Yeah, okay. If Kendall’s going to be completely honest, he’s gone searching for other worlds before.
When he was a kid, man, he’d peek inside every closet in the house, looking for Narnia. He wouldn’t have even been too fussed if he didn’t meet Aslan, as long as he got to go somewhere, anywhere.
Because anywhere had to be way better than here.
He tried to fly to Neverland once, jumping off the roof and earning himself a sprained wrist and a firm talking to from his mom. He peered down rabbit holes in search of Wonderland, searched pictures for any trace of movement, any hint of Hogwarts, and fervently wished for tornados to take him to Oz.
He danced about in mushroom circles, hoping for fairies to whisk him away Underhill, and more than once he spent hours in the woods, combing for trees with the distinctive markings that would take him to Halloweentown.
He didn’t really care where he went. He just wanted, more than anything, to believe. In magic. In fairytales. In a whole world of adventures.
Because he always had been the kid who believed in magic, longer than anyone else in his school.
First graders these days, man, they were tough.
Kendall could only hold out for so long.
He had to make a decision about where to draw the line between imaginative and psychotic, which is truly a decision no kid should ever have to make. But they do, all the time, whether it’s believing in Santa Claus or giving up an imaginary friend. Life’s way harsh that way.
Eventually, Kendall forgot all about his adventures exploring cupboards and peering at the sky, trying to glimpse the first signs of an unexpected storm.
He grew up, the most inadvisable thing anyone can ever do.
Despite all that, his life isn’t terrible. It’s actually sort of wonderful.
Kendall may not have ever gotten a hint of magic, but he does get stadiums full of teenage girls, chanting his name. He gets to spend ninety nine percent of his time with his absolute best friends in the entire world. It’s everything a guy could ask for.
But sometimes, he just feels tired.
He’s grateful. So grateful. Only, he needs a break, every now and then.
So, on the day that it all happens, Kendall’s personal trip to Narnia, or, as he initially likes to call it, hell, he’s hiding from Gustavo. Or maybe he’s hiding from Kelly. Or maybe he’s just playing hooky and doing his best imitation of beached whale, sunning himself by the pool. He might be thinking about hitting the rink later that night, or how pretty Jo looks and how much he hates her for breaking up with him a few months back, or what his mom’s cooking for dinner.
The truth is, he doesn’t remember anymore what exactly he’s doing or thinking at that exact moment, because it isn’t all that important. What is important is how he feels. Exhausted. A little lonely. And very, very homesick. The band’s been taking off, and Kendall’s wondering how long it’s been since his feet really touched the ground, since he felt like a normal human being and not the lead singer of Big Time Rush, the sparkliest boy band that ever sparkled.
Oh, he’s heard the rumors, and he’s even deigned to Google Alert his name.
Until the day this link popped up with the words ‘bandom’ and ‘slash’, and then maybe he’d wanted to gouge out his eyes, and possibly scrub the inside of his brain.
If a part of him read five different stories and found the possibilities intriguing, he’s ignored it. Steadfastly.
Anyway, he’s splayed out on a lounge chair, eyes closed against the constant onslaught of the sun, thinking about everything and nothing all at once.
And then he starts feeling weird.
Like when he’s laying flat on his bed late at night, and he swears he can feel the room or the city or the whole world spinning beneath him.
So his eyes snap open, except instead of stopping, the feeling intensifies. He can feel his ribcage being pulled one way and his organs the other and something sick rises in his throat, because the whole world has gone crystalline and sparkly, every angle of the Palmwoods pool and its occupants razor sharp and much too bright. Abruptly, they all fall away, like cardboard cutouts or film projections fizzing out of existence, blinking out of Kendall’s field of vision as if the people and the chlorinated water and the cabanas never existed at all.
He thinks he’s having some kind of fainting spell, because the closest thing he can equate to this is the time he got dehydrated after a game and threw up everything in his stomach all over the ice and oh god, maybe this is sunstroke. Maybe his mom’s right and he hasn’t been wearing enough sunscreen or drinking enough water and fuck, he’s never going to live down blacking out next to the pool. He opens up his mouth but he can barely croak out anything resembling a noise, and darkness is creeping up the edge of his vision, replacing all the things that disappeared, and on top of it there’s these sparkling flashes, like cameras going off or diamonds glinting in the sunlight and he’s positive he’s already passed out but then why are his eyes still open?
But quick as it started, it ends, and he’s sitting on a lounge chair by the pool, the world snapped back to normalcy. Kendall sits straight up and thinks he should get a milkshake immediately. Then he can conference in Logan and ask what the chances are that he just had some kind of heat spell or is developing hypoglycemia or if all of that means he’s headed towards a psychotic break.
By the time Kendall sucks down a strawberry smoothie, he’s kind of thinking that maybe he doesn’t have to talk to Logan after all. He feels fine. Plus he can’t stand the doctor. All that poking and the needles.
He’s not scared. Just, you know, cautious. Why invite all that prodding when he’s obviously in perfect health?
Anyway, he’s taking the stairwell back up to 2J, because the elevator is packed full of three foot tall children, and Kendall’s still a little bit traumatized by his last babysitting experience. He pushes open the door to the second floor and meanders out into the familiar hallway. That’s when he hears the voices.
He’s still around the corner from 2J, and he has to seriously talk himself out of popping out and screaming ‘boo’ at his friends, because Carlos is always good for a scare, and Logan shrieks like a little girl, and he kind of likes the way James smirks when their friends are acting like idiots.
He likes putting that smile on James’s face, really.
At the last second, though, he hears a voice that doesn’t belong to James, Carlos, or Logan, and he thinks better of his sneak attack. He peers around the bend, trying to ascertain who exactly they’ve brought home this time. They’re constantly dragging new people into the apartment. His mother makes food in bulk, just for unexpected guests.
And their growing teenage boy appetites, but whatever.
It’s always weird seeing the three of them gathered around someone else, because so often they gravitate to Kendall, planets orbiting his hemisphere. And it’s doubly weird, because they’re hanging on to every word this stranger says, and for a beat Kendall thinks he looks really familiar, but it’s hard to tell with his face half obscured in shadow, hair covered in a ratty gray beanie. What’s going on?
He steps out into the open, clearing his throat.
James is the one who looks up first, and something Kendall doesn’t recognize flashes across his face.
It’s almost like the stunned amazement he wears whenever a new girl comes to the Palmwoods, or the way he looks when Cuda comes out with a new manspray, but that’s obviously the heatstroke, back in force, because Kendall can’t think of any other reason why James would look at him like a present on Christmas morning.
Like someone he’s never seen before, but is excited to get to know.
“Hey,” he says, wiggling his fingers at the group.
The guy in the middle, the sort of familiar one they’ve been talking to, spins around and wow, yeah, okay, Kendall does recognize him.
“Who are you?” the guy asks, and Kendall frowns. Rude much?
Thanks to Katie, Kendall knows all about Dak Zevon, the kid from Smalltown, Wisconsin who got discovered when he was ten, singing at a talent show in his new school in California.
He knows things he’d really prefer not to know, like his favorite color, and what kind of soap he uses in the shower.
Pop Tiger’s interviews get a little invasive, sometimes.
But Kendall also has the advantage of knowing Dak personally, and from what he’s seen, the kid’s a sweetheart. Kind of cocky, but usually the epitome of the polite young professional actor.
He’s never seen Dak act like an asshole. He doesn’t wear it well.
“Kendall,” Kendall says slowly, drawing his name out like maybe Dak’s suffered some kind of horrible, mind altering accident. Maybe a fan hit him in the head with a basketball or something.
Dak says, “Isn’t Kendall a girl’s name?”
Kendall thinks he’d like to hit Dak, with something a lot harder than a fucking rubber ball.
“Aren’t those girl’s pants?” He counters, crossing his arms.
The corner of Dak’s mouth lifts, ever so slightly, and he says, “I’m getting really sick of being stalked in our own hotel. I’m glad you like the band, dude, but you need to get lost before we call security.”
“Curt,” James says, mouth gaping in protest, and Dak frowns at him.
Or- not Dak, because he answered to Curt. Kendall doesn’t have time to think it over, because the Dak-leganger begins to say something that sounds expletive filled and fun. James grabs his arm and gives Kendall this unreadable look before pushing open the door to the apartment. Kendall’s about to follow-
Except, then something strange happens.
