stronger, though, then—then you should go. It'd really be better in the long run if you did. That is if you don't want, um, coffee.”
Please, begged Kris' conscience, and his courage, and his control.
“Okay,” said Adam. “It's...okay, Kris.”
Kris knew it wasn't.
Ultimately what Kris hated most about his apartment wasn't the zombie furniture or the stale walls or the ridiculous price—it was the quiet. The unspoilt, empty, Goddamn quiet.
He dumped the batter in the trash. Maybe he'd regret the waste later. At the moment he couldn't find the strength to worry about caramelization.
On the counter the goldfish navigated the pot, circling its small world without any sign it knew where it was going.
He'd Google for a pet shop later tomo—today. There had to be one nearby; this was LA. Purses doubled as petting zoos. Maybe along with the tank and plastic castle he'd pick up a roommate for his new boarder. It couldn't be much, spinning in a fishbowl with nothing but easy meals and colorful toys. A life like that would convince anyone of temptation, of seeing salt as sugar.
In the end, Kris didn't know what to do with any of it.
"Maybe the mother ship beamed him back."
Kris sighs. "Neil."
“So I was being productive on Wikipedia yesterday trying to see how long it takes to get from Lincoln to marmosets,” says the man who first introduced himself to Kris as a cut-rate character witness, “and I found this thing about Houdini.”
“Yeah, Harry. America's first superhero. Did you know he used to be friends with Doyle?”
Blearily, Kris wonders what time it is in New York and whether he should, eventually, attempt apologizing for the phone call. He wonders if it'd do any good; a Lambert is a tricky bomb to juggle at the best of times. Plus Neil is very...Neil, and at the moment New York is a hallucinogenic hiccup on the vast, increasingly scattered radar of Kris' day. Night. Whatever.
“Doyle,” he repeats. A synapse flares into redemption. “Arthur Conan Doyle? Like Sherlock Homes?”
“Aw, look at you with the literacy and the brain using.” He doesn't sound worried, which makes Kris worry. “But, yeah, they used to be a bromance couple. Weird, right? The guy with the handcuff fetish and the man who had to figure everyone out?”
Kris considers his options. “If I promise to FedEx you obscure and unnerving tentacle porn will you tell me what he said when he called you?”
“Why would he call me?”
“Right. Crazy me.” A bicycle cut past him, forcing him to sidestep like a matador to avoid it. “But let's pretend, for many nameless, ulcerous reasons, that your brother—who is insane, no argument—did call and talked with you for seventeen minutes.”
“Kris,” Neil says in a tone of possible admiration. “Did you do something illegal?”
Yes. “I have contractual privileges.”
“You're retired, Bond.”
“What?” Kris frowns. It doesn't make him feel better. “Never mind. Is he still in the country?”
“Want to know how I first knew he was in love with you?”
Kris hasn't eaten in hours. Airplane food depresses him to near poetic levels and the best he's managed since landing is rivers of coffee and a midget Häagen-Dazs cup of bewildering Pannacotta & Raspberry. He is more than a little lightheaded; he's gone.
He says, “Adam's confused.”
Neil ignores him. “It's because he wouldn't talk about you. I mean, for the first few months all I hear is rhapsodies on how your corpse would be shat out by rabid crocodiles and then—ziiip went the lip. Suddenly Kris Allen is classified information. He probably buried every murderous email. I mean, you know, after he drew hearts around your name. While we're on the subject, I think you should keep your maiden name; you'd make a weird Lambert.”
This is probably very, very true. “Neil, I don't—”
“Here's my theory,” Neil bulldozes on. “Adam sucks at keeping secrets. That's not the theory, by the way; that's a lifetime of kicking his marshmallow ass at every card game known to man and ape. He can't keep things in. It, I don't know, damages his kidneys or something. So when he ignores this obvious, well-documented defect and actually tries to hide something, it has to be a hell of a something. Like, of Godzilla proportions.” Pause. “You're his tiny Godzilla, Kris. Are you getting me yet?”
“Neil, please. I need to find to him.” Kris' head aches, his throat is arid, he needs to pee. “We need to talk.”
There is a pause before, “Then figure it out, Sherlock.”
Kris had a theory about Adam and photo shoots: you could put him on a leash or on display. No middle ground was worth considering.
On the whole, Kris thought he had a decidedly less cynical view of the racket than some. He didn't call it the slave trade, for one thing, or a “simpering meat market.” (Cook could be—protective. And vocal.) He didn't swoon at the idea of being glossed and gelled and sewn into customized jeans either, but there must have been something in the fuss if it got some people that excited.
For example, Adam.
Adam loved photo shoots. He loved the fuss and the chaos and the million ridiculous accessories. He loved debating between belt buckles, and lighting angles, and the heel heights. He loved the clothes with a passion rarely found outside a painting studio or the Vatican. He loved the hats, even, and that was completely beyond Kris' ken.
Kris didn't mind the enthusiasm. Adam wasn't exactly easier to deal with when hyped and ecstatic, but the resulting madness was a simpler read. Besides, Kris would be the first to admit that Adam gave a hell of a show, on print or in motion. It was something tied up with how Adam had no fear. He'd climb into a corset like Armstrong into a rocket. The crazy shoots were endearing in their strangeness.
(It was the normal ones that unsettled. The ones where Adam didn't get flaming extensions, chains or leather kilts with spikes. The ones that didn't bother glamorizing or camouflaging what lived under the polish. Those shoots showed the dangerous truth: it wasn't the fineness of the wool, but the breed of the wolf.)
So Adam loved the shoots and the shoots loved Adam, and thus it was ridiculously odd that the latest adventure was taking as long as it was. It should have been a fast roll, a high-gloss stopover with a high profile but little pressure. The photographer was a familiar warhorse, the location was very local, the props were distracting but noncontroversial. They should have been done hours ago.
Except Adam kept blinking or yawning at critical times. He tripped over a camera tripod. He lost buttons inexplicably and refused substitutes vehemently. He was itchy, he was thirsty, the boots pinched.
It was a fall back into Kris' first months on the job, save for the fact that Adam wasn't yelling or threatening to fall out of a limo or taunting the Internet. Which, ironically, only made the weirdness that much weirder.
“You know I'm on to you,” he said during the next pause, while a swarm of help tried to find a replacement jacket; Adam had scarred its snowy predecessor with cranberry juice. Never mind that normally Adam wouldn't even drink coffee on a white couch.
On the other end of the sofa (not white) Adam hunched down in his shirt sleeves, the cuffs complicated and neat as origami. “What? What are you talking about? Shut up. There's nothing for anyone to get on. That jacket was sloppy, anyway.”
“...okay.” Weirdness atop weirdness. “Did you fight with the stylist about laces again? Is that why you're being a mess out there? Because I'm not dipping into the bribery budget for anything less than a centerfold.”
“I'm not a mess; I'm insistent on good results.” The shoulders stayed tight. “Quit grilling me.”
Kris turned on his hip to better check out the sealed expression. “You're making this last three times longer than it should.”
“Am not.” Adam fiddled with the dozen bracelets on his wrist. “What are you still doing here, anyway? You never watch these things to the end.”
The thing was, he was right; Kris didn't...before. Fashion work was one of the few (oh so very few) times it was simpler to leave Adam at the mercy of his own excitement. It was a means of reward for Adam's rare bouts of complaisance or self-control—or it had been, in the days before Adam's rare good behavior became disturbingly common. Kris could barely remember the last time Adam had threatened to fire anyone.
...well, okay, he could, but it was still worlds away from the earlier tsunamis.
“You're twitchy,” he finally said.
“Says the guy fondling his phone like a nympho," Adam snorted. "You've checked that thing twice since I sat down.”
Kris' fingers curled around the tiny monster in reflex. Adam grinned and he resisted the urge to smash the imperially sculpted bangs with a cushion. It'd probably make the makeup people cry again.
Kris blinked. "What?"
"Hun-gry," Adam bit the syllables apart. "They've been drowning me in designer water and inbred grapes since morning. Everyone here is afraid of dairy. I mentioned sandwiches and the girl doing eyebrows acted like somebody groped her grandmother."
"You want me to book a lunch place?" Kris asked, mildly bewildered. Adam wasn't in the habit of admitting he had an appetite, at least not around witnesses. He checked his watch (and his phone again, damn it) and whistled low. "Make that a very early dinner. Do you want something spiffy?"
"No gawking, I don't have the patience for it tonight." An onyx tipped boot lightly kicked his ankle. "Just give me a good meal. My skin's freaking out, I need vitamins. Spicy ones."
"Your stunning grasp of basic nutrition is putting your trainer's kids through rehab." But Kris' brain was already cycling through distracting possibilities. "I could make brittle."
"Chipotle," Kris said. “I'll need to get some peppers, though; I've got nothing at my place or yours.” Adam stared at him expectantly. “...So I guess I'll go and fetch them right now. All right. You're going to be okay here solo?”
“I'll be stellar.” Adam smiled the same smile he'd been selling since morning. It was good, great, but...
“Seriously, though.” Kris touched one upscale shoulder, feeling the bone and muscle underneath the glamor. “Is everything okay with you? I don't have to go.”
“Yeah, you do.” Suddenly Adam was on his feet and looking down at him with something too much like resolution. Or resignation. Or—“Can we have honey cups?”
“What?” Automatically, his memory unwound the recipe. “Sure, I'll add them on.”
“Great. Well.” And then there was what felt like a yard of designer imagining and styling wrapped around him. Adam's cologne and the stiff, absurd, fantastic hair tickled his cheek. “See you later, Kris.”
Kris patted his shoulder, speechless and bemused.
Weird was one word for it.
An hour later Kris realized his phone was missing.
He patted his pockets twice over, before exhaling hard in defeat. There was a chance the little monster had fallen out somewhere, but...Kris sighed, almost smiling. He should have seen this coming, really.
It was hard to feel truly outraged in a spice aisle with a peaceful kitchen on the horizon. Or maybe there was something supernaturally uplifting about chilies. They brightened everything. Plus, making Adam cry over dessert would square them even.
He was on his way to check out, tossing a jar of saucy firecrackers from hand to hand, when a pay phone caught his eye. Guilt tickled awake, mewling pleadingly. Shut it, Kris told his conscience before dialing his voice mail anyway.
Two messages from Simon asking if Kris had heard anything, zero messages informing Kris of the expected and, surprisingly, a message from Cook: Call me. I don't know what the hell is—look, just call.
Cook said, "Where the hell are you?"
"Picking peppers." Adobo sauce, adobo sauce, why did the human race feel the pathological need to smother? It wasn't that he minded the stuff, but why couldn't they stick things plainly in a jar like God and good taste inten—whoops! He tightened his grip on the jar."Not so fast, my squishy, spicy corazón."
"—trying to reach you since then."
Apparently Cook had been talking while Kris was juggling. "Sorry, what was that? I had canning issues."
"No details," Cook said automatically. "I was asking why the ever fucking fuck are you picking peppers instead of answering your fucking phone?
"Adam stole my phone. I think he's having some kind of regression phase. I'll confiscate his iPod or something later, no biggie."
"No big—Kris, are you fucking kidding me?"
