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They Come In Threes

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It could pretty much be safely said that it was the most surprising vodka bottle of Adam's life.

Because, sure, he'd found surprises at the bottom of bottles of liquor before. There had been bottles that ended in epiphanies, and bottles that ended in disturbingly frank heart-to-hearts with Danny Gokey, and that one bottle that ended in Adam accidentally trying to pick up a guy on Twitter.

There was nothing quite so unexpected, though, as peering down inside a bottle of vodka and seeing it stare back at you.

Not the bottle itself, naturally. Because that would be ridiculous. It was the pair of yellow eyes blinking up at him from beneath the clear liquor that made Adam yell and instinctively throw the bottle as far away from him as he could, which in this case meant smack into the red and green mural Drake had painted for him two weeks before they broke up.

Nothing happened.

It was just his imagination. Adam stared at the smashed and clearly eyeless fragments littering his living room with relief. Relief that lasted for all of ten seconds, until the air around the shards of glass kind of gathered inward and formed itself into an actual corporeal body, thin and awkward and wearing the most horrifically unfortunate kerchief Adam had ever seen tied around its neck.

"Oh, no," it said sadly. "Not again."

Adam stared at the thing. The boy. The ghost, holy fucking shit, Adam's vodka bottle was haunted. "What the fuck!"

The ghost drew itself up. "There's no need to take that tone," it said indignantly. "You're the one who smashed my home to pieces."

"I—no! What?" Adam pointed at the ghost, sputtering. "You're in my house. Seriously, what the hell."

The ghost sighed. "Look, it's all right. I'll find a new bottle. And I accept your apology," it added pointedly.

"You'll find a new bottle," Adam repeated, and then gave a small panicked laugh, because no, really, he was home alone with a ghost with yellow eyes, and he'd only ever seen one episode of Supernatural because that shit was fucking scary but he still knew that yellow-eyed creatures meant just run away, do not collect two hundred dollars, and seriously, there were glass shards all over the place and everyone knew ghosts could fling those around with their minds.

"Shit," Adam said, realizing his situation. But then he actually thought about his situation and remembered that it was 5AM and he was kind of tired and sexually frustrated and partially heartbroken and also he'd just drunk an entire bottle of vodka. Which was, in its own way, kind of a relief, so he amended that to, "Shit, I am so wasted."

Adam's vodka ghost frowned. Adam's imaginary vodka ghost. It was kind of funny, now that Adam thought about it. He choked out a scary kind of giggle.

"Are you all right?" Adam's imaginary vodka ghost asked with concern.

"Probably not," Adam said, trying to walk to the kitchen in a straight line, because he really needed to sober up if things were this bad. "I'm drunk enough to be hallucinating, and I'm pretty sure I haven't taken any pills tonight. And apparently I'm talking to myself now, too, because you're not really here."

"What, you think you're imagining me?" Adam's imaginary vodka ghost said, following him into the kitchen. "I think I'm insulted."

Adam opened the door to the fridge. If he didn't look at the ghost, it was almost like it wasn't there. "Ghosts don't really exist," he said, taking out a bottle of mineral water and uncapping it. "And they don't just randomly have British accents. And I refuse to believe they'd ever wear that fashion monstrosity even if they've been dead for a hundred years. But mostly they don't have all of these things because they aren't actually real. Ergo," Adam said, taking a sip of water and feeling proud of himself for remembering Latin even in this state, "you are not really here."

The ghost stared at Adam long and hard; then it grabbed the bottle from Adam and splashed some water on Adam's face, which kind of put a damper on Adam's theory, not to mention on his hair. Adam blinked at the ghost through wet lashes.

"Look, the fact that you're drunk doesn't actually negate my existence," the ghost said crossly. "And—all right, I'm sorry for that, but you'll dry off, you don't have to give me that look." The ghost's totally-not-real expression softened. "Er, let me get you a towel." Its eyes flashed yellow again—Adam's heart stopped for a moment—and suddenly Adam's yellow-striped kitchen towel was in its hand, and the ghost was gently, almost professionally, patting Adam's face and hair with it. "How about we start over," it offered. "I'm Merlin. I was entrapped in a small space for a very long time, and since you've freed me, I'm bound to grant you three wishes, and then I can go back home." The soft towel patted Adam's brow one last time. "Er, I'll also need another bottle to spend the night in." The ghost took a step back and smiled.

Its eyes were blue now, Adam noticed. Kind of light blue. And friendly. Like Casper.

"Okay," Adam said slowly. "I'm just going to go to bed and pass out now."

As he left the kitchen, he heard a small voice saying, "I'll just use this bottle here then," and then in an even smaller voice, now hollow and plasticky and echoing: "Good night."

Adam woke up in the morning with a dry mouth and a splitting headache. He remembered bits and pieces from the night before—meeting Drake at that party, getting that weird text from Kris, a vague dream about an English ghost. He slapped his hand down on the alarm, which was blaring out Ryan Seacrest on Kiss FM. There was someplace he needed to be.

His phone chimed. "Shut the fuck up," Adam groaned, and fumbled around until his fingers closed around it on the bed stand. New text message from Kris.

Weird night yesterday, may have sent embarrassing texts, please ignore. See you at the studio.

Right. The studio. They were recording a track for the season nine Idol promo today. Or learning the track. Or maybe learning and recording? Whatever it was, Adam needed to leave in half an hour if he wanted to make it with traffic.

Adam caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror on his way to the shower. Christ, he must have been in seriously bad shape last night if he hadn't even removed his makeup. He stepped under the steaming water, scrubbing his face, trying to piece together a clearer picture of the club. There had definitely been dancing. And drinking. And that piercing moment when he'd realized why Brad was trying to pull him away, trying to hide him from the sight of Drake fucking draped on a tall, leather-clad guy's shoulder – because Drake so totally had a type – and Adam didn't resent leather-clad guy, he didn't, except that he could still remember Drake's fingers in his hair and Drake's tongue on his dick and Adam had both a heart and an ego and yeah, okay, it hurt a little.

And there was no one worse for Adam when he was in a vulnerable state than Kris fucking Allen, who knew just how to ignite the crush-turned-friendship-turned-head-over-heels-turned-who-even-knew-anymore that Adam had found himself afflicted with for the past year. They were friends, always that, and God knows Adam loved him anyway, but everyone knew Kris Allen was a tease, and sometimes he would say something, or text something—Dude, you look good. Details. Naked girl. What? or Gold plaid briefs. Should I or shouldn't I? or Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be, like last night, which—what did that even mean? Or he would just give Adam this look, all smooth and calm under lowered eyelashes, serious and studying and sexy, and for those small, unexpected moments all Adam could feel would be that overwhelming loss of what might have been, if only.

But Kris was married, happily married, and probably straight, and they were really good friends, and Kris was never a good topic to think about in the shower—not when Adam was sober, and especially not when he needed to make it short if he didn't want to be late.

When he got out of the shower, he was surprised to smell something from the kitchen. Eggs, and toast, and oh dear God fresh, strong coffee, and Adam was pretty sure he hadn't brought anyone over last night but if he had, he was totally keeping him. Except that when he walked into the kitchen he was confronted by the sight of an omelet flipping itself over a sizzling pan, a cup of coffee making its way from the coffeemaker to the set table in midair, two knives buttering and spreading jam on two pieces of toast, and sitting on the counter, a painfully horribly dressed boy who looked painfully, horribly familiar. "Holy shit!" Adam yelled, and that felt familiar too. All at once, the eggs flopped onto the pan and the knives clanged on the counter and the floating coffee cup crashed to the floor. It was like someone had walked into Hogwarts and shut off the power.

The boy winced. "Have you ever thought of being a singer?" he asked, rubbing an ear with his hand. "Your voice goes really, really high."

"I thought you were a dream!" Adam said weakly.

"Yes, I know you did," the boy said cheerfully, looking like a freaking elf with his big happy ears. "Yet here I am. Told you so." He hopped off the counter. His eyes flashed yellow for a brief yet still amazingly terrifying moment, and a sweeping gesture of his arm was followed by the kitchen floor cleaning itself up.

