One of the reasons Adam bought his house is the ocean. Not because that's what rock stars do, or because it's expected for him to have a big fancy house in California, but that he's always loved the sound of the ocean.
He pulls the blanket over his head and ignores the bright light of his phone. He has an event tomorrow and a recording session Tuesday and a photo shoot later this week. He wants to cancel them all, get on a plane, and fly somewhere with no water.
Adam groans as his phone lights up again. He rolls over to text his publicist that he'll be ready. He made the wish that took Kris away. Now he has to live with it.
Three years earlier
The ocean is louder than usual. The sand feels…grittier somehow. Kris blinks, and the night sky is clear, the only movement from the clouds.
It worked he thinks, mentally sending a thank you to Kara.
He gingerly sits up, dragging his hand through the cold, wet sand. The air feels strange after all the years in the water, and the pale legs that have replaced his tail are covered in hair.
I don't have any clothes Kris thinks, Humans wear clothes.
He wonders where he's going to get some, and what he's supposed to do now and how is he ever going to walk, and a thousand other thoughts. He looks toward his former home and begins to laugh.
There is no sound.
Ah. The other part of the sacrifice. I guess I'll make do.
Kris catches movement to his right. Someone moves toward him purposefully, hair bright blue in the moonlight.
"Hi, I'm Allison. Just got the message, so I'm sorry if you were here awhile."
Kris blinks at her.
She sighs. "You went to Kara, didn't you? It just hasn't been the same since Paula retired. Here, I brought a coat and some pants. Then we'll see if we can manage to get you to my car."
Kris stares at her. He knows a little of the human language, having studied humans all his life. But he's understood every word.
"It's part of the spell, doof. Can't make you human without letting you interact with us. There may be a few gaps in your education, but the spell should allow for fast adaptation in the first year."
Kris has a million more questions, but since he has no way to ask them yet, he lets Allison help him get dressed. She manages to help him take his first shuffling steps down the beach. He's half-naked, sand covered, and leaning against a girl with blue hair half his size.
It's the best night of his life.
"So eggs are obviously a go."
Kris grins sheepishly, but doesn't stop eating. He's been human for almost ten hours now. So far he knows that peeing is weird, eggs are delicious, and television is to be avoided if he ever wants to leave the house.
He's also discovered that his immersion in language has included writing. The transformation spell is complex, Allison explains, and that's why there is a one-wish policy. She also says his grammar is fairly terrible, but his spelling is decent. It's a start, considering he can't talk. She's brought him all the books she thinks he might need. And has promised to take him people-watching.
I do that he writes hesitantly.
"You do? That's awesome. Anything else we haven't covered?"
"That's a little unspecific. Um. I specialize in water spells. Plus I'm applying to be a mer myself, so I figured helping with transfers can only help me. Plus the shortage of mer witches."
"Why did you want to become human?"
Kris nods, understanding. He didn't belong with the mer.
"So do you have a name for the mysterious man you want to meet, or are we going to be forced to walk the beaches?"
Kris picks up the pencil, and realizes that he doesn't know how to spell David. So he mouths it instead, relying on his memory of the sound of it to help him.
"David? Here, let me."
Allison writes it in his notebook, and Kris stares at it for a long time.
"So is that all you know about him?"
"His ship sank?"
Kris shakes his hand and makes a swimming motion.
"You mean he almost drowned? A David in this area that almost drowned. That should narrow it down. You get to reading. Write down questions. Watch TV, but do not touch the computer."
Kris watches her leave, and lets out a big breath. He knows what the computer is, but he's not too sure about it. One hour of funny orange people on the TV yelling at each other is enough for him to give up on that as well. So Kris picks up a book and begins to leaf through it. He understands the words, but doesn't know what any of it means. He has a basic grasp of history, some math, and other stuff, but human interaction remains a mystery. Except for television. And Allison.
So he wanders the small house. He likes how everything is organized in the rooms. The clothes are in the sleeping room, but sometimes in the washing room. The dishes are in the eating room—the kitchen, he reminds himself—and so on. He finds a few lightweight books with mostly pictures and goes back to the room of life. The living room?
Kris sits with the glossy books and pages through them. They have a lot of the same characters, and sometimes they wear the same clothes in the pictures, especially the pretty dresses.
Then he finds David.
Kris's hands tremble. He doesn't understand how or why Allison has a picture of his David in a book, but it's a clue. Kris spends the rest of the afternoon trying to understand what the book is talking about, but the words mean something beyond what they say.
Kris looks up.
"Oh you found the magazines. That's good. Because the man you came to the surface for is a world famous rock star. Good going, fish breath."
Allison sighs when Kris doesn't write a word.
"Do you have mer that everyone knows? Besides the witches?"
Kris thinks for a moment, and nods slowly.
"Well, David is like that. Everyone knows who he is. He makes music that a lot of people listen to."
"And I just made it worse. Well, apparently there was an accident, and he almost drowned last week. Says he was saved by a mysterious stranger. You wouldn't have anything to do with that, would you?"
"He did announce a reward for the person if he came forward—"
Allison sighs. "You are a very lucky person then, because he goes on tour soon, and I just happen to know the guitarist for his opener." She pauses. "You have no idea what I'm talking about. David is going out to play his music for other people."
"I happen to know someone who sort of will be playing with him. So I might be able to convince him to take you along as a roadie or something. But first we have to figure out what your story is going to be. No, actually, first thing, we cut your hair."
Kris puts his hand to his head, and then points to David's picture.
"Not an example you want to follow, dude. So next up is pizza, beer and baseball."
Kris stands and touches the picture one last time. He makes a promise to study harder than he ever has.
Allison fusses with Kris's jacket again and he rolls his eyes.
"I have every right to worry, you know. It's only been three weeks. I just don't know if you're ready."
I am. If I don't leave with your friend, I'll never get to meet David. Plus I'm learning really fast.
"I know, but we haven't reached the limits of the spell yet. I always worry about my friends."
Kris smiles and taps the notebook. I'll be fine, really.
"So reassuring, from someone who eats eggs all day and sometimes forgets to shower," Allison says.
Kris blushes. He's been human for less than a month, and he's impatient to get out in the world. He doesn't consider his voice much of a sacrifice for being able to learn quickly, although he still has some problems with social cues.