Carlos takes over. Carlos takes over and continues a bit more gently, “If you’re looking for autographs, you can talk to our manager.”
Its bullshit, because Kendall knows very well that BTR doesn’t have a manager, unless you count Kelly, who mostly just manages Gustavo.
But even aside from that, what?
“Well- it was nice to meet you,” Logan says, already ushering Carlos into 2J. Kendall has about a second to realize that Logan’s hair is kind of long and shaggy and nothing like it was just this afternoon. And then he slams the door in Kendall’s face.
Kendall stumbles down to the lobby, more than a bit confused. He doesn’t usually remember his dreams, and the ones he does have never been so realistic. But he can still smell the scent of mansweat mixed with James’s expensive cologne in the back of his nose, and- this is the most unreal thing that’s ever happened to him. Usually the landscape of his sleep is skewed, surreal, like the time he dreamt about zombies conquering Los Angeles and he had to live inside the swirly slide with a stash of rifles, a circus clown, and that girl from 4A. But this? Nothing like this has happened to him. Not ever. He wonders if heatstroke can cause really, really lucid dreams.
He spends half an hour of warring between visiting the crazy doctor and actually getting up the courage to go upstairs again. The latter wins out. He’s slow in his movements, and even when he knocks, he feels like the blood in his veins has come to a standstill.
A lady opens the door.
He’s never seen her in his life.
“Can I help you sweetheart?” Kendall stares at the woman, who is decidedly not his mother. He peers behind her, taking in the familiar orange couch and the garishly yellow swirly slide and all things his.
“Um, I’m looking for my- mom?” He feels about four years old. The woman raises an eyebrow.
That’s when he spots the picture of her, standing next to a distinguished looking man and Dak- Curt- whoever, hanging right where the picture of him and Katie and his mom has always hung, since they first moved in.
His heart sinks low in his stomach and before he knows what he’s doing, he says, “My mistake, wrong apartment. Sorry.”
She smiles, says, “No trouble at all,” and closes the door.
Kendall doesn’t know what to do.
He spends half an hour in the lobby, trying to strategize his next course of action, but he keeps on coming up empty. Guitar Dude’s strumming away on a ledge with a fresh batch of adoring groupies at his feet. The Jennifers are soaking in the very last of the late summer rays out by the pool as the sun dips low beyond the horizon. And his friends, his best friends in the whole world, are sitting on the couches near the entry way, laughing and joking and completely ignoring him.
Kendall wants to go up to James, Logan, and Carlos and shake them. He wants to demand to know why they’re acting like they’ve never seen him before. But Kendall is quick on his feet, most days, and he figures stealth is the way to go.
So he sidles up to Guitar Dude, mid power ballad, and says in a calm voice, “Oh my fucking god. Is that Dak Zevon?”
Guitar Dude’s flying fingers pause.
“Who?” He glances in the direction of the guys and says, “Nah, dude. That’s Curt.”
“Who?” Kendall echoes.
“Curt. Curt Zevon,” he says, “Not sure who Dak is. Cousin, maybe?”
His fingers are long and callused, and Kendall studies the tiny lines across his knuckles, the way the pads of his index and ring finger rest lightly on the chords. He’s trying to look anywhere except where this Curt kid’s hand is resting on James’s shoulder in this proprietary way, like it belongs there. He wants to look at anything but how Curt’s legs are tangled with Logan’s and Carlos’s, and they’re smiling and laughing and it stings, sharp and poignant in his chest.
“Right. Curt Zevon. So, he’s- who is he?”
Guitar Dude gives him a skeptical frown, “You don’t know? He’s the leader of Big Time Rush.”
“Right,” Kendall says again, voice soft, “Yeah. Of course.”
He kind of wants to throw up. He doesn’t. He repeats hoarsely, “The leader.”
Guitar Dude hears him and nods, not getting it, “I know. It’s cool to see four kids from Wisconsin make it, yeah?”
Kendall blinks. What is in motherfucking Wisconsin? Because it certainly hasn’t been James, Carlos, or Logan, for as long as he’s known them.
“Wisconsin,” Guitar Dude says slowly, drawing out his syllables and staring at Kendall like he might be slow, “They were like, BMXers or- no, skateboarders, before.”
“Before they hit him big time,” he squints at Kendall and asks, “Who’re you, anyway?”
“No one,” Kendall replies, voice a whisper, “I’m no one.”
That night, after most of the kids in the Palmwoods have meandered up to their rooms, Kendall ends up sleeping in the supply closet adjacent to the lobby. He curls into the hard metal shelving and wonders if he’s losing his mind.
He wakes up the next morning armed with a mission; find a real bed. He’s got a crick in his neck that makes him feel like he was sleeping on rocks instead of a rumpled tarp.
And then the nightmare begins. He asks around. No one seems to know who he is, not even Bitters, whose life he has supposedly made a living hell since the day he first stepped foot in the Palmwoods.
Kendall’s got twenty bucks in his wallet and a credit card his mom’s designated for emergencies, but he’s more than a little scared to see if the thing works. He ends up bogarting breakfast from one of the new kids when they aren’t looking. Breakfast being a burrito from Del Taco smothered in El Scorcho sauce, which is tasty if not exactly a mom-approved nutritional meal. He sits in the lobby, moping, for hours.
Eventually, he manages to convince himself to go to the business lounge, where Bitters has two lone, ancient desktop computers set up for the Palmwoods short term customers, in town for business meetings or quick acting jobs.
Cringing, Kendall writes Big Time Rush into the search box in Google.
It’s all there. Everything about how Gustavo Rocque was holding open auditions across America, and found talent in Curt Zevon, a skateboarder from Wisconsin, and his three best friends. Kendall does a little background checking on the guys, because he doesn’t understand this, not any of it. He finds out from the BTR website that James and Logan grew up together in Minnesota, next door neighbors, which he already knows. Mrs. Mitchell and Mrs. Diamond- James’s stepmom- grew up together. They were childhood best friends. It was part of their life plan, getting homes right next to each other or something- he kind of always zones whenever they launch into the story, which happens every major holiday.
He finds out from a medical webpage that Logan’s mom, a world-class cardiothoracic surgeon, got offered a job at one of the big teaching hospitals in Wisconsin, when Logan was about seven. And Kendall remembers this; he remembers how scared he and James were that Logan was going to move away, that they’d never see him again. He remembers begging Mrs. Mitchell to stay.
Apparently, he wasn’t around to do that in bizarro world. As far as Kendall can tell, Mrs. Diamond must have somehow convinced her husband to pack up and move along with the Mitchells. It wouldn’t have been that big a deal; Mr. Diamond is a relatively versatile guy. He’s held about eighty jobs for as long as Kendall’s known him, and he always lands on his feet.
As for Carlos, well. Mr. Garcia and Kendall’s mom are friends from way back, from when Kendall’s dad was still alive. Kendall knows that Mr. Garcia and Mr. Knight had some kind of falling out before he died, leaving them kind of estranged. Carlos and his family lived in Florida at the time, as far away as humanly possible without leaving the country. He also knows that after his dad died, Mr. Garcia moved back up to Minnesota, to help out Kendall’s mom. She was all alone with two kids and a mountain of debt, and Kendall knows she’s always been thankful for Carlos’s dad’s help.
But when he does some checking up through the local police department in Bumblefuck, Wisconsin, he finds out that Carlos’s dad has been with the force since roughly around the time that Kendall’s dad died.
For the record, Kendall is not fearless, or brave.
Mostly he’s bewildered and a little annoyed that absolutely ludicrous things keep happening to him. It’s not like he sits up in bed night after night, praying for his life to become some kind of ridiculous sitcom script. He doesn’t want to conduct the next search, the search he knows he has to if he’s going to figure any of this out. He doesn’t know for sure that he has a doppelganger out there somewhere, but-
He takes a deep breath and searches for his dad’s obituary.
He doesn’t find it.
Kendall wants to do the next thing even less, but he forces himself to man up and he calls his house back home, in Minnesota. An elderly gentleman answers and says the Knights moved away ten years ago, and he has no idea if they have a son or not. Kendall figures maybe its better not to know.