"Cook, calm down. Remember your blood pressure? You know Archie tweets your doctor." Kris flipped the jar again. The oil had such a pretty light. "He's just being Adam. It'll keep him amused till the shoot's over and I'll pick him up in a better mood than I left him in. It's a small price to pay."
"Photo shoot? What bloody photo shoot? Kris, what are you—holy freakin' hell." The mania vanished; Cook's voice was stunned flat, horrified. "You don't know. He's doing this and you don't know."
His stomach froze. "Know what? Cook, what's going on?"
"Adam's on TV. Right now. He's doing an interview."
Maybe it's not so bad. Maybe it's a misunderstanding, babbled Kris' tiny hope. Maybe it's nothing.
"What show?" He was the gripping the jar, knuckles white. He should put it down, Kris thought. Now. Before—
Cook told him.
Glass burst across the floor.
Kris didn't make it in time, of course.
He never had a chance. Murphy's law was bunnies and cupcakes compared to the arid malice of LA traffic; a jet wouldn't have cut through fast enough to get Kris to the studio. Hell, short of a time machine there wasn't much salvation.
He kept telling himself to breathe, to dial down, to quit thinking of what the actual sight of it would be like. Imagining Adam's head under the eighteen-wheeler ahead helped. A little.
There was more static and trip wires getting inside the building. Adam had listed his manager as "W. Wonka" and security didn't know him. Sometimes Kris forgot the disadvantages of a conveniently modest profile. He had to resort to outright namedropping to force his way in. (Luckily, Simon's name was a ball buster.) Bullying and banked hysteria got him to the producers, to the control room, out of sight: the perfect view.
Adam was still wearing the origami-crazy shirt, the tipped boots. He had shed the bracelets. Kris vaguely recognized the vintage silver circling his thumb. He may have been there when Adam bought it, the last time they were in Chicago or maybe Malibu.
"I guess the question is the one everyone has about you," the interviewer smiled, professionally pleasant. "What changed? I mean this time last year you were having all that bad news with the label and the canceled shows—major ouch, by the way; I had prime seats for your Manhattan show."
Adam laughed; Kris' tensed. "In another life, right?"
"But now?" A flippant hand gesture, careless and irresistible. "You're golden. LA's alien prince. It's certifiably amazing. The people who wanted you banned from Vegas are begging for a drive-through. Anything you'd like to say to them, the ones that missed out?"
"Actually, there is." Adam leaned forward, smiling hard in focus on something more than a cheery sound bite. Every muscle in Kris' neck locked in veteran alarm. "You know what drives me crazy? I mean, the really mad thing? How some people just don't fucking get it. That was my problem, too; I reached success and went to pieces. I mean, my life was a crime scene in the making. Totally hopeless. Then suddenly, bam, I got a chance to straighten things out. It was unbelievable. I'm not saying it's been easy going, because seriously, nobody warns about how bullheaded redemption can be. Like if someone accidentally, completely unintentionally, uses the last of the milk—really, redemption is a stubborn bastard."
"But I love it, I really do; I wouldn't trade this pocke—piece of luck for anything. Except, see, I know it makes me the world's loudest hypocrite, but now that I'm out of my mess, it's nauseating to see it happen with other people. Stupid people. Nice, funny, pretty, bloody stupid people who got that golden ticket and used it to wipe their ass. Because I can't imagine doing that now, having something so amazing and giving it up. Not without a hell of a fight.
"I mean, how dumb would you have to be? How absolutely, completely, head-up-your-ass blind must a person be to have this-this gift waiting for you to take it, to say I do, hell yes, I do—and then you just fucking walk away?"
He looked straight at his interviewer, ignoring the camera even as it zoomed in hungrily: sincere, compelling, pissed. "How could you do that?"
The frame stretched back to the (bravely) smiling host, her pretty face cool.
"It's a very mad world," said Katy.
Kris couldn't stop apologizing.
"Why?" Katy took another doll-small sip of her retro serious cocktail, the chilled glass a diamond sleek accessory in her hand. "It's not like you had any idea he'd be there. Nobody did. The producer got a call barely half an hour before taping and needed to have a five-minute lie down. He'll probably need a mild coma episode after the ratings land." She quirked a very defined eyebrow, something he couldn't remember her doing. Before. "They're going to be amazing. But this you know."
Kris knew. Kris knew, and he dreaded. Kris knew and dreaded and was going to dismember Adam Lambert like—like a chicken. Or an anchovy. Something with a very small brain, anyway, and easily accessible organs.
Katy laughed. That sounded like he remembered. "Maybe not so small, not if he managed to dupe the best in the business. Give your boy a little credit."
He'd rather give him a kick in the head. Or seven.
Smiling, Katy patted his arm. "Bloodthirstiness is unhealthy on an empty stomach. Let's get you fed and soothed, and then you can blab all about why America's glitziest superstar keyed my Honda."
The appetizers were beautiful. Lightly cured sardines, briny and subtly tempered with mint. An olive-infused tuna tartare bordering on alchemical. Bran-black pepper bread. Pretty terracotta dishes of aromatic, lemon-tinged butter.
The conversation, however, was puzzling.
"It's cute," Katy said. "I'm not saying he's not barking mad, exactly, but still. There's a fair bit of charm to it."
It wasn't cute or charming or fair. It was ludicrous. Kris spent half his time rushing around like the White Rabbit during hunting season and the other half feeling like he was babysitting Houdini. And then he had to scrape together another thirty percent for being an on-call lion tamer.
"So he likes having your attention," Katy said. "Who would blame him? God knows you don't make it easy."
That wasn't fair. Kris spent every other waking moment ensuring someone else's life worked, making it easier for Adam to be, well, Adam. It was a smorgasbord of inequity. Also, migraines.
"That's not what I meant," Katy said. "It's just that you...well, you're you. You juggle solar systems and make it look easy. It's impossible not to feel guilty for interrupting with, oh, I don't know, jokes or a movie. Or anything personal instead of vital." She spooned up the gleaming tuna; it nestled like a crown jewel in her spoon. "My point is you're terribly intimidating. Sometimes."
Which would be a fine and pretty argument if it were possible to intimidate Adam with anything short of a nuclear crisis or male pattern baldness. Kris didn't see how his seeming, and being, busy while doing his job was something Adam deserved sympathy for.
"Because of what you're like the other half of the time. It's awful." Katy smiled with her eyes. "When you're grumbly and crusty and disappointed, but bake sugar loaves for whomever you're upset with anyway. Or when you're polite at three in the morning. Or when you remember to water the plants that nobody remembers buying. It all adds up." She took a healthy swallow of the heady Viognier. "It's only the major things that make you intimidating; the little ones simply make you incomparable."
He wasn't. Kris never wanted to be either obeyed or prized, let alone mistaken for someone's idol.
“I know,” Katy said, nabbing another smudge of butter. “That's why you're never the one who falls in love first. You're woefully pragmatic. Sometimes.” Her penciled brows arched, high with amusement. “The romantic's kryptonite. It used to drive me dotty, sometimes, the way you wouldn't admit to the slightest thing, not even to having a type.”
Because Kris didn't believe in having a type; it sounded like a bad case of voluntarily nostalgia, emotional food poisoning. How could people expect to find a relationship in a checklist? Put a gold-tipped arrow to his temple and Kris would admit some things about romance—but he wouldn't confuse it with a prescription.
“Well, I'll admit it certainly leaves room for the unexpected,” Katy said, dryly. “I didn't believe it till I saw it.”
If Katy was talking about what he thought she was talking about—
—then Katy was getting the wrong rumors. Whatever Adam's behavior it did not mean he was in--in any condition to label anything or start up any proclamations.
“Probably,” Katy agreed. "Except I was talking about you. You're in love with him."
Kris said, "What?"
Katy said, "Well, obviously."
Kris said, "What?"
The best thing Kris has learned in the business was: never underestimate a love song.
You could have a five-year album of what you think are the greatest hits—the first kiss, the morning sex, the way her hair shimmers down, the weekend in Martha's Vineyard, your family, her family, the caterer—only to reach the last track and find nothing but white noise.
So you quit music for a while, at least until your Pied Piper godfather plugs you into someone else's soundtrack instead. What you hear there doesn't sound like what you lost or what you're used to, but it's loud and difficult. So you stay. You stay and put up with the banging, and the wailing, and the glory notes, and the absurd, brilliant but absolutely absurd, packaging.
After a while maybe it isn't exactly terrible, isn't just noise. Maybe you start to like it. A little. Sometimes. Maybe it gets stuck in your head, which should be annoying (and it is, sometimes) except that it gets stubbornly between the remnant ache and the uncertain future, creating something a bit like peace.
Then maybe you find yourself listening to that old album again and feeling—okay. Not ecstatic or golden or lost, nothing like what you thought you felt when the album was getting written, but still good. You think: these are good songs. But hearing them again, nothing breaks anew.
And then maybe, just maybe, while you're sitting with a plate of fabulous chicken and a stellar glass of wine, the echo of those past, beautiful classics smiles across the table and your heart doesn't twinge. Instead the silly not-noise rhapsody turns louder in your head. Only this time instead of humming along automatically or ignoring it altogether, you listen. You really, really listen. And you realize that it isn't a stranger's soundtrack anymore; it was yours.
The fact that it's a love song?
Yeah, that's yours most of all.
Overall, Kris thought he was handling it exceptionally well.
“I could get help,” he said. “Or start drinking. Heavy drinking. Lots and lots of heavy drinking. Pass the wine list.”
Katy patted his hand with a marked lack of gravitas. “Honey, I don't think alcoholism works with your standards. Remember emptying that '67 Petrus Pomerol during New Year's? You held funerary rights over the bottle in the morning.”
“So clearly you're going to be rational about this,” Katy said. She crossed knife and fork politely on the edge of her empty plate. “Not to ruin the moment, but there are worse scenarios than being crazy about a rock star.”
He gave her a look.
“Who is crazy about you in return,” she amended. “It's not freaky if it's mutual. Well, not unless there's saddles and wax involved but that's a bedtime story for a less sober night.”
Kris' meltdown paused to thoroughly eliminate the latter comment, and resulting imagery, from memory, before pitching a last ditch effort, "It's different when he makes me crazy. That's not romance, it's Stockholm syndrome.”
Katy shook her head, fair and beautiful and delicately ironic in a way he took too long to learn. "I didn't."
“What?” Kris asked.
“I didn't make you crazy. We laughed, we cried, we shared a bank account,” she flicked one auroral nail against the wineglass' rim before wrapping her hand below the globular belly, “but crazy? We never went there.”
Kris swallowed, opened his mouth—Katy held up her hand. “Uh-uh, mister. No apologies or accusations on the menu tonight. Sometimes an observation is just an observation.”
“I need a refill,” Kris observed.
“What's the first hunk of professional advice you gave me?”
“Don't sign anything after the third drink?”
“Brat.” She tapped his glass with hers. “Never buy into your own press.”
Kris raised his brows, waiting. “Uh-huh.”
“Yeah-huh, Kristopher,” she echoed. “You're a nice guy, possibly the best even. But you are not, and never were or will be, a saint. Or Mary Poppins, despite some truly disturbing effort on Simon's part.”
