Katy was loading a shotgun when Kris found her in the sunroom, sitting with her boots up on the scratched table, all of her attention on the task at hand and none of it on the view all around her.
It was beautiful once.
"I heard we lost Carlyle," said Kris, sliding his handgun into his jeans at the small of his back.
"Croatoans got him," said Katy, snapping the shotgun closed and then closing her eyes too, just for a moment. "I shot him myself. I didn't want him to go like that."
Kris just nodded, knowing too well what that decision was like, and how easy it was to make in the moment these days. It was only afterwards, and only if you let it, that it really sank in. Once upon a time he couldn't have imagined her, or himself, or anyone they knew, shooting someone. Now it only merited mention if it was one of theirs.
"He would've thanked you for it," said Kris.
"He did," said Katy, and that was really all there was to say about that. Kris wouldn't ask, and if Katy wanted to share it probably wouldn't be here and now. "We got what we needed. Ammunition, food, drugs. Everything on the list."
"I was worried that area would be cleaned out," said Kris, admitting out loud what he knew they'd all been thinking. Los Angeles would have been a ghost town if not for the fact that some outlying neighborhoods were still patrolled by military, but the Croatoans needed to survive too and they were out there in numbers that Kris knew the government was constantly underestimating.
Not that they got the news very often out here. They didn't get television or radio anymore, and no newspapers made their way anywhere near them. The best they got were military channels once in a while, and information from those was severely limited in scope.
"We can survive for a while on what we got," said Katy, "even when we get more refugees." She didn't say it was worth it, because it was a life lost, but it was more than one life saved and they both knew it.
When the outbreak started, it only took the government a week to write off huge swaths of southern California, the population too dense to keep the virus from spreading faster than they could contain it. Practically the whole city of Los Angeles was a hot zone before they even had a name for it, and the quarantine perimeters they put up doomed anyone left inside to either the people already infected by the Croatoan virus or to summary execution by the military.
The sound of gunfire had been a daily occurrence for a long time now. They could often still hear it from where they were holed up, could practically tell time by it. Tanks and gunfire, must be lunchtime.
"Is the other team back yet?" Kris asked, and Katy shook her head.
"No one's heard anything," he said, "but I wouldn't worry till dark."
Kris worried anyway, but then even after all this time and even after everything they'd been through, he worried every time they went out. He was pragmatic about their mission, and he was pragmatic about their losses, but nothing was ever going to stop him from caring. Nothing was every going to stop him from worrying.
These were his people.
"I'm going to check the inventory," he said a moment later. Katy finally looked up at him, and as much as Kris worried about everyone else, at least he had a couple of people who worried about him, too.
"I'll catch up with you before dinner," said Katy, and Kris knew she meant it. So he nodded and sighed and almost managed a smile before he headed back inside.
When Kris and Katy ran off together to Malibu—which wasn't exactly far but definitely a weekend getaway—the tabloids had a field day. They said that they were reconciling. They said that they had already secretly remarried and were on their honeymoon. They said that Katy was actually married to someone else and having an affair with Kris. They said that Kris was gay and desperately in denial, trying to seduce his ex-wife. They said a whole lot of things.
Those were the last tabloid stories that would ever be run about them.
It was a beachfront rental, sand, rocks and water on one side, gates and privacy walls on the others. Kris didn't worry about the cost because he knew that there would be no one to collect at the end of the week. Over the next forty-eight hours he stocked it with as many supplies as the place could hold and didn't worry about the expense of those either. And he tried to convince as many people as he knew and loved to come visit them, as many as he could without sounding like a crazy person.
At that point even Katy wasn't sure Kris wasn't crazy, but he told her to trust him and she did. He knew she was the one person who would, no matter what.
Kris knew he wasn't crazy, even if he couldn't really explain to anyone why.
He didn't ask his parents to come, knowing that they would be far safer where they were, but he left them a message. He left them a message saying that he loved them and that he was going to be okay and that they needed to be careful and be safe. He didn't know what they made of the message, but he hoped that they listened and understood and passed it on. He hoped they were okay.
He didn't call Daniel. He didn't call Charles. He didn't call Megan. He didn't call Jim. He didn't call Katy's family. He didn't call anyone who was anywhere safer than here. And it killed him a little inside, because he knew when he didn't make those calls that he might never speak to them again.
In the end a lot of people showed up to what was ostensibly a party at Kris's rental place, though not as many as Kris had invited and not everyone he hoped to see. He kept them entertained until the reports started coming in of murders and rage attacks and bombings in the downtown area, and by then none of them were going anywhere.
That was September 5, 2012. Nine months, twenty-one days and about seventeen hours ago.
It took a long time before Kris told anyone other than Katy it was an angel that told him about the coming apocalypse.
What was once the wine cellar—what was still the wine cellar though there was less wine than there had been when they arrived—was now their strategy room. Most people called it their war room, but Kris didn't like to call it that, didn't like to think about it that way.
The angel Kabriel told him all this, this epidemic, this plague, was part of a war that was being fought. He told Kris that there were people out there with the knowledge and the abilities to fight this directly. But if there was a war going on between heaven and hell—and after everything he'd seen Kris didn't doubt that there was—then Kris and his people weren't the ones masterminding it here in this room. They were just struggling to survive, and to make sure as many other people survived as they could.
Kris had a bottle of wine open before Katy and Cale even arrived. It was one of those days, and not the kind when they broke out the bottle in celebration.
"Second team's back," said Cale. "Alli twisted her ankle, but that's it as far as incidents go."
"Alli went out?" said Kris, fingers tightening around his mug just a little too much.
"Everyone goes out," said Katy flatly, and Kris knew that, couldn't argue it, but she was still so young. Or at least he still thought of her that way. No one was really young anymore, not after everything. Not in a world that was literally kill or be killed. "Anything to report?"
"Some movement," said Cale, "but nothing they thought was urgent. We'll review the tapes later. I'll make popcorn. We'll make a night of it."
"If I wanted to make a night of something, it would be a bath and a good book," said Katy, "and I don't think I'm on the schedule for the tub until next week."
"I can still make the popcorn," said Cale, which he probably would, if only because they had kernels in abundance right now. "I'll get Alli to sit through it with me, since it'll keep her mind off her ankle and we're still short on pain pills. She can tell me what it doesn't show."
"She's got a good eye," agreed Kris. And she sat still a lot better than she used to, even without a bum ankle. "She notices things Anoop doesn't."
"He's got his brain on the mission and she's got hers on the city," said Katy.
"And Andrew has his guns," said Cale, with the soft sigh he always used when he said that because something about it never sat right with him. Never would. "We're good for supplies for a long while now. We don't need to go out again unless something happens."
Katy cleared her throat, though. "I've got a couple of people who want out."
"The new ones?"
She nodded. "They want to go forward. I said we'd get them beyond the shoot-on-sight point, but it might not be for a few days. I didn't want to make any promises we couldn't keep."
"The furthest perimeter's further than it used to be," said Kris. Even when you weren't in a designated and patrolled hot zone, everyone was a little trigger happy. "We can't do it in a day anymore."
"I know," said Katy. But they all also knew that they would still do it, because this was what they did. "I don't want to camp, though. We should send a bigger team that can work in shifts. We've got a new map, we can plot the route."
Kris nodded. "We should ask if anyone else wants to go forward," he said. "We haven't done that in a while. I'd rather be making one trip than two or three."
"I don't think anyone's going to want to," said Cale, but Kris was never sure. Of the original group who'd come here all those months ago for Kris's party, very few remained.
Then again, maybe that was guilt talking. He did this because he believed in it, because it was the right thing to do and because God had directed him to this work. But everyone else, everyone else did it because they believed in him, and that was a hell of a burden to carry. Maybe they didn't need an out, but every step of the way Kris wanted to make sure that people were here for the right reasons. He wanted to make sure they all had as many options as they could get.
Not that there were many options to be had. Stay, or go forward. Or give up to the Croatoans, which was what some people did when they got tired of running.
"We'll ask," said Kris firmly It was all they could do. "And if the two of you ever—"
"Are you kidding?" said Katy, at the same time as Cale said, "I'll always have your back."
