A small twinge was all the warning Kris received. And then his back exploded. The pain was staggering and brought Kris to his knees. His vision went white with flashes of red. Wavering back and forth, Kris grabbed his bedside table to steady himself. He took in great gasps of air as sweat streamed from his pores. He felt as if his backbone was breaking and twisting.
Kris had the sudden thought that his insides were pouring out. He had to stop it. Push them back in. He reached his arms behind him as far as he could and pounded his back with his fists. Excruciating pain and his vision faded at the edges. Pressure, he thought. He had to put pressure on the wound. In a last desperate attempt he slammed his body backwards onto the floor. Darkness flashed and he knew no more.
They were getting worse. They were sick. And he was sick right along with them. Sicker and sicker, down and down and down. Kris was lying draped across the edge of the bathtub. The coolness of the porcelain numbed his thoughts. He shivered. How long had he been there? A day at least. He needed help. Kris ran his fingers through the shards of mirror on the bathroom floor. Blood from his knuckles dripped onto the little pieces of the mirror that sparkled in the afternoon light. It was glitter. Like Adam, Kris thought. He should call Adam.
Adam rushed up the walkway. Eyes focused and intense, he searched the outside of Kris’ bachelor pad. He couldn’t see anything amiss. In his anxiety, all he saw were flashes of memories. The steps he and Kris had painted together. Adam remembered being aghast at the bland shade of white that Kris had picked out. The sapling they had planted to symbolize Kris’ new beginning after the divorce three years ago. It had grown tall over those years. And Adam could see the purple curtains that he had insisted that Kris buy. Beyond them was only darkness.
Adam ran his fingers through his hair roughly. The text he had received had been short and cryptic.
He had texted and called Kris back to find out what was going on but had received no reply. Adam knocked on Kris’ door.
“Kris! I’m here, open up.”
Nothing. Adam waited for a few seconds and then tried again.
Still nothing. Damn all this silence to fucking hell! Adam chipped at his nail polish as he paced back and forth. Kris’ black Ford Fusion sat in the driveway so he must be home, Adam thought. But then again, had management taken him out somewhere? Was he out with Cale or the rest of his band? Adam had assumed that Kris’ text had meant to come to his house and they had always operated on the same wavelength before.
A crash sounded from deep within the house. Adam whirled towards the doorway. He pounded the door with renewed effort.
“Kris. Are you okay? What’s going on in there?”
Hands braced against the door, Adam managed to still his body as every nerve strained to hear a reply. He held his breath. Nothing. He jiggled the doorknob. Locked, of course. Stupid, he knew it wouldn’t be that easy. He should have just said yes when Kris had offered him a key. His breath exploded in a whoosh of frustration. Adam started considering whether or not he should break the door down.
A minute more passed. What the hell, Adam thought. He started kicking the door. He gave it a running start and slammed his shoulder into the door. It wouldn’t budge.
“Damn doors! Stupid Hollywood with their fucking paranoia and their fucking reinforced doors!” He growled in vexation and pulled at his hair.
Adam started kicking and hitting the door with more impatience and less finesse. Suddenly, the doorknob turned and the door cracked open. Adam rushed at the door but knocked his head against it when it stopped short of opening more than a few inches. It took him a few seconds, but Adam noticed that the door was still chained shut.
He rubbed his forehead. “Kris?”
“Just…give me a minute.” Kris had an arm braced heavily against the doorframe. He was bent over with his head hung low. His breaths were coming out in gasps.
“You look like shit. What’s wrong?”
“Adam.” Kris’ voice was thin and strained. He paused.
Adam peered into the darkness. Kris’ shirt was ripped and hanging off both his shoulders. Tattered strips clung to Kris with a mixture of sweat and what looked like blood. Adam’s anxiety increased several levels. He reached towards Kris.
Kris’ whole body flinched. Adam froze. Kris grimaced and began to shake.
“Oh, Kris,” Adam whispered. His eyes were piercing but his voice gentle.
Kris looked up. His eyes traveled over Adam’s face but he seemed to be having trouble focusing. “You have to promise,” he mumbled. “No!” he exclaimed with a sudden burst of energy. “Never mind, I trust you. I just, I don’t know what I’m doing. Something’s happened to me and I can’t, I don’t know what to do.” He trailed off and his eyes fell shut with a sigh and a whimper.