“I never said I—”
“You're Kris Allen,” she said. “Simon Cowell's troubleshooter, the worst kept best secret in town. They huff and they puff, but you're the one on call when the house blows down. You're the guy, the guy who makes everything work in the crummiest circumstances. I mean, seriously, Kris, even the people who'd love to shove you out of the way into an rat infested ditch think you walk on water and, I don't know, pee champagne.”
“I was enjoying that,” Kris frowned, pushing the fried rabbit a little bit away from its accompaniment. Just a little, though. (Vinegared chips: epic.) “Also, you know, thanks for the image.”
“Pansy.” She plucked a delectable sliver. “Good God, this is epic. Powdered thyme? ”
“With rosemary and—salt. Sea salt, probably the Maldon stuff. There's no bitterness afterward.”
“None.” Katy dipped her shoulder agreeably. “Okay, where were we?”
“In a ditch with rats and a bubbly bladder?” Kris said. “Though I think that was just me.”
“The few, the proud.” Her expression rearranged itself. “My point is, yeah, everyone hearts you and thinks you could build LA in a day—but you are not perfect.”
“Okay,” Kris said.
“You're not,” Katy said. “You're wonderful, Kris, but you can get smelly and weird like the rest of us monkeys. You lose your temper.”
At the moment his patience was practically zen. “This point you're aiming for...”
Katy snorted. It was a horribly blunt, endearing twitch of reality. “My point is if Adam Lambert pulled even half the stunts you've mentioned—”
“I haven't even mentioned half the stunts!”
“—then you wouldn't be having an emotional crisis, you'd be gone, baby, gone.” She picked up her glass again, tilting her head to some out of sight waiter genie. “Nobody puts up with that sort of nonsense unless they're nursing a hell of a reason. And, honey? Simon isn't that reason.”
Well, Kris thought. And then: damn it.
“I could sleep with him,” Kris said. “I mean, just go ahead and, you know, do it. Couldn't I?”
“Oh, honey,” Katy sighed. “That's very—cosmopolitan, very LA, except you couldn't. You really couldn't. Don't even try, I think you'd bust an internal gear of some kind. You're just not that sort of LA type.”
Kris' temper twitched. “Is there a point system about that, was there a vote?”
Katy pointedly ignored the grumbling. “You—you're the guy who meets the mother and helps do the dishes when he does. The one who remembers pets' birthdays and texts to ask what kind of salad to make for dinner. The guy who mails his ex daisies on Women's Day. Which were lovely, by the way.”
“You're welcome.” Kris doodled with his fork, teasing a daisy out of the sauce. “I'm doomed, aren't I?”
“You're stubborn.” She propped her chin on one dainty, reliable fist. “He was right about that, you are. Which is usually wonderful because you're also the guy buying a map while everyone else is heading into the desert—”
“—but a lot less excellent when you're battling the radical concept of someone trying to make you happy. Which is very sad and very ridiculous, actually. There's probably a psychological term for it,” she added helpfully.
“Maybe I should retire,” Kris said.
“Maybe you should kiss him until the room runs out of air.” She lowered her hand, fingers neatly laced on the carmine tablecloth, pretty as a kitten and harmless as an avalanche. “Now, how serious are we about dessert?”
"Happiness," Katy puffed into his hair, "is a talent like any other." She punctured the moment with a sharp tug on his ear, before sinking back down on her heels. "And nothing gets done on talent alone so do your job, Mr. Allen."
He smiled, feeling a cheek muscle flex against the lingering hand. "My job?"
"Managing talent." Her smiled arched, a curve he no longer knew instinctively but could learn to appreciate nonetheless. "I hear you're the best."
Impulsively, Kris pressed his mouth to the small, soft palm. He didn't do it to restart something or mourn or tempt disaster, but because—because she'd been his number one girl once, and, in a way, she was that still.
She always would be, in a way.
“We were good,” he said, letting go. "I'm keeping that fact, no argument."
“Sweetheart, we were amazing,” she said. “But at this point I think we can both settle for legendary.” He recognized that smile then, like fresh mint in hot tea or the very first tangerine of the season: sweetness with sting, but so, so good. “It's something to build on—or jump from. A diving point, don't you think?”
"Off a plane with no parachute?"
"Off a rocket." She grinned. "Planes are numbingly C-list, sonny Jim. Welcome to the stratosphere."
“Speaking of which, do you need a ride home or...” He trailed off, not quite lost and not quite solid.
“Already taken care of,” Katy said. “Besides I think you forgot something back inside the restaurant.”
His shoulders popped up automatically, tension running a fault line down his back. “Funny, nothing comes to mind.”
“Are you sure?” And, God help 'em all, if her sunny eyes weren't actually twinkling. “Fifth table from the left window, I think?”
“I think our table was second from the right.”
“Really?” The eyebrows, neat as a stitch, rose. “You should probably double check, though. For peace of mind.”
Yep, definitely twinkling.
Maybe that was the kindest way for some songs to end: on a glowing corner outside a four-star restaurant. With a girl in a dress the color of petals. With a kiss—sweet, plain, final—on your dumb cheek.
Maybe when goodbye sounds like an apology, late though it comes, it's better that way.
“The Beaujolais is good,” was the first thing Adam said, “but an '05 is no '99.”
That nearly tempted out a little glowworm of satisfaction, it sounded so much like progress. On the other hand, it was coming unashamedly after lying to Kris for the sake of blitzkrieging his (almost) wife on national television so maybe progress wasn't quite the word to use.
"Do you think we could surgically implant you with a conscience?" Kris wondered, sitting down. "I'd pay. Double." Jerk was right about the red though: juicy with an attractive mineral edge, but ultimately unexciting. He registered the flavor before the fact that he'd reached for Adam's glass automatically—or that Adam had offered it just as unconsciously.
"So are you and Katy, is that—" Adam's hands jerked restlessly between glass and plate. "I mean, are you going to—"
Kris sighed. "You know the whole 'no such thing as a stupid question' is an ugly myth, right?"
"I don't know." He picked up his hapless wine only to set it down again. "You looked pretty friendly."
Kris took a moment to consider that, craning to look behind. From here, it was clear that Adam's vantage point allowed a decent view of Katy's face but nothing more incriminating of Kris' than the back of his head and the line of his shoulders. Admittedly, Adam could read a jacket like an emotional resume.
"You're friends with Brad." Adam's brows went high; Kris smiled and tried to hide it. "Okay, bad example."
"I'm not trying to pry," Adam started and Kris had to, damned well had to, laugh outright at that one. Something inside would've ruptured otherwise.
"You fucked up," he said waiting for the flinch, which was well-earned and worth savoring. "Going after Katy was a grade-A fuck up, Lambert. Got to admit, I honestly didn't think you had it in you."
"You said you were best with disasters." The blue eyes snapped up: clear and dry, bold. Adam's mouth did something complicated. "Figured you'd get a kick out of it."
Bold and angry, Kris realized. Adam was angry. That was so—so beyond the rights of reason that Kris' own temper reflexively reined in: balancing. He watched for a moment longer to confirm—the gaze, the heavy face, the tight fold of lips over teeth, the savaged yet mostly neglected citrus-cured fluke and too empty bottle—and wondered what in the world was wrong with him. Him being Adam. Yes.
"Did you drive here?" he asked finally.
"Cab." Adam's grip didn't ease. He added, a naked dare: "I got the address from her PA."
Kris nodded, standing up. "Tip outrageously. I'll bring the car up front."
They ended up in a diner three blocks (and about ten stars) down because, of course, Adam hadn't actually eaten anything at the restaurant. Kris ordered him cheese fries out of sincere, righteous spite.
"I'm not actually hungry," Adam said.
Kris nodded. "I don't actually care."
There were, in Kris' battle-scarred opinion, only so many places to fight with a star in LA. Paparazzi, camera phones, busy foot traffic, and a general immunity to keeping one's nose out of somebody else's business squeezed the boundaries to the limit.
With Adam Lambert, the limit was microscopic.
So, really, it was amazing they'd made it inside the restroom before the screaming began.
"What the hell is your problem?" Kris demanded.
"What the fuck is yours?" Adam roared back. "You don't love her! You don't fucking love anything! Not LA, or the music, or—or your job, though you don't even bother pretending you have a life outside it. You stick your nose into everything, interfere constantly, but then you won't bloody well touch me without making a fucking court case of it. You just—just pop up one day like a goddamn genie and make toast and, and fuck it. You commandeer my whole life and—fuck. You're everywhere."
"So this is how you respond? That makes it okay?" And, oh, Kris felt it now: the low, cherry glow of anger flushing his throat. "You ambush my ex-fiancé, someone I was with for five years—five years, Adam. You can't even keep a zip code for that long. You think it's okay to barge in and grab whatever you want? Do you understand that my life is not like—like a fucking bowl of ChexMix for you to rummage through?"
"But it's okay to treat mine like, what, a sewing project?" Adam said. His face was vivid, every fine line limned with anger. "I get it, Kris, I do: I was a mess when we met. Is that what you want to hear, is that enough? I did everything wrong. That doesn't disqualify me from the human race; it doesn't make me imaginary. It doesn't mean everything I do or say needs your approval to be real."
"You are not lecturing me on being real," Kris snapped. "No way in hell."
And suddenly large hands pulled his shoulders, potent and unapologetic, emotion vibrating all the way down to the bone. The contact was an electrocution. Adam's face was close enough to bite, his cologne kissing Kris' nose.
"I'm sorry." The words broke out, jagged. "I'm sorry I was a disaster when you found me and I'm sorry we spent half a year trying to avoid killing each other and I am sorry for the shit I pulled just to show I could." Kris stared at him. "I am."
Good God, Kris thought, he was.
"You don't understand," Kris said. It came out weak as dough. He tried again, "Adam, you don't understand, the thing before. The thing with me. Me and Katy, we. You don't understand."
"Sure, I do." Adam's mouth quirked. "You were in love, someone broke your heart. Pretty boy MTV cliché mistakes you for a French hooker. Hijinks ensue. It's not the conventional recovery plan."
"Adam, no, you really don't—"
"I love you." The air rolled backwards into Kris' lungs. Adam's fingers flexed, hard, against his biceps before sliding loose without letting go completely. "I know you think it's infatuation or co-dependency or an addiction to the damn soup or something, but—okay, maybe it's all of that too. But. But I do. I fucking love you, Kris."
"It wasn't Katy," Kris said.
The black brows creased. "What?"
"It wasn't." His stomach hurt and Adam's lashes were spiky up close. Somehow Kris knew he was going to remember that and this, this precise, horrible moment, for as long as he could and it was always going to feel this awful. "Katy didn't leave me." Always. "I called off the wedding. She didn't—I asked to end it. I left."
Adam let go of him.
"I left," Kris repeated if only to hear the words, to bite the bullet and hear it crack. "What makes you think you've earned a better deal?"
But maybe there's the other half of the song, the one nobody wants to sing too loudly. The if only, and the but not and the black, cold prophesy of sorry, sorry. Maybe someone sings to ask what you're afraid of, what's wrong, what can I do, please, what do you want from me, tell me.
But all you have is sorry, sorry...
It took a while to realize his phone was ringing and longer still to find the energy to dig the tiny soul sucker out.
"Kris? Where the devil are you?"