He appreciated it. But he felt guilty about it all the same, even though he didn't know if life outside the city was much better than life in their little compound on the ocean. Los Angeles wasn't the only city hit, after all, and the virus was still spreading. There was still some kind of government in place, there were still places to go, but he didn't know how long that was going to last.
He just had to have faith. It was all he had some days.
"Okay," he said, and smiled at them, and really did feel their love even past everything else he was feeling. "Okay."
"This is the right thing to do," said Katy, kissing his forehead and pouring herself a glass of wine. A moment later, Cale did the same. "To a successful day."
And despite the loss of a man, it was successful. That was just how it was measured these days.
"To a successful day," said Kris, "and to what I hope will be many more."
The sun was long since down when they left the wine cellar, more of a social meeting today than any kind of strategy session though after a glass of wine they did haul out the new maps, look at where new fences had gone up, at where there were new craters in the city that had once been home. They had their own version of hot zones marked in scarlet, where there were actual infected people inhabiting the littered streets and scorched storefronts.
Kris wasn't the one who started calling them Croats—he didn't even like the nickname—but someone had and it just sort of stuck. Probably heard it off the military channel that was always broadcasting in the dining room. Or what had once been the dining room, but was now used for just about anything but eating.
Two months after it began, two months after their vacation house turned into a compound and bunker, Cale and Kris had been sitting on the deck out back of the house after dark and counting on the fact that the military wasn't tracing body heat signatures during their still-regular flyovers to keep them safe from sniper fire and bombing.
"How did you do it?" Cale had asked over a ration of coffee. "Kris, how did you know that all of this was going to happen? And don't tell me you got lucky. Other people might buy it but I know you better than that. I've stood by you for weeks. I just want to know the truth."
Kris had smiled bitterly into his coffee, the whole thing as much a burden as a blessing. But it was his burden and his blessing and he would carry it through to the end.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
"Wouldn't I?" Cale had said. "I'd believe just about anything these days. The world hasn't made a whole lot of sense in a long time now."
"An angel told me," Kris had said then. Just blurted it out bluntly like that. "He told me what was going to happen. He told me what I needed to do."
Cale had fallen silent for a long time, and Kris had been convinced Cale'd written him off as a little nuts when he'd finally said, "Okay," and just accepted what Kris was telling him. "Okay."
He'd never pressed Kris for details, and over the next few months it became widely known, to reactions ranging from reverence to scorn, that Kris Allen talked to angels. Or believed he did, anyway.
But tonight, tonight they were out back again, more in the open now that no one ever flew over anymore, and Cale finally asked.
"What's it like, Kris? Does he show up in your dreams?"
"Nope," said Kris, sipping his coffee. "It was just like talking to you, or anyone else. I used to see him...not a lot, but often enough."
"You don't anymore?"
Kris shook his head. "It stopped a couple months ago. He stopped coming. I don't see him anymore."
He thought that would stop hurting in time, and maybe it still would, but it hadn't yet. The angel wasn't like he imagined angels would be. None of it was anything like he imagined it would be. But it still hurt that once Kris had talked with an angel and now he was gone. He clung to his faith fiercely but he still felt abandoned sometimes. In moments of weakness, he felt like they'd all been abandoned by God.
"An angel really showed up in the flesh and told you that this was all going to happen?"
"He wasn't that straightforward," said Kris. "He never told me what, exactly. But he told me something was coming. He told me how and when to get out. He told me what to do." He told Kris about some things that even Katy didn't know. Kris looked over at Cale and smiled a little again, self-deprecating and resigned. "And now you really do think I'm crazy. Or delusional."
"You're the least crazy person I know," said Cale. "If you say you saw an angel then you saw an angel. But how did you know?"
"Faith?" said Kris, but this was one of those times that faith didn't really cover it. You needed more than faith when someone told you he was an angel. "He proved it to me. When you meet an angel, you know it. If he wants you to feel it, you feel it. I didn't have any doubts, Cale. He was an angel. He was my angel, but he never told me why."
"So you guys, what, hung out?"
"He came to me sometimes and we would talk. It wasn't always about what was coming. Sometimes he would just ask me things."
"Like your own personal angelic therapist," said Cale. "That's even better than a pastor."
"It wasn't always comforting," said Kris. It actually made him believe a lot more in the Old Testament angels, or in Revelation; a fierce army of angelic warriors, not little cherubs that watched over him while he slept. He felt more like these angels would kill him in his sleep if they thought it was the right thing to do. "But it was...it gave me an overwhelming sense of purpose. Even before I knew what that purpose was."
"But what was he like?" said Cale. "What did he look like?"
"Like a guy," said Kris with a shrug. "Like any guy you'd see on the street. Dress pants and sweater vest and expensive watch. It was a guy, a real guy's body, and he was just...in it."
"Like he was possessed?"
"Yeah," said Kris, though that felt like a dirty word for it. "But he didn't just take it. It was a gift. He asked, and the guy gave him his body."
"Wow," said Cale. "I don't know if I would have done that."
"I don't know if I would have done that either," admitted Kris, and it felt good to have someone to admit that to, to have someone feel the same way about it. "But I was never asked."
"No, you were asked for something else," said Cale. "You were asked for something harder. And you said yes to that."
"It wasn't exactly a yes or no question," said Kris. "He told me what was going to happen and what to do when it did. My choices were limited to doing that or dying with everyone else."
"Or leaving," said Cale. "You could have left LA for someplace you knew was safe and left everyone behind."
"No, I couldn't," said Kris. "I couldn't do that."
"Exactly," said Cale. "You said yes. You said yes to what he was asking of you, even if the question was never spelled out."
"And then you said yes to what I asked of you," said Kris. "That's not any different from me, Cale. You could have gone forward. Lots of people have."
"No, I couldn't," he said, and Kris felt that camaraderie with him again. That understanding that they were both human, with strengths and weaknesses, but still trying to be what they needed to be. "You're Kris Allen. I'd follow you anywhere."
"Shut up," muttered Kris, but it actually made him laugh. He wished there were more things that did that anymore. It only lasted a moment, but he still felt warm afterwards. He knew in his heart he was doing the right thing, but it was having people like Cale, and Katy and Alli and Anoop and everyone, that really made him okay with it.
"What was his name?"
"His name was Kabriel," said Kris, "and I don't know where he is anymore."
Before the phones went out for good, Kris listened to the message every day, to the point where he could replay it in his mind not only word for word but inflection for inflection.
Hey Kris, I got held up in New York so it looks like I'm not going to get back into LAX in time to make your party. Shit, I was looking forward to seeing you, too. But hey, we're getting together next week, right? I'll call you tomorrow. Not too early, I need some sleep.
Kris was buying up half a Wal-Mart and didn't get the message until a few hours later. He left a message telling Adam he should come by anyway, it was important, but he didn't even know if Adam got the message. All he knew was that Adam's flight did land in LA that night.
That was the last he heard of him. As far as he knew, that was the last anyone heard of Adam Lambert.
The truth was that the resources of the military were stretched thin. Because all of their news was from military channels, Kris knew more about this than he knew about the state of the country, or the rest of the world. Resources were stretched thin and Los Angeles stopped being any kind of priority a long time ago. They just patrolled the outer stretches of the quarantine perimeter and occasionally took out uprisings further in. There used to be flyovers and helicopters too, but those days were long gone.
They practiced combat on the beach now, and no longer worried that some overzealous pilot was going to bomb their compound because he thought he saw a bunch of Croats, like a few others had been bombed over the first couple of months after it all started.
They were on their own.
Andrew was washing dishes when Kris came back inside, and Kris was glad that one thing they still had was a source of clean water. He hadn't chosen this house by chance, after all. It had a generator too, though they only ran that for part of every day.
"How did it go today?" Kris asked him, quietly beginning to help him with the chore even though he wasn't on the roster. He didn't think Andrew was either, but sometimes he needed something like this to wind down after going out.
"Routine," said Andrew without looking up. He'd known Kris was there from the moment he walked in. He was very rarely caught unaware. "We caught movement, not sure how many. They didn't trail us."
