The moon above Terra 2, Kris’ home planet, shines red. A deep, vibrant red. When Kris was younger, he’d been afraid of it, thinking that the moon was drenched in blood. He feared that all that blood would eventually drip down, staining him and the ground, the entire world.
But he was no longer a child. He was a man of twenty-four now and he understood the science behind the moon’s color. Now it fascinated rather than frightened him and he often found himself staring up at it, comforted by the eerie, dusky pall it cast over the world.
He gazed at it for a moment more, remembering that old childhood fear, before turning his attention back to his friends. He was with Charles and Joshua tonight, indulging in their bimonthly ritual of meeting up for dinner and drinks in the old neighborhood.
He saw that both of them were chuckling, although with amusement, not cruelty. “Where did you go just now?” Joshua asked.
They had all been fast friends since meeting in secondary school and they had never lost touch, even when Kris had moved away and they’d stayed behind in the area simply known as Below. They knew him as well as anyone, better than most, and Kris counted them amongst the people closest to him.
“Nowhere. Sorry. What were you saying?”
And then the both of them sobered, smiles sliding off of their faces, and Kris knew what they’d been talking to him about.
“We were asking how things were going with Simon,” Charles said. “Any better?”
Kris glanced at the drink in his hand before gazing out through the restaurant’s window. “No. No better.” He shook his head. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him. It’s like he doesn’t even like me anymore. Three years ago, I was the love of his life, he couldn’t do enough for me and now . . . ”
Kris allowed the sentence to trail off. He wasn’t ever really comfortable talking about how badly his marriage was failing. It made him feel like a failure, made him feel he was still the same poor, dirty urchin that Simon had plucked out of obscurity and poverty three years ago.
But there was more to Kris’ reluctance to talk about his marriage than simply that. He didn’t like to talk about it because he wasn’t sure he could trust himself not to say too much. He’d lost track of the times that he’d almost told his friends about the ever-growing coldness emanating from his husband or the suspected affairs or the disarming cruelty that had begun to result in slaps and punches.
There were simply things that he would not allow himself to share; the sense of shame engendered from each of them stronger than the urge to unburden himself.
“You could always divorce him, Kris. I mean, it’s been more than two years, you’d be entitled to almost half. You’d be rich.”
“Guys, I don’t care about the money. It’s not about that.”
“Hey, we know that,” Charles said. “But listen, you’ve put your time in with him. You’ve been doing everything you can to make this work while he does everything he can to make you miserable. Maybe it’s time to walk away, take what you deserve and start over.”
“No,” Kris said, shaking his head emphatically. “I’m not ready to give up yet. He’s still in there. The man I fell in love with is still in there somewhere.”
Joshua and Charles exchanged a look before masterfully changing the subject to something not even remotely related to Simon.
Kris could have kissed them both.
They ended the night on a positive note, toasting to each other and to deserved happiness. Kris took the hint, smiled, and hugged them both, sending them off to their vehicle before heading over to where his was parked.
Kris’ vehicle was new, sleek and completely conspicuous in this neighborhood. He had purposely parked it in the farthest corner of the lot, under the large, overgrown tree with its low hanging branches. He knew it was best not to appear to be flaunting his newfound wealth Below.
As he walked, his gaze traveled momentarily upward, high above the trees toward the gleaming towers of the area known to most as Topside. Topside and Below were both a part of the city of Vilcea, but they might as well have been on different continents for all their differences. Topside was the area where the rich, the powerful and the beautiful resided; where he was heading tonight, his home ever since he’d accepted Simon’s hand in marriage.
There had been plenty of critics, people sneering and mocking their union. They called him at best an opportunist, at worst, a whore. But Kris never much cared what others thought of him. Not when he knew the truth. That he had fallen in love with and married Simon because he loved him, not the money.
He would gladly give it all away, every last bit, to have things back the way they were, back when Simon treated him like something precious instead of an inconvenience.
He sighed and dropped his gaze, wondering when exactly life had gotten so complicated.
He was near his vehicle, nearly ready to unlock the doors, when he noticed a figure heading toward him. The man was tall and lean, appearing well-built with broad shoulders. He was dressed all in black and moved with an ease, a fluidity that caused Kris to think of a jungle cat stalking prey.
In and of themselves, none of these things was terribly unusual. What was unusual, however, was the pair of sunglasses that covered the man’s eyes.
Even with the street lamps, the murky glow of the red moon could make it difficult to see clearly at night. The man should have been operating nearly blind. And yet he wasn’t. He was walking purposely, quickly. And he was walking toward Kris.
Feeling uneasy, Kris hurried to the vehicle and unlocked it, ready to open the door and throw himself inside.
It was the voice that made him pause and turn around. It was such a nice voice; soft and melodic. The kind of voice that could never belong to someone frightening.
“Yes?” Kris asked.
The man was right in front of him now, and how he had moved so quickly Kris couldn’t even begin to guess. He loomed over Kris, the smallest hint of a smile on his face, glasses still concealing his eyes and asked, “Are you Kris Allen?”
“Yeah. Do I know-”
But that’s as far as Kris got. No sooner had the words left his mouth than the man was swinging his left arm up, arcing it in a circle toward Kris. Kris felt a small flash of pain at his neck, like the prick of a needle, and then he felt nothing at all.
The climb to full, waking consciousness was a slow process. Kris knew, on a level that was purely instinctual, that it was important to wake up, to be aware of what was happening, although he wasn’t exactly sure why. And yet at the same time, there was an unpleasant queasiness in his stomach and an ache pulsing through his head that made him simply want to curl in and stay asleep.
He’d been torn between those two states for what seemed like a very long time, ready to give in and go back to blessed unconsciousness when the sound of voices drifted to his ears.
Why isn’t he awake yet? This is taking far too long.
He’s getting there. I miscalculated the dosage. He’s so small.
Well, get him there.
Moments later, there was a hand against his cheek, slapping hard enough to be felt, though not to hurt.
Kris managed to mumble a protest against the treatment, turning his head in a weak attempt to get away from it.
“Come on. That’s it. Open your eyes.”
The tapping against his cheek became insistent, harder by the tiniest fraction. It was sending waves of pain through his skull, and he finally forced his eyes open just to make that hand stop.
He croaked out the word ‘stop’ as he struggled to keep his eyes open, trying to focus on the man-sized blur in front of him. But the light that surrounded him was too bright, too harsh, and he tried to bring his hand up to shield his eyes only to find that he couldn’t move it. Frustrated, he tried again, only realizing on this second failed attempt that his hand was behind his back, encircled by metal and attached to his other hand by more metal.
It was this realization that ignited his memory. Not that there was much to remember. Flashes mostly. Dinner with his friends, then running across the man in the parking lot, the pain at his neck . . .
And that was precisely the moment that Kris started to panic, because the man that sat crouched in front of him, the one that had just been slapping at his face, was the same man from the parking lot.
The burst of fear turned into adrenaline as Kris used his legs to push away from the man, scrabbling with his bound hands for any sort of leverage he could use to stand up. But the knowledge that he wasn’t going anywhere came surprisingly quickly, once his back thudded against the wall behind him, his elbow colliding with the wall on his other side. It was then that he fully understood - he was sitting on the floor in the corner of what looked to be some kind cell. He was trapped, helpless and more frightened than he could ever remember being.
The man placed one hand on Kris’ shoulder, strong and firm, using it to drive him back down. With the other he gripped Kris’ chin, forcing their eyes to meet.
“Easy. You’re going to make yourself sick. You need to calm down.”
Kris managed a small nod. The man was right, now that the adrenaline was wearing off and giving way to lurching fear, the earlier nausea and pain were back tenfold. “Don’t feel so good,” he mumbled.
“I know. It’s the aftereffect of the drug. You moving around like that is only making it worse.”
“Gonna be sick . . . ”
“Breathe deep and settle back. It’ll pass.”
Kris did, settling back against the wall behind him, trying to slow his breathing down, deepen it, as the man had told him.
After several moments of this, the pain did indeed recede, as did the raging nausea, both of them down to manageable levels.
Kris nodded his head slightly, afraid to move to much more. “Yes.” He watched the man watching him, taking in details that he couldn’t take in during their brief meeting: the dark, messy hair, the large blue-gray eyes, the full lips. He was beautiful. Or he would be if he weren’t so damn terrifying.
The man stood up, taking a few steps back while the other man in the room stepped forward. Kris’ eyes darted from one to the other, unsure of who to focus on.
The other man was older, with lighter hair and a stern, severe face. He gazed down at Kris with a look that vacillated between amusement and disdain.
“What’s going on? Where am I?” Kris asked.
“This,” the elder man said, “is a kidnapping. You’re going to make me a very rich man, Mr. Allen . . . if your husband comes through, that is.”
“Yes, Simon. Now don’t look so upset. I’m sure you’ll be back in his arms in no time. A pretty, young thing like yourself . . . he’d be crazy not to pay the ransom.”
Kris stared up at the man, all discomfort forgotten as he tried to process the insanity of what he was hearing.
“Why? Why are you doing this?” he asked. And then, as if in afterthought, he added in a much smaller voice, “Why me?”
“Why not you?” The man smiled, but there was no warmth in it. “Simon Cowell is a very rich man and you’re very easy to get to. Running around the slums of Vilcea as if you still belonged there. Really, Mr. Allen.”
“I didn’t . . . ”
“Don’t bother completing that sentence. I don’t really care. Now, why don’t you relax and enjoy our hospitality until your husband pays the ransom? Adam here will make sure that you don’t get into trouble. He’ll be your new best friend for the next few days.”
Kris turned to the dark-haired man, Adam, searching for his reaction. There was none. Adam’s face was blank, unreadable even as he gave the briefest of nods. Kris wondered briefly if Adam was some sort of android. Though he’d never come across one that was quite so attractive, it would certainly explain the lack of emotion in both his speech and his expression.
The elder man took a step back, making as if to turn away and leave.
“Wait,” Kris said, voice almost a shout.
“What if . . . what if he doesn’t pay it?” Kris couldn’t believe he was even asking the question, but the thought had popped into his head while the man had been talking. Planted there by doubt and insecurity, it seemed to haven taken root and now refused to leave.
“Then we kill you.”
And with that the man was gone, leaving Kris to stare after him, his stomach lurching with a low, sick feeling that had nothing to do with nausea.
Adam stepped forward again, crouching down until they were nearly at eye level. He reached forward, startling Kris into flinching away from him. “Don’t touch me.”
“I’m not going to hurt you. I’m going to help you stand.” He gripped Kris’ upper arm and began to straighten, pulling Kris along with him. “Move slowly or the sickness will come back.”
Kris nodded, allowing Adam to take the both of them to a standing position. He swayed a little once vertical, but Adam’s strong hands steadied him.
“Now turn around.”
The fear, a low, buzzing constant since he’d woken up, flared at hearing those words. “No.”
Adam rolled his eyes, a sign of impatience that Kris was certain no android would ever make. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m going to take off the cuffs. Unless you’d rather stay in them?”
He watched Adam for a moment, trying to see past the impassive gaze at his true motives. But Adam’s eyes were giving nothing away, and with a small sigh of defeat, Kris turned around.
He felt Adam’s hands against his wrists, felt them being manipulated so that Adam could reach the lock.
“Now,” Adam said, voice so close to his ear that Kris could feel the man’s breath ghosting against it. “It would be foolish of you to try and run. You’re off-world now. On a private ship. Even if you could get past me, which you can’t, there’s nowhere for you to go. Do you understand?”
Kris nodded. “Yes.”
“Good.” And with that, Adam resumed the process of unlocking the cuffs. He had undone the one on the left, was about to undo the right, when Kris moved.
He hadn’t planned on it. It was more instinctual than anything. But the voice in his head that was shouting at him to get away, get away, get away, couldn’t be ignored.
He turned and swung his right arm, the one from which the cuffs still dangled, using it as an impromptu weapon. The edge of it struck Adam’s face, causing the other man to stumble backward, giving Kris the chance to run past him.
Or so he thought. Until he felt Adam’s grip on his upper arm, and suddenly he was being turned around, a solid punch slamming into the side of his face followed by his legs being swept out from under him.
He landed on his back, hard enough to jar every bone in his body, hard enough to feel the impact of the solid floor thudding against his skull.
He groaned, both from the pain and from the rising sense of nausea. He tried to roll over, but not to escape, all thoughts of trying for freedom momentarily gone, but to find relief. But Adam was already on top of him, straddling him at the waist, his body weight pinning Kris’ legs down while he held Kris’ arms down by the wrist on either side of his head.
Kris looked up, saw the blood staining Adam’s lip and felt a small surge of satisfaction at having inflicted some damage. That feeling quickly dissolved into wariness as Adam leaned down, his grip tightening on Kris’ wrists to the point of agony.
“See? Foolish,” Adam said.
“I’m sorry,” Kris gasped. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. I knew you were going to try it.”
“The question is, are you going to try it again?”
“No. I won’t. Please.”
Adam let go of his wrists and straightened, casually wiping the blood from his lip with the back of his hand. “I see you learn quickly. It’s a good trait to have.”
And then he stood and moved to the open doorway, careful to keep Kris in his sights the entire time. Not that Kris would dare and try and escape again. He didn’t think he could stand up, much less try and take on Adam.
Adam walked out of the cell and closed the door behind him, turning to look at Kris through the steel bars. “I’ll be back later with dinner.”
Kris watched him walk away, down a corridor that turned into another, and presumably another. With a groan, he turned over onto his side, bringing his legs up and curling his body inward.
He tried to tell himself that everything would be all right, that Simon would pay the ransom as soon as he could. Maybe things weren’t perfect in their marriage, but surely Simon wouldn’t allow him to die. After all, they didn’t hate each other. Their marriage hadn’t devolved that far.