Fantastic, bloody fantastic.
"In my car." He sighed. "What do you want, Simon?"
"What do I—pull over."
"I'm not," Kris said, "actually driving. I'm thinking."
There was a stunted pause before Simon snapped back, impatient with what was, to Kris' learned ear, barely suppressed excitement. "He got it."
"He got it, Kris."
A hundred possibilities ricocheted through Kris' mind—not one with any doubt as to which he—before the obvious stabbed his brain. He had, a lifetime ago, been waiting for this. "Oh."
"Oh? Oh? Your pet catastrophe just earned an Artist of the Year nomination, Kristopher; that is not a damn oh, it's the bloody Red Sea parting." Simon sounded terrible, which meant he was worried. "Where are you exactly? I'm sending a driver. We need to talk about this."
"Yeah, okay." Kris shut his eyes; it didn't help. "Simon?"
"Yes?" Definitely worried: poor guy.
(AN: Katy's pearl of wisdom is a combination of two quotes, one by Storm Jameson and the other from Hermann Hesse.)
Kris has a theory about cell phones.
They are, according to his theory, like appendixes. Or, at least, they will be. Eventually. Some day. Which is to say that, in the grand evolution of things, Kris thinks the buggers are pretty damn useless. He's made peace with the fact that overpriced miniatures are the inescapable “bling bling” of his day; that doesn't mean he has to approve of having his life run by four ounces of Swedish engineering. Someday, eventually, dauntless anthropologists will exhume the underwater remains of fabled California and chisel open the mummies' hands, and poke the petrified clumps of wires and say but what the bloody heck was this for?
Certainly, he's never felt more disappointed in this particular bit of technology.
He's called every friend deserving the name, every professional contact viable, every hairdresser and vocal coach on retainer. He's called the family and he's called the band. He's called Brad, again. He's called LA and New York and, in a fit of baseless inspiration, Singapore.
Kris sits on a small bench in Tokyo for a long, long time before he takes his phone out again and calls the very last number he has. He knows it by heart, and it takes him three tries to dial it.
It goes directly to voicemail and he closes his eyes, exhausted.
“I don't know,” he says after the lonely, heartless beep. “I mean, I really don't know what this is supposed to accomplish. If it's a joke or revenge or, God, or some kind of murderous experiment to drive everyone insane—I don't know. Though if it's that last part then congratulations, because it's working. Brilliantly, too, by which I mean Simon is going to have you shot and quartered. Possibly simultaneously. Possibly dogs will be involved."
He doesn't know what to ask. He doesn't have anything to offer. He's run half around the world to an alien Wonderland of chrome and neon and strangers and he has absolutely, positively, completely, definitely no idea what he's doing.
“This isn't what you promised.”
“And the Grammy goes to—Adam Lambert!”
Kris watched for five more minutes before clicking the remote and going to fetch his keys.
It didn't feel like morning when he woke up. The master blackout curtains repelled any mention of the outside, but Kris was a country boy at heart; he could feel the telltale pressure of an active sun pressing in. He rolled out of the sheets and found his jeans, grabbed the rumpled shirt off the chair, and headed downstairs.
...very, very quietly.
Downstairs there was no ignoring the day; the house was a show-and-tell specimen built for display, not balmy twilight. Kris rinsed his mouth in the sink, scrubbed his face with one of the Crate & Barrel dishtowels. He felt—disjointed. Unstable, in the way a kite is unstable when left untied on the ground.
Breakfast, Kris thought. A nice, safe, honest breakfast. It was a very stabilizing thing, breakfast.
He knew what was in the fridge, of course, the meal plan unfolding brusquely in his head: firm tofu, cheeky mushrooms, oil and paprika, green onions, a cup of roughly chopped parsley. A serviceable and low-fat vegetarian scramble. Very LA, very cleansing.
But the instinct in his hands went past the fridge and towards the fruit bowl.
Start easy if you want to beat the hardest, his Mama said when she first handed him a saucepan of corked apples and vanilla pods. No need to get in over your head to get the good stuff.
Sometimes Kris really wished he'd inherited more than just the kitchen sense.
Still, there was something poetically nostalgic in how sweetly his palm curved over the ruddy apple. Its crisp skin split under a well-kept knife. The pale cologne of the lemon juice, the twang of brown sugar. The scented heat of the mixture softening in the pot. On impulse he fished out a pouch of Earl Grey from the tin and sank it in, snapping off the thread and tag. A new note wove into the vapor.
The coffee maker burbled suddenly, startling. Kris blinked fuzzily at the little chrome miracle. He'd forgotten about the timer. He'd set it automatically last night, not keeping in mind that there'd be an empty house in the morning, not thinking he'd still be there or that last night, ok, fine, last night ended not at all as planned, but he didn't think that—
"Can I get a cup?", and scalding coffee sloshed over Kris hand.
It wasn't much of a burn by Kris' standards, mostly because Kris inherited those standards from a heritage of Southern fried chicken and nuclear skillets. He'd witnessed his first grease fire before he ever rode a two-wheeler. By the same logic, anybody who'd ever seen Kris pan-fry okra or rustle up hushpuppies knew his DNA was halfway to fireproof.
None of it saved him from being unceremoniously hauled to the sink, his would-be rescuer so frantic in turning on the faucet that the answering fountain splashed both their fronts.
Kris tried to blink tap water out of his eye. "Okay, yeah—that was necessary."
Even wide eyed and adrenalized, Adam's expression was hazy with too little sleep; his mouth looked puffy-soft and uncomfortably familiar. Yesterday's liner lingered around the eyes, which should have made them a wreck rather than emphasizing the narcotic blue and fine lashes. The hand wrapped on Kris' wrist was tipped in deep-sea navy. Unmarred and whole, despite how hardworking those same, fast hands had been last night.
The thought made Kris uncomfortably aware that Adam had dragged on a pair of silky pajama bottoms but had neglected the notion of shirts. Then again, maybe the pants were enough of a blessing as it was. He didn't feel like pushing his luck.
Last night, Kris reflected, ended not at all as planned.
"So," he said, free hand turning off the waterfall. "Coffee?"
"...sure." Adam's fingers loosened. He picked up the damp dishtowel off the counter and carefully, so carefully, patted Kris' pink skin dry before letting go. "The pot's boiling. Are you making congee again?"
"Applesauce," Kris said. His hand was not tingling.
"Yum," Adam nodded. "I think there's still some of that Russian bread left for toast. Are you freaking out about the sex or that we skipped dinner to have it?"
Kris reached for the coffee pot.
The shirt had tiny buttons, smaller than pearls. He remembered thinking the sum of it looked oddly prim for a Grammy moment. They hadn't looked so unmanageable on TV, though; the first one popped loose entirely under his hands. He'd turned his head to see where it rolled; warm palms, cologne-sweet, touched his face to guide it back.
They had the applesauce on pan-grilled black bread, along with green tea and leftover macaroni. Kris had bought the bread—just like he'd bought the tea and the sugar and the apples and the sober dish ware needed to replace Adam's battier shopping binges. The dish detergent? Kris' brand. Adam's maid service had been banned from the kitchen for nearly a year. Kris made a note to reinstate their welcome. That was a minor thing, nothing like the calls regarding the label, the chauffeur service, the security detail, the doctor's office and PR legions. For the past few weeks, Kris had been cutting himself out of Adam's life with the precision and care of a master surgeon. He fielded questions, plugged outbursts, deterred and neutralized any potential rumors; he rewired old contacts into the burgeoning new scheme, rescheduled and sutured, edited the storyline so neatly that nobody would notice his absence—eventually. He made every effort to disengage kindly and properly, tidy as possible.
Then he went to drop off some apples, do the dishes, and ended up being tongued open against a towel rack.
Kris was starting to suspect himself of having issues letting go.
“I like Ryan,” Adam said, reaching for another slice.
Kris passed the applesauce. “Yeah? He's a great guy.”
“Seems like it: clean-cut, witty, high wattage smile.” Adam took a thoughtful bite, chewed it over. “Of course, he's Simon's stock so I'm guessing underneath there's a barracuda subsisting on sushi and the freshly grilled nerves of paparazzi.”
“Still safer than Atkins,” Kris shrugged. “Ryan trained me when I first got into the business, he's a heavy hitter. He can—he'll do a lot for you.” Adam looked up and waggled his eyebrows. Kris considered putting a pot over his head and beating it with a spoon. He settled for, “It'll be better than before. Bigger.”
If ever there was an opening for cheeky innuendo—well. Possibly the opening wasn't entirely accidental. But Adam just rearranged his eyebrows and hummed noncommittally into his juice.
“Is it true about him and Simon?”
Kris glanced up. “Meaning...?”
Adam looked at him.
“Seriously, man?” Kris rolled his eyes. “They say that about anybody who spends more than fifteen minutes together off camera, Adam. They say that about us half the time.”
“Ah,” said Adam and oh remembered Kris and suddenly the morning got complicated all over again. “Right. About that, we should probably talk? Yeah, because. Yes. I won't tell anybody, if that's what you were worried about.” Adam suddenly busied himself with refurbishing his toast. “That's not what it was about. For the record.”
“I know,” Kris said, which was a lot easier than going with well, what is this about? You spent months acting like sex was something to prove and then outright ignoring me, and then the night everything was finally happening as scheduled—the night we spent a year trying to achieve—you blow off the afterglow and show up with your jacket on your arm, shedding glitter and asking for tea, and touching my wrist like you finally learned to ask. It was easier than trying to decode the memory of how carefully the big hands settled down, soft thumb dipping into the hollow of his hip, how the lip gloss gave up the ghost on his collarbone.
"So, what are you going to do now?" Adam leaned back. "To celebrate your hard earned liberty. Drink, drugs, and Mario Kart?"
"Sleep. Read. Broil my way through the Moosewood Cookbook." Kris shrugged. "I don't exactly have an itinerary."
"That must be new and fascinating for you, the utter chaos," Adam said. "Mental skydiving."
"Or fugu," Kris said.
"You've never tried fugu?"
"I know zilch about Japanese food," Kris said. His cooking was more ambitious than adventurous; potential lethality was limited to pie overdoses and oceans of good, sweet butter. Also, lard.
"I could send you some," Adam said. "From the tour. God knows I've FedEx'ed weirder shit in the past."
"Yeah, I remember." Kris laughed. "We had to tell the post office the toads were for a fund raiser. What was your logic there again?"
"Lick hard, get high, and wake up with a prince."
"Yeah," Kris nodded. "That's exactly how it works."
It felt, surprisingly, a bit like a conversation. Question-and-answer session in hands-on sign language. Braille, maybe. A palm closing at the jut of a hip—may I?—and the thrust upward—yes.
Somehow Kris' attempts to clean out the cupboard had produced Adam sitting in a (dry) tub with Kris perched on the (closed) toilet within arm's reach. Adam had a bottle of wine; Kris had a notebook.
"Okay, that was number nine. Wait, no. Ten? Or is it nine?"
"Eleven," Adam said. "Ten was about coddling the peons."
"Interns," Kris corrected automatically. "Interns. Who are people and not walking coffee dispensers. Especially if you already have coffee."