The rest of the day, Kendall stalks his friends. He calls it reconnaissance.
He finds out a few things. For one, he hates Curt. He literally cannot identify a single redeeming quality about the guy, from his fake Dak face to his douchebag attitude to the way Kendall’s best friends in the entire world seem to dote on him. Which, okay, James, Carlos, and Logan are ridiculously loyal. And it’s fine, when they’re being ridiculously loyal to Kendall.
Not so much when they want to kiss the butt of his royal scumminess.
He probably isn’t being completely fair, here. He recognizes that. He doesn’t fucking care.
He finds out that Logan’s a lot less into studying, which is both odd and refreshing. He’s still smart as all get out; Kendall spots him carrying around books by Russian authors with ridiculously long names and more than once overhears him expounding on the many advantages of green technology, but for the most part he seems content to hang around Curt.
It bothers him, the way Logan looks at Curt, like he’s the center of the universe. It bothers him a lot.
The lack of Camille in Logan’s life is also more than a little bit unsettling. At first he thinks it’s weird that Camille and Logan aren’t dating, or even friends. He sees the looks she’s been giving him all day, but Logan seems absolutely oblivious. In Kendall’s universe, the two have been dating on and off for over a year; his versions of Logan and Camille have already broken up about eighty times, and they’re still the best of friends.
Then he realizes that here, Kendall wasn’t around to date Jo, meaning she’d never been there to bridge the gap between Camille and the guys.
She hadn’t been in the VIP section of their party to give Logan that (awful) advice that made him man up and go for it.
In fact, Kendall realizes he hasn’t seen Jo around at all. He wonders what that means.
Carlos seems a lot less bouncy and girl crazy. Kendall spots him deep in conversation with the Jennifers on several occasions, and he does not appear to be flirting, or bombing at flirting, or in any way even checking them out. It’s confusing.
And then there’s James. This version of James is so down to earth, so completely grounded that it kind of makes Kendall feel like his head is the one in the clouds. He’s very aware of all of his James’s good points of course; the way he finds it so easy to be sweet and shy when no one is looking. But this?
He reads books instead of magazines, and some of them even have Logan’s lengthy Russian titles on the cover. He holds active discussions about poetry and charity work and things Kendall’s never once heard his James express any interest in at all. It’s only after he eavesdrops on a solid hour long conversation with James and some beaming starlet-wannabe about Leonardo DiCaprio’s hair that he realizes maybe this boy isn’t completely different. He might be short the ever present pocket mirror, his lucky comb, and about eight gallons of hair gel, but it’s still James.
Just- more serious.
More mature, somehow.
Like without Kendall around, he had to grow up too fast.
Which, if Kendall really thinks about it, makes sense. He’s the one who got James involved in prank wars and hockey and a million zany plans. When they first met, James’s mom had him enrolled in violin and singing lessons that lasted something like six hours a day and honor classes that had him giving Logan a run for his money. James had been this serious little kid who occasionally had diva moments, and Kendall had seen it. He’d convinced him that he was good enough to ditch the lessons- and who played violin anyway- and got him a real life.
Consequently, James’s stepmom despises Kendall, but as far as he can tell, James has always been happier for it. So has Logan, who always kind of hated the competition when James didn’t even like learning.
That night, Kendall goes to an impromptu concert that Rocque Records is holding, to showcase the band. He finds out about it through a flyer pressed into his hand by Kelly, of all people, who’s inviting most of the Palmwoods and stares Kendall right in the eye without a flicker of recognition.
The band is amazing. Logan’s still a shit dancer, but he nails every harmony, and Carlos actually manages not to bound around on stage like an overeager puppy and Curt, as obnoxious as he is, leads them through choreography that looks way more rigorous than anything Kendall’s ever managed.
At concerts, his James is color and light and swelling sound, thunder in the distance and the electric thrill of lightning right before touchdown on stage, and that hasn’t changed.
What has is that when this version of him steps off the concert floor, his colors mute, his smile growing serious, and it’s like he’s barely there at all. Like he’s normal, and not this driving force of pretty and vain and fun.
Like he’s forgettable.
Kendall has trouble reconciling the two versions of his best friend, from their hair to their clothes to the way they look at him, when James spots him in the crowd, just for a moment, before being ushered to the limo. He can’t get past the difference between this sullen faced boy and his James, who hands out smiles like candy, who laughs as often as he breathes.
Kendall knows it’s all his fault, for not being here, for not standing up to this James’s mother and making sure he actually learned how to have fun.
It’s kind of nice knowing he’s had such a significant impact on people’s lives.
It also kind of sucks, seeing that they’re completely capable of living without him.
He sleeps in the supply closet again, that night.
The following morning, Kendall’s about to scarper off with some kid’s coffee when he gets slapped in the face. Hard.
Kendall reels back, scandalized, and he glares at the girl in the blue sundress standing in front of him.
“Camille! Hands are for hugging and helping, not for hurting,” He squeaks, clutching his cheek. She hits so damn hard.
Camille tilts her head to the side, eyes raking over him in a way that feels vaguely intrusive.
“How do you know my name again?”
Shit. He’s almost forgotten, except for the whole scavenging for breakfast thing.
“No reason. Go on your way now,” he shoos her off. Girls are fucking weird, and he doesn’t have time for this, except-
“-and my dad’s away for the next two weeks for some-“ Camille is saying to some random, someone who’s not important, but what she’s saying kind of is.
Because yeah, Kendall remembers talking to her about that the day before yesterday, before everyone turned into pod people. Her dad’s supposed to be away at some convention for plastic surgeons or dental hygienists or whatever it is that Camille’s dad does. Something medically related, he’s almost positive.
Or maybe he just thinks that because her dad loves Logan, and he associates Logan with all things involving a stethoscope.
Kendall maneuvers himself around the palms lining the lobby, trying to get close to her again.
“Camille. Camille,” he hisses through the fronds. She turns to look at him, face quizzical but open.
“Hi. Listen, can I talk to you for a minute?”
“Sure. You are?”
“The kid you slapped five seconds ago,” he sighs, and then extends a hand with a greeting of, “Kendall.”
He’s already long past sick of introducing himself to people he’s known for years.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. So, I need to crash in your apartment.”
“I promise I am not a serial killer or a stalker or trying to scope out your acting skills.”
Camille has always been paranoid about spies.
“And I wouldn’t ask you, except I just heard you say your dad’s out of town for that convention and Bitters already kicked me out of the supply closet and- if you help me- I’ll set you up with Logan.”
“You know Logan?”
Not yet, apparently, but he plans on it.
“Sure,” he shrugs.
Camille frowns at him, “You sure you’re not going to axe me in my sleep?”
“You have my word,” Kendall says, and he does his best to look like an innocent, helpless teenager.
“Fine. You can sleep on the couch.”
Which is already a vast improvement over a blue tarp scented like Windex.
“I’ll take it.”
One problem down.
He attempts to tackle the next minutes later, when he spots the guys, with Curt, waiting for the elevator.
James seems to be the most reasonable one here, so Kendall zooms in on him, even though usually Logan beats him out on the whole common sense angle.
Not because James doesn’t have any, he just hides it well.
Really, really well.
Confidently, Kendall makes his way over to them.
“I- can I talk to you? Minus,” Kendall waves his hand vaguely over Curt’s silhouette, “This?”
James opens his mouth, but Curt beats him to the punch, “Um, A, right here. B, we’re late.”
“To the apartment?” Kendall asks quizzically.
“To the studio. Geez.”
The studio. Gustavo. Right.
Kendall frowns at the elevator, which they are obviously waiting for to go up. Curt gets what he’s hinting at and says, “Logan, grab your stupid sweater so we can go already?”
Oh. Well. That is an explanation, of sorts.
The elevator arrives, and Kendall watches them get on, nobody but James sparing him a second glance. He stares at the ugly brown wallpaper and tries to force back the knot in his throat.
He feels Camille breathing at his shoulder seconds later, “You really have no idea what you’re doing, do you?”
“No clue,” Kendall replies cheerfully, turning to face her.
“Look, if you want an in with the guys, then you’re right- the easiest one to get through to is James. Logan’s adorable, don’t get me wrong, but he can be socially awkward and he’s got this almost neurotic paranoia of strangers.”
