Maybe he shouldn't have come out at all. He's been feeling funny—bad funny, jumping at every slight sound funny, constantly restless and halfway to aching funny—for coming up on three weeks now. He's messing up in the studio and his friends are refusing to meet his eyes.
But Tommy has been distant for weeks now, always too busy with his band and his guitar to hang out (and sure, Adam was invited to join the band but he has all these studio sessions booked. Tommy was so serious about rehearsals and Adam didn't want to fuck that up by barely ever showing up). They met up yesterday morning and Adam finally got the chance to offload his problems. Just seeing Tommy's face made everything so much better. Tommy didn't flinch away or refuse to meet his eyes the way everyone else did. When Tommy invited him out—well, he knew it wasn't a good idea but he figured he could just have one or two drinks and nothing too bad could happen.
That was then. Now, Adam is definitely unsteady on his four inch platform boots. The glass in his hand is still full—every time he looks down it seems to be—and he's propped against the wall. The floor spins around him and somewhere, he thinks, the plan went very wrong.
"Adam." Tommy is at his arm. He looks fucking gorgeous tonight in skintight black jeans and a loose shirt that falls open across sharp collarbones. Adam should totally make out with him because they did it that one time when they were wasted and it was hot.
"We should make out," Adam says, as Tommy tugs him away from the wall. Adam immediately starts overbalancing but Tommy somehow guides his collapse so it ends on a chair. "We should—because you're hot and I'm funny. Feeling funny. Did I tell you? There's like this bubbling in my stomach and every time—" a glass shatters and his whole body leaps to attention as his head spins around to search for it.
Tommy catches him before he falls off the chair, taking the sloshing glass from his hand and replacing it with a different one. "Here."
"I don't—" Adam looks away from the shadowed corners of the club to the glass in his hand. "I—no. I was only having two."
Tommy isn't looking at him—eyeing the door and the crowd of Alisan's friends by the bar. Of course, they used to be Adam's friends too, but lately...
Adam takes a long sip from the drink in his hand. It's not alcohol but it is refreshing, and he presses the cool glass to his forehead. "I think I fucked up," he says, which pulls Tommy's gaze away from the bar. "I think—I don't know what I did. They all hate me now."
Tommy sighs, pushing him further down the bench so he can sit down beside him. He rubs gently across the back of Adam's epically studded jacket. "C'mon babyboy," he says. "Drink up, and let's get you home."
Home sounds amazing. Adam tilts the glass back, tipping the last of the liquid down his throat. "I don't deserve you," he says as his head drops onto Tommy's shoulder.
Tommy sighs and rubs a hand through Adam's hair. He then pushes Adam lightly so his weight is against the wall. Tommy stands up, eyes darting back to the bar. "Don't move," he says, fingers tightening on Adam's shoulder like he can push the words into Adam's skin. "Just—" his free hand is sliding his phone out of his pocket. "I'm going to get us a ride."
Adam's head is too heavy for his neck so he lets it fall against the wall too. "I'm not going anywhere, Glitterbaby."
Normally the nickname would make Tommy smile, but tonight he just squeezes Adam's shoulder again. "I'll be five minutes. Wait here. Promise me you'll wait here."
Five minutes. Five minutes is loads of time, really, and all Adam wants is to close his eyes for a moment.
Just one moment.
The floor is still unsteady when he wakes up—less swaying now and more bouncing. He's still sitting down but his legs are flat in front of him. Tommy has a spare bed in his apartment but he doesn't let anyone in it if they look like they might throw up so Adam thinks he's probably propped up by the sofa.
The floor gives a particularly violent lurch and Adam forces his eyes open wide enough to turn his head and aim for the red bucket sitting beside him. Then he's puking up the water, the drinks and whatever else he made the mistake of putting into his stomach last night. The bucket is rocking and he can't lean forward to steady it because his arms are too heavy to raise. But someone else is already there to lift it up to his lap so he doesn't have to move his head before he's puking again. The someone reaches out with one hand to push his hair back from his face as he spits and tries to steady his stomach. The continual vibration of the floor and the taste of vomit at the back of his throat are totally not helping.
"Do you want water?" asks the someone in a hot southern drawl. Definitely not Tommy. Adam tries to remember if any of the guys in Tommy's band are from the South. Maybe he's one of Brad's latest projects. "Or are you going to throw up again?"
Adam would actually quite like to not have a head anymore, if that could be arranged. But Southern's question is answered pretty quickly by the re-emergence of everything Adam ate yesterday. "I am never drinking again."
Southern laughs but it's more 'I've heard that before' than 'you are so stupid' so Adam doesn't hate him too much. Also his fingers are still resting on Adam's hair, rubbing slightly across his scalp and he smells really fucking good.
Adam hesitates over the bucket a moment longer but he's pretty sure nothing else will come up. He raises his head a little and finally gets to take in Southern's short brown hair, totally blemish free skin and hesitant smile. For a moment, Adam thinks maybe he does know him from somewhere—there's something familiar about him—but he can't think where.
He's biting very slightly on his lower lip and for a much longer moment Adam is distracted by how much he wants to know how that tastes. Possibly it should wait until Adam's mouth tastes less like vomit. "Did you say something about water?" Adam's throat is disgusting and his voice comes out slightly strained through it, but Southern just smiles slightly wider and reaches for a bottle. Adam's arms are still too heavy to take it and straining for it makes his wrists ache. But Southern pulls open the sports cap and holds it to Adam's mouth so he can swallow.
"Sorry," Adam says, closing his eyes as the bucket is taken off his lap. "Sorry you have to deal with this. I thought Tommy—" he lets it drag on long enough to be a question, but doesn't get an answer. "I would say I don't normally get like this, but that would be a lie." He blinks a few times at the space where the bucket used to be and then lifts his head for the first time to look around properly.
Right in front of him is Southern, smile fading a little as Adam's gaze sharpens because behind him is definitely not Tommy's living room. It's a tiny grey space that's all bare metal and wheel casings. It's like the shitty van Adam's old band used to cart their kit to gigs to. Except of course it can't actually be that, because why the fuck would Adam be in the back of someone's van.
Unless... there has to be an explanation because Adam is basically a nobody, just a chorus boy in an okay, quite popular musical. He does occasional stints of session work but there are hundreds of people like him in LA and they are not the kind of people who get kidnapped. "Are you—" he tries to refocus on Southern, who is looking far too shifty now to be reassuring. "Did Tommy call you for a ride home? You're in his band?" He tries to grab his phone but his arms still won't move and he looks down and...
And fuck. And fuck, shit fuck. There are great fucking bands of metal around his wrists securing his arms to the bottom of the van. He tries to move his feet but they're chained too. Bolted to the floor and someone has actually sat down and planned this.
Southern is rubbing the back of his neck with one hand like he finds this situation kind of awkward. Which is funny, because 'awkward' is not the first thing that comes to Adam's mind when he thinks of kidnappers.
"You should, uh, probably stop pulling on them," Southern says in the worst case of misplaced sympathy ever known. "Your wrists are looking pretty raw already and we couldn't put too much padding there in case—" he trails off, leaving the 'in case you slipped out and got away' inferred. "Also," he adds, shifting back on his haunches uncomfortably and reaching into the back of his jeans. "You, uh, I need you to stay quiet. I mean, we don't want to draw any attention so you shouldn't try screaming or whatever."
He pulls out a gun. A great big fuck off pistol that he holds in one hand like he knows how to use it (which he probably does because, hello, the South.)
Screaming. That could have been a good plan.
"I'm Chris," Southern says. It's been ten minutes or so, the gun is back in his jeans and he's strapped into a second car seat opposite Adam in the back of the van. "K-R-I-"
"I don't care," Adam says. He's working on twisting his thumbs around—Brad used to have this party trick where he dislocated his thumbs and handcuffs just slid off—but all it's getting Adam is more sores where the manacles dig into his skin.
"Kris Allen," Kris continues. His fingers are tapping over and over against his knee. Adam kind of wants to grab him and shake him—he's tiny, it wouldn't be hard—and demand to know why he goes around kidnapping people if he finds it uncomfortable.
Except, Adam is manacled to the floor of a van and he can't move to so much as unclip his seatbelt. And really, installing seatbelts on car seats bolted to the back of a van is just one of the many ridiculous things about this situation.
"Sorry," Kris says. "I know you must be wondering what's going on. I'm trying to think how best to explain it."
Adam tugs on his wrists again. "How about you start with 'this was really just a huge misunderstanding' and end with 'so now I'm going to take you back home and turn myself over to -'"
"I'm trying to save your life," Kris says, words blurring into each other in a rush to get out. He stops and looks up at Adam with stupid desperate eyes. Adam does not find it adorable in any way—and if he does, it's because this whole situation is stupid to the point that he's starting to think it might be just a super realistic dream.
"I'm not a damsel in distress locked in a tower." The chains rattle as Adam tries to wave his hand for emphasis. "I don't live in a budget action movie. My life isn't actually in danger from anyone." He pauses as the situation catches up with him all over again. "Before you. My life wasn't in danger before you."
Kris frowns. "How do you—" he stops. "Oh, you mean the gun."
Adam blinks. "The gun, the kidnapping, the being chained in the back of a van."
Kris opens his mouth. Then he closes it again, as if he can't believe that at some point Adam might have considered his tiny, adorable self to be some kind of killing machine. "That's just—we don't want anyone to get hurt and we don't know what breed you are yet so it seemed better to play it safe."
Adam doesn't even know what to say to that one. What breed he is? Is this some fucking homophobic gays-aren't-people bullshit because if it is, Kris Allen is going down.
"I mean the van isn't ideal," Kris says. "But they don't exactly make portable cages."
Adam blinks, then starts slamming his hands into the bottom of the van and shouting for help as loud as he can.
Kris Allen tastes like skin, metal and Adam's shampoo. Adam knows this because Kris's hand is over his mouth and Adam's biting down on it as hard as he can. He's yet to break skin.
"I'm not homophobic," Kris says, like that was the worst thing Adam shouted at him during the two minutes they spent yelling at each other across the van. Two minutes during which Kris seemed to completely forget that he was free to move and had a gun.
Adam struggles again, but Kris seems to have finally found a good position. Kris places one arm against the van wall, one hand over Adam's mouth and he digs his knees sharply onto Adam's thighs to hold Adam's legs down. He's stronger than he looks and even hotter close up. Adam can faintly smell something almost familiar on his skin and he leans forward slightly to try and get a better sense of it.
He realises a moment too late that he hasn't been listening to a word Kris has been saying. His mouth is dry and his thoughts are all too occupied by Kris's legs tight against him and Kris's palm pressed against his skin.
"-friend is kind of bi," Kris is saying as Adam forces himself to tune back in. "Him and his boyfriend would be married if—but I guess you know that. You don't know me, why would you think I was homophobic at all?"
And just like that Adam's overactive libido is forgotten again in favour of being supremely pissed off. Adam tightens his jaw and tastes iron blood on his tongue. Kris jerks his hand away which is much better and far less distracting. "You called me a breed," Adam snaps, because somehow that has become important. "You said you didn't know what breed I was."
"Wolf breed," Kris says, as though it should have been obvious, turning his hand over to check the tiny splash of red. "We don't know what breed of werewolf you are."
"Oh. My. God," Adam says. "You are crazy. All this time I thought I was the one going mad, but no, it's you. Of course, it's you."
Kris sits back, taking some of his weight off Adam's legs and onto his toes. He looks slightly self-conscious, biting his lip and scratching at the cut on his hand. "You should rinse your mouth out," he says after a moment, reaching for the bottle of water again. "In case you got any blood in it. I mean, maybe we're wrong and you have a few more weeks if we can keep it contained."
Adam shuts his mouth tight as Kris moves towards it with the water.
Kris rocks a little, glancing from the closed driver's compartment window to the locked doors like someone might come and help him out. "Seriously," he says, pushing the sports cap against Adam's bottom lip. "You don't want any of my DNA in your system."
What the fuck? Adam thinks, but doesn't say anything because Kris is entirely too devious.
"Werewolf DNA activates the werewolf genes," Kris says. "Blood, spit, anything. I mean we know you've already had contact because you're starting to activate. But more werewolf DNA will speed it up and we really need to keep it slow so we have time to get you somewhere safe." He shakes the bottle a little. "Please, Adam. It's just water."
His eyes are even worse than Brad's. Adam opens his mouth a little and lets Kris push some water from the bottle inside. He rinses and spits into the bucket held out in front of him. "Am I being punked? Because if someone put you up to this—this isn't funny."
Kris sighs, putting the bucket back down. "This is why wolves should stay in packs. I've never had to explain this before."
"That's because it's bullshit." Adam tugs harder at his wrists. "It's science fiction. People don't get bitten and suddenly start turning into wolves whenever the moon is full."
"No," Kris agrees but then ruins it by adding, "it's genetic. As best as we can tell, your Mom had wolf parents. But she was abandoned before anything happened to activate her changes. She was adopted and raised by humans. She never knew anything else but when she had you, the wolf gene was passed on as well. You then went to LA and somehow befriended a whole pack of werewolves." He drags a hand through his hair. "But you're not in any of the LA packs. A strong male has to be born in or fight their way in, and we couldn't track down your grandparents. All Alisan knew was that you were an inactive werewolf without a pack and surrounded by so many wolves that someone had to fuck up eventually and you'd start changing."
Adam had been trying really hard not to listen because Kris was so sincere. If it had been anything at all possible, Adam might have believed him. "You know Alisan? No, you can't know Alisan. Alisan is my friend."
Kris bites his lip a little, sitting back in the seat opposite Adam as the van speeds up. "Alisan's the alpha of one of the LA wolf packs. We had connections. One of her wolves mated with my beta a few years ago and moved to Arkansas. We stayed in touch. When she was trying to track down a pack you could join, she got in touch with us." Kris glances up. "At the moment, you're a loner. Lone wolves are bad because they're more likely to go feral. There's no structure around them, no precautions put in place." He swallows and looks down again, like he can't meet Adam's eyes. "Standard pack procedure when faced with lone wolves in their territory is to kill them."
He says it so matter-of-factly that it takes a moment for it to sink in that he's talking about murder. Specifically, Adam's murder.
"If it's any consolation," Kris says to his shoes. "Most of the people in her pack agreed that they wouldn't kill you when you started turning. They just... wouldn't get in the way of anyone else."
"Alisan's—" Adam starts. Then he remembers all the people who stopped meeting his eyes and talking to him, started acting like he was already out of their lives. He doesn't want to hear Kris confirm that every single friend he has is part of this prank or conspiracy or just complete craziness. He definitely doesn't want to hear that all his friends were going to be complacent in his death.
"But if you're in a pack, no one will kill you," Kris says quickly. "That's why she was looking. You can't join just any pack because you're male. There can't be competition, and packs tend to be about families and bloodlines but, uh—" he glances up then down again, rubbing his hand up and down against his jeans. "It's... werewolves mate for life. Someone from Alisan's pack tracked a residual scent on someone else's jacket halfway across the country because he knew that it belongs to his mate. He found my beta and that was all it took to get that wolf into our pack instead."
Kris shifts a little, pulling his knees up and resting his hands on them, fingers tapping against the denim. "Alisan wanted to keep you safe. She sent some cards you'd touched to any wolves she knew—including my beta's mate. She thought if your mate smelt one then they would know and could come find you. That was your one chance to join a pack and be safe." Kris swallows, glancing up for the first time. "And—yeah. Here I am."
Adam blinks, waits a moment for the words to sink in.
He can't help it. He bursts out laughing.
When Adam shows no signs of stopping five minutes later and it's starting to get hard to breathe; Kris says, "you're sounding kind of hysterical."
"You're a stalker," Adam says. "All of this—kidnapping and coming up with this whole bullshit story—just because you couldn't ask me out on a date like a normal person. Well, the answer is no, very much no. I will not date you because you're crazy."
Kris lets out what's almost a snarl of frustration. Adam is trying to stop laughing long enough to breathe. "You said yourself that you're feeling funny. Your stomach feels funny, you can smell more and it's getting worse as the full moon gets closer. That's because your body's preparing for the first change."
"Where did you come from? Did you go to drama school or something because your acting is just—"
"I'm not—" Kris starts, then stops abruptly. "You want proof? Fine." He reaches for his jeans. Adam feels the laughter die in his throat as he remembers that Kris has a gun and Adam has just laughed in his face for a ridiculously long time. But it was mostly out of fear and confusion, and somewhat hysterical relief that Kris was just a stalker and not going to start trying to eat people any time soon.
Kris pulls out a phone, inadvertently dropping a key in the process and noticing the way Adam's eyes follow it. Kris picks the key up to put in his back pocket before typing something on his phone. "I'm a werewolf," he says. "A moon-shifter—I shift into a mid-size brown wolf for four nights surrounding the full moon. I'm alpha of the Arkansas wolf pack. I'm twenty three years old, a college student from Conway."
The van stops. Adam can vaguely hear the sound of doors being opened and closed. Then there's the sound of footsteps down the road on the other side of the wall.
"And I'm your mate," Kris says, as there's the thud of the doors being unlocked from the outside. "I'd have thought—you should be able to tell. You should feel something." He looks down at his knees. "I could smell it from the paper Alisan sent that you touched. It's been overpowering since we found you in the club." His voice gets even smaller to the point where Adam isn't sure he's meant to hear. "You should know."
Then the back doors of the van open to reveal a tall man with dark hair and a wolf standing beside him. The man has one hand resting on the wolf's ruff, which isn't hard because the wolf is fucking huge, head as high as the man's waist. Adam watches as the wolf shakes the man's hand off and leaps into the back of the van.
Adam screams, and no he's not ashamed to admit that. He jerks backward so fast he wrenches his wrists as the wolf turns its sharp eyes onto his face. Kris is already standing up, clearly about to run out of the van and leave Adam to be eaten alive.
Except Kris doesn't—of course he doesn't, says a tiny voice at the back of Adam's mind like there was never any question. Kris steps forward and rests a hand on the fur on the wolf's back as the tawny muzzle leans into Adam's face. The wolf sniffs slowly at Adam's throat. Adam can feel its warm, damp breath and the slight wetness of its nose, and he tries to hold still and not breathe.
The wolf licks his cheek and whines. It drops to the floor and rests its chin on Adam's knee, like its asking forgiveness for scaring him. Adam draws in a breath slowly, trying not to move too much.
"It's okay," Kris says, crouching to keep a hand on the wolf's back. "He won't hurt you. He's a free-shifter. He can switch between wolf and human any time but he keeps his human mind in either form. He's perfectly safe."
The second man has climbed into the truck now and crouches beside Kris, taking over the job of keeping a hand on the wolf's back.
"This is Cale," Kris says. "He's my beta, my second in command."
"Also the driver," Cale says. He has the same southern drawl as Kris's, but Adam thinks it's less attractive on him. He's also bigger and Adam feels a whole lot more vulnerable, chained down with those sharp eyes on him. "I should get back to that. I think I got directed wrong coming out of LA."
The wolf snarls, turning its head and snapping its teeth where Cale's fingers were a moment before. It's whip-crack fast and Adam flinches back again with a rattle of chains. Despite what Kris said, the wolf doesn't seem at all safe with its back paws resting inches from Adam's leg and its top lip pulled back to reveal a row of razor sharp teeth.
It pushes to its feet, forcing Cale to step backwards to avoid it. The muzzle turns briefly, damp nose pressing against Adam's cheek surprisingly gently, then it turns to jump back out the van and stalk away. Adam doesn't take his eyes off the doors until the tip of the tail has passed around the door and out of sight.
His mind is still trying to rationalise. Maybe Kris has a pet wolf or it's just a really big dog. And Kris really is a stalker who went through all of the information to find out that Adam's mom was adopted which—okay, so no one knows that. No one. Adam's grandparents' daughter died and Adam's mom's biological parents had paid a doctor obscene amounts to falsify the paperwork so it would seem normal.
Adam had never really questioned the story. He knew all about how some parents were assholes by then. Better to have adoptive grandparents who always loved him for who he was than to go off in search of a biological family that abandoned a baby the moment she was born.
"Are you two okay?" Kris says. When Adam turns away from the door, he sees Kris watching Cale with a concerned expression.
Cale had been watching the wolf with some combination of frustration and regret, but now his expression sours. "No thanks to you," he says, turning to follow the wolf out of the van and slamming the doors shut with a bang.
Kris drops back into his seat and lets his head thud against the metal wall. "So he hates me too now. That makes my mate, my best friend and my best friend's mate." He lets out a low laugh that is closer to despair than novelty. "This wasn't quite the plan."
Adam almost feels sorry for him.
They sit in awkward silence for what feels like half an hour but could be ten minutes—patience has never exactly been Adam's strong point. "Where are we going?"
Kris's head jerks up, expression lightening a little as though all he wanted in the world was for Adam to talk to him. "Arkansas," he says, because apparently he didn't read the section in the kidnapper's rule book about not revealing your plan to your victim. "The nearest town's called Conway, but our house is a little way outside of that. We needed the space—it has a huge garden with a forest and a few acres of land out back for when the pack members switch. The house itself is pretty big. There aren't many people living there at the moment but convention rules that the pack base has to be large enough to house every member of the pack in an emergency situation."
God, Kris has got to stop explaining these things so reasonably like they're actually possible. Adam has to remind himself every few minutes that all of this is just crazy talk and Kris is just trying to psych him out or something. "So how did you train a wolf to follow you," he says, because that's a perfectly rational explanation for one of the many things that need explaining here. "Or is it just a large dog?"
Kris sighs. "He shifted into wolf form before he came back here. He's a werewolf like me, like you and like most of your friends."
So that line of questioning failed. "People will come looking for me," Adam says. "I do have other friends, you know." He totally does. Cassidy is always up for a night out. Brad hasn't reached the point of screening his calls—he's just been really busy lately and they're still kind of in the super awkward just-broke-up phase of their relationship. The fact that they've been in this phase for nearly eight months now is definitely normal and not a sign of anything, thank you very much, Danielle.
"Yeah," Kris says. "And when Alisan tells them that you went with your best friend on a spiritual retreat to the desert to find some inner peace, they'll stop looking."
"You're not my best friend," Adam snaps. "You don't even know me. Tommy's my—" he trails off because Kris isn't meeting his eyes again and Tommy was at the bar. Tommy was right there at the club and Kris must have kidnapped Adam from the club so—
"He's still unconscious up front," Kris says, not meeting Adam's eyes. "We thought—in case we needed the leverage. The drugs wore off you quicker, probably because you're a wolf but—"
"No," Adam says, pulling at his wrists again because this is too far. "No, no, this is not happening. You can't just come into my life and kidnap my friends to get to me. This has gone past the point of stalker-crazy. I don't care what you think you are to me or what you're hoping to get from this but you don't go near my friends." The chains rattle loudly as he pulls at his wrists and a part of him feels like he should be stopping because the manacles are sharp but there's something foreign inside him that wants to yell and snap.
This stranger touched Adam's pac—friend.
"Adam—" Kris is unclipping his seatbelt. "Adam, you need to calm down."
"I do not need to calm down!" Adam pulls harder at his wrists, and if he sniffs hard enough he can smell Tommy's scent somewhere in the van. "You don't get to tell me to calm down. You're crazy, everyone's crazy."
Oh god, he's going mad. Kris is crawling closer and Adam wants to attack him, snap the chains and challenge him to a fight because Tommy is Adam's and Kris shouldn't be touching Adam's frien- pack.
Kris crawls across the van pinning Adam's legs beneath his knees and grabbing Adam's arms to hold them down. Adam struggles desperately, straining his head forward to try and get his teeth to Kris's neck.