"I like it when they quake," Adam said. He reached for the lily-stamped Dixie cup parked on the tub's edge and splashed more red inside. It was a surprise, too; a genuine four-year old Petaluma Botrytis Semillon Essence. He'd gotten it, supposedly, as a goodbye experience to share. Kris was flattered; Australian “stickies” were his pet favorite. It was oddly pleasing to think that, if nothing else, he'd succeeded in educating Adam's palette.
Of course, that didn't mean he was going to end the relationship drunk.
So Adam was—somehow—squatting in a Roman sized tub while Kris tried to instill last minute instructions on how to behave like a human being...or at least the better sort of celebrity.
It was surprisingly nostalgic.
"No more nude interviews," Kris said.
“It was a phone interview!"
“Yes," Kris said. "A camera phone."
"Don't lose the rental cars," he added. "Or the drivers. It looks like hell in the papers, and our insurance sky rockets. I mean, seriously, that Denver thing cost a mint."
"I didn't lose him," Adam said. "He misplaced himself. And me with him."
"Nobody misplaces themselves to the point of crossing the Mexican border," Kris said. "Especially not with a trunk load of swimwear."
"The pool sucked, by the way."
"My sympathy," Kris said, "knows no bounds. Honest. Okay, what else—oh, yeah. Don't sell Ryan's house."
Adam frowned. "Did I—wait, when did I threaten to do that?"
"Two months in you tried it with my condo."
"Huh." Adam sipped his wine. "Did it work?"
"Not really. The real estate agent used to service Fall Out Boy; they have excellent checks on calls of that sort." Kris tapped his notebook, squinting. "What else, what else..."
"I was horrible."
That was something to look up for. Kris did so with his brows raised. "Sorry?"
"Horrible. Me." Adam frowned into his paper chalice. "I was a dick. To you. A lot, a major lot. It's kind of stupidly obvious. Why did you stay?"
"It was," Kris starts, then stops. Tries again. "It wasn't personal."
"Simon could've given you better. He should have." Adam sounded oddly determined. "Be firm about that the next time. Don't let him saddle you with a fiend no matter the size of the investment. Don't—don't volunteer for another disaster."
Kris blinked. "All right."
"I'm serious, Kris." Adam sat up straighter. "Don't just take whatever they force on you. It's not what you deserve. Have them give you something worthwhile. Someone, you know, nice."
"Nice doesn't need me." Nice was easy. "I'm best with—"
"Yeah, yeah. I know," Adam said. "Volcanoes and typhoons, earthquakes. Black Fridays. Dead hamsters lodged in the pipes."
"Should I be worried about the last one?" Kris asked, eying the faucet.
"That would be best," Adam said and topped off his cup.
Mouth on his knee, down his stomach, by his neck. No teeth, just air and heat, just damp blood-warm pressure counting the nubs of his spine. A hand in his hair. Gripping; yielding.
"You're fired," said Adam.
Kris didn't pause in his excavation of the sock drawer. God only knew how many layers Adam's passport was buried under. "You can't fire me, I quit. Past tense." He wiggled past something suspiciously fuzzy in the back of the drawer. "I beat you to the punch. Okay, seriously, why do you keep it in here? You have a safe."
"I can't remember the combination." Adam rolled his shoulders, sinking a little deeper into the couch. He had a distinctly feline spine, Kris thought, and was hit with the irresistible sensory memory of the warm skin of Adam's broad back under his palms. "Premature evacuation is unflattering; people will think nicer things about you if they think I kicked you out."
"It's your mother's old license number in reverse, I'll leave a copy on the fridge." His fingers found rubber and moved on hurriedly. "It's not premature; Ryan is better suited to take over. Nobody will think it's weird."
"They'll think you got stuck doing the nasty work without getting any of the rewards. Ate your spinach, but no dessert."
Ah-ha! Kris pulled his arm out, passport safely in his hand. "I like spinach." He tossed the battered booklet to Adam. "Don't trade it for magic beans."
Adam clapped the missile between his palms. "Yessir, sir!"
"Loser." Kris shut the drawer.
"But seriously," Adam said, as if he had any claim to the word. "I'm the Big Bad Diva; I have to fire you. Imagine all the sympathetic back patting and neon cocktails. You'll drink free for a week! In LA. That's half a college fund in Pennsylvania."
"How would you know? You can barely spell GPS."
"I have tragically overqualified people to service my navigational desires," Adam said loftily. "In fact we'll say that's why you got canned; you were a sub-par Sherpa."
"Fine, fine." Kris said. "I'm fired."
"Excellent!" Adam pushed off the couch. "Lets seal it with a kiss."
"Aaand we're done here." Kris walked past the couch, out of the living room; Adam followed.
"Chivalry is dead," he grumbled.
In Kris' opinion it was certainly asking for it.
He'd thought it'd be like a fever: melting and blurry, pervasive as an infection, wild. He'd thought it'd be a blind tangle and cream sheets and wine. He'd thought it'd leave him blank and stung. He thought it'd be a show.
He didn't think it'd feel so much like a message.
“Try to last through the week,” Kris said, hand hesitating on the doorknob. "Till the weekend, at least. Give Ryan a chance to do his job before you make his life hell's circus.”
Adam rolled his lip under his teeth, considering. “You've got no faith in me, do you? None. Filthy pessimist.”
In truth, Kris didn't think his view of Adam was a matter of faith so much as incontestable experience. Certain impressions were hard to change after the third time your shaving cream was replaced with sour cream and your shoes mailed home—while you were still in Melbourne.
“You've got a history,” Kris pointed out.
“I prefer to think of it as an evolution,” Adam said. “A work in progress, a flowering.”
“That,” Kris said, “is absolutely disturbing. Never use that word again.”
“Pinkie swear?” Kris openly stared, just stared, at the bare hand and wiggling nail tip offered. Recovering, Kris swatted at it. Adam caught him mid-flap, hooking their little fingers together.
“Uncle, uncle,” Kris drawled.
Adam shook their joined pinkies. “Pay attention, this is an earnest rite of promise in progress. Attend, please.”
Kris very deliberately did not roll his eyes. “Attending.”
“Good, because this is going to be educational. You've got it all figured out to the last millimeter, right?” Adam said. “Here's the thing, then: you're wrong.”
“Word.” Adam nodded solemnly. Then he rapped Kris' nose with his free hand, crushing the moment to hell. “Show a little faith, Allen. The next time you see me it'll be completely different.”
“Yeah,” Kris said. “Next time I'll be Switzerland.”
“Neutralized,” Kris explained.
“Should we call a vet?” Adam let go of his hand. He was smiling. “All right! So! Are we finished here?”
Kris looked around the room. The kitchen was spotless, vanilla-safe; you could do open-heart surgery on the breakfast bar. The mental checklist that had been screaming and burning in his head for so long was finally, scarily, quiet: complete. There was no more private paperwork to hunt, no reminders left to add to the fridge's library. He'd taken care of everything.
“Okay then. We, yeah.” He slid his palms over the marble one last time to savor. It was darn good marble. Maybe he could actually talk with the agency realtor this time, get a place with something similar. It'd be—nice. To have something like this. “Yeah, we're done. You, hey, take care of yourself, okay, superstar?”
“I'll guard my virtue and count my blessings every night.” Adam grinned.
“Okay,” Kris said. “That's—okay.”
Then, before reason interfered with impulse, he took three steps forward and caught Adam's mouth. It was brief, lips closed and breath suspended, a touch without detail. The melting ghost of the Petaluma stroked his tongue.
“For luck,” Kris said, pulling back. His own breathing felt selfishly calm. “I like superstitions better than goodbyes.”
Adam's hand half rose as if to touch his face, his mouth.
“Okay, no goodbyes.” He smiled again. "Let's make it...sayonara.”
"Kris?" Fingers on his back, his shoulders. An arm solid around his waist. "You asleep? I need to ask you something."
He closed his eyes, pulse slow and sad in his chest. A sigh touched his neck.
"...okay," Adam said. "Okay."
What hotels—good hotels—have taught Kris is that nothing happens by coincidence.
The Tokyo Grand is among the best of its breed in that it jumps to provide every gimmick necessary to people multitasking their way into the twenty-fifth hour. The hopeless prodigals of the open-all-day-and-all-night fiefdom. Everything from iPhone docks to squeeze bottles of lavender linen spray (to spritz onto the pillows, for a better sleep) to Anichini sheets to motion-detecting closet lights is available with unspoken readiness. On the lighter side there are spirulina body wraps and whiskey bars and, on one absolutely baffling occasion, ice in the lobby's men's room urinals.
Sometimes Kris pretends his life is not as weird as the evidence illustrates. Mostly he fails.
Miraculously, he still has his room key, meaning not having to attempt making coherent human noises at the milk-and-silk faced concierge types captaining the lobby. This is a relief since Kris lost hope of higher mental function somewhere around the fourth re-caffeination. Walking feels like an Olympic achievement. The idea of calling Simon to explain that, no, he hasn't found their runaway idol is—unthinkable. Which is why Kris is trying very hard not to think it. The growing headache? Extremely helpful.
Inside the elevator car, Kris' headache is amped up to a dull roar by limpid recordings of songbirds. It's winsome and bizarre and distracting, and definitely something Adam would love. He probably made the band ride up and down till dinner. Tommy at least would've been game. Cam would've kicked him.
For a moment, Kris has a churning surge of worry about dinner. Are they eating right? Is Ryan making sure there's something other than room service and chemically distracting foreign snacks? Did anybody check to make sure Adam isn't trying to live on crystal healing and carrot juice again? He tried that sort of idiocy when the press got especially vicious, usually until Kris canceled his diet catalogs and filled the vitamin bottles with corn. (On days Adam was outstandingly paranoid, Kris used Jelly Bellies.)
Kris lets his head fall back against the elevator's cushioned wall. The contents of Adam's stomach, he reminds his weeping psyche, are not his concern. Ryan won't let anyone in his charge become an anorexic cactus. Kris knows this. There is absolutely nothing for Kris to worry about.
Aside from the whole missing without a trace thing.
As the elevator climbs up, Kris' skull beats an echo against the wall with each passing floor.
It's padded, why waste it?
Kris' room is a costly pedigreed clone of a hundred rooms before. Familiarity is what every hotel strives to brew and bottle, tinkering with the decorative genetics only enough to add a lick of seasoning without resorting to real spice. Nothing inside looks explicitly Japanese, cultural ethnicity restricted to handsome subtleties: dark cedar and soft furred paper, more curves than lines, a patina of quality over the smallest knick-knack. The bathroom door has a relief of gingko leaves: cute.
He should call room service. Get coffee, or, better yet, food that genuinely deserves the title. He must be hungry even if the actual sensation is absent. Instead his gut is tight with a complex, fuzzy emptiness. Kris feels like someone scrubbed out his insides, left them spotless and useless, and drained something vital. He feels blanched.
He hasn't cooked, seriously cooked, in—a while. He avoids the since... because that way lies madness. Or an epiphany. Or a stroke. Or, worst of all, the dim, gray thought that haunts his head. It's more rat than monster with the way it chews on Kris' defenses when he's too knackered or just plain done to chase it off. He feels it creeping in now, trying to climb close enough to be heard. Reflexively, Kris kicks it back down.