"Yeah, Cale told me," said Kris. "He's running footage with Alli right now to see if you picked any of it up. Best guess?"
"Less than a dozen," said Andrew, "but organized. Could be three. Could be ten. Not sure of anything beyond that. It wasn't anywhere near here."
"Unless they start migrating, I think the local area's pretty much cleaned out," said Kris, "and they aren't interested in going anywhere there aren't people."
"We're people," said Andrew.
"We're different," said Kris, though they weren't, not really. They were struggling, just like everyone else. They just had better resources to do it with.
"Different from them, or different from how we once were?" said Andrew. Of course, the answer was both, and they both knew it. "How long do we have to do this?"
"I don't know," said Kris. "Not forever. These things can't last forever."
"But they can last a long time," said Andrew, "and what will even be left when it's over?"
"I don't know that either," said Kris. "But the world isn't ending. Not really."
"Feels like it is sometimes."
Part of Kris wanted to agree, because he knew exactly what that felt like. And part of him wanted to be reassuring, to say that there were still things worth fighting for. In the end he said, "Andrew...are you ready to be done?"
Ready to go forward, he meant, which was better than the alternative when people got tired of fighting. Kris had seen people go both ways.
"No," said Andrew. "No. I'm just tired. I want good news."
"Me too," said Kris. "Believe me, me too. If it weren't for the angels, I would probably find everything even harder."
"This is really apocalyptic, isn't it? In the Biblical sense." Kris just nodded, and wished the answer could have been anything but that. "Are we going to survive?"
Kris nodded again, though he had nothing concrete to back that up. As long as things weren't over, they weren't over.
"Kris, you're going to want to see this," said Cale.
"I just need to finish—"
"You're going to want to see this right now."
That got Kris's attention all right. And the truth was that rechecking the weapons could wait a few minutes. It wasn't busy work, but it was a redundancy that was a comfort more than a necessity.
"Do we have survivors?"
"Maybe you should sit down."
"Why?" said Kris. "I never have before. How many and where?"
"Kris...." Kris had never heard Cale sound quite like that before. He sat. "I finished reviewing the footage with Alli. They definitely caught a chase with the rear cam on the truck. That usually means uninfected. Or at least they were when the camera caught them."
"So when do we go out?"
Cale didn't answer. Instead he slid a photo in front of Kris, and they never printed out anything, they never wasted resources like that, so he sat up and paid attention, pushed his glasses up his nose and looked hard at the grainy, blown-up frame.
"Alli thinks it is too," said Cale.
Kris stared some more. And some more. And finally breathed a name.
Part of Kris, a small part buried deep inside, had actually hoped that Adam was dead. Because he couldn't imagine that he'd survived and not been infected, and he didn't want to meet an infected Adam. He never wanted to be the one to have to face that, and he definitely never wanted to be the person to have to deal with it.
Finally he swallowed hard and looked up at Cale. "Was he...?"
"One of the chasees and not one of the chasers," said Cale, and Kris let out his breath all at once.
This one thing Kabriel would never confirm for him, even though Kris had been sure he'd known. He was an angel. They were supposed to know these things. But Kabriel would never tell him what happened to Adam, would never even hint at it. He said that Kris's faith was important, and this was one time when he needed to have faith that whatever happened, it was what was meant to happen.
"So he might have survived," said Kris, and looked at the picture again. It could have been someone else. It might not have been Adam at all. But something was blooming inside Kris, something like hope, and he just knew. He had faith.
And he also had a job to do.
"How many were there?"
"Two, that we saw on film," said Cale. "There might have been more. That was obviously captured at a distance, and right at the edge of the camera's range."
"So he wasn't alone," said Kris. And maybe, maybe, he could have survived if he wasn't doing it alone.
"He didn't look like he was alone," said Cale. "Do you want me to...?
"I need some time. And a map."
"I can get you the map," said Cale, then rested a hand on Kris's shoulder for a moment and left the room, and Kris knew it was to give him what little time alone he could.
It was Adam in that picture. It had to be.
And Kris didn't know if his heart would break more if it wasn't, or if it was.
Kris was kind of drunk. Not falling over drunk, not slurring his words drunk or humping table legs drunk, but drunker than he'd been in a long time.
"I don't know what to do," he confessed to Katy, "and I don't know how to do it."
"You know you have to do this," said Katy. "You have to take this chance."
"I can't be the one to do it," said Kris. "If he's infected, it has to be someone else. I can't."
"I'll do it," said Katy. "I won't let it be a stranger."
"Katy, you don't have to—"
"You've been in love with him for a long time, Kris," she said. "I won't let a stranger shoot him. If it has to be someone, it'll be me. I'll do it. I'll do it for you. I'll do it for both of you. And if he's not infected—"
"I'm not getting my hopes up," said Kris. "For all we know, it might not even be him. It could be anyone. Everyone out there looks the same these days, dirty and ragged."
"You saw the picture, Kris."
"I don't want to get my hopes up," he said, "and I don't want to get my heart broken."
"Either way," said Katy, "you have to do this, because going after him is better than not knowing. They said he was running. Croatoans don't run away. Ever."
"Unless they're trying to lure someone in," said Kris. "It could have been a trap. We have no way of knowing."
"If it was a trap, then there's someone else uninfected in the zone," said Katy, "and that's still what we do. That's why we do this. Even if it's not him, there's someone we need to go in after."
Kris nodded his head, and there'd never really been any doubt that they were going in. That was what they did. That was his mission from God, and he wasn't going to turn his back on it now because he had conflicted feelings about someone he hadn't seen in going on year, someone who might very well be dead. Someone who likely was.
"We'll get a team together tomorrow, in daylight," he said. "I need sleep. I need to sleep for a week."
"Yet you'll only give yourself four hours before you get up to make plans," said Katy, because no matter what they were to one another now—fellow soldiers more than anything else—she knew him better than anyone. "So at least get those four hours. If you're going in yourself, you need to be rested. Are going in yourself?"
Kris looked down at his hands and couldn't deny it. "Probably," he said. "I'll make plans in the morning. I need to look at the latest maps to see what routes are the clearest. Gunfire east of us this morning, I think they've set up a new perimeter. We might have lost the most direct route."
"Probably saw the same thing we did," said Katy, "or some of it anyway. Let me take lead on this, Kris."
"Are you sure?"
"You need me to do this," she said. "I need to do this. This is what we do."
"Okay," said Kris. "Okay." When he closed his eyes his head spun a little, and the room tilted on an unseen axis. "I think I'll take those four hours now."
"Come on," she said, "I'll help you back upstairs."
Before the virus, Kris never would have said he was in love with Adam. Loved him, sure, but not in love with him. That didn't mean he hadn't been, he'd just never let his thoughts linger there for long. They were from two different worlds, intersecting sometimes but never running parallel, and if it was extraordinary circumstances that had brought them together in the first place, it would take something even more extraordinary to let them be together in more ways than they already were.
Things these days were pretty damn extraordinary.
For almost ten months Adam had been absent from his life, and for almost ten months Kris had been realizing every day just how much emptier it was without him. He'd known his parents' love, his family's, his friends'. He'd never hesitated to share it with them right up until the last moment he could. Adam was his one regret, and he just never let go of it, or him.
Alli's twisted ankle made the perfect excuse for Kris to tell her she was staying behind on this one. He didn't fool himself into thinking that it was going to be an easily-won argument, but he had leverage for this one. He had ammunition.
"It's not sprained or broken," she said, "it's just twisted. I wrap it up and it's fine. I can run. I can jump. I can shoot. I can do everything you need me to do."
"We have enough able-bodied people that we don't need you to strain it," said Kris. "I'd only ask that of you if we were desperate, and we're not."
Allison snorted. "We're always desperate," she said. "You really think I'd go through everything I have just to stay behind when we're going after Adam? No way, José."
Most of Allison's family had been with her when she'd come to Kris's party, and they'd been some of the first people to go forward as soon as the first perimeters were put up and the military moved in. Allison was supposed to go with them, but she was slippery and wily and that was a fight she'd won in the end by sheer refusal to leave and a few judicious lies to her family for them to let her stay back.
