The flashes of the cameras are blinding. They make Adam blink and squint in an attempt to focus before the next barrage starts. He should be used to it. Normally he would be; holing up in England for five months writing and recording has let his calluses soften and fade. He even almost got himself driven off the road yesterday in the mile and a half between his hotel and his management office because he wasn’t expecting the paparazzi to be as insane as he should have remembered they were.
Kris shifts impatiently next to him. He’s never had much stomach for all the PR that comes part and parcel with the job. The reporters and photographers and media gadflies watch them like goldfish in a bowl, recorders held aloft, pens scratching as they scribble details of the upcoming tour. It’s the latest in a seemingly endless string of meetings, photo ops, interviews, press conferences. Adam’s lost count of how many times he’s said the same words, acoustic, small, getting back to our roots, nice to strip it down, it’s about the music, blah blah whatever. 19’s cashing in before our contracts are up and we sign with new management, that’d be a more accurate statement.
Anne-Marie glances over sharply at him, as if she can hear his thoughts and isn’t too pleased. She frowns at him and then points at the next reporter, a girl with a ponytail and a freshly-scrubbed face who looks barely out of high school. God, Adam’s getting old.
“So you’ve toured together before, but never as a couple,” she asks almost breathlessly. “How will it be different?”
“Well we won’t worry about changing in front of each other this time,” Adam quips and the crowd chuckles appreciatively. Anne-Marie points again, someone else stands.
“You two met on Idol, Kris’s marriage dissolved, and now you’ve been together a few years and Kradam is the new Brangelina,” he begins and Adam cringes inwardly. He hates the questions that start like this. “Any plans to adopt internationally soon?” Adam opens his mouth to give a stock answer – we’re just focusing on the tour, we prefer not to discuss our private life, how ‘bout them Dodgers – but Kris beats him to it.
“We want to do it the old-fashioned way,” Kris says dryly. “I’m planning on trying to get pregnant as soon as the tour is done. Hoping for twins!” The last word swoops up optimistically in pitch as he holds both hands up, fingers crossed. The laughter is startled and genuine. Kris has always had a knack for throwing curveballs. Most people seem to like it. Anne-Marie is not one of those people. She gives Kris a Look and steps between them and the crowd.
“Thank you, no more questions,” she calls as she holds up both hands, palm out. Adam takes her cue and stands, waiting for Kris to push back his chair so they can both leave. Kris takes his sweet time about it, Adam notices. He resists the urge to kick the leg of Kris’s chair, or more satisfyingly, to kick Kris himself. Kris smiles at him, a plastic grin that doesn’t reach his eyes. Adam grins back in kind. As soon as they walk off stage, the good cheer drops off Kris’s face like a curtain. It’s almost funny how completely his demeanor changes. Adam can’t blame him. He feels like he has to unscrew his fake smile.
“This tour can’t end soon enough,” Kris says darkly. He barges through the door to the green room and lets it swing closed without looking to see if Adam’s through or not. It’s only good reflexes that let Adam keep it from hitting him in the face.
“My sentiments exactly,” he sighs and follows Kris into the room.
Today’s blind item: rumor has it that these two lovebirds aren’t so lovey anymore. In fact, even though they claim to idolize each other still, it seems that’s only a front to keep the crowds coming back for an encore, and that one’s break overseas was really just a break up. Word is, when the curtain’s down, the gloves are off. Is all harmonious or are there boundaries after all? Tune in and find out.
“I still can’t believe you agreed to this.” Adam can’t, either. When his agent had called him in England and told him Kris gave in, Adam had been stunned. Of course, it’s not like they either had that much of an option, given their contracts. They’re both lucky to be getting out with their souls intact. But Kris was always much better at putting up a fight than Adam was. Adam might not have agreed so easily if he’d thought Kris would give in. Kris gives him a look like he’s something scraped off the bottom of a shoe. They’ve barely seen each other since he got back, otherwise he probably would have gotten that look twenty times by now. He might have even deserved it a bunch of those times.
“I’d say the same to you,” Kris says, “but it’d be a lie. I can fully believe you agreed to this.” It’s never sat well with him, what Adam’s been willing to do for career. The sacrifices he’s willing to make.
“Oh, so we’re just jumping straight in,” Adam says. The smile he gives Kris is only a smile in the sense that it’s a baring of his teeth; snarl might be more descriptive. “Skipping the pleasantries and going straight for the throat.”
“Come on in, the water’s hostile,” Kris shoots back.
“Okay, okay,” Anne-Marie says in the same soothing tone of voice you might use on an angry dog. “We just need to go over a few things before you guys leave tomorrow. We’ve got a lot of press lined up, 19 wants to make the most of this.”
“Can’t wait for the first in-depth interview,” Kris snorts. “’Was it hard for you when Adam went to write and record in England, Kris?’ ‘Well we already weren’t speaking, didn’t really matter if he wasn’t speaking to me from England instead of from the next room!’”
“Yeah, don’t say that,” Anne-Marie says.
“I know, right?” Adam says over Anne-Marie, his voice brittle and falsely bright. “’How were you able to move past Kris’s failed marriage?’ ‘Funny you should ask, because we weren’t! No one ever let me forget it, least of all Kris.’”
“Or that,” Anne-Marie says. She’s starting to look miserable. Adam hates to break it to her, but if past experience is anything to go by, he and Kris are just getting started.
“’You mean a failed marriage wasn’t easy to get over?’” Kris says in a falsely sympathetic voice. “’That’s so unreasonable, so what if Kris broke his vows and was splashed all over tabloids, what’s the big deal?’”
“’Well of course you wouldn’t know about that, Adam, since you’re not even allowed to get married!’” Adam says, a distinct tone of bitterness creeping into his voice.
“’Oh, but we all know you don’t want to be political, Adam!’” Kris volleys back, his voice sounding much the same.
“Maybe avoid the topic all together?” Anne-Marie suggests hopefully.
“I can see the headline now, ‘Lambert flees country to escape Allen’,” Adam snaps. The satisfaction he gets from saying it is fleeting, though. Kris’s face breaks for a second, just for a split second, then smoothes out into blankness. Adam could see just what he did to Kris when he left in that second, if only he let himself. Instead he tries to say something, anything, whatever can make the realization go away, but the words stick in his throat and it’s all he can do to breathe around them.
An uncomfortable silence settles around them, the air thick with the weight of accusation, of all the things they haven’t said and instead have left to fester. Anne-Marie shifts awkwardly and looks between the two of them.
“This is going to be a long tour, isn’t it?” she asks unhappily. Adam looks down at his shoes, as if the right thing to say is stitched along the seams. Kris just folds his arms and stares at some vague point in the distance. It seems she’s found something they can’t argue about.
He has an assistant who could do this. Hell, his assistant might have an assistant who could do this by now, he’s not sure. But he feels like doing it himself. The physical activity of packing up his things is a welcome distraction at the moment, a satisfyingly small expenditure of energy. He looks around his hotel room for a sock to match the one in his hand. The other sock always gets away from him.
“Wily things, socks,” Kris always used to say. He was as good at finding wayward socks as Adam was at losing them. Adam shakes his head, annoyed. The whole point of occupying himself with activity was so he wouldn’t think of Kris. Of course, he’s about to spent months on the road with Kris, onstage and in hotels and on planes together. Why he agreed to this, he has no idea. Though that’s not entirely true. He agreed to it for the same reason he agreed to every other thing he’d rather not have done to further his career: because he was afraid not to.
“I still don’t think this is a good idea, Adam,” his mother says when she calls later to check in on his progress. He feels guilty that he only just got back from England and now he’s turning around and leaving again, having barely even seen her.
“Mom, come on.” He doesn’t have the energy to convince her it’s a good idea when he’s still not entirely convinced himself.
“It’s lying,” she says.
“It’s omitting,” he counters. “All I have to do is not tell people the tiny, insignificant detail about us breaking up when I went to England. At least they’re not trying to shove me back in the closet.” Cold comfort indeed.
“How does Kris feel about it?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Adam says and he can’t keep the bitterness out of his voice. Kris hadn’t even contacted him when he got back into town, even though Adam knows his agent told him Adam was back. But then, Adam didn’t contact Kris either. And Adam’s the one who left. He sighs heavily and switches the phone to his other ear. “Probably the same way that I feel about it.”