Kris sits on the tasteful stubby couch and rubs both hands over his aching face. It's okay, he's okay. All he really needs is a good bout of sleep and a decent hot meal, and for his common sense to return so he can call Simon and get the hell out of here and not—
The bathroom faucet shuts off.
Kris' hands fall.
The pretty door opens and shuts with a click.
"Hey," Adam says, drying his hands on a sand pale towel. "There you are."
Under the circumstances, Kris responds amazingly well.
"Not the hair! Spare the hair!" Adam yowls.
Kris tightens his fist. Sadly, it's the only hold he has on the situation; the rest of Adam is solidly out of reach—on top of Kris. Hip-to-hip, leg-over-(longer) leg, with Kris' left wrist firmly encased in Adam's right hand, they occupy the tiny couch in a tangled stalemate.
"I'm going to scalp you," Kris hisses.
"Understood," wheezes Adam right before using his free hand to goose Kris' crotch which hello and shut up, it's stress and adrenaline, whatever, but it's enough for Kris' grip to falter and Adam to wrench free. The brat immediately collapses more broadly over Kris to prevent another catch. Kris immediately stops wiggling.
They stare at each other, breathing hard.
"I understand that you're a little upset," Adam begins.
Upset is lagging behind in US airspace. Upset is a warm diet Coke. Upset is margarine. "What the fucking hell," Kris growls, "is wrong with you? Are you that insane, that stupid? Do you think—do you think? Ever? Do you have any idea how freaked everyone has been about you? Half of LA is having a communal heart attack and you're, you're—agh! Get the hell off so I can murder you properly, you bloody tosser!"
"Hi," grins Adam and kisses him.
It's light, a skim of warm breath and soft lips over the edge of Kris' mouth, but that doesn't make it feel any less like licking a live wire. Kris' breath stutters in his throat, his blood suddenly rushing like champagne rocketing out of the bottle.
"Hi," Adam says and leans in for another taste.
“You didn't have to bite me,” Adam says.
“An interesting hypothesis,” Kris says. “Perhaps we could discuss its varying merits once you open the goddamn fucking door, Adam!”
Kris shoves against said door for emphasis. It refuses to budge, staunchly supported in its obstinacy by a pretty lock and one hundred and sixty pounds—give or take whatever fad diet Adam picked up in his absence—of deranged glam star.
“I'll come out if you promise to calm down. And no scalping. Don't lie; I recognized that look. Definitely no scalping. There's no negotiating on the scalping.” Even muffled through inches of good solid oak, Adam sounds dutifully apprehensive.
Kris can live with that. The hotel people seem like the keen sort, after all. Very obliging. The front desk probably wouldn't bat a lash at being phoned for a tar-and-feather kit. Japanese standards being what they are, it'd probably be expensive nutrient-rich tar and pedigree phoenix feathers but that was okay with Kris. He has an expense account.
Bracing one foot like a linebacker, Kris attempts another shove.
“I'll give back your phone if you promise not to call Simon.”
Damn thief. “How about you give it back and I promise not to let him sell you for parts?”
He can hear the pouting. “That's a nice hello, Kris.”
“Nice? You want nice? Open up and I'll stick your nice right in your freakin' ear! How about that, you ever been stabbed there? I'm going to mince you into shark bait, you stinking lunatic! And then I'll shoot the sharks!” He kicks the door. It achieves nothing. “God, I really will have you arrested. Or committed. Your doctor likes me, we'll fix the papers to say you have rabies. They'll put you somewhere on ice with Joan Rivers' real chin.”
Kris' further plans (possibly involving LA, kerosene, and every pair of shoes Adam has ever loved) are interrupted by the scratching whisper at his feet. He looks down and sees...a rumpled squirrel?
“It's a crane,” says Adam.
It is indeed, allowing close inspection and a lot of leeway, a paper crane. Made of very familiar paper.
“LAMBERT, STEP AWAY FROM THE JOURNAL!” Kris kicks the door, this time hard enough to dent. “I can't believe you stole my recipes!”
“I didn't!” Adam sounds outraged and insulted, because Adam is delusional. “I would've mailed the damn book the minute you asked for it.”
Oh, what Kris wouldn't give for a pair of steel-toed boots and a blowtorch. “I didn't know you had it! I didn't even realize it was missing until Tommy told me!”
On the other side of the door is something akin to a stunned pause.
“...Seriously?” If Adam sounded outraged before he's purely puzzled now. There's also a distinctly hopeful note in it that Kris distinctly distrusts. “You cuddle that thing like a Pope does a Bible. How the hell did it take this long for you to notice?”
“What, suddenly I'm responsible for predicting you escalating into kleptomania? I'm not your therapist. I'm not your conscience. I'm not your anything—and I still have to put up with this!” Kris throws up his hands. It's pointless and not something he does ever, really, but the moment is spiraling out of his control. Admittedly, rolling around on the floor trying to bite through Adam's throat did nothing to set the situation on track.
“You're kind of ridiculous, though.” Adam sounds—calmer. Kris draws back his foot for another kick. “Read it.”
Kris pauses. “What?”
“The paper. Read the paper, come on.”
“Is it a last statement? Because either way you're getting buried in the softer side of Sears.” But still, curiosity is a potent vice; Kris picks up the Quasimodo crane and unfolds its complexity.
He's more than a little surprised to recognize the handwriting.
I, Kristopher Neil Allen, hereby promise...drink, bitch, drunk-dial...the next time Adam Mitchel Lambert...in or out of REAL love...drunk or sober, I swear...stay with him...regardless the time or place.
Kris slumps against the door, butt on the floor. He remembers writing the words, neatly folding and tearing the page out, rolling Adam's eyeliner pencil between his fingers. It'd been—a joke. A soothing tactic to lure Adam out of the club's restroom. He'd rolled his eyes when Adam insisted on clumsily folding and stuffing the page into his pocket.
After a moment, Kris feels a dull thump against his back that means Adam is probably in the same position.
“This isn't what I had in mind,” Kris finally says.
“Yeah, I know.” Adam sounds a little tired. Kris wonder how long he's been awake. Sometimes he forgets Adam spends as much energy being how he is as Kris does mending the consequences. “But you promised.”
It's unfair to have to deal with someone's broken heart when Kris is barely managing to keep his own afloat. It's even more unfair when the owner of said heart has clearly recovered enough to be flippant and annoying, while Kris is...Kris is...
Kris is lost.
But, he promised.
"You can't choose to fall in love," Kris says. It's not much, despite being all he's got.
"Why not?" Adam counters. "You chose not to. Which is a total crapshoot because you need someone to take care of you. You suck balls at doing it yourself, honestly."
“Says the man who locked himself in the john.”
“Says the guy guarding a door.”
“You're insane,” Kris says. “You know that, right? I mean, that has registered somewhere inside your bizarre sense of being?”
"And you have no heart," Adam quips.
Kris figures that fell out through the ever expanding hole in his stomach. “Shut up.”
He doesn't. "I think it's fucking tragic. When did you lose faith in the indomitable human spirit, Kristopher?"
"I think it was a Tuesday. In April," Kris says. "Pittsburgh."
There's a thoughtful pause. "The thing with the cockatoo?"
Actually, Kris is fairly sure the police report said macaw. If he had any fuel to spare, he'd probably smile at the memory.
"You know what your real problem is?" Adam says.
"My problem?" Kris starts, but Adam ignores him.
"Gluttony," he pronounces, like it's a statement, like he's crowning Kris in a pageant. "You did some very sensible things to help some people and, okay, that's fine, it's freakin' great, but it's totally gone to your head. What's worse is that you couldn't even be a proper control freak. No, you, you overdosed on sensibility. You need—hey, no eye rolling, I can hear you doing it—you need for people to be alright; you can't settle for just perfecting the scene. It's weird."
"You're accusing me of being empathetic?" Kris says.
Kris puts his face down into his hands and groans.
“Are you hungry?” Adam asks.
Kris doesn't move his hands. “What?”
“Food. Nutrients. Protein and vitamins, and scrumptious enzymes, and whatever.” Complicated scuffling noises leak through the door. “You're a lost cause when the fuel tank is empty. And your plane landed, like, how long ago? I've been waiting here for hours. So—dinner? There's a great place nearby.”
“You're asking me out to dinner?” His face is aching with tension. He can actually feel stress fractures happening on his jaw. “That's insane.”
There's a startling click behind him. “Maybe. But I owe you that much at least.”
“You permanently owe me double.” Bracing himself, Kris heaves himself upward without turning around. He'd like to sigh or laugh, but can't afford either gesture. The best he can do is steel his few surviving nerves and step away from the door, looking back to say, “You owe me for the rest of—oh, you've got to be freakin' kidding me.”
Adam shrugs. He's dressed casually: no leather or studs, just jeans—explicitly well-fitted jeans—and a plain button down shirt. A highly familiar plain, plaid button shirt.
“You stole my shirt,” Kris says. Adam fiddles with the cuffs, shoulders low and guilty. “You stole my—come on, Adam."
"There's soy sauce on mine," Adam says. "And I couldn't go back to my room to change." He shrugs. “It was risky enough sneaking back in and out of the hotel.”
"Because you'd get caught."
"Because I didn't want to miss you."
And what the hell is Kris supposed to do with that?
“Your brother thinks we're Holmes and Houdini,” Kris says.
“Hmm?” Adam doesn't slow down his hip-forward stride down the street. “That makes sense, I guess, in Neil logic. You disapprove?”
Kris doesn't; it's Neil. "It's Neil. I'm not insulted, I'm just not sure where he's going with the analogy."
"Two steps too far is the usual MO," Adam says. "But, you know, I can kind of see his point. It works, right? Let's face facts, you fit the bill."
Again, Kris doesn't. He makes a lousy Sherlock, no matter how high and mighty his reputation for figuring things out; he's clueless. But that's the thing with reputations, he knows; they tend to eclipse the product, the history, everything. It's easy to make up your mind to fight what everyone says you are but it's easier still to slip too deep into being what they think you are. Especially when the words are built like compliments, or pleas.
"I mean," Adam says, "you're a hell of an escape artist."
Kris halts so abruptly he nearly trips. "I'm the runaway?"
"I didn't say that. You never run, that's too irresponsible." Adam pauses too, looking back at him. "You just do your damn best to make sure there's an escape route somewhere in the situation, even if it means breaking your back to build one and sneak it in. Though, hey, you're amazingly good at it. Nobody ever suspects the guy with the reputation for rushing into burning buildings to be the one with the pitcher of gasoline in his trunk and a lighter in his pocket."
"I'm not self-destructive, Adam."
"No, you are creative." Adam shrugs. "It's cool. I think that's impressive shit, pulling stunts like that with none the wiser."
If Adam is trying to piss him off—well, Kris has been on the business end of that gun before. He's spent months trapped on a bus being Adam's stress target and he knows how that torture works. This—this doesn't feel like it. This feels...personal.
This is honest.
"I'm not Houdini," he says. "And I don't set out to fail, either."
"Okay, fine, I'll give you that," Adam says, resuming his walk without waiting for Kris to catch up. "But when was the last time you set out to succeed?"
Kris opens his mouth to provide the very obvious example.
"For your own sake," Adam adds and Kris' teeth click shut.