The toaster dinged.

"Ah," the boy said. "Breakfast?"

Adam knew he should have refused—if only because he could really use some more time to freak out about this before making any decisions like accepting magically created candy from strangers. But really, the food smelled so good and he hadn't had a nice, proper breakfast in such a long time, and his previous encounters with the boy had all resulted in broken glassware and Adam really liked his things, so maybe it was time to try a different tactic.

"So, do you have any ideas for a wish yet?" the boy – Merlin, Adam remembered from last night – asked. "I don't mean to rush you, but the only way I can get home is if I fulfill your three wishes, and, well. I'm sort of needed there."

"Explain to me how this works," Adam said, pushing a piece of toast towards Merlin and gesturing, because eating alone wasn't very classy.

Merlin looked surprised at the offer. "Well," he said, breaking off a piece and putting it in his mouth, "You make a wish. I make it come true. It really isn't that complicated."

There was still the very real possibility that Adam was crazy, of course, which he was keeping in careful storage at the back of his mind for later examination. But on the other hand, there was the vodka bottle. And the floating toast. For the purposes of finishing a good breakfast and getting to work on time, Adam figured he could suspend his disbelief. "So you're like a… genie in a bottle? For real?"

"I suppose," Merlin said, chewing thoughtfully, "Except, well, a wizard, but yes."

"This is so unreal. No, I believe you," he assured Merlin when he saw his eyes widen, "but still. Wow. How do I know what to wish for?"

"I don't think there's a system to it. Just choose what's on your mind, I guess."

Adam thought back to what-might-have-been and if only, and shook his head at himself, because this was ridiculous. "But there are rules, right?" he asked. "Like, if I say, 'I wish for Kris Allen to fall in love with me—'"

"Done!" Merlin proclaimed.

Adam was up so fast that his chair toppled back with a clang. "What?"

Merlin's eyes were fading back from yellow. "Kris Allen is now in love with you."

"It was just an example! Genies can't make people fall in love! Everyone knows that!"

"Er. How?"

"It was in Aladdin," Adam said desperately, because holy shit no, no, no, Kris could not actually be in love with him, everybody fucking knew that love spells never worked. It was in the movies.

"I don't know what Aladdin is," Merlin said. "But I'm a wizard, not a genie? I think we're better."

Maybe it wasn't Kris. Maybe it was Kris Allen, Christian country singer. Adam didn't know what he would do if Kris Allen, Christian country singer was in love with him, except that it would probably involve Southern courting rituals of some kind, and Adam's security could deal with it without too much trauma. Hell, Adam would give the guy a fucking round in bed if it meant that Merlin hadn't done anything to Kris. "How do you know it was the right Kris Allen?"

"Oh, I don't, but the spell does. Don't worry. Kris Allen is deeeefinitely in love with you now." Merlin smiled brightly, and added in a small voice, "Hurrah!"

It was probably just a mistake, Adam told himself—repeatedly—on his way to the studio. He'd misunderstood Merlin, or—maybe Merlin had misunderstood his own powers. And if it wasn't a mistake it would still be okay because he and Kris were friends and Kris was married and Kris was a rational human being, and they would deal with this like the adults they pretended to be, excluding any time Kris was wearing those dinosaur patterned pajama pants of his, because there was no pretending to be an adult in those. Adam could always use his second wish to un-wish it, as Merlin had glumly suggested before Adam left. It would be a shame, because Adam could also wish for great skin or fast metabolism or peace on Earth, but you win some, you lose some.

Really, though, it was probably just a mistake.

Please, Adam prayed, let it be a mistake.

Kris was waiting for Adam on the front steps of the building, wearing a heavy coat entirely unsuited for California winters and a pair of sunglasses that hid his eyes. "Honey," he said, and that was it, Adam was going to kill Merlin. He was going to go read up on genies and wizards and the ways of extermination thereof, and then he was going to drink a lot.

"—And lemon," Kris continued, holding out a cup of steaming tea. "Works magic. Drink up, man, we got work to do."

...Oh. Adam let out a breath. "Thanks," he said, taking the cup from Kris's hand. Their fingers brushed slightly, but just the normal amount, Adam thought, not like, I'm going to seduce Adam with lingering touches of my adorably small but manly fingers around seemingly mundane objects. It was just a meaningless touch.

"Gotta keep the golden boy's voice in good shape." Kris nudged Adam's shoulder. Which was okay; Kris touched Adam all the time. He was a touchy guy. It wasn't suspicious at all. Adam really had to stop analyzing everything Kris did. He put the cup to his lips, gingerly taking a sip.

Kris took off his sunglasses. "Mmm, that's hot," he said in a low voice, his eyes on Adam's mouth. Adam did a spit-take, and continued coughing as Kris looked at him like he was crazy. "The tea," Kris pointed out. "Dude, are you okay?"

"Shit, sorry," Adam said, except it came out more like thit, thorry because his tongue was burning. "Yeah, I'm fine. Let's just go inside."

Kris gave him a dubious look, but shrugged and led the way into the studio. Adam kept himself a safe distance behind. He took another long sip of his tea, absently wishing it were spiked. Not out loud, though, because he was never wishing for anything out loud ever again, even if things seemed to be pretty normal with Kris so far. Adam wondered whether Kris Allen and Southern Thunder would be banging down his door by the end of the day, after all.

"Seriously, man, are you okay?" Kris asked, glancing back at Adam; Adam only just stopped himself from crashing into him. "You look beat."

No, Adam thought, just mildly panicked that at any moment you or your Christian country counterpart will decide to jump me.

"Rough night," Adam said.

"Me too." Kris pursed his lips to the side. "Not that I spent it – well, probably not like yours, I mean. I mean, uh – I didn't mean it like that." Kris paused, looking embarrassed. "Shoot."

And suddenly Kris was just Kris again – adorable, fumbling, and one of Adam's best friends. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off Adam's chest. He'd been acting like a complete idiot; whatever was or wasn't going on with Merlin, Kris was himself, and Adam could go back to being himself, too.

"Kris Allen, are you trying to say you had a rough night?" he teased.

"Shut up." The color rose slightly in Kris's cheeks.

Adam laughed. "Wanna tell me about it?"

Kris blushed even more strongly. "How about not." He narrowed his eyes at Adam. "What about you, being all—" Kris wiggled his hand around vaguely "—jumpy?"

Adam gave Kris an appraising glance, and for a moment he considered telling Kris everything. But that would entail actually saying the words, So, I may have wished for you to fall in love with me out loud, which, no. One hundred times, no. In the end he sighed, and said, "You don't even want to know."

Things were normal for the rest of the morning. Recording the vocals for the twenty-second track took less time than Adam had expected it would, and hanging out with Kris was easy and fun. They'd been able to keep in touch pretty well over the months since the Idol tour, but it was still rare for them to get to spend actual time together; so when the kind gentlewomen of FOX dismissed them at noon, it only felt natural to invite Kris to grab a cup of coffee.

"Sure," Kris said, after a pause for consideration that felt just a half-second too long. "Yeah, okay. I just need to call Katy." For some reason, Kris stepped out of the room to make the phone call. Adam didn't pay it too much attention, though, and figured that as long as he was alone, he might as well make use of the time to make a call of his own.

Merlin picked up after the third ring. "Lambert chambers."

"Chambers? Really?"

"What—oh, right. You call them apartments."

Adam actually preferred the term one step away from a superstar mansion, but he was in a generous mood right now. "No, you can call it chambers. I like it! People will think I built an S&M dungeon and that you're my new slave."

"Er," said Merlin.

"I could call you Simon, and then people would really get Freudian."

"Is the purpose of this conversation to mock me?" Merlin asked. "Because I really do get that enough even when I'm not enslaved as a wish-fulfiller."

Adam chuckled. "No. I just wanted to tell you that it's all cool, you're off the hook. I've been with Kris all day, and he's been acting exactly the same as always."