Adam felt the triphammer of his heart and the tension between his eyes, but he used all of his control and skill to maintain an outward appearance of serene dauntlessness. “Kris, just let me in and tell me what’s going on. Whatever it is, I can fix it, I promise.”
Kris looked Adam in the eyes. He nodded. Muscles straining, Kris stood upright, unchained the door, and swung it open.
He had wings.
Adam had pictured Kris as an angel more than once. Damn Elle photoshoot. There was a time afterwards that his dreams had been filled with soft lips and translucent feathers. Bright wings and endless skin spread out beneath him. But these weren’t angel wings and they weren’t beautiful. White at the tips but the color moved into a bruised blue in the middle and a sickly green at the root. The feathers, limp and bedraggled, hung in disarray.
Kris had collapsed immediately after opening the door and Adam had carried him to his bedroom. The wings had made it awkward. And beyond that, the path to the bedroom had been a mess. Picture frames hung askew and a few had joined a broken lamp in pieces on the floor. He had picked his way carefully, unwilling to slip with the burden cradled in his arms. Now he had Kris lying on his stomach on the bed. Kris had his hands clenched in the sheets.
“Kris.” Adam’s hands hovered above Kris’ wings, but he wasn’t sure where it was safe to touch. There was a splotch of dried blood at the base of the wings. He attempted a gentle caress to the top of one wing. Kris flinched and the wings snapped back.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry.”
The wings were slightly trembling now and Kris had squeezed his eyes shut. Adam threaded his fingers through Kris’ hair and gently massaged his scalp. He kept his voice low and calming.
“Everything’s going to be okay. I’ll take care of you.” He bent his head over Kris and spent the next few minutes whispering gentle reassurances in Kris’ ear. He swiped his thumb across Kris’ temple and then rubbed at the tension in his forehead. He wanted to wrap Kris up into his arms and magically make the pain go away. But, he was in over his head. He needed a second opinion.
“Stay here, I’ll be right back.”
Kris startled and Adam saw panic, pleading, and pain in darkly dilated eyes. Kris uttered a small noise of protest from the back of his throat and reached out towards Adam. The pace of his breaths increased exponentially. Adam bent down and brushed a kiss across Kris’ temple. He smoothed back the sweaty hair away from Kris’ forehead.
“Shh. It’s okay. I’m just going to make some calls to some people who I trust can help. And I’m going to make you some tea. Just rest. I’ll be right back, I promise.” There was a moment where Kris seemed to digest what Adam had stated. Finally, he nodded and buried his face into the comforter. Adam brushed his hand across Kris’ head one last time before reluctantly getting up and walking to the kitchen.
Adam sighed. Mutant. That was the word. The label. Mutants were new in society. Not at all accepted, very much feared. And he thought being gay was hard.
Adam had a few friends who were mutants. He kept a diverse group of creative people around him. One of them would know what to do. Zoe, maybe. She was telepathic and had several connections in the mutant underground. He decided to bite the bullet and call her up right away.
“Hey. How’s my favorite mind reader?”
“Ack. I’ve got a splitting headache. My neighbors need to think a little less loudly. He’s screwing the babysitter and he’s worried that the wife will find out. What he doesn’t know is that she’s screwing the babysitter too! I have half a mind to go over there and blow the cap off their little secrets just to give myself some peace of mind.”
“But you won’t. Your ethical code and all that.”
“Yeah, yeah. You’re right. So what brought this call on?”
“You know, you’re too far away for me to read your mind. You’re going to have to use words here, sweetheart.”
“It’s my friend. He just went through a physical transformation and found out that he’s a mutant.”
“So help him deal with the change. You’ve seen me help others before. Make him understand that he’s still him and that his true friends will still love him. Give him my number and I’ll help him if he wants to make some connections to some other mutants.”
“That’s not just it though. He grew wings, but something’s wrong. They don’t look right. It’s like they’re falling apart. They don’t look functional.”
“And how’s he doing?”
“He’s in pain.” Adam rubbed a hand across his eyes.
“Okay, I have an inkling. Let me make a few discreet calls and I’ll phone you back, alright? Don’t leave him alone.”