Kris had known all along that she never planned to join them on the next truck out, but he'd wanted to believe her, and that guilt plagued him for a long time afterwards. At least they got word out with the next batch of refugees going forward that she was all right, that she hadn't been infected or shot or blown up on her way out. That she'd just decided to stay.
"It's going to be a dangerous one. They were at the edge of a scarlet blot, Alli."
"You think I don't know that?" she said. "I'm the one who spotted him in the first place. You have to let me go on this one. You need me. You need my eyes."
That was the one thing Kris could never deny. Every mission could use sharp eyes like Alli's. But that didn't make him like it any more.
"You're going to have to prove to me your ankle can handle it," he said. "You're going to have to prove that before you go out again at all."
"Don't treat me different from everyone else, Kris. Quit it with that shit. I'm the best woman for the job and we both know it."
"And it's Adam," she said. "It has to be you and me, Kris. It has to be you and me."
It was hard to argue with that from an emotional standpoint, but Kris was too many months as a commander of a paramilitary operation to let that make the decision for him. Except that it was Adam, and if there was one person who could skew his judgment, it was Adam.
"Prove to me the ankle's strong enough in the morning," he said. "If it's not, I'm replacing you."
"It'll be fine," said Alli. "I'll be faster than anyone."
And if sheer willpower could make that happen, Kris knew it was the truth.
The last time Kris saw the angel was almost two months ago, on the wide wood-and-stone landing halfway down the stairs to the beach, in the middle of the night. He didn't know it was going to be the last time, and he didn't think Kabriel did either. Or if he did, he gave no sign of it. He told Kris that things weren't going well, he said that Lucifer's power was rising, and in an admission that Kris still wasn't sure he'd heard or understood right, he confessed that he wasn't sure they'd done the right thing.
Kris might not have understood what he meant by that, but it seemed to be something that haunted him, and seeing an angel look that vulnerable shook the very foundations of what Kris believed.
If Kris went down to that landing at dusk and looked to the north, to the rock face of the steep cliff there, he could sometimes still see the shadows of wings imprinted on the rock. A reminder that the memory, and the angel, were both real.
Now, in the thin pre-dawn light, he didn't see anything at all, but he still stood there quietly for a long time, arms folded against the railing, until Katy called down.
"Sun's coming up," she said. "We need to get settled and go."
"I know," he said. "I was just...."
"I know what you were doing," she said. "I don't suppose you got any new revelations, did you?"
"Nothing that anyone else couldn't have gotten by staring at a rock for half an hour," he said.
It wasn't just a spiritual perspective he got, standing here halfway down to the beach. He could see the house, the way they'd changed it to suit their needs, see the beach with its obvious training grounds. They had a garden now, and somehow that was different from stocking up on canned goods; it spoke of a kind of permanence. From where he was standing he could see all the ways in which his world had changed, in concrete, physical terms.
It was after a few moments of thoughtful silence on both their parts that he finally pushed himself away from the railing and started up the stairs.
"He doesn't come anymore."
"But you wish he did," said Katy. "It was easier when he did."
"I don't know if it was easier," he said as he reached her side and they walked back to the house together. "Just different."
"And now you wonder if he was ever there at all?"
"I didn't see an angel for the first twenty-seven years of my life either, but that didn't mean I didn't believe they were out there," said Kris. "They've said what they needed to say to me. Now it's up to me to keep believing and carry on."
Kris almost didn't go in the end, not because he chose not to but because Cale pulled him aside before they went out.
"Are you sure you're good for this one?" he said. "You could stay back."
"Exactly," said Cale. "It's Adam. Do you really think you can be objective on this one? Can you go out and not let that get in the way?"
Of course he wasn't objective. Were any of them, really? But he could still do what needed to be done. The two things weren't mutually exclusive.
"I've had to shoot people that just hours earlier I was having breakfast with."
"But this might be Adam," said Cale, "and everyone knows how you feel about Adam."
"Kris," Cale interrupted him, and just shook his head. "It's okay. But what are you going to do if it's him? What are you going to do if it isn't?"
"The same thing we always do," said Kris. "Save everyone we can."
"People are counting on you," said Cale, but that wasn't something Kris needed to be told. "All right, if you don't need me to sub for you then I'm going back downstairs. Be safe and bring 'em home."
Five of them went out: Kris, Katy, Henson, Trugs and Alli, who did prove her fitness for duty in the end and Kris stood by his word. Katy drove this one, an old hand at these streets now, knowing which were usable and which were impassable due either to debris or barricades. Kris rode in the box, armed and ready and aware of everything around him. Trugs sat across from him, holding his gun in his lap and never once cracking a smile. Alli waited and watched and took in everything.
Most of this area was marked in scarlet on their maps, which was why it was still good scavenging grounds for them and why they often avoided it all the same. Whoever they were looking for, whether it was Adam or someone else, likely wouldn't return to the exact same place twice, especially not after being pursued, but the area was too rich to avoid completely and there was another corner store not too far away, just on the edge of the territory before you ran into huge swaths of city that had been razed to the ground. It wasn't the most maneuverable area, but Kris trusted Katy to get them in and out.
They shut down the truck as soon as they could and moved in silently, waiting. It was a stolen—'appropriated' was the term Kris preferred—military vehicle, and its size, reinforcement and ability to intimidate the Croatoans made it the perfect vehicle for their operations. But two things it wasn't were quiet and maneuverable in tight spaces. As long as they were appropriating military vehicles, Allison had been making noises about wanting a tank; it lacked subtlety, but Kris had to admit there were other benefits.
The city didn't smell as much like death as it used to, or maybe they had all just gotten used to it.
They were in place about two hours before they saw movement, or rather before Alli saw moment, because as always she had the sharpest eyes.
"Something's coming up the alley," she said. "It's sticking to the shadows."
"Croats do that sometimes," said Hensen, her lips pressed together tightly and her weapon raised. "If they know we're here."
"No," said Allison. "He's hiding. They're hiding. They're using the shadows."
"Two of them," said Alli. "They're coming in our direction."
"At us, or just in our direction?"
"If they've spotted us, they'd either be running towards us, or away," said Kris. "No, they haven't spotted us yet, and I don't want them to. Everyone hold positions."
And everyone did, hardly even breathing as the unknown persons drew closer, right up until all hell broke loose.
"Heads up, incoming," said Trugs, loud enough for all of them to hear. Loud enough for the people they were tracking to hear, too, but they were immediately caught between a rock and a hard place. In front of them were Kris and his group, but back the way they came a group of Croatoans was approaching.
"Alli, Henson, Trugs, take them out," said Kris. "Katy, you're with me on the capture."
And capture it was. Not rescue. Maybe later they could call it a rescue, when they were certain of what right now they could only extrapolate and suspect. But right now they needed to capture those two people alive, tie them up and take them back to the compound with them. That was what this mission really was. That was what they had to steel themselves to do, no matter what faces they saw.
They all moved into action at once, and the two survivors were wily. They had to be, if they'd been surviving out here that long. As soon as they saw pursuers coming from both sides the split up and made themselves a harder target. He and Katy didn't even have to talk about it, she went after one and he went after the other.
He went after the one who looked like Adam.
There was no doubt in his mind that these were the same people they'd caught on videotape the last time they'd gone out on a supply run. But they still couldn't be certain who they'd found, or what condition they would be in when they caught up with them and brought them in. Adam—and Kris was going to call him Adam in his head even if he didn't actually know—had a good head start on him, but his trajectory was sending them both right into the firefight between his people and the Croatoans who were relentless in spite of the bullets.
Adam swerved and ducked down an alley across the street and Kris's pursuit was almost immediately blocked by his own people. By the time he took the long way around to the other side, Adam was gone.
"Fuck," he said, the word the only one he could come up with to convey the depth of his anger and frustration. But there was no sign of movement, and too many places he could have gone.
"Adam!" he called, but there was no response. "Adam, please!"
All his call did, though, was get the attention of one of the Croatoans who'd only been injured by one of the flying bullets, and Kris was forced to shoot and retreat, back to where he'd left Katy pursuing the other person.
She turned out to have been more successful than he was, and had him trussed up and on the ground while she held her weapon on him.