Which sounds almost exactly like his Logan, actually, but this one seems to hide it rather well.
They all look so much cooler, so much more composed. Kendall wonders if he was the one to turn them into these- daredevil dorks who wear every single thing they feel right there, right on their faces.
“Carlos is super friendly,” Camille continues, “But he’s always in the midst of some kind of scheme, and unless we put you in a skirt made out of corndogs, it’s going to be a pain to get his attention for longer than a few minutes.”
That also sounds resoundingly familiar. The guys Camille’s describing are just like his friends- but then why are they acting so different from what he knows?
It strikes him that it’s possibly, probably because he’s on the outside, now.
The thought makes him miserable.
He’s been in this- alternate reality, or whatever, for four days when James sits down beside him on a lounge chair by the pool. Kendall shifts over before he even realizes this is not his James, and the look on his face isn’t one he’s familiar with.
“Look, Curt’s kind of a dick,” James admits, out of the blue, “But he’s also one of my best friends, and- he’s a good guy, deep down. Deep, deep down. I mean, he’s the reason I’m here.”
Kendall wonders if his James ever thinks he’s a dick. He knows he has the capacity for it, but he likes to think he‘s a bit less obvious about his inner asshole than Curt Zevon.
Even so, of all the guys, he and James clash more often than the rest of them. James calls him out when Kendall’s being too reckless, when he’s being selfish, or not selfish enough. He makes Kendall try to be better.
Even with all their fights, though, Kendall thinks that he’s always clicked better with his James than Curt and this version. Maybe it’s wishful thinking.
Maybe he doesn’t want James to be able to exist properly without him.
“I’m sorry he’s being such a jerk. Something about you seems to bring it out in him.
“Don’t apologize,” Kendall squints up at him, the sun in his eyes, “It’s not your fault.”
James smiles, and even if it’s not quite as wide as Kendall wants it to be, it’s still nice to see directed at him.
“So we haven’t even been properly introduced. Kendall, right?”
“Kendall Knight,” Kendall agrees, “And you’re James Diamond.”
“I am at that,” James smiles again, the tiniest bit wider.
And that’s how they start hanging out.
Getting to know James all over again is weirder than weird, but also nice. Kendall kind of takes his version of James for granted. They do most everything together, so it’s not often that they talk about themselves, or the things they like that the other doesn’t, or what they think when they aren’t sharing a brain.
His version of James has always known obscure things about superstars and like, who won the Grammys in 1994 and every single ingredient in Cuda manspray, but this James knows bizarre trivia about independent movies that Kendall has never heard of and can actually hold conversations about philosophy and can name every musician on the scene whether they sing pop or country or folk songs.
They talk about all kinds of things, now.
When James finds out Kendall’s from Minnesota, they share memories of their home, and Kendall barely remembers to skillfully edit out his best friends’ names from each of his stories.
Kendall has been in this world for a week when they actually spend a full day together at the pool. Logan’s off with Curt, who’s probably skateboarding, because Kendall’s seen him taking to the rails outside the bank two blocks away more than once, and Carlos is shopping with the Jennifers.
No matter how hard Kendall tries, he hasn’t actually found an in with either of them yet. It’s a bit depressing, but he doesn’t want to think about that. Right now, he watches James slice through the water, as comfortable in his own skin as he’s ever seen him.
The James that Kendall knows has spent the past year and a half learning how to surf. He’s pretty decent at it. Sometimes Kendall will trek down to Malibu or Newport or Laguna with him to watch the waves roll in. James has been trying for ages to get Kendall on a board, and even though Kendall figures he’ll cave eventually, he likes the whole process of laying his beach towel down on the sand and sprawling out to soak up the sun while James conquers the ocean, his body a distant, dynamic silhouette.
His James has always belonged more to the sky and the sea than the land, even back in Minnesota. Back then, the second summer touched down, he was always cannonballing into the lakes, out sailing with Logan’s family or wake boarding with Carlos or lifeguarding at the community pool. Lifeguarding was of course code for paddling around the deep end with the newest swimmers, laughing and joking and shining like the sun.
Kendall has a million memories of his James, dripping wet and smiling so hard and so wide they could probably see it in space.
He decides to make a few more, plunging into the deep end and tackling his friend, relearning his ticklish spots and nearly drowning them both.
He’s been sleeping at Camille’s for nearly ten days when he finally works up the courage to ask, “Hey, Camille?”
“Yeah?” she looks up from where she’s painting her toenails. She’s forcing them both to watch some horrible show on the CW, and it makes Kendall feel like his brain is actually decaying every time the actors open their mouths.
“Did a girl named Jo ever come to the Palmwoods?”
“Jo- you mean Josephine Taylor?”
“Yeah, that’s her.”
Kendall thinks about how Jo despises being called Josephine.
“Sure. We got to be pretty good friends- she, um, I may have actually befriended her because I thought she was after Logan, but-“ Camille casts him a rueful grin.
“The guys fought over her and she shot them down. Curt was the most persistent, but he gave up eventually, and Jo eventually got this job offer in like, Nova Scotia, I think? She filmed this amazing movie, and now I think she’s playing Gwen Stacey in the new Spiderman. We kind of lost touch when she hit it big.”
Camille purses her lips in a show of exactly what she thinks about that, but then she says, “It’s not really her fault. We still talk, but she’s just so busy, all the time.”
Kendall remembers that movie offer. It was a few months before she got the part with New Town High, and it wasn’t the biggest role, but it was a movie. He’d told her she’d be idiotic not to take it. She’d told him her dad wouldn’t let her.
Now- even though he and Jo have broken up, Kendall’s kind of touched. She really had turned down the movie for him. She could be fucking Spiderman’s girlfriend right now.
Not that New Town High isn’t this huge teen phenomena, but- she’d stalled her career, just for him. Kendall thinks maybe he’ll have to apologize to Jo, if he ever gets back home.
“So, you know her?”
“Uh, no. I just heard- someone talking about her. She sounded nice.”
Camille returns to painting her toes. But right before she goes back to her bedroom for the night, she says, “Kendall?”
“I think Jo would have liked you. In fact, I’m positive she would have.”
Kendall confronts Logan the next day.
“Hey, you’re Logan, right?”
“Uh, yeah. You’re that kid- um, James’s friend. Hi.”
“Hi,” Kendall brushes away his offered hand, “I’m Kendall. So, anyway, like, I have these tickets to the planetarium on Friday night, and the last time I went I fell asleep. All that darkness.”
Logan’s eyes light up at the word planetarium, but Kendall knows he still has to tread carefully.
“So I gave one of them to Camille-“
Logan’s face falls, and he asks, “Camille?”
“Yeah, you know, she seems cool, man.”
“And she’s auditioning for this role about a teenage astronaut? I figured she needed the research.”
“Oh. An astronaut, really?”
“Yeah. Between you and me, I was kind of hoping Camille might want to go out with me, but it’s a no go.”
“Go out with you? What’s wrong with you?” Logan makes an incredulous face, like the idea of someone wanting to date Camille is slightly horrifying.
“Nothing. You have to admit she's gorgeous.”
“Well- yeah. I guess,” Logan pauses and then says, “I hadn’t really- but now that you say so, yeah. She’s really pretty.”
“And okay, so she can be a little scary, but a little intensity is never a bad thing. I mean imagine having all of that energy focused on you. Kissing. Or more.”
“More?” Logan squeaks.
Kendall inclines his head and puts on his most lecherous smile.
“Do you want the tickets?”
“Okay- um. Yeah. Yes. Definitely.”
Kendall’s the motherfucking master of matchmaking. He beams.
By the end of the night, he’s got Logan eating dinner with him and James at this diner three blocks down. Carlos gets curious when they run into him in the lobby, as Carlos does, and it only takes a single offer of a corndog to drag him on board. For the first time in what feels like forever, Kendall has all three of his best friends’ attention right where it belongs.
Later the next day, Curt comes at him, and he looks steamed.
“Who the hell are you?”
“Do you have amnesia?”
Curt scowls at him, “You know what I mean.”
“I really, actually don’t.”
“You talk to the guys like you’ve known them forever.”
“They’re- easy to get along with,” Kendall hedges.