And then another thought came to him, sudden and terrible. He had seen his kidnapper’s faces. Neither one of them had even bothered trying to hide their identities. Not only had he seen them and could identify them, but he knew one of their names.
And the thought, once there, would not leave. The thought that no matter what happened, no matter what Simon did or didn’t do, he wasn’t meant to survive this.
Kris lost track of how long he’d been lying on the cold floor. There was no way to mark the passage of time in the cell and he wouldn’t have cared if there had been, his mind too busy trying to cope with the situation he found himself in. Thoughts flitted in and out of his head, one chasing after another, colliding into one another, until it was all one big cacophony; no distinction, no meaning.
He thought about home, and about how worried Simon must be. Earlier doubts notwithstanding, he knew that Simon loved him and would do everything he could to get him back. He thought about his parents, how frantic they must be if Simon had told them. He could see them in his mind’s eye - his mother crying while his father held her. Both of them trying to be brave through their fear, both of them failing.
And always the thought, the underlying, terrible thought that these people would kill him.
Eventually, Kris moved, shaking off the dazed, shell-shocked feeling, felt it leaving him as if he were shaking off cobwebs. The human mind can only exist in a state of despair for so long, then it must either splinter or pull back from the brink.
And Kris was not yet ready to break.
Ignoring the lingering soreness, he pushed himself up into a sitting position and took in his meager surroundings. There was a cot attached to the far wall and a toilet and a small prep station, presumably waterless, in the corner. He’d heard of these, knew that most ships were equipped with them. He’d always wondered what it would be like, the sensation of getting clean without water. He’d always imagined that he and Simon would find out together when they finally took that long-promised trip off-world. He never imagined that he would find out like this.
He took a deep breath and stood, stumbling over to the cot like a drunkard, collapsing upon it in a graceless heap. He huddled underneath the one, coarse blanket, less for warmth than for comfort, and began the process of waiting for whatever came next.
After a while, exhaustion won out and he slept. But it was a fitful sleep and he woke often, chased to consciousness by the most terrible, distorted images.
He was just coming out from underneath one of those nightmares when he heard footsteps approaching. He sat up, unsurprised to see that it was Adam nearing the cell. Adam held a tray in his hands, and as Kris watched, he kneeled down and unlatched a small steer door near the bottom of the bars, sliding the tray through it and into the cell. Kris could see that there was food on it, or rather, rations. He had no love for them, but was used to them all the same, having grown up eating the pre-packaged nutritional substitutes when his family hadn’t had enough money for real food.
“Let me guess,” he asked. “Dinner?”
“Perceptive.” Adam closed the door and stood up.
“Well, I’m not hungry.”
“No? You should still eat.”
“There’s something about being kidnapped that’s taking my appetite away. So sorry for the inconvenience.”
Adam shrugged. “Doesn’t inconvenience me. I don’t think he’s going to be happy with you refusing the food, however.”
“Who? That other man?”
“Yes, the other man.” Adam’s voice was even and modulated, yet underneath it lay the hint of a smirk.
“Is he your boss?”
“Something like that.”
Kris lifted his chin, jutting it out in a small gesture of defiance. “Well, you can tell him that he can take his dinner and shove up it up his ass.”
Kris wasn’t sure what he had expected; anger, maybe? A warning? A threat? But Adam’s only reaction was to tilt his head to the side, his lips quirking up in a small smile. “Such language, Allen. I didn’t think you had it in you. Fine, suit yourself. I’ll leave it in case you change your mind.”
Kris waited until Adam was gone before rising and walking over to the tray. He was going to eat the rations, had every intention of doing so, but the second his fingers touched the tray, the fear and helplessness of the last few hours washed over him, taking his breath away with their power. With a rage borne of frustrated impotence, Kris picked up the tray and hurled it into the wall with every ounce of his strength before falling to the floor, head in his hands.
The Lyceum was not what anyone would consider a classy hotel, but it sat on the edge of the best part of lower Vilcea, and it was clean and the beds were comfortable.
Still, one of its most attractive feature was the fact that its personnel knew the meaning of discretion.
Simon used to bring Kris to the hotel when their relationship was new and exciting . . . and more than a little sordid.
Those days were gone, but that didn’t stop Simon from continuing to frequent the hotel, albeit with someone different each time.
This week’s find was a young, beautiful thing named Jalen. Jalen was long and lithe and could do things with his tongue that Simon was certain were illegal in some of the smaller territories. He was currently draped over Simon, engaged in perpetrating one of these acts when Simon’s vidcom began to beep.
“I might have to take this,” Simon said, pushing Jalen away before reaching over and plucking the machine from the night stand. A vid preview of the caller flashed across the screen, announcing that it was Kara, his personal assistant. Simon hit the answer button, angling it so that his “guest” would be hidden from sight. He didn’t want Kara knowing about his latest indiscretion, although he more than half suspected that she did anyway.
“Yes, Kara. What is it?”
Even through the small screen, Simon could easily read her tension. “You wanted me to call you when Kris had come home,” she said.
“So he’s home?”
“No, he isn’t, Simon. He still hasn’t come home and it’s been a full day.”
“Kara, I don’t see why -”
“I think we should call the peace officers.”
Simon sighed. He should have seen this coming. Kara had always had a soft spot for Kris.
“He’s probably still running around with his friends,” he said. “You know how much he likes to do that.”
“No, Simon. Not this long. He’s never stayed out this long. And he would have called if that was the case. You know that.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right. We probably should call the peace officers.”
Kara’s face softened with relief. “Should I do it or should you?”
“You do it. I’ll be home shortly to talk with them.”
“Yes, Simon. Thank you. Goodbye.”
Simon ended the call, setting the vidcom back onto the night stand. He smiled down at Jalen, his fingers curling into the young man’s thick, brown hair. “Now . . . where were we?”
Kris was starting to feel the first pangs of hunger when Adam returned to the cell, new tray in hand. Time had ceased to have meaning for him, but he could guess that it had been several hours since Adam had been here last. He’d slept some of those hours away, but with the bright, overhead lights always on, it was difficult to ever fully rest. Mostly, he’d been awake, thoughts on a loop, alternating between worrying about Simon and his family and worrying about himself.
“Now really, Allen,” Adam said, spying the upended tray on the floor. “What did the food ever do to you?”
Kris walked the length of the cell to stand before Adam. He looked at the mess on the floor before turning his attention to the new tray. “I . . . might have overreacted.”
“Well, I was supposed to give you this if you’d eaten,” Adam said, indicating the tray in his hands with a nod. “Otherwise, I was supposed to tell you that your uneaten dinner is now your breakfast.” He paused, seeming to consider his next words. “But since your uneaten dinner is now decorating the wall and the floor, I guess you’ll have no breakfast at all.”
“Wait!” Kris said, reaching forward when he saw Adam starting to turn. “Wait. You could just leave it. You don’t have to take that one away.”
“Yes, I do.”
“Look, I’m sorry. I know it was stupid. I was -”
Normally, Kris would have bristled at the command, but the single word was spoken so brusquely, so authoritatively, that he felt compelled to obey.
“Don’t turn your head,” Adam said. “Look up and to your left.” And with that, Adam did the very thing he’d just instructed, except that his gaze drifted up and to the right.
Kris didn’t bother questioning. Following Adam’s instructions, he looked up to see a camera mounted high up on the wall.
His eyes met Adam’s. “He’s filming me?” he hissed, quietly enough that his words wouldn’t be picked up.
“Yes. And you don’t have to whisper. It’s all visual, no audio.”
“But why? Why film me?”
“The point is, Allen . . . I’ve been given orders and I’m not going to disobey them just because you had a temper tantrum. I’ll let him make the decision of whether or not you eat.”
“Temper tantrum?” Kris asked, finding himself strangely offended. “That’s not what -”
And then Adam moved, so fluid and quick that Kris wasn’t even aware of it until Adam’s hand had snaked through the bars, gripping his arm and dragging him forward.
“Yes, it was. Look around, Allen,” he said, and for the first time, there was fire to his voice. “You’re no longer in your ivory tower. You don’t always get what you want here.”
And then he shoved Kris away, hard enough that Kris stumbled backward, barely righting himself in time to keep from falling to the floor.
“You have no right,” Kris said. In that moment he was no longer thinking about being held captive or being denied food or even the possible retribution for what he was saying. He was hurt and he was angry and Adam’s words were hitting too close to home, too reminiscent of others’ callous judgements. “You don’t know me.”
But Adam didn’t seem moved by Kris’ demeanor. In fact, he didn’t register any reaction to it at all. After the brief show of emotion only a moment ago, his face had drifted back into its usual, impassive mask.
“No,” Adam said, and he gripped the tray in his hands, already turning away. “Nor do I need to.”
Adam hadn’t lied when he’d told Kris that he had no need to know him.
Kris Allen was a mission.
And what he needed to know about Kris Allen could be summed up in two simple words: mission parameters.
The mission parameters here were simple. Acquire the target. Ensure that the target did not escape. Supply the target with food twice a day so that he didn’t starve.
That last one rankled. It was more a babysitting job than anything else, barely worthy of his attention. And yet, the orders had been given, the mission entrusted to him and he would carry it out.
Kris Allen was a mission, the simplest one he’d undertaken in years.
But Kris Allen was also almost unbearably pretty.
Discovery of that particular detail has been surprising, although perhaps it shouldn’t have been. He’d had the necessary intel before embarking on the mission; he’d studied the pictures and seen the video. And yet neither had prepared him for the reality of the man, for the soft brown eyes, the strong jaw, the full lips.
And so while Adam felt no need to get to know the man in his charge, he at least had to admit to the base physical attraction that was present.
Adam was practical enough to see it as a welcome distraction. Welcome because it broke up the tediousness of being trapped on this ship, in an unmanned docking station with Ahriman and that android, Becker; neither of whom were particularly good company.
He felt disloyal even thinking it, but it was true. Ahriman could spend hours alone locked up in his quarters and Becker . . . well, everyone knew that conversation with an android was nearly impossible.
But now he was back in front of the distraction, the very pretty distraction, and the boredom would be staved for at least a small while.
Adam hadn’t been surprised when Ahriman supported his earlier decision to withhold the meal from Kris. The man had no love for rich people, ironic considering how much money Adam had helped him accrue over their years together. He’d approved of it, and had told Adam to wait the full twelve hours before returning to the cell.
Adam had, following his orders to the letter as always. And when he’d finally gone back to the cell, he’d half-expected to further exchange words with their captive. But Kris had merely accepted the food in silence, eyeing Adam warily before pushing the first tray through the small opening in the cell. Adam had lingered for a moment, watching as Kris began to eat the rations, apparently savoring them as if they were first class fare.
He’d felt a momentary twinge of something, a passing moment of what felt like regret. He’d studied it for a moment, then discarded it.
Yes, maybe he had overreacted, he usually did when dealing with the very rich, but there was no reason for regret.
Kris Allen was a big boy and he had not hurt him.
Conscience clear, Adam had turned away.
That had been exactly twelve hours ago. Now he was standing in front of the cell, running through the same motions as if living through deja vu.
Except that this time, when he turned to walk away, the sound of Kris’ voice, hesitant and unsure as he called out, stopped him.
Adam turned back to see that Kris was standing nearly flush with the bars of the cell, hands wrapped around them tightly.
“Do you have to go? I mean . . . could you stay for just a minute?”
Adam tipped his head to the side. “Why?”
“It’s just that . . . there’s nothing to do in here but sleep and think.” Kris let out a dry, humorless laugh. “But I’m not sleeping very well. And I might be starting to go a little crazy.”
Adam could see Kris’ fingers tightening around the bars, how every line of his face was drawn tight with tension.
He waited a moment more, curious to see how far Kris would go, what he might say.
They stood there in silence until Kris drew in a breath, letting it out in a shaky exhale before whispering, “Please.”
It had cost him to ask that, Adam knew. He made his decision quickly, throwing a surreptitious glance at the camera before folding his legs underneath him and sinking to the ground. Ahriman had said nothing about speaking to Kris. He hadn’t forbidden it, had in fact set no rules about it at all.
And besides, it was almost certain to be an entertaining way to pass the time, if only for the view.
It was a while before Kris spoke, almost as if he were gathering the courage to do so. “Has Simon paid?” he finally asked, fingers worrying the bottom of his shirt. “Has he said that he’s going to?”
“I don’t know,” Adam said.
Kris shot him a disbelieving look.
“I don’t,” Adam repeated. “I’d assume because you’re still here that he hasn’t, but I don’t know about anything else.”
Kris sighed, and there was something about him that seemed to deflate, as if the words had wounded him. Adam noticed with some interest the dark smudges under his eyes, the heavy slope of his shoulders. He looked beaten, the spark that he’d seen in their earlier encounter all but gone.
“Is this normal?” Kris asked. “For a kidnapping, I mean? Is this how things usually go?”
“Again . . . don’t know. You’re our first.”
Kris looked surprised, unbelieving. “You’re kidding.”
“Does it look like I’m kidding?”
“Well, I hope you’re having as much fun with it as I am.”
Adam, caught off-guard by the statement, could only laugh. He found himself rethinking his earlier assessment. It seemed that Kris wasn’t completely beaten after all.
“So what do you usually do?” Kris asked. “I mean . . . why do you need a cage if kidnapping is only a side project?”
“We’re involved with a lot of things,” Adam said. “None of them are particularly legal.”
“So, you can’t tell me.”
“I knew you caught on fast, Allen.”
Kris managed a weak smile before bringing his knees to his chest, hugging them into his body as if cold. “Simon must be going crazy by now,” he said quietly.
Adam knew that the words hadn’t been meant for him, but he still found himself responding. “Your husband?”