“I wish you two would talk to each other,” his mother says. It’s a familiar refrain. Adam’s heard it in phone calls, seen it in emails, read it in letters scribbled out in her loopy handwriting. Easy for her to say. She and his father met, they dated, they got married, they had babies. No media, no album sales, no PR people, no bloggers. No upheaval of sexual orientation. No divorced wives in the background. Until his mother herself became the divorced wife, but that’s something Adam knows better than to use as a deflection tactic.
“Mother, we’ve been over this,” he reminds her. He’s not in the mood for yet another rehash of everything that went wrong. He’s far too focused on finding his other snakeskin boot.
“I just think you’re letting your stubbornness get in the way,” she says.
“If I am, I’m not the only one,” Adam tells her. He spots the toe of the boot peaking out from underneath the hotel bathrobe abandoned on the floor and leans down to grab it.
“You’ve never been happier than when you were with Kris.” He stops in front of his suitcase and stares at the boot in his hand, until his eyes lose focus and it becomes a scaly blur. He got the boots when he was on Idol. Kris was with him and he’d jokingly given Adam a hard time about buying shoes made from what was probably an endangered species. He’d thought about getting rid of them while he was in England, about getting rid of everything that reminded him of Kris, until he realized that he couldn’t rip his brain or heart out and toss them too, so there was no sense in chucking a pair of boots he liked. He shakes his head and throws the boot into his suitcase.
“I’ve never been unhappier either, Mom.”
“I know, sweetheart,” she sighs. She does, too. He cried to her on the phone often enough for her to know full well. “I just kept hoping you’d come back around to being in love with each other again.” It makes his chest tighten, hearing his mother articulate the very thought he’s had countless times over the last year.
“Trust me, Mom,” he tells her heavily, flipping the top of his suitcase over with a thump, the zipper hissing as he slides it around. “That is never going to happen.”
Those are the first words out of Kris’s mouth when Adam reaches the gate, juggling his carry-on, a shawl, his phone and his coffee. Adam grimaces. He’s up early, he has a headache, and he’s about to spend the day trapped on a plane with his ex-boyfriend so he can then spend months trapped on tour with his ex-boyfriend. The last thing he wants to deal with now is Kris being a pain in the ass. If he had a hand free, he’d flip him off.
“Hungover?” Kris asks mildly. “I mean, I know how irresponsible you can be with the late night parties and the drinking and the running around half-dressed.”
“As opposed to you, tucked in by 10pm after a hearty round of bridge and a Murder, She Wrote rerun,” Adam says. It’s an old routine, one they’ve both exaggerated to the point of comedy. When they were just friends, the differences in their lifestyles seemed minor, barely even noticeable. People are people, we’re not so different after all, kumbayah and hallelujah. It wasn’t until they were living together for months that the initial glow wore off and they found out just how difficult it was to combine two completely different lives into one. Kris and Katy had grown up together; they shared tastes, histories, habits. Sometimes Adam and Kris seemed like they didn’t even share the same planet.
“Are you wearing a poncho?” Kris asks, obviously dismissing the lifestyle argument as not worth the effort when the fashion argument is available.
“It’s a shawl. Do you like? Oprah gave it to me years ago, you know.” Adam flips it dramatically over one shoulder, strikes a runway pose. Kris’s mouth twitches. Adam can tell he wants to laugh, but that he’s pissed off that he wants to. It gives Adam no small amount of satisfaction. He’s still smiling when they hand over their boarding passes and walk down the gangway.
When they reach their row, Adam immediately moves to the window seat and sits down, kicking his carry-on under the seat in front of him. Kris stands in the aisle, boarding pass in his hand and confusion on his face. Adam ignores him in favor of arranging the shawl around him like a blanket.
“These things are a godsend when you travel,” he says lightly.
“Do you need help finding your seat, sir?” asks a flight attendant as she squeezes past Kris in the aisle. He smiles at her and shakes his head, but then turns back to Adam.
“I’m supposed to get the window seat,” he says. Adam glances up at him and raises one eyebrow.
“Actually, I do believe my name is on the ticket.” He resists the urge he has to add “so there” to the end of the sentence. Now Kris looks confused and irritated. Perfect.
“But I always get the window seat,” he says, slowly, like he’s talking to a child. “You take the aisle so you can stretch your legs and I take the window so I can sleep. That’s how it goes.”
“Well, I guess there’s a new sheriff in town,” Adam says. Kris’s eyes narrow. People have to slither around him to get by, but still he stands in the aisle, glaring at Adam.
“You’re only taking it because I want it,” he accuses Adam. Adam rolls his eyes.
“Nooooo,” Adam says. “I’m taking it so I can look out the window.” He taps the plexiglas with his knuckle. It only seems to make Kris angrier.
“You never liked to sit by the window before.” His voice is getting louder. People in other seats are starting to look at them and whisper to each other. Kris seems to notice at the same time that Adam does. He lowers his voice and ducks close over the seats so only Adam can hear him. “You always used to let me have it.”
“That’s because I used to want you to be happy,” Adam tells him with the sweetest smile he can muster. “Now I would rather look out the window.” Kris clenches his jaw and stares at Adam, his nostrils flaring like he’s a bull and Adam’s waving a red cape. Adam supposes he kind of is.
“Sir, is there a problem?” the same flight attendant asks, looking at Kris disapprovingly. “If there isn’t, I’m going to need you to take your seat.” Grudgingly, Kris sinks into the aisle seat and buckles himself in. The fringey ends of Adam’s shawl drape across the arm rest. Kris crankily swats them away.
“I am going to strangle you with that shawl,” he says. He shifts and glowers, a toddler denied a new toy.
“I would love to see you try,” Adam tells him sunnily.
There’s a pattern to it. It starts with the glances, the wide eyes, the expression of recognition. Then there are the nudges, the whispers, the is that? and the it is!. Some stop there, content with the identification of Famous People in the Wild, like they’re birdwatchers who only want to observe, not interfere. Others breathlessly ask for autographs or pictures, offering massive grins and endearing personal stories in exchange. Then there are the squealers.
“Ohmigod, it’s you, you’re Adam Lambert! And Kris Allen!”
Adam considers denying it. Kris does all the time; he tells people he gets that a lot and that it kind of sucks because that Kris Allen guy seems like a douche. It’s impossible when the two of them are together, though. People who are willing to be bluffed out of seeing one of them are far more skeptical of being bluffed out of two. He glances over at Kris, who’s been trailing behind. Kris shrugs and makes a swirling gesture with his hand. Adam interprets that as might as well.
“’Fraid so,” Adam says. The ear-splitting shriek that greets his words is enough to make him feel vaguely ill. Then the girls turn and shriek in Kris’s direction before settling into an agitated state of giggling and hand-flapping that almost drowns out the rumble of the baggage carousel creaking into motion. Luckily it’s only the two girls, their parents hovering at a safe, teenager-approved distance. Everyone else seems to be a business traveler and thus far too cool to pretend to care about them. Boarding passes are produced to be autographed, one seems to remember that she has a camera in her phone and starts snapping pictures indiscriminately. It’s the same thing that’s happened a million times before, with the tiny difference that Adam and Kris weren’t pretending they didn’t hate each other all the other times.
“Ohmigod, I was so excited when you guys got together,” one is chattering. “I was rooting for it to happen all through the show and the tour. I knew there was something between you, I could just tell. You guys are, like, soooo romantic.”
“We’re just,” Kris says, pausing, casting around for words, “sooooo in love.” He turns to Adam, radiant with emotion only Adam would be able to recognize as fake. “Isn’t that right, Pooh Bear?” Pooh Bear? Oh for fuck’s sake.
“We sure are, Krissykins,” Adam returns, eyes shining with equally false emotion. He ruffles Kris’s hair like he's a fifth grader, knowing that it’ll annoy him – there’s a very careful arrangement in order to hide the thinning hair – but that Kris won’t be able to do anything about it. He sees the almost imperceptible tightening of Kris’s jaw. The girls don’t notice it, though; they’re too busy melting into gooey, flailing puddles.
“Adam, darling, our bags.” Kris points to the suitcases gliding by on the carousel like a duchess commanding an underling. “Do be a dear and get mine, won’t you?” Adam smiles with gritted teeth and snags both bags by the handle, swinging them off the carousel. The girls titter and sigh as if they’ve never seen any gesture more romantic. “He’s such a gentleman,” Kris says to the girls as an aside.