Kris is far stronger than he looks. Adam's legs and arms are pinned perfectly still and Kris presses his forehead against Adam's. "Adam," Kris says desperately. "Adam, you need to breathe. You need to stay calm. This is your wolf side and no one's taught you to control it. I need you to breathe slowly in and out. Focus on me."
Adam doesn't believe in werewolves, he doesn't believe in any of this. He's just scared and angry and it's probably perfectly normal to want to sink your claws into your kidnapper until they surrender.
"Focus," Kris says, a sharp command. "Breathe."
Adam freezes up for a moment and then breathes slowly. In and out, in and out, until the urge to rip into Kris's throat has faded somewhat. "What drugs did you give me?" he says, because it's the only explanation that makes sense. He must be—he's unbalanced.
"You're going to be in flux for a while," Kris says. "The moon's coming and that plays havoc with your emotions, particularly when you're new." He still hasn't moved away from Adam's lap. "When we're home, the pack will help you through it. It's going to be okay."
Adam nods like he has any intention of going to Kris's home. He's going to get out. He just needs a plan to get the key to the cuffs from Kris's jeans and then he can be gone in a moment.
He's struck by a sudden crazy surge of inspiration buoyed by how close Kris is and the slight parting of his lips. And the fact that after a day in the back of a van driving through the desert, Kris should not smell this good. Adam goes very still, stops pulling against Kris's hands on his wrists and lets his eyes drop to Kris's mouth.
"Kris," he says, in a smaller voice.
The pressure on his wrists eases a little, hesitant. Adam can feel the van slowing down which is good—it means Kris won't suddenly move away. "Adam? Are you—are you okay? We can take Tommy back or—I promise we won't hurt him."
Adam licks his lips. "You were right," he says, pitching his best seductive purr. "You were right, I do feel it."
Kris goes very still. "Adam—"
"The way you look, the way you smell, it's driving me crazy. I know- I know we're meant to be. I feel it."
For a moment Kris looks torn, confused. Adam presses up against him as best he can and Kris lets out a low whimper. "You're my mate," Kris whispers. "Adam, you're—"
"Yes," Adam says. And he's almost starting to believe it because his pulse is racing just from the faint touch of his body against Kris's. Then Kris is leaning in, releasing Adam's wrist to touch his cheeks, his jaw, to curve around the back of his neck.
"I dreamed of you," Kris whispers, his breath warm on Adam's lips. Kris is so close that Adam has half forgotten why he's doing this. "I dreamed—it wasn't supposed to be like this."
Adam is going further and further out of his mind every moment. But Kris is still too far away and Adam can't get any closer. "Kris," he says, half a whine as he arches as best he can. "Please."
Finally—finally—Kris closes the gap and presses their lips together. Adam doesn't bother to tease, just lets his mouth open so Kris can explore inside. Kris's fingers slide up through Adam's hair and he sinks down, until he's sitting in Adam's lap. Kris's legs are tight on Adam's thighs, his tongue moving painfully slow across the contours of Adam's mouth.
Adam presses his body up but it's not enough. He needs to—he wants to trace the lines of Kris's face, of his back, wants to feel the curve of his ass and pull him closer but Kris is still so hesitant. Adam draws back from the kiss a little. "Kris," he says, pulling ineffectually at his wrists. "Kris, I need—"
Kris blinks dazedly for a moment, then looks down at Adam's straining hand. "Oh," he says, soft like he can hardly believe it. He leans in to kiss Adam again, and this time one of his hands snakes down Adam's body. Kris finds Adam's wrist, runs a thumb across the pulse point. His fingers brush light as feathers against where Adam's arm has been rubbed raw by the manacles.
Kris's fingers curve around the manacle, down onto the chain. Then there's a sharp jerk and a snap, and Adam's arm is free to reach up and tug Kris flush against him. He runs his hand across the tight muscles of Kris's back, the tickle of hair at the nape of his neck. He runs his fingers slowly down Kris's spine and hears Kris gasp in his ear. His hand snakes down further, sliding into Kris's back pocket to cup the curve of his ass.
Kris whimpers a little. He then presses his lips against Adam's neck, muffling the noises he's making in Adam's skin. He smells like sex, like dark rooms and velvet sheets. Adam wants to keep him here forever. So he pulls Kris closer, licks lines down his throat and whispers his name.
"Kris, Kris, Kris."
Kris lets out a low cry and kisses Adam again, swallowing his name off Adam's lips. Adam's hand moves back up to curve around the back of Kris's neck, holding him tight. He tastes of Kris and sweat and sex and home. Adam has a vague memory of there being a plan but it's forgotten in favour of hot sweat sex taste touch.
He almost wants to howl. He wants to mark Kris as his; he wants to be marked and keep this and have this. The closer he pulls Kris in, the closer he feels to belonging and fitting.
The door of the van slams open with a crash and Kris jerks back like Adam suddenly gave him an electric shock. The bright light of day shines in between them, illuminating Kris's hair sticking up in all directions, his shirt completely askew and his lips slightly red.
I did that, Adam thinks. For a moment, he's full of complete satisfaction.
Then Kris moves further away, taking his scent with him. And fuck, Adam did that. Adam got completely carried away like he's still a fucking teenager, and Kris reaches up to touch his mouth, staring at Adam with something like awe.
"Cale needs to talk to you."
The voice is familiar, but Adam still has to turn his head before he can believe it. Tommy's hair is swept perfectly to the side, and he's wearing different clothes—blue jeans and an old jumper—from the club. And he's leaning on the doorway like he knows he belongs there.
Adam closes his free fist tight around the key he stole from Kris's back pocket and tries to convey with his eyes that he can get them both out of here. That they can escape and go back to LA to leave all of this crazy bullshit with werewolves—and Adam's uncontrollable hormones—behind.
"He's fucking exhausted," Tommy continues, not even glancing Adam's way. "And he's refusing to say anything because of the moon, but he needs to sleep."
Tommy doesn't sound like a prisoner. He doesn't even look like a prisoner but it must mean that Kris's friend, the bigger guy, must have a gun too. Maybe Tommy's being threatened.
Kris blinks and pushes himself slowly up onto his knees. "I could drive for a while," he says. "I thought I told you to stay up front, out of sight."
Tommy's eyes narrow very slightly. "He's been driving in this van for over thirty hours without a break. He needs a bed and quiet and at least ten hours sleep and I thought I told you no."
Kris runs a hand through his hair to flatten it then turns to Adam. "I'll be right back, okay?" he says, leaning in to kiss Adam quickly on the side of the mouth before turning and jumping out of the van. "You—" he says, pausing beside Tommy and trying to look threatening in spite of being tiny in comparison. "We will have words." He disappears around to the front of the van, leaving Tommy leaning against the metal door and watching Adam.
"Tommy," Adam says, desperate for him to say... something. To come out with some perfectly reasonable explanation for why he's talking to Adam's kidnapper like they're old friends. "Tommy Joe?"
Adam closes his fingers tighter around the key, hiding it better in the palm of his hand so there's no chance of Tommy seeing. He's suddenly reminded of Kris's comment that they drugged him in the club and that the last thing he remembers before passing out is Tommy giving him a glass of water.
But it can't, it can't. Because that would mean Tommy was as taken in by this as everyone else and this is Tommy. Alisan's known Tommy since birth and she introduced him to Adam the moment Tommy came back to LA from wherever he'd moved to after graduation. Adam's known him for a year now, and you can't hide something like this for a whole year. Not from your best friend. "Glitterbaby?"
Tommy forces a small smile that doesn't meet his eyes. "Hey, Babyboy," he says, then turns—casual as anything—to follow Kris around to the front of the van.
Adam suddenly feels very alone.
Adam gives himself thirty seconds to freak out, to inwardly scream that his best friend has conspired to kidnap him, and apparently believes in werewolves. Adam then forces himself to parcel all that away and focus with a willpower that has seen him through many a stressful audition.
Escape is the obvious plan. He has to get out of the restraints, out of the van and back to LA. Then he can track down Alisan and get a real explanation for why everyone has been avoiding him lately then apologise to whoever he inadvertently insulted. Then the whole gang will get back together to keep him safe if Kris decides to return, and Adam won't have to be near Kris's confusing smell any longer. Everything will go back to normal.
At best, he has five minutes before Kris gets back and the van starts moving again. Five minutes with the back door to the van open and the key he stole from Kris's jeans in his palm.
So, the key first. He shifts it slowly from his palm to his fingers—careful not to drop it—and reaches across to slip it into the keyhole of the manacle on his still-chained side. He takes a moment as he does so to notice that his wrist was freed by snapping one of the thick chain links neatly through the centre.
It must be a trick chain, he decides, determined to not think about it as he leans forward to unlock his feet. He hasn't got time for the amount of panic that comes with knowing Kris snapped a chain as thick as Adam's little finger with his bare hands.
His wrists and ankles hurt and he's not dressed right for the desert, but all he has to do is get far enough away that these people stop looking for him. Then he can get back on the road and hitchhike home.
He grabs the bottle of water from where Kris has left it and moves as quietly as he can out of the van and off the edge of the road.
Aside from the strip of tarmac, it's all desert as far as the eye can see. Adam picks the direction that will put a hill between him and the van as quickly as possible and starts running.
It is really fucking hot. He drains the rest of the water within about ten minutes, already slowing to a jog. His ankles ache every time they thud against the ground and his head throbs from the hangover that never quite went away.
He stops by a cactus to throw up and catches himself missing the air conditioned back of the van.
Adam distracts himself from the pain and the exhaustion thinking of Kris. He shouldn't because Kris is a crazy person who kidnapped him and believes in werewolves, but every time he lets his mind wander, it drifts back to the feel of Kris's mouth on his.
The way Kris says his name.
The way Kris's fingers dug into his skin and made him want to howl.
His head is spinning, and he keeps thinking he sees movement from the corner of his eye—some kind of animal. Maybe a scavenger, waiting for him to die.
Adam runs until he can't run anymore, and then collapses in the tiny amount of shade provided by a cactus. He prays that he's gone far enough that they won't find him.
He's been lying there for five minutes when an animal pads up next to him, pressing its cool nose against his forehead and then licking his cheek lightly. Adam reaches out a hand to pet its muzzle—it's soft against his hand and the animal snuffles against his palm.
"Hey," Adam croaks. "Are you going to eat me?"
The animal snorts, and that's when Adam recognises it as the tawny wolf from Kris's van. It looks big enough to crush Adam's head between its teeth—definitely too big to be a dog—but it has a collar clipped around its neck. Maybe it's a tracking dog, and the collar is some way for Kris to find it again.
Adam tries to push it away. "No, scram. Get out of here."
The wolf snorts again, nudging Adam with its nose to push him back so it has more space.
As Adam pulls his hand back, the wolf twists backwards in the sun. It contorts its shoulders, throws back its muzzle and starts to stretch out like it's getting taller. The bones contort at its hackles and twist into shoulders. Its paws uncurl and stretch out into fingers, and the fur all over its body rapidly withdraws back into the skin.
The head wrenches sideways with a crack like something's breaking, and Adam has to look away for a moment.
When he turns back, Tommy is sitting on the sand, naked save for a leather collar clipped loosely around his neck. As Adam watches, he reaches up to unhook a cell phone from the collar and flip it open, hitting speed dial two. Whoever Tommy's calling picks up immediately but Adam can't quite hear what they say.
"He's fine," Tommy says, pressing the back of his hand against Adam's burning hot forehead. The two of them clearly have very different definitions of fine. "But I really hope the GPS on this works because he's not going to be fit to walk to you any time soon." There is a pause as the person on the other end of the line speaks. Then Tommy hangs up and tosses the phone into the sand beside them.
"They'll be here soon," he says, rubbing his hand lightly back and forth across Adam's forehead. "Hang in there, Lambert."
Adam swallows over his dry throat and lets Tommy help him up into a sitting position. "You're a werewolf," he says slowly. "I saw—the tawny wolf." He did, he saw it and unless it was some kind of mirage and he's imagining Tommy standing here then—"Fuck, this is crazy. I can't even believe I'm considering it. You're a wolf. You're a wolf. You're naked and a wolf."
Tommy looks down at his body, utterly without shame, and shrugs. "I can't exactly wear clothes when I'm changed. The collar is bad enough." He hooks a finger through the leather collar, pulling it tight against his skin.
Adam grabs his jacket from the sand and thrusts it at Tommy. Tommy looks down at it then grins his thanks and pulls it over his arms which—wasn't exactly what Adam was thinking. Tommy leans back in the sand, spreading the whole front of his body out to the sun with a tiny grin.
"I had to come after you somehow," Tommy says. "I can't follow your scent as a human." The 'you shouldn't have run' is left unsaid.
"They have guns," Adam says. "Kris has a gun and he knows how to use it."
Tommy snorts. "You're lucky he knows which end to hold. The whole time we were planning it was like neither of them had ever seen a Hollywood action movie. Cale was calling me the whole time they were driving down to ask about what to buy and which drugs to use, where they could get them."
Adam must make a sound, even though his throat feels like it's closed up, because Tommy stops abruptly. "You drugged me," Adam says. "You drugged my water and helped kidnap me."
Tommy is still for a moment, then he shrugs the jacket off his shoulders. He spreads it over his lap, slowly pulling and straightening it to remove the creases. His mouth opens a few times, as though he's worked out what to say, but he never gets as far as making a sound.
It's as good an answer as any. Adam looks away, out over the empty desert. "I thought—how could you?"
Tommy tugs on the collar again, but this time he just looks uncomfortable. "I had to. That's why I was—I came to LA as soon as we knew you were here. That's why I had to get close to you."
Adam feels his mouth fall open because this is the second surprise punch to the stomach in a matter of hours. "You had to get close to me? What, so everything you did, everything we did was just you trying to get close to me so you'd be ready for a kidnapping? I thought you were my friend."
"I was," Tommy says quickly. "I mean—Kris said... I didn't want to. Fuck, Adam, can you stop looking at me like that?"
No. No, he really can't and if Tommy has a problem with that, then he probably shouldn't have kidnapped Adam in the first place. "They said they kidnapped you. Kris said they took you in case I started acting up and you were just sitting up front with your best kidnapping friend and going along with that? Were you going to pretend to be scared if they pointed the gun at your head to make me behave?" If he could get up, he would punch Tommy in the face. "Fuck you, okay. Just fuck you."
Tommy doesn't say anything to this, just keeps staring at Adam's jacket in his lap, running fingers with chipped black nail polish over the leather. "It wasn't supposed to be like this," he says eventually. "That's why I was in LA. I was supposed to stay close to you and as soon as you activated, I'd know. I'd call Cale and Kris, and they could talk to you. But I got distracted—the band, the people—and by the time I saw you the other morning, it was too late. You've been active nearly a month, you could change any day and as soon as you've changed, you become a target. We had to get you out."
Adam is not listening. He is very much not listening.
"Kris is pretty fucking angry with me," Tommy says. "And Cale is—they had to drive all the way from Arkansas to LA without stopping. And you hate me and I'm not saying you shouldn't. Hell, I kind of hate me." His nails scrape over Adam's jacket, catching on the rough surface. He'd bought Adam that jacket. "Could you please say something?"
"This is crazy," Adam says. "This and you and Kris. I'm going to wake up tomorrow and this will all have been some crazy dream which we will laugh about. And I will never drink again and you were my best friend."
There's a rumbling in the distance and Tommy turns his head as the shape of the van appears on the horizon. "I'm sorry," Tommy says, sliding the jacket off his lap and stretching up. "Really."
This time Adam refuses to look away. Tommy's arms stretch forward, his head lowering as his jaw pushes out and hair spreads across his body.
The tawny wolf pads over to him and his eyes have the same expression as Tommy's when he begged Adam to talk. It lowers itself slowly to the ground, dropping its head to expose the back of its neck and letting out a low whine.
Adam closes his eyes and turns his head away. "Leave me alone."
There's a moment of stillness. Then Tommy stands up—butts his nose gently against Adam's leg—and turns to run towards the rapidly growing silhouette of the van on the horizon.
Adam pushes himself onto his knees, but when he tries to stand, he just falls forward onto the ground.
Cale gets out of the van first. Tommy is standing by the back doors, and he makes a show of not turning his head when Cale walks past. It would've been more effective if Cale isn't doing the same thing to him.
More importantly, Cale has water. He crouches in the sand beside Adam to prop him up and help him trickle it slowly from the bottle into his mouth. "Slowly," he says as Adam tugs the bottle free from his grip. "Or you'll just throw it all back up."
Tommy pads slowly towards them until he can rest his head back on Adam's knee. Cale glances down at him as though to speak, but apparently thinks better of it.
"We're a little too far from LA to walk home," he says instead, aiming his words at Adam.
Adam tilts the water bottle up to his lips again so he doesn't have to reply. He knows they're too far; it's pretty clear that this was a stupid idea. He doesn't need strangers rubbing it in his face.
"Come on," Cale says when the bottle is empty, hoisting Adam up with an arm under his shoulders. "The van has air conditioning, you need to cool down."
From the outside, the van looks far less intimidating. There's a stylised cartoon wolf painted on the side with a speech bubble coming from its mouth reading 'Allen's Howl-age'.
"As in haulage," Cale says. "It's a pun."
"It's terrible," Adam says, as he scrambles to find his feet.
Cale laughs. "That it is."
The back door of the van opens as they get closer and Kris leans out. His hair is still mussed up, and he hasn't done up the top buttons of his shirt. Kris's mouth falls open very slightly when he sees Adam stumbling towards him. He's gorgeous, half undone and for a brief crazy moment, Adam thinks he could run over there, pin Kris up against the van wall and kiss him again.
Adam really wants to kiss him again. The first time, he was distracted by thoughts of getting the key but if he was already free, he could focus on getting his hands in Kris's hair, touching skin, breathing him in.
He trips and Cale's arm catches him. When he looks back up, Kris—kidnapper Kris—is standing and watching them awkwardly in the back of the van where Adam used to be chained up. Adam reminds himself fiercely that Kris has a gun and is possibly crazy, and even if werewolves do exist there's no such thing as mating.
Kris leans forward, offering his hand to help Adam into the back of the van. Adam ignores it, climbing past him and walking to his seat. The seat, not his seat. The seat he happens to be using because he's here for the air conditioning and because he's still thirsty. And Cale mentioned something about a motel earlier, so presumably there'll be other cars and a chance to escape. He tells himself very firmly that these are the only reasons as he reaches for his seatbelt.
Tommy jumps into the back of the van after him, padding under Kris's outstretched arm to curl up on the floor beside Adam's hand.
Kris swallows, looking between them without meeting Adam's eyes. "I thought—" he starts, his eyes drawn to the unlocked manacles—the key is still sitting snug in Adam's pocket. "It doesn't matter."
Adam knows exactly what Kris thought—he can remember the smell of Kris pressed close, the taste of his mouth, the way Kris whispered, "I dreamed about you".
"I needed the key," Adam says, throwing it in Kris's face. If Kris believes there was nothing else, Adam will too.
Kris's eyes drop, his mouth opening and closing like he doesn't quite know what to say. His grip on the door tightens until his fingers go white and then the metal crumples like foil beneath them. "Yeah," he manages. "And you got it so—" His eyes flash up for an instant, desperate and pleading. "And you're sure you didn't—"
"Kris," Cale interrupts, reaching up to peel Kris's hand free of the metal. Kris's head drops again, and he lets Cale tug his hand to pull him out the van. Cale mutters something into Kris's ear that makes Kris's shoulders drop even further and Adam tenses with the sudden urge to—to do something. If Kris would just meet Adam's eyes, Adam could bring him back or try to explain or...
Or kiss him again.
But Kris doesn't so much as raise his head, turning to walk out of sight of the open doorway as Cale reaches up to flick the patch of door now wrinkled in the shape of fingers. "We'll be stopping in about an hour," he tells Tommy. "Look after him."
Adam wants to say he doesn't need looking after and he's not staying for any reason other than he can't run in this state. But before he can do so, Cale slams the doors shut.
Tommy sinks back down, his head resting on the ground inches from Adam's hand. Adam sighs and lets his fingers sink into the soft fur. "You're not forgiven," he says. "And you may be a werewolf but I'm not. When you all realise that, I'm going home."
Tommy lets out a soft bark that might be a laugh, and closes his eyes.
It's another hour before they stop, but judging by the sun in the sky, it can't be later than 4. Adam occupies himself by combing tangles out of Tommy's fur. He's listing out loud all the reasons why this is a dream, why he can't be a werewolf, why this whole situation is ridiculous. He forces himself to keep talking, because every time he lets the movements of the van lull him into silence, his mind wanders back to Kris, to the kiss, to the look in his eye when Adam admitted to just using him.
He's gone through two more bottles of water and moved across the van twice. Once because he didn't like sitting in the seat surrounded by manacles. And then again, because from the other side of the van, the manacles were all he could see. They're bolted to the ground, the chains are thicker than those on any handcuffs Adam has ever seen and they're heavier than anyone would ever need to hold down a human.
Kris had snapped one with one hand. Adam hadn't considered it at the time, but an hour with just wolf-Tommy for company had given him plenty of opportunity to examine the broken manacle and appreciate that the link hadn't just been stretched, it had been tugged so sharply that it snapped clean in two.
("Maybe Kris is on steroids," Adam said when Tommy caught him looking. "This doesn't mean I believe anything.")
He'd also had time for plenty of pinching, slapping himself around the face and tipping splashes of water over his head in an attempt to wake himself up. Tommy had even joined in, closing his jaws around Adam's arm and squeezing barely hard enough to dent the leather of his jacket, let alone break through to skin. ("This doesn't mean I believe anything," Adam said and Tommy gave him a look which said, 'We both know that's not true.')
Adam is standing as soon as the van engine stops. Tommy's head perks up, eyes following Adam closely as Adam crosses to the door and tugs the latch open from the inside. As soon as Adam pushes open the door, Tommy moves, ducking under Adam's arm and through the gap out into the fading sunlight before Adam can blink.
"Are you going to stop me leaving?" Adam says.
Tommy hesitates, then shakes his head and turns to point towards the side of the motel. Adam drops out of the van beside him and follows his gaze to a row of payphones.
Jackpot. He digs a handful of change out of his pocket and punches Alisan's number into the machine, bouncing on the spot and watching the van, waiting for Kris and Cale to emerge.
"Hello?" comes the blissfully familiar voice. "Hello, who is this?"
"Alisan," Adam says. "Hello, it's—"
"Adam," she says, and her voice is just slightly sharper than it should be. "Adam, hey. Where are you?"
She sounds wrong, like she wasn't expecting the call. Of course she's been avoiding Adam too, but sometimes he doesn't see her for ages so he didn't think—
He swallows. "Some people came," he says, digging his fingers hard into Tommy's fur where Tommy is standing next to him. "They tied me up and drove somewhere." He hesitates, trying to make the anger in his voice sound more like fear. "I managed to escape, but I don't know where I am."
"Which direction did you run away from them?" Alisan says. "Try not to move until we've figured out where you are and how to get you—"
"You're calling Kris," Adam says, letting the pretence of fear drop from his voice. "Aren't you?"
There's a moment's pause which, really, is all the answer he needs. "Adam—"
"We're at a motel," Adam snaps. "He's here, I'm here. Tommy's a fucking wolf. None of this makes sense and apparently you're in league with them." His hand tightens in Tommy's fur and Tommy lets out a small whine. "Is this the part where you tell me I'm a werewolf? Or are we going to skip straight to the section where you tell me you were going to let me die?"
"Would it really have been so hard for somebody to mention this to me before? Just a small 'hey, Adam, all your friends are werewolves and one day they might all try to kill you.' Did no one think that would be a good idea?"
He hears a door slam and turns his head to see Kris walking towards him, one hand holding a mobile phone. He doesn't look at all worried.
"Oh for fuck's sake," Adam says into the phone. "Did you text him?"