“They are not. In small doses, maybe, but most people can’t tolerate Logan for longer than an hour, and you’re taking him out for pizza and setting him up on dates. Carlos can barely focus on strangers for a minute if they don’t have boobs, and you’ve suddenly got him wrapped around your finger. Don’t even get me started on James.”
Kendall kind of desperately wants Curt to get started on James, because more and more, Kendall finds himself watching his best friend. He doesn’t know if he’s always been so- he doesn’t know. There’s something about the loping way he walks, and the way he leans in when they’re having a conversation that’s fascinating- but he figures there’s a time to keep your mouth shut, and this probably is it.
“I’m charismatic?” he offers.
Curt gives him a very, very skeptical look.
“I am,” Kendall protests, because he’s reasonably certain that he’s been told on several occasions that he has charisma. And a knack for pissing people off. Usually in the same sentence, but. Not important.
“You told James you’re from Minnesota. You’re not- did you know the guys when they were young or something?”
“Yes.” Kendall replies, because he sort of really hates lying.
“They don’t remember you?”
“What is it- exactly, that you want from them?”
“Nothing,” Kendall shakes his head, and although it isn’t strictly truth, he can’t think of an answer that will make Curt happy, either.
He thinks that’s the end of it, but less than an hour later, he’s got James standing in front of him, arms crossed, a frown playing over his lips.
“Curt said you knew us when we lived in Minnesota. But I don’t remember you.”
Stupid Curt and his stupid mouth.
“Yeah,” Kendall sighs. He doesn’t know how to explain, but James is tapping his foot and watching him expectantly.
“Let me tell you a story.”
Kendall makes the decision before he’s even aware of doing it, but he figures what the hell. It’s time to lay out all of his cards.
“A story?” James cocks an eyebrow, “Really?”
“Okay,” he shrugs, “If that’s what it takes to make you tell me what’s going on.”
“Alright. Um,” Kendall’s used to telling Katie stories at bedtime. Sometimes the guys will jump in and do voices or illustrative shadow puppets. But he’s not sure how to relate something so completely impossible, but so completely true to someone his own age.
He supposes he should probably start the same way.
“Once upon a time-“ James makes a face, but Kendall forges on, “Once. Upon. A. Time, there was a little boy in Minnesota. All he wanted was to become a hockey player. One day, he was walking home from school, and he saw these two other little boys playing street hockey. And they were good. Really fucking good. His team hadn’t been doing so well, and man, he was on the lookout for new recruits. He went up to the little boys and asked if they’d join his team. The littlest boy, who was good, but not amazing, said he’d think about it. The second boy, who was beyond awesome, said no. He had singing lessons and homework and a million things that were way stupider than hockey.”
Kendall closes his eyes and remembers James, all gangly and awkward and way too quiet for a seven year old.
“So the first little boy harassed him. Constantly. He’d walk him to his fancy private school every day, even though he attended a public school across town. He would sit in on his singing lessons and mock his instructor and interrupt with made up little songs. And he was constantly stealing his text books.”
James’s eyes narrowed.
“Finally, the second little boy caved. He snuck out of his house one day and tried out for the team, along with the tiny little brainiac, his next door neighbor. They both made it. They all became best friends, and even went to the same middle school together, where they ran into this completely insane fourth kid who completed the group. They grew up, went to high school, and one day met this asshole of a record producer who moved them out to California. And they all lived happily ever after. The end.”
“That’s a nice story. But it didn’t happen. Not like that,” James says, eyes guarded.
Kendall meets his gaze, “Actually, it did. Just not here.”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
Kendall glances away, “Did you ever read about Narnia when you were a kid?”
“Uh. Like the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe? With the talking lion?”
Kendall nods, completely serious. His heart is pounding in his chest, and he’s trying his best to convey with his eyes that this, this is his Narnia.
“Please do not tell me you got here through a closet.”
“I didn’t get here through a closet. I’m not entirely sure how I got here. But- dude, I’m not from here.”
James sighs, and he looks so disappointed. Kendall thinks he’ll do anything to make James stop looking like that.
“You’re insane. Every time someone nice comes to this goddamned hotel, they turn out to be certifiably insane.”
“I take it that means you don’t believe me.”
“Look. If I was crazy, which I’m not completely crossing off my list, because I’m still finding all of this a little hard to believe myself, how would I know that Logan broke his arm in second grade the first time that he auditioned for the school play? Or that Carlos is deathly allergic to bees?”
“Medical records. You’re some kind of- hacker.”
“I am terrible with computers. But okay,” Kendall scans his memory for things that might still have happened without his presence, things that would have happened before they all moved to Wisconsin, “You got really public, really gross food poisoning in the cafeteria when you were six.”
“Right, but afterwards, you blamed Jenny Tinkler because she gave you some kind of special pudding, and you thought she laced it with something because she hated you. Which she did not. Logan fed you bad sloppy joes.”
James blinks, “Did Logan tell you that?”
Geez, this is hard.
“No. How about this- when you were little, really little, you let your stepmother put makeup on you and dress you up in girl’s clothes.”
James’s mouth gapes open, “What? You- that’s- no. Wrong. So wrong.”
“Actually, I know it’s not.”
“I never told anyone that.”
“I know,” Kendall grins, “Your stepmom told me one day when I was waiting for you to finish showering.”
“Why would she- I can’t believe she- wait. That still doesn’t prove anything. You’re- I don’t know, you’re some kind of stalker. You stalked my stepmom.”
“Considering the rather rough relationship I have with your stepmom, I’m going to say false.”
“You still haven’t proved anything. At all.”
“You are a tough sell.”
“Damn straight,” James raises an eyebrow, “But shouldn’t you already know that?”
Kendall shrugs, “Maybe. My James is stubborn, but I’m pretty sure if I told him I’d found a portal to an alternate universe, he’d round up Carlos and Logan and make us go hunting for it.”
“Why would I- he do that?”
“Because he’s fun? And, um, also he’d probably want to check out if he had a solo career. Or if there were unicorns. He loves unicorns, for some reason.”
Kendall loves unicorns too, actually. But he figures he might want to keep quiet on that one. No need to ruin his street cred.
James ignores the unicorn comment, which kind of makes him wonder if this James loves unicorns too.
“You suck that bad, that I- he wants to get away from you?”
“No,” Kendall replies, and now he’s the one raising an eyebrow, “He’s that good. The rest of us don’t want to sing. You should know that- Logan wants to be a doctor, and Carlos doesn’t really care what he does, as long as it’s awesome.”
“I want to play hockey.”
“Hockey? Seriously? Be more of a Minnesota stereotype.”
“I’m not ashamed of it.”
“If you want to play hockey so bad, why are you, uh, singing?”
“Gustavo shot my James down before he even had a chance. I had to-“
“Convince him to make you a boy band? That’s exactly what Curt did.”
“Curt and I-“ Kendall bites his lip, “We’re more similar than I thought we’d be.”
He hates saying it out loud. But he’s maybe noticed that it’s kind of true. Even if the kid’s a total asshole.
“So where is he, in your little make believe scenario?”
“He’s an actor. Total teen heart throb. Goes by Dak Zevon.”
Kendall isn’t sure why that, more than anything else, seems to convince James, but he licks his lips nervously and asks, “What?”
“What?” Kendall frowns, “What’s wrong?”
James lets out a shaky laugh. “Dak. Dakota- was Curt’s best friend. Or, he was before we- he had meningitis. It happened right before we moved there, and- Logan and Carlos don’t even know about it. I’m not supposed to know about it. I was- I accidentally heard his parents talking about it and- did you eavesdrop on them too? Or look it up in the papers, or-“
Kendall suddenly feels very, very bad for Curt. He can’t imagine losing one of his best friends. He’s already having separation anxiety and they’re right in front of him.
“I swear I didn’t.”
“Okay. So-“ James looks at him, a bit awed, “I guess I believe you. For now.”
“I can live with that. You’re- not going to tell anyone, right?”
He feels his heart thud in his chest, and for a long, long moment, James just stares. Then he asks, “Who would believe me?”
Kendall can’t leave well enough alone. It’s a problem.