Kris just stared for a moment. "Tommy?" Tommy stared back at him, unable to speak through the gag, his eyes conveying both terror and anger. "If you're not infected, you have nothing to worry about. We aren't going to hurt you."
But there was very little he could say to convince anyone of that right now, not in the world they all lived in.
"Retreat!" he called out to the rest of them. "We're heading back."
With Katy's help they hauled Tommy into the back of the truck, bound and gagged, chest heaving and still looking wild-eyed. They were on their way again within five minutes, and were only followed for a couple of blocks before Katy outran them, circling around and then back through again so they couldn't tell where they were headed.
Kris hadn't let himself stop to think about it, not until it was all over and he had the luxury of not operating in life-or-death mode, but once he was sitting in the back of the truck staring at Tommy's prone form, all he could think was that if this was Tommy, then it really was Adam they'd just left behind.
After doing an invasively thorough physical examination and getting their blood sample, they left Tommy redressed and tied to a chair in the center of an otherwise empty room, the way they always did with people they brought back. It was harsh, but it wasn't optional. Not until they knew what they were dealing with.
Tommy looked calmer now, but it was an angry calm. Kris had so many things he wanted to ask him but he bit back all of them, every one of them, till this waiting was over. Till they knew for certain what Tommy was. Only then could they find out what he'd been doing, and where he'd been.
And who he'd been with.
Cale and Kris were the ones to wait it out with him, this purgatory between capture and release. Or capture and disposal if it came to that, which sometimes it did. No one spoke for a long time, long enough that even it they wanted to it would have been awkward to break the silence.
"Did you ever see I Am Legend?" said Tommy finally, licking his lower lip almost compulsively. "Where everyone's fucking infected with this thing and it turns them into monsters? Only in Los Angeles, the monsters don't only come out at night."
"They followed you home," said Kris, taking the analogy to its logical conclusion. "They followed you home?"
"Maybe they followed me here."
"Too fast and too far," said Cale instantly. "We've been doing this since the infection hit. Do you think we don't know what we're doing?"
"One day some might. You're not special."
"Then one day they'll find out just what kind of firepower we have here."
Kris was still quiet, leaning against the wall and taking his time to get the lay of the land. But what he had to do next was better done sooner than later. When he pushed away from the wall Cale nodded at him in understanding and moved to leave the room, but for once Kris stopped him.
"You can stay for this," he said even though Katy was the only person who'd witnessed this part of the process before. Other than the people sitting in the chair, and the ones who were even conscious during purgatory just said Kris prayed over them in Latin while they were confined. No one was ever surprised by that, not anymore. Not with Kris Allen and his angels.
"Are you sure?" said Cale. "I know you like a moment alone...."
"You should know everything now," said Kris. He should have known before now, but Kris always felt like he'd been protecting him, protecting all of them, from things that were even worse than the Croatoans. He pulled a little notebook out of his back pocket, without pretence and without ceremony. It wasn't some big ritual, no matter what they showed in the movies, it was just something he liked to get over with. "Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus, omnis satanica potestas, omnis incursio infernalis adversarii...."
Cale just stared at him as he continued to recite the entire passage, start to finish, and thankfully didn't interrupt. Tommy muttered to himself and rolled his eyes, but nothing more extraordinary than that happened. When he was finished Kris put his notebook back in his pocket just as calmly as he'd pulled it out.
"Kris, that was—"
"An exorcism," Kris finished for him, baldly and unashamed. He let Tommy hear too, because the world was a dangerous place and maybe they all really should know everything he was trying to do to keep them safe. Maybe it would bring some measure of comfort, now that he didn't fear that they would write him off for what he believed—what he knew—and seal their own doom.
"Has that ever actually done anything?" said Tommy.
"Yes," said Kris simply, and though he didn't share any details with either of them he would never forget the cursing, the way a window in an entirely different room had shattered, the column of black smoke that had erupted from her mouth because no matter what happened in that room Kris never stopped talking. "Once."
That was what Kabriel taught him to do.
"Right," said Tommy, but he didn't sound as confident this time. Cale, though, Kris could tell by the look on Cale's face that he didn't doubt it for a second. He could also tell that Cale wasn't going to let him do these exorcisms alone anymore if he had any say in it.
It was for the best, really. If anything ever happened to Kris, someone else would have to carry on, and up until now Katy was the only one who knew everything.
"Well hey, good to see you again," said Tommy. "It's been a long time. So when does the torture start, because I've got places to be. You know how it is."
"We're not infected," said Kris.
"Yeah, right," said Tommy. "You just tie people up for fun."
"We're not infected," Kris said again, "we just don't know whether or not you are."
"I'm not," said Tommy. "I've been dodging those fuckers for months. I'm not fucking infected. So if you're not going to torture me, you mind untying me? I might be into bondage, but not like this."
Tommy's first test had come back clean, but there was a reason they had this waiting period, this purgatory. If he'd been infected shortly before capture it wouldn't necessarily have shown up yet. They had to wait out the incubation period, and there was no shortcut around that.
"You have a cut on your arm," Kris said pointedly. "It's fresh."
"Of course it's fresh," said Tommy. "I got it when you guys kidnapped me and left Adam all on his own out there."
Kris almost bit his tongue. And he forced himself not to ask, not when he didn't know if Tommy was infected, not before he knew his agenda. There had been traps before.
"Who else were you with?" Cale asked, not that he likely expected a straight answer either. But Tommy was going to talk whether they asked him questions or not.
"It was down to me and Adam," he said, "and now they probably got him thanks to you fuckers. He doesn't have anyone to watch his back anymore."
"There's no polite way to do this," said Cale. "Not when no one trusts anyone else without proof."
"So I get tied up in here forever? How about food and water and a cup to piss in?"
"Four hours," said Kris, because there was no risk in telling him that. There was no risk in telling him anything; it was in asking things that they opened themselves up to tricks and lies. "We tested you when you came in, and it was clean. If you test clean again in four hours, then you're uninfected."
And it was as simple and as complicated as that.
Kris saw a long shadow out of the corner of his eye and for one moment, one beautiful moment, he thought Kabriel had come back. He thought maybe it signaled a change, that maybe there was a miracle on the horizon. But he turned his head and looked and it was only a shadow. There was no one there.
"You're back," said Tommy as Kris let the door fall closed behind him.
"You're clean," said Kris, and instead of asking anyone else to do it, he untied Tommy himself, taking care with the ropes and giving him what comfort he could. "We had to be sure. You would've done the same thing."
"I probably would've shot you," said Tommy. "How the fuck did you know what to look for? What do you know about all of this? Do you know what's going on out there?"
"We know enough to keep us all alive, and not enough to know how to stop any of it," said Kris. "Sometimes the people we bring back are infected. We're just doing the best we can."
Tommy seemed to get that, even if he was rubbing his arms a little resentfully where the ropes had bitten into his skin leaving angry red marks. Anyone who'd survived out there knew something about doing what needed to be done.
"You can take a shower, and we can get you something to eat and some clean clothes," said Kris. "It's not exactly paradise, but we're pretty well stocked for the people we have."
"And then what?" said Tommy. "We hang out by the pool and pretend that the world didn't end out there?"
Kris wished he had better answers to give, but he was nothing if not honest about it all. "We do what we can, for as many people as we can. It's better than nothing."
"And what can you do, exactly?" said Tommy. "Maybe it's a little nicer here, but the monsters are still at the gate. What good is all this when everything's gone? Everything's a nightmare out there."
"You can leave if you want," said Kris. "If you want to leave, we'll take you out beyond the quarantine barriers."
"You know where that is?"
"And we can give you directions where to find the nearest military camp we know of, if that's what you want. They'll rough you up the same as we did, but they'll take you back to whatever civilization there is out there. Or at least, that's what they were doing last we heard."
"If you know how to get out then why the hell are you still here?"
"Because this is what we do," said Kris. "Maybe we can't save the world, but we can save people, one and two and five at a time. It's something. It's more than a lot of people have."
"You save people," said Tommy. "That's...that's crazy. You have this, this fortress, and you go out there on purpose."
