Continued from the first installment of the Liberation Duology: Devotion
“Brace yourself, because this is really going to hurt.”
Kris cried out in agony. His heart stampeded in his chest and dots flashed across his vision. He clenched Adam’s hand. It was difficult to remember a time when he existed without pain and fear. Tears leaked from the corners of his eyes and clung to his lashes, blurring the form of Adam hovering above him. Adam’s lips were moving but Kris couldn’t make out what he was saying, couldn’t hear him over the ringing in his ears.
The scalpel cut again and Kris whimpered, deep within his throat. Voices drifted around him. He couldn’t tell who was saying what.
“Keep talking to him. Distract him. You’re doing fine.”
“For fuck’s sake, can’t you knock him out or something?”
“We don’t want to drug him unnecessarily and risk the side effects.”
Was that the doctor’s voice? Or was it Lucas? Had he come back to hurt Kris again? Another tug, another snip, another pull and his body jerked to all of them. His feverish brain made it difficult to understand what was going on around him. His eyes locked with Adam’s and, for a minute, he remembered again. He was in a hospital back in the United States. The embassy had flown him home so he could be treated here.
It hadn’t started out so bad. Most of his wounds were easily managed, though complicated by infection, dehydration, and malnutrition. Bruises and cuts from the beatings. Scrapes and gashes from his escape, the tramp through the jungle, and the car crash. Lucas’ knife at his throat. Cleaning and bandaging them had hurt, but he’d been able to handle it. The worst of the branding on his hip was painless, nerves in the shape of the Original World Order symbol too dead to feel anything. But the surrounding area of second-degree burns, where his makeshift bandage had stuck, dried, and fused to his infected flesh, that was breaking him. Debridement. That’s what the doctor called it. Cleaning the area of dead tissue and foreign matter. The reality was so much worse.
Kris felt the muscles in his stomach jump and contract as the doctor scraped his hip raw. He felt Adam’s hand smooth across his stomach and up his chest until it was holding his face. He tried to focus.
“Do you remember last summer? We wanted to get away so we snuck out of the house at three in the morning with a picnic basket and two bottles of wine. We drove to the beach and then napped in the sand until the sun rose.” Adam stroked his hair. He was being too gentle. Kris needed more, he needed to stay anchored so he wouldn’t lose his mind. He grabbed at Adam’s shirt, at his hand, at anything and everything.
“I need you.”
“I’m here.” Adam’s voice broke. There were tears in his eyes.
Kris gripped him harder until Adam understood and held Kris with equal strength and desperation. The doctor cut again and Kris shuddered. He could feel the blood and pus dripping down his hip before it was wiped away by a nurse.
“You woke me up with a kiss. Then I chased you until we both fell into the ocean and I held you. We kissed and floated for hours then let the sun dry us off and warm our bodies. We fed each other lunch like lovesick idiots and slow-danced and sang songs until the stars came out again.”
Adam rambled as Kris faded in and out of consciousness. Sometimes he was in the hospital, sometimes he was back in the hut. For what seemed like hours, his world consisted of only two things: Adam’s voice, and pain.
Kris and Adam trudged through the doorway of their home. The three days in the hospital had been exhausting. If only Kris had been allowed to rest, maybe it would have been fine. But they had all had to answer questions, make statements, and be debriefed by the FBI. Him, Adam, Cale, Allison, and Tommy. Then there had been the press. God, they had stalked and swarmed Kris and Adam on their way out of the hospital. Kris’ PR team had pressured him until he had finally given in and okayed whatever statement they had prepared for him. He couldn’t even remember what it had said. But Kris had tried to be strong. He had smiled at his parents and forced stillness into his shaking hands. He’d joked with Cale. He’d let Allison hug him to her heart’s content, even if it had hurt him. He’d given Tommy a hard time just because.
But now, he was just so tired.