When Adam walked back into the bedroom, Kris was sitting up in the bed with his head down. He was playing with his shirt sleeves, pulling them down over his hands. His wings were spread out behind him and drooping down. As Kris looked up at Adam, his wings flexed and the tips of his wings brushed the top of the bedspread. Kris winced. Then, even as Adam watched, a smattering of feathers fell from the wings and joined the collection that was scattered around Kris. He looked like a fallen angel.
Adam’s gut clenched in worry and he swallowed hard. He wordlessly handed Kris a mug of tea before sitting down on the bed and taking a sip of his own.
“How are you feeling?”
“A little better after resting.”
Adam nodded. He wouldn’t push, for now, but he noticed that the mug shook as Kris sipped his tea. There were dark circles under his eyes and a drained quality about the slouched set of his shoulders. Kris seemed to have gained a little energy and he was breathing easier, but Adam wondered how much pain he was still feeling.
“It’s ironic,” Kris said. His voice seemed to hollow and echo in the space between them.
“Here I was, all worried about coming out as bisexual, and now I find out that I’m a mutant too.”
Adam froze. He wasn’t sure that he was hearing things correctly. His eyes widened and his eyebrows climbed up to his hairline.
“Coming out as what?!” His voice cracked a bit at the end, but he didn’t care.
“I already told my parents and my brother. My management put up a fuss and I had to fight them to do what I wanted. But they finally agreed and we made this whole coming out plan. And I was going to tell you on movie night this week.”
“Tell me?” Adam’s voice was going thin and strained and he started feeling a little light headed. He put his hand to his head.
“That I’m bisexual. Not that it matters anymore.” Kris absently brushed at the feathers littering the bedspread. “It’s funny because I was scared for so long. It was so hard figuring myself out and re-evaluating things that I had thought I knew about myself. And even then I was too scared to come out. I wasn’t sure what people would say. My fans, my management. But I worked hard to build up my confidence and my courage. I worked really hard, Adam. And I did it. I made a plan. I have an interview set up with People magazine for next week.” He sighed and focused on the sapling outside the window. “But after all that, here I am again. I hate this. I’m scared. Scared of being me, again.”
Kris’ bottom lip started to tremble and Adam reacted on pure instinct. He pulled Kris into a hug.
“Kris, you’re still the same you. That sweet, mellow, pure hearted guy who is always willing to help out others. That awesome guy who writes music and plays instruments with a passion and who sings with this beautiful, incredible voice. And you know that I…”
Kris gazed up into Adam’s eyes. What Adam saw there made him pause. It sent a thrill down his spine and made his stomach clench at the same time. He stuttered.
“I mean, you know that your true friends and family will love you no matter what,” he finished lamely. He internally both panicked and smacked his head against a wall.
Kris pushed away from Adam and sat up. His face seemed carefully neutral. He crossed his arms and his wings slightly curved themselves around him.
“Yeah, I know,” Kris mumbled.
They stared at one another.
Adam’s phone rang. He muttered an excuse and hurried out the door.
Adam paced in circles. He didn’t know what he was doing! He heard a ringing. Right, the phone.
“Zoe, what have you got for me?”
“All right, well, you told me that your friend’s mutation seemed sick and I was pretty sure I knew what it meant. And I’ve pretty much confirmed what I thought. Now, you know how most mutations are typically physical or psychic, right?”
“Mutations of the body or mutations of the mind.”
“Well there’s been some recent developments that indicate a third conjunctive category. Not only can a mutation be physical or psychic alone, it can also have a sort of spiritual connection. In these cases, the mutation can result in a sort of transcendent experience.”
“I don’t think pain is a type of spiritual transcendence, Zoe,” he said, slightly annoyed.
“I’m not finished. You see, with this type of additive factor, there can be unique complications. You know how many mutants reject, deny, or hate their mutations when they first appear?”
“Yeah. You told me that you thought you were going crazy at first and when you found out that it was a mutation you almost wanted to die.”
“Right. Well, when that process happens to someone with a spiritual connection to their mutation, the result can be a sort of spiritual sickness. The mutation and the spirit are connected. Rejection of the mutation becomes a sort of rejection of the spirit and vice versa.”