"If we didn't, we wouldn't have been able to rescue a lot of people," said Kris. "We wouldn't have been able to rescue you."
"Rescue me?" said Tommy. "I was doing fine. You didn't rescue me, you just doomed Adam."
It hit Kris like a blow to the gut again, leaving him dizzy and breathless. "We tried to get him too. I tried to get him, but I couldn't keep up." But Kris couldn't blame him. Kris would've run too, under the same circumstances. He just wished he'd been able to run after him faster.
"He's out there alone now."
"Not for long," said Kris, and positively ached for Kabriel to show up again, to tell him what to do, to help him. Katy was right, in some ways things really were easier then. "We'll go out again at first light. We'll find him."
"Seriously, how the hell do you know all of this?" said Tommy. "How do you fuck do you even have his place? How are you alive?"
Kris just took a deep breath and let it all hang out there. "A couple of weeks before it all started an angel came to me and told me what was going to happen." Tommy just stared at him. "I couldn't stop it, but I did everything I could to prepare for it. Including fortifying this place. Including saving as many people as I could."
"You didn't save us."
"Yeah, well, you missed my party," said Kris with a bitter twist to his lips, an expression he wore all too often these days.
Tommy didn't have anything to say to that, seemed to understand exactly what Kris was telling him, maybe remembering the party so many months ago that they hadn't gotten back into the city in time to go to. If Kris could have, he would have broadcast to the entire city, to the entire world, what was going to happen. But getting himself institutionalized wouldn't have done anyone any good.
"There are people out there trying to fight this," said Kris. "They told me that we're not alone."
"That's not exactly a comfort," said Tommy. "If they're really out there and they want to do something, how about they fix this whole mess? Or better yet, how about if it never happened in the first place?"
"That's not how this works," said Kris. He didn't tell him that Kabriel was gone now, that all the angels were gone now. "I wish it was."
"What good are they then?" said Tommy, but the fight seemed to be going out of him. Mostly right now he just seemed tired. As if on cue there was a knock on the door and Katy and Alli poked their heads inside.
"Allison, show Tommy where the shower is," he said, and she just nodded her head and didn't try to make conversation. Kris must've looked as wrung out as he felt. "He's top of the list if anyone argues. They've all been there."
"Nobody's going to argue with me," said Allison, and Kris was glad it was her that Katy brought, someone that Tommy didn't know well but at least recognized. "Come on."
Tommy didn't stop looking at Kris for a while, but he didn't make an argument, just got up on unsteady legs, stretched to get the circulation going, and followed her outside of the purgatory room.
"So it really was Adam out there," said Katy, and Kris nodded. Everyone would probably know by now. Everyone would know what the stakes were, for Kris at least.
"We need to go out again, as soon as we can," he said. "He's alone out there now, Katy. We need to get him out of there."
"At dawn," she promised him. "We can talk to Tommy some more, find out where they've been staying all this time. They've got to have some kind of safe place or they never would have lasted this long."
Some kind of safe place that maybe wasn't as safe anymore, because they obviously weren't staying in it. They'd all heard a new bombing a few nights ago, maybe that was what had driven them out into the city.
"We'll find him, Kris," she told him, and he had to believe that, he had to believe that even when it wasn't Adam's life on the line. If he didn't believe, then he didn't have much.
"I don't know what I'm going to do when we do," he said. Tommy was hard enough. Binding Tommy, testing him, exorcizing him, that had all been hard because he wasn't a stranger. Because he was the closest to Adam that Kris had come in all the months they'd been doing this.
"Come on," said Katy. "Let's go down to the war room. Crack open a bottle of wine and take the edge off."
Kris shook his head, though. "I don't want to go into tomorrow with the slightest bit of hangover," he said. "If I have to chase him down again, I'm going to go until I drop. I'm not giving up again."
"Kris, you didn't give—"
"I know," he said. "I did what I had to do. But this time our attention won't be divided. This time it'll just be about him."
"If you don't want some wine, then you should at least get some rest. It's early, but no one would fault you for taking a nap."
"I'm tired," he said, "but not that kind of tired. Some days I just want this to be over, you know?"
"I think all of us want this to be over every day," said Katy. "We're all tired. It's okay to be tired."
"I just keep telling myself that one day we'll get to go home," said Kris. "One day they'll find a cure and this will be over. Really over."
"Home where?" said Katy, though. "Kris, maybe this is home now. Maybe this is where we're supposed to settle."
"Not while the world's still like this," insisted Kris. "Maybe we'll stay all here in this house, maybe one day the city will grow all around us again and we'll all stay and trade our guns for babies, but right now I can't call it a home. Home is a safe place."
"This is a safe place," said Katy. "Or as safe as we're going to get."
When they set out at dawn, Kris was trying to convince himself that Adam had seen the truck that took Tommy, had recognized it as friendly. He wanted this to be easy, easy like nothing was ever easy anymore. He wanted just this one thing.
But the street was deserted. No Adam. No Croatoans. No signs of life at all.
Kris even called his name, at the alleys, at the buildings, at the broken windows and the bullet-riddled doors.
"We'll find him," said Andrew grimly. His eyes were on the bodies they'd left on the street yesterday, but none of them dared to touch them, leaving them to rot where they lay. No disrespect intended, but none of them wanted to get anywhere near that blood.
Tommy told them where he and the others had been holed up all this time, till hunger drove them out, but Kris's gut told him Adam didn't go back there again. Not alone. His gut told him he was sticking close to where he last saw Tommy, but his gut wasn't in charge.
"Moving on?" said Cale. Kris just nodded. "Hop in. I'll drive."
Kris shook his head this time. "I think he's here," he said. "You two go check the other site, then come back. I'm staying."
"No," said Cale. "Are you kidding? Not alone. Never alone."
It was a rule, as close to a law as they had, but Kris shook his head all the same. "You'll be ten minutes, tops," he said, "and I'm armed. Just let me do this."
"Kris, we can't lose you," said Cale. "If you need to do this, really need to do this, then I can stay. I'll do it."
"You can go on without me," said Kris, and for the first time he felt like they could, "but you won't have to. Ten minutes. And whatever you do, don't tell Katy."
"Yeah, no way are we telling Katy," said Andrew, but they weren't stopping him either. Andrew just handed him a second gun. "Just in case."
"I don't like this," said Cale, but he was backing towards the truck anyway. "I think this is a bad decision."
"Maybe," said Kris, but he had to do this. His gut was telling him so. "Go fast. Go quiet."
"Stay put," said Andrew, and with that they were shutting the doors and heading out without wasting any more time. They weren't happy with him, but they would get past it. And Kris would be fine.
Two minutes after they left, Adam stepped out of the shadows across the street.
Kris's gun was out before he even thought about it. He recognized Adam, and Adam recognized him, and here they stood on opposite sides of a war-torn street, not saying a word to one another. Adam wasn't armed but he might as well have been, and Kris never lowered his weapon.
"I'm not infected," said Adam finally.
"Neither am I."
"You took Tommy."
"We took him somewhere safe. We'll take you somewhere safe too."
Then there was complete silence again, a stalemate until Cale and Andrew came back. They were gone eleven minutes.
"Shit," said Andrew as he hopped out of the truck and saw what Kris had his gun pointed at. "It's him."
Adam didn't run. He didn't even fight back when Cale and Andrew put a hood over his head and hauled him into the back of the truck. Kris wasn't sure if it was a ploy, or if Adam believed him, or if Adam just didn't have any fight left in him anymore.
He didn't want to hope yet. But he couldn't help it.
When they got him back to the compound, Adam never once protested about how he was manhandled, tied up and stripped down, every old wound examined, every scar looked at with suspicion, ever scrap of dignity assaulted. He struggled when they approached with the needle, but calmed when he realized they were taking blood out and not putting it in.
"I'm not infected," he said, like a mantra. "I'm not infected. I'm not infected."
"How?" said Andrew. "How could you not be infected? You were alone out there for a long time."
"Wasn't alone till yesterday," he said. "I'm not infected. We were holed up, out of sight. I'm not infected."
"We'll see about that," said Andrew, and he was the one who took the blood to the makeshift lab. He would probably be the one who took it again in four hours, if it proved to be clean this first time. It wasn't just that Andrew was willing to take on any job that needed doing, it was that he would do it for Kris, and everyone knew that.