“Come on, sweetness, we’ve got a car waiting.” Adam jostles Kris’s bag against his ankles and smiles at the girls in a clear signal of dismissal. They scamper back to their parents, hands fluttering, and immediately begin to recount the entire episode. It seems like a long time ago that Adam was that young. By the time he turns back around, Kris is out the sliding glass doors and handing his bag over to the driver of their car. Adam follows suit, sliding into the backseat next to him and fastening his seatbelt while the driver slams the trunk shut.
“Pooh Bear,” Adam snorts. “You’re gonna fucking pay for that.”
“Promises, promises, Pooh Bear,” Kris says.
It’s a simple statement. A straightforward question with a straightforward answer. Anne-Marie asked the time and Kris told her: five-oh-eight, on the dot. There is absolutely no way for this to turn into a fight. No normal, rational human beings could fight about what time it is.
They manage anyway.
“I have five ten,” Adam says. Helpfully. At least that’s what he’s telling himself. He’s just being helpful. He’s not at all glad to see the annoyed scowl on Kris’s face, the narrowing of his eyes. Nope. Not glad at all.
“Well, my watch says five-oh-eight and I just had a new battery put in, so,” Kris trails off, as if no right-thinking person could contest such a thing. Only thing is, Adam doesn’t exactly feel like a right-thinking person right now. He hasn’t for a long time. They’re going to alienate every single person on tour with them, the way they’ve been bickering endlessly. Domestic or import, chocolate or vanilla, how should shoes be tied, should Kit-Kats be broken apart before eating or just bitten into all at once – all have become fodder for arguments. And once they’re done arguing about those things, they argue about who started the argument and whose fault it is that it continues even now and who’s being more ridiculous. It’s like they’ve become a parody of a fighting couple, two people so ridiculously devoted to hating each other that they’re almost a caricature.
“Well, my phone,” Adam says, stressing the word unnecessarily, “is calibrated by NASA-launched satellites, and it says five ten.” The first half of that is a lie, but that’s okay. Adam is comfortable sacrificing accuracy in favor of principle under the circumstances.
“Well, your phone,” Kris shoots back hotly, “is an idiot.” Adam opens his mouth to return fire, probably something brilliant along the lines of “your mom is an idiot,” but Anne-Marie cuts him off with an incoherent noise.
“That’s it,” she says, her jaw clenched. “I can’t take one more second of this. You two are welcome to fight with each other until the cows come home but you’ll have to do it without me.” She collects her notebook and her water and pushes past them towards the door.
“Anne-Marie,” Kris starts, but she gives him such a hard look that he takes a step back, holding his hands up in a gesture of surrender. She wrenches the door open as if it had just personally offended her. A guilty, gnawing feeling lodges in Adam’s stomach. He didn’t realize they were that bad. Actually, he never thought about it. He was too busy turning sniping into sport.
“It’s too bad, too,” she shoots back over her shoulder. “I was the last person who could still stand you two.” Then the door is slamming shut behind her with a slightly metallic clang.
“That’s not true, is it?” Kris asks, turning to Adam. “People still talk to us.”
“Not really,” Adam’s forced to admit. All the roadies have been avoiding them since the first week. And the wardrobe and make-up people seem to be wearing earphones when they work with them lately.
“What about Hank?” Kris says. Hank’s the guitarist 19e hired to accompany both of them, something that’s taken a lot of getting used to. Normally both of them tour with their bands, who are really more like friends and family at this point, but through some combination of circumstances – cost, timing, 19e flexing its power – they were told their bands wouldn’t be on the tour and oh look, here’s Hank. He’s a nice guy, but he’s older, a studio musician with a wife and kids back home, and not too inclined to socializing.
“Have you talked to him since the Denver show?” Adam points out. Kris flushes and ducks his head. Denver had been where they’d fought for an hour about Beatles albums, an argument that had ended in Kris throwing a banana at Adam’s head. It had been pure provocation on Adam’s part. He probably couldn’t even list the tracks on Revolver if his life depended on it, but he got too much enjoyment out of watching Kris dissolve into red-faced rage when Adam insisted it was overrated.
“So now they all hate us and we’re stuck with each other,” Kris concludes.
“Looks like,” Adam says. “Alone at last.”
“Great.” Kris heaves a sigh. “Just you and me and everything we’re mad about.” Kris laughs then. It sounds so resigned that it surprises Adam. By the look on his face, it surprises Kris too. This is the part no one tells you about, the part that happens after the movie ends. This is what comes after happily ever after.
“Though,” Kris adds, “you think you’d be on time more often, Mr. My-clock-is-calibrated-by-NASA.” It’s a point of pride for Adam that he manages not to laugh.
“Hi, sweetheart, what’s your name?”
The names go out of his head just about the instant they go in. It’s bad enough under everyday circumstances, but when he sees fifty people in a row at a meet and greet it’s impossible. The names and the faces blur together, the minutes drag. He’s never liked meet and greets – too impersonal, busy and boring at the same time.
“You’re snoring,” Kris says under his breath. Adam makes a face at him.
“You’re annoying,” he counters just as quietly. He can’t deny he’d been feeling like he might nod off, though. The room is too warm, he slept too little last night. He goes back to signing but his movements become rote, an economy of movement based on habit. There’ll probably be reports later on how he was distracted and sluggish, how fans hoping for charm and banter went away disappointed. Oh well.
Kris passes a print-out to him, the paper rustling as it slides along the table. He almost signs without really looking, hands it back to the woman in front of him. But something about the way Kris taps the sheet after pushing it over makes him look down. It’s a picture of the two of them singing together years ago, from the Idol tour. They look insanely young. Adam’s wearing that stupid studded denim vest. He’s also sporting crudely drawn devil horns, a tail, and a scribbled goatee. He glances over at Kris. Kris doesn’t meet his eyes. Just wiggles his sharpie expectantly while looking down the line, ready for the next autograph. Adam snorts, scrawls his name. On impulse, he gives Kris’s image some improvements of his own – a nice eye patch, a few blackened teeth. He hands it back to the woman in front of him, who’s looking torn between being annoyed at their defacement of her picture and thrilled at having something so one-of-a-kind.
“Sell it on eBay,” Adam advises her. She smiles uncertainly before being hustled on by security.
“Capitalist,” Kris tells him.
“Vandal,” Adam returns.
“Artistic genius,” Kris corrects. “I made you look ten times better.”
“Kiss my ass,” Adam invites him sweetly, grinning brightly at the woman who’s moving towards him, a glossy photo in her shaky hands. Neither of them is talking loud enough for anyone else to understand. They’re just signing and smiling away. The contrast between their words and their appearance is kind of satisfying.
“You wish.” Kris is laughing now. To everyone else in the room they must look like the best of friends, laughing and joking and getting along famously. It occurs to Adam that in a weird way, they are.
“Not in front of the children, you pervert.” Adam can’t stop smirking, even though it’s probably ruining everyone’s pictures. He feels wide awake now, like someone just injected him with caffeine. They may be driving everyone else on the tour away insane with the squabbling, but Adam can’t deny it’s keeping him interested.
He’s seen it in the movies a million times: girl insults dude, dude picks on girl, and then next thing you know, they’re making out, overwhelmed by the dizzying foreplay of bickering. Adam always thought it was typical Hollywood bullshit, like everyone weighing ninety pounds and having a six pack regardless of profession, or people thinking that everyone from California is a crazy hippie. He’d never realized there might be something to it, though. Not until now.
It snuck up on him. You notice the things you want to see, after all. It’s easy enough to explain things away, to find reasons that suit the reality you want to construct. If Adam seeks out Kris’s company, it’s only because he doesn’t want to give Kris the satisfaction of sending him into hiding. If he argues with Kris long past the point of rationality, it’s because he wants the last word. If he notices the twist of Kris’s mouth when he’s angry, the set of his jaw, the coiled muscles of his back, it’s only to be expected after such a long relationship where Kris’s body became as familiar to Adam as his own. And if he’s masturbating far more than usual, well, months of celibacy can bring it out in a guy.
The day Adam realizes he actually looks forward to their fighting – that he’s getting some weird, sexual charge out of it, even – he takes a slug of NyQuil even though he’s not sick and goes to bed early. It’s kind of a lot to handle.
“What’s with you?” Kris asks during soundcheck one afternoon. Adam has been fidgeting and pacing and generally acting like a crackhead going through withdrawals. He just doesn’t know what to say or where to look. Suddenly everything makes him think of sex and Kris. Of sex with Kris. Fuck fuck fuck.
“Nothing,” Adam answers too quickly. “What do you mean? Nothing.”