"There's Tommy's car. What's your story again?"
There was an accident. I can't speak because of it, and the doctor isn't sure if I ever will. That's why I know some things but not everything. I don't have any family here, but in an emergency they can call you.
Allison looks at the words and nods. She opens the door to a lanky blond with hair in his eyes.
"Kris, this is Tommy. Tommy, this is Kris. Thanks for putting in a word for him."
Tommy shrugs and then shakes Kris's hand.
"Alli says you are a man of few words."
"Well I probably talk too much, so we'll get along just fine."
Allison why did you make me cut my hair? His is long.
"He isn't an example, either, Kris," Allison sighs.
"Do I want to know," Tommy asks, "or should I just be insulted and shut up?"
Tommy sticks out his tongue at Allison and they both laugh.
"So you ready to go, Kris?"
Kris looks at Tommy, then turns to Alli. She hugs him once and hands him his wallet—full of identification he hasn't asked too much about.
Thanks for everything. I hope you get your wish. If you do, look up my friend Cale. He's single.
Allison rolls her eyes. "And probably ugly. You be careful."
Kris gets in the car with Tommy and watches as Allison disappears.
"So you'll probably get grunt work to begin with. Hauling amps, running to get food, that sort of thing. Selling merch, although not being able to talk might get you out of that. I'm only filling in for the opening band. Their guitarist decided to bail last minute. What are your feelings on grunge?"
"Yeah, me too. But Zoo of Death has some okay songs. What about Cook, you heard any of his stuff?"
Kris nods and tries not to look too excited.
"Yeah, he's pretty cool. I only know him by reputation, but his music is good. I'm going to turn on the radio if that’s okay."
Kris nods again and leans back to listen. He loves the radio. He's listened to all the stations he can find. Allison had to pry him away the first time he'd heard David. Kris had pointed at the radio in excitement and wouldn't switch stations until he was certain David wasn't coming back. Kris looks out the window and wonders if he'll ever get to make these sounds one day.
Since he's a part of the crew, Kris spends most of his time with the tour manager, Steve. Kris has already written down a short version of his story, which he's glad to have with new people wandering in every day. He mostly moves stuff around. He also watches where stuff goes when. Someone is always playing a guitar or a drum or testing the mic. It reminds Kris of the preparations for mer celebrations, the organization within all the chaos. Kris has seen members of both bands, but hasn't met them in the week and a half he's been here.
He's beginning to understand that up here, everything is so simple, but very complicated. There are ways people are supposed to do things and the way they actually do them, and then the way they tell them later. It's sort of confusing and funny, and Kris knows he's never going to be able to lie properly. Luckily his accident story covers a lot of his problem, and not being able to talk lets him say nothing a lot.
He meets the opening band two days before the first concert. It turns out Tommy is friends with the drummer, who once subbed for another band. Kris tries to keep up with all the variations of members and bands and concerts they've played, and fails miserably. He realizes that he has a lot of work in order to integrate himself into this world, let alone find a way to get his David to notice him.
He finally gets to watch David during the final rehearsals. It's hard to focus on doing his job, because the music—it's like swimming in the ocean, and finding just the right current every time. Or finding a new one, and not knowing exactly how fast it is, or how long it is, but knowing he'll always find his way home. He can't help but smile the entire time, because he knows that this is where he belongs.
"All right, pizza break," David says, disappearing for awhile.
Kris goes and sits on the floor near Steve.
"What you think?"
Everyone sits around the room with their food. Steve introduces Kris to the band. He knows their names already, but this is the first time he's actually met them. (It's also nice that he can keep track of them by looks: Monte wears the hats, Kyle has long hair, Andy short, and Neal…is Neal.)
"Just in case you were wondering, yes, I have the best hair," Kyle says.
"Whatever," Andy says, "just because some of us decided to get an adult haircut. He may have the best hair, but I'm the ladies man."
"You have a girlfriend. If anyone gets chicks it's Monte. They love the sweet and silent type," Neal says.
"Yes, but I'm the boss, which makes me king. And I say it's time to get back to work," David says.
"You know it," David walks over and slings an arm around Andy's neck. He looks at Kris and smiles.
"David Cook. I don't believe we've met yet," he holds out his hand.
Kris shakes it, proud that his hand is steady.
Kris Allen. Big fan.
"Allen? Like the wrench?"
Kris nods. When they picked out his last name, Allison had chosen it because he was 'small and strong.' Kris didn't know whether or not to be offended or pleased.
"All right. We're all going out later, but make sure Neal doesn't con you into shots, not if you want to live."
David drags Andy away, talking about chord changes to one of the songs.
"So, you watch Idol?" Steve asks.
Kris nods again, since he has watched all the videos while staying with Allison. She'd finally relented on letting him use the computer. It's like the whole human world, except scarier. Later, at the bar, the opening band joins them, and everyone is talking about four different things at once, and Kris just sits back and watches it all unfold.
Tommy nods at him. Kris smiles back.
"Believe it or not, it only gets better from here," Tommy says.
Touring is a lot of hurry up and wait, Kris finds out. There's a lot of time on buses and in back rooms, athotels, or at venues. Rehearsals only take up so much time, once the songs are pretty determined. David likes to change the set list, but it's not a chore to bring out familiar favorites along the way.
Kris likes the routine of set-up, watching how everyone interacts. It's not so different from the mer, he decides. There are all sorts of families on the surface, he thinks, and this is another.
Kris mostly hangs with Tommy and Steve, because he knows them. But occasionally he'll find himself sitting next to Andy, who apparently enjoys the silence of Kris's presence.
"You like him," Andy finally says, two weeks into the tour.
Kris blinks, but doesn't write anything in his notepad.
"I saw you watching, and thought maybe it was just a fan thing, but you totally like him."
Kris looks down at his shoes, well aware of the blush spreading to his cheeks.
"It's cool. At least I think so."
Kris looks up. You won't…
"Nah. Although, I'm obligated to say that if you do ever make a move, and he makes one back, that if you break his heart I will hurt you."
Fair enough. Kris pauses. I've been wondering. Tommy says he won't teach me guitar, because he learned to play by ear. Steve only plays enough to tune them. I—
"If you want a guitar teacher, you want Neal. But he won't take you unless you read music."