It's not a fair question, he thinks. Kris spends his life for other people's sake, but that doesn't mean that time is wasted. What he does is good, is helpful. Kris has never believed that working in the entertainment industry made his intentions shallow, any more than he's believed that keeping his efforts invisible made them insubstantial. To think that is to belittle both his work and the work of anybody who's ever given time to details rather than showmanship, anyone who's been the support rather the soloist, anyone who's stood behind the spotlight making sure the wiring worked.
So, no; it's not a fair question.
Luckily the line of Adam's back doesn't seem to be expecting an answer, anyway.
“It's like a pub,” Adam says, and Kris knows from the moment he ducks through the high blue curtain that he's exactly right and completely off-target.
The place is small, most of the room's attention dominated by an L-shaped counter. The loamy walls have the fine burnish that only comes from years of cooking and tobacco, an olive-brown buff that's as telling as an abstract painting. Years of customers have leaned against the aged wood, leaving their marks unnoticed and taking away a bit of the interior on their coats in return. There's not enough space for it to be stuffed, but somehow the handful of people inside seem to broaden the dimensions rather than choke them. Kris spies a pair of suits, a skirt, an earnest twenty-something gesturing towards what could be a teacher, a parent, a willing stranger. The air is full of good oil sizzling and gingery shrimp and spicy promises. There's a hippo folded out of foil on the counter; it seems to be guarding a calligraphy painting of a bird.
Pub, Kris thinks, can't begin to cover it.
He'd pick a word for it, but the analysis is brilliantly interrupted by a ruffled something hurling at Adam. In the next blink it resolves into something glaringly girl-shaped, lip-glossed, and completely antithetical to Kris' every expectation of Japanese restraint.
She's wearing a brushstroke-print dress and furry sneakers and of course, of course, Adam seems to know her like a sister. They laugh. They hug. They flail their hands—same color nail polish—in what seems to be the de facto flavor of communication as clearly they've got about ten words of shared language between them.
Kris tries to be surprised by this, he really does.
It's a little easier when the girl-hurricane spins away from Adam to focus on him. There's a lot of excited blinking. And pointing.
“I know, I know!” Adam grabs her tiny hand in his. They're practically bouncing. “He came back to the room just like that, boom, like a heart attack.”
She claps; Adam beams. Kris tries to remember the way back to the hotel.
His memory gets as far as turn left at the McDonald's shrimp burger billboard before Adam tucks his hand into the crook of his arm and tows him toward a pair of free chairs by the counter. The volcanic dynamo gifts them with blissfully hot towels. Only inches away, a chef with crisp whites and weathered hands nods at them with absolute calm.
God, Kris is in so much trouble.
The waitress, still giggling and radiating, brings appetizers—“Otoshimekabu's damn clingy, watch your teeth”—in vinegar with sparks of fresh ginger; steamed pebbles of asparagus in—“black sesame, no calories!”—dressing and vinegared—“aji-su”—mackerel with grated ginger and soy dipping sauce.
There's more mackerel, full of juicy fat, and a tilefish deep fried with its scales on. They bloom like hyacinth petals, blissfully crisp. The crab croquettes' filling is creamily reminiscent of an oceanic Béchamel sauce. The daikon radish is hearty, crunchy company to the deep-fried chicken gizzards. The omelet is hiding semi-dried baby sardines and, according to Adam, is best when the insides are steamy and runny.
In fact, Adam is perturbingly well informed about everything they eat. The miso-cured tofu, he explains, needs two years to earn its blue-cheese delicacy but it can also be eaten after two days. The stuff in the plastic squeeze bottles is bainiku, crushed sour plums, holy when applied to chicken breast.
Rolled omelet busting with garlic chives. Grilled broad beans chaperoned by coarse dipping salt. Crumbly, deep-fried, supernaturally good seaweed chips. A mashed potato salad drunk on sake and ginger pickles. Narrow pork slices quick-cooked in a soy-milk broth instead of boiling water. Tea-glazed walnuts. A whole clove of creamy, fried garlic offset with blistery miso.
It's war, and it's seduction, and it's pure mouth-to-soul witchcraft, and Kris swallows every bit helplessly as a drowning man taking in water.
So, so much trouble.
This isn't what he promised.
“Okay, you've really got to stop doing that. That whole I-am-the-great-and-powerful-Oz thing.” Adam rolls the hexagonal cross-section chopsticks between his fingers, his grip surprisingly sure. “Don't get me wrong, baby, your powers are undeniable. But if you keep making assumptions that far off target it's going to get you into real trouble.”
Kris swallows a mouthful of salmon belly, its oil like a psalm on his tongue. “I assumed nothing. You promised to behave. If I'd known there had to be a contract scribbled onto a napkin...”
“I promised to behave,” Adam says, “for Ryan. Which, your honor, I have. I did the shows and the interviews, and if the peo—interns said I made them they cry then they're lying liars who lie.”
“I was giving you space.”
Kris has to stop and wipe the sputtered shonchu off his chin. “Space.”
“Katy said you have issues with perspective. Missing the forest for the drunken squirrels and all that. You see the problem, you chase it, and you totally forget that there's life after the fact.”
This time the liquid hits Kris' knees. “Katy. You talked to Katy.”
“Sure,” Adam says. “She's a total sweetheart. I mean, balls of steel and mind full of piranha teeth, but if dick wasn't on the menu? I'd hit that like a—okay, I don't know baseball enough to mash in a good metaphor here but you get the picture.”
Is this what an aneurysm feels like?
“...your eyelid is doing that thing with the twitching again.” Adam piles more cold, deliciously smoky eggplant and asparagus onto Kris' plate. “The point is, what I promised had nothing to do with us in the way that you were thinking it did. I didn't want to make things more confusing.”
"So you slept with me."
Adam shrugs. "Sue me. Okay, maybe I had a tiny ten-second fantasy about blowing you into submission. Or that there'd be a one-eighty, you'd suck so bad I'd cool down. Doesn't matter since it didn't work, right? What the hell is wrong with you, by the way? The sex was awesome."
It was unbelievable. "It was all right."
"Screw you, Allen," Adam says. "It was the fucking moon landing."
Kris picks up his glass again. “I don't see what—”
“You broke my heart,” Adam says.
Kris puts down the glass.
“I told you I loved you and you gave me a sad, sad story along with your resignation. So I slept with you because, come on, I wanted to sleep with you. And I knew you'd walk the fuck out in the morning, anyway, and I hated you for that,” Adam says. “Just a little, maybe, but I did. I really did, Kris.” He looks at Kris, really looks at him for the first time since they sat down. There's no enticement or casualness in it now. “But then I saw you get up and sneak out to make breakfast for fuck's sake. What kind of idiot are you?”
“I never,” Kris starts.
“You said I got it wrong,” Adam says. “I said someone broke your heart and you said I didn't understand. Well, fuck that. Fuck it and your pretensions, Allen. The only part I had wrong was figuring out who fired the first shot, not about where the bullet landed.” He spreads his palms flat on the table. The paint over his left thumb is chipped. “You left. Fine. Got it. But what about the part where you ripped out your own heart to do it? What about fixing that, when you're too shell-shocked to survive a kiss?”
“Hearts don't grow back,” Kris snaps, and immediately feels self-righteous and juvenile for saying it. This is not, he's sure, the sort of conversations proper adults have. Proper adults pack up the baggage, tag it neatly, and lock it in the attic.
Adam fails proper. “Livers do.”
“They do. Whatever part gets taken will eventually begin to regenerate. You can lose nearly eighty percent of the thing and the remaining chunk will plow on until the rest regrows,” Adam says. “To hell with hearts, okay? Damn things pump red juice through some pipes and fuel a whole lot of shitty boy bands. Livers deal with the shit. Livers process and detox and handle all the heavy breakdowns. Livers show up in trashed hotel rooms and help lost causes clean the puke and lipstick off their face.”
“Adam, please.” Kris rubs his face. “What are you talking about? What do you want from me?”
The vibrancy falters. "Well, first I wanted your ass. Then I really wanted your ass. And then I wanted your attention—sue me twice, your annoyed face is seven kinds of hilarious—and then I kind of wanted your brain, you know? And your time, and your weird little reminder notes on Starbucks cups, and that scrunchy thing you do with your mouth when you're too polite to interrupt someone God-awfully boring or confusing."
Kris tries to un-scrunch.
“My life is crazy,” Adam says. Simply, like it's the weather. “That's the only real constant; the situation, not the people. Not even you. And it's not going to slow down any time soon because I don't plan to slow down. I don't want to. What I do is what I am, Kris, for better or worse. It's not fair to anyone to pretend otherwise.”
Having been front-row witness to both sides of that, Kris nods. “I never thought otherwise.”
“No, but I don't think you understand how I saw your place in it. I don't know, maybe I didn't either. You're like—like a light switch, okay? Flipping it on doesn't change what's inside the room but it shows you how to work your way around it. You make craziness—workable." His eyes are earnest. “You fit, Kris. Sometimes it's like—sometimes it seemed like you fit better than I did. And I liked that, I liked thinking that you'd always be able to hold your own in this. When I think of what things can be—will be—seven years from now I can imagine you there, and it doesn't feel unreal.”
“I get that,” Kris says.
“Actually, no; you don't,” Adam says. “Because when I think of things thirty-seven years from now—look, I'm not an idiot. I'm good, I'm fucking A-game good, but I'm not Elvis. Or Madonna. One day I won't have this. I'll have—well, okay, I'll have a super mansion somewhere with awesome security and three pools. But the point is, I'll have one life then, not—not a matinée. And you know what I imagine when I think of that house?”
“Private shoe gallery?” Kris says feebly.
“A kitchen,” Adam says. “A huge, gorgeous kitchen. With you. Because you fit there, in the future. In my future.” He takes a deep breath; Kris' stomach clenches in sympathy. "I want soup. Even if you're not there to make it, I want a thermos stashed away and I want to come home and tell you how good it was. I want to actually remember the one hundred and five dumb things that pass through my day so I can tell you about them. I want dessert. I want to be the reason you laugh when you're freaking out. I want to help replace your Reeboks when you finally retire the filthy mutants."
He looks up. He's got eyes cool as sherbet and big hands and the dumbest courage and absolutely no filter and a voice like nothing else, like something that belongs on Mars or in history class, because he's Adam, he's simply goddamn Adam, and he says, “I want to be with you, Kris. I just want to be with you.”
Kris' hand is cold. From the glass. It's the izakaya's—that's where they are, an izakaya—special: toketsu-shu, semi-frozen sake. The snowy slurry is concentrated alcohol, shaken into a glass from a bottle kept in the freezer. That's why his hand is cold, that's why his throat is burning.
That's why he stumbles on his way out the door.
He makes it as far as the hotel.
Not actually into the hotel, Kris' psyche taunts while he sits on the unnervingly clean bench outside the gleaming doors. There's a long silence in his head, not like shock, but not like fear. It doesn't feel like an epiphany, it feels like an old, old thought that he's fought before. Exhausted, Kris lets it bloom: I'm so tired of fighting this.
His phone rings.
"Two minutes," Adam says. "Then you can hang up and burn my number, and I'll personally yell at Simon to buy you a one way ticket back to the States. First class, too; I know you like the shrimp cocktails."