“Not too long ago you were asking what would happen if he didn’t pay.”
“Well, that was . . . I wasn’t thinking straight. It was just a stupid moment of doubt.”
“You doubted your husband would pay to save your life?”
“No! No, I know he loves me. It’s just that . . . things have been hard lately. We’ve been fighting and he’s been distant. But it happens. After the honeymoon phase ends, things are always tricky.” Kris paused, taking a deep breath to settle his near-manic flow of words. He looked at Adam, eyes plaintively seeking understanding. “I mean . . . you know how it is.”
“No, I don’t.”
“You don’t? You’ve never experienced that?”
Adam shrugged. “I’ve never been with someone long enough for it to matter.”
“Wait, so . . . you’ve never cared about someone? You've never been in love?”
“This life doesn’t exactly lend itself to that.”
Kris shook his head, eyes filling with something akin to pity. “That just seems so sad.”
“You’re feeling sorry for me?” Adam asked. He wasn’t angry, more amused than anything, but he forced his voice to come across as cold, intimidating. Keeping the upper hand meant staying in control at all times, no matter the circumstances.
“No,” Kris said hurriedly. “No, I was just . . . ”
And there was the reaction that Adam was looking for, the one he had purposely provoked. Kris had straightened, and was now staring at him with wide eyes. Adam could see that he wasn’t frightened, not quite yet, but could easily be pushed to it.
He decided to let it go, seeing no advantage in pursuing it. “Well, don’t,” he said as he stood. “After all, I’m not the one in the cage.”
“No, you’re right,” Kris said after a moment. “There’s no argument against that, is there?” And then he looked up at Adam, his gaze dull and defeated. The circles under his eyes seemed obscenely dark now, making him appear smaller than he was and too, too frail.
Funny though, Adam thought, how none of that detracted from his beauty.
Funny too, how that vague sense of regret was suddenly an uncomfortable, unwelcome presence once again.
Nearly twelve hours later, Adam found himself sitting inside Ahriman’s quarters, discussing matters concerning the running of the ship. They were important details - accounting for fuel stores, checking the food supply - but mundane and rote nonetheless and Adam found his mind wandering to the cell and the person that occupied it.
It had surprised him when, hours earlier, he had realized that he was counting down the time until he could go back to that cell. He had told himself that it was the boredom, that Kris was a distraction from the monotony, and he had mostly succeeded in believing it. But he’d always been a little too self-aware for his own good, and he knew that there was something else there; a spark of interest that he hadn’t felt in a very long time.
“And how is our little captive?” Ahriman asked, the change of subject so swift and unexpected, it was dizzying. Adam brought his attention to the here and now, forcing himself to concentrate on what Ahriman was saying.
“He’s fine. As well as he can be, I suppose.”
“You were speaking with him. You sat down with him.”
The confirmation that Ahriman had been watching his visit to the cell came as no surprise to Adam. He knew the man too well. He nodded. “Yes.”
“Can I ask why?”
“He asked me to.”
Sensing that more explanation was required, Adam continued. “He’s lonely and frightened. He wanted to talk.”
“And you were willing to oblige?”
“Is there a problem?”
“No. I just find it odd, Adam. It’s very unlike you.”
Adam sighed, careful to keep his tone disinterested. “Honestly, Ahriman, I was bored. This may be the easiest assignment you’ve ever given me. There’s nothing to it.”
“So, you were keeping yourself entertained?”
“Yes,” Adam said. He felt no need to elaborate. He’d learned long ago, ironically from Ahriman himself, that it was best not to give too much away when speaking.
“Hm . . . no harm in it, I suppose.” Ahriman smiled, if it could rightly be called that, and glanced at the timepiece on the wall. “You should go. Mr. Allen is undoubtably feeling hungry about now.”
Adam rose, watching as Ahriman did the same. He stood still, waiting until Ahriman stepped closer, until he felt Ahriman’s hand run down his arm.
An intimate gesture, over almost as quickly as it had begun. Adam looked toward the door. “I should go.”
Adam made it as far as the door when he stopped and turned back around. “Has the ransom been demanded?” he asked. “Has Cowell indicated that he’ll pay?”
The surprise was clear on Ahriman’s face. Adam couldn’t blame him, he rarely asked anything more of Ahriman than the man was willing to provide. But he was doing it now.
“Yes, it’s been demanded. And no . . . he hasn’t paid.”
Adam nodded his thanks and turned around, slipping out the door.
The exchange of trays went smoothly, but Kris was quiet today, thoughts obviously turned inward. Adam felt disappointed. He’d been looking forward to staying, maybe talking some more. He hesitated, not really wanting to leave but finding no reason to stay. He could tell by the dullness in Kris’ eyes that he wouldn’t be capable of any kind of conversation today.
He decided to impart the information he’d gathered from Ahriman; after all, he hadn’t gotten it for himself, then leave and give Kris a chance to think it over.
“He hasn’t paid yet,” he said. “The ransom’s been demanded, but he hasn’t paid yet.”
Kris’ head shot up, but his gaze remained dull, unfocused. “Oh. How do you–”
“I asked,” Adam said. “I checked.”
There was only a slight hesitation before Kris whispered, “Thank you.”
“I . . . you’re welcome,” Adam replied, caught off-guard by what he was seeing. Kris had an open, honest face, the kind that could never hide a secret. On it, Adam could see his gratitude. Muted, maybe owing to his state of mind, but there nonetheless.
Gratitude toward the man who had kidnapped him, who had hurt him.
Kris took a step forward, wrapping his hands around the bars. “So now we just have to wait, right? I mean, it’s not like Simon has that much money laying around. He’ll have to make calls, pull it from the banks. So we just have to wait, right?”
“Yes, we just have to wait.”
“How long do we wait? How long?”
“I don’t know. A couple more days, maybe? I don’t know.”
Kris brought his hand to his mouth, biting at his thumbnail and nodding absently. A moment later, he looked up suddenly, barking out a wild, little laugh. “I just thought of something.” He paused, looking pointedly at Adam, his eyes wild. “I don’t know how much I’m worth. How much am I worth, Adam?”
“A few thousand? A million? How much is my life worth?”
Adam could see what was happening, could see how close to the edge Kris was. “Allen . . . don’t do this to yourself.”
“Why not? Don’t you think I have a right to know?”
“Because it’s pointless. You’re making yourself crazy over something that you can’t control and ultimately doesn’t matter.”
“It doesn’t matter? How can you say it doesn’t matter?”
“Look, Allen,” he said, purposefully softening his voice. “If I knew, I would tell you.”
Kris nodded, seeming to calm, to step away from the hysteria that he’d been so close to. Still, Adam had a feeling that it was far from over.
“You have a nice voice,” Kris said after a few seconds.
“It’s nice. Gentle. That’s what made me turn around. I saw you coming toward me in the lot and you looked so sinister, so menacing, and I started to hurry. And then you spoke and I stopped and turned because I figured that no one with a voice like that could be bad.”
Adam could only watch as Kris skirted back toward that shaky edge. He felt strangely helpless, unsure of what to say. Up until now, the cage had always held hardened criminals - some insane, some just brilliantly psychotic. Never before a frightened, innocent young man. Criminals he could deal with. This situation he wasn’t so sure.
“Maybe if I’d kept moving,” Kris continued, “I’d be ok now. I wouldn’t be here.”
“It wouldn’t have mattered. I’m very good at what I do. You had no chance.”
“Right. Of course. Stupid to think . . . ”
“Allen . . . ”
Kris wasn’t looking at him. He was back to chewing his nail, gaze fixed on the floor.
Adam tried again. “Allen.”
And still nothing. Nothing to indicate that Kris had even heard. Adam considered just walking away. He had done what he’d come here to do. And yet . . .
And at that, Kris raised his head. His eyes still dull, he himself still wrecked, but at least now he was present, listening.
“You need to go to bed. Get some sleep. You can eat later.”
“I can’t sleep. I’ve tried. The lights . . . and my thoughts. Can’t stop thinking.”
“Listen to me. Go lie down. Cover your face as well as you can and start counting sheep. Or recite the alphabet. Anything that’s automatic and requires little thought. If you do start to think about things, stop, and start over.”
Kris looked over at the cot, unsure.
“Go. Do it now,” Adam said, more stern now, making it a command.
Kris nodded, taking a small step. “Ok. Yeah, ok.”
Adam watched him, watched as Kris made his way over to the cot to settle his body on top of it. He watched until he saw Kris throw the blanket over his body, burrowing until even his head was hidden.
Only then did he walk away.
Adam wandered the ship for a bit, finally settling into the monitor room. He immediately walked over to the viewer that would show him Kris Allen’s cell.
Yes, there he was, the outline of his body clear under the covers. He lay very still, still enough that he could be sleeping.
Adam stepped away but continued watching, rubbing at his forehead as he thought about he’d said earlier.
That sleeping technique - he hadn’t used it in years, not since he was a boy. These days he could fall asleep, as well as wake, in an instant. But then . . . he’d used that technique so often then. He remembered how he used to count stray dogs instead of sheep, because he’d never seen sheep and couldn’t picture them.
Who had taught him how to do that?
Had it been Allison?
Yes, of course it had been Allison. Late at night, when they were supposed to be asleep, she’d hold him close and teach him things, ways to get along. That had been one of her many tricks.
He shook his head. He hadn’t thought of Allison in so long. He didn’t even know if she was still alive. He’d always meant to go back - had promised her that he would - but he never had.
He sighed, still rubbing at his forehead, at the headache that he could feel beginning to blossom.
As much as he had loved her, there was a reason that he never thought about her.
It hurt. To think of her, hurt.
And it brought back the memories. Memories of being small and powerless. Memories of places and things best left in the past.
Pain was weakness. Fear was weakness. How many times had Ahriman told him these things? And how long had he lived by those very rules?
With one last look at Kris - still unmoving - he left the monitor room and headed back to his own quarters. It wasn’t easy, but by the time he got there, by the time he was downing the pain medication for his head, Allison and everything associated with her had been pushed to the furthest recesses of his mind.
Exactly where they belonged.
Kris could hear Adam’s footfalls coming down the hall. Their heavy, measured cadence was quickly becoming as familiar to him as anything else in his life and he found himself responding to it by standing up and moving toward the bars.
He watched Adam come closer until they stood mere inches apart, separated only by the steel between them.
He crouched down to the floor when Adam did for the exchange of the trays, then stood when Adam stood. And when Adam looked as if he were about to leave, Kris spoke at last, uttering two small words to make him stay.
As Adam turned, it took everything Kris had not to collapse in relief. He had slept yes, and he felt stronger, but that didn’t completely quell either the fear or the loneliness. He needed someone, and right now, as strange as it might be, Adam was all he had.
“I wanted to thank you,” he said. “For what you did last time.”
Adam gave a dismissive shake of his head. “I didn’t do anything.”
“Yes, you did,” Kris replied. “You could have left me there. You could have just walked away and-”
“You’re right,” Adam said, interrupting the flow of Kris’ words. “I could have.”
“But you didn’t. You talked me down . . . gave me news about the ransom . . . ”
Adam sighed as if irritated, bored. “So?”
“So, thank you. That’s all. Just . . . thank you.”
“Fine. You’re welcome.”
And before Adam could complete the turn that would take him back down the hallway, leaving him alone again, Kris said, “Although, I have to admit, I don’t understand why you did those things. Why be nice to me if you’re just going to kill me?”
Adam turned back around, appearing faintly amused. “Who said I’m going to kill you?”
“Please don’t patronize me. I’m not stupid. I know your name. I’ve seen both of your faces. How could you possibly let me live after that?”
“Look, Allen, all I know is that I don’t have orders to kill you. My orders are to feed you and make sure you don’t find a way off of this ship. That’s it.”
Kris watched his face for any sign of a lie. “Really?” he asked. He was so desperate to believe that he wouldn’t be killed that he let a note of hope creep into his voice.
“I don’t gain anything by lying to you.”
“But what about what I just said?”
“About being able to identify us?” Adam gave a low chuckle. “This is a big universe, Allen. We’re not particularly worried about your city’s peace officers. No offense.”
“So as long as Simon pays, then I’ll be ok?”
“As far as I know.”
Kris nodded, dropping his gaze. He began to worry at his thumbnail with his teeth - a new, bad habit he’d only recently acquired.
“Wait a minute,” Adam said. “You don’t think he’s going to, do you? You don’t think Simon’s going to pay for you.”
“No!” Kris’ head shot back up. “That’s not it. Of course he will. He loves me. Things are just hard right now.”
“You said that before. What’s so hard that it makes you doubt him?”
There was a small moment of hesitation, seconds ticking by as Kris regarded Adam, trying to decide if he was being mocked or toyed with. But no, if anything Adam seemed genuinely interested.
He sank to the floor, suddenly tired, sitting cross-legged. He barely even noticed when Adam did the same. “I told you, I don’t . . . I don’t doubt him. It’s just that . . . he’s been distant lately. Cold. We have these fights . . . I don’t even know what we’re fighting about half the time.” Kris shook his head, replaying those arguments in his mind. “Sometimes,” he said, dropping his voice into a near whisper. “Sometimes he hits me.”
“Allen . . . ”
“Not all the time!” he said quickly. “Just when I push. Sometimes I push.”
“Right. Because you’re so hard to get along with.”
That made Kris pause; the way the words were said, as if they were the most ridiculous thing, as if Adam knew him and could judge. “Well, sometimes I do,” he said, surprised at how uncertain he sounded, as if he were trying to convince them both.
“Hm . . . all right.” Adam leaned back, settling his body into a more comfortable position. He looked like a man who had all the time in the world to sit and chat. “What else?”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s more. I can see it in your face.”
“There isn’t more.”
“Allen, you’re like an open book. I can see absolutely everything you’re feeling.”