Kris took two steps into the house and then slumped against the wall. Looking around in the dim light of the evening, Kris saw everything as new, even as he welcomed everything as old and familiar. He felt tears prickling in his eyes.
Then Adam was there, bracing his arms on either side of Kris’ head and leaning over him. Adam inched closer until their bodies were pressed flush together. They stood there for several minutes just breathing and being close. Kris kissed Adam’s collar bone and trailed his fingers along Adam’s side. He so loved and trusted this man. Kris sighed and let go. He laid down his mask of strength and let himself be held, bolstered between Adam and the wall of their home.
He must have drifted off, because the next thing he knew he was in the bathroom being cradled in Adam’s lap. Adam was gently running his fingers through his hair.
“Do you want to take a shower?”
“Yeah, that sounds really good.” Really, really good, in fact. He’d had three days of sponge baths and bed rest. The word ‘shower’ awakened a craving in his skin for those hot streams of water to run down his body.
When Adam went to pull Kris’ shirt off, Kris hesitated and held Adam’s hand back. But then he swallowed hard, and nodded, indicating for Adam to continue. The shoes and pajama pants came next. Adam had seen it all already anyway. Still, Adam’s piercing gaze lingered on every newly exposed yellowing bruise or healing cut. In particular, Adam’s eyes seemed to stray back to the marks around Kris neck and the lines of small bruises running in rows from his wrists to his shoulders.
“What did they do to you, baby?”
Kris shook his head. He brushed his fingers across Adam’s stormy expression and ever-deepening frown. He wanted to give Adam some comfort, but what could he say? Reassure Adam that he was okay? It would be a lie and the platitudes he’d forced out for his parents and friends had no place in his relationship with Adam.
Adam sighed, then pecked him on the lips. “I’ll be ready to listen when you’re ready to talk.”
Adam’s hand hovered over the bandage on his hip and Kris tensed.
“We should probably change the dressing on…”
“It’s fine. It’s covered with waterproof tape. It’ll be fine in the shower. I’ll do it tomorrow.” Kris fiddled with the hem of Adam’s shirt. The pause was heavy. He could sense Adam turning his words over in his head, but he couldn’t look Adam in the eye to properly gauge his expression.
“Okay,” Adam acquiesced. He brushed Kris’ hair back and placed a brief kiss to his temple. Then he undressed himself and helped Kris into the shower.
The moment the water hit, Kris felt a release from deep within. He tilted his head back and let the water wash everything away. Adam’s arms came around him and Kris leaned into the broad expanse of Adam’s chest. The contact of skin on skin soothed and comforted Kris’ frayed nerves. He sighed as Adam massaged shampoo into his scalp and gently soaped up his body. There had been a time, a few days ago, that Kris had thought that Adam would never be able to touch him again.
“Oh, baby.” Adam nuzzled Kris’ shoulder and lightly kissed his neck. His fingertips traced slowly up and down Kris arms.
It was then Kris realized that Adam was quietly weeping. Soft sobs and tears wiped away by rushing water. He turned around, pushed his face into the crook of Adam’s neck, and held on.
In the middle of the night Kris sat in his boxers and a sweater in front of the refrigerator, just staring. The door was open and all the cold air was wafting out to give him goose bumps along his legs, but he couldn’t help it. There was just so much food. His hands flitted around, touching a jar of strawberry jelly, a carton of milk, and three complete Chick-fil-A meals. It was all right there and he could just reach in and grab food and drink whenever he wanted. After every mission trip he’d been on, coming home to the privilege of plenty had been shocking. But now that he knew real hunger, thirst, desperation – it was overwhelming.
Running, running, running, had to get away. How could he find food in the jungle? So tired. Water from the lake. They always said don’t drink the water, but he had to, couldn’t help it. So thirsty. Pain came afterwards. And before the running, tied up in darkness, bruised and hurt. Hunger gnawing through his stomach for days. When was the last time they fed him? Hands tearing at him. He saw it, from the corner of his eye, another fist launching out towards him --
Kris recoiled and threw his arm in front of his face to protect himself. He shoved himself away from his attacker. His side slammed into an obstacle and Kris cried out as objects rained down on top of him. Something shattered.