Alisan hesitates for half a moment. "I had to check you were telling the truth about him being there. He's there to protect you, Adam. He drove across the whole country to get to you before you changed." She takes a long breath. "Wolves work by scent and the way you've smelt since you activated... none of my pack even wants to get near. You smell dangerous, Adam. You have no pack; you haven't been taught control. We're raised to fear loners. You represent chaos and the possibility of detection and everything we're trained to avoid."
Adam releases Tommy before he starts pulling fur out and slams his fist into the wall instead. "I haven't done anything."
"I know," Alisan says. "I know, Adam. But right now, Kris is the only wolf who can catch your scent and find something other than danger there." She sighs. "I kept my distance, I ordered my pack not to touch you and I found your mate. I have done everything I could to keep you alive, Adam. You just have to let Kris do the rest."
Kris has caught up with him now, but he's hanging back to watch Adam close his eyes and lean heavily against the wall. "I don't want this." He's speaking into the phone, but he knows it's loud enough for Kris to hear.
"Maybe you could come back and visit sometime," Alisan says, letting the 'if you survive, if everything works out, if you turn out not to be a werewolf after all' go unsaid.
Adam hangs up the phone. Tommy's tongue flicks out to lick roughly against the back of his knuckles in what is possibly meant to be reassurance.
"I'm sorry," Kris says, still standing a short distance away.
Adam can't help letting out a low "ha".
"And I shouldn't have—" Kris continues. "I should have known you weren't really feeling it. I let myself get carried away and that was wrong."
Adam wants to actually laugh at that. Laugh and then pin Kris to the wall and kiss him again to show him exactly how much Adam is feeling it. "Are you apologising for letting me lead you on and use your feelings for me to steal your keys?" he says instead, composing his face into something halfway to normal before turning around.
"I—maybe?" Kris hazards, offering a nervous smile. "Would it help if I was?"
Adam shrugs and reaches into his pocket for the collection of coins. "Can I call someone else?"
Kris rubs the back of his neck with one hand, his other inching towards the back of his jeans where he's probably stashed the gun. "That... might not be the best idea?" he says very hesitantly. "The other wolves will just say the same thing as Alisan."
Adam pulls his hand out of his pocket and doesn't say anything. It's easier to cooperate now and sneak out after everyone else is asleep to call Brad and get some kind of reassurance that not everyone's on board with the crazy.
Cale emerges from the motel front desk with a backpack and two keys. He crosses over to them, looking between Adam and Kris without so much as glancing down to Tommy. "Everything alright here?"
Kris grabs one of the keys. "We were just thinking about getting something to eat. I don't suppose you want to go somewhere."
Cale lets out a 'ha ha you must be joking' laugh. "I have been driving for nearly two days. I know I have good stamina, but it is not this good. Adam would be showing signs if he was planning on changing tonight, so I'm going to go to bed and sleep for about twelve hours." He glances down for the first time to see Tommy with his teeth bared. "Coming?"
Tommy snaps his teeth at Cale and turns his head to nuzzle Adam's hand again. As soon as Cale gets the motel room door open though, he breaks away to dart under Cale's arm and inside. Kris watches them for a moment then sighs and turns to Adam. "Sleep or food?"
"I was unconscious for half the day and I haven't eaten," Adam says. "Guess."
Kris drives the van to a McDonalds where he buys three burgers for each of them and proceeds to demolish his at a rate of knots. "We should probably have bought food," he says, sucking salt from the fries off his fingers in a way that Adam really needs to stop watching. "But, yeah. As you may have guessed, we didn't come very prepared."
Now that Adam has failed at one escape attempt and sat unmanacled in the van guarded by a giant wolf for an hour, Kris seems to have decided he's not going to run again. Adam would object to this because running away is still very much the plan even if Kris has a crystal of salt on his top lip that Adam would love to lean in and lick off. And then Kris's head would tilt up so Adam's tongue could slip between his lips and his mouth would taste of the obscene amount of ketchup he's using as his fingers curled into Adam's hair to pull until it hurt—
The point being Adam would object but he doesn't want to find himself back in chains. "I think in most places being bad at kidnapping people is regarded as a good thing."
He's starting to like Kris's surprised smile far more than he should. "Well," Kris says, "there is that."
Adam would be running right now if he wasn't pretty sure he'd have to leave in a car to stop Tommy following his scent. Because, yeah, he has ex-best-friends who can track people by scent now.
"What did Alisan say?" Kris asks, running a finger through the salt left on his burger wrapper like he's seriously considering buying another one.
Adam turns his box of fries in an invitation for Kris to steal them and picks up his second burger. "You already know what she said. She said the same thing you said. I'm a freak, I'm dangerous, people want to kill me."
"You're not a freak," Kris says, stealing a handful of Adam's fries. "You're just—people aren't used to wolves like you. We stay in packs for a reason. It's how we stay secret and how we keep from hurting anyone. If a pack wolf killed a human, they'd be killed. Loners—it's just more likely. People take preventive measures."
"So you think I'm going to hurt someone." He should just stop asking questions. He has yet to learn something he might ever want to know.
"We don't know," Kris says, glancing over his shoulder to check that they're in a secluded part of the restaurant. "Some breeds are more feral than others and it's a sliding scale. One wolf alone in a big city with all the associated sights and smells—it would be enough to drive even a normally fairly docile breed to attack. If you don't—I'm not going to force you into my pack," he's rubbing the back of his neck again, fingers twisting through the short hair at the nape of his neck. "But you can't change in the city. That's why we're driving, one of the reasons. If you or Cale change then there's space. And Tommy can go after you—"
"What about you?" Adam interrupts. "You keep telling me you're a wolf. Am I ever going to see you change?"
Kris glances down at his watch apparently on instinct. "The full moon is in three days," he says. "So it's two days until I start changing. Barring incidents, we'll be home by then and with the pack. They won't hurt you if I tell them not to; you can have your first change the way it should be."
"And then what?" Adam says. Kris is already bouncing nervous and possibly scratching the skin of his neck raw but Adam isn't going to stop pushing until he gets some serious answers. "If I don't join your pack, then what?" His voice is getting louder, he knows, but he can't seem to stop it. "You'll take me back to LA to get killed? You'll let your pack kill me?"
Kris spins his head around to look back at the restaurant. When he turns back, he speaks in a soft hiss that Adam can only just hear. "I don't know, okay? I've never done this before. We'll work something out."
"You really didn't think this through," Adam tells him.
Kris gives him a wry smile and steals the last of his fries "This isn't how mating usually goes."
"You don't say."
Adam steps out of the motel bathroom, still towelling his hair dry. The black dye stains the white towels provided, but he thinks if they didn't want that, they should have provided better free shampoo.
Kris looks over from where he's unpacking a rucksack—apparently he went back out to the van while Adam was washing. So much for 'don't lock the door and I'll be on guard outside'. "You smell different."
"Not-your-mate different or not-actually-a-werewolf-at-all different?" Adam offers, not all that hopefully.
Kris gives Adam a faintly amused look. "Let's go with 'cleaner'." He picks a wind chime up from the pile of stuff on the bed and heads over to hang it off a lamp by the window.
Adam frowns because—"That looks familiar." It's small, a ring at the top threaded with wire wrapped around with some small leafy sprig. The five or so silver tubes hanging down ring out against each other as Kris stabs the point of the hook through the lampshade. Adam has one that looks exactly the same hanging up in his window back in LA. He remembers—far too late now—that Tommy has a spare key to Adam's front door due to the number of times Adam has lost his when Tommy was walking him home. "Did you steal that from my apartment?"
Kris glances over at him, letting the wind chime drop so it swings and lets out a handful of soft chimes. He seems confused for a moment. "You have a charm? I guess that would make sense. Did Alisan give it to you?"
Adam thinks back to his first week or so in LA when Brad introduced him around to all the friends he has now. A week later, Alisan had said something about how she was playing with arts and crafts lately and pressed a wind chime into his hands. "Please don't tell me this is a wolf thing too. I've had that chime for years. Leave me with something normal."
Kris shrugs apologetically. "It's a message to any wolves in the area that we're with a pack. The scent of the herbs specifies which pack. When we called the leader of the local pack earlier today, we had to tell him all the members of our party and our pack scent. They smell the herbs: they know we've been granted leave to stay here tonight. I'm guessing Alisan gave you one for the same reason—to warn any of the other LA packs that you were under her pack's protection. If anyone hurt you or tried to kickstart your changes, her pack would start a turf war."
Adam has been planning to take the windcharm down for years; it clashes with everything he owns. The only reason he didn't is that his friends would always tap it when they came over. It had become a whole Thing, one of those stupid friendship customs that didn't mean anything. Except, apparently, it did. "So whose territory are we in now?"
Kris shrugs again, crossing over to one of the beds and pulling back the covers. "I don't know the local pack. We had to beg our way into a whole load of new alliances just to get permission to drive between L.A. and home using the shortest route. And even now we'll only make it home on time if you and Cale stay human."
Adam tries to remember what's been said about Cale previously. He's Kris's second in command, fighting with Tommy, drives the van. "When does Cale change?"
Kris shrugs. "Cale's a random shifter. At some point, he'll just change into wolf form, stay that way for up to a week, and then change back. It's one of the more inconvenient breeds, particularly considering his wolf form is completely feral. He's—yeah—remember when I mentioned cages? We don't even let other wolves near Cale's wolf form." He smiles a slightly rueful smile. "You know what they say about opposites attracting."
"But you don't kill him," Adam says. "That's reserved for people who haven't done anything wrong, like me."
"He's pack," Kris says, like that's an answer. "He has people to keep him safe."
"And I don't," Adam says, turning away and pretending he doesn't hear Kris's muttered, "you could."
"Maybe I'm the breed that's human," Adam says. "And all of this will be a terrible misunderstanding that we'll laugh about later except not. Because I'll never see you again."
Kris lets out a small noise that isn't quite a laugh. "The one thing I know for certain is that's not true. Maybe you're the breed that never changes into a wolf. Maybe you're the breed that once you've changed will never change back. But either way, you're a werewolf." He reaches into the bag and pulls out a set of handcuffs with a meter-long chain between them. "When your sense of smell develops, you'll know what I mean."
Adam looks between the cuffs and the door for a moment, then sighs and holds out his wrist. Kris gives him a small apologetic smile as he closes the metal ring around Adam's arm—loose enough to not be entirely uncomfortable, but too tight to get out of. "I—sorry," he says, closing the other end around his own wrist. "If I thought you'd—I don't think the local pack want a loner roaming free through their territory. If you need the toilet or anything, just wake me up."
"I need a toothbrush," Adam says. "Or is that pushing it?"
Kris reaches back into the rucksack with his free hand and pulls one out—still in its original packaging no less. "We did think of some things," he says, with an awkward attempt at a smile.
Adam takes it from his hand and looks down at the two double beds, which are definitely more than a meter apart. They're going to have to share.
"Sorry," Kris says again.
Adam drops his towel on one side of the bed. "Just keep your hands off me."
Kris reaches into the back of his jeans to pull out the gun, dropping it on his bedside table of the other side. "Don't worry," he says. "I learn from my mistakes."
For a moment, Adam can't work out what woke him. He has one arm twisted awkwardly behind him so the chain gives the maximum amount of space between him and Kris, but it hasn't been pulled and it's no less comfortable than it was when he managed to fall asleep. There's no light coming through the curtains other than the red glow of the 'vacancies' sign outside.
"Right," Tommy says, and he must be shouting because Adam can hear him through the wall clearly as though they were in the same room. "Because you always do what Kris says. Because when Kris Allen says jump, Cale Mills says 'yes sir, how high sir, three bags fucking full sir.'"
"He's my alpha, Tommy. He's my alpha and my best friend."
"And I'm what? Just some guy you happen to know? God. You know we might be home by now if Cale fucking Mills hadn't been so desperate to stay with his precious alpha that he needed to drive a van all the way across the fucking country."
"Yes, that's right. I drove for two days because I couldn't bear going without Kris. There was no other possible reason for me to want to go to LA. And what were you planning to do, keep driving until you fell unconscious at the wheel? We have at least twenty hours of driving tomorrow—you think you and Kris could do that without me?"
"That's right, bring it back to Kris. Kris couldn't do it, Kris needs your help. Kris can't tie his own fucking shoelaces without you, I suppose."
"What exactly do you want from me, Tommy? Can you just tell me now so we can cut the bullshit?"
Adam closes his eyes tight, trying to fall back asleep and blank out the rest of what he's clearly not supposed to be overhearing. He focuses on other things: the sound of cars on the distant road, the slow pace of his own breathing, the sound of footsteps circling the bed next door.
"I want you to stick up for me," Tommy hisses. "I want you to say 'yes he's right' when I say 'how many more times do you expect me to betray my best friend?' and not always take Kris's fucking side."
"Oh, so Adam's your best friend now. You knew him, what, a year?"
"Are you jealous?" Tommy laughs. "God, I can't believe this. I'm not allowed friends now? How much am I supposed to give up for you? Tell me exactly, because I'd hate to miss something and have you pull me up on it later."
"Okay, so we're not very good at this. You may have noticed that he ran away the moment you stopped following Kris's plan. He could change at any moment, thanks to you. We can't afford the delays."
"Right. Right, of course. Thanks to me. I keep forgetting that this is all my fault."
"Your job was to—"
"I know! I know what my job was. I know I fucked up. Maybe if you'd come down sooner or if you'd just let me turn him at the start instead of trying all this subtlety bullshit, we could've explained properly and we wouldn't be in this mess. But, no. I am sorry that I let myself get distracted by enjoying my life. I am sorry that I made friends without Kris telling me to. And I'm so very sorry that I gave such terrible directions that you managed to ignore all the road signs and waste four hours getting out of L.A." Something goes clattering across the room. "I should've just flown home, left you and Kris to bond over your fucked up kidnap while I was sitting in the living room with your friends and your family giv—"
"Maybe you should just go back to L.A. if you like it there so much."
For a moment, there is complete silence from the next room, all the background noises of the motel and the desert outside filtering back into Adam's ears like a wave.
Then Tommy lets out a low, choked noise, like someone's punched him soundlessly in the stomach.
"Tommy—" Cale starts, but he's cut off by footsteps racing the few steps across the room and a crack like a gunshot as the door slams shut.
Adam hears the slight cracks of bones breaking and then the almost inaudible pad of paws running away from the motel. If he closes his eyes, he can hear them fade into the distance to be replaced by Cale's pacing, the sound of insects outside and the whisper of a breeze across the parking lot.
He can hear Kris's breathing, slow and steady, and below that the steady beat of his heart. Adam rolls over slowly, the tiny clinks of the chain ringing like bells in the not-quite-silence.
Kris's eyes are open, twin pale circles in the moonlight.
Adam hears—from outside somewhere—the echo of a howl. It sounds like Tommy in a way he can't really define, except that if he'd ever had to predict what Tommy howling would sound like, he would have said this. An answering howl—further away but louder, more voices raised together echoes around the room. Adam flinches a little at the anger in it.
Kris lifts a hand as though to touch him, then thinks better of it. The rustle of the sheets is far louder than it should be in the darkness. "What's wrong?" Kris asks.
Adam shakes his head. "Just... Tommy ran away and he's howling. And now I can hear the pack howling." He doesn't think about how far away they are or how he knows what they're saying from the tone they use. "I'm not used to it."
Kris is suddenly a whole lot more alert, pushing the sheets back so he can half sit up, tilting his head to the window and frowning. "Can you tell what they're saying?" he says, his normal speaking voice pounding like a shout into Adam's ears. "How far away are they?"
The howling is getting louder, but also harder to hear over the sounds of Kris grabbing his jeans to tug them on over his boxers and the clink of the chain every time he moves. "They're hunting the stranger in their territory. I don't know where but definitely getting closer. Can't you hear them?"
Kris shakes his head, tugging on the cuff like he's going to drag Adam out of bed. "All I heard was the door slamming. Did one of them leave?"
"Tommy," Adam says. His own voice sounds loud now that he's not whispering and he sits up. "They had a fight, didn't you hear it?"
Kris shakes his head, dragging Adam over and shunting open the window. "I don't have wolf hearing in this form, just strength and smell." He leans out to breathe in the night air. Without the pane of glass, the sounds of the insects and the wind outside are louder, are like waves on an ocean. "You might want to cover your ears," Kris says, cupping his hands around his mouth.
Adam slams his palms on each side of his head an instant before Kris tilts his head back and lets rip a long howl into the night. The sound isn't quite unbearably loud, but it is oddly eerie, undulating slowly at the back of Kris's throat and sending shivers down Adam's spine. It's a warning, he can tell just from the way it makes him want to turn tail between his legs and run for home, from the way it makes him step in closer to Kris to feel the familiar warmth of Kris's body close to his.
From the next room, Adam hears the window shunted up. And then a second voice joins Kris's, lower and instantly recognisable as Cale's. The two tones blend seamlessly and Adam wants to add his voice to it, knows exactly where he could fit over the two. Kris's voice is crying danger; Cale's crying sorry and come back. Adam could fit inside that noise, howl friendship and bring Tommy home.
A third voice slips inside, Tommy again. Bitter and resentful but getting louder as he returns. Kris slams the window shut and Adam half drags him back to the front door to pull it open. They watch Tommy run, paws flashing and head held down, claws skittering on the loose stones of the gravel parking lot.
The door to Cale's room slams open and Cale steps out in his underwear and not a lot else. Tommy skids to a halt in front of him and in the distance, Adam hears the pack wolves howling that the prey has left free hunting grounds. He tries not to think about how he knows that's what they're saying.
Kris glances sideways at him. "Safe?" he asks quietly.
Adam nods. Cale kneels in the gravel, reaching out to scratch his fingers through Tommy's ruff. "Don't," he says in a quiet, desperate sound that Adam's pretty sure he's not supposed to be able to hear. "Don't run off, it's not safe. Do I need to get cuffs for you too, Tommy Joe? You're an idiot."
Adam turns away, lifting his hands back over his ears—not that it actually blocks them out, but it helps. Standing outside, he can hear the local pack howling over some other prey, the scratching of Tommy's claws against the floor, the low electric hum of the 'vacancies' sign.
"This means you're one of the breeds that changes," Kris says. "Sorry."
Adam looks over as Tommy and Cale slip back into the other motel room. Cale's hand doesn't leave the scruff of Tommy's neck. "Are they—you said you had a friend who was bi."
"They're mated," Kris says. "Yeah."
That would explain why Tommy always protested when Adam tried to set him up with every girl they met. It also went some way to explaining how Kris could think he and Adam were mates without any indication that they were even capable of getting on.
Apparently being mated and fated to be together or whatever isn't the same thing as being happy.
"C'mon," Kris says through a yawn, tugging lightly on the chain between them. "I have some earplugs in the room, see if you can get a few more hours of sleep. We need to leave as soon as Cale's awake enough for the drive."
"Cale drives a lot," Adam says, as the door swings shut behind them.
"You have hearing, I have smell, Cale gets to keep endurance. He can keep going when the rest of us humans would collapse from exhaustion, but he does need to recharge sometimes. After tonight, we should be able to get all the way home without a break."
And by home Kris means Arkansas. Adam still doesn't know what he's going to do if they get there. Change into a wolf, maybe? It says something about how crazy the day's been that the idea of it doesn't seem quite so ridiculous anymore.
In spite of Kris's warning that they don't have time to stop again, Cale insists on returning to the McDonalds to grab breakfast. Tommy is human-shaped again, hair sticking in all directions as he cups his hands around the takeaway coffee cup like he's found salvation.
Adam is sitting opposite him, rubbing his free wrist—Cale had come into their room in the morning with the key to unlock them—and trying not to eavesdrop too much on everyone around them. It's difficult: he took the earplugs out to shower and spent five minutes listening to the hundreds of tiny tones that made up falling water and drips down the drain, until Kris had to bang on the door and yell at him to get a move on. Here he can hear the sizzle of the fryer, the muttered conversations between the cooks—mostly about how much the morning shift sucks, how much they hate the new manager and whether they can be bothered to deal with the hair that just got on one of the burgers or they should just pick it off and hope no one notices.
Adam puts his burger down, suddenly less hungry than he'd thought it was. Elsewhere in the restaurant, a family is discussing gas prices and whether they really love Aunt Emily enough to drive all the way up into Utah. Some businessmen are talking trade secrets in low voices that would probably be a serious security concern if Adam had any idea what half the things they were saying meant.
"Do you want the ear plugs?" Kris asks. His voice is quiet, but it cuts through everything else Adam's hearing like tuning in to a radio.
Adam shakes his head.
"So," Cale says, pulling a printed map from his back pocket and spreading it out over the table. "We are on this cross here. Adam's starting to display wolf traits so he could change tomorrow or even tonight."
Tommy snorts into his coffee. "Yeah," he mutters. "And what reason could there possibly be for Adam to start shifting now? Could it be that he was exposed to more wolf DNA, because I seem to recall getting very clear orders to be super, super careful with everything. Not to just make out with him at the first chance."
Kris's cheeks go red so fast Adam almost thinks he can hear the blood rushing up to his face. "That was an unexpected—"
"Wait," Adam interrupts, snapping back into the current conversation with a sudden realisation. "You mean kissing can activate it?"
Kris blinks. "Yes, technically. I mean, not just a peck but kissing, yes."
"So this all started when I made out with Tommy?"
Cale drops his burger. It falls onto the cardboard box, sending fries flying all over the table. "When you what?" he says to Adam.
"When you what?" Kris demands of Tommy.
Tommy stares at Adam over his drink. "When we what?"
Well, Tommy had clearly been drunker than Adam that night. "We were really drunk," he says, aiming his words mostly at Cale because Cale is the one fixing him with a true 'if looks could kill' kind of glare. "It was just a one time thing. I guess Tommy was drunker than me because at least I vaguely remember it."
"Wow." Cale snatches his burger back up, slumping back in his chair. "This whole thing keeps getting better." He turns to Kris. "And you made out with him too? Am I the only person who remembers that we were trying to keep Adam human?"
"If he hadn't heard the pack yesterday we might not have gotten Tommy to come back in time," Kris says to his burger, his cheeks still flushed. "I mean, if Adam's hearing hadn't kicked in—"
"Yeah," Tommy snaps. "When in doubt, blame Tommy."
"I'm sorry," Cale says. "What part of being the first person to kiss him made you think it was okay to play the innocent in all this?"
They're getting louder, Cale's voice in particular digging an ache into Adam's forehead. "Not that I'm desperate to get to Arkansas or anything," Adam says, cutting through Tommy's response. "But weren't we supposed to be in a hurry?"
Tommy's expression sours, but he drops back into his chair and snatches his cup back up. "Can we even get home by tonight?"
"What time are sunset and moon rise?" Cale asks Kris, checking his watch. Adam tilts his head to see if it is indeed as horribly early as it feels.
"Moon rise isn't until 11:50," Kris says because he's the kind of person who memorizes these things. "Sunset is earlier, 8:50."
"Shit." Cale looks down at the map. "We'll drive fast. Whoever's in the back with Adam, keep an eye on him. First sign that he's about to change, call up front and we'll make a plan. The manacles might hold him, or we could get Tommy on guard until we can get somewhere safe."
Adam glances down at the map. It looks like a fucking long drive. "Why can't we just fly?"
"At the moment we're assuming you're going to change at night," Kris says, as Cale draws a new route and folds the map back up. "That's the most common, but it's not exclusive. If we got on a plane and you started changing, we'd be completely fucked. We have to play it safe if we want to keep our whole race safe."
Or they could shoot him, Adam supposes. It's pretty impossible to get a gun onto a plane these days.