Andy laughs, and claps Kris on the shoulder, "Which I think I can handle. How good is your ear?"
Written music is a whole new experience for Kris. At he same time, it's like it's always been there.
"You sure you've never studied before?" Andy asks.
Kris shrugs. Maybe.
He silently thanks Kara again, because his voice seems like such a small thing to sacrifice for all this knowledge, for knowing how to make the sounds that seem to surround him always.
"Well I'd say in another week, you might be able to handle the basic lessons with Neal."
"No one can handle the basic lessons with Neal. They all go home crying,"
Kris looks up at David, who has wandered over from the card game across the room.
I'm not much of a crier.
"Dave is," Andy says, a sly grin on his face.
"Jerk," David says.
"Just being honest. He's gonna find out eventually."
"Doesn't mean you have to advertise it. I'm going to go back to being beaten at poker by everyone," Dave walked away, sticking his tongue out.
"Real adult, Dave, real adult," Andy says, laughing.
Kris looks from the table and back to Andy.
How long have you been in love with him?
Kris taps the notebook.
Andy lets out a breath. "All my damn life. But it's not like that for him. And I'm okay with that, because he could have taken advantage of it, but instead gave me the opportunity of a lifetime. And that's all I'm going to say about it, okay?"
Kris nods once.
At least there was a sliver of hope. My best friend likes girls.
"There is nothing wrong with girls," Andy says.
Kris laughs and leans over the manuscript paper.
Kris doesn't cry in his first lesson with Neal, although he does almost walk out.
"Why the hell do you keep looking out of the window?"
Kris looks back into the room.
It's pretty outside.
"It's October in Ohio, of course it's pretty. Not like you haven't seen the trees changing, right?"
Kris doesn't write anything, because he hasn't seen the trees changing, hasn't felt the chill of a fall rain. Hasn't had apple cider and candy corn. Halloween is a week away, and Kris is going to dress up for the first time in his life. But Neal doesn't know that. Kris likes Neal. He talks a lot, and puts off a heavy aura of 'leave me alone', but he knows music, and more importantly, he knows guitar. Those are languages Kris is more than willing to speak, and Neal begrudgingly accepts that.
"Do you want to learn guitar or not?"
Kris sends Neal as mean a look as he can before forming an E chord again. Neal is right, he needs to concentrate: he can daydream later. He has all the time he needs.
"So how do you like it so far?"
Kris has learned that David likes to talk to everyone on tour, and often finds the one time when he can surprise you to do so.
Good. I'm learning a lot.
"That's what I hear. Neal grumbles on and on about you, but he did say you're a pretty fast learner, which I tell you, from Neal, is a huge compliment."
Next thing you know he'll let me play for you.
David leans against a wall and laughs.
"Right. So you coming to the bar with us tonight? I'll buy you a drink."
Well I don’t know; I hardly know you.
"I promise to bring you home safely to your parents at the end of the night."
Well, I guess one beer won't hurt
"That's what they all say."
Kris grins Maybe if we all get Andy drunk, we can get him to sing something embarrassing at the bar.
"Now you are talking, Allen. Let's go."
The bar is noisy. Andy and Neal are singing some song about how their man broke their hearts and they are going to put an end to his lying, cheating ways. Kyle is back at the buses, on the phone with his wife and kids, abstaining from this current trip. Tommy is at the bar, flirting with the bartender, who for her part, seems to be somewhat interested. Steve and Monte and the other band are egging Andy and Neal on. Kris and David are still in the booth, sitting close enough that Kris is finding it hard to breathe. But the beer in his hand gives him something to focus on. David is content to sit back and laugh at Andy and Neal (and sometimes Tommy).
Then David leans over, and reaches for the notebook in Kris's pocket. There's a moment when their eyes meet, and Kris panics, because he is almost certain that not only does David know, but he's known all along.
So tell me something you do remember, David writes.
Kris takes the pen from David's hand, eyes never leaving the page. This is the part where he can tell the truth, but he's not ready yet.
I was warm. I was loved. I didn't belong. Kris passes the pen back, and waits.
David tilts his head, and Kris almost looks away.
Do you think you belong here?
I don't know yet.
David puts the pen down and leans forward, his mouth against Kris's ear.
"Don't worry. I think you fit in just fine."
David leans back, a sly grin on his face.
What is that look for?
David doesn't take the pen for a long time, just content to watch Kris. Kris for his part, manages not to move, except for hearing his own breath, and the thump of his heart finally overtaking the beat of the music.
David takes the notebook and holds it close while writing. He hands it back to Kris, and stands to go talk to the others briefly before walking to the door. Kris looks down to read.
Just wondering how many signals I have to send before you realize it's okay to make a move.
Kris almost drops the notebook trying to fumble it back into his pocket as he rushes for the door. David is waiting for him there, a grin on his face. He takes Kris's hand and walks him out the door and into the night air.
"Hi," David says, pushing Kris into the wall. "I guess you read my note."
David is crowding him, his hands firm against Kris's shoulders, his lips almost pressed against Kris's forehead.
"You don't look so sure about this," David says.
Kris angles his head to look David in the eyes. Then he reaches up with one hand and pulls David to him. Apparently, kissing is a language he can speak.
Oh, Kris thinks as David takes over the kiss. His free hand fists in David's shirt, tightening as David pulls him closer.
David laughs, leaning his forehead against Kris's. Kris closes his eyes and bites his lip.
"Skib, if you do not turn around right now, I will send you back to Missouri without a second thought."
"Sorry, Dave, but we gotta get going, unless you want to miss your radio call tomorrow."
David backs up, his hands still on Kris's shoulders, "Don't even dare think of running away."
Kris shakes his head.
"Hurt him, and I kill you," Andy whispers as they head back to the buses.
Kris knows he's going to hear this a lot from now on.
It's like that for the next few months, secret kisses and long conversations that mostly concern David, although Kris finds himself 'remembering' things that he can actually say. It's heady and perfect.
And then it's May.
He's taken to jogging with David, just them, on the trail (and David's security. Kris still has to constantly ignore the fact that they are, in fact, never alone.) He doesn't take his notebook along, because they never really talk anyway.