"No un-wishing, then?"

"Nope." Kris entered the room again, so Adam lowered his voice. "We'll talk when I get home tonight."

"In that case, I'll be napping in my bottle."

"Fine," Adam laughed. "Go to sleep."

When he hung up the phone, Kris raised an eyebrow at him. "Who was that?"

Adam pulled on his coat and scarf to buy himself time to think. "Houseguest," he said. Kris furrowed his brow, but didn't say anything, even if he looked like he might have wanted to. "Come on," Adam said. "Coffee time."

The thing was, now that the idea of a relationship with Kris had been triggered in Adam's mind, implausible and impossible as it was, it was really, really hard to stop looking for clues that Kris wanted him. Or, to be more precise—if Adam were to be totally honest with himself—it was hard to stop looking at Kris, period. Over the long period of his acquaintance with Kris, Adam had pretty competently honed his ability to categorize Kris under "strictly platonic" as opposed to "yes please", but just like last night, it was as if that switch in Adam's brain had been turned on again after being tamped down.

And Kris, being Kris, was making it so easy. California might not be New York, but it was still cold outside in mid-December; not cold enough, though, to stop the American Idol from opening the shirt under his jacket two buttons too many, revealing a strip of miraculously tanned and damn lickable skin. Kris was also doing that thing where he tossed his head back in laughter, showing off that long, smooth neck, his Adam's apple—which Adam felt irrationally possessive about; it was his name, so sue him—bobbing up and down, just like it did when Kris threw himself completely into singing onstage. And then there was the way Kris smacked his lips every time he made a self-deprecating joke, like Adam wasn't already perfectly aware that they were there, thank you very much, or the way that Kris's gaze would occasionally fall on Adam, eyes dark and sly and crinkling at the corners, and it was so, so easy to read meanings and signals that weren't really there.

Coffee turned into an early lunch at a small Italian place down the block from the studio, where they were joined by Tommy, who'd passed by on his way in. By the time Kris was licking, nay, ravaging his spoon of the last of the chocolate syrup—because of course Kris Allen and his supernatural metabolism could afford to have dessert after lunch—Adam was both fighting the urge to stare at his mouth, and fighting the urge to read something into the fact that Kris was maybe-almost-but-probably-not checking out Adam's reaction from behind half-lidded eyes. When Kris excused himself to go to the bathroom, Adam scooted closer to Tommy. "Have you noticed Kris acting weird today?"

Tommy shrugged, picking a slice of tomato off of Adam's plate. "Not any differently than any other time I've met him."

Adam sat back, relaxing a little. Tommy had good instincts about people.

When Kris came back out, he was holding a popsicle—which made so much sense in this weather—in one hand, and slipping his phone into his pocket with the other. "Apparently I have a couple hours free," Kris said. "I don't have to be at NBC till three. You guys have any plans?" He sucked the tip of the popsicle casually, dyeing his lips and tongue a strong strawberry pink. Adam forced himself not to groan out loud.

"Rehearsal," he managed. Tommy lifted a pale, amused eyebrow in Adam's direction. Adam patently ignored him. "You know you're welcome to join us."

"Maybe you can learn and give your guitarist tips on how to move a little," Tommy added, smirking. The idea that Tommy paid enough attention to remember Kris's guitarist—who, Adam sadly concurred, tended to play his guitar as if he were an ornamental block of wood—made Adam unexpectedly pleased.

"Andrew?" Kris sighed. "Yeah, we're working on it."

Rehearsal went well.

Okay, no, rehearsal went fucking fantastic. They were finally working on new stuff; Adam loved Whataya Want From Me, he really did, but he was itching to finally sing songs with an actual dance beat on New Year's Eve. The band was getting really comfortable, backup voices and music consolidating with practice into something whole, and Adam was letting loose with the vocals. He couldn't deny that Kris's presence was affecting his performance; it was fun to have an audience he could put on a show for, and it was especially fun to have that audience be Kris, whose grin was almost challenging. Come on, it seemed to say, just try to shock me. Adam raised his voice to outrageous falsettos just because he could, Kris's forte more than his own but Adam could go fucking high when he wanted to, grinning widely when Kris raised his arms in surrender. He danced and gyrated, letting himself drown in the music and lyrics.

"I wanna see you, touch you one on one," he sang at Tommy, dragging a hand down his back, and Tommy smirked and moved with him because Adam had the best band ever. The beat of the chorus pounded through him, bass traveling from his feet to his chest, loud and sexy; he focused his attention on the audience. "Your skin is burning at the sight of me—" Kris's eyes widened imperceptibly—"Your mask can't hide what you're thinking. Don't ask—" he swerved to Tommy, breathing into his ear—"Don't tell," and Tommy shivered and turned and ground his ass against Adam, and that was it, the rest of the song, him Tommy and the music, wild and playful and hot.

When the song was done he let out an exhilarated whoop, clapping his hands a few times because his guys fucking rocked. "You could pay me some attention too, you know," Lisa said wryly, and Tommy ran a hand through his hair, smirking, "Jealous?", and Monte suggested, "Maybe you should save the part where you're draped all over one another for the bridge," so it took a couple of moments for Adam to get down from his high and realize that Kris was still sitting in the room, wearing a deep scowl on his face.

He frowned. "Kris?"

"Yeah." Kris's voice held faint edges of tension, which, for Kris Allen, was saying a lot. "It was good."

Adam raised his eyebrows. "The vocals or the show?"

"Um, both," he said. "You could, uh, pay Lisa more attention like she said, but it was great, man." Kris stood up. "I should go." He strapped his bag over his shoulder, flatly skimming all their faces, lingering on Tommy, and then he turned back to Adam abruptly. "Hey, you wanna come with?"

"I'm—working," Adam said, bewildered.

"Well, if you want, I mean." Kris shrugged, suddenly looking a little sheepish. "It's Jimmy Fallon. Robert Pattinson's gonna be on, no one'll notice you. It's supposed to be fun."

Adam shouldn't, it would be totally unprofessional, but—Kris was making that puppy dog face that he probably didn't even realize he made, plus with these mood swings Adam was still a little bit worried that Merlin had somehow given him some kind of brain damage. And it had honestly been fun hanging out together all day long. Adam didn't know when they'd get the chance to do it again. Damn it, he used to be spontaneous.

The struggle must have shown on his face, because the next thing he heard was Tommy saying, "Go. We could use some more practice on the set list without you anyway."

Tommy was either being a sweetheart or messing with him somehow, and Adam wasn't sure which. "You sure?"

"Scoot." Tommy made a little shooing motion with his guitar. "We have no use here for people who don't play instruments." Longineu played a rimshot, Tommy flipped him the finger, and next thing Kris and Adam were walking down to Adam's car, because it made more sense to share and Kris drove like an old lady on diazepam.

It had been a long time since Adam had come to see someone perform strictly in a cheerleading capacity. He considered lowering his shades and pulling up his scarf because he'd hate to steal any attention away from Kris at his own show; but Adam's hair was done up high and spiky and awesome, and he was not about to flatten it for anonymity's sake. Adam had his limits.

Still, he managed to stay fairly inconspicuous, using the back entrance to the lot and slinking into the studio with Kris. Kris's mood seemed to lift again when he saw his band; there was a cheerful round of bro-hugs and manly slaps on the back. And Kris was totally back to himself during sound check, bouncing and wiggling around on stage like he was singing in the shower and no one else was watching. Except that if Kris were singing in the shower he wouldn't be wearing those excruciatingly tight jeans or that lumberjack stripper half-buttoned shirt, and would in fact be—

Adam resolutely cut off the train of thought, because he was so not going there. Not again. Instead, he focused on Kris's voice; "Chestnuts roasting," Kris sang, eyes closed, jazzy and smooth. It was a perfect Kris Allen arrangement, and Adam smiled, standing off to the side of the stage. You could be the biggest Grinch in the world and hearing Kris's performance would still make you feel warm and fuzzy and homey, like someone was enveloping you in a big cozy hug from behind, snuggling in front of a fireplace. Adam closed his eyes as well, letting Kris's voice and soft guitars roll over him.