Kris could feel himself blushing. How many times in the course of his life had he been told this very thing? Although it felt different coming from someone who by all rights should be considered an enemy.
“Do you really want to know?” he asked.
“I asked, didn’t I?”
Kris sighed in partial defeat, partial relief. “I can’t believe I’m . . . ok . . . I think he might be having an affair. I’m not sure, though. There have been signs. Things I’ve noticed, but I’m not sure.”
“Have you asked him?”
“Yeah. That was our biggest fight.”
Adam nodded slowly, looking sage and sure. “I figured it was something like that.”
The laughter that welled up inside of Kris was unexpected, taking him by surprise as it bubbled up out of him.
“What’s so funny?” Adam asked, clearly confused.
“Me,” Kris said, still giggling. “This.” He pointed to them both. “I’ve told you more about my marriage than I’ve ever told anybody. You know things that my friends don’t know, my family doesn’t know.”
And then he dropped his head into his hands, and the giggles slowly dissolved into something that sounded like a choked off sob. Suddenly it wasn’t so funny anymore.
“Oh fuck. What’s wrong with me?” he asked.
The ensuing silence wasn’t unexpected; Kris hadn’t thought that Adam would answer him. And yet, after a stretch of several long seconds, Adam spoke. “Can I give you a piece of advice?”
Kris wiped at his eyes and lifted his head. “Yeah, I guess. Sure.”
“I don’t know why you’re holding on to this marriage like you are, but the role of victim doesn’t suit you. You should demand better.”
“What? No, you don’t understand. I love Simon. He loves me.”
“Does he?” Adam stood. “I’ve never felt it myself, but I’m pretty sure that love shouldn’t hurt.”
“It doesn’t,” Kris said. He stayed on the ground, staring up at Adam. “It’s not always bad. It doesn’t always hurt.”
“You’re doubting whether or not your husband loves you enough to save your life. That’s what I call bad.”
Kris opened his mouth to protest, but no sound came out, no words came to mind.
“I should go,” Adam said.
Kris nodded, all he was capable of doing since speech was eluding him.
“Eat and get some more rest. You still look exhausted.”
“You’ll be back, right?” Kris managed to ask. And he hated that he was asking, hated what Adam had just said and that Adam was probably right. Hated all of it, but right now, most of all, he really hated Adam.
And yet he couldn’t deny that he needed Adam. At this moment, he needed Adam more than he’d ever needed anyone.
"Of course I will, Allen."
“Mr. Cowell, you’re going to have to trust us. We know what we’re doing.”
Simon looked at the detective sitting across from him. He seemed intelligent, capable, but looks were so easily deceiving.
“The kidnapper said he would kill Kris if I didn’t make the ransom drop alone, Detective.” He leaned forward, slapping his hand on the desk, gaining satisfaction from the way the pain of it reverberated through his arm. “Do you understand what that means? They will kill my husband.”
“Mr. Cowell, it is vital that we control this exchange, not the kidnappers. If you go alone, it’s almost guaranteed that you’ll be placing yourself in danger.”
“I don’t care. Kris is what matters here. Getting him back is the only thing that’s important.”
“And how much will it matter if you’re dead?”
Simon leveled a look at him that would have made most men fall apart. He’d perfected that look over the years, knew the damage it could cause.
But the detective didn’t even flinch
“They won’t even know we’re there, Mr. Cowell. We’ve done this before. We’ll manage the drop. We know what we’re doing.”
Simon sighed. “I don’t suppose I have much of a choice, then.”
“Not really, but it will still be easier if we have your full cooperation.”
“As long as it gets Kris back, I’ll do anything.”
Adam didn’t quite understand what was happening to him, why he was behaving like this. This wasn’t his first job, or even his hundred and first. And while it was true that he’d never executed a mission quite like this one, it was still no excuse for his behavior; giving advice as if he were some sort of relationship counselor. It was ridiculous. And all because he found Kris Allen attractive.
Except that it was more than that and he knew it. He wasn’t exactly sure what it was yet, he hadn’t quite gotten that far, but he did know that he was drawn to the cell and to the man in it.
So the next time he walked down the long, isolated corridor, he didn’t bother trying to fight that draw. He set the food down and sat down in front of the cell.
And promptly froze, tongue-tied and unsure.
Kris looked surprised to see him, but to his credit adapted quickly, settling his face and sitting down as well.
“I want you to know,” Kris said after a moment, after it became apparent that Adam wasn’t going to speak first. “What I told you last time? Simon wasn’t always like that.”
“I just didn’t want you think that he’s a complete ass. Or that I’m a total idiot.”
Adam felt himself relaxing into the give and take of the conversation. “I didn’t say that.”
“No. But you were probably thinking it. And I can see why you would, but that’s not how things used to be.”
Adam sensed a story there, found that he was actually curious to hear it. He waited, knowing that Kris would continue.
“You know, when I first met him, he was slumming?” Kris asked.
“Mhmm. It’s something the richies do sometimes. They dress down, go Below. Pretend like they belong there. I think they find it exciting; like they’re living dangerously or something.” Kris paused for a moment, lost in the past before shaking himself back to the present. “Anyway, he was slumming at this bar that me and my friends were at. We started talking and he was . . . ”
Kris turned to Adam, his eyes alive with the memory of it. “He was so amazing. Smart and funny and so . . . I don’t know . . . aware. I’d never met anyone like that before. Someone who knew things, who’d seen things. And he was talking to me. He was interested in me.
“And then he asked me out. I remember, on our first date, we went driving along the edges of the city, listening to music and talking the entire time. It was probably one of the best nights of my life.”
“So what changed?” Adam asked.
“I wish I knew,” Kris said, mouth settling into a frown. “If I knew, then I could try and fix it. I mean, I have tried, but it’s like there’s a wall between us now and I just can’t get past it.”
Adam watched Kris, watched the familiar sadness settle over him, struck by an unfamiliar urge to wipe that sadness away. Happiness, even if from a lost memory, suited Kris much more than this somber pall.
“Anyway,” Kris said, giving his head a quick, violent shake, “So, you should probably tell me something about yourself now.”
“Me?” Adam asked. “Why?”
“Well, because that’s what people do when they’re conversing. Quid pro quo.”
Adam shook his head. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.” And he didn’t. He didn’t have anything he felt he could say.
“Well . . . you could tell me about your homeworld.”
“No,” he said, voice dropping down, growing colder. “I don’t talk about that. Ever.”
“Oh. Ok, well, um . . .” Kris looked around, as if searching for a safe topic. “You could tell me what else you use this cell for.”
“Why are you so interested?”
Kris shrugged. “It’s turning into my home away from home. Might be nice to know who the previous tenants were.”
“I told you, I can’t give you that information.”
“That’s shit and you know it. If you’re not afraid of the city’s peace officers knowing what you look like, then what does this matter?”
Adam chuckled, both impressed and surprised that Kris would challenge him. “Sometimes we use them to transport escaped prisoners back to prison,” he said. It was a concession, admitting to the fact that Kris was right.
“What, like, you’re bounty hunters?”
“Sometimes? You do other things?”
“Like what? What else do you do?”
“Do you really want to know?”
The question was a warning, the only warning that Adam would give.
“I’m asking, aren’t I?”
“What does that mean?”
“Assassinations,” Adam said, putting it as bluntly as he could. Kris had asked, had pushed. Now he would have to deal with the consequences. “I kill people, Allen.”
“Oh? Just ‘oh’?”
“What else am I supposed to say?” Kris asked, shrugging. The gesture was carefully nonchalant, his voice was anything but. “You just told me that you kill people for a living.”
“Does that upset you?” Adam leaned in, watching Kris’ face, studying it for the changes that would give him away. “Does it frighten you?”
“A little. Maybe. I don’t know. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. You’re like a mercenary or something.”
And then Kris was leaning in too, just a little, just enough. His face was serious, his eyes dark as he asked, “Would you kill me? If you were ordered to?”
“Why would you ask that?”
Kris shrugged, but held Adam’s gaze. The intensity was gone though. That strange intensity that for one brief moment had Adam wanting to pull away, was gone. “I don’t know,” he said. “All roads lead to Rome.”
“I’d rather not talk about killing you, Allen.”
“What else are we supposed to talk about? You’re a killer and I’m in your prison cell. It all comes back to that, doesn’t it?”
Adam hesitated, feeling that the conversation was over; not wanting it to be. But Kris was right. All roads led to the same place. And how could a man possibly want to talk to the one most likely to kill him?
He made to stand, stopping when he heard Kris’ voice; soft, plaintive. “Do you have to go? You just got here.”
“We can talk about something else,” Kris said, just this side of desperate. “There’s other things.”
Adam settled back down. “Such as?”
“Well . . . all right . . . you’ve traveled a lot, right? Doing what you do?”
Adam gave a firm nod. “I’ve been just short of everywhere.”
“Tell me about it. Some of the places you’ve been.”
Adam felt himself smiling. “It might be boring. I wasn’t exactly sightseeing.”
“Well, I’ve never been anywhere, so anything you have to tell me is going to impress me.”
And then Kris gave a wan smile before edging the food tray closer to himself, curling his body to make himself more comfortable.
Adam thought about the places he’d been, the things he’d seen. Everything from the thundering waterfalls at Arnassus to the towering metallic spires of Karbal Shiah. He’d seen so much and yet so very little, most of his time spent focused on the mission. Always the mission.
And yet the way that Kris was looking at him, as if his very soul depended on Adam’s next words . . .
It was enough. Enough for Adam to settle in himself, cast his memory back and begin to speak.
Kris felt fairly sure that he should be angry with Adam, that he should hate the man that had brought him here. He certainly hated the other one, the older man that he’d seen that first day and never again since.
But he didn’t hate Adam. If anything he found himself anxiously awaiting those moments when Adam came to the cell. The last two times he’d been here, Adam had sat down and stayed with him . . . had talked to him. Not that Adam was much of a talker. He held his walls up high, defenses so firmly in place that Kris couldn’t even begin to think of how to penetrate them.
But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that for whatever reason, Adam was trying. Adam was there. And right now, whether he liked it or not, Kris’ entire world basically revolved around him.
Now, he paced the length of the cell, anxious. It was almost time for Adam to come. He had no way to measure time and yet he still knew; as if he were attuned to the other man.
After a few more minutes passed, he stopped, turning toward the sound of footsteps advancing toward him, then tilted his head to the side in confusion. There was something off about the sound of those footsteps.
It took him another moment before he realized what was different.
It wasn’t one set of footsteps.
It was two.
Kris watched them appear at the end of the corridor, walking down it; the older man first, Adam following closely behind. He watched as they stopped at the cell door, opened it up and stepped inside.
Kris could feel his heart pounding, so hard he felt that it would burst through his very chest. He kept vacillating between emotions, torn between excitement and sheer terror, knowing that they were here to either free him or kill him. He looked up at Adam’s face, trying to read it for any sign, but the man’s face was back to being impassive as stone.
“Mr. Allen. We meet again,” Ahriman said.
“Did Simon pay?” Kris asked, the hope in his voice undisguised.
“Actually, Mr. Allen, he didn’t.”
Kris staggered, as if the words had been a physical blow. “No. That can’t be right . . . ”
“Believe me when I say we’re all very disappointed in this turn of events. I thought your husband had more affection for you than this.” Ahriman turned toward Adam, giving him a small nod.
“There’s been a mistake,” Kris said, backing away as Adam advanced. “There has to be.”
Adam moved faster than he’d expected, grabbing Kris’ hands and pulling them behind his back. Kris struggled to pull out of Adam’s grip, the surging panic turning his movements frantic.
He felt Adam wrap an arm around his torso while Adam’s other hand pinned his wrists together, and then Adam was turning them around, toward the wall, away from the Ahriman. Kris could feel Adam’s body molding to his own, and then there was Adam’s voice, barely a whisper, against his ear.
“No one’s going to kill you. Be still.”
And so he did. Kris stopped struggling, feeling the cool metal of cuffs encircle his wrists as Adam turned them back around. He was still terrified, but Adam had just said that he wouldn’t be harmed, and he trusted him. He was surprised to find that it was true, that somewhere along the way, he’d actually begun to trust Adam.
He didn’t struggle as they led him out of the cell and down the hallway, but he didn’t exactly make it easy for them either. Adam had to drag and pull him most of the way, as his legs simply wouldn’t cooperate.
Maybe, Kris thought to himself, they’d have him do one of those videos. The ones that had the kidnap victim pleading to their loved ones for rescue. That he could handle. He was more than willing to beg for his life, for Simon to come and get him out of this nightmare.
The journey finally ended at a small room at the end of the corridor they’d just walked down. Adam gave Kris a small shove, getting him inside when his feet simply wouldn’t move.
Then the cuffs were undone and Kris was forced into a chair. He had barely sat down when a metal binder activated and slid across his legs, pinning them down. Kris looked around while Adam grabbed his hands and set them down on the metal table in front of him.
And then the panic, which he’d somehow managed to tamp down, was back in full force.
The soft hiss and click of the binders pinning down his wrists was barely noticed. Kris was too busy staring at the walls, at the implements he saw hanging from them.
He stared up at Adam. “What is this? What’s happening?”
“Settle down, Mr. Allen,” Ahriman said from his position behind Adam. “We’ve merely decided to take things up a level. Give your husband some incentive and maybe remind him of how important this all is.”
“What does that mean? What are you going to do?” Kris asked, although his mind was already handily supplying him with scenarios. He wasn’t stupid. He knew that the things on the wall were torture instruments.
Ahriman gave a curt nod, saying Adam’s name.
Kris watched as Adam returned the nod and turned, pulled something from the wall and turned back, walking to the table in quick, measured steps.