“So what do I have to do?”
“Your friend needs to find a way to accept his mutation. Do whatever you can to help him accomplish this.”
“Okay. Um, what’s the worst case scenario here? How much time do we have. What happens if he can’t accept it?”
“Adam.” Zoe sighed. “Listen, I don’t know how much time you have. That seems to vary. But, I’m guessing try not to let it take too long. The people who couldn’t accept their mutation, they died.”
Adam closed his eyes. His chest suddenly constricted and his heart skipped and stuttered.
Adam had paced outside Kris’ doorway for a few minutes feeling like he was drowning and had to come up for air. His adrenaline was out of control and all of his senses were screaming at him to do something, anything. He took a deep breath and charged through the door.
Adam, fidgeting, sat down on the bed. He took Kris’ hands in his. It was then that he noticed the knuckles on Kris’ right hand were cut open.
“Oh man, look at your hand.” Adam’s anxiety went up another notch. What if he lost Kris?
“We need to bandage your hand.”
“Adam, it’s fine.”
“No, I need to fix it. You have bandages around here somewhere, don’t you?” Adam rushed into the bathroom. His feet skittered across some broken mirror on the floor. It barely slowed him down. He threw open the broken cabinet and grabbed at some bandages he found there. He quickly wet a washcloth and hurried back to Kris.
Working quickly and quietly, Adam cleaned and bandaged Kris’ hand. Adam felt the time ticking with every beat of his heart. Thump, thump, tick tock, thump, thump, tick tock. He couldn’t lose Kris. He couldn’t. Life wouldn’t be the same without him. He needed him. He was the ying to Adam’s yang. Kris could calm him and excite him all at the right moments. They fit together and he…
He loved him. He was in love with him. He had always known it, since the beginning.
“Kris, when was the last time you eat? I can make some soup, or I can order take-out. Are you hungry? What do you feel like eating?” He pulled out his phone and started to scroll through his contact list.
Kris reached up and put his hand on Adam’s cheek. Adam felt a tingle where Kris was gently rubbing his thumb across Adam’s skin. Kris looked Adam directly into the eyes, squared his shoulders and calmly said, “I’m dying, aren’t I.” It wasn’t a question.
Adam’s mouth dropped open. He sharply sucked in a breath of air.
“How did you…?”
Kris’ looked away. “I just know. I can feel it.”
Adam crumpled forward, held onto Kris, and cried.
The thought had been lingering through Kris’ subconscious for a while now. Dying. When his back had opened up and the wings had been released, he’d felt like his soul had been sucked halfway out his back. And now, every time his wings moved, he felt the flutter in his heart, in his soul. They were an extra sense, stretching out behind him.
He hated it. It felt like he was falling apart, like there wasn’t enough of him to spread through his body. He felt thin and tired. He could feel the blood pounding through his wings and it hurt. It’s like the wings had made a hole, and it was killing him.
Dying, and he was trapped in his house. If he tried to leave he would probably be stoned in the streets. But he didn’t want the last thing he saw to be the walls of this bedroom. He hated the wings! He wished they would go, that they had never appeared. Tears welled up in his eyes but he refused to let them spill over.
He and Adam were lying together on the bed now. Kris had his head on Adam’s chest. His wings were spread out above them, feathers periodically drifting down around them. A reminder, like sand falling down an hourglass, of how much time he had left.
There was so much that Kris had planned on doing. He had made so many changes in his life. He had wanted to be a better him and to be true to himself, and to who he loved. He tentatively linked calloused fingers together with soft skin and shiny rings. He felt Adam give his hand a squeeze. But maybe all the heartache would lead to nothing after all.
Adam knew what he had to do. It was a wild and desperate thought, but he had no time for tomorrows and no wish for regrets.
Kris looked up at Adam. Deep brown eyes, watery and huge. There was desperation and despair around the edges but a spark of fire still shone in the center. Small, but there. Trust, and hope, and the will to live.
Adam took a deep breath and tried to gather his thoughts. “It doesn’t matter to me that you have wings. That you’re a mutant. I still love you. All of you. And I loved you when you thought you were straight, and I love you now that you know you’re bisexual. I love you. And I love your wings. And I want you to love your wings. And I just, I love you.”