Hands reached for him and he scrambled up. He had to get away, out of the hut, away from these horrible people. Kris ran, and found himself in his own living room. He looked around in confusion.
“Kris?” Adam’s voice sounded small and cautious.
Adam stepped into his line of vision. They were both breathing hard. Adam slowly extended his hand and waited for him to take it. Then Adam led him to the sofa and sat him down.
There was red all down his legs. He touched it. Was he bleeding? He squeezed his eyes shut.
“It’s okay, it’s just jelly.”
Adam brought a warm wash cloth and gently wiped his skin clean.
“How’s your head? Did anything hit hard? Did the glass cut you?” Adam knelt in front of him and ran his fingers over his forehead and down across his hands and knees.
“No. I don’t think so.”
“What happened? I woke up and you weren’t in bed so I came to check on you. I just touched your shoulder and you…, I don’t know.”
He thought about it. He put a hand to his chest and willed his heartbeat to slow down. “I think I thought you were going to hit me.”
Adam froze. His mouth opened and closed.
“Not you,” Kris was fast to correct himself. “I mean, I didn’t know it was you. I didn’t hear you come in. And then I just saw your hand. It surprised me, I guess.” He paused. “It scared me.”
While Kris had been talking, Adam’s expression had softened. He gathered Kris’ hands in his own, fingers brushing against the healing rope wounds circling Kris’ wrists. Leaning down, Adam kissed across Kris’ fingertips.
“I’m sorry I scared you.”
“No such thing.” Adam gave him a small smile. “Are you hungry or do you feel like going back to bed?”
Kris slumped forward, suddenly exhausted. He leaned his forehead against Adam’s shoulder.
Kris slept for days. He’d been running, fighting, and hurting for so long that his mind and body were completely exhausted. He went to the bathroom and he showered because it still felt so good. Every so often, Adam would prompt him to eat or drink something or take his pain pills and antibiotics. At times, Adam helped him change his bandages. Most of them. He still wouldn’t let Adam touch the one on his hip. And that was it. The rest was sleep.
A few days into this routine, Kris woke up late at night after having slept all day. He rolled over to find Adam propped up against one arm, awake, and watching him. There were shadows under his eyes and worry lines creasing his forehead. Kris knew that Adam probably hadn’t slept much while he’d been missing and he’d been doing a lot of work lately, taking care of Kris. But Adam needed to sleep too. Kris leaned over and pushed Adam down, running his fingers over Adam’s eyes to close them. He cuddled up against Adam’s side and whispered soft reassurances in his ear. Sleep, I’m here, we’re together.Kris waited until he felt the steady rise and fall of Adam’s chest as he slept before allowing himself to drift off again.
The next night they spent an hour kissing. Nothing more than that. Just kissing. Simple, beautiful, desperate, hungry, dirty, amazed, grateful kisses. Kris still tired easily, but it was enough.
Last night had been spent lying in the dark, holding each other close, and telling each other their tales in quiet whispers. Adam spoke of visions and sleeping pills, the searching and the knowing. Kris didn’t understand it, but it was Adam, so he believed. He didn’t know whether to be saddened because Adam had to see him tortured and in pain, or just plain grateful. Since they were together again because of the visions, Kris settled on grateful. In turn, he told Adam of his confusion when he was first taken. Then, of the beatings, threats, hunger, and fever that had worn him down. He told of his struggle to stay strong, escape, and survive. At least, he told Adam most of it. He may have glossed over the details, but they were both tired, and Kris wasn’t ready. He lingered most on stories about the people who had helped him, in the end, and took pity on the poor stranger in their midst.
And over all of it, they both spoke of their desire to be with each other again. The ache, the missing, and the immensity of their love.