“No. Don’t do this,” Kris begged.
“Relax, Mr. Allen,” Ahriman said. “This will be over before you know it. And after a while, you probably won’t even miss those fingers.”
Kris looked up at Adam, now hovering over him, his face perfectly blank. “Don’t do this. Please. Adam.” He was begging fully now, shamelessly, his heart racing and breath stuttering.
But the Adam that he’d come to know seemed gone. This Adam merely grabbed his hand, pushing it flat against the metal even as Kris tried desperately to ball it up into a fist and pull away.
But there was nowhere to go. He was trapped in the chair, and he had to watch helplessly as Adam moved the instrument closer to his hand.
Kris closed his eyes and whispered, “Please.”
A second later, a scream erupted from his mouth as the hot, searing pain forced his eyes open. He looked down at his hand, saw his pinkie and index finger of his left hand lying on the table, separate from his hand.
The bindings released and Kris pushed backward, toppling onto the floor, holding his injured hand to his chest, cradling it as he moaned.
The instrument had been a laser and so had cauterized the wound, leaving little blood, but it did nothing to help with the pain. It was overwhelming, sharp and pulsating. Kris turned to his side and retched, vomiting up the pitifully small amount of food in his stomach.
A moment later, he felt hands on his shoulders and he felt himself being turned, then lifted up into strong arms.
He turned his face into Adam’s broad chest, moaning again as the pain spiked.
“You can take him back to the cell,” Ahriman said. “We’ll send these to his husband.”
Kris was floating on a cloud of pain, barely aware that Adam was placing him on the cot in the cell, barely registering that it was done with care. He curled his body inward, hand held close to his chest.
“Allen . . . ”
“Fuck you. Just fuck you,” Kris said, nearly choking. There were tears in his eyes and his hand was agony and fire and he couldn’t deal with whatever Adam was going to try and say.
He had trusted Adam and Adam had mutilated him, cutting into him without an ounce of remorse.
Adam’s hand fell on Kris’ shoulder. “Kris . . . ”
“Don’t. Just go ok? Just go.”
Funny, only a little while ago, he’d been musing on his not hating Adam . . . and now he did.
And yet, he still felt the acute sense of loss when Adam pulled away. And he still had to stop himself from giving in to the urge to turn and press himself against Adam for comfort or to ask him to please stay as he heard Adam walk out the door.
Kris had never felt pain like this. It seemed to pulse through him like a living, breathing thing. He tried to drift away from it, toward sleep or unconsciousness, but the respite was always short-lived. In the end, he’d always come awake to it once more.
He was awake when Adam came back into the cell, though he barely noticed the clanging of the metal door or the sound of a tray being set down on the floor. Food was the last thing on his mind, just the very thought of it made his stomach churn, so he ignored it, ignoring Adam as well. Except that he couldn’t ignore the dip in the mattress behind him, the feel of Adam’s hand atop his hip, his voice low and soothing next to his ear.
“I have something for you,” Adam said.
And then Kris felt something being slipped into his good hand, something small and hard. Curiosity got the better of him and he peered down at it.
It was a pill.
“It’s for the pain,” Adam said. “Place it under your tongue and let it dissolve. It will also help you sleep.”
“But why would you-”
“Talk after you take it, Allen. Trust me.”
The words sparked something inside of Kris, an anger that he had thought buried under his misery. He turned, albeit clumsily and despite the shooting pain. “You really expect me to trust anything you say or do? You cut apart my fucking hand.”
“No,” Adam said calmly. “But take it anyway. Unless you prefer to be in pain.”
Kris looked down at the pill, trying to think past the fogginess in his brain. Take it or don’t take it. Take it or don’t take it.
In the end he decided that it didn’t matter. He simply didn’t care anymore. If Adam wanted to poison him, then, fuck it, he was ok with that.
He placed the pill under his tongue and waited, closing his eyes in anticipation. After a few moments, he could feel the pain easing, growing duller and duller with each passing second. With a long sigh of relief, Kris uncurled his body, letting muscles relax and loosen after too long clenched tight.
He felt no pain now, his body and mind feeling heavy and fuzzy. It was not, by any means, an unpleasant sensation.
“If it helps to know,” Adam said, “I didn’t want to do that to you.”
Kris settled back against the cot, looking up at Adam. They were very close, close enough for their legs to touch, for Kris to feel the heat from Adam’s body. His anger was giving way to exhaustion and confusion. His voice was soft when he asked, “Then why did you?”
Adam just stared down at him, eyebrows drawing together. “He gave me an order,” he said simply. As if that explained everything.
“So what, does he own you?” Kris asked. “Do you have to do everything he tells you?”
“You don’t understand.”
“So explain it to me. Who is he to you? Why do you follow him so blindly?”
“Kris . . .”
“Tell me. You owe me that much.”
But Adam only shook his head. He looked sad, and Kris thought it strange to see that particular emotion on his face.
“I should go.”
“Fine. Yeah. Go.”
Adam didn’t move. Instead, he grasped Kris’ good hand in both of his, turning it over. Kris was about to pull away, more instinct than anything, when he felt another pill drop into his palm.
“Take it when the pain starts to come back,” Adam said, releasing Kris’ hand and leaning back. “Do it with your back to the camera. Do you understand? You can’t face the camera.”
Kris looked at him, studying his impassive face for a clue as to the meaning of the words. Then he raised himself on an elbow, shifting so that he could peer around Adam’s broad frame.
He lay back down, refocusing his gaze on Adam, piecing it together despite the fogginess in his brain. Adam was blocking them from the camera’s eye; had been this entire time.
“He doesn’t know that you’re doing this, does he?” Kris asked. “You’re doing this on your own.”
“No, he doesn’t.”
Adam didn’t answer for a while, long enough for Kris to wonder, in his increasingly drugged state, if he’d only asked the question in his head.
But then Adam sighed and said, “I don’t know.”
“What does that even mean?”
Adam shook his head. “I should go.”
But Adam was already standing up. “I have to go. Just remember what I said.”
Kris couldn’t believe the words were coming out of his mouth. Only minutes before he’d felt betrayed; angry and bitter. And now he was begging the man who’d hurt him not to go. He choked on a laugh, wondering if he was merely a fool where Adam was concerned or if he’d always been one.
“I can’t,” Adam said. His features softened, until he looked almost gentle. Compassionate. “I will come back. Try to sleep until I do.”
And then, just like that, he was gone.
“Sir, I assure you we’re doing everything we can to -”
Simon leaned forward in his chair, gripping the handles of it so hard that his knuckles grew white. To his credit, the man sitting opposite him, Detective Saunders, neither flinched nor drew back. He never did, something that annoyed Simon to no end. “I just opened up a box with my husband’s fingers in them. My. Husband’s. Fingers. Do you have any idea what that feels like? Do you have any fucking idea?”
“Sir, you should really calm down.”
“How can I?” Simon flung himself out of the chair, pacing the length of his study. Behind him, Kara stood still, hands clasped tightly in front of her, face severe. “We’ve done everything they wanted. The ransom is there, waiting for them to take, exactly where they wanted it. So why haven’t they? Why are they sending me Kris’ fingers?”
“Can I be honest, Mr. Cowell?” the detective asked.
“I wish you would.”
“We’re a little perplexed by the kidnappers’ motives at this point. Traditionally, a move like this is made when the kidnappers’ demands are not being met. That is obviously not the case here.”
“So, you’re confused,” Simon said, voice now a stony calm.
Kara shifted as if trying to shrink back into the wall, anticipating the coming storm.
“We’re trying to understand the motives here. We’re doing our best to understand his game.”
“So, my husband is being tortured and butchered while you’re sitting around with your thumbs up your asses trying to “understand” what’s happening?” Simon asked, voice rising into a shout. “Is that what you’re telling me?”
Detective Saunders rose from his seat. “There’s no need to get nasty, Mr. Cowell.”
“That’s not nasty. Here’s nasty. If my husband is killed, his death will be on your head. You and everyone else in the Peace Department. And be sure that you will be held responsible for it. I’ll sue each and every single one of you for incompetence, mark my words.”
Simon pushed past the detective, leaving him alone in the study with Kara. Detective Saunders turned his head, watching the man go before muttering, “They’re marked.”
After a moment, Kara came forward, clearing her throat against the silence. “He’s not always like this. He’s just very upset.”
Detective Saunders sighed. “I’d probably react the same way. He must love his husband very much.”
“Yes, I . . . yes.”
He looked at her sharply, noting her hesitation. “That didn’t sound too positive.”
“It’s nothing. I didn’t mean anything by it. Simon loves Kris.”
“I’m sure he does,” he said. But he didn’t make any move to leave.
“All I meant was that Simon and Kris have been going some tough times lately. Like any other married couple. It’s not out of the ordinary. But they are devoted to each other. They are.”
The detective shrugged. “Fine. I’m sure they are. It’s not as if he’s a suspect. It was just a question.”
Kara blushed. “Oh.”
“I’ll see myself out.”
They exchanged goodbyes, Kara watching as he walked away, silently berating herself for her slip. She didn’t think Simon had anything to do with Kris’ disappearance either, but she had to admit to being surprised by his recent, caring behavior. She knew about his dalliances with others and she knew about his and Kris’ many fights.
Maybe, she thought, this kidnapping had made Simon realize just how much he truly loved Kris. Maybe, if they ever got Kris back, then he and Simon could begin to repair whatever had been damaged in their marriage.
“You sent the package?”
It wasn’t really a question despite having been phrased as one. Adam nodded at Ahriman, easily hiding his objection to the word ‘package’.
“Of course.” And of course, he had. The order had been given and he’d followed it. He’d spent nearly a full day’s time traveling to the outskirts of Terra 2, leaving the box where it would easily be found, where it would be expediently delivered. “He’s probably opening it as we speak.”
Ahriman smiled. “Perfect. And I take it there were no difficulties?”
“No one saw me. No one traced me,” Adam said, confident, yet without a trace of pride. He was merely stating a fact.
“Good. Well, I imagine you must be tired after all that time in the pod.”
Adam read the dismissal easily. “I am a bit tired.” He stood, moving toward the door, stopping before reaching it so he could ask the question that he’d wanted to all along. “Did you feed Allen?”
“No. I didn’t think about it.”
Adam turned toward him fully, unable to school his features into the blank mask he so often wore. “It’s been hours.” Eighteen to be exact. Nine hours each way. Adam thought of Kris, how hungry he must be. How confused, how frightened. The thought that it bothered him at all was jolting.
“Soon enough it won’t matter,” Ahriman said.
“What do you mean?”
Ahriman shrugged. “Just that this little exercise will play itself out soon enough.”
“You mean to kill him,” Adam said, suddenly understanding that this was true. “If Cowell doesn’t pay, you’re going to kill him.”
“Cowell won’t pay.”
“How do you know?”
Ahriman didn’t answer the question. Instead, he asked his own. “You’ve been acting very strange lately, Adam. Is there something I should be aware of? Did I make a mistake in letting you guard Mr. Allen?”
“No, of course not.”
“Good. Because really, he should consider himself lucky that I’ve fed him as much as I have.”
Adam gave a curt nod, his expression blank once again, revealing nothing of his feelings. It was what he’d been taught to do and he’d learned the lesson well. Inside he was battling unfamiliar emotions, but outside he appeared calm and distant.
“Of course,” Adam said. “He is lucky.”
Ahriman turned away, the earlier dismissal repeated. “Good. Go get some rest. I need you sharp.”
Adam had gathered the supplies he needed after leaving Ahriman’s quarters, pain pills, food and water, before heading to Kris’ cell.
The past eighteen hours had afforded him time to think. Too much time apparently, because it hadn’t been long before he’d started to think about his past. He was beyond frustrated with himself for it. One of Ahriman’s earliest lessons had been that the past is a dead thing and that it did not matter. And yet ever since he’d inadvertently recalled Allison’s sleep trick, he hadn’t been able to stop dwelling on it. It hadn’t been a great rush of memory, just little moments here and there, as if the memories themselves were trying to sneak up and ambush him.
Memories of the dank, dark rooms. The touch of cold hands. The near-constant hunger. Allison’s flame-red hair and her weary smile. Mikey’s volatile mood swings. Aeran’s screams.
And all of it set to the rhythm of the war drums.
Yes, he’d definitely had too much time to think. Too much time spent with things that he thought he’d long let go of. It made him feel strange and out of sorts. He could blame it on the lack of sleep, but he knew it went further than that. It was as if there was some subtle shift happening within him, one that he felt helpless to stop.
He let himself into the cell, walking directly to the cot where Kris lay. Kris’ body was turned toward him and his eyes were closed, his injured hand cradled protectively against his chest.
Adam sat down facing him, watching as Kris’ eyes fluttered open. He was obviously in pain, it was evident in every line of his face, the slight tremors running through his body, the careful way he shifted to look at Adam, peering at him through heavily lidded eyes. It had been too long since Kris had taken the last pill. Even if he’d held out as long as he could, it would have been too long, the effects wore off after six hours. Adam hadn’t been expecting to be pulled away and told to leave immediately for Terra 2. He hadn’t thought far enough ahead and Kris had suffered for it.
“Adam?” Kris whispered.
“I thought you left me.” The words sounded accusatory, the hurt in his tone obvious.
“No.” Adam shook his head, then carefully placed his hand along Kris’ cheek, using his fingers to urge his mouth to open. He was expecting Kris to pull away, to try and fight him, but Kris acquiesced, parting his lips and staring up at him with tired, brown eyes.
“First this,” Adam said, slipping the pill under Kris’ tongue. Kris closed his mouth automatically. Moments later, his eyes closed as well and a look that could easily be mistaken for ecstacy passed over his face.