Adam has to wear Kris's earplugs in the van or the rattling of the axel over every slight rut in the road sets his teeth on edge and the roar of the engine was like a power drill right in the back of his head. It's still there through the small foam shapes, but it's bearable and he can filter a bit to pick out the sounds of the radio up front—turned up high so he can't pick out words in Kris and Cale's murmured conversation.
"When was it?" Tommy asks. They've been sitting in silence for over an hour now. Adam's listening to the radio and everything they pass on the road, slowly figuring out how to filter between what he wants to hear and what he doesn't.
He doesn't need to ask what Tommy is referring to. "About a month ago. Cass's birthday party."
Tommy thinks for a moment. "Yeah," he says eventually. "I don't remember anything from that night. Was I the only wolf there?"
Adam tries not to look too obviously relieved at the confirmation that neither Cassidy nor Brad are werewolves. "Alisan was, but she left early. You were alternating between beer and vodka shots. By the time Brad decided to play spin the bottle you could hardly stand."
Tommy nods, throat moving a little as he swallows. "And we only—we just made out?"
"Strictly above the waist. I mean, I still thought you were straight so—what's up with that, anyway?"
Tommy lets out a small breathy laugh. "It seemed to be the only way to get you to stop trying to set me up with all your friends. It was bad enough getting rid of all those girls you kept sneaking me onto blind dates with."
Adam smiles back a little. "Well if you'd ever bothered to say 'oh, by the way I have a freaky werewolf smell mate in Arkansas' I might have stopped." He kind of wants to press for details—what's mating like? How did Tommy end up with some dude he seems to hate? Why does he even stick around—surely Alisan's pack would take him back? But at the same time Tommy looks tired and he keeps reaching up to mess with his hair and glancing towards the front of the van.
"Yeah," is all Tommy says. "I could've—I don't know. You'd have wanted to meet him or see a picture or talk to him. And he's not exactly what you'd expect me to date. He's not what I'd expect me to date."
"Surely you could leave," Adam says. "You and me, we could run away. Start our own pack somewhere else and never look back."
Tommy smiles faintly. "We could," he says, making it clear that he won't. Adam doesn't push. From the sounds of things, Tommy's already considering going back to L.A. and Adam has already decided he's going back. There'll be a way.
"What was it like," Adam says. "Finding him?"
Tommy shrugs, spreading out his fingers to examine how chipped his nail polish has gotten over the last day. "It was knowing," he says, speaking slowly like he's being careful with every word. "That was the amazing part. Just knowing that nothing else was ever going to be this important. There was no questioning, no uncertainty. As soon as I met him, I knew."
"One look into those beautiful blue eyes," Adam says, unable to stop the slight derision in his voice. He likes a good fairytale as much as the next person but love at first sight is one cliché too far.
"One look at those gleaming white teeth?" Tommy offers in response, grinning at Adam's slightly shocked expression. "He was a wolf when I met him. Completely feral, they were keeping him locked in a concrete cell with a hunk of meat he'd torn into a thousand shreds." He closes his hand, pulling it back into his lap. "He was mine, he is mine. I'm his. That's just how it is." His tone is enough for Adam to infer the 'we don't have to like it.'
Adam looks away from him and swallows. "I want to—the evidence is too much and it doesn't make sense otherwise but I still can't." He stops, trying to find the words. "I'm tired of being lied to, okay, and I used to trust you so just—I'm going to believe whatever you say next. And I'll believe I need to go to Arkansas to be protected and I'll believe that mating exists and I'll believe everything just—am I a werewolf? Do you know that for sure? There's no get-out clause, no way this could all be a big misunderstanding."
Tommy looks up to meet his eyes. "Yes," he says. "I know that for sure. I've known it since I met you."
Okay. Okay, so that's it then. Adam looks down at his legs and thinks I'm a werewolf. My name is Adam Lambert and I am a werewolf.
"Sorry," Tommy says. "That's just how it is."
"Come with me to L.A," Adam says. "When I've worked out how to deal with all of this. Come home."
Tommy closes his eyes, resting his head on his knees. "Maybe," is as far as he'll go now, Adam knows. "Maybe I should."
They stop very briefly for lunch and to swap drivers on a deserted stretch of highway. Adam climbs out of the van to stretch his legs as Tommy hands out gas station sandwiches. They seem to have given up trying to restrain him. Adam glances into the distance and thinks about running. He thinks about what happened to Tommy with the bones and the fur, and of that happening to himself when he's on his own somewhere in the middle of the desert. Or worse, in a car while he's hitchhiking with a stranger.
He stretches out his hand before him, wondering what it would look like curved into a paw. He wonders what color his fur might be, whether he'll keep his mind like Tommy or lose it completely.
He can't imagine hurting someone. He wouldn't, he couldn't.
Cale is standing by the back of the van. He looks perfectly normal, the kind of person you'd pass on the street without a thought. Has he ever hurt anyone? Kris said packs look after their own—do they cover up murder?
Tommy tosses an empty bag into the back of the van and walks over to stand by Cale. They don't fit together—Tommy's eyeliner and two-coloured hair against Cale's broad shoulders and rough beard. They don't say anything, just stand in an awkward uncomfortable silence. If they're trying to show Adam what a mating couple looks like when they're getting on, it isn't going well.
"Hey," Kris says, walking over to Adam. "How are you feeling?"
I'm a werewolf, Adam thinks, like it might find a place to settle in his head this time where it hasn't the last hundred. He's taken the ear plugs out so he can listen to the whisper of bushes, the engine cooling in the front of the van. His own breathing seems to meld perfectly with all the sounds shivering around him. It feels more like peace, more like being at one with the universe than any drug he's ever been on or any wilderness retreat he's ever tried. "You can't hear this?"
Kris looks out over the desert, trying to see what Adam's hearing. "Not in this form. Some of my pack can."
He can hear all of the tiny tones that run through Kris's voice and they send the same shivers down his spine as Kris's howl. It doesn't mean anything; it can't mean anything. He glances back to Cale and Tommy, hands touching like they read about relationships in a book. He is not going to be in their position in five years. No way. Maybe they were raised to believe that this is how love is supposed to work, but Adam has somewhat higher hopes.
"But if you could smell what I smell," Kris says, like a few whiffs of sand and cacti could be the same as hearing creatures moving under the sand and eagles crying somewhere out of sight.
Cale crosses over to them, tossing a set of keys that Kris catches without needing to look. "I'll take my turn watching Adam. You can enjoy the wonders of Tommy's map reading for a change."
Adam walks over to the van as they start talking directions and pulls open the passenger door to grab a bottle of water from the cooler he heard rattling around the foot well.
The gun is sitting in the centre of the passenger seat. Adam stares down at it.
"I checked our route," Tommy is saying somewhere behind him. "If we need to, we could stop over in Tulsa. Cook moved his pack down there a couple of years back."
The gun is black, about half the length of Adam's forearm. Adam doesn't know a lot about guns, but he'd say this one looks pretty cheap. It's flat black, a shitty patterned grip on the handle. The barrel is pointed away from the door.
"Did you call him?"
"I spoke to Andrew. David won't be back home for a couple of days. Andrew said we could come over but he doesn't want Adam changing with the pack until David's back."
Adam reaches out to touch it, dragging his fingers across the top of the plastic casing. He could slip the bullets out, that would be easy enough and then if anything... happened... it wouldn't actually fire.
"Isn't David the one you know best? Where is he?" asks Cale.
Or Adam could take it. He could take it and run, hitch a ride with someone and give it to them so that if anything—if he started to change, they could put a bullet through him. Would that be better? Better than hurting anyone, better than letting Kris trick him into staying in Arkansas forever.
"According to Andrew, I wouldn't believe him if he told me. I hope Adam changes tomorrow; I want an excuse to hang around and mock him for whatever it turns out to be."
Adam curves his fingers around the handle and picks it up. His first thought is that it's too light—far too light. He's only held a gun once and that was the one Brad keeps in his bedside drawer because he grew up a paranoid son of a bitch. That one had been smaller than this one but at least four times as heavy. Adam tries to unclip where he thinks the bullets would be kept, but the casing seems to be a solid shape with no openings or places to slide bullets in.
He turns the gun slowly to see the barrel. There is a depression at the end where the hole should be, but it's less than two centimetres deep.
He spins around from the front of the van, holding the gun up. "Is this a fucking toy?"
The three of them jump, turning to look at him. Kris's mouth opens. Cale winces. Tommy laughs. "Um," Cale says.
"We didn't—" Kris starts. "I mean, people have accidents with real guns. They can go off by accident."
Tommy is still laughing, turning to Kris. "You didn't buy a real gun? You drove through Texas and you didn't bother to pick up a real gun."
Kris looks like he's one slip of the tongue from saying 'but guns can kill people' and Adam can't believe there was that one time when he was scared of what Kris would do.
Adam kind of wants to laugh, but if he starts he might not be able to stop. "You people are the worst kidnappers ever." He tosses the fake gun in the air and catches it again.
"I can't believe you let him talk you into buying a lump of plastic," Tommy says to Cale. "Didn't I train you better than that?"
"He got all sad when I took him to an actual gun shop," Cale says. "They had targets with pictures of deer on. I had to get him out of there before he started accusing all the patrons of killing Bambi's mom."
Kris is practically pouting and Adam has to look away before he catches himself smiling at him. "I've eaten plenty of deer," Kris says. "They had other animal targets. They had wolves."
Tommy stops laughing at that, but it doesn't stop him rolling his eyes in Adam's direction. "I'm sure they did," he says, patting Kris on the shoulder. There's a moment of commiseration, then he grins as he thinks of something else. "At least you didn't give them a half hour lecture on relative morality like that time the church had a guest preacher who dared to mention some less-than-positive feelings about homosexuality."
Cale coughs. "Actually—"
"Weren't we supposed to be in a hurry," Kris says quickly, and when Adam glances over he can see Kris's cheeks are bright red. "Places to go, full moons to avoid."
Cale grins and walks over to pull the not-actually-a-gun from Adam's hand, tossing it back into the foot well. "Come on, Lambert. Back in the van."
"Or what?" Adam says, snatching a bottle of water and following Cale around to the back doors. "You'll shoot me?"
Cale rolls his eyes. "We did bring a wolf," he says. "In case you forgot about that."
Behind them Tommy asks Kris a low question then bursts out laughing at the answer. He's not exactly the terrifying beast that nightmares are made of. "That wouldn't work. He likes me too much. Face it, the closest thing to a threat you have is 'get in or we'll leave without you.'"
"Adam," Cale says. "Get in the van or we'll leave without you."
Adam grins and gets in the van.
He wants to go without the earplugs —with the doors shut, he can still hear enough of the desert outside to make it worthwhile—but the moment the engine starts, his shoulders hunch up. It's like someone's running nails down a blackboard somewhere down inside his ear where he can't get at it. He tugs the tiny foam nubs back out of his pocket and fumbles to get them in without dropping one.
"Huh," Cale says from across the van. "I always thought sound would be one of the better holdovers, but I guess it's not without its flaws."
Adam twists the second earplug and slides it in. As it expands, the engine noise dulls until it's less like someone drilling inside his head and more like someone drilling right next to his head. "Not having to sleep," he says. "That seems like it could be useful." Adam could definitely have done with that skill on some of his longer show-club-marathon-sex-with-Brad binges. "And I heard you and Kris when you were howling—that's kind of incredible."
Cale shrugs, like two voices syncing perfectly across an incredible multi-faceted run of sound is nothing to write home about. "It's a wolf thing," he says. "We're built to howl in either form, it's why so many of us go into music and vocal work. We have larger lung capacity, more vocal control so we tend to be good singers." He smiles a little up at Adam. "Not that I'm trying to dismiss your talent. Maybe being a werewolf has helped, but I saw your show—I can guess how hard you've worked on training your voice. You'd be amazing even without the wolf genes."
Adam thinks back to hours of vocal lessons, straining at that one perfect note, repeating a song until he wanted to burn it and never hear it again. No. There's no way all of his talent comes from some slight quirk in his genetic code. "You saw me in Wicked?"
Cale nods. "When we came to L.A. to drop Tommy off the first time. You were incredible. I don't think Kris took his eyes off you once. As soon as we got home, he bought the Ten Commandments from Amazon and made me watch it about fifty times."
"Oh god." If Adam ever gets out of here, he's going to make sure nothing he does is ever filmed again. Not ever. "Please tell me he doesn't still have it. Did you see my hair in that?"
Cale laughs. "Don't worry, I'm sure his mom will be happy to break out the baby photo albums. By the time the pack is done with you, he won't have a drop of pride left. I think I have video of his first concert, though I like my head so if you could not mention that I was the one who showed it to you."
"Is he a singer then?"
Cale considers this. "He calls himself a songwriter, but sometimes we can make him sing. I imagine you would have an easier job with that than the rest of us."
"Because I'm his mate. Allegedly." Adam looks over at him. "Can you smell that? Do I smell like Kris's mate to you?"
He shrugs. "My sense of smell isn't that great out of wolf form. To me, you smell like loner, danger and motel shampoo. Tommy said when he was a wolf, you smelt slightly more familiar than a loner should." He looks up at Adam. "I've never seen Kris more sure about anything. When we got the package from Alisan, he was halfway across the grounds and he came racing back the moment the wolf bringing the card crossed into the grounds. I think most of the pack thought he was going mad. I don't know what he offered Alisan as compensation for keeping you safe until he could get one of his wolves near you. But I know Katy threatened to leave the pack if he kept making such ridiculous alliances that weakened us too much."
"Katy?" Adam says, to distract himself from Cale's casual reveal that Alisan had only been trying to help him because Kris was paying her in some kind of wolf pack service.
"Katy's... complicated. If we hadn't found you, she and Kris would probably be together and she'd be the female leader of the pack. But then we did find you and Kris has been so focused on that, Katy thinks he's been neglecting his duties." He sighs with the air of one who has heard arguments on this subject far too many times. "She might be right, but at the same time, it's important to Kris that you're safe and he is the alpha of the pack." He stops, looking over at Adam. "Alisan didn't take the offer. She said she didn't need incentives to keep you safe. We made a real alliance with them instead, when we sent Tommy over. Our wolves are welcome in their pack and theirs are welcome in ours. Really, you've helped make our pack some powerful friends."
Adam leans his head back against the van wall, feeling the shudders of the metal run down his spine. "It's nice to know something good's come of this. Seems like mostly what I hear is how I've inadvertently fucked everything up."
"None of this is your fault," Cale says quickly, unclipping his seatbelt and bracing himself against the ground to cross the van and sit against the wall next to Adam. "Things will work out in the end. Have faith."
Adam tilts his head to give Cale a bemused look from the corner of his eye. "Have faith? Don't tell me Tommy Joe Ratliff has a Christian boyfriend? It's no wonder you fight all the time." He remembers a moment too late that Cale doesn't know Adam heard their argument last night.
Cale gives him a small sad smile, pulling an iPod from the pocket of his jacket. "Everything's going to work out," he says, offering Adam one of the headphones. "You'll see."
"Hey," Kris says, standing by the van doors like he's waiting for Adam's permission to climb in. He's brought another bottle of water and a pack of sandwiches. "Are you okay with me coming back here?"
Adam pauses Cale's iPod in his lap—the dude has a fuckton of country and acoustic music, but there are one or two relatively modern pop hits and if Adam has the earphones resting on his shoulders, he can set the volume so that the music almost drowns out the noise of the engine. "It's your van," he says, waving a hand in the direction of the opposite seat. "I thought Cale and Tommy are working at avoiding each other?"
Kris shrugs uncomfortably, climbing in and tugging the van doors shut to cast them back into the dim twilight from the two dirty windows. His jeans are smudged with dirt from the edge of the van floor and his shirt is open down his chest to reveal a tight black T-shirt.
"If you hear them shouting again, let me know. We have another nine hours of driving, I don't want to deal with Tommy running off into the desert." He tosses the water and sandwiches—cheese again—into Adam's lap and sits down in the other seat.
Nine hours? Adam glances at the clock on the iPod—he's been sitting here for over twelve already. The music helped, and the occasional stilted conversation with Cale about the one or two artists they actually have in common, but it doesn't change the fact that he's dying of boredom. "Where are we?"
"Halfway through Texas," Kris says, glancing down at his watch. It's frustrating that the two seats have been bolted in opposite each other because it means if Adam wants to look anywhere other than at Kris, he needs some kind of excuse for it. "It's only four hours until sunset, how are you feeling?"
Adam shrugs - what does 'about to turn into a wolf' even feel like? - and opens the box of sandwiches in his lap. They're the same as the ones earlier, except the tomato has started to soak into the bread giving it an unpleasant texture when he bites down.
"There's got to be something," Kris says, the words bursting out like he can't seem to hold them back. "When we—you have to feel something. You should smell it or—I don't know—hear it or you should able to look at me and know."
Adam can't help glancing up at him. Kris' cheeks are red again and he's looking down at his lap like he's regretting saying anything. Adam puts his sandwich down.
"We kissed one time because you were there and I was horny," he says. "You're hot, I'm fickle. It's a thing and that's all it is."
He doesn't say 'it has to be.' He doesn't look up at Kris's face and remember that they kissed right here, that Adam was sitting in this very seat. And he definitely doesn't think about how they could do it again and it wouldn't be that big a deal. Not really. Adam's kissed plenty of people he didn't know or even like that much. In back rooms of clubs and people's houses; in coffee shops when they said 'I love you' while he sat there and realised he should have gotten out of that relationship long ago.
"I don't even know you," he says, looking away from Kris's downcast face. "So what if I am a werewolf? You're not my pack, you're not my family. You're just some guy who showed up in my life and I'm supposed to be grateful. I'm glad I'm not dead, maybe I'm in your debt for that, but I'm not some prize you can pick up and take home to your pack so I have to answer to you like everyone else. I don't owe you me." He snatches his sandwich back up before he can say anything more. He can totally last nine hours of uncomfortable silence, easy.
"You wouldn't have to," Kris says hesitantly. "An alpha mate has equal standing. I wouldn't expect you to answer to me. I don't expect anyone to answer to me. I can't force people to do things; it's more about taking care of the pack. I have to make sure everyone's okay, that we always have somewhere to live. I have to keep the peace with other local packs." He stops, realising that Adam still isn't looking at him. "I can ask. I asked Tommy to go to L.A., I asked him to stay up front because if we could pretend we were threatening him, we could get you home quickly without hurting anyone and look how that went."
Adam finishes his sandwich and opens the bottle of water.
"It's nice," Kris says. "The pack house. Twenty miles from the nearest town, surrounded by grass and forests. We can hunt -"
"I like cities," Adam says, stashing the bottle back beside his seat.
Kris swallows and Adam regrets putting the bottle down because now he has nothing to look at except for the way Kris's throat moves and the way he catches his lower lip very slightly between his teeth. "Wolves don't do well in cities. You'd have to plan very carefully around your changes. You'd need a special house with a basement or somewhere secure and soundproofed enough to put a cage."
"A breed like Tommy would be fine." Adam is still hoping for that—in spite of how strange and painful Tommy's change looked from the outside, the idea of being able to flick back and forth at will is almost exciting.
"Tommy is rare," Kris says, at least sounding somewhat bad about the fact that he's crushing Adam's dreams. "Like, incredibly rare. He's the only one of his kind I've ever met. I remember when he first joined us, I had to field all kinds of angry calls from Alisan's predecessor about how we should really be sending him back to L.A. with his mate."
"Why didn't you?" Adam pushes. "He was happier there."
Kris's throat is really distracting. Adam should be able to see more of it; if he just got up he could push Kris's collar down far enough to see where his throat curved into his shoulders and the line of his collarbone ridged on his skin. "Cale is my second in command," Kris says. "Tommy was just an average pack wolf. Also, Cale needs special consideration. He needs specially designed places to change and he should only change around people he knows." He stops, looking up at Adam. "It was Tommy's choice, and he chose to stay with us."
"Right." This is getting too close to the topic of what Adam's going to do after they're done finding out what breed he is and doing whatever it is Kris is planning to do to stop all of his friends trying to kill him. Adam looks up at the ceiling, casting around for another topic. "Cale said you sing."
Kris makes a tiny choked sound but when Adam drops his head, Kris is looking away. "Yeah," Kris says to the doors. "I mean no. Not really. Not like you."
"I heard you howling," Adam says, and then has to cut that thought off because he's just remembering the way Kris's voice shivered down his spine and the tone of it—
"That's different. That's—any wolf can do that. You'll be doing it soon enough although you'll probably be better because, yeah, you're you."
Never let it be said Adam is not somewhat easy in the face of compliments. "Cale said you saw the show—could you even hear me in the chorus?"
Kris flushes a little more and Adam has to look down at his hands in his lap to stop himself from saying 'come over here, come over here right now because I don't think we finished last time.'
This would be so much easier if Kris wasn't exactly his type. Cale is clearly not Tommy's type. If Kris was more like Cale, Adam would probably not be attracted to him at all and he wouldn't have to keep distracting himself from thoughts of how Kris fit really well against him and how Kris's mouth was just the right size and his smile—
"No," Kris says. "We—uh—I may have made Cale stay in a cheap hotel room with me for two weeks until the lead wasn't available and Tommy messaged me to say you were playing Fiyero."
So Kris saw Adam months before Adam ever saw him. Adam thinks back to how he would have looked in Wicked, all stage makeup and that costume. "Was I what you were expecting?"
Kris laughs, eyes dropping to his lap for a moment. "I—well, after Cale ended up with not only a guy but a blond rocker dude from L.A. with eyeliner and tattoos, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. You're—" he looks up, eyes taking Adam in slowly. Adam shifts slightly and tries to find somewhere to rest his eyes on that doesn't feel like staring or like he's too obviously avoiding Kris's gaze. "I guess no," he says. "You're not what I would've expected. Who could expect you?"
Adam frowns a little. "So I'm not like anyone you've dated before?"
Kris scuffs his feet across the van floor. "Everyone I've dated before boils down to this one girl named Katy." His eyes flick up to look at Adam through his lashes. "She was smaller than me," he says. "And blonde."
"I'm a natural blond," Adam says, grinning a little at the way when Kris raises his eyebrows. "Well, strawberry blond. It counts. You have a type."
Kris laughs out loud at that, sitting fully upright again and seeming more relaxed as he leans back against the wall of the van. "Of course. How could I have missed it before? I'm not even going to ask about you—I don't think I want to know how much eyeliner I would have to wear to look like the guys you'd date."
Adam bites back on 'I date small southern boys' and 'my last boyfriend could have been your stunt double.' That would be a little too friendly. "Cale mentioned Katy—he seemed to think she'd be a good pack leader. I guess the two of you dated for a while."
Kris's easy slouch stiffens slightly, as though Adam's dropped them right back into the awkward silences of the earlier conversation. Adam reminds himself firmly that this was the point because he's not supposed to be relaxed here. He's not supposed to start liking Kris's smile. He's not supposed to start wondering if he could be the kind of person Kris would date or what Kris would look like in eyeliner.
"Four years," Kris says. "Until I was twenty. It didn't—I don't know. She'd be a good alpha, but not with me. We kind of crashed and burned." He stops, drumming his fingers on his leg. "Have you ever dated someone who you thought you'd be with forever and you loved them and you knew they loved you but it still wasn't—you were just fighting for no reason. You kept pulling in different directions until you didn't even know why you were saying one thing and they were saying the opposite."
Adam doesn't say anything, but he can't help remembering sitting at the kitchen table opposite Brad—still in his clothes from the night before, eyeliner smudged down his cheeks—and hearing "this isn't working out."
"Yeah," Kris says, apparently reading Adam's agreement off his face. "And no one else understands because 'you were perfect together' and you can't just say 'no, no we weren't,' because it isn't enough for them." He closes his eyes and Adam wants to go over to him, wrap an arm around his shoulders, promise that he understands.