Even though Kris is pretty sure he's never hidden his feelings, he is also never quite sure he's really ever been seen. Because lately David always has a far-off look, as if he's looking for something. Someone.
So Kris does the only thing he knows: he asks Andy. Who hedges, until Kris writes:
You told me you loved him. You also told me you knew he could never love you. What you didn't say was that he was in love with someone else.
Andy sighs, "I thought he was over it. I mean, I think you two really have something, you know?"
Maybe. But I need to know.
"His name was David. But he usually goes by Archie. And that time when our David drowned? That was when Archie found himself a new boyfriend."
I don't understand. If they loved—
"It's complicated. Archie and Dave had a very on-again, off-again thing, plus Archie's age always made Dave pause. So finally Archie told Dave that once he was ready to look past the number, he'd be waiting."
I see. He stopped waiting.
Andy shrugs. "Sort of. Archie's had three boyfriends since. None seem to stick. But Dave was too proud to say anything, so he bummed around for awhile. Then things got better. Then we started tour. And you came along. So stop worrying."
Kris doesn't write anything, because he can't describe the distance he feels. He wonders if May was important, but if he asks Andy, he'll have to say what he's feeling, and…
So the next time he's alone, he pretends to play around on Dave's phone, until he finds a number under Archie.
He only pauses a moment before sending the text.
He stands at the edge of the world, and listens for the coming storm. The sky is clear, but the water knows. If Kris closes his eyes, he can almost hear it again. Calling him home.
He can never go back.
Kris wipes his face. He's been crying for awhile. He looks down again, watching the ocean throw itself against the cliffs. It would be easy to step off. He isn't sure anyone would miss him much. Tommy maybe. Okay probably Andy and Neal. Maybe even David—Kris smiles for the first time that night, and even if he did want to go home, stepping off the cliff wasn't the way to do it.
He will never go back.
He never belonged there.
Kris sits down, ignoring the new chill in the wind. It doesn't matter that the rain begins to fall in cold stinging splatters. He doesn't belong here. He doesn't belong in the sea. Kris lies down in the mud and stares at the clouds in the sky. The only thing he has is the music. There is so much he has left to explore up here. It may not be enough to fill his days, but it would be good for awhile.
He doesn't move when he hears the car pull up.
"Are you a fucking idiot?"
Kris opens his eyes and grins. Neal.
"Tommy to get out of the damn car and help me before Dave fires us both?"
Kris sits up. He looks at the two men, soaking wet. Tommy looks nonchalantly worried (Kris secretly wonders how exactly he pulls that off) and Neal looks pissed. Kris has to remember that up here, standing in the rain isn't exactly normal.
"Well, he isn't dead," Tommy says.
Kris shrugs and splays his hands out, balancing them as if to say he wasn't too sure.
"C'mon, let's get you in the car before you catch something."
Kris shakes his head.
"Oh no you don't, fucker. Dave sent all of us looking for you. Lucky Tommy remembers how much you love the damn ocean and came out this way. But if you even think you're going to jump off that cliff, you must be fucking insane."
Kris shakes his head again, but crosses his arms.
"He doesn't want to jump, Neal, he just doesn't want to come with us."
"Tough luck," Neal says, "because we're all worried about you, and either we all stay out here and get sick, or we go back to the hotel, and get you drunk to drown your sorrows. Whatever they are."
Kris shakes his head and sends a pleading look Tommy's way. Tommy kneels down in front of Kris.
"Look, I don't know where you come from, but it's pretty obvious you aren't going back. And I know that tonight's been pretty shitty, considering. But there's only a few more stops on this tour, and maybe you can get another gig. Hell, I'm only filling in here. Maybe I'll introduce you to my other friends. I think you'd like them. Just come back so you can think about it, okay?"
Kris closes his eyes and wraps his arms tighter around himself. He wants to scream and yell and swear, but he knows nothing will come out. Instead he nods once. If he's going to be miserable, he might as well be warm.
The drive back to the hotel is silent, Neal muttering about techies and loyalty and not getting paid enough for this shit. Kris mostly ignores him, listening to the rain against the window. For a moment it falls so fast and hard, it's as if he's underwater.
He hides in his room, when he returns. Andy manages to come in, and they get gloriously drunk, never saying a word. Kris wakes up with a terrible headache, and emptiness he doesn't quite understand. He stumbles down to the hotel breakfast, and sits at a table alone. It's late, so he figures everyone else has eaten.
Kris doesn't want to acknowledge the man in front of him. But he looks up and nods.
"Gosh, you are just like Cook said. I'm really excited to meet you. Cook says that if anyone sent that text it was totally you."
Kris says nothing.
Archie sits next to Kris. "Thank you."
Kris pulls out his notebook. You're welcome. I think.
Archie begins to giggle, and Kris can't help but smile.
Can you promise to try and keep him happy?
Archie nods. "You know, he was looking for you. Had a lot of things to say."
Maybe I'm not ready to listen just yet.
"Will you ever be?"
When Kris goes back to the room he shares with the other roadies, there's a guitar in the corner. And David, sitting on his bed.
Kris stands in the doorway. He could leave. Or he could just get this over with, and move on. He sits on the bed next to David.
So. I guess I sort of sent a text from your phone.
"Yeah. I figured. Why?"
Because you still love him. I wasn't sure, but I didn't want—
"Not a lot of people would have done that."
I guess I'm not a lot of people.
David stands then, maybe out of restlessness, maybe to face Kris.
"About that. I figured something else out."
Kris writes nothing, keeping his face neutral.
"You know there was a reward for whoever saved me from drowning last year. And they never came forward. Why do you think that is?"
Ktis blinks, and his hand stays still. David kneels in front of him.
"You talked to me then. And now you can't say a word. And don't say you don't remember, because that is the most bullshit lie I've ever heard."
"I'm sure it is. You won't take the money?"
Kris shakes his head.
"Then this is yours. Don't open it. Don't try and give it back. I figure if you at least have music, I haven't completely left you with nothing. Please."
Kris looks at the case in the corner, and then back at David.
Fine. It was me. But like I said, it's—
"Complicated. I won't say a word. It's the least I can do. I'm so sorry."
Don't be. I'm happy that you're happy.