Adam’s heart jumped, skipping a beat in his chest. It was a strange feeling, to feel both arousal and something that could only be described as maternal. Recalling Allison and what she used to do, Adam reached out a hand, placing it against Kris’ head, running it over his hair. But it didn’t feel quite right. It was something too different, too fast, and he pulled it back just as Kris opened his eyes and fixed him with a questioning look.
“Better?” Adam asked.
Adam gave him the water next, then the food, alternating between the two to make sure Kris didn’t make himself sick off of either. When it was all gone, he extended his hand, helping Kris to sit up against the wall behind the cot.
He never expected that he would be doing this. But that time spent in the pod, alone with his thoughts, made him realize that he had to. Ahriman had lied to him. The past was not a dead thing. The past was a living, breathing entity. And it clung to you with claws of steel.
“You wanted to know why I follow Ahriman.”
“You wanted to know why I follow Ahriman.”
Kris had just been about to ask Adam what had happened, to demand to know why he’d been left alone for so long. He had honestly thought that they were going to leave him to die of thirst and starvation. He’d spent hours trying to come to terms with the knowledge that he’d never see his family or friends again, that he’d never again set foot on his home world. That he’d never get to ask Simon why he hadn’t loved him enough to pay for him.
Plagued by excruciating hunger and thirst and pain, Kris had been too exhausted for tears and had finally fallen into a sort of numb daze. And then Adam had come in, taking care of with him a gentleness that he never would have expected, never would have dared to hope for.
And that had been good, but it didn’t erase the hours spent alone and preparing to die.
He was angry and hurt and once again felt betrayed, and he’d been ready, now that he knew that he wasn’t going to die, to let Adam have it.
But then those words.
You wanted to know why I follow Ahriman
And suddenly, all anger was gone, replaced by a burning curiosity, and all Kris could do was nod.
“It’s because he created me.”
“Created you? What does that mean?”
Adam held out his left arm, lifting up his right hand so that Kris could clearly see the sharp razor held within it. Kris instinctively tried to move back, curling his body away from the weapon, but Adam merely shook his head. “Just watch.”
And with those words, Adam very slowly and deliberately placed the edge of the razor against his forearm, cutting into the skin and slicing it open from wrist to elbow. As Kris looked on, Adam took hold of that now loose piece of skin and pulled it back, exposing the long, shiny metal beneath.
“You’re an android?” Kris asked, the shock of it cutting through the pleasant haze of the pill.
Then Adam gave an amused smile, dispelling that notion immediately. Androids did not smile like that. They weren’t capable of it. “Not an android. I’m enhanced.”
Kris continued to stare in fascination at the flap of skin and the exposed metal underneath. It explained some things certainly; the way Adam could see in the darkness despite the sunglasses, his strength and speed. He wondered how much more of Adam was enhanced. How much was metal and how much was human being.
“I’ve never met anyone who . . . ” Kris said, trailing off as he shook his head.
Adam hid the razor with a quick snap of his wrist then closed the wound with his free hand. Within seconds, the skin had joined together, closing so seamlessly that no trace of the cut remained.
“Terra 1 is my homeworld,” Adam said, drawing Kris’ attention from the healed arm to his face. “You know its history?”
Kris fought to focus on the story and not on what he had just witnessed. He knew that this was important, that the fact that Adam was trusting him with this was somehow monumental.
“I know it was the first colonized world after Earth,” Kris said. “Mistakes were made.”
“That’s putting it lightly. Everything about Terra 1 is wrong.”
Kris nodded. He’d learned all about the other worlds in school. He knew about Terra 1. He knew about the famines, the plagues, the never-ending civil wars.
“I lost both my parents in the wars,” Adam said. “By the time I was five, I was homeless, surviving by stealing and scrounging whatever I could find. By the time I was twelve I was working in the brothels as a whore. That’s where Ahriman found me.”
Kris’ heart fell, surprised and saddened by what he was hearing. The thought of Adam, so sure and strong, having to live through something like that . . .
“Adam . . .”
“He saw something in me,” Adam continued. “Potential, maybe, and he got me out of there. He paid for the enhancements, yes, but that was the least of it. He taught me things. He taught me how to be strong. He taught me . . . well, everything. If it weren’t for him, I’d be dead by now. Dead or a diseased, ruined whore. I owe him everything, Allen. Everything.”
Kris nodded. It made sense now, it all did. For the hurting, frightened young Adam, Ahriman must have seemed like a hero, a knight from olden days come to rescue him. “I understand the gratitude. I do. But Adam, you’re following a man who’s . . . he’s so cruel, Adam. He’s not a good man, you have to see that.”
“And I am?”
“Yes, I think you are,” Kris said without hesitation. He knew. Deep down he knew, even if Adam didn’t.
“Allen, I’ve done bad things. I’ve hurt people. I’ve killed people. I am not a good man.”
“I think you are,” Kris repeated, softer now. “Or you could be.”
Adam was about to respond when Kris interrupted. “I know you didn’t want to hurt me.”
“But I did hurt you.”
Kris could feel the drug working its way through his system, making it harder to concentrate, harder for thoughts to gel and take form. But still he tried. This was important, he had to try. “And you gave me the pills. You took care of me. You’ve been doing that this whole time, whether you’ve been aware of it or not.”
Adam shook his head. “You’re seeing things that don’t exist.”
“You’re not like him, Adam. I know that. You don’t have to follow him anymore. You can be your own man.”
For a long moment, Adam simply stared at him as if is studying him. Then his face softened and his expression turned almost kind. “You’re exhausted. I’m surprised you’re able to stay awake at all.”
“I’m not tired,” Kris muttered just before his eyes dropped closed. He forced them open to find Adam settling his hands against him, one on his shoulder, the other against the back of his neck. He arched up into the touch, surprised at how good it felt. Slowly, carefully, Adam helped him to lie down before covering him with the lone blanket.
Adam moved, tensing his body to stand, but not before Kris reached out, catching his wrist in a weak grip.
“Thank you.” He was nearly under now, consciousness almost lost to him, but he had to say this. Right now it felt like the most important thing in the world.
“For the pill?”
Kris’ eyes slid closed and this time he could not open them. But he could still speak, if only in a soft, slurred whisper. “No. For trusting me.”
The first thing Adam did when he reached his own quarters was to discard his clothing and slip into bed. He was enhanced yes, but he was still mostly human and he was exhausted.
He slept, easily and without remembered dreams, for six hours. He woke up feeling refreshed, yet no less confused than when he’d gone to sleep. He used the waterless, first to relieve himself, then to clean, taking his time, pushing all thoughts aside.
Once dressed he made his way through the halls of the ship, intent on his destination. As he walked, his suppressed thoughts tried to creep through into his consciousness, each vying for acknowledgment. But he refused. He would not think about the way he had opened up to Kris, or the way that Kris had thanked him for it. He would not think about all that he owed to Ahriman. He would not think about the way he felt when he walked into the cell and saw that Kris was hurting. He would not think about duty and the mission and what it meant to be a good soldier. He would not think about Kris Allen calling him a good man.
He arrived at his destination, the cockpit, to find Becker sitting at the controls. Not that there was much to do with the ship being stationary, yet there he was, a creature of habit.
“Hello, Adam,” Becker said, turning in his seat to greet him.
Adam took an empty seat at the console, the one furthest from Becker.
“Did you need something, Adam?”
“I just needed to look over something in the system. It’s nothing really.”
“I see,” Becker said mildly, turning back to the console in front of him without any trace of interest in Adam’s sudden presence.
Sometimes an android’s lack of curiosity could be a hindrance, but at times like this, it was an advantage.
It took several minutes of maneuvering through the system before Adam found what he was looking for. Ahriman had hidden it, more than likely from the prying eyes of authorities just in case they were boarded. Adam stared at the information in front of him for several minutes, his eyes scanning the encrypted code. To anyone else it would be meaningless data that would take months to decode.
But Adam had the encryption key.
He pulled away only when he had read everything, closing his eyes with a weary sigh. He should have known. He should have, if he’d only taken the time to look, to think.
But that was the problem; he didn’t think. Ahriman didn’t pay him to. Ahriman paid him to do, to act, to be both his sword and his shield.
He exited the system, erasing any trace that he’d been there, but not before downloading the information onto a portable drive. He slid that into his pocket as he stood.
“It was a pleasure, as always, Becker,” he said.
Becker turned, giving a small nod. “Goodbye, Adam.”
Adam didn’t waste any more time. He walked to Ahriman’s quarters as quickly as he could and asked for permission to enter.
“I need to talk to you,” he said as soon as he stepped inside.
Ahriman looked up from his seat at his desk. “Of course, Adam. Is something wrong?” He indicated, with a wave of his hand, that Adam should sit, but Adam chose to remain standing.
“Tell me what’s happening with Kris Allen,” Adam said.
“What do you mean?”
“Tell me why we’re going to kill him.”
A shrewd look came over Ahriman’s face then. Cunning and sharp. “What do you know?”
“I’ve been with you for nearly fifteen years. When have I ever given you any reason not to trust me?”
“Then why are things being kept from me?”
“Why do you want me to outline what you already know?”
“I know only what you tell me,” Adam said. “But you’re hiding something from me.”
Ahriman sighed, leaning back against his chair as if weary. “I knew it. I shouldn’t have let you spend so much time with him. One look into his brown eyes and you were lost.”
“Don’t insult me. This has nothing to do with wanting him. This has to do with respect. Respect me enough to tell me what’s happening.”
“Fine. You want to know? You want me to tell you that Kris Allen is going to die because Simon Cowell paid me to kill him?”
Adam turned his head away for a brief moment, the only concession to how difficult those words were to hear.
He turned back, steeling himself for whatever came next. “Please explain, Ahriman.”
“Cowell contacted me several weeks ago himself. He had the entire thing planned out. Apparently, he’d grown tired of sweet Kristopher and wanted him gone. The fake kidnapping and the consequent murder were his idea. All of it was.”
“Why not just divorce him if he’d grown tired of him?”
“Vilcean law. They’ve been married over two years. If Kristopher were of the mind to pursue it, he could easily be awarded half of Simon Cowell’s fortune.”
“Fine. Then why not have him killed outright? Why go through this charade?”
“There are two things you have to understand about Simon Cowell, Adam. One, he is a very smart man. A kidnapping automatically draws suspicion away from him, and it gives him a chance to gain public sympathy. The second thing you have to understand is that Cowell is a sadistic psychopath. He wanted Kris to suffer. At the end of this, everything we’ve filmed will be given to Cowell.”
The sheer cruelty of it was almost overwhelming. A hit was one thing; quick, easy and impersonal. This was something else entirely. This was mentally and physically torturing someone just for the sake of watching them suffer.
And Kris . . . and to do it to Kris, who would do anything for Simon, who would have laid down his life for Simon had things been reversed . . .
“You’ll be killing him soon,” Ahriman said. “Another day at the most.”
The words brought Adam back from his thoughts, and for the first time in years, he hesitated when confronted with an order. “I . . .”
“You will kill him, Adam. That is your mission. That’s the end game. It always has been.”
“Why did you keep this from me?”
“Because you didn’t need to know.”
Adam nodded. “I see.”
A minute passed in silence before Ahriman spoke again. “Perhaps it’s time to trust you with more, Adam. More a partner than an employee.”
“You feel I deserve it?”
“I do. You were right. You’ve been nothing but loyal to me all these years.”
“Thank you for saying so.”
“Provided of course, you complete this mission successfully.”
“To kill Kris?”
“Will it be a problem?”
There was no hesitation this time when he gave his answer. The only possible answer he could give. “No, sir. Of course not.”
After leaving Ahriman’s quarters, Adam went to his own. There he waited, letting the time pass, minutes into hours, before leaving.
He stopped at the control room where he made one small adjustment, one that pitched Kris’ cell into complete darkness.
Kris sat up in the cot, eyes wide, frantic as he looked around. After so long spent in the unceasing brightness, this was almost too much, too shocking and absolute. His eyes couldn’t adjust, leaving him blind.
And then footsteps, familiar to him even now.
“Adam?” Kris whispered. He cleared his throat and managed to say it louder. “Adam?”
Kris found himself relaxing at the sound of Adam’s voice, the fear slowly ebbing away.
“Why is it so dark?” he asked. “Did something happen?”
The sound of the cell door opening was thunderous in the darkness, startling Kris once more. Then Adam was beside him and the fear once more slid away.
“I thought you deserved some real rest,” Adam said. “That’s all. Nothing happened.”
Kris cocked his head to the side, wondering what it was he heard in Adam’s voice. Sadness? Maybe. There was a clear note of melancholy that had never been there before.
He drew nearer to Adam, feeling his way, drawing comfort from his presence. “Thank you,” he whispered.
“You’re welcome,” Adam whispered back.
The drug in Kris’ system was wearing off, leaving him more alert yet, for now, still keeping the pain at bay. He felt aware and suddenly very attuned to Adam despite the darkness; feeling his presence as surely as if feeling his skin. Leaning forward he placed his head against Adam’s shoulder.
“I’m going to die, aren’t I?” Kris asked.
Then Adam’s hand was at his hair, fingers carding through it clumsily, as if he didn’t know how it should be done.
Kris wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting to hear, but he was glad for the truth. It only confirmed what he’d always known deep down inside.
He shuddered, his throat tightening as he fought tears. “I knew,” he said. “I’ve known for a while now.” He lifted his head, seeking. “And you want to hear something weird? I’m almost ok with it. I am. I’ve had time to get used to it. I just wish I wasn’t so damn terrified.”
“You shouldn’t be afraid, Kris. Death isn’t always a bad thing,” Adam said. His hand was still running through Kris’ hair, though with more confidence now, more certainty.
“How can it not be?”
“Doing what I do, there have been countless times that I’ve come close to dying, and there were times, Kris, so many times, that I wish I had.”