Today they had decided to allow company to come over. After all, both sets of parents and brothers were in town and Cale, Allison, and Tommy deserved to see them, after everything they’d risked to help.
“Are you too tired? Maybe we shouldn’t have invited them over all at once.”
“Maybe not, but I want to see them. I promise to tell you if I’m too tired, okay? Just so long as you do the same.”
Then the doorbell rang and they were here. Everyone bustled in and there were hugs all around. They all carried a pie or some other dish in their hand.
“Now listen, I didn’t know if you boys were up to cooking just yet, so I may have went a little overboard,” said Kim Allen. “Apple pie, cherry pie, peach cobbler, pulled pork in my special barbeque sauce, Kris I know that’s your favorite, potato salad, macaroni and cheese, green beans, biscuits, um, and maybe a couple of other odds and ends. Oh, baby, are you eating? You lost so much weight!” She enveloped Kris with a hug.
“Mama. Adam’s been taking care of me, I promise.”
“Well, of course he has!” She pulled Adam into their hug. “But I know the extent of Adam’s cooking skills and I just wanted to make sure you had some good home-cooked food.”
Kim whirled around and pointed a stern finger. “Stop that right there; those pies are for your brothers!” Daniel and Neil had been quietly poking at the apple pie.
“Mom!” said Daniel.
Leila smacked her son on the back of his head. “Behave. You’re a guest in your brother’s home.”
“Ow, Mom!” said Neil.
After a bit of bumbling, fumbling, and brotherly grumbling, everyone settled down in the kitchen to eat and catch up. They kept the conversation light. Under the surface, there was worry and tension, but above it all was a glow of happiness. Everyone had made it home alive and they were grateful. There seemed to be an unspoken contest going on to see who could make Kris and Adam laugh the most. Negative Neil was winning so far.
“Let’s just say it involved me, Brad, a rubber chicken, and a whole lot of tequila.”
“Oh my God.” Adam waved his hands in Neil’s general direction. “I so do not even want to know.” He laughed.
“And then he goes to me, ‘Wind up the frog!’ I mean, what is that?”
They all laughed.
But by the time dessert was served, the serious discussions had crept back in.
“So, what do you boys think about the media storm that’s surrounding the two of you?” asked Eber.
Adam sighed. “We haven’t really talked much about it.”
“Well, I’m a little concerned,” said Neil Allen. “If you boys thought your relationship was high profile before, it’s that times a million now.”
Allison winked. “They’re like the Brangelina of the gay world.”
“Like, whatever, girl,” said Tommy. “Kradam totally kicks Brangelina’s ass.”
“Right?” They slapped hands.
“That’s the problem,” said Cale. “Kris and Adam would never have been targeted if they hadn’t been in the media so much. And now the LGBT community is full of outrage over what happened and that video Lucas and Richelle put up on YouTube. They want and expect things from the two of you.”
Neil Lambert paused from where he was quietly stealing a cookie from Tommy’s plate. “I’m gonna stamp Kradam on a bunch of rainbow flags and sell them. I’d make a fortune right now.”
“Exactly. And that’s why I want more security around my son.”
“Dad, you know Kris hates having security all around him,” said Daniel. “I mean, not that I’m not worried, but we can’t let what happened completely change the way Kris lives his life.”
“Right,” said Neil. “It’s like saving Kris from one box only to put him in another.”
“First of all,” said Adam. “I’m a little worried about this unholy partnership between the brothers here. The devious pie stealing and the agreeing with each other all the time thing is starting to freak me out.”
“What can we say,” said Neil, “We’ve been bonded by our mutual experiences with pain-in-the-ass older brothers.” He quirked an eyebrow.
“Secondly,” said Adam while ignoring Neil. “I’ve already arranged for extra security for both of us. Every time we go somewhere, we’ll have people with us. I’ve also hired a company to keep an eye on the house. A team will be stationed in a car outside at all times.” He put his hand over Kris’ on the table. “I just want Kris safe.”