When he opened his eyes, Kris was looking at him. Still singing, just—singing at Adam. Singing at Adam and doing that thing to his microphone, which was completely unfair, because Adam had been trying to get over this all day, and fuck it, he couldn't even decide whether he was more delighted that Kris was fellating his microphone singing Christmas carols, or annoyed that he was doing it while staring so intensely at Adam. Not unlike the way he might stare at, say, a Chick-Fil-A chargrilled club sandwich. That he wanted to fuck.

Adam felt his heart start to race. While despoiling microphones was definitely within the spectrum of normal Kris Allen behavior, actually winking as he sang, "Make the yuletide gay" was very possibly not.

Adam took out his phone and dialed Tommy. "So this morning you told me Kris wasn't acting weird."

"I told you he was acting the same as always."

"I think he was trying to flirt," Adam hissed.

Tommy started to laugh. "Honey, flirting is Kris's default setting when he's around you."

Kris was still looking at Adam with that mischievous glint in his eye. "Okay, but Kris flirts with everyone."

"Look, I don't know the guy that well, but from what I've seen of him? It's just you." Tommy paused. "And sometimes that MTV guy."

"Christ, I hate you." Adam hung up on Tommy cracking up in the background.

Merlin wasn't picking up the phone, because apparently genies came with extremely crappy customer service and without twenty-four hour tech support. It was so awesome having a genie who spent all day napping in his bottle after enchanting Adam's best friend to fall in love with him. Really. Adam tried not to be bitter, but this was not the way Christina's song had made genies out to be.

Really, the best thing Adam could do right now was to get as far away from Kris as he could, get home, and un-wish the whole thing.

Unfortunately, he bumped into Jay Leno on his way out of the studio, and Jay was thrilled to see him because they were just filming a short segment about mistletoe and would he—? And before Adam could politely decline because hello, love spell, Jay said, "Of course, if you want to check in with your publicist—", and fuck that.

And so it was that he was slowly leaning in to kiss Jay Leno's correspondent under a dangling branch of mistletoe when Kris rounded the corner and stopped in his tracks.

"All right, that's it," Kris said darkly, marching up to Adam and grabbing his hand. The cameraman cut away, and the correspondent managed to put in a "Thanks, man," before Adam was being dragged away down the corridor and past a few startled interns, and then around the corner into a storage closet with the door shutting closed behind them, and the next thing Adam felt was his back slamming into the wall with a thud.

Kris closed in on him like prey, one palm splayed flat on Adam's chest and the other against the wall by Adam's head. "So here's the thing—" he said, and crushed his lips against Adam's.

Kris was kissing him, hot and rough and possessive, his hand curling in the fabric of Adam's shirt and pulling him closer. It was like getting the breath knocked out of him and taking a deep breath at once; Adam closed his eyes and parted his lips, his body following motions that had played out in his mind so many times before, but overloaded with the senses of here and now: Kris's scent and his taste and the sounds he was making, the strength with which he gripped Adam, the way he shivered when Adam licked inside his mouth—

"Fuck," Adam said, tearing himself away from Kris.

"Mmm, if you insist," Kris murmured, apparently taking this as an invitation to lean forward and kiss Adam again.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, Adam thought, turning his head so that Kris would miss his mark, which only made Kris decide to focus on Adam's neck instead. "We can't do this."

"I don't know, man," Kris said, licking a strip beneath Adam's jaw, fuck, and then he rolled his hips forward and—oh—Adam could feel just how into this he was. "I'm feeling up for it."

"Oh, God," Adam said, "even now you're making the dorkiest jokes ever." It was so hard to keep his head clear with Kris infiltrating his nostrils like a drug, musky and still sweaty from the show; with Kris literally breathing down his neck, his mouth grazing Adam's shoulders.

"Oh, I can keep my mouth shut." Adam felt Kris's lips curve into a smile, starting to move downwards. "If you want." Adam laughed a little desperately because dear god on earth could he think of things that would occupy Kris's mouth, like the ten different images attacking him at once—"No," he said frantically, pushing Kris away.

Kris shifted his weight back to his heels, his body still leaning towards Adam, hands on Adam's chest. "Why not?"

"Because none of this is real. Christ." Adam closed his eyes and swallowed. "Just go home and sleep it off and tomorrow we'll pretend none of this ever happened."

"Adam," Kris said, and then more firmly so Adam would look at him, "Adam. It's me."

Adam's heart hurt as he looked at Kris's expression, so deceptively honest. "It's not."

"Are you having, like, an existential crisis here?" Kris's fingers were drawing small patterns on Adam's chest. It felt so good, warm and comfortable; just half a step more intimate than he would usually touch Adam, but that separation might as well have been a canyon. "Cause like, this isn't totally out of the blue. I thought we were kinda on the same page here."

"What about Katy?" Adam said helplessly.

"This is about us, not Katy," Kris said, still trailing with his fingers, and Adam grabbed his wrists to stop him because that was over the fucking line, but Kris continued earnestly, "No, look, she understands. We even experimented with some stuff last night—"


It would be so easy to just say yes, to listen to Kris's excuses and accept them at face value. To let Kris kiss him and blow him and then fuck Kris against the wall, or maybe on a couch—there should be props around here somewhere—and later in his car, and in his bed, and in the shower, and—

And just because Adam was going through a dry spell the size of forever, and just because he was still, God, not over Kris Allen, did not mean that he should ruin his friendship with Kris and ruin Kris's marriage in one stupid move.

Having ethics fucking sucked.

Kris was looking up at him, wide blinking brown eyes. Adam lowered Kris's hands gently. "You're not gonna believe me right now, but this is all just a big mistake, okay? You're not really feeling this. It was a…" Adam took a breath, figuring what the hell, he was already screwed anyhow. "It was a spell. My fault. It'll be okay tomorrow, okay?"

"Riiiight," Kris said. "Look, if you feel so strongly about it that you're all—" Kris waved his hand around, presumably indicating Adam's deteriorating mental faculties— "then okay, hands off for now. But this isn't over."

Adam couldn't help the smile that crept up onto his face. "Is that a warning?"

"I'm small and sneaky. You won't expect me."

"You mean like sneak seduction?" Adam said. "I'll watch out for that."

"I'm serious," Kris said, finally taking a step back, heading backwards towards the door. "I'm like that ninja cat on youtube."

"Go do your show," Adam ordered.

Adam didn't wait a full minute after Kris left to follow him out to the hall and head in the opposite direction. Adam was well due for a freak out, but he wasn't going to do it in the closet.

"Look, you were the one who made the wish!"

"Accidentally," Adam repeated. "And oh my God, what were you doing here all day? How long can you sleep?"

Merlin looked affronted. "I was—what's the word. With the flying ships and the time change."

Adam stopped for a moment. "Jet-lagged?"

"Yes!" Merlin crossed his arms. "It's not like I enjoy being cooped up in a bottle, you know. It comes with the trade."

"Whatever. I'm going to make my second wish now." Adam walked towards his liquor cabinet, but changed his mind halfway there. He should probably be sober this time around.

"Whenever you're ready," Merlin said, and sighed wistfully. "I still think it was a nice wish."

Adam gave him a disbelieving look. "Having someone throw themselves at you only because they were programmed to by magic? Yeah. It's awesome." He laughed bitterly. "I don't even know if we could ever really work, and… this wasn't real. It wasn't natural."

"Is that what you'd like?" Merlin asked closely. "To know whether you and Kris could ever be together?"

Adam considered it for a moment. "Well, sure, but—wait, shit, no!" he yelled, too late; Merlin's eyes were already flashing yellow. "Merlin!"

"You know, you're really starting to sound like someone I know when you use that tone of voice," Merlin said reproachfully. Adam stared. "It's not very becoming for either of you."

"I—" Adam said, and then just gave up, turned on his heels, and slammed the door to the bedroom behind him. He couldn't even guess what Merlin had done, but he would deal with it in the morning, when he could think clearly and carefully about how to make this all go away without making any more stupid wishes.