Kris raises his eyebrows. “Wow, that wasn’t sketchy at all.”
“I’m just trying to be more like you,” Adam snots, somewhat inanely, he realizes. Panic doesn’t bring out the best in him. He can’t remember many other times in his life that he’s felt so anxious, so tightly wound. He’s been trying not to jack off either, since every time he does all he can think about is Kris, and it’s adding an extra, frustrating dimension to his days.
“Well, if you want to be more like me, you should start by burning that shirt,” Kris says, but his heart’s not quite in it. He looks too thrown by Adam’s behavior, too confused. Adam’s tempted to welcome him to the club. He’s going to drive himself nutty if he isn’t careful. A little distance, that’s what he needs.
The thing is, trying to stay away from Kris is just about an impossibility. It shouldn’t be a surprise. It had taken an ocean for Adam to make it work last time, and there’s no ocean to keep them apart here. The fact that he doesn’t entirely want to stay away from Kris makes it harder. The inside of his head is such a conflicted, complicated place right now that it should probably be dissected for scientific research. How can any one person be angry, resentful, hurt, intrigued, infatuated, freaked out, drawn in, and turned on, all at once, and all because of the same person? He’s starting to feel like a schizophrenic. Not to mention exhausted. He finds Kris sitting alone in the break room one afternoon, poking at the food on his plate and looking equally tired.
“Hey,” Kris says warily. He’s definitely noticed the weirdness. Adam knows he must be confused. Here they’d been going along, happily antagonistic, and now Adam’s acting like a complete freak. Great. Add guilt to the list of emotions.
“Hi.” It’s too short a word to hold all the meaning Adam needs it to: sorry for acting like a weirdo. I’m trying to not want to fuck you. You understand, I’m sure.
“Hello,” Kris offers, and they both laugh a little, the tension broken like the surface of a pond, ripples disrupting the glassy surface.
“Greetings!” Adam says in a hokey voice and they laugh again. Kris seems to take it for the overture that it is and shakes his head with a grin.
“We could go on like this for a while, especially if we moved to other languages,” he says. “I think you’ll be more interested in what was just delivered for us.” He points behind Adam at the craft services table. Adam turns to look and sees a flat Tupperware container with some sort of cake inside.
“Is that what I think it is?” Adam asks, barely daring to hope for Dump Cake. He can’t even remember the last time he had it. If anything can cure his fucked up brain, it’s Dump Cake. Adam realizes that’s asking a lot from a dessert, but he’s looking for unconventional cures at this point.
“It is,” Kris says. “My mother said she saw a picture of us in People and that we both needed fattening up.”
“God bless her,” Adam says fervently as he heaps a plate high. Craft service is under strict instructions not to tempt him with such things. Which is all for the best – he long ago decided that, for him, self-discipline was best imposed by other people – but he sure does miss the temptation sometimes.
“Oh my god, I missed this,” Adam says around a mouthful of cake. He can feel the butter hardening his arteries already. “Like, I more than missed it, I longed for it. I yearned. I pined.”
“Is this going to turn into a Shakespearean tragedy?” Kris asks.
“It might if you try to keep me and the cake apart,” Adam answers. He hasn’t even eaten half of what’s on his plate yet and he already wants to go back for more. “I’ve missed your mom’s cooking. It sucks that breaking up with someone means you have to break up with their family too.” The butter’s probably moved on to hardening his brain, since he doesn’t even think about what he just said until Kris’s face changes, becoming drawn and pained. Adam stops, the cake suddenly dry on his tongue. Kris is staring at his plate like it ruined his life.
“It’s even harder when you divorce someone you’ve been with for eight years, if you can imagine.” His voice is unbearably quiet and subdued. It’d be better if he mocked, if he yelled and called Adam every name in the book. At least then Adam could fight back. Now he can only feel wretched as Kris looks down at his half-eaten cake, revulsion on his face, before standing with his plate.
“I-” Adam starts, but Kris cuts him off.
“Here,” he says, stopping in front of Adam. “Since you like it so much.” He upends the plate, squashes it cake-down on top of the plate in Adam’s hands. Adam just stares at the sandwiched paper plates, unable to look up, unwilling to see the condemnation in Kris’s eyes. He stares at the plates until the door closes behind Kris. Then he stands and quietly drops them into the trash.
There’s a definite change in atmosphere. Their constant bickering before may have exasperated everyone, but this new tension has them all watchful and quiet, like they’re waiting for a storm to erupt. Adam wishes he could oblige them. The heavy silence is wearing on him. He doesn’t know what he can say or do to fix it, or even if it’s something he should feel obligated to fix – it’s an old wound, after all. Adam didn’t inflict it, not really, even if he aggravated it.
It isn’t like Kris isn’t speaking to him at all, because he is. He’s been nothing but civil, polite, cool. Disinterested. The spark between them has died as surely as if they’d doused it with water. They’re circling each other, planets in separate orbits. Adam should be relieved. He should be glad; he can go back to normal. He shouldn’t want that spark back so badly he could cry. Funny how once something you were trying to avoid is gone, you start missing it.
He tells himself that it’s better this way, that he needs to leave well enough alone. Yeah, right. Instead he finds himself prodding Kris, trying to kindle that spark back to life. Too bad it never works. Kris would have sniped back before, he would have breezily picked Adam apart. Now he just smiles vaguely, looks away, shambles around like a broken old man. It’d be enough to break Adam’s heart if it weren’t already pulverized.
Adam finds him backstage one afternoon, during the dead hour between soundcheck and curtain, slumped on a couch, an old-looking discman in his hand. He listens to his iPhone all the time, but this is new.
“What are you listening to?” Adam asks. He’s not sure whether to expect an answer or not. There’ve been a few times Kris has just looked through Adam like he’s not even there. But Kris looks at him this time, frowns at him thoughtfully.
“Your new album,” Kris says.
The sound that escapes Adam is very much cartoonish. He wouldn’t have thought he could make such a sound before he heard himself do it. Kris looks at him curiously, one hand holding an earbud away from his head.
“Where’d you get it?” Adam asks, trying to make his voice sound casual. So it’s an octave higher than normal, so what.
“Anne-Marie had it, she asked me to give it to you. I was curious so I listened.” Adam feels uncannily like he just found Kris reading his diary. He basically did; everything that Adam felt when he left, all the loss and anger and fear, it’s all laid out on that album, laid bare for anyone to hear. He has to fight the instinct to rip the CD player – where the fuck did Kris get that thing anyway? – out of Kris’s hands.
“Oh,” he says far more nonchalantly than he feels. It’s not like he thought Kris would never hear the album. He just didn’t think he’d have to be around for it.
“This song, the third track,” Kris says, his face assuming that thoughtful frown again. “Did you write it?” Adam can only nod wordlessly. Anything he could say right now would probably come out as a squeak.
“It’s good. It’s really good.”
“You don’t have to sound so surprised,” Adam says, recovering his voice. He’s flattered. Freaked out as all fuck at the thought of Kris listening to it still, but flattered.
“What were you thinking when you wrote it?” It’s probably paranoid for Adam to think Kris is asking like he already knows. Adam remembers all too well what he was thinking about. The night that Katy’s father had a massive heart attack eight months ago and she showed up on their doorstep, sobbing, desperate, helpless. The task of arranging her flight had fallen to Adam. He’d dialed the phone, recited information, given credit card numbers, all while watching Kris hold Katy in his arms and feeling an irrational, bone-deep terror at how well they fit together. It was the first time he’d let himself acknowledge that there was nothing to stop it from happening again. That falling in love with someone other than your partner wasn’t like lightning, never striking the same person twice.
“It’s pretty dark,” Kris says when Adam doesn’t answer. “Like…there’s this undercurrent of fear and loss, and, I dunno…preemptively destroying anything you could ever lose to keep it from hurting you.”
He’s getting too close – to the truth, to reality, to Adam’s beating heart. Adam does what any other dignified grown-up would do. He panics and picks a fight.
“Since when do you give a shit about my music, anyway?” he demands. Kris looks taken aback.
“Where did that come from?” he asks in surprise.
“Nowhere, really, except I’m wondering why my career is suddenly worth your time when it never was before.” Adam knows it’s mostly unfair. But that small sliver of “fair” that does exist is enough to let him keep pushing, to use it against Kris. Self-defense is messy. Kris looks almost wounded.
“Have it your way,” Kris says. Adam would have expected him to sound angry, belligerent. Instead he sounds resigned. Adam waits until Kris leaves the room to drop his head into his heads. Everything is so hard. You get the boulder to the top of the hill only to have it roll back down so you can start all over again.