Kris stayed silent, listening, taking it in.
“It can be a blessing. To finally rest, to finally find peace.”
Kris nodded, because he thought he understood. He was tired, tired of being here, tired of being afraid, tired of hurting. Of longing for the man that he loved to love him back.
He reached forward, his fingers clutching at Adam’s wrist. “Promise me one thing, ok?” he asked.
“What is it?”
“Promise me it’ll be you. If I’m going to die, I want it to be by your hand.”
“Kris . . . ”
“Promise me,” Kris said. He could feel his control cracking, could hear the emotion bleeding into his voice, making it tremble. “Please, you have to. It has to be you. It has to be you.” He grabbed hold of Adam’s shirt with his good hand and shook him, as if the action could force Adam into agreeing. “Please, Adam.”
Kris knew that he was breaking, could almost feel himself crumbling. But then he felt Adam’s hands, warm and large on either side of his face as if to anchor him, and the tears did not fall. He thought, for a brief moment, of the absolute insanity of what he was doing, begging a man to kill him. But then he thought, fuck it, none of this was normal. This is what he needed. It was what it was.
“Ok, yes,” Adam said, voice so soft and gentle in the darkness. “Yes, it’ll be me. I promise.”
“Don’t let it hurt. You won’t let it?”
Kris nodded, and his body sagged forward, nearer to Adam’s, as relief flooded through him. He could make out Adam’s shape now, the dusky lines of his face. He drew nearer still, toward Adam’s imperfect comfort. He wasn’t planning on lifting his face, wasn’t planning on touching his lips to Adam’s. He never expected Adam to turn the touch into a kiss, deep and slow and tender.
He never expected it to feel so good or that he would need it so much.
“Is this ok?” Adam asked, breathless when they parted.
There were so many ways Kris could have answered, a thousand different ways he could have twisted words. Instead he only nodded, brought Adam toward him, and kissed him again.
Adam knew it was time when Ahriman came to his quarters. The man was calm and unconcerned and that felt wrong to Adam. For the first time since the very earliest days, what he was about to do felt wrong.
Still, he stood, schooling his features to match Ahriman’s. “Now?” he asked.
Adam walked over to his weapons case and took his time in selecting the right one, finally settling on the Voere. It was light, but powerful. Kris would be dead before he hit the ground and he’d barely feel a thing. Quick and painless; just as Adam had promised.
He loaded it then turned back to Ahriman. “Ready.”
Ahriman walked up to him and placed a hand on his arm. “Adam, before we go inside, I need to know if you’re ready to complete this mission.”
“Have I ever let you down before?”
“No,” Ahriman said. He moved his hand up and down Adam’s arm, stroking with a light touch. It was something he did every once in a while, a strange kind of intimacy that Adam withstood it because it never progressed any farther than this. He withstood it now. “But then again,” Ahriman added, “there’s never been a mission like this one.”
“I’ve lost track of the number of times that I’ve killed for you, Ahriman.”
“That may be, Adam, but this is different and you know it.”
When Adam didn’t respond, Ahriman continued. “I’m not angry with you. I actually blame myself. I placed you into the situation and then I didn’t see it.”
“You two growing closer. It’s hard to kill something when you realize that it’s human.”
“Kris Allen means nothing to me,” Adam said. “He was a distraction from the boredom of the assignment. I’m sorry if I’ve caused you to believe otherwise.”
Ahriman nodded as he stepped away, seemingly mollified by Adam’s answer. “Good. That’s the Adam I know.” He extended a hand toward the door. “Now, shall we go?”
Kris was standing in the middle of the cell, staring at them as they made their way toward him. It was an eerie sight, and Adam couldn’t help wondering just how long he’d been waiting for them.
“Mr. Allen,” Ahriman said once they’d stepped inside. “I regret to inform you that your husband did not pay.”
Kris’ gaze flicked over to Adam before settling on Ahriman. He gave a small nod. “I know. I know that you’re going to kill me.”
“How stoic of you. And here I thought you were going to beg me for your life.”
“Would it do any good?” Kris asked.
A slow grin spread across Ahriman’s face. “Probably not.”
“I didn’t think so.”
Still smiling, yet voice somehow much colder, Ahriman said, “Cuff his wrists, Adam.”
Kris shook his head and took a step back. He’d been surprisingly, commendably calm up until now, but Adam could see the cracks in the facade, could see how the words had shaken him.
“You don’t have to use those,” Kris said. “I won’t fight you.”
“That’s what they all say up until that very last moment,” Ahriman said. “Then they struggle like frightened children.”
Kris looked to Adam again, eyes searching and desperate. Adam held his gaze, even and unwavering until Kris looked away, took a deep breath and brought his hands behind his back.
Adam moved behind him and locked the cuffs around his wrists. He lingered there briefly, thumbs settling against fragile skin before pulling away.
“Kneel down, Kristopher,”Ahriman said.
Kris did, dropping slowly to one knee, then the other.
Then as Adam watched, Ahriman walked up to Kris, clasped his chin and tilted his head up. “What a loss - this face. I’m almost tempted to sell you to slavers. Recoup some of my losses.”
Adam recognized the threat for what it was; a game for Ahriman’s amusement. To his credit, Kris’s gaze was steady and if the threat frightened him, he did not allow it to show.
Then Ahriman dropped his hand and took a step back. “But I won’t.” He signaled to Adam to move forward.
Adam took Ahriman’s place in front of Kris, looking down as Kris stared up. Kris mouthed something that might have been, It’s all right, then he lowered his head, his gaze going distant and unfocused.
Adam lifted the gun, flicking off the safety, and placed the muzzle of it against Kris’ forehead. Kris shuddered, a small exhale escaping from his lips, but otherwise was still as a statue.
“Kill him, Adam.”
It all came down to this, Adam thought as he gripped the gun tighter. Kris would die because he’d become someone’s inconvenience.
He’d been trying not to think about it. Ever since he’d last left Kris alone in the cell, he’d been trying to distance himself from what he would have to do, trying to create a gulf that would allow him to complete the mission.
There was no distance now. And as he looked down the barrel of the gun, Adam flashed to his and Kris’ last moments together in the cell, how they had shared kiss after kiss for what felt like hours; unhurried and soft and, if kisses could hold emotions, sad.
Eventually, Kris had begun to weep silently, holding Adam close to him when Adam had tried to pull away. Kris had kept him there with nothing more than an insistent tug, and Adam had continued to kiss him, the taste of Kris’ tears between them.
He pulled away from the memory, aware that he was hesitating, that he was taking too long, and yet it seemed an almost impossible thing to pull the trigger.
It shouldn’t be. Ahriman wanted him to do this and Kris had begged that it be him. There should be no issue. He closed his eyes, hoping to clear his mind, but what he got was something else entirely.
Flashes. Lightning quick flashes. Of Kris, of the physical attraction he’d felt the first time he’d seen him. Of how angry he’d been with him at first, the disdain he’d felt toward him. Of their time spent talking, listening to each other’s stories. Of the sick feeling in his stomach when he knew that Kris had been left alone for hours in pain. Of the way Kris had felt in his arms.
Kris telling him he was a good man.
Kris urging him to be his own man.
He drew his arm back and switched the gun’s safety back on. “No.”
“What?” Ahriman said, already stepping forward.
“No, I won’t kill him,” Adam said.
He couldn’t kill him. Not now that he finally understood.
Out of the corner of his eye, Adam could see Kris lifting his head, dazed confusion turning his features slack.
Ahriman pulled the gun from Adam’s hand. “I should have known,” he snarled. “I should have known you’d fail me.” Then he took the safety off, swinging the gun back toward Kris. “Fine, you won’t kill him, I’ll kill him myself!”
Adam caught Ahriman’s wrist, pushing his arm back until the gun was pointing at the ceiling. “I’m sorry. When you look back on this, please try to understand,” he said.
Adam turned his head toward Kris. He couldn’t explain now, couldn’t say it out loud. Maybe he never would. For now, the knowledge was for him and him only. It had been so long since he’d felt anything like this, so long that it had snuck up on him without his even realizing it. And even if Kris didn’t reciprocate, even if couldn’t, it didn’t matter.
“I have to be my own man now,” he said, still facing Kris though the message was meant for Ahriman. Then he turned his head quickly, bringing his elbow up to smash it into Ahriman’s face.
Ahriman stumbled backward, hand to his nose, blood already gushing through past his fingers. He screamed Adam’s name as he lunged forward, one hand already extending toward him, clawlike.
Adam blocked him, striking out with his right hand, delivering a solid hit to Ahriman’s temple. It was enough to take him down, to knock him unconscious but not to kill.
He stood over Ahriman’s still form, his breathing steady, pulse rate only slightly quickened. He wondered, as he tilted his head to stare at his mentor, if he should be feeling more than this slight pressure of guilt. After all, this was the man that he owed his entire life to. Without Ahriman he would be nothing.
It was Kris’ voice that pulled him from the precipice of his thoughts. Kris who sounded so small and bewildered and scared.
Adam went to him, lifting him up by his arm. He held him as he undid the cuffs, careful to support Kris’ trembling body. He held Kris even after he’d tossed the cuffs aside, certain that Kris would collapse to the floor without him.
After another minute he stepped forward, pulling Kris along. He knew they couldn’t afford to waste any more time. Ahriman would rouse eventually and they had to be long gone by the time he did. Killing Ahriman was not an option; running was the only way.
To his surprise, Kris dug in his heels as if refusing to move, stopping them both.
“What’s wrong?” Adam asked.
Kris shook his head, eyes disoriented and lost. His good hand was digging into Adam’s arm as if he wanted to break right through the skin. “I don’t . . . I don’t understand . . .”
Adam cupped Kris’ face in his hands, tilting it up and bringing him close. “Hey, look at me.” He waited until Kris did just that, until Kris’ eyes cleared and he could focus on him and him alone.
And he knew, then and there, that he had made the right choice. And yes, it was a little frightening, and yes, maybe later he would doubt his sanity.
But he would never doubt that he had made the right choice.
“You want to live, don’t you?” Adam asked.
Kris nodded. “Yes.”
“All right. Then come with me.”
Adam pulled Kris through the halls of the ship until he was practically dragging him. Then when he felt Kris wasn’t moving fast enough, he picked him up and hefted him over his shoulder, ignoring Kris’ weak protests that he could walk.
He got them to the shuttle and set Kris down in the seat next to his. Kris was pliant, almost non responsive. It was enough to be worrisome, but Adam didn’t have the time to address it. He quickly strapped Kris into the seat before calling Becker up on the ship’s communication network.
“I need you to disable tracking for the shuttle. I’ll be launching in a few minutes.”
“Of course, Adam.”
Adam smiled. There were no questions from Becker, no reluctance to act.
He turned briefly to Kris. “I’ll disable tracking from here as well. Ahriman won’t be able to find us. As long as we get enough distance between us and the ship, he shouldn’t be able to find us.”
“He’s not dead?” Kris asked. His voice was hoarse, the words spoken vaguely as if he were waking from a dream. “I thought he might be dead.”
Adam went through the launch sequence as he answered. “No. Our history together would never allow me to kill him. But I couldn’t let him kill you. This became the only option.”
“Why not? Why couldn’t you kill me?” Kris asked, sounding only marginally more aware.
Adam took a deep breath as he watched the hanger wall slide open in front of them. The launch sequence was almost complete. It was time to go. He eased the shuttle forward with practiced ease. Then he turned to Kris long enough to say, “I’m not exactly sure.”
It was easy enough to lie, especially now that they were really moving, the thrust from acceleration slamming them both back into their seats as they left the ship’s bay for space.
Easier still to allow the lie to take hold while Adam concentrated on piloting the shuttle, pushing it as fast as it could possibly go so they could get some distance between themselves and Ahriman.
It was only when Adam felt completely secure that they weren’t being followed or tracked that he finally slowed down their speed, setting coordinates that would allow for the shuttle to essentially pilot itself.
His movements were robotic and stiff but still Kris turned to him.
“Talk to me,” Adam urged.
Kris shook his head. “I don’t know what to say. I thought I was going to die. You had the gun to my head and there was a part of me that was so ready.”
“I didn’t mean to frighten you. And my intent wasn’t to toy with you.”
“I know that. Believe me, I know that. I think I’m just getting used to the fact that I’m actually alive.”
Adam understood. He hadn’t been lying when he’d told Kris that he’d been there; more times than he wished to think about. “Are you glad to be?” he asked.
Kris gave him a puzzled look. “Of course I am.” Then his face softened with the hint of a smile. “And all because of you. You saved my life. And I know, or I think I know, what it took for you to do that.”
“It was surprisingly easy, actually.”
Kris laughed, his body relaxing. Adam could almost see the tension draining away, the shock of what he’d been through diminishing.
“I don’t know how to repay you or even thank you.”
“You don’t have to thank me.”
“I do, Adam. I’m alive because of you. I thought I was dead. I was so sure I was dead. I . . .” He trailed off, hiding his face behind his good hand. Adam could hear the sound of his breathing, heavy as if the breath were sawing in and out of his lungs. He was about to turn away, to give Kris his privacy in this moment, when Kris lifted his head and wiped at his eyes.
“Anyway,” he said, “um . . . thank you. Maybe one day I can give you more than that. But for right now . . . thank you.”
Adam wished that he could stay in this moment. Kris was free and he was here, here with him and it felt right, natural, the way it should have been all along. But he knew that he couldn’t. There were things that needed to be said, things that Kris needed to know. “You probably shouldn’t thank me yet.”
“What do you mean?”
“There’s something you need to see.”And with that, Adam took the portable drive from inside of his jacket and plugged it into the shuttle’s system. Kris watched him, openly curious as Adam set about decoding the files. When he was done, he pointed at the console.