He watched Conan from bed. Kris kicked ass onstage, eyes squeezed shut, lips parted, and feet looking like they were each trying to climb the other the way he was squirming and kicking them around; but when he sang so if your life flashed before you, what would you wish you would have done, he stared directly into the camera, and Adam could still feel his taste on his lips.

Adam clicked off the TV, rolled over, and went to sleep.

Even before he opened his eyes, Adam could feel the sunlight spilling bright and welcoming into the room through the drapes he'd forgotten to close. He curled into the warm body nestled comfortably against his back, feeling all of yesterday's tension evaporate from his body; safe and relaxed like he couldn't remember being for a long time. The arm thrown across his chest tightened its hold briefly, and Adam smiled at the soft puff of breath against his neck, the faint scratch of stubble and—

—oh shit—

—the lazy, mumbled, familiar, "Morning."

Adam's eyes flew open. He counted to ten, breathing steadily; really, he didn't know whether the bigger tragedy was that he'd slept with Kris and it wasn't even real, or that he'd slept with Kris and he couldn't even remember it. Collecting the tattered remnants of his cool, Adam disentangled himself from the arm around his chest—most emphatically did not have any impure thoughts when guitar-calloused fingertips brushed his skin—and got out of bed. Kris let out an unhappy little noise, trying to cling to Adam for a second longer, but Adam forcibly ignored him, slipping into a pair of briefs and jeans from the closet before daring to turn around and look at his bed.

Adam never would have imagined that when confronted with the sight of Kris Allen in his bed for the first time, his attention would not be caught by the way the white sheets tangled in Kris's legs; nor by the smooth, muscled expanse of Kris's back, dipping delicately and disappearing beneath the sheets; nor by the way his hair was all sticking-up and quirky and possibly actually alive; not even by the sleepy, almost drugged smile he was wearing in the morning light.

Well, okay, Adam did spare a moment to assess what, in exact detail, he would be missing for the rest of his life. But in the end, all of that took second place to the fucking goatee.

"Dude," Kris said, blinking. "You look different."

Adam wasn't a fan of gawking, but he was man enough to admit there was no other way to put it. "I'm sorry, I look different?"

Kris pulled the sheets up to better wrap them around his waist, which was a relief, one hundred percent a relief, and absolutely did not involve Adam sadfacing inside. "Your hair—" Kris started, and Adam pretty much sprinted to the closet mirror because god, what if something happened to his hair? "—it's, there's no red."

"…Yes," he said, because it was easier to focus on the small things, and thank god, he looked okay. He turned to Kris, still clutching his hair protectively. "That's the purpose of the black dye."

"No, I mean those red streaks, like Allison. But hey, if you wanna go back to black," he leaned back on his elbows, smile sly and inviting, "I like it either way."

Adam could barely even remember what he could possibly have told Merlin last night that would lead to this, but a thought was beginning to form in his head. It made sense, in a way. Maybe.

"I would like to say, for the record, that I have no idea what is actually going on here," Adam stated. "That said, I think I know what's going on."

"Is this a game?" Kris said. "Because you have to warn me about those, you know I suck at improvising."

Adam ignored him. "You're in my bed," Adam said, ticking off on his fingers.

"That is correct, sir."

"And your hair is shorter," Adam continued. "Barely, but I know hair. Also, your toenails are painted green. I don't know what that's about."

"Dude, believe me, I don't either—you were the one who painted them—"

"—But most importantly, you have a goatee."

Kris fell back on the pillows. "I told you, it's not a goatee! It's a refined stubble… thing. Cale said it was Johnny Deppish," Kris added unconvincingly, and then took in Adam's flat expression and sighed, resigned, like they'd already fought this battle a million times. "Okay, you know what, fine. I'll shave it. Happy?"

"Ha," Adam said, not laughing, "No. Because clearly," he said, finally reaching the inescapable conclusion, "you aren't really Kris. You are evil Kris from another dimension."

It was so obvious. Adam still wasn't sure how this fulfilled his clusterfuck of a wish in any way, but come on. Kris had a goatee. QE fucking D.

Kris didn't even pause—no dramatic confessions, no two-faced denials, no grudging respect for Adam's rapid deduction skills—just a slightly dubious expression as he sat up fully this time, and said, "Are we doing Star Trek? Because I think I have those ears Zach Quinto gave me lying around somewhere, but I'll have to go back to my old place—" Kris started to get up, still, thank god, wrapped in the sheet, like a small perfect toga-clad philosopher. A philosopher of Satan, maybe. Who knew where Merlin had dredged this guy from, really.

"Leave it," Adam said tiredly. "Look, I'm going to go get Merlin to get us out of this mess. Don't do anything evil while I'm gone."

"Adam, what the—" Kris said, and oh, that was adorable, he wasn't even cursing. "Are you mad or something? Hey, come on," he said, grabbing Adam's hand, sliding his thumb across Adam's wrist soothingly, and Adam couldn't help but lean towards him a little. "Look, seriously, I'll shave it off if it's bothering you that much. Cale was probably lying to make himself look better anyway." Kris brought Adam's palm to his lips, and—god, even if he was evil, maybe—it's not like it was really Kris anyway—

"Okay, this is really weird," Kris said, moving Adam's hand away to look at his wrist closely. "The purple line from your tattoo is gone. I don't think that's supposed to happen."

Adam froze. He'd been thinking about getting an extra outline below the Eye of Horus, because there was no reason his tattoo shouldn't have awesome eyeliner; he'd even talked dates with Danielle, maybe getting it for his birthday—a new year, something symbolic. He had definitely never told Kris this. A new idea began to tug at the back of his mind—that maybe, maybe, it wasn't that Kris was evil per se, but that he was something entirely—unbelievably—different.

"So hey," Kris said, and he and Adam had always had an uncanny way of sharing thoughts, so Adam wasn't really surprised to hear him say: "What year is this, anyway?"

"2009," Adam replied warily, but then turned on the TV, hitting mute, just to make sure he was right. The date blinked back at him from the top left corner of the screen; he was.

"Huh," Kris said, in the sort of tone that one would use to say, Huh, the Times changed their crossword puzzle font to Arial, or Huh, we're out of applesauce. It was definitely not the tone Adam would use to say Huh, I'm not in the year I thought I was, but then, Adam's name clearly wasn't Kris Allen, Mr. Unflappable 2009. Or thereabouts. "I'm from 2012. So, that makes sense."

"Of course it does," Adam said dryly, and then sat down limply on the bed because Jesus fucking Christ, his life. Maybe he should just give up and accept his fate as one forever doomed to have some kind of screwed up and magically-screwed-with relationship with Kris. Kris sat down next to him. "In the interest of full disclosure," Adam said, rubbing his forehead, "I should tell you that you're here because I found a genie named Merlin and I can't keep my mouth shut."

"Whoa." Kris blinked. "Okay, that is freaky." He added, "I already knew the second bit."

Adam snorted, and then felt Kris's hand on his back, rubbing gently, like he was scared Adam was going to run away or something. "Anyway," Adam said, "sorry for taking you out of your life. I'll get you back, I promise."

"I know you will," Kris said, absolute faith in his voice, which made Adam's heart ache a little. He could feel Kris move, shifting so that he was on his knees behind Adam, hands moving up towards Adam's shoulders, and suddenly Adam was very aware of the fact that the only things separating them were Adam's jeans and the thin sheet spread across Kris's lap, which, god, they really needed to cover Kris up with something that didn't make Adam want to lean back and pull Kris down to—actually, at this point there probably wasn't much they could do about the wanting. Adam could fucking control himself anyway.

Enough, at least, to ask, "So how's Katy in 2012?"

Kris chuckled softly behind him. "She's good. She's, you know, working, and she's started seeing that guy from Teme—oh wait, I don't think they've even started filming that yet, you won't know who I'm talking about."

"So you're—separated?" he asked neutrally.