When David leaves, Kris looks at that sentence, and realizes it's not quite a lie.
He goes back to Allison, at first. He needs to think, to figure out what to do with the rest of his life up here. He ends up practicing the guitar too much, and trying not to read the magazines plastered with David's smiling face. Allison asks if maybe he wants to be a roadie again, maybe distract himself with music, but Kris isn't ready for it yet.
She takes him to clubs and he broods. She takes him out to a restaurant and he pushes the food around the plate.
There seems to be nothing for him.
Finally, Allison asks, "So besides music, what makes you happy?"
I don't know. I used to like helping other mer. You know, guiding them to the right currents, avoiding sharks, that sort of thing.
"I have an idea," Allison says. "But I have to ask. Do the mer believe in God?"
Kris blinks. He'd gone to church with Kyle a couple of times. He sort of understood the concept of God, and the stories interested him. It was common among the mer to believe in something that guided them, but there was no name for it. So Kris shrugs.
"Well, there's this church a friend of mine goes to, they do a lot of charity work, you know, helping other people. They do missions and stuff."
"They go to other parts of the world and build houses and dig wells, that sort of thing."
Kris thinks about it for a moment. He likes helping other people. He needs to get away from everything.
Would I be able to bring my guitar?
A few months later
His eyes flutter open briefly, and all he can think of is how hot he is. He thinks he's heard both Katy and Andrew at some point, but he isn't sure. Maybe it was part of the dream.
</i>Morocco</i>, he thinks as he closes his eyes.
Later (days? hours? minutes?) he opens his eyes again, and it seems cooler. Drier. He isn't sure if he's better, or if the night air is fooling him. He stares at the tent above him, wondering just how bad it is.
The mission has been good. He's made good friends, built himself up in the process. He gave away his guitar somewhere, but he cannot remember the place. He took the broken one in repayment, and hopes to fix it up.
If he lives. Kris laughs and it hurts, and for the first time, he thinks he might just be okay. He hasn't seen the ocean in a long time. He thinks he's ready. He closes his eyes again.
When he opens them, Andrew is there, smiling.
"Guess you decided to live."
Kris shrugs and smiles. Andrew squeezes his hand. Andrew has someone at home, sort of, and Kris said that was fine. For a moment it makes Kris sad, but he's done being sad over things he cannot control.
The nice thing about finally dropping the Idol stigma (not really, Adam thinks, because without Idol he'd still be a theater kid with awesome side-projects) is that his new tour is going to be insane. Everything has to be planned to the last detail, and Adam loves every minute of it.
After all, a concert is just a different kind of theater. And even though there's little room for variety, every crowd is different. Plus he loves to travel the world.
The downside is the press. A new boy in every town, a romance in every corner. Adam says he doesn't pay attention to it, but when his name is everywhere, it's hard to ignore. Adam wants to look at them and just tell the truth: he's thirty-two, and maybe once upon a time, there would have been a romance in every corner of the world, he's actually pretty content.
He isn't actively looking for anyone right now. He's too busy. Of course his friends are constantly trying to set him up, but Adam accepts it as his extended family being concerned. The band doesn't usually interfere, because Adam is the king of payback.
So when Tommy brings along a roadie for the tour, Adam thinks nothing of it.
After all, he has a tour to organize.
Finding the hidey-holes of America, the truck stops where no one knows him, the diners where he's recognized and left alone, that's the fun of tour. Right now, it's a dive bar in Arkansas. Adam sits in a booth, laughing as Isaac and Cam attempt to line dance. His manager sits by the bar, making sure no one gets in too much trouble. He hasn't seen Tommy since they walked in the door, and he only vaguely recognizes half of the crew. They've all been vetted, and Adam promises himself he will know their names by the end of tour, but right now, the people passing by could just as easily be locals.
So when someone slides into the booth, Adam is vaguely annoyed. Only vaguely, because the guy is hot, in an all-American, sweet WASP-y kind of way. He doesn't say anything, merely smiles. Adam gets the intention, but he's not really interested. Much.
"Kris! There you are!"
Tommy slides into the booth, and slings his arm around the new guy.
"Adam, this is Kris. We met when I subbed for David Cook's opener a couple years back. Kris doesn't talk."
"Ah, the strong, silent type," Adam says, glad when Kris shakes his head and laughs.
Kris passes a notebook over. Adam reads it.
Well, depends on the day. But too much writing gives me hand cramps, and that can really be bad, you know?
Adam looks up, and there is a sly grin on Kris's face.
"Are you flirting with me?"
Maybe. I flirt with a lot of people nowadays. Love the show by the way.
You're welcome. Nice to meet you, but Jack is probably looking for me. I promised to buy him a beer.
Kris somehow shuffles out of the booth without Tommy leaving, and Adam watches him go.
"What just happened?"
Tommy laughs. 'That's Kris Allen, man of mystery. He's a friend of Allie's."
"Really. Like I said, he was a roadie for David Cook, kind of got involved with him."
"Really?" Adam leans forward. "I don't remember—"
"Never really went anywhere. Plus that was right before he got back together with Archie."
"Ouch. So what's the deal with Kris?"
Tommy shrugs. "Nothing."
"You are a liar."
Adam has an idea of where this is going and doesn't like it one bit.
"Ok, maybe I think he's sort of your type. A little. But he's also a friend, and needed the job."
"No interfering in my love life, remember?"
"Hey, I wasn't the one who told him to come over here."
Adam makes a noncommittal noise and sips his drink. Well, at least off days on tour would be very interesting.
The thing is, Adam hasn't really noticed Kris before. (Not because Adam is completely oblivious, but when he focuses on something, the fringes tend to blur for him.) But now that he's on Adam's radar, he can't help but notice.
That's the hard part: sometimes tour becomes so routine, he begins to make lists in his head: favorite venues, the color of the seats, how many twitter parties Adam gives up on because no, he isn't going to tour with Queen. The list he's currently making is the shallow sort that Adam has shied away from: he's done the relationship thing, and right now, he's not interested.
(The first thing on his list is Kris's smile. The way his eyes crinkle and how if he could talk, there would be laughter more often. The way everyone else seems to smile more when he's in the room.)