“What is it?”
“Something you need to see.”
Kris leaned forward, reading through all the information presented on the screen. After a few minutes he leaned back, hands scrabbling madly at the chair’s restraints. He undid them, jumping up as soon as he was free. As Adam watched, he began to pace the length of the shuttle, not that there was far to go, his arms tight around his stomach.
“This can’t be real. Can it? This is a joke.”
“Kris . . .”
“Tell me this is a fucking joke. Tell me, Adam.”
More than anything Adam wished that he could. “I’m sorry,” he said.
Kris walked over to the shuttle’s far wall, giving it kick after ferocious kick. “Fuck! Fuck!”
Adam could only watch, waiting for the fury to subside, knowing that it soon would.
When it finally did, Kris stopped, his body turned away from Adam, shoulders slumping. It was as if the anger had been the only thing sustaining him and now that it was gone he was left tired and defeated. He sighed, shaking his head. “I didn’t think anything could hurt worse than my husband not loving me. Not caring enough about me to pay for my life. But this is . . . this is . . . “
He turned around and Adam could see the tears he was trying so hard to hold back. “Is it me? Am I so horrible that he would have to do this?”
Adam undid his own restraints and stood, making his way to Kris. He placed his hands on Kris’ shoulders, relishing the simple act of touch. “Your husband is a psychopath and a sadist. That has nothing to do with you. You just fell in love with the wrong person.”
“I’m such an idiot.”
“You’re not an idiot. Trusting the man you love does not make you an idiot.”
Kris rolled his eyes and shook his head, both dismissive gestures. Adam was about to say more, to push it further, but he wasn’t sure if it would be welcome and truthfully he wasn’t sure exactly what he would say. This was so new to him, all of it, and he felt so unsure, so uncertain of every step.
After a moment, Kris took a shaky breath and stood straighter, pushing his shoulders back and his lifting his chin. “So now what?” he asked.
“That depends on you.”
“I have to go back. I need to see my family, my friends. They probably think I’m dead. And I have to . . . I have to face Simon. I can’t just let him get away with this.”
Adam dropped his hands to his side, taking a step backward. For a moment there he had thought . . . But really, what had he expected? That he and Kris would run off and play fugitive together? What kind of life was that for Kris? What kind of life was that for anybody?
“All right,” he said. “I can get you to a waystation. One that’s populated. You should be able to get back home from there.”
“You’re not coming with me?”
“I can’t. Ahriman will be looking for me there.”
“Oh. Oh, I guess I thought . . .”
An unfamiliar feeling welled up inside Adam at hearing those words. Something that felt almost like . . . hope? “What?” he asked.
But Kris only shook his head and said, “Nothing. It was nothing. So, you don’t plan to go back to him?”
And now there was another unfamiliar feeling, or at least one he hadn’t felt in so long that it might as well have been new. Disappointment? But not the kind that came from a mission gone wrong. This was different. This was worse. “No,” he answered, careful to keep his tone steady and unaffected.
“Because he wouldn’t forgive you?”
“Oh, he would. Eventually. But I meant what I said about becoming my own man. It was time.”
Kris frowned, looking worried. “So, what, this means that you become a fugitive? You have to hide from him?”
“Something like that.”
“Don’t be. I made my own choice.”
Kris stepped closer to Adam, closing the gap between them. “Will I ever see you again?”
Warmth flooded through Adam’s system, the kind of heat he was very familiar with. Standing this close to Kris, the adrenaline of the escape now gone, he could focus on how pretty Kris was and how good it felt to be near him. “Do you want to?” he asked, aware that his voice had dropped, going soft and husky.
Somehow Kris managed to move closer, molding their bodies together. “As strange as this is going to sound, I would miss you. Very much.”
“Really?”he asked, curiosity in his question. After all he’d done to Kris, that he would feel this way was unexpected. Welcome, but unexpected.
“Adam, you’ve been the one constant in my life for days now. And the other night . . .”
“The other night?” Adam prodded when it appeared the other man wouldn’t continue.
Kris smiled. “Was surreal. I was kissing the man I knew was going to kill me. And I was terrified. But it still felt so good.”
That seemed like a cue; at the very least a sign. Adam tipped his head down, letting his lips touch Kris’, the kiss soft and chaste before deepening.
Adam concentrated on the kiss, on committing every part of it to memory. After this they would part ways; Kris would return to his life and Adam would have the task of starting his new one. But for now, he had this moment, and was going to absorb and enjoy every second of it. And later, when he was alone again, he would remember it and remember what he’d once had.
As they finally did break apart, Adam straightened and cleared his throat. “When I take you to the waystation, I want you to be loud and obnoxious about how important you are. Insist that you get taken home immediately. And never be alone. Do you understand?”
“You think he’ll still try to kill me,”Kris said, uttering a statement and not a question.
“I think that you should be careful,” Adam said. He ran a hand through Kris’ hair, enjoying the feel of the strands through his fingers. You’ll be fine as long as you do as I say.”
Kris took a deep, steadying breath. “Ok. Yeah. I can do that.”
“I know you can.”
They stood in silence for several long moments, letting the quiet settle over them. Adam’s hand was still in Kris’ hair while Kris’ own hands were settled on Adam’s waist. So much had happened so quickly, and yet Adam felt nothing but peace. He’d spent so much of his life not feeling anything, now allowing himself to feel anything, and now that he could, this was all there was. And maybe it was mostly because he’d forgotten how to feel things like fear or anxiety or even happiness. Maybe in time he’d come to let those emotions back into his life, but for now, this gentle peace felt pretty damn good.
“You never answered my question,” Kris said after a while.
“What question was that?” Adam asked.
“Am I ever going to see you again?”
Adam shook his head. “I don’t think there’s a place for me in your world, Kris.”
Kris looked away, the disappointment evident on his face.
“But, then again,” Adam said, catching Kris’ chin, tipping it up so that their eyes connected, “ stranger things have happened.”
“Yes, I suppose they have.”
It was probably wrong to give Kris that false hope, yet somehow Adam felt better for saying it. He clasped Kris’ hand in his own and stepped backward, pulling them both toward the seats at the shuttle’s console.
“Now, come on,” he said. “We have to get you home.”
It had taken nearly a full year for things to be resolved. It was a complicated thing, to divorce your very wealthy husband while said husband was also on trial for ordering and funding your murder.
Complicated and brutally trying and hard.
Kris had listened to Adam’s advice and alerted the media as soon as he touched back on Terra 2. They’d been present, recording everything, when he’d walked into the peace officer headquarters. At first no one had wanted to believe him, but then Kris had shown them the evidence, the evidence that Adam had given him, that the media had already made copies of, and there was nothing for them to do but to arrest Simon.
When asked about his escape, he’d explained how Adam had helped him. Then he went on to describe Ahriman in excruciatingly accurate detail. When it came time to describe Adam however, Adam became a small, blond man with extensive facial scarring that went by the name of Michael.
After that came the months of seclusion as he was shuttled from safe house to safe house, the prosecutors for his case unwilling to risk another attempt on his life.
He’d thought a lot about Adam during that solitary time, enough that the Adam that lived in his memory took on near mythic proportions as hero and savior. Sometimes Kris was angry with him, sometimes he even wondered if he’d imagined him, but mostly he just missed him terribly.
But it had all been worth it in the end, or so he had to remind himself constantly. The jury of ten had found Simon guilty and he’d been sentenced to forty years for his crime. Now Simon was in prison and he himself was a very rich man.
Not that he really cared about the money, it had never been about that. But it was nice, sometimes, to know that neither he nor his family would ever have to worry about it again.
“Sir? We’re here.”
The transport’s driver had a gruff voice and Kris found himself startling even though the man was speaking politely. He straightened and looked out the window to the hotel where he would be staying. It was nice enough; pretty though nothing spectacular. Nothing that would draw attention.
He paid the driver, tipping just the right amount before grabbing his sole bag, opening the door of the transport and stepping out into the Terran 5 sun. It truly was beautiful here; beautiful and warm and bright. Not like home with its red nights and hazy days.
He watched the transport drive away before pulling his vidcom from the bag. He dialed a number and within seconds had Kara up on the screen.
“Kris, where are you?” she asked. “Everyone’s been looking for you since this morning!”
He regretted making her worry. She’d been a source of support that he’d never expected and had turned out to be both a good person and a good friend.
“Kara, don’t worry, I’m fine. I needed some time away so I’m taking a short holiday. I’ll be back in a few days.”
“But where are you?”
“That I can’t tell you. It’s a secret.”
“That’s not funny, Kris. What are you up to?”
“Nothing,” he said. “Consider me on hiatus. I’ll call you when I’m about to come back.”
“But, Kris . . .”
“Gotta go!” he said, cancelling the call and closing down the screen. Then he opened up the back of the vidcom and pulled out its microchip. As he held it in his hand, his attention was momentarily drawn to his new fingers and to how odd it still felt to hold things with them.
He dismissed the thought with a shake of his head, then tossed the chip down, grinding it under his heel until it was nothing but powder. The vidcom he tossed into a trash can as he walked into the lobby of the hotel.
He checked in at the front desk, but before the clerk could give him his key, Kris said, “There should be a message for me. From a Kagan Elliot?”
“I’ll check, sir.”
A moment later, the clerk nodded. “Yes, here it is. Left earlier today.” The clerk printed out the message and handed it to Kris who read it quickly before slipping it into his bag.
“You’re welcome.” The clerk handed him his key card. “You’re in room 12. Enjoy your stay.”
Kris stood in front of his hotel room and stared at the door. He’d been doing this for a few minutes now and he knew that he must look like an idiot, but every time he reached for the door his heart would feel like it was jumping into his throat and he’d have to pull away.
This was it. Once he walked through this door there was no going back. He thought about Vilcea and his brand-new house nestled in its hills. He thought about his friends, his family and likely it was that he would never see any of them again.
Then he thought back to that first communique, sent anonymously, brief and to the point. He remembered how his heart had skipped a beat as he’d read it, how his hands had trembled from a combination of excitement and nerves.
There was no turning back now. Simon’s betrayal had wounded him, had nearly destroyed him. Receiving that first message had felt like coming alive again.
He took a deep breath and straightened, holding the key card to the door’s reader to unlock and open it. Stepping inside the room, he let the door shut behind him. It only took a second for him to see the man standing at the window, his back to Kris.
Kris set his bag on the floor and watched as the man slowly turned around.
He looked exactly the same. The face from his memories, his dreams. Exactly the same. Strong, imposing and beautiful.
Kris moved toward him, speaking in the hushed tones of the reverent. “Adam.”
And then Adam was there, his strong arms around him, crushing him so tightly that Kris could barely breathe. Not that he cared. Adam was here. After so long, Adam was finally here.
Adam pulled away after a minute, just far enough to stare down into Kris’ face. “After tonight, it’s Kagan. Even in private.”
“Fine. Then after tonight I’m Ian.”
“Ian?” Adam smiled, deliberately eying Kris up and down. “Yes, I suppose you could be an Ian.”
Kris returned Adam’s smile, mimicking his actions. “And I suppose you could be a Kagan.”
Adam laughed at that and for Kris, it was the most beautiful sound in the world. His voice was made for it, Kris realized. The somber, flat tone he had always used on the ship was not him. Or maybe it had been, but it shouldn’t have been.
But all too soon Adam’s laughter faded and that flat tone resumed. “Kris, are you sure about this? Are you absolutely sure?”
“I’m here, aren’t I?”
“Kris . . . “
“Tell me, Adam. Why are you here? After all this time, why do this?”
Adam looked at him quizzically, as if trying to determine if this was a trick. Finally, he said, “I’m here because I couldn’t stop thinking about you. I missed you.”
“Really?” Kris said. “Because that’s why I’m here.” He ran his hands along the length of Adam’s arms, from his shoulders to his wrists before taking Adam’s hands in his own. “I’m not going to lie and say that I’m not scared, but yeah, I’m sure. There was always a part of me that wanted to go with you. I don’t know why and I can’t explain it, but it’s there and I’m tired of trying to deny it.”
“Kris, there is a bounty on my head. Do you understand what that means?”
Kris did. Adam had told him about the death order in one of his messages and though it was frightening, it wasn’t a deterrent. And besides, Kris had an idea about how to get rid of that bounty. As long as Ahriman was willing to accept money instead of Adam’s head on a platter . . .
But Kris wasn’t ready to tell this to Adam. Not just yet.
He linked his fingers with Adam’s and squeezed. “Yeah, and I’m still here, aren’t I?”
Adam looked down. “Your hand . . .”
“Enhanced. Like you.”
“I’m so sorry, Kris.”
“Don’t. Don’t ever say sorry to me. It’s over. It’s done. And I’m here now.”
Adam’s smile returned with a vengeance. “Yes, you are.” He flicked his eyes over to the bed then back to Kris as the smile turned suggestive. “And we’ve got this room all to ourselves and that huge bed that looks really, really empty.”
Kris chuckled even as he felt a warm flush creeping along his skin. He let himself be guided to the bed, both of them falling onto it gracelessly.
“I don’t know what it is about you, but I’ve never felt more alive than when I’m with you,” Kris said.
Adam nodded, nuzzling at Kris’s neck, his tongue licking a line down Kris’ throat. Kris moaned, his hands tangling in Adam’s dark hair.
“Funny,” Adam said, “because that’s how you make me feel.”
Kris was about to say something else, but then Adam shifted and began to do something with his hips that could only be considered sinful and his teeth were nipping down Kris’ throat, just hard enough to feel good.
After that, words became pretty much irrelevant and there was only one last thought before Adam claimed Kris’ mouth with his own.
The thought that he was exactly where he needed to be.
And that he was a very, very lucky man.