"Divorced." The finality of the word made Adam's heart start to hammer in his chest. Kris kept kneading his shoulders, strong and good and totally unbothered by the conversation. "Almost two years now."

Adam could see how that might unfold: Kris, infatuated under Merlin's spell, relentless in pursuing Adam because it was magic and it wasn't like not like he could help it; Katy, unable to stand it anymore and finally leaving, and Adam swooping in to reap the spoils—spoils, because talk about objectification, but that's exactly what Kris would be at that point. And Adam would have won a whole damn life based on a lie.

He felt Kris's heat against his back, Kris leaning forward until they were pressed together; Kris wrapped his arms around him, hair and stubble tickling Adam's cheek, the corner of his eye. "Adam," Kris said, "relax," and Adam didn't think he could do this, or at least he knew that he shouldn't do this, but when Kris licked into his ear he still shivered with a sigh and maybe a moan, because in spite of all the bullshit here, that was still a very real hard-on pressed against his back. Maybe he could—just once, with a Kris who wasn't even real, just to know what it felt like before losing the possibility forever—Adam twisted his head so he could meet Kris's lips, and Kris smiled against his mouth, "That's more like it," one hand cradling Adam's neck and jaw and pulling him in closer, drinking him in, shifting again so he could pretty much climb on top of Adam—

"What the heck," Kris said from the doorway—Kris in blue jeans and yellow plaid, holding a guitar in his left hand and nearly giving Adam a heart attack. He tilted his head to the side, studying Adam and future Kris. "Whoa." He blinked. "Okay, that is freaky."

"Um," Adam said, feeling kind of fucking horrible, and he practically had no shame, ever. "So, you remember I told you about a spell yesterday?"


"It was all true."

"I am beginning to realize that," Kris said, still staring at future-Kris. "Huh."

Thankfully, future-Kris was already climbing back off of Adam without Adam having to, like, throw him off, and suddenly Adam remembered that Kris's presence in his bedroom—let alone Kris's presences—wasn't exactly something he should be taking for granted. "What are you even doing here?"

"Remember I told you about a sneak seduction yesterday?" He raised his guitar up for display, looking a little embarrassed. "Tada."

"Nice, man," future-Kris said with approval. "He loves it when you play him stuff."

Real Kris flushed. "Cool, man. Thanks. Uh—I'm Kris, by the way."

"Likewise," future-Kris said, and wow, they were truly fascinating to watch. It was like they were both going for gold in the Nonchalance Olympics. "I'm from 2012."

Real Kris's eyes widened for a split-second. "Oh, wow. Is—"

"No," future-Kris said.

"Cool," said real Kris, and then they were both grinning at one another, and Adam was pretty sure he'd just missed a really dorky joke about the apocalypse but they could just as easily have been talking about the Arkansas Somethings' ten year winning streak, or losing streak, or who the fuck knew, really.

"And you and Adam—" real Kris asked.

Future-Kris smirked. "Oh, yeah."

"And you and Katy—" Future-Kris shook his head. "Yeah," real Kris said. "I figured."

"This," Adam said, talking mostly to himself, because obviously the Krises were enjoying catching up with one another and were possibly on the path to opening their own morning talk show, "is so much more surreal than acid-tripping at Burning Man, I don't even have the words for it."

Future-Kris and real Kris exchanged a long look, and suddenly two alarmingly interested gazes were being directed at Adam. "You know," future-Kris said, "Having both of us here doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing." He slunk forward to the front of the bed—how did he keep that sheet from falling off? He obviously got a lot of practice at this kind of thing in the future—and lounged there lazily, trailing a finger across his own chest like a fucking porn star, Christ. "Kris," he said in a low, sexy voice, "I can teach you a few things about Adam, if you want."

Adam's mouth went suddenly dry. So, apparently, did Kris's; he swallowed, then licked his lips, tiny pink tongue darting out between his teeth; he bit down on it, drew in a slow breath, and said, "Kind of a lot, yes." His voice was slightly uneven.

"Awesome," future-Kris said, and reached out to pull Adam in towards the bed, which was really harder to resist that he'd have thought—maybe Adam needed to buy rugs with more friction or something. And future-Kris had this amused, wicked look in his eye, the one that Adam always knew sex would bring out in him; he looked like he could see right through Adam, knew all his tells and all his secrets, knew that he singlehandedly held the one key that could unlock Adam completely.

Real Kris looked like he wanted to own that key more than anything in the entire fucking world.

Adam took in a shuddering breath. "Shit," he said, and then spun around and marched out of the room.

Last night, Merlin had migrated from his bottle of mineral water to the slightly more spacious, delicate Italian fiasco; which, Adam thought, was all too appropriate a name, considering.

Adam tried rubbing the bottle, then opening it and yelling Merlin's name inside. Nothing happened. He really hoped he wouldn't have to drink all the way down to the bottom for this to work, although frankly, it's not like he wasn't up for it at the moment. At least yelling into a bottle was giving his dick some time to cool off, because seriously. Resisting the advances of three Krises within twenty four hours was, Adam was pretty sure, included in the Geneva Convention as an official form of torture.

"Finally!" he said, when Merlin finally showed up, swirly smoke-like substance resolving itself into the same unfortunately-clothed wizard. "Where the hell were you?"

"Have you even considered the possibility that I was out saving your life, you arrogant, self-centered prat?"

Adam was so surprised by Merlin's vehemence that he took a step back. "Were you?"

Merlin signed mournfully. "No, but I've been wanting to say that for the longest time. Sorry, I was washing my hair."

"In my Chianti?"

Merlin rolled his eyes. "Not quite that literally. I am magic, you know."

"Oh, I've noticed." Adam's eyes narrowed. "Listen, I'm going to make my last wish nice and clear, just so we don't have any more miscommunication here. I am hereby officially un-wishing my previous two wishes. I just want you to take us back to before it all happened."

Merlin wrung his hands together, twiddling his kerchief for a moment. "All right, to take you back to before this all happened," he repeated. "You're sure?"


Merlin lifted his eyebrows. "All right, then—" and then his eyes flashed yellow—

—and then the whole world flashed yellow—

—Adam felt a lurch

—and then he was sprawled on a low mound of wet grass, gasping for breath, and Kris was there too with his plaid and his guitar, and in the far, far distance, a gleaming white castle rose on a hill.


Adam turned around to look at Merlin, who was standing sheepishly in the short grass, looking right at home.


At least Kris didn't seem to be in love with him anymore. Or at least, he was back to being his normal levels of flirty, and not, like, his I-am-conducting-immersive-empirical-research-on-the-behavioral-patterns-of-the-femme-fatale levels of flirty. They were baby steps, but oh, so welcome.

They'd even managed to side-step the awkward. It was most by virtue of the fact that Kris had said, "You know, this doesn't have to be awkward if we don't want it to be," and Adam was a great believer in the power of positive thinking in creating a desired reality, which had gotten him through American Idol after all. No reason it shouldn't apply here too.

"Man, it's cold out here," Kris said, his feet trudging in muddy grass, guitar slung over his shoulder. He looked like a little hobbit embarking on a journey. He turned to Merlin, marching at his side. "Can I have a—"

"No," Adam vetoed immediately.

Kris pouted. "But my neck is cold."

"Button up your shirt," Adam suggested, unimpressed. "I am not letting you wear a neckerchief. Your publicists have had to work hard enough to beat the hick out of you, and I am not letting you just take a huge, horrible step back in time." Adam grimaced. "So to speak."

"Merlin conjured up clothes for you," Kris said.

"Yeah, well, I was half-naked."

"I was all naked," Kris said under his breath.

"Other you."

"Could both of you shut up please?" Merlin said. "I'm trying to think of a plan, and your bickering isn't exactly helpful."

"I thought the plan was to go see the Dragon," Kris said.