He finds Curt grinding down the handrails at the bank, his favorite spot. Usually Logan’s around to watch, but Kendall happens to know that Carlos has whisked him off shopping for his big date. As soon as Curt hits the ground, hard, still rolling, Kendall calls out, “You’re kind of a jerk.”
Curt hops off his board with practiced ease. It’s kind of enviable.
“If we’re being brutally honest, you’re kind of annoying.”
“Kind of like all this heat,” Kendall agrees, sitting on the curb and peering up at the sun, through layers of smog. It’s beating down on the asphalt so hard that he can see it shimmer off the roads. It makes him wish for home, for ice rinks and snow banks.
“Can’t. Stand. It,” Curt plops down beside him.
And maybe this is when what Kendall told James earlier really sinks in.
Kendall’s never going to be a skateboarding douchebag from Wisconsin, but he still has a lot in common with Curt. They’re still the only two people in the world to have ever stood up to Gustavo Rocque. They still both care about Logan, Carlos, and James more than anyone else ever can. They both obviously despise California, sometimes.
“My parents wanted to move here, once, you know? I think I was- nine? But I told them if they tried to make me leave the guys, I’d run away and join an ashram. They didn’t believe me, obviously, but I guess they figured I was serious business about the whole thing. My dad turned down the job and- we stayed.”
“Why’d they want to come to California?” Kendall inquires.
“When I was younger, I wanted to be an actor,” Curt confides, “Then the guys came along, and I changed my mind.”
Kendall wonders if he changed his mind because of the guys or because of the friend that came before. The one that-
“I wanted to go pro,” Curt continues, flipping the skateboard in his hands, “Get myself in the X Games and kick some ass.”
“You’re that good?”
“I’m that good. But- its weird how this all worked out. Singing isn’t that far away from acting, and I always kind of wondered if that’s why James and I never clicked right. Because we had the same dream.”
“Wouldn’t that help?”
“Well, it does. ‘Cept we’re both competitive bastards. James likes you. More than he ever liked me.”
“But aren’t you guys bros?” Kendall rolls his eyes.
“Yeah, now, but- when Logan and James moved into our neighborhood, Logan like, latched onto me. Which was fine, he was a weird little kid, but he was chill. James was- not. He was all-“
And Kendall is thinking of James when he first met him, all prickly outer shell and gooey center.
“-Cold. Harsh. And when he figured out that Logan wasn’t going to detach himself anytime soon, he sort of caved.”
Guess Curt never found the gooey center, then.
“We’ve been- what’s that word girls use all the time? Frenemies. Ever since.”
“I think we should be friends,” Kendall says, even though he doesn’t actually want to be anything resembling friends with Curt. He feels bad for him, though. He can’t imagine having someone skip into town and whisk Carlos, Logan, and James away from him. He can’t imagine what it would be like, seeing James choose someone else over him.
“Do you?” Curt laughs, and it’s harsh.
“To keep James and Logan and Carlos happy?”
Kendall nods. He’s not going to sit here and lie to the kid. He just can’t.
“I get that. I gave up my dreams to keep my friends,” Curt says, and Kendall recognizes the sentiment, “And then I did it again, to keep them happy. But one day all of this,” he waves a vague hand, “is going to end. But who knows if I’ll be too old to get into the X Games at that point.”
He flips the board again.
“So find new dreams,” Kendall shrugs, because he’s thought about this long and hard over the past few years. What is he going to do if BTR ends and he’s past the mark for recruitment for the Wild? He has no idea, but he knows he’ll find something, “That’s half the fun of living.”
“You’re entirely too optimistic for me.”
“And if you’re always this dark, I have no idea how you get anything done.”
Although it does explain how he excels at playing an emo vampire basketball player.
Kendall ends up getting kicked out of Camille’s apartment the same night as her date with Logan, the same night her dad comes home. It’s cool. He’s made some friends, and Guitar Dude’s fine with letting him crash at his place. But it doesn’t stop Camille from knocking on the door near midnight, pounding until Kendall and Guitar Dude pause their rousing game of Halo and go to answer.
Kendall loses the coin toss.
But he gets a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and a, “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Which mostly makes up for having to move.
She invites him out with her and Logan and the guys the next night, and Kendall agrees. It’s not like he has anything else to do.
He waits for them in the lobby around eight. Curt comes down first.
“Hi,” he says, and Kendall doesn’t really want to respond, but then he thinks about their fragile truce and grudgingly returns the greeting.
He’s searching for a topic of conversation when Mercedes Griffin walks into the Palmwoods. She glances at him, and then Curt. And then something weird happens.
Her cheeks turn red.
“Um. Boy who’s never been my boyfriend. Hi.”
Kendall blinks. Okay, Mercedes is flustered. This is new. He looks between her and Curt and then back again. Oh. Oh.
“What’s up, Mercedes?” Curt asks.
“Gustavo wants you to come to the studio. Something about laying down a new track.”
Curt sighs, “Guess that means dinner’s off.”
Kendall says, “Its fine. I’ll let Camille know.”
He wonders why Mercedes has never personally told him that Gustavo wants them. Except he thinks he kind of has it figured out.
He sees Mercedes again on a Tuesday, when he’s sitting by the pool with Logan and Curt, of all people. He’s not exactly sure how he ended up scoring an invite into their little huddle, except that he’s waiting for James to finish up some modeling gig.
When she comes, she does that same awkward, bashful kind of head ducking thing she did last time, and tells them they’re expected at the studio. Logan cowers behind a lounge chair until she excuses herself. Then he runs up to the apartment to grab a sweater, because its balls hot outside but the studio’s central air puts the building a few degrees colder than Antarctica.
Curt’s watching Mercedes stalk away, regaining her usual confidence. Kendall follows his gaze.
“Mercedes is kind of beautiful,” Curt murmurs, a bit wistfully.
“So why don’t you ask her out?”
Kendall feels like he’s missing something.
“She’s so, so beautiful,” Curt repeats, but then his gaze swings towards the elevators, towards where Logan retreated, and oh. Oh.
The amount of time those two spend together is suddenly making a lot more sense.
Hesitant, Kendall says, “So is Logan.”
Curt rolls his eyes.
“She makes me laugh.”
Kendall raises an eyebrow, like, yeah, So does Logan. Not entirely on purpose, either.
He thinks Curt gets the message.
Except apparently he doesn’t, because by the time Thursday rolls around, Curt’s asked Mercedes on a date. He knows because that night, Kendall goes out to dinner with James, Carlos, Logan, and Camille.
The whole time he’s thinking about Curt and Mercedes being somewhere across town, bringing sexy back to West Hollywood, or whatever.
Logan is smiling, laughing. But there’s something at the edge of his eyes that makes Kendall feel sick.
He looks at Camille, and he thinks he’s messed up.
After burgers, the five of them sit through a movie in a dark theater and he can’t focus on the plot for a second, even though it’s not much more than big explosions and dramatic proclamations of love. His head is spinning, spinning, spinning, and he’s wondering what the hell he’s done.
Logan, his Logan, isn’t like this. He likes Camille, he likes being with her, and okay, yeah, maybe they’re not soulmates, but Logan doesn’t look nearly so miserable in her presence. Like he’s guilty and ashamed.
He tries to think of a way out of this; he promised Camille he’d help her, and she’s probably going to think he was trying to trick her or- No. Camille’s forgiving.
And she’ll understand that he didn’t know. How could he know? His Logan’s never looked at Dak sideways.
Kendall wonders if maybe he will, one day. If he hasn’t been distracting Logan with all their ridiculous pranks and mischief and ways of cheating the system. So instead of figuring out his sexuality, he’s been- busy.
Or maybe he’s bi.
Kendall doesn’t know. Kendall doesn’t know how to ask, or if he’ll even get a chance, or if, shit- he feels James’s fingers take hold of his, under the arm rest. His palm is warm, soft, skin chafed at the knuckles, grip strong.
And just like that, the world stands still.
Kendall kisses James on a Tuesday. He doesn’t really see it coming, but he thinks maybe he should have.
The band returns from the studio late, looking worn down, exhausted to the bone. As much as Kendall wants to go home, he doesn’t envy them this. Gustavo demands excellence, and he’s relentless.
Kendall’s practiced harmonies for twelve hours stretches, until his throat has gone raw, his voice shattered. He doesn’t miss it.