He stays where he is.
"Maybe that's why I clung to the thought of you so much," Kris says to the floor. "I mean, that I had a mate and that could justify why I wasn't with the perfect girl. I could pretend that we were going to have this big romance like they do in all the stories you hear as a child." He picks at his cuticles with the fingers of one hand, smiling a tiny rueful smile. "Not exactly fair to you, for me to just show up and expect you to slot into this stupid preconceived notion I had of how my life was Supposed To Go."
Adam can hear him capitalising that sentence. "Maybe next time you could try the romance part," he offers. "You know, flowers and compliments instead of kidnapping and chains. I mean, I'm as kinky as the next moderately kinky person, but there are some things you should save for the third date."
"Right," Kris says, not letting Adam draw him into a smile. "Next time."
Adam swallows down the next stupid joke he was going to make because—yeah. "Do wolves ever have more than one mate?"
Kris lets out a low 'hah'. "No. Some don't even get one—or at least they never find them. It's a large world to track down one wolf's scent in if you don't know what you're looking for. Before global communication, it was thought to be something that was either super rare or a complete myth." He shakes himself, looking up with a vague smile. "Maybe it's not that big a deal at all, just one person you might fit with. If they're far enough away or if you fuck things up the first time, you could forget and date other people."
"And maybe your nose is just wrong," Adam says. "I wouldn't exactly describe us as a perfect fit."
Kris touches his own arm. Adam shivers a little, looking away so he doesn't start thinking about the way Kris fits in his arms, the way Adam could kiss him like they'd known each other forever.
He pulls out Cale's iPod again, for something to do with his hands, scrolling back through the handful of artists he could bear to listen to for the next eight hours.
"Is that—" Kris starts, then seems to recognise it. "You were talking to Cale about music?"
"Disagreeing," Adam clarifies. "I was disagreeing with Cale about music. It was something to do." He glances up in time to see Kris dig into his own pocket and pull out another iPod.
"Here," Kris tosses it casually through the air of the moving vehicle—oh god that is an expensive gadget what the actual fuck—and it drops easily into the hand Adam doesn't remember reaching out. Kris's smile turns a lot more natural at Adam's aghast face. "Improved reactions," he says, nodding to Adam's catch.
Adam unlocks it and starts scrolling through the list of artists. There's definitely far more on here that he would listen to. Even a handful of bands he actually likes, among the things-that-sound-like-the-Fray and probably-hipster-bands he's never heard of. "So you knew I would catch it?"
"I really hoped." Kris holds his hand out and Adam flicks Cale's iPod across to him. Naturally it goes flying in the wrong direction and Kris has to stretch his seatbelt out to catch it at the tips of his fingers. "Maybe I shouldn't have."
There's a folder on Kris's iPod called 'my stuff' that makes Adam pause. He glances over at Kris—fingers twisting Cale's iPod over and over and pretending like he's not looking up at Adam every few seconds—then opens it.
His first thought is that Kris's voice is actually really good when he's singing—and not just in a 'sends weird shivers down my spine' kind of way. It fits easily against the notes, flowing like it's not something that requires any effort at all. The words echo with the accent that Adam has found hot ever since he woke up hungover, barely conscious and chained to the floor.
His second thought—an embarrassing two songs later when he's done being impressed by the voice—is that he's never heard the music in the background and the way the tracks slide into each other before. He looks up, over at Kris who's still scrolling on Cale's iPod. "Did you write these?"
Kris's head jerks up. "Did I—what? What are you listening to?"
"You, your songs. Did you write them?"
Kris flushes again, reaching up for the back of his neck. "I was expecting you to go straight for the Queen." He stops. Adam sits patiently waiting for an actually answer. "Yeah," Kris says eventually. "I mean, not on my own. Cale and the pack all helped out loads. I couldn't have done it without them."
"So, what, you wrote the lyrics?"
Kris locks the iPod, unlocks it, looks at the ceiling, looks at the floor. Adam taps his fingers against his leg and fixes him with a 'you're going to answer sooner or later' look. "And the guitar parts," Kris admits. "And most of the piano. But I had help, the pack are all amazing—"
Shit. Adam looks down at the iPod, scrolling through the twelve tracks, all clearly studio recorded. Cale really wasn't lying when he said Kris is a songwriter. "They're good," he says. "They're really good."
Kris swallows down whatever self-deprecating bullshit he's spewing. "Thanks," he says. "That—it means a lot that you think that. There's Queen on there too, when you're done and you want some real music."
Adam listens for a moment longer, long enough to realise something else. "They're all about girls."
"Yeah," Kris says to his knees. "They are."
They talk occasionally—small, inconsequential flashes of conversation that swell into serious debates with iPods flying back and forth because 'this song, Kris, I can't believe you don't like it. Are you sure you've even listened to it?'
'I'm so sorry that I like bands with some actual talent.'
They disagree about pretty much everything but the conversation is so easy that even when they're shouting across the van, they're laughing. When it fades back into a comfortable silence, Adam finds himself smiling down at Kris's iPod and searching for something to spark it off again.
They pass the bottle of water back and forth and bitch casually at the wall hiding the front compartment whenever the van jerks. If they do all this while avoiding looking at each other too much, well, it's progress of a sort.
And Kris is—he's not bad which Adam doesn't know how to deal with. He wants to be able to hate him for dragging Adam away from his life, wants to hate him for dropping all this werewolf crap right on Adam's shoulders. But at the same time, he can't hate the way Kris smiles when Adam says something stupid or the tone of Kris's voice when he delivers—deadpan—comments that wouldn't be out of place at Brad's dinner table.
They know each other now, right? You can't go on a two-day life changing road trip with someone without getting slightly attached. Adam could call him from LA next time he's being driven somewhere by his mother just to say 'hey' and 'my mom's driving is terrible, remember that time in the desert when Cale swerved to avoid a bird and you spilt water all over your shirt.' They could be that kind of awkward, never-sure-where-the-boundaries-are friends until Adam fucked up and pushed it too far and Kris never talked to him again.
He's going to be in Kris's pack. That could be almost like a friendship. Do pack wolves call their alpha up at 3am to say 'remember when we shared that motel room and there were two beds but you insisted on chaining us together so you could follow me to the toilet and then cover your eyes to prove to me you weren't looking? Well this dude I went home with tonight -'?
In some ways, it's cool. He's a werewolf. He's seen Van Helsing and Harry Potter and he got halfway through Dracula that one time, and now he's a part of it. Except, he's not going to have terrible prosthetics or be ridiculous hairless CGI. He's going to have four legs and a muzzle and he'll be able to howl.
He's looking forward to howling, also running. He saw Tommy run on four legs: fast and easy and he wants to try that. He could hunt. He could race across the ground following the scent of something before bringing it down, sinking his teeth into its neck. He can see it so clearly that for a moment, he can taste the iron tang of blood at the back of his throat.
"Adam," Kris says, and as always, his voice cuts over the music in Adam's ears and the strange unfamiliar images in his head. "Adam, are you okay?"
Adam waves in the direction of the water. A moment later, it's in his hand and he's downing half of what's left, gargling it in the back of his throat to wash away the copper taste.
Turns out real water has little to no effect on imaginary blood. He turns his head to spit in the bucket, the taste getting stronger and filling his mouth until he wants to gag.
He just about gets the bucket properly under his head before he's throwing up, all the water and the sandwiches and the chocolate bars Kris pulled out half an hour ago. The music and the engine are suddenly deafening and he reaches up to check that the earplugs haven't fallen out.
They're still in place, but when the engine surges, the sound drives knives into his head and he lets out a low whimper.
"Adam." Kris is next to him, his voice pushing all the other sounds into the background. "Adam, talk to me." His fingers find the headphone cables, pulling them free of Adam's arms and the music stops. Up front now, he can hear the radio playing some kind of country that Cale's singing along to. He can hear Tommy chewing gum, stretching it between his teeth as he drums his fingers impatiently against the van door.
Kris glances at his watch, then out at the windows. It's been getting darker since he set up a camp lantern on the floor. "Adam. Adam I need you to talk to me. Do you itch anywhere, does it feel like you're about to burst out of your skin?"
It hurts, Adam wants to say as something cool and metallic presses against one of his ankles. His head hurts and his throat hurts. "No," he forces out through his raw throat. "No itching."
"Okay. Okay." Kris's fingers rub against his head. "We have about three hours until the moon comes up. I think you're going to change."
Adam closes his eyes and rests his forehead against Kris's shoulder, breathing in the smell of his still-damp shirt. He can't think enough to do the maths, but he's pretty sure they're more than three hours from home.
"It's okay," Kris says, keeping up a steady stream of low words for Adam to focus on instead of the roar of the engine, as he fumbles his phone out of a pocket. "Tommy, hey, we're going to have to change plans."
Adam can hear Tommy in the front compartment and the echo of him through the static of the phone against Kris's ear. "He's going tonight? Cale—hey—we need to change routes. How long do we have, are we looking for a large abandoned space?"
"Three hours," Kris says, his fingers dropping to rub the back of Adam's neck. "Does that give us time to get to Cook?"
"With a bit of luck. I'll call them and tell them to get ready." He hangs up.
Kris tosses his cell over into his chair. "Adam," he says again, leaning over to attach a manacle to Adam's other ankle. "Just a few more hours, okay. I need you to hang in there."
Adam swallows hard, trying to clear his throat. "It's fucking loud," he manages to grit out, as Kris tugs the bucket from his lap and secures it back to the van floor. "God, I thought it was bad before."
"I know," Kris says, picking up the bottle of water from the floor and holding it out so Adam can rinse his mouth out and drain the last few drops of water. In the front compartment, Tommy is saying something about emergency shelter and 'I don't care if you can't get in touch with Cook, just have the fucking cage door open when we arrive.'
He can hear Kris's heart beating fast as he's perched half over Adam's legs which—hey—when did he get there. "You're going to be okay," Kris says. "You won't believe this over the next few hours, but I promise you're designed to do this."
Kris is prettier when he's closer—beads of sweat mingling with brown hair over his ears, eyes wide and desperate—it doesn't really seem fair. There should be some imperfections for Adam to focus on instead of the curve of Kris' lip and the flicker of eyelashes every time Kris' eyes move. "Talk to me," Kris says, cupping his hands over Adam's ears. It doesn't really help cut out any of the noise, but the warmth of his hands is enough of a distraction that he can pull some thoughts together.
"What do you want me to say?" Adam manages.
Kris shifts a little to brace himself better as the van speeds up and Adam shudders a little more. Kris's knees are tight around his thighs, his elbows braced on the van wall behind Adam's head. Adam's almost glad for the headache getting worse and worse because at least it's a distraction from Kris in his lap. "I don't know," he says, and he's sucking on his lip again, staring firmly at the wall over Adam's shoulder, tensed up like a ruler.
Of course, Kris wants this as much as Adam does. Kris could probably spend days staring at the way Adam's neck curves and the way he's not-so-existent muscles look when braced against Kris's shoulders. Kris probably stares at the hollow of Adam's throat the way Adam stares at his and wonders what it would be like to lick in there, just to taste. For half a second, Adam wants to scream why not, why the hell not and pulls Kris closer.
"You could be my 3am friend," he blurts out thinking anything, anything to distract himself.
Thank any and all gods that Kris's confused face is at least less sexy than his urgent, worried look. "I could—what?"
"My 3am friend," Adam says, thinking carefully about every word and not about how warm Kris's breath is and how his calves press into Adam's thighs whenever the bus moves. "Like, everyone needs that one friend they can call when it's 3am and they can't sleep. You know, that person that you just rattle off sleepy in-jokes with or have stupid arguments about which Beatles song was the best—"
"While my Guitar Gently Weeps," Kris says, because they have had this debate three times already.
"You're wrong. I'm sorry—no, actually I'm not because you're that wrong. But this is a debate we could definitely have at 3am, and I don't have a 3am friend at the moment because I broke up with one. And then his replacement drugged my water and chained me up in the back of a van."
"I kind of orchestrated that," Kris reminds him.
"Yeah," Adam says, because it's true but it's also not the same thing at all. "But I didn't expect better from you. And you never pointed a real gun at me—I like people who are never in a position to actually blow my head off. And if you were my 3am friend, you could be in Arkansas and I'd be in LA, and you wouldn't be all confused with smells and shit. And I wouldn't have to see your face and think about how much I want to lick it."
One of Kris's hands moves from his ear to press against his forehead. "Are you feeling delirious?" Kris says, but he's smiling a little helplessly because Adam is fucking charming even when he's talking out of his ass.
"Your voice is hot," Adam says, closing his eyes and pressing his head up into Kris's cool palm. "I bet you'd sound good at 3am. All scratchy and tired and you'll probably be bitchy. I have a weakness for bitchy, but don't tell Brad I said that."
"3am in LA is, like, 5am in Arkansas. I don't know if I want to defend my right to like whatever music I want that early in the morning." The van jolts and Kris tenses again so he doesn't go flying. Adam releases his grip on the bucket, moving his hand to inches away from Kris's side in the vague hope that he might be able to catch him if they crashed.
"It's cool," Adam says, his second hand moving up to Kris's other side for... reasons. Very good reasons which he will come up with in a minute. "I'm very easy to convince at 3am. You could probably talk me into anything." He can feel the warmth of Kris's sides against his palms, can smell clothes and skin and something. Something he can't quite describe but perhaps it's sex and home and love and summer in the sun. And maybe it's forever. Or maybe it's everything always right the fuck now.
"Adam," Kris chokes, and somehow his hand isn't over Adam's ear anymore. It's curling through his hair with just enough pull to give leverage. Adam's hands cross the small space, his fingers sliding up Kris's shirt—still damp—to find patches of bare skin and press in.
Kris's moan—fuck—Kris's moan sends a shiver right down through Adam's stomach and Adam isn't thinking—left thinking a long fucking way behind—he's just pulling Kris flush against him. His eyes are still closed tight as he finds Kris's mouth through touch and taste and familiarity. And then Kris's lips are parting, his tongue desperate and hungry.
Adam pushes Kris's shirt up further, dragging his hand across the muscles in Kris's stomach to feel Kris shudder against him. Kris's hand is pushing at the neck of Adam's top, twisting through the chains of the two necklaces Adam remembered to put back on this morning and tugging at them hard enough that they dig into Adam's skin.
"You're mine," Adam says, the words torn from his throat as Kris bites his lower lip and digs sharp nails into his side. "Fuck—god."
"Adam," Kris says, so close to a whimper. "Adam AdamfuckAdam ." His mouth is on Adam's again and Adam can't hear anything but the rush of blood in his ears and the tiny noises Kris can't seem to stop making.
The van jolts. Kris is hard against Adam's leg and—fuck—Adam is too. He can't stop staring at how Kris's mouth is red and open beneath wide eyes. Adam wants to pull Kris close again and run a line of bites down the side of his neck—wants to mark him because Kris is his, he said and Kris agreed, and Adam wants to move closer. But his ankles are chained to the floor and he's still wearing his fucking seatbelt.
"We shouldn't—" Kris says and Adam knows what's coming next. So he tugs Kris in again instead, pulling at the back of his neck to turn Kris' head to the right angle so Adam can taste and taste and taste, and let the whole world go quiet except from here, now, here, now.
"Adam," Kris pulls back, gentle even though he's strong enough to break all of Adam's fingers as easily as he broke the chain attached to the floor by Adam's side. "Adam don't—just stop, we have to stop."
They do. They really, really do. But Adam's been staring at Kris's throat all day so he deserves just one taste and then Kris's head is thrown back, which is practically and invitation for Adam to run his tongue up and follow Kris's jaw to drop a kiss in the tiny patch of bare skin behind his ear.
"Adam," Kris says, somewhere between a plea and a moan as Adam blows air across damp skin.
"I can't," Adam says. "I need—it's too loud and you smell good and your voice. And my head hurts and I don't want to just be your friend, Kris. I don't want to think of anyone else having you."
Kris lets out a low wordless cry and they're kissing again. Kris's fingers are pulling almost painfully hard at his hair and a kiss that's as much teeth as tongue.
Kris snarls as he pulls away. He actually darts back across the van, clinging to the seatbelt on the other side like an anchor, staring down at the metal floor instead of Adam's face. "You can't," he says. "It's the moon, the wolf and we shouldn't. You're not offering anything and I can't just... I'm sorry I'm not that guy."
The van is getting louder again. Adam's hands are shaking and Kris still isn't looking, like if he turns his head he won't be able to stop again. There's a voice in the back of Adam's head whispering that if he just undid his seatbelt, he could get close enough to pull Kris back against him and everything would be right.
"The drugs," he forces out. "Do you still have—I can't deal with this. It's getting worse and it hurts and I can't do three hours like this."
Kris's fingers close tight enough that they turn white on the seatbelt. Even over the sound of the engine, Adam can hear him take a long steadying breath. "Yeah," he says after a moment, pulling his phone out of his pocket. "You're right, you should sleep through it. I should've thought of that. And I'll switch with Tommy so you don't—fuck."
Adam wants to say 'you don't need to' or 'I trust you.' But he's not sure Kris trusts himself right now, so Adam lets it slide. "Thank you."
"It's going to be okay," Kris tells his own knees, still breathing slowly. "We'll work something out. It'll be fine."
Adam takes two pills from Tommy's hand and washes them down with a fresh bottle of water while Kris hovers in the doorway behind them. "What even are these?" Adam asks—two doses too late—squinting to see the blurred packet.
Tommy finishes blowing up the neck cushion—seriously, Adam has never seen anyone actually use one of those—and slips it between Adam's head and the wall. It's super uncomfortable, just like Adam always thought they would be. "Hey," he says because he was right and everyone should know it. "Hey, I always knew these things were bullshit."
"They're sleeping pills," Tommy says, repositioning it so Adam's head is resting at a slightly less going-to-kill-his-neck angle. "Mildly effective on humans, but they'll knock a werewolf out cold. It's useful, means they can be sold over the counter. And if someone like Cale is about to change and go off on a rampage, we can get him to sleep long enough to hopefully find a cage."
His words are blurring into each other in Adam's ears and the blur of the pill packets turns to darkness as Adam's eyes slide close.
"Call me if he wakes up," Kris says.
Tommy's hands move away from Adam and Adam feels himself slump forward a little. There's a fog falling across his ears; he can hear noises from Tommy's direction but can't make out any kind of words.
"Look after him," Kris says, from what seems like a long way away. The slam of the door closing is no louder than a drum stick on a practice pad and it's the last thing he hears.
It feels like he goes from asleep to alert in an instant. There's nothing and nothing and nothing and then a JCB driving through the middle of his skull. And a wolf is howling for their pack and Adam can smell pack territory which is dangerous because he's a loner. And he's weak and tugging to pull away but his feet won't move.
"Adam." Some part of him recognises the voice, but most of him is preoccupied smelling pack—pack all around him and all over him and not his.
Adam throws back his head and howls—a long, desperate call for freedom.
Outside, a pack wolf howls back a challenge. Inside, someone presses a hand over Adam's mouth. "No," the someone says. He smells familiar but also not-pack and there's a shadow of a scent in the distance which Adam wants to be close enough to bury his nose into now. "We do not need you starting fights before you've even changed."
Adam snarls against his hand but he's not strong enough to wrench his jaw free. He forces his eyes open instead, flashing across the back of the van: familiar; the chains around his ankles: bad; and the flash of blonde hair mostly obscuring Tommy's face: familiar, not-pack; wolf, not-wolf; good, bad.
"Hey there, babyboy," Tommy says, breathless with a slightly wild-eyed grin and one hand still clamped tight around Adam's mouth. "No more drugs, we're nearly there."
Now Adam understands what Kris meant when he asked about itching. He wants to scratch his stomach and the skin off his arms and his legs. It feels like fur is growing down underneath his skin and he wants to break it out. Tommy catches one of his hands before it can move.
"Yeah, no," he says, slowly releasing Adam's mouth to grab his other arm. "That's not going to help anything."
Adam squirms, but doesn't actually pull free. He focuses instead on ignoring the itching, the pounding in his head and the sound of wolves howling challenges outside. All of which leaves him free to breathe in the smell of Tommy kneeling next to him. It's not good. Sure, on the superficial level Adam can smell sweat, motel soap and Tommy's own shampoo because of course Tommy stopped to pack. Underneath that, however, is a whole cacophony of intermingling scents that Adam can't say he recognises, but they make his nose wrinkle and he wants to turn his head away. "You smell like shit, dude."
Tommy laughs. "I smell like Kris's pack. You're the one who smells like fucking loner ass. Now you know what the not-Kris van dwellers have been dealing with the last two days."
Adam nods like this makes any kind of sense and focuses on trying to breathe. "My head really fucking hurts," he says helplessly. The van turns onto gravel and the sound of a thousand tiny stones grinding against each other is added to the cacophony of engines wolves danger Tommy thudding through Adam's ears.
"I can imagine," Tommy says, pinning one of Adam's hands to the floor with his knee so he has fingers free to rub a massage against Adam's forehead. "Just hang in there, okay? It's literally five minutes now. You can last five minutes. It's like really bad sex; you just have to keep going now and then it'll be over way too fast."
Adam laughs even though it's a terrible metaphor because he's chained to the floor in the back of a van about to turn into a wolf. Of course, Tommy's making the same stupid jokes he always does. "God, tell me the sex with Cale is bad. He looks like he'd be bad at sex. Is he bad at sex?"
Tommy laughs. "You're jealous, aren't you? Honestly, we make out one time and suddenly you're jealous of everyone I've ever slept with."
"You were really good to kiss," Adam confides, rubbing his ankles against the manacles because it's the closest he can get to scratching somewhere. "Like, if you were sober you'd be the second best person I've ever kissed." He hesitates, remembering Kris in his lap and Kris's mouth and Kris's smell everywhere all around him. Now he knows that's the background smell the recognises. "Third best," his mouth says before his mind can catch up with the 'actually we are not admitting to this' thing. "Third best kiss."
Tommy ruffles Adam's hair casually with one hand and grins a secret smile. "You couldn't crack my top five," he says. There's a story there that Adam will pry out of him one day when Adam's not crying out and pushing his head down between his knees like his legs will block out the sound of doors slamming in the distance.
"Could Cale crack your top five?" Adam asks through gritted teeth as the van turns slowly. Finally the engine cuts out to be replaced with more doors slamming and someone running around the van to unlock the back doors.
Tommy laughs, leaning down to unlock both foot cuffs, his face coming close enough to Adam's ear for him to whisper. "Cale's number one." Then he's propping Adam up on his shoulder and helping him drop out the back of the van. The gravel floor skids and slides under Adam's feet, the air feels like tension and a thousand eyes staring into the back of his head.
Someone howls—unwelcome, stranger, loner, get out—and Tommy turns his head to snarl, a deep guttural noise. Then Kris is there, tiny unimposing Kris, but he's standing tall and there's something in his face as he takes Adam's weight from Tommy that Adam wouldn't want to mess with. Adam turns his head as Kris half drags his stumbling feet across the drive to breathe in the smell of Kris's hair.
Mine, something rumbles somewhere deep inside him.
"For Christ's sake, Tommy," someone says—Adam can hear their footsteps coming out from the house but he doesn't raise his head from Kris's hair to look. "You didn't say anything on the phone about a loner. We have pups in the house, what am I supposed to tell the pack?"
Kris's throat rumbles with a low warning growl that makes Adam want to pull closer to him.
"We just need the cage," Tommy says. "You open the door, we lock him in. No one has to get hurt. Either way he's about to change in your territory, we're giving you the chance to keep it controlled."