"Yes, but it's not like you can just walk up to him and say, 'Oh, hello, can you please perform this bit of petty magic for me?'" Merlin absently tapped his walking stick against a stray rock. "Or, well, you can, but then you're running the risk of him losing his temper and sending you to the future so you can feel for yourself what it's like to be entrapped and forced to cater to the desires of feeble-minded imbeciles—his words, not mine," Merlin added, although he didn't exactly look like he disagreed. "Not that I'm speaking from experience."

Kris and Adam exchanged a look. "Dragon sounds like a drag," Adam said wryly, and Kris snickered, because yes, Adam's wit under duress could use some work; still, it made something in Adam's chest ease a little, warming the chilly air around them.

When the sun began to set, Merlin set up camp for them in a small cave in the middle of the forest. Kris was, it turned out, a miserable failure at lighting a fire with friction, and Adam was not even going to bother trying without a Zippo. It was Merlin who ended up igniting a small spark with a whispered word—but only after five extremely paranoid minutes of searching for any sign of human presence within a hundred yard radius.

"Is that really necessary?" Adam asked, after the fourth time Merlin jumped to his feet at the sound of a cracking twig, which turned out—again—to be Kris feeding scraps to a wandering rabbit. "You're freaking me out."

Merlin scowled, sitting back down. "Camelot isn't as safe as your City of Angeles. We have monsters, and bandits, and since I'm utterly useless at handling a sword myself, and I very much doubt either of you would be able to contribute anything towards ensuring our safety in the event that we're attacked, it really would be best if we all kept our heads down."

Kris strolled back to the campfire, folding himself down to sit against a large rock. "But if anything happened, couldn't you just—" Kris flicked his fingers at the air. "Poof?"

Merlin poked his stick at the fire, a little angrily. "I've told you already. Sorcery is illegal in Camelot. If anyone finds out about me, they'll put me to the stake. I'm not actually that fond of fire," he said, emphasizing his words with another sharp jab at the flames.

"That's gotta be rough," Kris said quietly.

Merlin shrugged, letting the stick drop to the ground. "Not like I can do anything about it. I was born this way."

Kris was looking at Merlin, soft and compassionate, and Adam was suddenly reminded that Kris had gone on mission trips around the world; he was glad, because for some reason Adam was finding it hard to speak.

"Can't you just leave Camelot, then?" Kris asked.

"No," Merlin said shortly, and didn't elaborate.

When night fell they doused the fire with dirt, and Merlin conjured up three thin blankets for them to sleep on. "I can't do more," Merlin said, a note of apology in his voice before anyone even said anything, although Adam was willing to admit he'd been about to. "My magic here isn't as strong as it is in your time."

The cave was freezing cold, and the blankets did little to help. Kris was probably curled into his guitar like a security blanket. For a moment Adam wished things could go back to the way they were; the pitch black of the cave could just as easily have been the pitch black of their room in the Idol mansion, or the shifting black of the Idol tour bus, rolling across the country in the dead of night, and one of them would have hummed softly, or cracked a joke, or just slumped across the other with exhaustion, too wiped to make their way into their own bed.

But in this darkness, in this silence, hyper-aware of Kris lying barely an arm's length away, breathing steadily, Adam couldn't really pretend that everything was the same. It would be easy to reach out a hand, just to feel contact. It would probably be best if he didn't.

A sharp noise woke him up in the middle of the night. "What the—"

"Shh," Merlin ordered, crouched by the entrance of the cave. A faint light from outside silhouetted his form. Torchlight, Adam realized; a group of men was walking past their cave accompanied by the clatter of loud, metallic clinking. Adam felt a chill down to his bones, and it wasn't from the cold. Swords, and chainmail.

Kris shifted next to Adam, clamping a hand on his guitar strings to keep them from thrumming. "Be still," Merlin hissed. They both froze. An angry bark was drawing nearer and nearer, and Adam could hear the creature—he really hoped it was only a dog, which was truly a depressing best case scenario—scrambling across the rocks they'd arranged around their fire. Adam held himself so still he was barely breathing by the time the dog—or wolf, or three-headed hellhound, or whatever it was—came close enough to growl viciously at Merlin. Merlin extended a hand, amazingly fucking calm in the face of the fierce snapping jaw, and whispered an indecipherable word, ancient and weighted.

The dog sniffed his hand and trotted away.

Adam waited for Merlin's all-clear sign a few quiet minutes later before letting out a shaking breath. "Fuck."

"Ditto," Kris said. He even sounded flappable.

Merlin crept back inside the cave. "It should be all right now. They've all gone. We still have a few hours until it's light enough to move again."

Torches gone, and they were left in the dark again, and even colder than before. Adam tried curling in on himself to conserve heat and failed miserably; his blanket was thin and scratchy, his limbs were shivering like he was in fucking withdrawal, and if this was the weather Simon Cowell was raised in, small wonder the man turned out such a son of a bitch.

And then suddenly a hand was flung across his chest, and Adam chin was confronted by a mass of soft, spiky hair. Adam stiffened. "Kris—"

"Please don't be ridiculous about this," Kris said, burrowing his face deeper into Adam's chest. He was trembling a little. "You're big and warm and I'm not really asking for permission."

Adam sighed, and said, "Hold on—" shifting around so that they were lying on Adam's blanket and covered by Kris's, and Kris replied with a muffled, "'Atta boy," and then Adam told Merlin, "Well, are you coming?" and Kris snickered again, shaking against Adam's chest. Merlin considered it for a moment before dragging his blanket to Adam as well, settling against his other side, scrawny and cold and so young, and said, "Well, you really are surprisingly comfortable."

"That's what they tell me," Adam said. "Fuck, your noses are cold."

"Suck it up, Lambert," Kris mumbled, patting him on the arm. It was already significantly warmer in the cave, or at least in their corner of it, tucked in under the blankets, and they were safe for now; shivering limbs relaxing into warmth, and then to sleep, and the last thing Adam felt was Kris's fingers curling softly against his own.

In the morning, Merlin put them in large green robes that hid their modern clothes. Without a mirror Adam had no clue what he actually looked like, but he could only hope he looked better than Kris, who was swimming in his robe much like—well, much like a hobbit in a huge green robe, probably.

Camelot was huge—big and white and bustling and bursting with energy. It was like something out of a movie; Adam could barely resist the urge to break into song, Dancing Through Life because this was the Emerald fucking City, wizard and all. Merlin's expression checked him in, though; the boy was panicked enough as it was with the guitar that Kris had resolutely refused to part with, now a slightly conspicuous blanket-wrapped package.

"If anyone runs into us," Merlin had warned them, "follow my lead. Just remember, don't let anyone know about the magic." So far, though, they seemed to be gliding smoothly through the city population.

They were almost at the end of the corridor that led, Merlin had promised, to the Dragon's cave, when they were stopped by a shouted "Merlin!"—and okay, Adam could totally get what was so frustrating about that tone, because wow. He winced a little, thinking back to his own possibly overly commandeering tone with Merlin.

Merlin turned around with a sigh. He was the Prince's manservant, he'd said, and from his tone and posture, there was no doubt this was the Prince; Adam fully expected a reaction along the lines of, "Yes, sire," head bowed subserviently, but probably with somewhat less kinky overtones than the ones running through Adam's head.

Instead, Merlin looked annoyed. "Yes, Arthur?"

Prince Arthur stared at Merlin incredulously. "You've been gone for a week!"

"I was visiting my mother," Merlin said, still looking put-upon; smooth liar, Adam noted. "You said I could go."

"Why on earth would I say that? My Corbenic shield has been sitting unpolished for a week."

"It's your fourth spare one," Merlin said. "I think it will survive. My mother's fine, by the way, thanks for asking."

"And drawing baths," the Prince continued, "all the servant girls are outrageously incompetent in getting the temperature right."

"Yes, the crops are faring well."

"Not to mention dressing me, it's like they don't even know where a girdle goes!"

Okay, so Adam hadn't been off the mark with the kinky. Neither had Kris, apparently, going by the unsuccessfully suppressed smirk on his face, which the Prince didn't fail to notice.

"And who are these?" Arthur demanded.

