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Adam had already been feeling vulnerable. Doctors will do that, even when it's just a check-up, a physical, a let's make sure there aren't any issues & we know how your body is doing kind of visit and not a something is wrong visit. But it had been one of 19E's people, not someone he knew or had seen before, so there was dealing with the whole tiresome gay thing, which shouldn't even be a thing — he'd actually talked about it with Kris (he could talk about anything with Kris, it was really amazing) and no, straight guys did not get grilled about their sex lives and partners in anything like the same detail, with the same assumption of careless promiscuity — though the guy had been pretty cool about it, professional and not prurient, there was still having to deal with it at all, you know? Not to mention the whole poking and prodding and needles and fear (completely irrational, but never-the-less lurking at the back of ones mind) that this time something would be found to be horribly wrong.

The parking structure had been nearly empty when he'd arrived, the usual scattering of people with appointments or work or morning whatevers (9 was early in LA, mid-morning for the rest of the world). It certainly wasn't empty when he returned several hours later. There was a herd of paparazzi, cameras and microphones and sloppy, shapeless jackets on loud, pushy people. (Men - there were no shortage of aggressive women interviewers, camera operators, other industry professionals, but they rarely went the paparazzi route.) At first he'd instinctively looked around to see who they were pursuing before it dawned on him that he was their target. They were shouting his name. He'd almost gotten used to the controlled chaos of the red carpet, the fierce, exhilarating enthusiasm of the fans in the studio, at the talk-show interviews. This was something else entirely. When they cornered him in the stairwell he felt a moment of almost helpless terror. He might be taller than them, but there were a lot more of them than there was of him. He’d been absurdly grateful when Qween materialized from around a corner and came to his rescue, shouldering through them, making a path for him to escape.

He'd never had that ravenous focus directed at him like that, unfiltered, undiluted by other people, other barricades. Watching it happen to others was really not the same as experiencing it oneself. He'd been amazed that he'd managed to deal with wallet (Qween deserved more than mere money for her timely help, but money was what he had, and it wasn't like she couldn't use it) and keys without fumbling, but the fact that his hands were steady hadn't helped the frantic stutter under his breastbone, the panic-knot in his throat. Idol and nine years in Hollywood had prepared him for a lot of things, but not this. The crazy week in New York after the Finale hadn't armed him for this. Even now, home, the door locked, the known comfort of his place, his things, his space, he was still having to breathe with careful deliberation, wanting to huddle, hide, flinch from loud noises.

Adam dug out a stick of incense, several of his favorite candles (it was nice that he could just do the small ritual things he liked, not that Kris has ever objected, but Danny had made his feelings known, and Scott was very sensitive to strong aromas, not to mention that the Mansion was not home) and set them about. Now his hands were shaking: he could hardly set flame to wick, but at last they were all burning, and the warm lights and calming scent began to work their magic.

He sat down on the bed and made himself just breathe, slow and deep and steady. Count the beats - twelve to inhale, six to hold, nine to exhale, three to hold, and repeat. It took … longer than it should to find something resembling center, where he could even begin to think.

This was his life. This was the opportunity he had striven for, hungered for, worked and sacrificed and fought for. He was going to have to figure out how to deal, how to just plain cope. Another shiver coursed through him, threatening his careful rhythm. But obviously that was not going to happen today. Probably not tomorrow, either. This was his own safe space, and here he was, shivering in June in LA.

The familiar incense worked its calming benison, the candles, the texture of the coverlet and the smoothness of the floor all communicated home and safe and welcome space. But it was a small space, however secure and welcoming. He was bigger than this apartment now. And his friends, his family, couldn’t fit inside at all. He could feel the boundaries that were the walls, the ceiling, the busy lives of the people who lived around him. A bubble of space, bounded but ungrounded. No Boundaries, that absurd song claimed. No boundaries he didn’t choose, at any rate.

So what did he need, to cope, to survive, to thrive in this new world that was his life?

A house. A real house, with a foundation, land, walls bigger than his arm-span, where he could invite his friends, his family, the people he loved and needed inside, since just going out to be with them was not going to be possible. A house that was his. Land that was his. Big enough for light to live inside.

A house of stone and light.

Adam could see the image building in his mind, what it would be, could be. Not something to make happen in a day, a month. Certainly not before the tour, the album; but soon. He would make it happen. And that was enough to be going on with.

House of Stone and Light