James is about to climb into the elevator, but at the last second he notices Kendall, sitting alone in the empty lobby, under the watchful eye of Bitters, who is mostly more focused on his late night soaps. James hesitates, and Kendall’s on his feet, about to tell him that he can come up.
Then he realizes it’s a bad idea, going inside an apartment that is nothing like his. Where there’s no mom or Katie, only the curious, unfamiliar gaze of the Zevons. He pauses, hand clenching into a fist.
James is quicker to react. He steps out of the elevator before the doors can slide shut, a tired smile on his lips.
His voice sounds raw.
Kendall picks up a bottle of water he’d been drinking from and hands it to him. James looks at it with something very much like gratitude, and sucks down everything that’s left.
“I needed that,” he laughs a little, “I guess you’d know.”
“Gustavo’s a slave driver,” Kendall agrees, “its part of his charm.”
James inclines his head, eyes dancing.
“Right. He has charm?”
“On occasion. I was going to ask if you wanted to walk down to the park, get something from that falafel stand that stays open all night- but you look- tired.”
“I’m good. Let’s go.”
“Are you sure?”
James stuffs his hands into his pockets, and Kendall watches the curl of his fingers under denim.
“I’m good,” he repeats.
The walk to the park is slow, languid. Kendall likes nights like tonight, where it’s just him and James. He’s never really felt like this before, back home, where Logan and Carlos occupied most of his time. But now, they’re with Curt, and James needs someone to make him smile, the way his version hasn’t in so long.
It’s probably what annoys Kendall the most about this reality. How it took James disappearing into the background again for Kendall to really notice him.
“In your world- are we…?”
“Are we what?” Kendall asks, more than a little confused. He doesn’t know what to do with hanging questions, with a best friend who doesn’t say what he means.
James takes a deep breath, “Together?”
“Together? I mean,” Kendall scratches the back of his neck, “We spend most of our time together. Between rehearsals and school and- well, watching out for Carlos and Logan, it’s kind of a full time gig- so, yeah. We don’t get a lot of time to ourselves.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
Then he blinks again.
“Oh. Uh. No? Why- would you think that?”
“No reason,” James says quickly.
“No- but, there has to be a reason. Because you, my you, not you- you, likes girls. Like- he loves girls. He gives Casanova a run for his money.”
Kendall isn’t even lying. James loves girls. Tall girls, short girls, thin girls, fat girls. James is the kind of guy who appreciates beautiful things, and he’s constantly philosophizing that girls have beautiful souls, which he has to tend to like a gardener in a bed of roses, or something.
Kendall may not have been fully paying attention at the time.
Or any of the times. He’s reasonably certain he’s heard the speech more than once. It’s just, whenever James begins talking like he’s been thumbing through Kendall’s mom’s romance novels, Kendall’s mind tends to wander.
“And from what I can tell, you’re not doing so bad yourself,” he continues, staring at James and thinking of the movie theater, of the way his thumb stroked over Kendall’s knuckles, a fleeting touch that calmed his mind.
“It was my mistake.”
“That didn’t sound like a mistake,” Kendall says, and when did his heart started beating so fast? He wishes he didn’t have this thing, this whole noble idiot thing where he values honesty above tact, where his so called courage spurs him into saying things he doesn’t actually want to say, “It sounded like something you wanted to be true.”
James stares at him, and, if Kendall’s going to be totally truthful, he’s thinking about kissing him.
And he’s thought about kissing James before.
Okay, he’s thought about it a lot, with this James and his James.
Probably because he can’t forget what it feels like.
Back then, the band had been around for year, and was just lifting off, gaining notoriety in the eyes of thousands of screaming teenage girls.
So they went out to celebrate.
Logan knew a guy who knew a guy who made fantastic fake ids, but it turned out that half the fun of being a celebrity in LA was not needing them. Unless you happened to run into one of those morally righteous underage-kids-can’t-drink bouncers. Or the ones who were waiting to get paid a mint by the paps for a picture of wholesome superstars doing bad things.
Their bouncer that night was one of the latter.
He let them in, but he had no qualms calling the photogs. So later, when Kendall was feeling loose limbed and dizzy with alcohol, and James was giving him that shining, blinding smile of his, it didn’t seem like a bad idea to pull him stumbling drunk into the bathroom.
And Kendall still remembers the way his fingers fisted in the collar of his shirt, the way one of his hands gripped Kendall’s hips so hard it left an oddly shaped bruise.
They broke apart when the flash went off, panting and gasping and knowing they’d fucked up, big time.
It could have been a publicity crisis, but they ended up being lucky. The club they’d chosen had one of those seedy bathrooms, lit in black and red. The reporter hadn’t had the right kind of filter on his lens, and even though the hazy silhouettes bore a very striking resemblance to one half of Big Time Rush, the photos were vague enough that Kelly was able to work her media magic and cast doubt on the entire magazine that dared to publish them.
There was a whirlwind of speculation for a while.
Gustavo hadn’t even cared; he was of the opinion that every boy band had to have at least one gay scandal, which wasn’t really helpful at all.
And Kendall and James? They’d been drunk and stupid and horny, and sometimes in the locker room back at school Kendall might have fantasized about something like that happening, but it never would have if he hadn’t been sloshed out of his mind. Their friendship was strained, fractured for a little while under the weight of his overwhelming shame.
They bounced back, of course. Kendall made it perfectly clear he didn’t plan on what had happened, not ever, because it was obviously the alcohol’s fault. And he certainly didn’t plan on talking about it. The same way they didn’t talk about anything Carlos did when he drank too much caffeine, or when Logan had a sugar rush, or when James had one of his shopping benders at the mall.
James, his James, got the memo, loud and clear. He never brought it up, not even once, not even when their pictures were on the cover of every daily out there, their mouths devouring each other for everyone to see. And eventually, Kendall forgot about it.
Sure, it still pops up into his head every once in a while, when James is looking particularly good, or when he’s having a terrible day, or when its late at night, and he can’t think of a face to occupy his mind while his hand strokes lazily over his dick. But those moments are fleeting, subconscious, almost.
For all intents and purposes, Kendall thinks of it as one more idiotic mistake he’s made in a string of idiotic, hormonal teenage mistakes. He isn’t a dwell-in-the-past kind of guy.
Until now, with this version of James staring at him like Kendall has hung the moon and the stars in the sky.
He thinks about the picture, which he saved. It’s under his bed in his room back in the real world, because at the time, a single paparazzi photo seemed like the most important thing in the world. Life changing. Life destroying. And it's funny, but looking back at it now, it still does.
It still feels like that moment, trapped in time, is pivotal, but not for all the things it could have revealed to the world. Hell, Kendall will bet only a select few even remember its existence, much less care about it now. But for him, it’s still important for the captured smiles, the shared breath between him and James’s lips. It’s a frozen memory of what could have been.
When everything was too much, and never enough. When he and his version of James were young and invincible, living in a once upon a time land. Young, invincible, and so, so stupid.
It’s been a year since that photo was taken, and James is still the same person he’s always been. And Kendall still thinks about kissing him, but mostly, he thinks his moment has passed.
Whatever James might have felt for him that night; it vanished.
Adults always say that nothing lasts forever, but Kendall never believed them. Not really.
Not until it was too late.
And now it feels like he has a second chance.
He takes James’s hand and steers them off the path, away from the falafel vendor they’d been headed towards, away from the light strains of Arabic music slicing the air. James follows, wide eyed, questioning.
They lay down in the grass, James’s hand the only thing anchoring him to the ground. The stars, so rare here in California, are burning high overhead, pinpoints of light in the purple blue LA sky. They fade away the closer they fall to the horizon, which glows an artificial gold from the city lights, stars in and of themselves.
There’s a whole world out there, Kendall knows. More than one.
Except James isn’t looking at any of that. He’s ignoring the natural world completely, staring at him with something like wonder.
“You’re a miracle.”
Kendall feels something electric and shivery settle low in his stomach. He wants to say something about how corny that is, something masculine and douchey.
Something that will make James stop looking at him like that, like he means what he says. Kendall’s never felt like a miracle. Mostly he feels confused, a lot of the time. Whenever he manages to figure something out, he takes it as a small victory and moves on to the next problem, but he hasn’t been able to figure James out yet.