They left Adam alone in the purgatory room until the first test came back clean, but they were all waiting together to find out the results, all of them who knew Adam. Kris and Katy, and Anoop and Allison, and Mishavonna and Trugs and Cale. And now Tommy. They didn't say much, but Kris knew they were all hoping the same thing he was, if not with the same intensity.
"Time to wait it out," said Andrew when he was finished looking, a sideways method of telling them there was no sign of the virus in him. Yet.
"I'll do this," said Kris before Anoop could go in the room ahead of him. "It's okay. I'll do it."
"You don't have to—"
"Yes, I do," he said. "I do. I'll never forgive myself if I pass this one off onto someone else." And what remained unsaid was the fact that even though this would be four hours of torture, at least he wouldn't have to wait and wonder anymore. He'd been doing that far too long already.
Adam was just sitting there, tied to the chair and staring almost blankly at the door when Kris came in. He wasn't struggling. He wasn't doing anything.
Kris had a gun in his hand, and he lingered by the door.
"Are you going to kill me?" said Adam.
"Not if you're you," said Kris, the words coming out more easily than he would have expected. Cale would get pissed at him for doing this without backup later, more pissed than he already was, but Kris still didn't call him in when he pulled the little book out of his pocket and started reciting the exorcism right out of the gate.
He wasn't sure if Adam recognized it, or if he just couldn't believe what Kris had become in the many months since they'd last seen one another. Since they'd last spoken. But surprise, and maybe horror, were Adam's only reactions to the Latin spouting from Kris's mouth, and he finished the exorcism without incident.
One hurdle down.
It terrified him a little just how easy it was to point a gun at Adam. Kris paced in a circle around his chair, never getting too close, gun never wavering. It was too early to ask him anything. He couldn't trust a word out of Adam's mouth until they knew for sure he hadn't been infected, but Kris asked anyway.
"How did you survive?"
"We broke into this restaurant that I used to perform at sometimes," said Adam. "Below ground level. We broke the sign and boarded up the windows and doors and everything just passed us by like we weren't even there."
"There were a few of us at first. Supplies held out for a long time, even if the power didn't. We had food and water and a hole in the ground. A couple months in they bombed about a block away from us, just got lucky I guess. But eventually things ran out. We had to go out. Into...."
"I know what it's like out there," said Kris. "I've been there."
"You've been there a lot," said Adam. Kris didn't know if he knew, or if he was guessing based on what he'd seen in the past couple of days. "Eventually it was just me and Tommy. I don't know what happened to the rest. They just never came back."
"You were waiting for us when we came for you," said Kris. Part of him wanted to believe that was because Adam had believed they were coming back for him. The more suspicious part, the part that had grown and flourished since the virus started spreading, wondered if it was because Adam wanted to be led right into their stronghold.
"You got Tommy," said Adam. "You drove away with him. I've never seen the rabid people drive away with someone like that. They just lure and attack."
It's called the Croatoan virus, Kris wanted to tell him, because he couldn't tell if Adam even knew that much. And they can drive, if they get their hands on a vehicle. They can imitate a normal person right up until the rage takes over, right up until they get the chance to infect you. Don't trust anyone.
"Someone chased me up into an abandoned office building," said Adam. "Then I watched from an upper window. I saw Allison. She's here, isn't she? Allison? I saw her hair. She still keeps it red."
She keeps it red because we all need something from our former lives to cling to, Kris didn't say. She wants to see you almost as much as I did.
"You didn't know it w—?" Kris started anyway, then cut himself off because his emotions had no place in this interrogation, no matter how much they struggled to get out. Adam didn't know it was Kris who'd been trying to catch up with him. He didn't know who he'd been running from.
"What happened to you?" said Adam. "Kris, how is this you?"
"Same thing that happened to all of us," was all Kris let himself say. And on some level, Adam seemed to understand what this was. That this wasn't their reunion, that this was some no man's land between the way they used to know one another, and the way they might in the future.
"I had a lot of time to think, in the dark," said Adam. "I thought about how insistent you were that I come to your party. How much you needed me there."
"I did," said Kris.
"You never would have done that if it was just a party," said Adam. "You knew, didn't you?"
Kris paused in his pacing, just for a moment. "It's a long story," he said. "And one for another time."
"There might not be another time," said Adam. "You might kill me."
"Only if you're not you," he said, and managed not to flinch. "Only if you're infected."
"And so we wait here forever?" said Adam. "What's going to convince you I'm not infected, Kris? What's going to do it? Because fuck if I can tell until it's too late for someone. I've seen them attack. It's like wild dogs."
"We didn't take your blood for fun, Adam," he said, circling again. "We can test for it."
"How the hell do you know how to test for it?" said Adam. "Kris how did you know?"
"An angel told me," he said. "An angel came to earth and put on a man suit and told me that something was coming and how to prepare for it."
Adam stared at him for a long time. "You really believe that, don't you?"
"He told me when it was going to happen," said Kris, and didn't try to defend his beliefs. He knew what had happened. He knew it was hard to believe. "He told me what we were going to need, and he told me how to know who was infected."
"He told you a lot of things. Don't suppose he told you how to stop it?"
"Don't you think if I could have I would have?" said Kris, and tried to remind himself that he might not be talking to Adam, not anymore. And even if he was, this Adam was ten months in a hot zone removed from the last time Kris had talked to him. "I did everything I could. I did everything he told me how to do. Would you have believed me then if I'd told you?"
"No," admitted Adam, "but I would've been worried enough about you to come looking."
Kris wished to God Adam had never told him that.
It was an easy thing to say in retrospect, after everything they'd been through. It was impossible to know what either of them would have done. It was impossible to know how things might've gone differently with one different choice. But now Kris might always wonder.
"If you think this might not be me, then why are you even talking?" said Adam finally. "Why are you saying anything to me at all, if you think I'm rabid?"
"Because you're Adam," said Kris, and finally he couldn't stop his voice from cracking. Because even if only part of this conversation had been with Adam, before the virus began to overtake him, it was more than Kris ever expected to have again.
There were long silences, painful silences, and there was so much Kris wanted to say and ask and do, but he couldn't. Not yet. Sometimes Adam would say something. And sometimes Kris would. But mostly there was silence.
And finally there was a knock at the door signaling the end of purgatory. Four hours gone and a few more minutes before Kris could know for sure whether he was going to reunite with Adam or put a bullet in his head.
Kris let Andrew in with his syringe and left the room without a word, leaving him to it. And then after Andrew was gone to the lab, he leaned with his back against the door to purgatory and for the first time in a long time felt like he might actually be able to cry.
When Kris stepped back into the room, he realized his hands were trembling a little. He tried to hide that from Adam as he circled around the other side of him, loosened his ropes and let them fall to the floor. He didn't say anything at all, he couldn't, all his words catching in his throat, but it was clear Adam was free to go.
But Adam just sat there watching as Kris circled back around in front of him, and as soon as Kris met those eyes again the dam broke.
"Oh God, Adam," he said, his voice breaking as he dropped to his knees and kissed all over Adam's dirty face, his cheeks and his forehead and his eyelids and right on his mouth, desperately. "Adam."
He was crying now, crying like he hadn't in months, and when he finally looked he saw Adam was crying too.
"I thought I was never going to see you again," said Adam. "I thought I was never going to get a chance to—" Kris cut him off with another kiss, hands on Adam's cheeks and kissing Adam like he needed him more than air.
"I thought you were dead," said Kris, in a breath between kisses. "Sometimes I even hoped...oh my God, Adam. Adam. I fucking love you."
"Now I know it's a whole new world," said Adam, pulling at his shirt and tearing it along a weak seam. "You just said fuck."
"The occasion demanded it," said Kris, pulling Adam's shirt the rest of the way off. They had clothing to spare, but he would still sew that up for him later. It was the least he could do. "I do. I fucking love you. And you didn't even know it. I didn't even know it."
"Shut up," said Adam. "Stop talking. Just stop...." Kris started to pull away, but Adam yanked him back. "No, don't stop that. Just shut up."