Kris licked his lips. “I know, Adam. I know that you love me. I know that my family and friends will still love me. But, please understand, it doesn’t stop the ache. I don’t want to die, but I can’t stop feeling empty and angry and scared.”
“Kris, you’re strong. You’re so strong. You can work through this. I’ll help you. You’ll see, the wings will be great. Please.” Adam clenched his hands around Kris’ arms.
“Adam,” Kris hesitated. “You’re a good friend.”
Adam sat them both up. He braced both hands on either side of Kris’ face in desperation. “No, you’re not hearing me. I don’t just love you, I’m in love with you. And you can’t die. Please, don’t die. I love you, and we can work through this together.”
Kris’ mouth dropped open.
Adam could feel the pounding of his blood from his ears to his toes. His nerves sparked with adrenaline. He wanted to run, he wanted to fight, but he was frozen like Kris was frozen. A moment in time heavy with the weight of future possibilities.
Adam was in love with him? Adam was in love with him. Adam’s gaze seared through Kris’ eyes straight to his soul. Kris felt jubilation flutter in his chest and a corresponding flicker through his wings.
“You love me.”
“Um, wow.” Kris felt a little dizzy. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, he could feel the pain fading. “You love my wings?”
Adam smiled. His hands reached out to hover above Kris’ wings. Without thinking, Kris flexed his wings up into Adam’s touch. This time, there was no pain, only warmth as Adam tenderly smoothed down his feathers. His eyelids fluttered and he sighed.
“I love your wings.”
The warmth spread to his chest then his whole body. It felt like it was shining out of his eyes and he saw colors. Dots of light hovered on the edges of his vision and he felt the stirrings of a melody almost in reach.
He focused. “I love you too, you know. That is, I’m in love with you too.”
Adam’s eyes lit with a corresponding light, and he let out a delighted laugh. “When you’re feeling better I’m going to put glitter on those wings and show you off to the world. You’re going to be my date at the next awards show I go to.”
Suddenly, Kris pulled his wings back. The lights faded and Kris swallowed around the lump in his throat. “The media…”
“Will love you, and your wings. And if they don’t they can go fuck themselves.”
Kris let out a breathless chuckle. “You’ll stand with me through all of this? You and me, together?”
Adam smirked. “We won’t stand together, we’ll fly.”
Something inside Kris’ brain clicked—a meeting of his mind with his heart and soul. “Fly?” He thought about the future, his future with wings. With Adam. Maybe it wouldn’t be as bad as he’d thought. Kris smiled at Adam. “We’ll fly.”
And then he was moving towards Adam. Their lips met in a rush and Kris felt a shiver go down his wings. The kiss was wet and frantic with their will to live, to live together. His hands tangled in Adam’s shirt and in his hair as he let out a breathless moan and heard Adam echo his response. The kiss gentled as Kris licked the bottom of Adam’s lip. Then their tongues were meeting, a brief press against each other. Kris felt a jolt pass through him and once again a warm glow began in his chest. The feeling of lightness and being whole spread up Kris’ back and down his wings. Adam licked the roof of his mouth then peppered little kisses all along Kris’ jaw then down his wings. Rainbows sparkled in Kris’ vision every time he opened his eyes and he heard the measures of a symphony with every beat of his wings.
Kris woke when the morning light lazily moved across his eyelids. His head was tucked into the crook of Adam’s arm. He and Adam had kissed and cuddled until they had fallen asleep. He remembered how gentle Adam had been with his wings. He remembered the music. He stretched, body and wings, and Adam stirred.
“Mmm,” Adam mumbled and turned to brush a kiss across Kris’ lips. He opened his eyes sleepily. “How are you feeling?”
“I feel okay,” Kris said and meant it.
Adam glanced up and then looked back at Kris. Suddenly, his eyes shot up again and widened. “Kris. Your wings.”
“What?” Kris looked over his shoulder.
“They’re white,” Adam whispered in reverence.
Adam was right. The muddled blues and greens were gone. In their place was a pristine canopy of pure white feathers that glistened in the sunlight. He stretched them out over their bodies. He tried a few flexes and saw Adam’s hair dance in the breeze.
“So,” Kris said, “what was that you were saying about flying?”