"Troubadours," Merlin said quickly. "Here to sing for the Lady Morgana. They've just arrived."

Arthur frowned at Kris and Adam. "You look strange," he said, referring, Adam assumed, to Kris's green, hobbit-like status. "Are you any good?" he asked Kris.

Kris smiled, all aw-shucks and charming. "I can't say, sire."

"What?" Arthur asked.

"Uh." Kris swallowed. "I said I can't say?"

Arthur turned to Merlin, confused. "Merlin, is he simple or something?"

"They're just from far away," Merlin said patiently. "Their accents take, er, some time to get used to."

"Ah," Arthur said, understanding. "Foreigners. All right, carry on. And I," he said, with a significant look in his eye which was almost impossible not to misunderstand, if he and Merlin weren't actually doing it, Jesus, "will be expecting you in my chambers tonight for a nice, hot bath."

Merlin waved off the Prince as he departed with his twirl of red cloth, and then it was down the stairwell, past the guard that Merlin had lulled to sleep, and time to meet the Dragon.

Adam had both seen The Wizard of Oz, and acted in a transformative work based on it. Meeting the Dragon would, he knew from experience, be nothing less than anticlimactic.

"Have you learned your lesson, Young Warlock?" the Dragon asked, his voice rumbling loudly in the enormous cavern.

"Yes," Merlin said. "And I really promise I won't come in here again unless it's a dire emergency. But," he said, and pushed Kris and Adam forward, a little too close to both the huge Dragon and the fucking endless precipice for comfort, "there was some collateral damage."

The Dragon flapped his wings a few times, flying close to Kris and Adam to blink at them with huge, slitted eyes, and Adam wasn't sure who grabbed whose hand first, but right now he was perfectly fine with his circulation being cut off in Kris's grip.

"Ah," the Dragon said, like he'd just had a great epiphany set off by staring at Adam's hair. Which, on second thought, was something Adam was totally willing to buy. "Masters Allen and Lambert. Yes, I know of you."

And, okay, wow. Adam had known he was famous, but having his reputation extend backwards in time was a little unexpected, if flattering.

"Uh," Kris said. Adam squeezed his hand.

"You must stay together," the Dragon said sagely. "You are like two sides of the same polyvinyl chloride music playing device. Do not forget it."

Kris and Adam exchanged a long look, because seriously, what the actual fuck—and then, to Adam's astonishment, Kris broke into a grin. "Ha!" he said.

Adam stared at Kris. "Seriously? 'Ha'?"

And apparently Kris had decided that now was the most appropriate time to turn on his full flirt mode, his face transforming in a single moment from whoa, Dragon to hey guess what, I still want to fuck you. "We," Kris said, like he was somehow proving a point, "are so totally meant to be together."

Adam let himself sound just as pissed off as he felt, because Christ, not this again. "You were under a fucking love spell!"

The Dragon started laughing.

Adam and Kris both turned to look at him. "I'm sorry," Adam said bitingly, "is there something you want to share?"

The Dragon let out a few more wheezing breaths that each smelled like rotten cattle carcass—which, Adam realized with horror after a moment, they probably were—and said: "There is no such thing as a love spell."

For a moment Adam felt the world drop beneath his feet, and had to look down to make sure he hadn't actually fallen off the cliff.

"There are potions that elicit yearning, of course," the Dragon elaborated, still looking amused, "and those that cause infatuation. But no potion or spell can ever produce true emotions of love and desire, the ones that truly propel the desire for a relationship."

"But Merlin said the spell worked." He still felt like he'd just gotten the wind knocked out of him, like something was squeezing in his chest, but at the same time, feeling—

—feeling something he definitely wasn't able to absorb, just yet.

"Ah, yes, the Young Warlock," the Dragon hummed. "Tell me, did any of your three wishes come about the way you wished them to?"

"…No," Adam was forced to admit.

"You have noticed yourself, then, that our Young Warlock is fairly inept."

"In my defense," Merlin piped up in the background, "I haven't been doing this for a very long time. And it's not like I have anywhere I can practice, you know. And honestly, granting wishes isn't even my job."

"So the spell did nothing?" Adam asked disbelievingly, because that kind of coincidence, no fucking way.

"At most," said the Dragon, "it was the spark that kindled the flame that was already set to ignite. And now—" the Dragon yawned—"I shall return you to the place from whence you came, for it is only there that you will be able to reach your true potential. You can have a moment to say your goodbyes."

So—a little more climactic than expected after all. Adam was still a little shell-shocked, and Kris was still a little smug, and Merlin was more resigned than anything when they turned to him at the same time. "You got him on one of his good days," Merlin told them. "He's usually far more cryptic."

Kris shook Merlin's hand and turned it into a hug, because he was Kris. "Stay strong, man," he said. "And hey, anytime anybody pulls you down, or anytime anybody says you're not allowed, just remember—you're not alone."

Merlin nodded, looking a bit wet around the eyes.

Adam didn't know what to say. He clasped Merlin's hand for a moment, swallowed, and said, "Thank you."

And then there was a lurch

Things were crazy when they got back—Jingle Balls and late night TV, private shows and radio interviews. It seemed like they were never even in the same state, let alone the same city, and Christmas promotion was top priority over everything; there was no time to breathe, and no time to speak.

A week later, though, Adam was in the studio with the band when he got a text from Kris. Nothing you can be, but you can learn how to be you in time.

"Ten minutes," he told them, stepping outside. Tommy gave him a curious look, but didn't say a word.

He called Kris. "Are you going for enigmatic now? It worked better for the Dragon."

"Oh, he speaks," Kris said. "I was beginning to wonder."

"Sorry," Adam said, feeling a little embarrassed. It was possible, maybe, that he'd been avoiding Kris. Hiding behind their busy schedules. Dodging phone calls. Maybe.

"Hey, man, look, I just want to know we're okay. I promise that I'm not going to jump you the next time we meet. Not unless you, you know, ask. And not unless my wife knows. Both of which are very, very likely, I'm just saying."

Adam leaned his head back against the wall. "I would really love to have this conversation in person."

"Dude, I'm like two doors down from you."

Adam turned around, and there he was; bright blue shirt with a deep v-neck collar, dark jeans, dirty white Converse shoes, like he'd just stepped out of a romantic comedy. Adam snapped his phone shut. "You are seriously cheesier than you're given credit for," Adam noted.

"I'm so cheesy I got my own free dip for life, yo." Kris put his hands in his pockets, leaning against the wall with his legs crossed. "Can I lure you in with the promise of free cheese dip?"

"I don't think so. I'd have to go to Arkansas for that. Not my style."

"Really," Kris said, lips quirking up. "I've heard they have cute Southern boys there. Might find something you like."

"Okay, look," Adam said. Being with Kris was so effortless—it was easy to get caught up in games without ever reaching the heart of the matter, and it was time, now. He braced himself. "I just need to know—how much of it was really you?"

And Kris got it, because his expression turned serious; so serious that after a few moments Adam had to turn his face away because he was starting to actually honest to god flush.

"Everything?" he asked, not exactly testing Kris, but needing to spell it out in order for it to be true. "You were halfway to agreeing to a threesome with—for lack of a better term—us."

"Oh, there was no halfway there, I promise you," he said, and Adam couldn't help his eyes widening in shock a little—and okay, with more than shock. Kris shrugged. "What can I say, man? I have a song called Live Like We're Dying, I practice what I preach." Kris smirked. "He even ended up giving me a few tips, for. You know." Kris waggled his eyebrows. "When."

And maybe it was the ridiculous description—seriously, waggling eyebrows?—of one of the hottest scenarios Adam could ever imagine, or the way Kris was already laughing at himself, nose wrinkling and tongue sticking out—or maybe it was just the fact that Kris was Kris

The solid, promising reality of it settled into Adam's gut not like a sucker punch, for once, but like an old friend coming home. "When," Adam repeated, and god help him Kris's dorkiness was catching, because there was a huge, giddy smile on Adam's face that he was finding very hard to control. "How about you let me know when you're officially available, and it's a date."