"He's a loner," the man says. He seems to be leading the local pack; he definitely smells the same as the air and the wolves keeping their distance. Adam wonders what an alpha is supposed to feel like, this man doesn't seem very authoritative but then the only comparison Adam has is Kris. Kris has never seemed particularly commanding before now. "We could follow the standard protocol to get rid of the probl-"
Kris snarls, the noise tearing up from the back of his throat as his fingers tighten on Adam's side. The man flinches back. Adam nuzzles the top of Kris's head blearily trying to convey that it's okay—he's fine, he's here.
"He's pack," Tommy says. Adam's new to the whole seeing the world through smell thing, but even he knows that's a lie.
"Bull. Shit, Tommy Joe Ratliff," the not-alpha says.
"Soon to be then," Tommy allows. "Either way, we're claiming him. He's ours."
A shock of pain hits the back of Adam's neck, running down his spine and making him jerk in Kris's grip. "Cage," Kris says, his voice still echoing with a growl. "Now."
Cale jumps out of the van behind them. Adam lifts his head a little to see the man look from Tommy to Cale then back to Kris with Adam propped up on his arm. "Fine," he says, turning his head to nod at a mid-size brown wolf. "But you're talking to David."
Kris tugs and Adam stumbles forward, letting his head fall back against Kris's shoulder. The smell of pack gets stronger with every step he takes, alongside the compulsion to run as far and fast as possible in the opposite direction. Kris has to physically tug him over the threshold and every step through the house is another battle.
"It's okay," Kris says over and over in low reassurance that Adam can hone in on to shut out the sounds of the pack outside or the brown wolf padding along in front of them. "We're safe, they're friends, it's going to be okay." Adam keeps his nose against Kris's hair so even surrounded by pack walls and floor, Kris's strange homesafesexwolfmine smell is the strongest.
A second spasm of pain hits Adam as they're stumbling down stone steps and he can't help letting out a low whimper. Kris's arm tightens around his waist. "Nearly there," Kris says, pulling open an iron door set in stone at least a foot thick to reveal a small room. There's a barred door halfway down it, and beyond that a flat cot with no bedding, a sink and a metal toilet. It smells like wolves, like the pack that saturates everything here, like blood and raw meat that makes Adam's empty stomach growl and his mouth water.
"Five minutes," Tommy says behind them as Kris leads Adam into the cell and drops him down on the bed. There are tremors coming every few moments now, rocking up through his body like electric shocks.
Kris tugs the necklaces off his head, one at a time, and slides them neatly into his pocket. "Can I-?" he says, one hand on the hem of Adam's shirt.
Adam grins weakly. "All of this just to get my shirt off." Then another tremor hits and Adam's flinching, curling in on himself. Kris's fingers leave his shirt to run through Adam's hair instead, leaning in so Adam can feel his breathing. Kris presses a chaste kiss to Adam's temple, tugging his boots off with one hand.
"It's going to be okay," Kris promises.
"They want to kill me too," Adam says. He may be out of it but he's not so out of it that he misses someone offering to tear him apart because it's simpler. "Standard protocol, that's what he said. Sounds so fucking easy when you put it like that."
"No one's going to hurt you," Kris says, suddenly fierce, and pushes Adam's hair back off his face. "I'll kill anyone who tries, swear to god."
"You could shoot them with your pretend gun."
Kris laughs, low and slightly hysterical. Adam pretends he doesn't hear the rough, "I'd tear them apart."
"One minute," Tommy calls from somewhere in the distance. Kris's fingers linger for a moment on Adam's cheek.
"I have to go and deal with the politics. Tommy will stay by the door and I'll be back as soon as I can. We won't leave you on your own." He drops another quick kiss to Adam's cheek then pulls away, out of the cell. The door swings shut with a clash that makes Adam wince and then there's the click of the key turning in the hole.
"Three seconds," Tommy says as Kris fumbles the key out of the hole and Adam shudders through another shock of pain that runs down to his fingertips. "Two." Kris slips out through the metal door, Adam falls off the bed onto his knees on the floor. "One," Tommy says.
There's the slam of a bolt on the main door and Adam throws his head back as the first crack of bone breaking rocks through him.
It's small. Small, cramped, locked up and caged. Scraps of fabric on the floor smell familiar, safe and normal unlike the walls and the bed and the bars. There's meat somewhere: he tracks it under the metal bed and snatches it out with his claws. It smells wrong too, underneath the blood and freshness of it. Smells like hands, smells like the same kind of wrong as the walls and the floors.
He's starving. He steps away from the meat, sniffing at the floor and the edges of the cage. He runs at the bars, but they don't so much as bend under his weight. He turns back to the meat, tearing off a small fragment and swallowing it down. It tastes safe so he eats the rest.
Trapped. Trapped within three walls and one bar that won't break however many times he slams into it. Trapped with the pallet that isn't soft and he can't fit under, one tiny window set too high to reach. In the distance, he can hear howling—a local pack, no alpha. He howls a challenge back at them and hears derision in reply.
Caged, they call to him. Loner in a cage.
Weak, he snarls back. Come in here and face me. Let me out and face me.
But they just run off into the forests and trees without a reply. He throws himself at the bars again. Again. Again, until the skin breaks open on his side and a spatter of his blood joins the remains of the meat juices on the floor.
He keens, throwing his muzzle back in case anyone can hear—his pack, his people, the wolf he can almost-but-not-quite smell on the breeze that reminds him of home and safety and who promised it would be okay. He promised.
No one comes. He curls up on the cold stone floor, rests his muzzle on his paws and whimpers. He has a pack, he should have a pack, but he's in someone else's territory and locked up and all alone. He turns his head to lick clean the cut on his side, throwing a dark look at the bloodstained bars.
He shouldn't be here. He buries his nose in the fabric scraps to pick up the second hand scent of something familiar, nearly-but-not-quite pack and closes his eyes.
The door slams open—not the barred door, but the door beyond it which is too thick to hear or smell through from. But when it's opened, he can smell something so strong that he's pressed up back against the bars before he has a chance to think. He pushes his muzzle through the too-thin gaps to get closer, licking his tongue out like the extra inch will make all the difference.
The figure is up, tall on two legs but he smells like wolf and like mine and he makes noises that are the first soothing sound Adam's heard since waking up. The new man—mine—sits down next to the bars, arms reaching through to rub at Adam's ruff and scratch down his back. Adam licks his skin in return and gets a sound of happy in return.
Adam barks, because now that safehomemine is here, they can leave. Get away from the bars and the pack that isn't his pack or sexalphamine's pack and go somewhere else to hunt and feed.
But the man just shakes his head, making noises that mean no and sorry and add up to Adam's staying in the room and behind bars with nowhere to run. Adam snarls, snapping at his fingers. The man pulls away, stepping back from the bars out of reach as Adam turns to jump onto the pallet and throw his head back at the window.
Freedom, he howls. Freedom.
The pack wolves don't bother to reply.
Adam wakes up. His head aches, his back aches. He's pretty sure he aches in muscles he didn't know he had. The sun is shining down on his face from the tiny window set up high on the wall and he's completely naked.
He sits up—slowly because every slight movement elicits a new stab of pain from some hitherto unrecognised source. His clothes are in scattered pieces on the floor, but there's a small stack of clean fabric in a pile on the other side of the bars. His toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste are balanced carefully on top.
There's also Kris. Kris who is probably going to be in more pain than Adam when he wakes up, because he appears to have fallen asleep with his face leaning against the bars, one arm pushed through palm up on the floor of Adam's cage. Adam keeps his distance as he picks up the stack of clothes: sweatpants which just about fit and a T-shirt a couple of sizes too big. He pulls it on anyway, glad enough to be wearing something.
He finishes getting dressed, uses the toilet installed at the corner of the small cell, brushes his teeth to try and lose the dry taste in his mouth. He runs a hand through his hair a few times to try and flatten it—not that he'll know what a night as a wolf has actually done to it until he can get to a mirror—and then finally turns back to Kris.
His sense of smell is weaker this morning. There's the faint smell of pack-wolf on every surface, but not strong enough that he wants to run—just enough to give him a vague feeling of unease. Kris—Kris smells of wolf and someone else's pack and he smells strong, like someone Adam could obey—alpha. He also smells familiar, in a way nothing else does, and Adam wants to press up closer to pick up all the subtle hues in his scent that Adam can only half remember.
He can smell grass and sky outside the window but when he looks out, there is no trace of any forest, to the point that he could almost wonder if the smell was a dream.
He could almost wonder if all of it was a dream, he supposes. His memories are blurred like a fever haze from the moment Kris was in his lap talking about sunset. Well, he remembers Kris in his lap in excruciating technicolour detail—Adam saying something stupid about them being friends and then Kris's mouth opening desperate and willing under his before Kris finally came to his senses and pulled away. Stumbling into the house is more of a blur—death threats from the pack, but death threats seem somewhat par for the course these days—and then Kris bringing him down into this cell, locking the door.
He changed. He can remember standing in this exact spot on all fours, howling out at the moon and the wolves through the tiny window. He can remember licking blood out of black fur and licking Kris's skin.
He lifts the borrowed T-shirt, tracing the line of a scabbed over cut down his side. There's still a smudge of red on one of the bars. He doesn't touch it.
He howled, he can remember that, his voice ringing out in a challenge to the local pack. This morning, the idea of challenging them seems so stupid because there had to be at least five or six of them and he was locked up down here like an idiot.
He kind of wants to howl again anyway, just to see if he still can. He wonders what his vocal coach would say if he told her he wanted to practice howling. And then remembers what Cale said about wolves going into music, he wonders if his vocal coach is a werewolf.
Too weird. He crouches down next to Kris's outstretched hand instead, reaching through the bars to shake his shoulders. "Hey," he says softly. "Hey, Kris, wake up."
Kris moans sleepily, his hand flicking up to bat feebly at Adam's leg. "Fivemoreminutes," he mumbles, shifting against the bars like it might be possible to find a more comfortable position.
"Come on," Adam says, shaking a little harder. "I'm both hungry and a little locked up at the moment."
Kris jolts, slams his head into the bars and pulls away. In the process of lifting his hand to his head, he slams his wrist against the bars and cries out in surprise and pain. "Shit. Shit ow." He blinks, cradling his hand against his chest and seeming to realise where he is. "Right—" he turns his head to see Adam crouching next to him on the other side of the bars. "Morning, or—" he turns his wrist to see his watch. "Afternoon—shit," he yawns, wincing as it stretches out the marks the bars have left on his face. "Hey, sorry, have you been awake long?"
Adam shrugs, sitting down on the floor. "No. Sorry for waking you—you didn't exactly look comfortable."
Kris laughs, cricking his neck from one side to the other. "To my great dismay, I've slept in worse places," he says, giving the bars a dirty look. "What about you? Are you feeling okay, were there any problems?"
Adam has a feeling Kris wouldn't regard 'turns out I'm a werewolf' as a problem, not when he's been pushing it from the moment they met. "I don't think so," he says. "I was going to complain about the bed, but I don't feel like I have the right to anymore."
Kris laughs again, stretching his arms out and twisting his sore wrist carefully. "Yeah, it's hard to get bedding into a were cage. Wolves don't tend to like being locked up and when they're unhappy, they tend to destroy things."
Adam has a sudden flashback to pacing endlessly in circles around the tiny space and shivers a little—the walls seem a whole lot closer. "You didn't have to stay," he says instead. "I mean—do they not have beds here that you could have slept on?"
"Like I've said, I've slept on worse," Kris shrugs, rapping his fingers against the bars. "I thought I should keep an eye on you. I mean, I got a promise from Andrew of your safety but he's not actually alpha so if one of the wolves had decided that taking you out would be easier -"
Adam turns his head to look at the window which couldn't be more than 20cm. "Yes. I can definitely see how an angry wolf could have broken through the two inch steel door or crawled through the tiny window to attack me."
Kris smiles faintly. "Maybe I wanted to spend some time around you without having to hear your supposedly witty retorts all the time."
Adam doesn't know how to respond to that—definitely doesn't know how to respond to the fond and familiar tone with which Kris says it—but he's saved from an extended awkward silence by the growling of his stomach.
"Right," Kris says, with more authority. "Yes, breakfast—or you know, lunch. I saw the tiny amount of meat they left for you last night. I'll get something from the kitchens for you."
That... is not inspiring. Adam tugs lightly on the cage bars. "I don't get to come out?"
Kris pulls himself up slowly, somehow contriving to keep his face turned away from Adam the whole time. "It's—we still can't be sure what your changing pattern will be like or how feral your wolf is. Last night, it fell exactly at moonrise, which is normal, but you can't accept a hypothesis unless the experiment is repeatable so we're playing it safe. Andrew—they don't want you loose in the house. Not when there are pu-children around. Just for a few days, until we can be sure you'll stay safe."
Adam lets his hand drop from the bars.
"Sorry," Kris says quickly, taking steps toward the door. "I'll find you something to eat." He knocks three times on the iron door and someone on the other side jerks the bolt back.
Adam lets his shoulders drop, his eyes falling unwillingly on the splatter of blood—some his, some from the meat he was given—spread out across the floor. For the first time, it really sinks in. He turns into an animal, a real wild animal. He's the kind of person parents don't let their children get close to.
He spreads his hands in his lap, staring like black fur could come bursting through at every moment. What if he does change at random? What if he went back to L.A. and was on stage and suddenly halfway through As Long as You're Mine, he changed forms in front of the whole world and mauled his co-star live on stage?
He's a werewolf. Adam is a werewolf and even if he's somehow the most regular werewolf ever in the world, he's going to have to rearrange his life so he can stay home on full moons. He's going to have to install a cage in his apartment and lock himself in every month. He's going to have to wear earplugs in cars and—fuck—he works in music. He tries to imagine standing on stage with the crowd and his co-stars singing at full belt and the orchestra. All of his friends—Alisan, Danielle—are going to smell as wrong to him as Tommy had last night.
His hands are shaking and his throat is dry. He wants to go back in time to Cassidy's birthday party and lock Tommy up in a bathroom or something so this never happened. Adam's a monster, he's a freak and who would have thought all those homophobic assholes would have been right to want to keep Adam away from their children. Should he wear a badge? 'If you see me curled up on the ground, run away very quickly.'
No. He should probably just move to a house set way back in the country where he could run as far as he liked in wolf form, and kill deer or rabbits or whatever else werewolves do to get food.
Raw meat, his mind reminds him and his eyes keep being drawn to the red splatter on the floor that shows just how raw. You ate raw meat.
He barely makes it to the toilet before he's retching, gagging, trying to get rid of a barely remembered taste and throw up a meal he must have digested hours ago. The metal toilet seat is cold against the palms of his hands and he sinks down to push his head against the rim.
He feels empty. His whole life is stretching out before him and where there used to be ideas and a plan, there's now just nothing. Cages every month, walking on eggshells on all the days in between.
If he locked himself up in L.A., would the wolf still howl at the local packs? How long would it be before one of them broke into his apartment to meet his challenge and found him chained up and helpless?
The door opens and Kris slips back inside. "Adam?"
Quick footsteps across the room and then Kris is kneeling, reaching through the bars towards Adam's curled up form. "Hey, it's okay. Hey, come here."
He doesn't hesitate, just goes from curled up by the toilet to pressed against the bars where Kris can touch his hands to Adam's cheeks, tilting his head up to look into his face. "Hey," Kris says again, low and worried like Adam isn't a fucking liability. "What's wrong?"
Adam chokes—words stacking up ten high in the back of his throat, catching and twisting on each other until he can't make a sound, and claws his hands through the bars to wrap his arms around Kris's shoulders. There are bars between them, but one of Kris's hands is stroking gently through his hair. Kris is warm and solid, his breathing steady between Adam's arms, and it's only now he has the comparison that Adam realises he's shaking.
"Hey," Kris is still talking, low sounds that fit with the gentle press of his fingers against Adam's head. "Shh, it's okay. I'm here."
Adam wants to say he can't shh because he's not making a sound, and then he realises he is. Low desperate sobs muffled against Kris's shoulder as he struggles to breathe. "I can't do this," he manages. "I can't—you have to do something. Make it go away, find a cure. I don't—don't let me hurt anyone."
"Adam," Kris says again, pulling him tighter. The bars dig painfully into his chest but he doesn't care. "No, I didn't mean—they're being overly cautious because their alpha isn't here. You're not dangerous."
"I attacked the bars," Adam says.
"Maybe they deserved it," Kris offers, pulling away a little so he can tilt Adam's face up and look directly into his eyes. "You're a wild animal, okay? You want to be free, there's nothing wrong with that. We chained you up in the back of a van and you practically cut your wrists open trying to get out. Your wolf side wouldn't be a great fan of the cage. It's normal, no wolf is."
"And what if I do," Adam forces out. "What if when I get out, I'm in a room full of children and I change and they smell wrong or whatever and I hurt someone? Maybe you should have followed protocol or whatever when you found me and just—"
"No," Kris says, a sharp command so at odds with everything about his personality that Adam stops talking. "You are not a problem that needs solving, you are not a liability we need to get rid of. You are a person and a werewolf and like it or not, you're my mate. I will kill anyone who lays a hand on you." He stops to take a deep breath, his face collapsing from commanding to tired quickly as removing a mask. "We protect our own," he says. "And we protect other people from our own." He presses his palm against Adam's cheek one more time. "Whatever you choose to do, I will make sure you have everything you need to be safe doing it, okay?"
Adam swallows and tries to let himself believe that Kris's earnest face can deliver everything he's trying to promise. "Okay," he says quietly.
Kris nods firmly, like they've both agreed. Adam's not entirely sure what he's agreed to, but his heart rate is slowing to something approaching normal. What was it Cale said? Have faith. Adam doesn't really believe in God and the universe has been nothing but shitty to him of late, but Kris seems so sure and maybe he could have faith in that.
"Are you still hungry?" Kris says, reaching for a bag he brought in with him and tearing open the side to reveal a small stack of hot dogs.
Adam reaches through the bars to take one. "Thank you," he says, not sure if he means for the food or the talk. Or for being right and getting him out of LA. Or saving his life or just being here, now.
Kris glances at him out of the corner of his eye and gives him a small smile that suggests he knows Adam means all of them. "You're welcome."
The day in the cage isn't so bad. Shortly after they polish off the last hotdog, Tommy and Cale come down with a pile of pillows and blankets so Adam can finally ease the cramp on his ass. Tommy and Kris talk about Arkansas—about Kris's pack which apparently used to be quite small until they merged with the other two Arkansas packs and now Kris is alpha over a whole state. Tommy talks about Kris's amazing negotiation skills at great length, during which Kris stares at the floor and turns pinker and pinker until Adam reaches through the bars to twist their fingers together.
Kris's hand is warm, his fingertips callused like Tommy's. Adam spends a moment staring at the way their fingers fit together—Kris's pianist fingers and Adam's black nail polish—and wonders what would've happened if he'd met Kris in a bar. If he'd just be able to walk up, buy him a drink. Kris turns his head to give Adam a small smile and Adam looks away, although he doesn't let go of Kris's hand.
Tommy and Adam talk about LA, stories mostly about the theatre and the crazy stuff their friends have done—Adam could fill a whole day with Brad's exploits—but they also reminisce. Tommy talks a bit about being in L.A. before Adam, when some dude called James ran Alisan's pack. He doesn't let himself be drawn into the story about when he left. Cale doesn't say much of anything at all, just sits at the far end of the room listening to Tommy go on about all the things he loves in L.A.
Yeah, Adam thinks, probably a little too vindictively, in Cale's direction. You really think he'll stay with you instead of coming home with me? He doesn't say it out loud though, focusing instead on the way Kris's fingers keep twisting his rings around in circles, running grooves into his fingers.
David arrives around five. Adam smells him through the crack in the door before he sees him—he has the same unfamiliar, dangerous pack scent as the walls and the house and all the wolves around. But underneath that, there's another smell that makes Adam want to stand at his full height, bare his teeth and snarl a challenge.
The door opens all the way. David is a tall man with a bright smile and brown hair who grins down at Tommy and pulls Cale into a quick hug.
"Did I miss all the excitement?" he asks, turning to see Kris sitting on the floor, his hand still pushed through the bars so his fingers can entwine with Adam's. "When Andrew said you'd brought a loner, I honestly thought he was joking. But no, of course not." He crouches down to hold out a hand to Adam. "If they'd told me the Arkansas pack would be the one pulling all the crazy shit three years ago, I would not have believed them."
Adam shakes the offered hand slowly, trying to separate the smiling man from the myriad of enemy scents coming off him. "You smell... different."
"Alpha," Kris says. "Try to resist the urge to challenge him, I don't think I could cope with adding another fifty wolves to our pack should you happen to win."
Your pack, Adam thinks instinctively.
"Anyway," Tommy says, cutting in before Adam can get into an argument about how he hasn't agreed to anything yet and he doesn't want to be responsible for a pack. "We're not the most exciting people in the room. What's this I hear about you missing our arrival because you're at American Idol auditions?"
Cale's head jerks up and even Kris looks around. "You were what?" Cale says, failing to hide a laugh. "What happened to all that crap you were spewing about 'selling out' and 'commercialisation of expression' and 'not my kind of music, anyway'?"
"I don't know for sure," Tommy says, still looking at David because he and Cale having a face-to-face conversation is too much to hope for. "But I heard it has something to do with a certain underage werewolf from Utah who may or may not also be called David."
The David currently in the room tugs up his jacket like he's trying to hide the blush rising to his face but he can't seem to help grinning behind it. "You people have no idea, okay. I just want to meet him and his pack's still giving me all this 'don't believe in same-sex mating' bullshit. I'm not asking him to move in with me tomorrow. I would just quite like it if he knew I existed as an option, that's all." He drops his collar and shoves his hands in his pockets. "Anyway, I got through and so did he so the plan was clearly flawless."
"Yeah," Adam interrupts, because apparently no one else is seeing the glaring problems with this plan. "Until the day when you change forms live on television."
"It's been done before," Kris says, picking idly at the nail varnish on Adam's nails. "They usually have a couple of wolves a season, I think. Kelly's definitely a wolf, Fantasia, Carrie Underwood. It's reached the point where they have systems in place to deal with us. Hollywood Week is basically a werewolf meet and greet."
"There's a lot of very clever scheduling," David says. "It's inconvenient but wolves are damn good and a music career has much more leeway in terms of hours than an office job. It's a good place for people like us."
"If he sounds like he's over-justifying," Cale says, "it's because he's been opposed to the whole concept for the last six years. And now he's selling out just to avoid actually talking to a Mormon wolf pack and coming to an agreement."
David grins. "Speaking of agreements. Kris, Cale, do the two of you want to come upstairs and discuss all the lovely concessions you're going to agree to in compensation for keeping your loner in my house and—I'm guessing—changing with my pack over the full moon?"
Cale's face goes sour, Kris sighs and gives Adam's hand one last squeeze before he pushes himself up. "Bear in mind that my pack is twice the size of yours."
"I'll be nice enough," David says. "But this is a big favour and you have a lot of land bordering mine."
Adam stands up too, reaching through the bars to grab Kris's wrist as David and Cale step out. Kris turns back, head tilted curiously and Adam swallows, trying to pull his thoughts together. "Are you—" he wants to say 'what are you giving up for me' or 'don't give up too much because I'm leaving so you're not even going to get anything from it,' but he doesn't. He just pulls Kris close and gives him a quick through-the-bars hug.
Kris's confused smile when he steps back is almost worth it.
Adam sinks back to the ground as soon as the iron door clangs shut again. Tommy hesitates for a moment, then walks over to sit next to him and reaches into the pocket of his hoodie, pulling out a small pot of nail varnish. "Kris scratches," he says in explanation, tugging Adam's hand through the bars.