Okay. Maybe there is a list. Maybe Adam is interested, but the employer/employee thing is something he has never experienced, and given that his last relationship had been perfectly stable and wonderful, Adam isn't sure complicated should be his thing.
(The second thing is his hands. They are very capable, whether hauling equipment, or playing his guitar in the background, or noodling around on the piano with Cam, trying to figure out chords, or writing furiously in his notebook, trying to keep up with the crazy dialogues that pop up in between shows.)
Mostly it's that he can't figure Kris out. He's simultaneously confident and anxious, one moment belonging, the next hanging back and watching, as if trying to learn how to act. Adam puts it down to the varied nature of his band and dancers and crew at first, but it isn't just that.
More than that, it's the way Kris seems to be flirting with him, but not in the 'I know you're famous and I want in on that' way. It's been awhile since Adam's been simply flirted with without expectation of anything more, but Adam doesn't know enough just yet to really want to make a move. Yet. Making the lists is still too much fun.
"Alright, so what's your deal?"
Adam slides onto the couch next to Kris. Kris, for his part, looks surprised and slightly flustered. Adam figures the only way he can decide exactly what to do with Kris is by asking the source directly.
(Tommy is too vague, saying it's Kris's business to discuss what happened with David. When Adam calls Alli, she squeals and goes on incoherently for awhile before realizing that Adam has not yet made a move. She scolds him for awhile and tells him Kris is good people. Which means nothing because Alli thinks everyone is good people.)
I'm not sure how to answer that.
"Tell me about yourself," Adam says. "Interests? Likes? Dislikes? Moonlit walks on the beach: are they romantic or stupid? Is glitter annoying or awesome? I don't know."
There's a wariness in Kris's eyes, and Adam respects that.
"Well, you've sort of been flirting with me, and I was thinking of flirting back. But that means that eventually I might make a move. And while I can appreciate the mysterious, maybe I'd like to know you better. Or something."
Kris sits with his notebook in hand for a long time. Then he writes one sentence and hands the notebook to Adam.
Tommy says you know Alli. What do you know about what she does?
"Um. Well I met her through one of my boyfriends, Jon, who was into this whole mysticism thing. She's a witch. She told me she'd grant me a wish, but I've never tested the theory. What does this—"
And what about her house on the beach?
"She likes sand? I don't understand—"
I'm supposed to tell you I don't remember much about where I came from. That I was in a car accident, and my not speaking is from some sort of trauma deal. That's what I told everyone three years ago.
Adam looks up from the notebook. "And why wouldn't you say that now?"
I almost died in Morocco. Hepatitis. I remember lying there and thinking that this whole surface thing had been a great big joke. The people I was with say God saved me. Maybe He did; maybe not. Either way, I'm not done with this world. And that means something. I don't want to lie to you. I don't know why. Ask Alli if she's going to get her wish yet. Then ask me about my life.
"You are one strange person, you know that?"
Kris grins at Adam. You have no idea. Call Alli.
"My what?" Alli says.
"I'm supposed to ask about your wish."
There's a long silence, and Adam checks his phone to make sure they haven't been disconnected.
"What else did he say to you?"
"Not much," Adam says. "He talked about almost dying in Morocco, and not wanting to lie to me."
Allison clears her throat, "Are you sitting down?"
"Because my wish is to join the mer, and I'm not sure you even believe."
"The what?" Adam shakes his head, trying to clear it.
"The mer. Merpeople. You know—"
"I know what merpeople are. But they—"
"Remember when I showed you the fairy?"
"I was kind of high, Alli," Adam says.
"Damn it Adam. I told you my wish. It's not my fault you don't believe it. I don't know why Kris wants to tell you the truth, but you probably won't believe it. So do me a favor and don't react too harshly, ok?"
"I don't understand."
"I hope you get your wish."
There's another pause.
"You know, maybe you should ask Kris what he wished for. I never did."
"How do you know he wished for anything?"
It's a few weeks before Adam dares to ask. He's used to Alli's mercurial nature, and her fanciful tales. But he sort of remembers a fairy, and it makes him doubt that she's telling tales. It makes him wonder exactly what's going on.
Adam finds Kris walking by the ocean. It's warm despite the night time.
"I guess moonlit walks are a go, then?"
Kris turns and shrugs.
I like the ocean.
Adam holds the notebook for a moment, because something completely ridiculous occurs to him. But he gives it back.
"So what did you wish for?"
Kris stops walking, looks at Adam, and then the ocean.
More than I bargained for. I think I need to sit for this.
Kris walks towards the hotel a little and sits in the sand.
Have you ever felt like you didn't belong?
Adam looks at Kris a long time, trying not to laugh. "I'm an openly gay pop star who happened to win a family-friendly singing competition. I don't even know where to begin on how I don't belong."
Okay. Bad question. Let me start at the beginning. Alli told you her wish?
Did you believe her?
"I don't know."
Kris tilts his head, and looks at the ocean again.
I used to live there. And it was never right. I used to watch the humans all the time. David was one of them. I saved him from drowning. That's when I decided to see a witch. I wished for two things. The first was to be human.
"And the second?"
Kris doesn't write anything.
"Or is that something you want to keep to yourself?"
For now. One cost was my voice. But there are so many ways to make music up here. I can't complain.
"If," Adam purses his lips, "if you lived there, how—"
The spell of transformation covers a lot of ground. I'm still learning a lot though. Music comes easy. I'm not so great with science though.
Kris smiles and shrugs. So that's the basics of my story.
Adam watches Kris's face go from confusion to well, more confusion, and laughs.
"You believe it. Alli believes it. I guess I can too. Although I wouldn't spread it around, you know?"
So now what?
Adam shrugs. "Is it okay if I just watch the stars?"
Okay. Do you know any of the pictures?
"You want to talk astrology?"
I don't know anything about that.
Adam points to the sky, and shows him.
In the next few weeks Adam discovers many things.
They both love music, although their tastes don't always align. It starts when Kris suggests an alternate chord change in a song, and suddenly they are discussing punk versus funk, with Kris accentuating his arguments on the guitar rather than with his notebook. It usually ends with them laughing at one another, until Adam starts it all over again, because for the first time in a long time, someone is discussing music with him, rather than telling or suggesting or listening to his ideas and agreeing without hearing them at all.