The food is probably excellent. It looks good, even though it has that weird tendency of food in fancy restaurants to be stacked vertically with curlicues of sauce on the plate around it. Too bad Adam can barely eat it. Kris’s plate is similarly untouched. He stabs at his tower of food listlessly until the waiter comes to take it away.
Dinner out together had been Anne-Marie’s idea. Maybe she wanted them to be seen in public together. Maybe she was hoping they’d work out some of their issues. Maybe she just wanted a break from their depressing presence. Adam has no idea. They certainly haven’t worked out any of their issues, and now they’re just depressing the waiter.
“So,” Adam says as they nurse their drinks.
“So,” Kris agrees. They lapse into silence again. Adam wants to talk this out – it’s not in his nature to pretend things haven’t happened – but he doesn’t even know where to start. Does he apologize for being a jerk earlier? Or for leaving? Does he explain why he left, if such a thing can even be accomplished? Does he catalogue every slight, every wound, every misunderstanding that’s lead them here? Maybe he should just ask the waiter to bring him a steak knife so he can spill his blood as literally as he’d have to metaphorically. He finally decides to address it as a practical issue. Maybe that way he can only involve his head and leave his heart out of it.
“We’ve got half a tour left. How do we make this work?” he asks plainly. Kris doesn’t seem to need clarification. He knows what Adam means.
“I don’t know,” Kris says. He gives a little bit of a laugh, recognition of the absurdity of the situation. “I’ve never had to deal with this sort of thing with Cale.”
“Maybe you should have left your wife for him,” Adam offers, a sad facsimile of a joke. There’s too much truth underneath it for it to work, though; Adam had never quite reconciled his fear that he was temporary, a way station on Kris’s road to homosexuality. A starter boyfriend. Adam should have known better than to try and make light of it. Not that he’d been any less scared of Kris deciding that he’d been gay long enough and he was ready to return to his hetero roots. Now that he thinks about it, Adam’s amazed they lasted as long as they did in the face of such obstacles.
“My wife,” Kris says quietly. He stares into his glass, like whatever it is he wants to say is written on the bottom.
“Maybe we should get back to the hotel,” Adam suggests uneasily. He’s got a funny feeling that something terrible is about to happen, something neither of them will ever be able to take back. But Kris doesn’t give any acknowledgement that he heard. He just sits, staring sightlessly at the glass in his hand, swirling it like he hopes it’ll hypnotize him.
“The pictures of her in the tabloids were the worst,” he says finally, surprising Adam. Adam remembers the pictures. Katy was always wearing big sunglasses and baggy clothes; they made her look shrunken, diminished. “Even with all of the attacks on my faith and my character and on you. Those pictures were the worst. Every single one of them destroyed me because I’d done that to her. I turned her into a fool.”
“You never said,” Adam almost whispers. He’d been so consumed by his own happiness then. That was before the doubts crept in, the fears and the worries.
“Would you have wanted to hear it?” Kris asks.
“No,” Adam has to admit.
“You were too happy to think about that sort of thing,” he says. “You’d won.”
“I never said-”
“I know you never said anything like that,” Kris interrupts. “You didn’t have to. It was underneath everything, everything you said, every time you touched me like I was yours. And I wanted to be yours more than I wanted to be a good person, that was the worst part.”
Adam doesn’t know what to say. There’s nothing he possibly could say that would be right, that would be enough. The table seems huge between them. It seems as big as the Atlantic. Kris looks up at him then and Adam almost flinches at the intensity of it.
“I turned my life upside down for you,” he says. “And when things got tough you ran away.”
“I was recording,” Adam protests, though he knows it’s a weak protest. A half-truth. The words taste sour on his tongue.
“You were running away,” Kris insists, his voice angry and defeated. “And we both know it.” Adam wants to argue, to say it’s not true, but he can’t. He can’t. It is true. And nothing he could say in explanation would matter in the face of that reality. Kris stands abruptly, upsetting the table so that their glasses tip and fall, ice cubes and liquid spreading across the laminate surface. He watches Adam and waits. For him to deny it? To agree? Adam’s not sure, so he doesn’t do either. He can’t do anything at all. Kris makes a sound of disgust and walks towards the door.
“Where are you going?” Adam asks.
“What are you, my mother?” Kris shoots over his shoulder. “I’m going out.”
He shoulders the door open more forcefully than necessary. It makes a bang loud enough to startle the people around them. Adam should smooth things over, apologize and make excuses to them for his and Kris’s behavior. Instead he watches what’s left of his drink pool at the edge of the table, building until the surface tension breaks and it begins to drip steadily on the top of his shoe.
Normally the commotion in the hall would have woken him from sleep. Adam may like a late night as much as the next person, but on tour he’s more focused on rest and taking care of his voice and not indulging his irresponsible impulses. But lately he’s had trouble quieting his brain enough to sleep and late nights have found him awake, playing solitaire on his laptop or just staring out various hotel room windows at the glittering lights of whatever city it is they’ve landed in this time. Tonight made his brain noisier than ever. He keeps catching himself staring into space, turning the earlier fight over and over in his head, poking at it like a loose tooth. So he’s still awake when he hears the thumps and the scrapes, the muffled cursing on the other side of his door as someone slides his keycard into a lock only to be met with an unaccommodating beep.
He looks through the peephole first. You never know when some crazy stalker fan is going to ferret out their latest check-in names (ChiChi LaRue for Adam, Chris P. Chicken for Kris) and stake out their rooms, after all. But Adam doesn’t see a crazed Glambert, or whatever it is people who get Kris’s face tattooed on their bodies call themselves. He just sees Kris, huddled against the door across the hall, fumbling with his keycard. For the first few attempts, Adam just watches, figuring Kris will get inside eventually. But by the eighth try, he realizes that Kris may never get in and Adam will be stuck listening to the lock beep all night. With a heavy sigh he flips the lock and pulls open his door. Kris twists to glance at Adam and immediately sways with the motion, almost taking a potted ficus down with him when he grabs at the branches for balance. Clearly Kris’s version of “out” included several rounds of liquor.
“Having trouble?” Adam asks mildly. He leans against the doorframe, crosses his arms over his chest.
“It’s locked,” Kris says in that careful enunciation he always has on the rare occasions that he drinks, like he thinks if he doesn’t slur his words, no one will notice he’s smashed. It’s something Adam found cute in the beginning and not so cute at the end. Jury’s still out on what he finds it right now.
“Yes,” Adam agrees. “That’s to keep people from getting inside.”
“But I want to get inside,” Kris says almost forlornly. He tries to jab his keycard at the slot again, but misses and sends the piece of plastic clattering to the carpet. He stares dejectedly at the card at his feet. It’s only when he turns to give Adam a hopeful smile that Adam gets a good look at his face. It’s hard to tell just where the blood is coming from, but there’s enough of it to be a little alarming. His arms unfold and he jerks a couple of inches away from the doorjamb involuntarily before controlling himself.
“What happened to you?” he asks, trying to keep his voice calm. Part of him is concerned. Part of him is irritated that he still gives a shit.
“Got in a fight,” Kris answers, distracted. His focus is back on the keycard. If there’s more to the story, he’s not offering it. “If I try to pick it up, I think I’ll fall down,” he says, almost to himself. He’s looking at it mournfully, like a golden retriever staring at a rawhide bone placed just out of reach. But he doesn’t look like someone who’s about to bleed out. Adam relaxes a little. He weighs the satisfaction of leaving Kris to sleep it off in the hallway versus the tongue-lashing he’d get from Anne-Marie when someone finds Kris out here in a pool of blood. Kris is swaying a bit on his feet, back and forth like a human metronome, tick tick tick. Adam decides to take pity on him.
“Just hold still,” Adam says. He ducks into his room to grab his key card. When he comes back out Kris has stopped swaying and is instead almost petting the ficus. “Have you named it yet?” Adam asks, nodding towards the plant and not expecting an answer.
“Bruiser,” Kris tells him seriously, and Adam has to pause for a moment to consider that. “All plants are named Bruiser.”
“Is this like your thing about how all goldfish are named Steve?” Adam asks.
“Fascinating.” Adam crouches to scoop Kris’s keycard up and deftly inserts it into the lock and opens the door.
“Nice,” Kris says. “You’re way better at that than I am.”