Adam wants to ask why Tommy knows. And when was Tommy holding Kris's hand. And what made Tommy think he could hold hands with Adam's—
But he doesn't. He rests his fingers against the bars and lets Tommy scratch off the remains of the four-day old polish on Adam's nails and then paint a new coating on top. Tommy's sucking slightly on his lower lip, watching every stroke carefully to make them all perfectly straight the way he always does.
Adam isn't as attracted to it as he remembers being. It might be that Tommy still smells of the wrong pack. It might be that he's wearing a jumper two sizes too big. Or it might just be that Adam's hand is still warm from the ghost of Kris's fingers. He's still thinking about what could have happened in an L.A. bar: Kris nursing some local beer, Adam leaning in beside him to see if the face matched the promise of the muscled shoulders and tight ass.
Tommy still isn't looking up, painting a perfectly smooth coat over Adam's nails.
"What if—" Adam starts, before he has time to think better of it. Tommy's eyes flick up, hair flopping down across his face the way it always does. It's familiar and if it wasn't for the bars between them, this whole situation would be normal. They could be home—they could still go home and put all of this behind them. Adam can buy a cage and Tommy can help him and they can mostly forget this ever happened. "Never mind. It doesn't matter."
Tommy waits a moment longer, then goes back to Adam's nails. Adam lifts his other hand to the bars when the first one's done and blows lightly across the newly painted ones to dry them quicker for a second coat. What would Kris think of that? Is Kris even into nail polish and eyeliner? Tommy's dating or seeing or breaking-up-with Cale, and he still took the time this morning to redo his eye make-up. Does he still do that in Arkansas? Is he still Tommy in Arkansas, just surrounded by his pack and his other friends.
Because Kris is—Adam could date Kris, maybe. He's dated people who made better first impressions but he's also dated people who were terrible to talk to or sit with or who turned out to be total assholes. He could happily buy Kris a drink in a bar, sit talking to him for an hour or so then take him home. Even without all this mating crap, Kris is close enough to his type for that.
"Come on, Lambert," Tommy says, this time not looking up from the nail he's working on. "Spit it out."
"What if we worked?" Adam says, like his mouth was just waiting for permission. "Me and Kris, if we could—what if we did work?"
Tommy finishes the last nail and screws the lid back on the pot before leaning is elbows on the bars. "So Cale was never in favour of this plan," he says which—isn't exactly the answer Adam was looking for. "Kris thought it was crazy, but he thought everything was crazy. Cale thought it was going to end up being a waste of time. You were going through your fuck-anyone-who-looks-twice phase and it was starting to look like that could be an easy way out. Kris goes to LA, we plant him in a club you're going to all made-up and dressed in leather, and wait for you to fuck him. That establishes you as alpha over him, Kris claims you for the pack and leaves with you none the wiser. I come over the next day and stay close until you start changing, make up some bullshit story about it starting at random times and we all go on with our lives with you none the wiser." He reaches for Adam's first hand again and the nail varnish bottle.
Adam lets him tug his fingers back over the bars, trying to work out what exactly Tommy's getting at. "You're saying I didn't have to go through with all this road trip, kidnapping lark?"
Tommy sighs. "I'm saying I wouldn't have let them go through with this if I didn't think the two of you could genuinely work."
Oh. Adam wants to object, but isn't that what he was just thinking himself? They get on, and that's the last thing Adam would have expected to say but he's spent hours holed up with Kris now and they work. "What if I was prepared to have Kris but not Arkansas?" he says. "What if I want to go back to L.A. with you and never look back?"
Tommy shrugs. "I guess that's something you'd have to take up with Kris."
Adam sighs, closing his eyes and leaning his head back against the bars. "You've been to Arkansas, what do you prefer: there or L.A.?"
Tommy tugs Adam's second hand up into the nail varnish area, his hair falling across his face obscuring it from Adam's view. "It's complicated," he sighs. "When I left L.A. the first time, I thought Arkansas would be all sunshine and roses but it gets dull out here. It's harder to go out, harder to meet people. Going back to LA—it reminded me of how much I enjoyed living there. The atmosphere, the music scene." He shakes his head. "Yeah, I guess I prefer the life in L.A." He finishes the last nail. "Are you hungry, I could go grab us something to eat?"
Adam nods and Tommy gets up to leave. "When I go back," Adam says, catching him with one hand on the door. "You could come with me. Help me buy a cage and a moon calendar or whatever."
Tommy smiles. "I'll remember that."
He slips out of the door. Adam turns his hands up to examine the perfectly smooth black coatings on each one. He should stop thinking about Kris. He should focus on getting through the next few days then take Tommy and go. He should stop thinking about things he can't have.
Tommy returns shortly after with a plate of burgers and a guitar that he apparently liberated from one of the rooms upstairs. Adam leans on the bars and sings softly along with whatever tune Tommy feels like plucking out, like any Sunday morning after a night out when they're both downing coffee by the jug and nursing equally killer hangovers.
"This agreement is taking a while," Adam says, when it's been long enough that it would almost be normal to be enquiring after Kris in a casual fashion.
Tommy raises his eyebrows like he knows exactly why Adam is thinking about Kris. "They have a lot of posturing to get through," he says. "When it comes down to it, you have two alpha wolves going up against each other and while neither of them actually want it to go to a fight, they don't want to appear weaker either. A weak alpha weakens the status of the pack and throws up a sign that they're open for attack from other directions. Sheltering a loner is a pretty huge request, so David's going to want something equally as major in return. Kris is probably arguing that you don't count as a loner because you're his mate and David will say you don't smell like his mate. And then they'll end up back where they started." He glances at his watch then up at the fading light of the window. "Also, it's five minutes to sunset."
Adam's head whips around to the window and he touches a hand to his stomach—remembering the hours between sunset and moonrise yesterday. "Great."
Tommy shrugs. "That's the price we pay," he says, strumming a chord pensively. "It might be better tonight—first change is always the worst, and there won't be anyone driving around this close to the full moon. That wasn't what I meant though—Kris isn't like you, he changes with the sun."
Adam has a sudden flashback to Kris saying that if they got home when planned, they'd be just in time for his first change. "Kris is shifting tonight?" He'd been waiting for Kris to get back so he could—well—probably so he could avoid talking about what was going to happen after this. But either way, the decision would have been easier with Kris here. "Doesn't he need the cage?"
"Not if he's come to an agreement with David. If our allegiance with this pack is settled again, they'll let him run loose. Kris is a pretty chill wolf, he won't go off starting challenges just because he's a little cooped up and bored."
"You heard me howling then."
"You were howling in the van, Adam." Tommy shifts his fingers and plays a different chord. "You're going to have to cut that shit out in L.A. We might have to drug you through the changes or something because some of the L.A. wolves will not hesitate to climb your fire escape and take you up on it."
"I thought I was safe if I had pack protection."
"Not if you go out looking for fights. Pack protection means a whole lot less when the pack protecting you is over a day's drive away." He flicks the strings again with his nail and for a moment it's normal. Then the noise is ringing out through Adam's head, shivering with all the tiny vibrations of the guitar string and pounding behind his ears in a way that makes him grit his teeth.
Tommy looks up, and stills the strings under his palm. "Sunset?" he says.
Outside, Adam can hear the sway of trees in the distant forest, the faint vibrations of animals over and under the ground. He can hear the small crowd of people out the front of the house and the noises their bodies make as they switch forms. He nods his head, lifting his hands to push his fingers into his ears—out of the van and with the relatively soundproofed stone walls, this actually cuts out the majority of the noises.
Tommy reaches into the pocket of his hoodie and pulls out the tiny plastic pot with Adam's earplugs sitting inside it. "Are you going to be okay without the drugs tonight?"
Adam takes the pot and slides the plugs back in. He can still hear the pack howling out the front but he can't hear the forest or the river somewhere in the distance and Tommy's speaking voice is just about bearable. "Yeah." His nose is starting to pick up now, he can smell pack all over Tommy. If he leans closer, though, he can smell the faint echo that makes it clear that it's Kris's pack. "I think so. As long as no one tries to drive me somewhere again."
Tommy nods. "No more driving around full moons," he starts saying, but is interrupted by someone pulling back the bolt on the door. Tommy's on his feet immediately, eyes flashing and hands moving to the zip of his jumper like he might have to strip and switch at any moment.
Adam inches back from the bars a little as the door is pushed the rest of the way open. A brown wolf darts under David's arm to run over to Adam's cage and press his muzzle as far as he can get through the bars. Kris whimpers, paws scratching at the metal like he can't quite understand why it's in his way and Adam finds himself laughing half with relief and half because Kris is ridiculous. He scoots forward to touch Kris's muzzle with one outstretched hand.
Kris yips happily, twisting awkwardly to lick Adam's outstretched fingers. His tongue is rough and Adam moves forward a little further to reach out with his other hand and scratch the soft fur on the back of Kris's neck. "Hey," Adam says, as Kris lifts his front paws to rest them on Adam's thigh. "Did you miss me?"
David laughs, leaning in the doorway. "He was all set up to go hunting with the pack. Then the moment he changed, it was straight back inside and down the stairs. I suppose he smelt something he wanted more than rabbit."
Kris presses more weight into Adam's thigh as he leans forward to lick Adam's cheek. Adam slips his second arms through the bars to rub across the soft fur on Kris's back. Kris-the-wolf is gorgeous, a soft brown coat mixed with odd flashes of cream. His tail is bushy, wagging delightedly back and forth as he attempts to fit more and more of his body through the bars.
Adam glances up to see David and Tommy both watching them, with matching slightly wistful expressions. "I'll find some food for the two of you," David says, shaking himself and turning away. "Since you won't be hunting."
"Did the two of you come to an agreement?" Tommy asks, standing up and picking up the guitar.
"You lost some territory," David says. "Cale's just calling your pack to let them know." Kris tugs his head out from where he was trying to get his head through the gap in the bars and turns to snarl, low and dangerous. "Hey," David says, raising both hands. "You agreed, Allen. You really want to start a turf war now?"
Kris snarls again like he might be considering it, then turns back to Adam, dropping to the ground and resting his head on his paws.
"Thought not." David tugs the door open again. "Tommy, I think Cale's taken a room upstairs if you want some rest."
Tommy stretches out, swinging the guitar strap over his shoulder. "Actually, if Kris hasn't taken the offer, would you mind if I join your hunt?"
David shrugs, stepping back so Tommy can pass through the doorway. "I don't see why not. I'll take you out there now, make sure they get your scent." The door shuts behind them and there's the slam of the bolt being pulled across. Kris scratches at the metal bars and whimpers softly.
"Yeah," Adam agrees, reaching through to scratch at the back of his neck. "You and me both." Kris turns to trot away from his hand, sniffing at the bottom of the door and then around the edges of his section of the locked room before he returns to Adam and leans in to lick his hand again. Wolf-Kris seems larger than human-Kris, but that could just be because human-Kris doesn't have thick fur from head to toe. He lies down next to Adam, pressed as close to the bars as he can manage, so Adam can reach through and stroke the longest strokes he can manage down his back.
Tommy said he should talk to Kris, right? Okay, so maybe it's cheating because wolf-Kris probably doesn't understand English, but it's easier than doing it to Kris's face and maybe if he says it—if he gets the thoughts off his chest, he could move on and stop thinking about it like it's possible.
"I do like you," he says, trying to keep any emotion out of his voice because Brad told him once that dogs don't understand words, they just hear tones. "I don't know if it's the mate or the hours of boredom or the fact that I can't resist people who argue with me all the time, but I do. If I met you in L.A. I'd buy you a drink and take you on awkward dates to things neither of us really enjoyed until we got to know each other well enough that I could just invite you over to my place to lounge on the couch in pyjamas, watch movies and make out."
Kris's ears flick up, head lifting slightly and Adam laughs. "Right, you're listening as soon as I mention making out. I just—I could date you, is what I'm saying, but I'm not going to fall in love in three days and I'm not going to promise you that I believe mating is a perfect relationship and we could last forever."
Kris stands up, padding back over to the iron door and reaching out to scratch at it with one paw's claws.
"Great," Adam says to his back, like Kris understands him or something. "What, so it's forever or nothing? I'm trying to be honest with you and you just walk away. I'm just saying that mating might be bullshit. David's going on a reality television show to meet some kid, Cale and Tommy hate each other, we don't even know if we have a chance of work—"
Kris scampers back as the door swings open and David is standing there with a tray of raw meat and a slightly sour expression. "He's sixteen," David says to Adam, keeping one eye on Kris's teeth as he walks across the room. "If he wins, he'll be surrounded by bodyguards all his life. If he doesn't, he'll be back to the homophobic Mormon wolf pack and someone will push him to date some girl his age who's been picked out for him since birth." He puts the tray down on the floor close enough to the bars that Adam could reach through and grab one of the raw slabs. Kris falls on it immediately, closing his jaws around the largest piece and returning to his position up against the bars. He rests his paws protectively over his dinner and bares his teeth in David's direction. "I just want to meet him."
Adam leans through the bars to rest a hand back on Kris's head. "What if he doesn't want to meet you?"
David shrugs. "That's up to him. I just want to make sure he has the choice." He tugs on the barred door, checking that the lock is still secure. "If you put the clothes just in arms' reach on this side of the bars, Kris should leave them alone." He hesitates. "I heard something about Cale and Tommy—?"
Adam shakes his head, because it's not something that's any of David's business, not when Adam still isn't completely sure what's going on there. "Just - examples of mating not working. Tommy wants to move back to LA. When I go back, he's going with me." He's pretty sure. Maybe eighty percent sure, and he can work on the other twenty next time Tommy comes down.
"Right." David frowns a little more, but turns away. "I have to get ready for my shift. I'll see you both in the morning."
Adam gives him a dry look through the bars and watches as the door closes behind him. He waits half a minute to give David time to get out of hearing range before turning back to where Kris is tearing into his slab of meat. "You could come with me," he says. "You could come back to L.A. and we could try again, maybe get it right next time. We could do that."
Kris turns his head to lick Adam's hand. Adam sighs. "You have no idea what I'm saying, do you?"
It's probably better. Kris has his pack and friends. Adam can only offer a shitty apartment and a job he's probably been fired from for not showing up for three days.
Adam sighs and slides his fingers back through Kris's fur.
When he wakes up the next morning, he's lying on the shredded remains of a pillow, one hand outstretched through the bars. The other half of the cell is empty, save for the small pile of clothes which still sits where he left it last night, slightly more rumpled as though Kris had gone to nose at it experimentally. Adam half remembers being a wolf again, turning his head as the pack howled outside but closing his mouth when Kris nosed at his flank and turning away. He remembers rubbing noses with Kris, wanting to play but being constrained by the bars. He remembers Kris giving him a warning growl when he tried to throw himself at the bars, remembers snarling back but reluctantly turning away from the bars and curling up on the ground instead.
He picks up the clothes, checks the cut on his side which is already nothing but a faded red line on his skin, and brushes his teeth. He closes his eyes, listening hard for a moment. He then leans over the toilet to jerk off, thinking about Kris's eyes and his mouth and the way his smell is enough to wash over everything and drown out the pack and the cage.
He washes his hands and dresses again. The black polish on his fingertips has survived the transformation relatively unscathed but his reflection on the surface of the sink is still wiped clean from the motel shower. He should ask Tommy for his make-up bag next time Tommy comes down to visit.
The bolt of the main door shunts back and Adam turns away from his reflection to see Tommy step inside, tossing a silver key up and down in one hand. All thoughts of make-up are banished from his mind as his eyes focus on the silver flash. "How much do you love me?" Tommy asks, grinning as he crosses to the bars and slides the key into the keyhole.
"Are you breaking me out so we can run away to L.A. and never look back?"
Tommy laughs. "You've started your change at moonrise two nights, exact to the second, and you start showing signs at sunset. You're allowed loose in the house as long as one of our pack is with you at all times." He turns the key and the door swings open."I was thinking brunch."
Adam grins back, stepping through. "Brunch works."
The pack house is large, surprisingly homey. And it stinks. Adam wrinkles his nose as soon as he steps through the metal door and Tommy laughs. "You get used to it," he promises, dragging Adam down a stone corridor and up a set of steps into an entrance hallway. There are staircases up to mysterious other floors of the house, double front doors which are propped open with matching wolf doorstops to let in the noon sunlight and two young women, buttoning up shirts and straightening short skirts as they come in from outside. They are both carefully not looking at Adam; Adam keeps his eyes on the floor.
"Nice hunting," one of them says to Tommy. "Nothing like deer in the morning."
"I wouldn't know," Tommy says dryly, resting a hand on Adam's shoulder to steer him across the large entrance hall and towards another open door. "Since you didn't let me get a bite in."
"Well," the second girl says. "If you will hunt in another pack's territory."
They both follow Tommy and Adam through the door, the girl directly behind Adam lifting a hand to her nose as though she's thinking about pinching it, before they're through into a large kitchen. There are a handful of other people in here already, Andrew is sitting at the table with a newspaper and there's an older couple frying something on a stove.
They all smell like wolves and David's pack. Adam inches a little closer to Tommy, wondering if he challenged any of these people while in wolf form two nights before.
The girls edge carefully around Adam, then dart to the very edge of the room, as far from him as they can conceivably get.
Tommy glances around the room. "Where're my guys?" he says, stopping Adam from moving any further in with an outstretched hand.
Andrew glances up from his paper to look at the girls hovering at the edge of the room. "It's one loner, not a bear. He wouldn't be out here if he was dangerous."
"Yeah," says the blonde one, eyeing Adam carefully as she takes the seat furthest from him. "But he stinks."
Andrew rolls his eyes and turns to Tommy. "Kris and David drove out to check the new boundaries at sunrise. I haven't seen Cale since last night."
The woman at the stove makes a loud disapproving noise. "Tchuh."
Tommy looks over at her. "Beth? Have you seen him?"
She turns to give him a very severe look, folding her arms across her chest. "He's probably holed up in his bedroom nursing a broken heart, the poor dear. He was in here when David told us all what you're planning."
Tommy's hand drops from Adam's chest as he takes half a step forward. "What?"
"Thomas Joseph Ratliff," she says, pointing her spatula at his stomach. "I honestly thought better of you. Were you even planning to tell him, or were you just going to run away to California and never look back?"
Tommy blinks twice then turns sharply on the spot to face Adam. "What did you do? What did you tell him?"
"I—" the whole room is staring at Adam, the two girls with their chins on their hands watching like this is a particularly interesting new episode of a TV show. "I haven't seen him." He hesitates. "It may have come up when I was talking to David. But you said—you said you were happier there and I thought you'd want to come back with—"
Tommy lets out a strangled noise that is half a snarl and half a cry and pushes past Adam in his haste to get out the room. Adam glances over at the crowd of faces all fixing him with unwelcoming expressions, then turns to run after him.
Tommy's already at the top of the stairs, head raised as he sniffs the air in each direction. Adam has barely caught up before he's running left, turning his head to each doorway and finally ploughing through one, hand fumbling on the doorknob as he stumbles inside.
"I'm not going to L.A," Tommy says breathlessly to the room at large. "Not without you."
Adam catches up to Tommy who's standing in the entrance to a room full of children sitting cross-legged on beanbag chairs in front of a flat screen TV. Behind the kids, Cale's sits casually on the sofa and he doesn't exactly look heartbroken.
Tommy seems to realise he has an audience at the same time Adam does. But Tommy takes a slow step forward and lets the door swing shut as all the children's faces turn to look at him. "I thought—" he starts, head moving to seek out Cale like a compass needle to North. "I thought that might not have been clear."
Cale looks confused for half a moment, then he smiles a slightly wry smile, holding out an arm like an invitation for Tommy to sit beside him. "I knew," he says, like he'd never had a single moment of doubt.
Tommy kicks the floor, twisting his toe into the carpet. "I'm not going anywhere and I missed you every day when I was away. And I love you quite a bit, so can we pretend this conversation never happened now?"
Cale's smile widens a little, as much as he tries to hide it. "Already forgotten," he says, tapping the sofa cushions. "And I think you've filled your 'talking about our relationship' quota for—oh—the next five years."
Tommy's mouth twitches into a matching smile. He slips slowly between the beanbags to curl up in Cale's open arms, burying his floppy blonde head in Cale's shoulder.
"And I love you too, Tommy Joe," Cale adds, arm closing protectively around Tommy's shoulders. "You know, a bit." He tilts his head down and Tommy's neck stretches up so they can kiss, Cale's hand sliding onto Tommy's leg and Tommy scratching his painted nails across Cale's shoulders.
A few of the children make disgusted noises and turn back to their movie. Adam hovers in the doorway for a moment before Cale beckons him over to the half of the sofa which is still free, what with the majority of Tommy being settled in Cale's lap. Tommy raises his head from Cale's shoulder briefly to fix Adam with a glare.
Adam lifts both hands in surrender. "How was I supposed to know? The two of you spend all your time fighting."
Cale sighs, rubbing Tommy's shoulder lightly. "I think what we can learn from this is that sometimes things don't look quite the same from the outside."
"I think what we can learn from this is that you shouldn't tell people that I'm leaving my boyfriend without checking with me first," Tommy says, prodding Adam's leg with one foot. "Just some advice for the future."
A few of the children turn to glare at them. A little boy with ginger hair snarls and a girl presses a finger hard against her lips. Tommy subsides into a somewhat sulky silence, curling up closer against Cale and leaving Adam to watch the movie—Lilo and Stitch—and pretend he can't hear the two of them still talking in soft murmurs between light kisses.
"Do you really like L.A. better?" Cale says softly.
Tommy sighs, kissing him again. "I like where you are best," he says, just as the TV switches to Lilo and her sister and all the children join in like a mantra.
"Pack means family. Family means no one gets left behind."
Adam draws his legs up onto the couch, thinking about going back to L.A. without Tommy or Kris or anyone. It doesn't seem like such a wonderful plan anymore.
Andrew opens the door as on screen, Stitch is being dragged down into the water and all the children are perched on the edge of their seats. He looks flustered, slightly red in the face and seems surprised to see Adam and the single entity that is Cale and Tommy in the room, but beckons to them anyway. Cale frowns a little, pushing Tommy lightly so the two of them can stand up. "What is it?" he mouths over the children's heads.
Andrew just beckons again in answer. Cale shrugs, turning to indicate that Adam should go with them as they sneak quietly out of the room and click the door shut. "We just got word that a wolf is travelling through our territory—one of yours. Still in human form, driving in a car. Are you expecting anyone?"
Cale frowns, heading for the stairs. "Not expecting, but someone might have come out—they're not exactly happy with the new boundary arrangements."
"That's not our problem," Andrew points out quickly, following Cale down. "Your alpha agreed. Unless they've come to challenge David—"
"Yeah," Cale says, sliding his phone out of his pocket and skipping to recently dialled numbers. "I don't think it's David they'll want to challenge." He hits call, and Adam can hear the dial tone as he holds the phone to his ear. "Are David and Kris on their way back?"
"We called, they're half an hour away. Your rogue wolf is twenty minutes from our front door and driving fast through pack territory. Give me a good reason why I shouldn't send someone to intercept and get them off our land."
"You have reached Katy O'Connell," Cale's phone says. "Please leave a message after the beep." Cale flips it closed and drops it back into his pocket, glancing sideways at Tommy. There's a moment where they just look at each other, then Tommy nods and turns away so Cale can look back at Andrew. "Just let her reach the house and we can sort this out like people."
"Is there going to be a pack fight?" Andrew asks. "Because that is the kind of thing which should be happening on your own turf. If your pack keeps increasing its presence here, we're going to have problems. Our wolves are already on edge with that—" he jerks his head in Adam's direction, "wandering around."
"I know," Cale says, hitting speed dial two on his phone. "You've kind of ended up in the middle of an argument that's been going on for a while. I will try to keep all pack challenges to a minimum." He lifts his phone back to his ear, and Adam can hear Kris's breathing on the other end of the line. "Hey, I think Katy's coming."