Leila raised her eyebrows. “Have you discussed this with Kris yet, Adam?”
“Kris, honey,” said Kim. “Don’t you have anything to say about all of this?”
Until then, Kris had been sitting quietly throughout the discussion. He rubbed the back of his neck. It was true that in the past he hadn’t liked a lot of security walling him in. It was stifling. He liked having the freedom to walk up to his fans and converse with them. But that was before. He hadn’t realized back then what kind of hatred existed in the world.
“Well, I don’t know about all that stuff with the LGBT community and what they expect from us. I just want to make music.”
“We’re not here to be the elected representatives of the gay world. How many times am I going to have to say that?” asked Adam.
“But I think more security would be a good idea.”
Daniel opened his mouth to say something but Kim shot him down with a glare.
“Why don’t we move this party into the living room,” said Neil Allen. “Play a little music, have a little sing along. We could all do with some music.”
It was the next day, and Kris was sitting on the couch with his guitar in his lap. Sunlight filtered through the sheer curtains and reflected off his guitar pick, making tiny sparkles of light flitter around the strings.
A dissonant chord shattered the peace of the room. Throwing down his pick, Kris rubbed shaking hands through his hair then got up and paced the length of the room. The music just wasn’t working.
Kris had sent Adam out. They had staved off management and public relations for as long as they could. Additionally, Adam had a lot of other obligations that he’d put on hold over the past few weeks. After all, he’d run off to find Kris while in the middle of a major headlining tour. Adam had hesitated to leave Kris alone, and had suggested they call Cale to come over. But Kris had insisted that he would be fine. So Adam had gone.
But now, Kris regretted telling Adam to go. He felt off balance and out of sorts. Adam had been such a constant since they’d come home, and in truth, Kris wasn’t ready to let go of him yet.
He felt like he just had to get out of this house. Without Adam, it seemed both too empty and terrifyingly claustrophobic. But there were paparazzi camped across the street outside the gate and he didn’t feel like taking a walk with security pressing in on all sides. He needed to think. He scratched his hip, then stopped and clenched his fist. He wasn’t supposed to irritate the area, but the second degree burns all around the symbol were just itching like crazy.
He went to the kitchen and poured himself a cup of coffee to distract himself.
He didn’t like thinking about the brand. The same place where Adam’s hand used to go when they had sex was now marked with a symbol against the very act. And it would never go away. He hated it and he hated them. He could barely look at himself while he changed the bandage. It was ugly and awful – white scar a perfect replica of the OWO symbol, red blotches and bumpy skin of second degree burns all around it. Would he think of Lucas and Richelle every time he looked in the mirror? Every time Adam touched him? They hadn’t done more than kissing yet and Kris was nervous about how it would be different now.
Kris wandered the house as he sipped his coffee, steps slow enough to accommodate his bruised muscles and lacerated skin. Still, after all that time in bed, it felt nice to stretch his legs. On impulse, he went to the front window and peeked out behind the curtain. Flashes went off as eagle-eyed paparazzi strove for a picture. He flinched back. Coffee splashed across his hand, burning him.
He could feel the heat emanating from the metal. Closer and closer it advanced. Hands tied, can’t get free. Richelle holding him down. Muscles tensed. Disbelief. Fear. Pain! Oh God, burning, skin bubbling, nerves screaming in death.
Awareness returned slowly. He was curled on the floor, chipped mug and a puddle of lukewarm coffee hovering in front of his eyes. He blinked and pushed himself up on shaking arms. His mind was blank and as much as he stared at it, he could not comprehend the mess in front of him or what he needed to do about it.
The light behind the curtains grew steadily dim.
“Baby, what happened? Are you hurt?”
Kris shook himself and focused on Adam. He licked his lips. “You’re home.”
Adam pulled him close. “Yeah, I’m here.”
Kris leaned heavily against him. “Don’t leave.”