“That is true of many things, Kristopher.” Adam holds open the door with one hand and urges Kris through the door with the other. Kris ducks under Adam’s arm obediently, the prickle of his hair against the sensitive skin on the underside of Adam’s arm making him shiver. Kris has already collapsed face first onto the bed by the time Adam shuts the door and chucks the keycard onto the dresser. Adam checks to make sure he’s not dead before he picks up the phone.
“Yeah, this is room 314. I’m gonna need a first aid kit and some peroxide.”
It’s a typical Kris room. Adam’s seen enough of them that he knows the hallmarks: laced-up sneakers just inside the door that Kris toed off without untying as soon as he walked in. Glasses sitting on the television, the dresser, the nightstand, the bathroom counter, all with an inch of water left in the bottom. Towels hung neatly in the bathroom while the bathmat is wadded up into a damp ball in the corner. Curtains wide open so that Kris will wake up to the sun. Kris is most definitely a creature of habit. Not to mention a heavy sleeper. He doesn’t even stir when the guy from the front desk knocks on the door with the first aid kid.
“Thanks,” Adam tells him. He realizes that feeling like he shouldn’t be in Kris’s room is stupid, since that’s exactly where people are supposed to think he should be, but he can’t shake it. Much to the guy’s delight, he gives him a fifty dollar bill before he closes the door, juggling the kit and the peroxide bottle in one hand. Kris is still face down when Adam comes back to the bed. A soft snore issues from his mouth. He always could fall asleep faster than anyone Adam knew.
“Wake up,” Adam says. He cups his hand over Kris’s heel, gives him a shake. Kris only moans and turns his face directly into the mattress. “Come on, get up before you ruin the sheets.” He takes the first aid kit into the bathroom and hunts through it for band-aids and gauze. Kris comes in silently. Without waiting for instruction, he hops up onto the counter next to Adam, his heels bumping the cabinet below. Adam turns Kris’s face up towards the light with a hand under his chin so he can assess the damage.
The blood has caked and dried now. It’s impossible to even see where the actual cut is. Adam wets a wash cloth and cleans Kris’s face as gently as he can. It has to hurt, but Kris doesn’t even flinch. Something about his implicit trust, even after all that’s happened, rattles Adam. He’d thought that kind of thing was long gone. It was almost better when he thought it was. He takes a deep breath, forces himself to focus on what he’s doing. He finds the cut high on Kris’s cheekbone, right under his eye where the bone presses closest to the surface. It’s roughly in the shape of a horseshoe. Adam examines it with a frown, dabs at the fresh blood now welling from it.
“He was wearing a ring,” Kris says in answer to Adam’s unspoken question. Adam’s eyes flicker up to Kris’s. Kris is watching him intently. Something about it makes Adam uncomfortable and he looks back at the cut before he speaks.
“It’s usually a pretty good rule of thumb to not pick fights with guys who wear rings.”
“Sorry,” Kris says. “I’m not as up on my brawling dos-and-don’ts as you are.” Adam sighs. These dueling urges he’s having to both take care of Kris and also give him a good, hard kick in the shin are confusing. At least the spark is kind of back. He folds a gauze pad in half and gives it a healthy shot of peroxide.
“This is going to sting,” Adam warns, the gauze poised above the cut.
“I can take it,” Kris says. He grips the edge of the counter with his fingers and closes his eyes, face turned up for Adam’s ministrations. The second the gauze touches the cut, Kris hisses and jerks away.
“Yeah, you can take it all right,” Adam mutters. “Hold still.”
“It surprised me,” Kris says. Adam dabs at the cut again and Kris holds still this time, allowing Adam to clean it. It’s no small task. Adam doesn’t know if Kris rubbed his face in the dirt afterwards or if the guy just had filthy fists or what, but he goes through two gauze pads before the cut even begins to look clean.
“So what prompted the fisticuffs?” Adam can’t pretend it’s not surprising, no matter the cause. Kris is more of a lover than a fighter. He’s silent long enough that Adam starts to wonder if he’s going to answer or if he even really paid attention to the question. Or maybe he’s fallen asleep again.
“He called you a homewrecker,” Kris says, after Adam’s started to think he really has fallen asleep. It brings Adam up short, the gauze in his hand hovering over Kris’s cheekbone. He has no idea how he should feel at such a revelation. He hopes it’s confused, because that seems to be what he’s landed on.
“That’s the stupidest reason to punch someone I’ve ever heard,” he says finally, remembering himself and giving the gauze another shot of peroxide.
“No kidding,” Kris says, eyes still closed. “Especially since you are a homewrecker.” Adam bites his tongue and concentrates on getting the cut cleaned up so he can bandage it and get back to his own room. Tomorrow they can fight again, tonight he just needs to make sure Kris doesn’t die of blood loss. Once he’s satisfied that it’s clean, he gently pats it dry with a towel.
“You’ve got a soft touch,” Kris says. There’s a guilty air to it, like he’s saying it out of contrition for calling Adam a homewrecker. Adam could let him off the hook, but he doesn’t feel that generous at the moment.
“Must be the limp wrist,” he quips. “You know us fags.” Kris cracks an eye open and gives Adam a reproachful look.
“I already punched one guy tonight for insulting you, don’t make me do it again.” It’s not the sort of thing that should make Adam’s chest feel tight, but it does. He rummages in the first aid kid for some sort of antibiotic ointment to put on the cut. He dabs the ointment on the cut with his ring finger, like he would do with eye cream. It makes him laugh a little. Kind of dumb to worry about damaging fragile under-eye skin when the under-eye skin in question is currently split open entirely.
“Tell yourself a knock-knock joke?” Kris asks.
“Had to be there,” Adam says. He peels the band-aid open, smoothes it gently over Kris’s cheekbone, then adds another overlapping it for good measure.
“But I’ve been here the whole time,” Kris says, and he almost looks sad about it, like he can’t believe he missed something funny. It makes Adam laugh for real and Kris laughs back like it’s a new way of having a conversation. Sitting on the counter brings him almost eye-to-eye with Adam and they’re laughing and it hits Adam like a freight train, how much he wants to wrap his arms around Kris, how much he wants to bury his face in Kris’s shoulder and just hold on until it all makes sense again. It scares him how much he wants it. Involuntarily, abruptly, he steps back. The smile drops off Kris’s face and they just look at each other, their past piling up between them like it has physical form. Suddenly the events of the night show themselves plain on Kris’s face; he looks tired, disoriented. He allows Adam to help him back to the bed, even though Adam can tell he’d rather not need the help.
“Down you go,” Adam says. Kris sits heavily on the edge of the mattress. He looks up at Adam, blinking, as if asking for more instruction. He’s still fully-clothed, except for shoes. Adam sighs. He really wasn’t intending to be anyone’s nanny when he got up this morning.
“Arms,” he commands. Obediently, Kris raises his arms above his head and holds them there, allowing Adam to pull his shirt up and off. Static crackles and makes his hair stand out in a wild halo about his head. He looks about twelve. Adam’s heart gives an alarming lurch. He curses himself and forces his touch to be impersonal as he tugs Kris’s jeans out from under him and down his legs, then helps him under the covers.
“I’ll get you some water before I go,” he says. Once he’s in the bathroom, he stares at himself in the mirror hard. Whoever it is looking back at him, it’s not someone Adam really recognizes. There’s a bottle of aspirin in the first aid kit and he brings that back to the bed along with a glass of water.
Kris’s eyes are half-lidded when Adam gets back and sets the glass and the pills on the nightstand. He’s got his hand snaked out from under the covers to touch the bandage at his eye gingerly. The mattress dips when Adam sits on the edge, Kris’s warm weight sliding against Adam’s hip. He tries to ignore that as he catches Kris’s hand and holds it still while he tests the bandage with his own fingers. They should probably have a real doctor look at it tomorrow, but everything seems okay for now. Satisfied, he stands, but suddenly Kris’s hand flips, his fingers loop in a manacle around Adam’s wrist. It forces Adam into a stoop; he’s too tall and the bed’s too low for him to stand without breaking Kris’s grip, and Kris’s grip is surprisingly strong. Adam waits for Kris to say something, waits for something to happen, but Kris just lies silently, his jaw moving like he’s testing words on his tongue before saying them out loud.
“If I asked, would you kiss me?” Kris says finally, and Adam’s not sure how to take it. It’s not a joke, he doesn’t think. But it’s not a request either.
“Would you ask?” he says in return.