They have decidedly different ideas on fashion, although Adam has noticed a certain improvement in at least the cleanliness of Kris's clothes. (The man was nothing if not a little lazy.)
They both are focused, in their own ways. Kris is more of a watcher. Adam is more of a doer.
Adam likes being friends with Kris. Which of course made wanting to make a move a difficult decision. Adam has been friends with boyfriends before, and obviously the amount of time he spent with Kris meant that they were pretty compatible. But he is still technically an employee, and Adam didn't want to mess with the great dynamic the crew had. Then again, he is almost certain everyone already thinks Kris is his boyfriend, so there isn't any worry about that.
The only decision he can make is to think about it more.
"Where the hell is my lead guitarist?"
Adam looks around the room, most everyone is blurry-eyed and non-responsive.
"Anyone? He's supposed to board a plane with me in about twenty minutes, and I can't find him."
"I think maybe he and Liz ran off to elope last night?"
Adam turns to Cam and blinks. He can't help but smile, because it's so damn sweet, but,
"I'm supposed to fly to LA and visit the children's hospital and sing to them, and while a cappella is all well and good, my lead guitarist was supposed to come with me. I was supposed to do a radio thing too. And Ellen. We decided to do acoustic to go along with the new single. Take it all down a notch. And I don't have a guitarist."
Adam isn't angry. Not really. But of all the nights for Tommy to go haring off, last night was not it.
"I don't know what to tell you."
Adam runs a hand through his hair and begins to pace. He's going to have to tell Lane, and they're going to have to scramble to find someone and—
He stops when he almost runs into Kris, who is holding out his notebook.
I could do it. I mean, it won't be any of the fancy stuff, but I've been playing your songs for almost six months now.
Adam pulls Kris towards him and kisses his forehead. "Perfect. Pack something nice-ish and get your ass downstairs. Ever flown first class?"
Kris's astounded look is enough to put a bounce in his step.
Lane gives Kris the how to behave lecture in the car, which he nods at, his eyes widening.
Is she always like that?
"Yes. That's why I love her."
Kris manages to keep his cool, even when the photographers bombard them at the airport. He seems to like the seats on the plane, but doesn't write anything until after takeoff.
So you get mobbed a lot?
"Price of fame."
What about your boyfriends?
Adam looks at Kris, and he wants to lie, but he can't.
"You probably don't want to know."
Adam sits back in his seat and closes his eyes. When Kris's hand covers his, he opens them.
You might be surprised.
"Are you making a move on me, Mr. Allen?"
Kris shrugs, but his hand doesn't move. Adam closes his eyes again, smiling.
Considering the capacity for disaster, the appearances were surprisingly perfect.
Adam forgets how much he's perceived as a solo artist, so the change in guitarists is barely noticed (Ellen notices, but when she teases him about his hot new guitarist, Adam deflects and she gives him a sly smile, and Adam can't help but laugh.)
The first thing Kris does when they get back to the hotel is collapse on his bed. Adam could afford separate rooms at this point in his career, but usually he and Tommy spend all night bullshitting or watching crap television, so they just get one room. Adam is pretty sure he's going to spend all night convincing himself that jumping in the other bed is a bad idea.
Still, he sits on Kris's bed and pokes him.
Kris shakes his head.
Really glad that's over. Thought I'd drop my guitar I was shaking so bad
"You did great."
Kris opens his eyes and sits up. Really?
"Really. Plus, it's always like that."
I've been told. And no, imagining them in their underwear does not help.
Adam laughs, "Never worked for me, either."
Great. So now what?
Adam looks at Kris. "We could watch crap TV, if you want."
Adam watches the TV without really concentrating on it. He's trying to think of what to say. Then during the Price is Right, someone wins a trip to Vegas, and he remembers the plane.
He reaches out and takes Kris hand in his, and he's rewarded with a startled look.
"I know, that's your writing hand. Tough luck." Adam shifts so he's facing Kris. "So I've been thinking too much, and I think I've gotten complacent. I've decided I don't want to be your friend anymore."
Kris eyebrows draw together, and the look of confusion on his face is almost sad.
Adam laughs, leans in, and kisses him. It's almost chase it's so brief, but Kris's hand tightens in his, and the grin on Kris's face when Adam pulls says enough.
"So I guess it's ok if I ask you out to dinner, then?"
Kris rolls his eyes at Adam, and nods. Adam's almost sure he mouths the word 'asshole', but it's indistinct enough that Adam lets it go. He sits back against the bed, hand still in Kris's, and proceeds to argue with the girl on TV over the price of laundry detergent.
Adam is right that everyone already thinks of him and Kris as an item, because no one even mentions the hand-holding. Or the kissing. Well at first. Then everyone begins to tease them about it, and Adam notices an increase in people on Twitter asking him who the new guy is. But it's all so incredibly normal—well, as normal as a relationship on tour can be—that the next few months fly by.
When there is a break, and Adam takes Kris home. Kris, for his part, doesn't goggle at the house (much.)
They don't come up for air for two days. (Kris has to finally lecture Adam that yes, he has had sex before, and just because he can't talk doesn't mean he doesn't know how to say no. Adam has the grace to look slightly chagrined, and then passes it off as wanting to take things slow. Kris compares him to a snail, and it descends into a tickle fight, which…well.)
They visit Allison, who is ecstatic. She pulls Kris aside for a private talk, and seems satisfied with his answers. She gives them her blessing, and tells them to go have fun.
They visit Adam's mother, who makes Kris cry with her immediate acceptance. When she asks what's wrong, he writes
Just miss my mom, that's all
Adam has forgotten the whole mer story, and his heart aches for Kris, because he gave up so much to be here. But Kris tells him to stop, because he made the choice willingly.
Plus the sex is pretty damn good.
When Adam's mom asks what Kris wrote, Adam blushes.
Adam has the courage to ask about David, finally. Kris doesn't answer at first, but spends most of the morning writing.
I think I recognized some part of me in him. I think, maybe, in another time and place, we could have made it. Because we shared a lot of things. But he never loved me completely, and there would have always been that between us.
"But you loved him?"
Kris shakes his head. I think I wanted to.
Adam bites his lip and looks out to the ocean. "What was your second wish?"
I wanted to find someone to love.