Kris does like the shrimp. "Okay."
He's not sure what he's expecting. An accusation, maybe. God knows, one wouldn't be undeserved at this point. Cajoling or flirting, or simple anger. Kris wouldn't be surprised to hear Adam being kind, but he'd take anger and hurt just as readily.
What he gets is, "A little while back we went to this place. A ryokan. One of the light techs, his parents own it. It's a fairly big deal, I think, very old and respectable. They're pretty famous for their cooking, actually; I was thinking of taking you there—" He makes an impatient noise. "Right, not the point now. The thing is, the place was really something, genuinely beautiful in this totally Japanese way. Not showy or anything, but—restrained. His mom does this stuff with flowers, it's called ikebana, right, and his great-grandfather was a potter. They still have some of his pieces around the place on rotation."
"Adam," Kris starts.
"No, just—just let me finish, okay? They gave me this bowl to look over, to touch and everything. They're surprisingly hands-on here, by the way. It was absolutely gorgeous, this deep, blackish green. I've never seen anything like it. It even felt good to hold, you know? You could sense how much love went into making it. But there was a crack in it. I thought it was deliberate at first but Hoshi, that's the tech, said no, his great-granddad and one of his apprentices got into a fight one day and the bowl got smashed into pieces. And see, the old man could've made another one, he was good enough to make a perfect copy, but instead he took those pieces and glued everything back together. There were cracks in it, though. But you know what he did? He filled them with gold."
Kris lowers his phone.
"It's a belief with the artists here," Adam says. "They believe that when something's damaged it has history, and that makes it more beautiful." He sits down on Kris' left. "It's not a bad theory."
"So, what then?" Kris says. "We're going from Houdini to Rumpelstiltskin?"
"Why not?" Adam grins. "You have to take whatever bit of magic you get in life. It's a damn boring stretch of days otherwise."
"That's childish," Kris says.
Adam hmms and stretches out his legs to the max. "Katy thinks you like me."
Kris can't help it; he laughs. Of course, of course Adam talked to Katy about this. The Universe would never pass by such an opportunity for chaos. "Did you apologize for the interview?"
"Didn't have to," Adam says. "She says the ratings made her producer orgasm so hard he's blind. We're negotiating a holiday special, possibly something involving lasers. It'll be fabulous."
"Remind me to alert TiVo." Kris sighs. "I do like you. Sometimes. Against my better judgment."
Adam nods. "Cool." He laces both hands on his stomach and watches the late crowd churn by. "Do you love me?"
Kris' breath doesn’t catch. His pulse doesn't thunder. His legs are steady when he gets up and the friendly hand he extends to Adam is stable as cement. When the bright tipped digits wrap around his, allowing the rest of the package to be tugged upward, he doesn't flush or pale.
"It's not a demand," Adam says, so flatly casual it'd make a polygraph explode. "I'm not trying to push you to—"
Adam's hand tightens.
Kris says, "I love you."
"The thing is," Kris starts. Stops. Sighs. Rubs his face with both hands. "The thing is, I was in love. Before. Real, honest, stars in our eyes love. And it was—it was amazing. It wasn't some kind of fling. We worked hard at it, we were serious. We did all the right things. We had a caterer, and a florist, and a seating plan for the extra cousins. But somehow when we added everything up, it didn't add up to what we thought we wanted. So I...I ended it. Everything. I said stop. Because I wanted to make it as painless as possible. Which wasn't the same thing as painless, actually, because it hurt like a shot. But I still figured it was the right thing to do, you know?
"And then there was you. You—you do everything wrong. You don't say what you should, or go where you have to, or wake up on time, or—or finish your vegetables. You're trouble. And I thought that was good, when we met, I thought trouble would be best. Everybody knows I'm good with disasters. And everyone knows, knew, you were—you're childish, and pushy and impatient. You're irresponsible. You're loud. You either piss off everybody in the room or bait them to the point of murder. Honestly, you're a—a shrew."
He inhales, pulling it deep into his diaphragm, and looks up. "But I love you."
Adam stares. Silently.
Of all the responses he tentatively imagined, blank silence was not high on the list. Kris reaches out tentatively. “Adam? Listen, this doesn't have to—sonofabitch!”
The thing is, that while Adam bitches about cuticles and worries over harmonizing accessories, there's plenty of dude underneath the glitter and eye shadow. Meaning, muscles. Kris can't help but reflect on this with his feet clear off the ground.
“You said it!” Adam crows, his face incandescent. “Out loud and out in the universe, no returns! I won't give it back. You-love-me! Allen loves Lambert! Kris and Adam sitting in a room, he confessed and none too soon! First comes love, then comes—applesauce!"
"You're ridiculous," Kris tries, struggling.
Adam holds fast. "Yeah, but you love me."
Is it possible? This gorgeous clown, this runaway comet, this emotional alien—is this what Kris Allen, troubleshooter and model of sanity, is seriously in love with?
"You," Adam says, loosening his grip, "love me."
"Yeah." Kris settles back to down to earth. "I really kind'a do."
(AN: The technique Adam is referring to is kintsugi. Bonus geek love for anyone who catches the Penny Arcade reference.)
"We'll fight," Kris warns.
Adam nods, "World War Four, baby."
"And don't think you'll suddenly have an excuse to—to anything," Kris says. He's a bit desperate now. "I won't look the other way."
"You like to watch," Adam says. "Got it."
The mattress shifts—too superior to creak—and warm, hard fingers slide in to rub his scalp. “Baby, you gotta get some sleep. We've got professionals to shock tomorrow.”
“It's already tomorrow.” Somewhere, Kris thinks, and oh, God, but does the rubbing feel good. His scalp is expanding, skin molecules slowly unclenching to melt.
“Shut up and snooze.” The hand quits, absence punctuated with slow, wide kiss on his neck.
Kris shifts back and front, again, but there's no relief at this angle either. He's exhausted, yet so unsettled that there are neon currents in his bloodstream. He flops onto his stomach, then, grimacing, rolls back onto his side.
The hand returns to rub his abs in small, smooth circles. “Tummy ache? Sorry, I should've waited on the gorging.”
“Nah, that was—that was amazing,” Kris says. “It's not my stomach, it's my everything else. I just can't relax.”
“...ah,” is Adam's savvy diagnosis. A little too savvy, maybe, because the rubbing at his belly migrates emphatically lower. Much lower.
Kris' breathing falters. “Thought we weren't doing this right now.”
“We are not doing anything. I'm driving, you just lie back and enjoy the trip.” Pause. “Do not think of England.”
Kris laughs and laughs, huffing, and then hiccuping shallowly as the pressure between his legs goes from tender to persuasive to definite. There's a second hand plucking at his chest, thumb petting a lucky nipple. The rest of Adam snuggles in closely to Kris' back. It's an odd way to think of Adam's size; Kris is used to looking up at him or glaring down, not to being blindly enveloped. Probably it's exactly the sort of thing that terrifies a first date.
Also, hey. “Hey.”
“Hmm?” His fly gets undone, loose denim riding low and tugged even lower.
“Pretty frisky for a first date, mister.” Though he did buy dinner. Kris' standards may be getting revamped blisteringly fast, but they're still there.
Both hands still. “No way.” Tugging and huffing gets Kris to crane a look over his shoulder. Adam's face is resolute even when darting in to peck Kris' nose, upper lip, shoulder. “This is not our first date. I forbid it. It is forbidden. Our first date will be—look, I have plans, all right? Do you know how many places in LA you have to call until you find one that deals exclusively with private Australian wineries? Now imagine doing it at five AM from the back of a cab with a lap full of drunken bassist and an earful of drummer. Don't fuck with that, Kristopher.”
“No fucking, got it.” He closes his eyes, sinking and grinning.
“Jerk,” Adam says with such absolute affection that Kris can't help it, he really can't. He has to twist back again and kiss that absurd, prized mouth. Adam's hand struggles back on-duty halfway through Kris' second breath and that somehow brings everything into synch.
“Kris,” Adam whispers into his hair, hand moving and moving, Christ, “stop trying to handle this. That's not—baby, just let go. Just let it happen.”
He comes back into skin with his eyes open and his lungs stuttering, Adam's hand skimming leisurely through the aftershocks. His face is rapidly cooling, but his neck is wet and prickling, a chili-like shock strumming Kris' system.
“Not a first date,” Adam restates, pulling away without actually detaching on any recognizable level. “This is barely an appetizer. This is—sniffing the cork.”
“Okay,” Kris breathes and rolls, pawing at Adam's reprehensibly posh jeans. His motor skills are rapidly disbanding but, damn it, there's still such a thing as manners.
“Hey, wait a second.” Adam's hips nudge away; Kris follows with bleary determination. “No, seriously, baby, you don't have to.”
“I want to,” Kris says and, God, he does. It's both enervating and electric to finally hear the admittance in his own head. “Come on, quit squirming.”
“No, really, Kris you don't—um, hi.”
“Oh.” Kris' hand pats the damp denim. “Huh. I guess I really don't.”
“Shut. Up.” Adam huffs. “Some of us have been honest about the obvious and waiting forever.”
Kris doesn't laugh, not this time though the temptation is strong as liquor. Instead he crab-walks his hand down until it finds Adam's. There's something unfairly precious about how tucking that hand under his chin is more intimate than keeping it between his legs, but there you go.
“Sleep now,” Kris says. “Payback later.”
Adam's fingers flex, tightening; eyes shut, Kris squeezes back.
“Okay,” Adam says. His breath is warm on Kris' cheek. “Okay.”
“Kristopher,” Simon says, “if this is meant to be a joke then be aware that I am most definitely not laughing.”
Kris sighs. “I know, I know. I know, all right? But, look, there are no scheduled appearances till Sunday and he'll definitely be there. I swear it on my honor.”
“That would be slightly more credible if you were to tell me where you are.” Oh, man, there goes the blood pressure again. Kris makes a note to stock up on celery for the next Thanksgiving; the potassium will help. “I'm not threatening you, but if you think this sort of behavior will—”
“I know, Simon.”
“—be overlooked on account of past graces, then you've clearly no concept of professional—”
Kris mutes the phone. Then he turns it off. Then he tosses it onto the sheets. “Burn it.”
“We'd need a torch and a priest.” Carefully, Adam picks up the offending accessory and puts it on the nightstand. Under a glass. “Did Big Bad Ben yell?”
“It's like listening to whale songs after a while. Soothing, yet incomprehensible. Possibly indicative of upcoming shipwrecks. Either way, we've got until Sunday.” He slides further down into the warm mesh of linen and skin. Although, geez, they need to change the sheets. “We need to change the sheets.”
“Fuck the fucking sheets.”
Kris laughs. “Ooh, diva moment. Did I touch a nerve? Gonna go lock yourself in the shower stall again, superstar? I bet you will, you totally will."
At which point Adam rolls over, skin to skin, mouth on neck, and yeah, fuck the fucking sheets.
“Hey,” Adam says. He tugs at their hands, swinging the knot between them a little. “Hey, say it again. Come on, one more time. For good luck.”
But says it anyway.
(Because the best thing Kris has learned in the business is: sometimes the love songs are right.)