Kris doesn’t answer. His eyes are fixed on Adam’s for the space of a few heartbeats, then they’re flickering down to where he’s plucking at a loose thread on the comforter with his free hand. Adam waits, he gives him time. But Kris doesn’t say any more and the long minutes tick by on the bedside alarm clock until Adam shakes off Kris’s hand and goes back to his own room with only his loneliness for company.
He really should be above such retaliation. Adam is an adult. Fuck, he’s not that far from middle-aged, really. This sort of tit-for-tat nonsense is something he should have left behind years ago. What good could possibly come of knocking on Kris’s door, especially when he’s had so much to drink? He’ll only say something too honest, too raw and vulnerable. Something he would never allow himself to say sober. Which is probably the point.
It’s not like he’s that drunk, though. He can still talk clearly and think mostly clearly and stand up without swaying. He just feels like a balloon, all full of helium, expanding and ready to float away. Like a goddamned float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. He lets that helium float his arm up until his fist is knocking on Kris’s door, a staccato rhythm that echoes in the empty hallway.
“Let me in, you asshole.” He can hear the scuffle of someone on the other side of the door. Probably looking through the peephole. Adam presses his own eye up against the other side of it, but he can’t see anything other than a pinpoint of light. It’s a good thing he has his hands balanced on either side of the doorframe; Kris jerks the door open so suddenly that he would have fallen straight in, otherwise. Haha. Straight.
“What are you doing?” Kris asks. He does not look amused.
“Returning the favor from last night,” Adam says. He barges in past Kris. One benefit of being half a foot taller and sixty pounds heavier, he can kind of do whatever the fuck he wants and Kris can’t stop him. “I tried to get someone to beat me up but no one would do it. I think they were scared of me.” He doesn’t mention to Kris that he was spoiling for someone to take a swing at him so he’d have someplace to put all this aggression he’s feeling. That he wanted someone to hit him – to destroy him – so his outside would match his inside.
“Scared,” Kris echoes. “Of you.” He’s leaning against the now-closed door, arms crossed over his chest.
“I’m tall and extremely brawny,” Adam tells him somewhat defensively, letting his weight pull him towards Kris even though his feet kind of want to stay in the same place. His head gets there first and he has to put his hands out to keep himself from crashing headlong into Kris. “Just because you don’t take me seriously doesn’t mean other people don’t.”
“I take you seriously,” Kris says. Then he ducks under Adam’s arm and retreats. Adam follows like he’s magnetized.
“No you don’t,” he says. “You only just started taking my music seriously.”
“You only just started making more serious music,” Kris reasons. It’s kind of the truth but it kind of doesn’t matter.
“Well maybe life is just more serious,” Adam says angrily, adding “you jerk” in his head. “I mean, I get what I thought I wanted and it turns out that maybe it’s not a magic bean that’ll make me happy, it won’t keep me from being scared, it won’t keep me from losing.” It’s like his tongue is no longer under his control. He tries to convince himself that he could easily be talking about his career. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about Kris. He can hold on to a tiny scrap of dignity. He can.
“What do you want, Adam?” Kris asks. It’s probably only wishful thinking that allows Adam to hear anguish in his voice. Adam wants to ask him what last night was about. He wants to know why Kris is fucking with him. He wants to tell him to stop, to stop making Adam feel things he thought he’d buried. To let him leave emotionally instead of just physically.
“I just want to be fucked by someone who loves me,” is what he says instead, to his mild horror. He’s even more horrified to hear tears in his voice. He clutches desperately at his anger, his resentment. He needs them. He needs to hold onto them with both hands and wear them like armor. “Even the last few times I had sex with you, it wasn’t with someone who loved me,” he spits, the words sour on his tongue. Kris rounds on him then, his jaw clenched, hands balled into fists at his sides.
“Is that supposed to be my fault?” he demands. He’s spoiling for a fight, just like Adam. All it would take is a little nudge and they’d go sliding over the edge of civility, rehashing every single argument they’ve ever had until they combine and mutate to form new ones. It’ll be the last year all over again. Adam’s so sick of the last year. He’s so sick of it he could scream.
“Shut up,” he tells Kris. “Just…shut up.” It’s like his hands don’t even belong to him; they snap out and fist in Kris’s shirt, bearing him backwards against the wall with a thump. Adam doesn’t give himself time to see the reaction on Kris’s face. He just ducks his head and catches Kris’s mouth with his own.
It’s all teeth and fists. There’s no tenderness in the kiss, only barely-leashed anger. Kris is no stranger to Adam’s temper, but he still seems surprised by the strength of it now, by the tension that has Adam tangled up like a rubber band. For a moment, he barely reacts, his body held still against Adam’s, and Adam knows that when he stops, he’ll have to apologize. He’ll have to swallow his pride and apologize and find some way to deal with this resentment that twists inside him like a disease. But then Kris reacts, he erupts in his own anger, fighting against Adam’s body and holding him closer simultaneously.
It only takes them seconds to push each other towards the bed. Their legs hit the side of the mattress and they topple onto it, the mattress bouncing under their combined weight. Teeth and lips collide, sending a metallic tang spreading through Adam’s mouth.
“Ow,” he says, more in surprise than in pain. He pulls away and touches his lip. Two fingers come away bloody. They’re being rough but he still wasn’t expecting blood. Kris catches his hand and inspects it. He looks cautious when he raises his eyes to Adam’s, suddenly wary.
“Are you still safe?” he asks, his voice rough and deep.
“Am I what?” Adam asks, before comprehension dawns. He could punch Kris for asking. He could cry. “I’m safe,” he snaps. “Are you?” Kris narrows his eyes at Adam’s tone, but then his mouth surrounds Adam’s fingers, sliding from knuckle to fingertip and taking the blood with them.
“Yes,” he snaps back. Then he kisses Adam again, his tongue smoothing the cut on his lip, a split-second of gentleness before sweeping roughly back into Adam’s mouth.
There’s no question that this is fucking instead of making love or some other soft approximation. They grapple and push, struggling against each other, struggling with all of their issues and resentment. Hands leave marks that will purple into bruises. Nails scratch and fingers push to the point of pain, but neither voices any protest or makes any move to stop. It’s like they’ve unleashed an avalanche or a flood, some primal force of nature that neither could stop even if they wanted to. Adam scrapes his teeth up the chords of Kris’s neck, he roughly palms Kris’s erection through the fabric of his pants. Kris is pulling at him, taunting him, egging him on, come on come on do it come on.
The way he reaches for the condom is practiced, unthinking. He knows where Kris keeps them, inside a zippered compartment of the suitcase that’s laid open carefully next to the bed. It isn’t until his fingers find the cool wrapper that he stops and thinks. He holds up the condom, looks from it to Kris’s face, wondering just who the fuck he needs a condom for these days. All the things he was scared of come rushing back and lodge between his ribs, burning, stopping him from breathing. Kris seems to know what he’s thinking and gives a short, sharp jerk of his head.
“It’s from the same batch we used the last time we were together, so don’t even give me that look,” Kris says angrily. “Not that I owed you faithfulness when you lef-” Adam doesn’t let him finish. He can taste the blood in his mouth again, meaty and warm, and he knows Kris can too. It seems strangely appropriate, a metaphor made literal. His mouth doesn’t leave Kris’s, not when he opens the condom and rolls it on, not when he teases Kris harder with sharp movements of his hand, not when his fingers press and explore, pushing clothing off or aside.
Adam bears Kris down onto the bed, his chest and shoulders against the backs of Kris’s thighs, forcing Kris’s knees towards his chest. Kris’s eyes are closed, his hands are fisted in the sheets on either side of his hips. Adam could be anyone. He could be anyone at all. When he pushes inside Kris, he closes his eyes and tries not to remember how it used to be.
It’s not the sunlight streaming in through the open curtains that wakes them. They don’t even hear any knock on the door from housekeeping, though she must have knocked at least once before coming in. It’s her startled yelp that rouses them both from sleep. Awkward, since they’re tangled together on the bed, the skin of Kris’s chest warm and sweat-damp under Adam’s cheek, his feet cold on Adam’s calf. Doubly awkward since they’re naked.
“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry,” she’s saying over and over, her face approaching the color of a brick wall. “There was no sign and you didn’t answer and ay yi yi.” Adam grimaces when he tries to raise his head, a dull throbbing taking up residence at the base of his skull. His mouth feels like he ate a bowl full of cotton before falling asleep. Ay yi yi indeed. He starts to roll onto his back but Kris catches him, holds him in place. At first, Adam’s still-muzzy brain lets him think Kris doesn’t want to let him go. Then he realizes that his body is the only thing keeping Kris from flashing the poor woman.