Kris shut up, because he didn't have to explain. He didn't have to run through ten months of loss and hope and realizations. He just had to kiss Adam and touch him everywhere and make up for everything they haven't had up until now. Later, later they could talk. Later they could say all those thousand unsaid things. But not now.
He touched Adam's body like he still couldn't quite believe he was there, ran his fingertips over Adam's collarbones, smearing old blood and dirt, pressed his hands to Adam's chest and just kissed him again, hot and wet and breathless. Adam kicked the chair away and then he was on his knees too, they were kneeling in front of one another and kissing and groping and Kris didn't care that there was no furniture, no carpet, nothing but two bodies and hard floor.
Every moment mattered, and he wasn't going to let a single one of them pass him by.
Adam's pants tore too, weakened in a dozen places and unable to stand up under Kris's grasping hands. They both tore them off and Kris could only hope that there was enough left of them for Adam to redress when it came time to leave this room again, or that Katy had the insight to bring a change of clothes down here. Later.
"Come on, come on," said Adam, and Kris was trying to keep kissing him even while he struggled to strip his pants off.
Finally they just tumbled over, tangled up in one another, and Kris kicked his pants off so that they were touching each other in every way possible, ankles and thighs and chests and lips and finally, finally their cocks were pressed up together, hard and hot. And as much as Kris thought about Adam, as much as he'd been wishing they could have had this before the whole world went to hell, he never realized until this moment just how much he wanted this. How much he wanted it just like this.
"Shut up," Adam said again, though, and as Kris pushed Adam's hair back off his face and kissed him again, Adam reached down and wrapped his hand around both of their cocks, twisting it and grinding them together. Kris choked back a cry and bit down on Adam's lip, tasting blood as they continued to kiss. He all but shoved his hips back against Adam as Adam stroked them hard but slow, grazing the head of Kris's cock every once in a while as he did.
It had been a long time since anyone but Kris had touched it, but this wasn't about how long it had been, it was about who he was with, and how. He grabbed a handful of Adam's hair and kissed harder, and ran his other hand down Adam's body to grab a handful of his ass, too. Adam barely had room to stroke them but he did, faster, harder, so much it almost hurt even as it was maybe the best thing Kris ever felt.
Kris didn't hold back when he came, gasping so hard it almost echoed, sinking his fingers into Adam's skin and trying to continue to move even as he felt like his brain was shorting out. Adam didn't let up, stroking both of them through it until he came too, and Kris could feel every twitch, every shudder, every gasp as he did.
"I can't believe you're here," Kris breathed against his skin afterwards, when the intensity finally began to pass, when he felt like he could stop and think again.
"I can't believe I'm here either," said Adam, and let Kris stroke his hand gently up and down Adam's back until they felt like they could bear to be apart again. Felt like maybe they could put their clothes back on and leave this room, and start to figure out where to go from here.
"There are, um, some people who want to say hi to you," said Kris, breathless and rumpled and still a little dizzy from it all, reaching out just to be able to touch Adam again.
"There are some people I want to say hi to," said Adam, "but no one more than you."
If anyone noticed that Adam's clothes were more ragged when they came out than when they'd gone in, they didn't say anything. Probably they didn't care, because Adam was assaulted with hugs and handshakes and pats on the back and no one was looking at the state he—or Kris—was in. Finally they let him go long enough to shower for the first time in probably a long time, to put some fresh clothes on and shave and comb his hair.
Kris never strayed far from him, not even when he was in the shower, especially not when he was changing.
The thing was, Kris knew he was seriously damaged. They all were, and there was no getting around that. They were watching the apocalypse happen all around them and all they could do was struggle to survive it; of course they were damaged. Everything they used to be was all but forgotten. Once upon a time Kris had been living out a dream, but it felt like so long ago now that it might have happened someone else.
But they were surviving this, and surviving wasn't just staying alive. Surviving was somehow carrying who they were forward too, remembering what mattered to them and making sure it didn't just vanish with the city around them. When all of this ended, and Kris had to believe that it would, then he wanted them to have still something to live for.
Sometimes, just sometimes, they were collectively able to let go of all that baggage for a little while. Finding anyone alive out there was a good thing. But finding Adam and Tommy and bringing them in meant more than that to a lot of the people living at the compound on the sea.
Tonight, Cale got his guitar out, playing a couple of Kris's old songs. Tonight, they broke out some of the wine and got dressed up and sang and danced and enjoyed themselves. Tonight, Kris spent the entire time attached at the hip to Adam and didn't for even one moment pretend that they were anything other than what they were now. There was no reason to, none of that mattered anymore.
"Do you want to get out of here?" said Kris, late into the evening when things began to get a little slower, if not quieter.
They didn't go far, because there was something about being around a group of people that was making Adam feel safe, and there was something about it that had always made Kris feel good. These people chose to be here with him, even knowing what was out there. They chose to do this, no matter what the personal sacrifice. It meant everything to him.
"I don't know how I'm going to let you out of my sight," Kris admitted as they settled down on the back deck, where they could still hear Cale playing, then Andrew taking over; Kris could actually still tell the difference. "You don't know...."
"I don't know?" said Adam. "I don't know what it was like?"
"I don't know what it was like for you either," said Kris. "We don't know what it was like for each other since all this started. And that's the point. I don't even want to let go. I don't want to stop touching you, in case you're not really here."
"I'm definitely here, and I have the fat lip to prove it," said Adam. And now that he was showered and cleaned up and in fresh clothes, the fresh injury was definitely visible. Once, Kris would have felt a little embarrassed about how it was completely obvious what had caused it, but he wasn't. He just wasn't. After all this time, maybe he'd earned this piece of happiness. "I don't know if I can talk about it all yet."
"I don't know if I can either," said Kris. "I don't even know where to start." They would have to some day, the rest of their respective stories coming out in bits and pieces as they got to know each other again, but right now they didn't have to. They weren't pretending it wasn't there, they were just trying to move on. "But there are some things I should say."
"Like where I'm going to sleep?" said Adam.
"Something like that," said Kris, tracing his fingers over Adam's palm. If Adam thought he was sleeping anywhere other than Kris's bed tonight then he was nuts. Maybe he didn't know Kris had a bed. "Adam, I need to make sure you know what your options are. It's my job."
"You gave me back the option to shower," said Adam. "That's not enough?"
"You could go forward," said Kris, swallowing hard and trying not to clutch Adam's hand because it was selfish, so selfish, to ask him to stay. "There are places that aren't like this. The quarantine fence is about a day's drive north of here. The military will pick you up eventually. They won't treat you well at first, but once you're proven clean they'll feed you and give you clothes and arrange transport somewhere that's still safe."
Kris shrugged. "I still have work to do."
"Because the angel told you so?" said Adam.
"Because he told me how," said Kris, "not because he told me I had to. It's my choice to save everyone I can. And...I can't stop doing that now."
"I'm pretty sure I've told you before that you're an amazing person," said Adam, "but I've never meant it quite as much as I do right now."
"Well, you're alive," said Kris, "so I think that means you're a pretty amazing person too. And you've got to know that it's killing me a little to tell you that you can go if you want to, but you know what they say...."
"If you love something, set it free?"
"Yeah," said Kris with a bittersweet smile. "That."
"Well, you don't need to lose any sleep over it," said Adam. "Kris, if you stay, I stay." The way he said it, it seemed so simple. Like it hadn't been a choice at all.
"You don't have to—"
"I survived out there in the city for a long time," said Adam. "Months. Almost a year. If I can help you get anyone else out of there, then that's what I'm going to do. I have to do it as much as you do."
"I want you here with me so much," said Kris, "but I want you safe more than anything."
"You don't know what's out past that perimeter any more than I do," said Adam. "For all we know, I'm safer here than anywhere."
"Maybe," said Kris. "Maybe."
"I'm not leaving you," said Adam. "Not now. Not again. Not ever."
"You never left me," said Kris. Neither one of them had left, not on purpose. It was the world that had torn them apart. "But no. Not ever."
And as they held one another and listened to the music and looked out over the ocean, suddenly, just for a moment, it all looked beautiful again.