"Have you ever been in love?"
Kris nods. Once.
Kris nudges him. I'm walking on the beach with him, you idiot.
Adam smiles and puts his arm around Kris's shoulder. "I'm glad you got your wish."
"Hey Adam, what's up?"
They're visiting Allison again. Kris is watching the water from the porch.
"Am I allowed to make a wish?"
Allison blinks. "Well, yes. But only one. But not the one you want."
Allison looks at Kris. "Well, technically the spell that took his voice comes from a mer witch. I can't counteract that. And before you even ask me to contact them and ask about reversing it, it's not going to happen. It's really sweet, but I can't."
"Okay. It was worth asking. Hey, where did Kris go?"
"I don't know."
Adam walks out the house, and sees a crowd along the beach.
"There was a girl screaming for help. Looked like she was having a fight or something with her boyfriend. So some dude just started swimming and I can't see beyond that.
Adam looks around, and can't find Kris. He looks out to the ocean, but it's too violent for him to see anything much. Then he sees him, and the girl too. She's clinging to him as they walk toward the crowd.
Adam rushes over.
Kris is on his knees, breathing heavily. The man comes out of the ocean shortly after, but is quickly subdued by the crowd.
Kris coughs, and motions for his book.
Allison rushes over with it. Adam manages to lay Kris's head in his lap, trying to keep it elevated.
Kicked my ribs.
The writing is painfully slow, interrupted by wracking coughs. Adam pretends not to see the fleck of blood on the corner of Kris's lips, the grey pallor of his face.
"Kris, it's gonna be fine. I mean, there's an ambulance on the way, I'm sure."
Kris's smile is devastating,
Wasn't supposed to go back.
Adam doesn't understand these words, and Kris doesn't elaborate, his breathing growing more shallow. The crowd is dispersed by the ambulance.
Adam looks at Allison, "I-I don't"
She knows something. Everything, by the look on her face.
"Kris?" Adam says. "You gotta stay with me. Alli tell me what's going on, please."
"He's dying, Adam."
Adam swallows, taking Kris's hand in his. It's cold and wet and unresponsive.
"No. Please. Something. You have to do something."
The EMTs are busy with their hands and airbags. Allison is crying now. Then she looks up.
"Is this your wish? That he lives?"
Adam nods once.
"You might not like it."
"I don't care. He can't die."
She closes her eyes. Adam leans his forehead against Kris's. The EMTs have given up by now.
"I love you," he whispers.
He still can't speak. That alone tells him how much magic was used just to save his life. Cale tells him that he just appeared, disoriented and alone.
The ocean has not changed.
It's almost unfamiliar now, the currents and the waving ferns. Kris feels even more isolated, and tends to spend his days finding ways to escape the mer cautiously watching him.
He watches Adam, who watches right back. It's unhealthy and unproductive and unfair.
Kris doesn't care much. He knows Adam has to leave for the next leg of his tour, so he comes by less often. He hopes the band is taking care of Adam. Kris contemplates never coming back, but his heart hurts so much at the thought that he dismisses it immediately.
Time is harder to track down here, so it seems endless days of wandering, of listening to Cale trying to cheer him up, of listening to his mother try to find the positives in the situation.
Then one day they don't come, and Kris is happy to wallow alone. He considers going to see Adam, but then he remembers Adam is in Europe somewhere. Finland. Sweden. Somewhere in the North.
Every time Kris closes his eyes, he remembers the conversation with Kara.
If I grant this wish, she says You must never come back. That is part of your sacrifice.
If I do come back? Kris asks.
Don't. The consequences of that action will be fatal.
Kris had agreed because of his desperation to be somewhere he belonged. And had completely forgotten the promise in his flight to help a stranger.
Adam would have said he was being ridiculous. Which only made Kris feel worse.
It was his mother.
"Kris there's someone to see you. It's not Cale. Well, Cale is here, but he says you'll want to see her."
Kris looks at his mother for a long time. Who—
He swims out of his hidey-hole, and if he had been on his legs, would have fallen to the ground at the sight of the shock of red hair.
"You totally didn't lie about your friend, Kris," Allison says. "He's super cute."
Cale (by the look on his face at least) does not object to this assessment.
"I actually brought someone with me. I sort of told her your story, and she travelled a long way to see you. Jaylo?"
The mermaid that swims towards them is gorgeous. She has an aura about her that projects calm and peace. Kris knows instantly that she is a witch as well.
"I heard your tale. Of what you did despite the consequences of your actions. Leaving the ocean should have been enough sacrifice for everything. It always is enough. To put any more of an onus upon you was wrong, and Kara has been dealt with."
Was this supposed to make Kris feel better? He didn't understand the point of this.
"That said, even though the rules only allow you one wish, I've asked the council that perhaps you might be given one more?"
Kris looks at Allison, then his mother.
"Go on, Kris. It's ok, as long as you are happy."
Kris turns back to the witch, and closes his eyes. And wishes.
When the tour ended, Adam holed himself up in his house. He hasn't bothered to pack any of Kris's things yet. He doesn't want to.
He hasn't seen Kris since he left for the last leg of the tour. Adam's okay with this, because maybe he might just move on.
He even thinks about selling the house for awhile, getting a new start. But instead he sits around and grows a beard. His friends try to reach him, but he ignores their calls.
He can't help but notice that Allison is not among the numbers.
He wonders if she got her wish.
About six months after Kris's return to the ocean, Adam decides to clean himself up and get out for once. He can't mourn forever.
His friends take him out to a private club. Adam dances with little enthusiasm, but at least he can smile at them. He's watching them dance when someone slides into the booth.
The voice is low, slightly tinged with the South.
"Wanna hold my hand?"
Adam turns to blow the guy off, and stops.
Adam does the only thing he can think of: he pulls Kris close and kisses him senseless.
"How? I don't understand."
"Allison pulled some strings. And it turns out that my contract was sort of bogus."
"Yeah. And I guess all that country music did me in."
"I like it."
"So, what now?"
Adam shakes his head. "Whatever we want."
He pulls Kris close, and they watch the crowd, their hands intertwined. They don't talk then. They have time for that later. Mostly, it's a knowing glance, a secret smile, a hug that is different from everyone else's. Adam knows that here, he is home.