Tommy follows Cale, leaning on the banister next to him so their arms touch. Andrew turns to look at Adam. "They sorted their shit out then?"
Adam shrugs, because it seems like they never had shit in the first place and Adam is just really bad at reading people. "Apparently sometimes not meeting someone's eyes except to yell at them means 'I love you.'"
Andrew lets out a surprised laugh, like it hadn't occurred to him that Adam might sometimes say interesting things. "They were never exactly conventional," he agrees. "I will never forget seeing a skinny guy with floppy hair and smudged eyeliner greet a two hundred pound, completely feral wolf like an old friend."
"Kris assures me he has a plan," Cale says, coming back over and holding the phone out for Andrew. "David's on the line if you need him to tell you to let her through."
Andrew takes the phone for a moment, says "uh huh" to the person on the other end and hangs up. "You guys are really lucky that we like you," he says to Cale. "You may as well come and wait in the kitchen. That way you can go out and talk to her when she arrives."
The kitchen mysteriously empties shortly after their arrival. Cale rolls his eyes at the backs of the last two wolves to make up excuses and leave. Then he starts pulling pans down from shelves and ransacks the fridge for bacon and eggs that sizzle over the stove and make Adam's mouth water.
Tommy sits on the chair next to Adam, rocking back and forth and not making any secret of the fact that he's staring at Cale's ass the whole time.
"Sorry," Adam says again, softer so Cale won't hear. "I just thought—when you said you liked L.A. best, I assumed you meant you'd prefer to go back there."
Tommy gives Adam a dry look. "You didn't think that if I liked living in L.A. better, there would have to be a damn good reason why I would choose not to?"
Cale comes over to the table balancing a stack of plates in one hand and a stack of deliciously fatty fried goods in the other. "I have no idea what meal the two of you are on, so I'm going to call this a late lunch and also us gathering strength in the event we have to stop our alpha and his ex killing each other."
Tommy raises his glass in a toast to this. "For the record," he adds, stealing the best of the eggs, "if Katy is in wolf form, you're both going to stand back and let me deal with it. I don't care if Cale's beta or Adam's soon-to-be-alpha, neither of you have fangs." He selects two rashers of bacon just as carefully and slides the plate across the table to Cale.
"I've changed my mind," Cale says, smiling down at the plate in a stupidly-in-love way. If they'd done that before now, Adam might not have got the wrong end of the stick so much. "If it gets me bacon, you need to talk about our relationship more." He grabs a knife and fork from the pile in the centre of the table. "If Katy's driving down, she must be reasonably calm. With a bit of luck, we can stop it devolving into an actual wolf fight."
"Is Katy like you?" Adam asks, turning to Tommy.
Tommy laughs, stealing more food for his own plate. "She wishes. No, Katy changes when she's pissed."
"She spends a lot more time human when you're not home," Cale tells Tommy, then turns to Adam. "Tommy sometimes feels the need to shift forms when no one else is close to changing, and then he makes it his mission to annoy Katy until she joins him."
Tommy beams innocently and steals one of Cale's rashers of bacon. "Katy's fierce," he tells Adam. "You'll like her."
She sounds more intimidating than anything and since Adam's going to be spending all his wolf-time locked up, he'd rather if other wolves stayed a good distance away. "If she challenged Kris, could she win?"
Tommy and Cale both appear like they're brought up short by that one, pausing for a moment to think. "Kris is stronger," Cale says slowly. "But he's not very good at hurting people."
"And Katy fights dirty," Tommy says approvingly. "I almost hope she does challenge him now just so we can watch."
The main door to the kitchen swings open again and Andrew leans in. "She's nearly here," he says. "If you could keep her outside the house, that would be best." He pauses. "We have a few wolves out there. They'll stop her going after our pack, but they won't fight for you."
Cale nods, kicking back his chair and feeding Tommy his last forkful of egg. "I wouldn't expect them to." He leads out of the kitchen. Adam hesitates for a moment then snatches his last rasher of bacon and shoves it rolled up into his mouth before following them out of the front doors of the building. They stand on the gravel drive and watch a car winding its way down the twisting road towards them, flanked by three wolves keeping pace with their tongues hanging out and their legs powering across the ground.
The car pulls up at the far end of the drive. It isn't exactly an intimidating vehicle. Adam can't see the make from this distance, but it looks like the kind of car that moms take their children to school in, not the kind you drive into battle. The door slams open and Katy climbs out.
She's tiny, that's Adam's first impression. His first thought once he's got over the surprise that this is what everyone is worked up about, is that she dated Kris who is pretty much pocket-sized so—yeah—tiny makes sense. Tiny, with wavy blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail at the back of her head. She's wearing a short blue dress and wedge-heeled sandals which are clearly much loved because she has no difficulty running in them across the gravel.
Adam's not sure what he was expecting. Maybe for her to start by attacking them or to yell at them about whatever it is she's supposed to be angry about. What she actually does is grin widely and pull Tommy into a tight hug.
Adam does notice that the back of her dress is secured with Velcro, the perfect fastening if—say—you wanted it to tear apart easily when you suddenly got angry and turned into a wolf.
"Hey Katy-cat," Tommy says, hugging her back like five minutes ago he wasn't advocating a wolf-fight between her and Adam's—and Kris. "Missed you."
"Hey yourself, Tommy Joe." She pulls back just enough to stand on her tiptoes and kiss his cheek. "How was Los Angeles? Did you bring me any celebrity autographs to make up for callously abandoning me with these dorks?" she releases him to elbow Cale in the arm.
"I brought you a Broadway star?" Tommy offers, still grinning as he loops an arm around her shoulders and turns her to face Adam. "Katy, Adam Lambert. Adam, Katy O'Connell."
Katy looks Adam up and down. Then she does it again—slower—apparently needing time to take in his kickass snakeskin boots, black nail polish and blue-streaked hair. Adam has time to wonder how much worse it would be if he was wearing his own clothes, then realises she's smiling and remembers that she knows Tommy. "Wow," she says, when she's done checking him out. "And he's Kris's mate? Kris Allen. Really? I would not have called that."
Behind them, Andrew lets out a low 'hurry up' cough. Cale bites his lip slightly. "You want to tell us why you drove out, Katy? Because they really aren't keen on all of us hanging around."
Katy glances at Andrew and for a moment, seems to be seriously contemplating sticking her tongue out at him. "I figured that part out when I got the clawed escort party," she says instead, waving to the three wolves trying to look like they're not exhausted behind her. "Funny, I would have thought after giving up a hundred acres of land that I fought tooth and nail to get, Kris would have managed to negotiate a little more leeway." The last bit is slightly louder, very pointedly aimed at the pack wolves watching them from the balcony and moving stealthily closer by the main doors.
Katy turns back to Tommy, stretching her arms out in front of her. "So where is your alpha? I need to punch him in the face."
Cale winces slightly. "He's on his way, but I promised David's pack that we wouldn't do any fighting on their land."
Katy positively beams. "It's only a fight if he hits back," she says. "So you should probably tell him that when he gets here."
Adam catches the faint rumble of an engine in the distance and turns his head to try and see the car. "I think they're coming."
Katy looks in the same direction, tugging out of her half-hug with Tommy and cracking her knuckles brightly.
"Maybe you could go easy on him," Adam says hesitantly. "I think most of what he did was just trying to protect me, so you should probably be pissed at me instead—not that I want you to punch me in the face, just—"
Katy glances back at him and her smile softens a little. "You're new," she says. "Kris has been an active pack wolf all his life. He's been an alpha for two years and before you, he was damn good at it. He's balancing three groups of wolves that haven't quite settled into a pack yet, he's making allegiances without consulting anyone and he's still trying to make everyone happy when he needs to fight. You're new so we can cut you some slack. Kris should know better."
"There weren't really a lot of options—" Cale starts.
Katy rolls her eyes at him. "I'm not here to start a war, Cale. Bobby and Estelle were getting restless, if I hadn't come then one of them would have. I'm just planning to lightly jolt Kris back into the real world where things have consequences and former alphas don't want to follow a jumped-up kid who thinks he can hand out their territory left, right and centre."
The mustang with Kris and David pulls up in front of them and Kris climbs out quickly. "Katy—" he starts, both hands already coming up either in surrender or so it'll be easier to defend his face. "Hey. How's it going?"
Katy arches one eyebrow. "Do you mean how was the drive into enemy territory under fanged guard? How was the four-hour meeting with all the higher status pack members in which I had to defend your stupid decisions? Or how was the moment that I got a phone call from Cale and had to tell Estelle James that you gave half of her former pack's territory over to someone else in exchange for a few nights' food and board?"
Kris's face takes on a pained expression and he rubs the back of his neck the way he always does when he isn't quite sure what to say. "There's no hunting there," he says after a moment. "No one goes there anymore, it's too far to travel and we were about to lose it to the South Missouri pack, anyway."
"Funny," Katy says. "That's not what Estelle was saying. She seemed more interested in 'land of my fathers' and 'I was raised in that forest'."
Kris bites his lip. "She didn't want it. She's just making trouble because I didn't consult her first."
"Yes," Katy agrees. "This is why you should consult your pack first. How many people do you think are going to come sniffing around now it's got out that Kris Allen is giving tracts of land to anyone who asks nicely?"
"We're big enough to defend ourselves."
"Only if they follow you," Katy snaps, cutting through whatever Kris was about to say. "Which—at the moment—is looking less and less likely. Did you really pay off Texas? The Texas alpha is puny. Neil could take on the Texas alpha."
"We were in a hurry," Kris says, speaking faster before she can interrupt him again. "And we have free passage whenever we want to go that way now. Which is good because Adam is going back to LA. Also, Alisan's promised us a stronger relationship with her pack—you can use that to pacify Estelle—"
Katy nods impatiently. "Already did, why do you think I didn't drive down here with a car full of wolves looking for a fight?"
Kris blinks, his words derailing as he turns to check that Katy's car is indeed empty. "You talked them all down?" he says.
Katy rolls her eyes. "Yes, I talked them all down. I explained that you were finding your mate to strengthen the pack. I pointed out that we now had an even closer connection with the strongest of the L.A. packs. I reminded them that David's pack have always been friends to us. And I promised to come out here as soon as possible to make sure you didn't cause any more disasters driving the four hours home." Her face softens a little into more of a comfortable 'you're so stupid' expression. "Remember how I was briefly running this pack with you? I do know what I'm doing."
"Yeah," Kris says, glancing sideways at Adam. "I was kind of relying on that, in fact." He swallows, taking a step closer to her, tense like he's bracing himself for something. "You're right, I'm distracted and I probably made a whole load of bad calls because I was too busy thinking about everything I wanted to happen. And maybe the wolves won't follow me as happily as they would have done before but that's—that's kind of alright because they'd follow you to Hell and back. I trust you to do what's best for them. Cale will help you and everything, but they need an alpha who knows how to work the system and who they can count on. You're the only person I would think of for—"
"Kris," Katy interrupts. "Are you trying to give me your pack?"
Kris smiles a tiny half-smile, not even hiding that it's directed right over her shoulder at Adam who realises what is about to happen a moment before it does and can't stop himself smiling back. "Someone told me not long ago that if I went to LA, I could get the chance to start again and that's something I think is worth trying for. So, yes. I think I am."
Katy punches him in the face. It's a damn good punch as well; she keeps her weight centred and her fist snaps out almost too fast to see, but it sends Kris stumbling three paces backwards. "You can't just give me the pack, Kris," she says, catching him before he can fall over. He looks surprised and somewhat dazed and she holds him for a moment like she might punch him again. She lets out an exasperated, 'you're so ridiculous' sigh and pulls him into a hug. "But I suppose I could look after it for you," she says. "For a little while."
Kris hesitates for a heartbeat, then his face relaxes into a smile and he returns the hug so tightly it looks like she might pop. Adam turns his head away, trying not to look too closely at how familiar and easy it is between them.
It doesn't matter, he reminds himself. It doesn't matter because Kris heard him while in wolf form and he's coming to L.A. which is—it's good. Probably. They can work something out.
Kris breaks away from Katy, turning his head to Adam. "That is, if that's what you want," he says, suddenly uncertain. "I thought I remembered you saying something about it. I could get an apartment to myself and try the whole flowers and compliments approach." He's smiling a little more, which must mean Adam's grinning like an idiot to encourage him. "Save the chains for the third date, right?"
Adam kisses him. He has to step forward and lean in. Kris's head is tilted back, his lips soft and warm and the kiss is quick and chaste. Kris still smells amazing, and Adam doesn't release the hold he's got on Kris's waist but the overwhelming urge to pin him to the nearest wall and kiss him breathless is—well—at least bearable. "Yeah," he says. "We could try that."
"You're not getting an apartment to yourself though," Cale says, wrapping an arm around Tommy's waist. "The two of you aren't the only ones looking to take advantage of this new pack alliance." He pauses, glancing at Katy. "That is if you're okay to take on the pack on your own?"
"We don't have to," Tommy says quickly, looking at Cale. "I told you—I want to be where you are."
Cale kisses him. "Right back at you, Tommy Joe. It can't hurt to give it a try. I want to hear this band you keep talking about and tell embarrassing stories about you to all your friends and—"
"Yes," Katy says dryly. "I can definitely manage to pack without you." She turns away to look up at the crowds of David's pack watching them from the house. "I think that's your show for the afternoon. Also, if any of you want to try your luck getting another millimetre of land away from me, you will probably be making a big mistake." She smiles sweetly, dropping into a curtsey before them, then turns to Kris and Adam, and Tommy and Cale. "I have a feeling that if we drive fast we might just get across the border by sunset. Who's up for a nice brisk run home?"
Kris tilts his head up to smile a dizzy, happy grin up at Adam which makes Adam want to kiss him again and hold him and maybe never let him go. "Ready to meet the pack?"
Adam smiles back. "Let's go."
They make it slightly beyond the border. Cale and Tommy travel in the back of Katy's car which means Adam finally gets to sit up in the passenger seat of the van. He fiddles with the radio to find songs he and Kris both know half of the words to so they can sing along and Kris can fill in the gaps with random invented lyrics of his own.
They talk about LA. Tommy didn't have time to get rid of his apartment so Kris can camp on the sofa until he gets a place sorted. Adam promises to take him around the bars and Kris makes pleading eyes until Adam agrees to let him crash in one of the studio sessions. It's all light, easy stuff, the kind of conversation they could have all day.
It isn't until they pull into a deserted Arkansas car park and Kris stops the engine that Adam asks one of the questions that's been preying on his mind. "Do you wish I was a girl?" he says slowly, staring down at his hands in his lap. "I mean, when you dreamed about me—did you dream about a girl?" He's been thinking about what he wants and having the chance to see if dating gets them further than mating did, but if Kris is only doing this because of a scent on the wind and is going to run at the first sign of an actual relationship—
Kris is too easy to like, and Adam doesn't want to fall in too deep and have his heart broken again.
Kris turns his head, then reaches out to fit their hands together in Adam's lap. "It was never that clear," he says. "When I was a kid, maybe, because you know what the world's like. That was just the norm. After Cale—I stopped thinking of it like that. It was about how you'd make me feel, how you'd look at me and how I'd look at you." He smiles. "I've had a year knowing it was you specifically, remember. We're not going to get halfway through sex and I'd freak out and run away." His cheeks heat up and he doesn't look up from their hands. "I mean, I've never been with a guy but I did some research and—uh—experimented a bit so—"
Oh and that's hot. Adam is very interested in Kris experimenting, Kris's fingers and he has to remind himself that they have time later. Kris is two minutes from shifting so now is not a good time to start pushing. Still, he can't help himself a little, reaching across to rest a palm on Kris's thigh and murmuring, "did you really?" in a low voice that's almost a purr.
Kris shivers, then catches himself and pushes Adam's hand away. Somehow in the process he ends up tugging Adam's head down and kissing him properly, his tongue licking out hungry into Adam's mouth. Adam tugs a hand through his hair to hold him steady.
Kris's watch alarm goes off and he pulls back with a rueful expression. Adam grins and messes his hair up with one hand. "You should probably strip," he says, deliberately not looking away. "Full moon tonight."
"You just want me for my body," Kris says with a mock sigh. "They told me California boys would break my heart." He grins, gives Adam one final peck on the lips and slides out of the van, tugging his shirt off over his head. Adam admires his shoulder muscles and think about pressing kisses down his spine.
Adam waits half a minute after he disappears, then gets out of the van in time for Kris to pad round the corner on all fours and jump up at him, paws on his shoulders so he can lick Adam's cheek. "Hey there," Adam says, ruffling Kris's fur with one hand. "Missing me already, huh?"
Kris yips happily, dropping back onto all fours and nudging at Adam's legs with his nose for a moment before turning his head to howl. Here, safe, home.
Adam hesitates for half a second—glancing across the car park to where Tommy is poking Katy repeatedly in the side—then tilts his head back and lets the sounds come naturally from his throat. Here, safe, mine.
And maybe there's something to be said for not living in cities, for running miles in one night with Kris at his side. Adam occasionally leaps on top of Kris so they roll three meters through the undergrowth. Adam nips Kris's back and Kris catches Adam's throat between his jaws and barks a cry of triumph before they're running again.
There's something to be said for Tommy pacing alongside them, Cale driving down the road somewhere, and Katy—a lithe coppery wolf who dodges out the way every time Adam tries to pounce—nipping at their flanks whenever they're getting a little too distracted.
There's something about hearing howling in the distance and then closer as Kris, Tommy and Katy all join in. Hearing that long rolling sound echoing through the hills and knowing it means home and safe warm mine pack family.
And tumbling—exhausted and flagging—into a clearing suddenly surrounded by a whole crowd of wolves nosing at his face, his flank. Each one coming up to him with a cock to their head that says 'join my pack?' and Adam pressing back to say 'yes, yes, yes' until each scent is familiar. Then they all stack together into the pack scent until that's all Adam can smell on them, on him, on the ground and in the air.
It smells like home.
Of course there are the other moments. There's Cale shifting the day after the full moon and effectively trapping them all in Arkansas for a week until he changes back. Tommy sits in a cage under the house with a wolf that would attack anyone else while Kris shows Adam the house and the grounds. Kris drives him around Arkansas just to tell him about all the wonderful things other people did to make his pack the best.
There's the time they decide to test Adam's sense of smell and Kris hides in one of the bedrooms. By the time Adam finds him, Kris is half asleep, waking up blearily as Adam kisses him and kisses him and doesn't stop until they have to sneak half-naked down the hallway because it isn't Kris's bedroom and it doesn't have lube.
There's going back to LA. Kris spends two weeks sleeping on Tommy's shitty old sofa listening to Tommy and Cale having sex every night before Adam gives up on trying to do this relationship thing properly and takes him home.
There are the times they don't work and the times they do, the second keeps outnumbering the first until Adam finds himself introducing Kris as his boyfriend without even thinking.
Sometimes Adam looks over at Kris in the middle of the night and wonders if they're only together because of the mating. Or if it isn't a factor at all. Or if it's just one thing, far down on Adam's whole list of reasons with Kris's smile and how they talk and music and the way he looks when he's coming with me inside him.
Mostly, he's happy and he's in love and that's all that really matters.
"Well," Kris says, tossing his guitar into the corner and collapsing back on the bed. He wants to punch Simon in the face and Danny in the face twice and whoever decided a rock night with duets would be a good idea at least three times. "Are they planning on buying my ticket home tonight then? Doesn't seem worth waiting until after results."
Adam strips off his jacket and boots, throwing them onto the bed they never use and nudging Kris with his elbow until there's enough room for him to lie down. "You can't go home tomorrow," he says.
"Right," Kris says. "Full moon. Saturday then, I get a few more days in the mansion to watch the three of you prep for next week." And he'll be in wolf form at night so he won't even be able to take advantage of his last few nights with Adam.
"No," Adam says, nuzzling at his neck. "You can't go home because I'm not letting Danny Gokey beat one of my werewolves at a singing competition."
Kris can't help laughing at how earnest Adam always is when he talks about the pack, like he's still waiting for Kris to swoop in and deny Adam any claim to them if Adam slips up. Like that would ever happen, the younger wolves all like Adam best and Kris can't be jealous because he likes Adam best too. "Did you hear that final note on Dream On?" he says. "I feel like I should call Steven Tyler and apologise."
There is a moment's silence. Kris closes his eyes and counts in his head. One, two—
"Hey Kris," Adam says, right on schedule.
"No," Kris says. "Steven Tyler isn't a werewolf."
Adam lifts his head to stick his tongue out which leads easily into sleepy making out on the bed. Post-show make outs are always required but rarely energetic. Its pre-show when Adam's jittery and tense and can go three rounds without breaking a sweat. Kris is very glad the mansion bedrooms are soundproofed because otherwise, Mrs Iraheta would never let them near her daughter again. "You have to beat him," he says when Adam's lips have moved to his neck and he can talk again. "David promised to come out and he'll probably start some kind of pack feud if we make him pass the trophy on to a human."
Adam makes a vague sound of agreement against Kris's skin, then props himself up on one elbow. "It's homecoming next week," he says. "You get to go back to Arkansas."
"Hah," Kris says. "I'm going home, I'm not sure I'll be coming back."
"You will," Adam says, like Kris being out of the competition isn't so much as an option. "Tell the pack I'm thinking of them, and I miss them and all that. And tell the puppies to do their homework and go to college or I'll come home and eat them up." His words are getting sleepy now, fingers walking lazily down Kris's side like he's thinking of jerking Kris off but hasn't quite decided yet.
Kris thinks he could probably be awake enough for that, but Adam's hand settles in the end as a flat weight on his hip. Adam shifts a little so he's more comfortable pressed up against Kris's side. He'll have to leave to shift soon, Kris remembers with a pang of disappointment. The Idol crew are accepting of werewolves up to a point, but there's a strict 'no shifting in the bedrooms' rule that they're trying not to break.
"Hey Kris," Adam says. "I was thinking—"
"Always a bad sign," Kris says, looping his fingers through Adam's hair. It was down tonight, which is good because it means Adam didn't have to fight with shampoo and conditioner for hours to get it soft enough for Kris to hold.
"You know how Allie is a werewolf?"
Kris blinks, shifting a little so he can lift his head and look at Adam because yeah, he knew but he didn't think Adam would have realised. Incredible as she is, Allison's still inactive and Adam's nose is not the best.
"Hah," Adam says with a grin. "I wasn't sure but you totally just confirmed it. Anyway I was thinking we should claim her for our pack."
Kris sticks his tongue out at Adam and sinks back into his pillows. "Remember the part where claiming is bad because we have to give people choice and options?" and all of that other ethics stuff that Kris is too tired to go into right now. Unfortunately, starting his time as a werewolf by being kidnapped has not given Adam the best moral compass when it comes to recruiting new pack members.
"Yeah," Adam says, drawing the syllable out. "But this is Allie."
Kris sighs, ruffling his hair a little with one hand. "You can't claim her. What you could do—speaking purely hypothetically—is track down her mom one evening to use your skills at interrogation to subtly find out if she knows that her daughter's absent father was a werewolf. Once you've ascertained that she did you could mention that you're the alpha of a pack with a lot of land for changing and good links with L.A. and the music industry." He grins down at Adam. "You know, you could do that or you could accept that I am infinitely superior and have already done it."
Adam grins back, leaning down to kiss him again. "Yes," he says. "My mate is definitely the best."
Kris smiles back into the kiss, Adam's mouth opening again against his and Adam's hands drifting considerably lower. They have an hour before Adam has to go and shift, and at the end of the week, Kris is going home to see his pack again. When this show is over, they'll be touring together and singing together and seeing the world.
"I don't know that I believe in mating," Kris says with an innocent grin. "But my boyfriend's pretty great."