Either of them, actually.
“I’m really not,” he says hastily.
“But you are,” James insists, and then there’s this beat, this two second pause where Kendall is dizzy from inhaling their shared breath, and he wonders when their faces got so close together, and James’s eyes are there, blue and green and gold and hypnotic.
One of them arches across the distance between them, presses their mouth firm and hot and wet to the other wide eyed boy’s, and Kendall would like to say it’s him. He wants to think he’s brave and strong and true, but he also thinks its James, James who is beautiful and vulnerable and surprisingly brilliant.
Kendall kisses him while the world spins around them, and for the first time since he’s come to this alternate universe, he doesn’t want to go home.
There’s this thing.
And it’s that Kendall might be in love with James.
But he doesn’t know how to say it.
Guys don’t just go around spouting that kind of thing at a whim.
It’s a big deal. Not the way girls make it out to be, where it’s all about commitment and monogamy and shit.
Just, when a guy says he loves someone, it’s admitting a feeling, and most guys aren’t really keen on feelings in general. So.
It’s this thing.
Kendall doesn’t know what to do.
The problem is, things end.
Kendall wakes up one morning with his stomach twisting and the realization that he’s been stuck in this world for one month. An entire month of watching how the world has changed without him in it.
He’s spent the past week doing nothing but kissing James every opportunity he gets. He’d be living in James’s room in 2J if he wasn’t terrified of the Zevons; and even then, the idea of kissing James’s sleepy smile away when he first wakes is all too tempting.
But he wakes up on Guitar Dude’s couch, alone, with his stomach in knots, and he knows.
He has to find James.
Because it’s about to end, and it shouldn't.
He knows that it shouldn’t hurt so bad, that it shouldn’t tear at him. Everything ends, but he doesn’t want this to. Not like this.
If he has to go, he wants it to be some huge finale, but he knows it can’t be. It has to end the way it started, just like this, with a gasp, with a whimper.
Endings aren't supposed to be grand and tragic. That’s movie magic. Kendall knows that's the lie we all live, but eventually, everyone has to see the truth. It ends. It all just- ends.
He still has to find James.
James is by the pool, soaking up the sun, looking like a young, gorgeous god.
“I think I have to leave soon,” Kendall says, voice tumbling out in a rush.
“I don’t- it’s just this weird feeling I have.”
And it is; Kendall feels like he’s stretching too thin, like his atoms are about to pull apart and reassemble somewhere else.
James takes him to the ocean, to one of the places he likes to surf, because this version too belongs to the sea. They sit and watch the waves roll to shore for a long time, Kendall leaning into James’s side, listening to his heartbeat until darkness falls.
The second the first ray of moonlight breaks the sky, Kendall can feel the earth tremble, like a quake building beneath the surface.
James looks at him and says, “Don’t go.”
“I can’t not,” Kendall says, and it’s true. He doesn’t know how to stop this, even though he wants to. Desperately. He grabs James’s face in his hands, his fingers digging into skin, and as their mouths crash together-
He fades away.
When Kendall first crossed over, he’d thought the void was a place filled with stars that sparkled like diamonds, but now, as he is pulled back, it looks more like glass, meant for shredding his insides. He doesn’t want to leave, and he isn’t sure what that says about who he is or the things he wants, that he prefers this world where most of his friends and his family are conspicuously absent, but there’s still a boy who makes his pulse thread through his veins like a panicky kick drum, who makes his nerves jump and his stomach clench with nausea and his whole body ache with need.
Curt doesn’t deserve James, not any part of him.
Kendall wakes up on a lounge chair with James leaning over him, asking if he’s okay, and the first thing he thinks to say is-
“Are you wearing my shirt?”
James looks complete unruffled by the accusation, and Kendall wants to reach out, to kiss him but then-
James grins. It’s wide open and happy and the expression doesn’t belong to the boy who had folded Kendall into his arms just minutes ago.
At the beach. He has to get to the beach.
“What else are friends for, if not to snoop in your business and steal your clothes?” James says, but Kendall’s bolted up off of the chaise, and he’s halfway to the door of the lobby when he realizes that there’s not going to be anyone waiting for him.
“Dude?” James asks, “What’s going on?”
Kendall frowns at him, and even though this version is his, familiar as the back of his hand, he kind of wants to tell him to go polish his tiara so he can think about an identical boy a universe away. He has this frantic, aching idea that he’s going to live the rest of his life wishing to see a face that’s right in front of him, but belonging to someone he’ll never be able to see again.
He has to go back. He has to go back.
He has to go back.
And it’s not just James. Kendall thinks about what he left behind; the mess with Mercedes and Curt and Logan and poor Camille, who never seems to be able to get the things that she wants most, but is so resilient. He thinks maybe he should try to be her friend in this world, for real now.
It’s time she stopped being that slightly scary girl who slaps him a lot and occasionally dates his best friend. He’s not sure he can ever think of her that way again.
Then Kendall realizes there’s a hand in his jeans pockets and he looks down to see James lifting up his shirt.
“What are you doing?” Kendall shifts as James’s fingers skid over his skin.
“Um trying to figure out what happened to your cocky, irritating sense of self confidence. I know it’s around here somewhere.”
Kendall closes his eyes and wishes as hard as he can to go back.
He can’t go back.
Kendall spends a week moping around the Palmwoods.
Gustavo gets so mad at him that he threatens to kick him out of the band, but nothing works. He’s happy to see his mom and Katie and his version of Carlos, Logan, James, and Camille. He is.
But he feels like he’s lost something, and he doesn’t know how to change that.
He thinks that people are fleeting thoughts. They blink out too quickly, and rarely is the destiny they get the one that they deserve. James, the James he left behind, doesn’t deserve to be alone.
Neither does Kendall, for that matter.
He mopes and he mopes until one night, he spots his James trying to sneak out of the apartment.
“James? What are you doing?”
“I’m-“ James is hiding something behind his back in a very conspicuous way, is what he’s doing, but Kendall doesn’t feel like making a grab for it. He and James are pretty evenly matched on a normal day, but he’s too exhausted to grapple for whatever it is, even if they’re just playing.
That’s the other thing C.S. Lewis doesn’t tell you. Universe hopping is exhausting.
He puts on his best stern face, which he’s totally bogarted from his mom, and hopes for the best.
James sighs, “I’m going to see this band play at that one bar on LaCienega.”
“You wouldn’t have heard of them. They’re independent and like, virtually unknown.”
Kendall feels his heart stop dead in his chest.
“I thought- you don’t like anything that’s not pop?”
“I know,” James rakes a hand through his hair, actually messing it up, “I just- I walked past a club they were playing at on my way home from dinner with that one girl the other night and fuck, they’re really good. Like, amazing. And I remembered that I used to like stuff like that, before
I got this- like, image to keep up. I saw some bands back in Minnesota and- “
“You did? Why didn’t you take us? Why didn’t you take me?”
“I didn’t think you guys would be interested. It’s sort of- not what we listen to, and I guess I thought you think I was lame?”
“I already think you’re lame,” Kendall tries for jokey, but mostly he sounds sick- “Do you watch independent movies and read poetry when I’m not looking?”
“Nah, poetry’s lame, man. But music-“ he pauses, then says, “I think music is good no matter what it is.”
It’s wonderful and strange how easy it seems to fix things, once he lets himself stop worrying and just- does it.
“James- I. Can I come?”
His face lights up, like the sun, moon, and stars, and god, Kendall hasn’t realized how much he missed that smile.
Kendall suddenly remembers what he knew in that other world; neither boy is so different. Not really.
It doesn’t change how he feels about the other things, about Curt and Logan and- Well. Some things are broken permanently, and he figures that the most he can do is try to forgive himself and move on.
But- some things don’t have to stay broken forever.
Before he can stop himself, Kendall reaches for James’s hand, intertwining their fingers, “Let’s go.”
James’s gaze snaps to the place where their skin connects, and Kendall watches as his expression flickers from surprise to confusion until it morphs completely into something that looks a lot like happiness. James casts him a pleased smile, one of his damnable, gorgeous smiles that Kendall has memorized and categorized and analyzed so often in the past, and Kendall knows instantly.
They’re going to be fine.