“Maybe you should come back later,” Kris tells her.
“I’ll just come back later,” she agrees and she backs out of the room, bobbing her head apologetically and looking at the floor. The door slams and Adam drops his cheek back down on to Kris’s chest.
“Well that’ll please management,” Adam mumbles.
“Wanna place bets on how long it’ll take to show up on Twitter?” Kris asks.
“I’d rather throw up.” Adam peels himself off Kris, the sound of their skin separating loud in his ears, and pushes off the mattress to stumble into the bathroom. There’s not even time to close the door before he’s emptying the contents of his stomach into the toilet. He’s not presenting a very pretty picture, bent over the toilet bowl naked, his ass in the breeze. Hopefully Kris has gone back to sleep and isn’t witness to Adam’s lack of dignity. Not that he hasn’t seen Adam’s lack of dignity a million times before.
Adam straightens and moves to the sink. The sight of his reflection is about enough to make him throw up again. He is not at his prettiest, that’s for sure. Thank god they have the day off. He ducks his head to rinse out his mouth. It only does so much, though; his throat burns and his teeth feel scummy and rough. He pokes at them with his tongue, makes a face at himself in the mirror.
“Just use mine,” Kris says from the door behind him. Adam doesn’t turn, but he stiffens and almost unconsciously sucks in his gut. He remembers a time when he didn’t care about his gut in front of Kris. It wasn’t all that long ago, really.
“Your what?” he asks, meeting Kris’s eyes in the mirror.
“My toothbrush. You can use it.” Kris is leaning against the doorjamb, thumbs hooked in the waistband of the pajama pants he must have put on while Adam was puking his guts out. His shoulders are hunched towards his ears and it makes his clavicles stand out in sharp relief from the hollows above them. His hair is wild, his lips look bruised. Adam hadn’t really looked much last night, but in the sober light of day he can’t pretend that Kris doesn’t look hot as fuck.
“Thanks,” Adam says. He averts his eyes, fumbles for Kris’s toothbrush. It’s a Spongebob toothbrush, the one Adam put in Kris’s stocking for Christmas. He can’t decide if that makes him happy or sad. He doesn’t look at Kris in the mirror again, but he can see him there, a pale blur in the corner of his vision while he squeezes out toothpaste and carefully, thoroughly, brushes his teeth. He ducks his head to spit into the sink, cupping his hand under the faucet so he can rinse. When he straightens back up, Kris is gone.
They’re sitting outside at a restaurant, some tapas place that’s dime-a-dozen back in LA but seems to be something of a rarity in Tulsa. It’s a gorgeous day. Adam can see the brilliant blue of the sky reflected in Kris’s sunglasses.
Adam supposes this is something of a truce, a breaking of bread between the warring factions. There hadn’t been any big declaration or statement. Kris had just tossed Adam’s clothes into the bathroom that morning and when Adam came out dressed, Kris said, “I feel like Mexican,” and the driver brought them here. It’s not really Mexican. Kris doesn’t seem to care. He’s slouched in his chair with his face turned up to the sky, a cat sitting contentedly in a patch of sun.
“So,” Kris echoes.
“Are we going to talk about what happened last night?” Adam asks. Kris looks at him. At least Adam assumes Kris is looking at him. Fucking mirrored sunglasses.
“Nope,” Kris says after a moment. Adam’s kind of relieved, even though he’s the one who brought it up. Things are strangely peaceful right now, like they worked out all their frustrations last night and they need to build up their reserves so they can be angry each other again. Adam would rather enjoy the ceasefire while it lasts. He pushes his unfinished food away and picks up the newspaper someone before them left at the table. He’s halfway through an article on the local independent music scene when Kris nudges him with a toe under the table.
“Landsharks, ten o’clock,” he says.
Adam looks over and sees them, three guys huddled around the parking meters across the street, cameras poised to catch anything scandalous or incriminating.
“We should probably give them a show,” Kris says.
“How do you propose we do that?” Adam asks. Kris smirks, wiggles his fork in the direction of Adam’s mouth. Adam makes a face at him. “I am not going to eat off your fork.” Kris shrugs and drops his fork back on his plate.
“I could sneak under the table and give you a blowjob,” he suggests, and Adam swallows funny, has to cough to keep from choking on his water. “Though that might be more of a show than anyone bargained for.”
“I guess being arrested for public indecency counts as publicity,” Adam says on another cough. He’d forgotten how good Kris is at throwing him off kilter. He likes it more than he wants to. Images from last night start clamoring in his brain and he shifts uncomfortably, wills himself not to get hard.
“Well if you’re not down for that, I guess we’ll have to think of something else.” Kris appears to think for a moment. Then he turns in his chair, wrapping his hands around the edges of the seat and scooting it around by degrees. The metal legs scrape against the pavement so loudly that Adam cringes and the other diners turn to look at them in annoyance. He opens his mouth to say something snotty about the racket, but then Kris surprises him by sitting back in his chair and easily swinging his legs up onto Adam’s lap. At first Adam doesn’t know what to do with them. His hands hover awkwardly over Kris’s shins.
“Maybe you should pretend this is still normal for us instead of acting like I just dropped a dead puppy in your lap,” Kris suggests mildly. Adam reaches for his drink and takes a long swallow, allowing his free hand to settle on one of Kris’s ankles. The skin under his fingers is warm from the sun. It stretches tight over bones and tendons; Kris has gotten too thin. A year ago Adam would have snuck some of his own food onto Kris’s plate. Now he just loops his thumb and middle finger around to see if he can make them touch.
“It’s working,” Kris says in a low voice. Adam casually looks across the street. The cameras are raised, lenses flashing in the sun as they whirl and zoom in. When Adam looks back, Kris’s face is neutral, except for his eyebrows wiggling above his sunglasses.
“I bow to your obvious expertise,” Adam says.
“See, now if you’d done that before, maybe we wouldn’t have broken up.” Kris probably means it as a joke but something about it makes Adam’s heart lurch. Joking about the break-up; does that count as progress or the opposite? Suddenly he’s lost his appetite.
“I think I’m going to go back,” he says. His impulse is to stand and just let Kris’s feet fall, but that would just undo the whole farce. And that’s what it feels like right now, not a gambit, not a PR move – a farce. He holds Kris’s feet as he stands, carefully deposits them back on his now-empty seat. Kris doesn’t move as Adam pulls out his wallet, as he flips through the bills. The smallest thing he has is a fifty, which is way too much, but he tosses it on the table anyway.
“I’ll see you back at the hotel,” he says. Kris just nods. Part of Adam is glad not to have to explain. Another part of him wishes Kris wanted him to. The ride back to the hotel seems a lot longer than it was earlier.
He wastes the afternoon napping. He resists it at first. He hates taking naps; they always leave him groggy and disoriented, and it takes him a while afterwards to figure out where and when he is. But sleep is not something they did much of last night and he’s feeling leaden and emotionally wrung out, like he just spent the last few hours crying. When he dozes off on the bed for the third time, he finally gives in and crawls under the covers.
It’s the buzz of his phone that wakes him, an incoming email. He lifts his head to look out the window. It’s almost dark. A few red streaks at the horizon are all that’s left of the sun. The glow of his phone makes him squint. It’s from Kris, a link to a picture of them at lunch posted on TMZ, Adam holding Kris’s feet in his lap, the blurb beneath saying things like “couple” and “cozy” and “lovebirds.” Looking at it feels bizarrely intrusive, even though he’s only looking at himself.
“I guess we should do that more often,” Kris’s message reads. Adam reads it again, then one more time. He reads the TMZ page, then comes back to Kris’s mail. This is ridiculous. First he has a drunken one-night-stand with his ex-boyfriend and now he’s parsing emails for hidden meaning like a teenage girl. He makes a sound of disgust at himself and clicks on the link to reply. The cursor blinks at him for a while before he decides what to say.
“If we have to,” he finally types into the reply box. Then he hits send before he can get himself into trouble. Into any more trouble.
Things have been shockingly normal. In a weird way, Adam wishes they weren’t. Part of him wants things to be painful and awkward. He doesn’t want everything to magically go away. But it’s hard to remember that sometimes when they’re joking around or giving each other a hard time. More and more he’s found himself giving in to how easy it’s been to spend time with Kris for the last couple of weeks, how much fun they’ve been having. Eventually he throws in the towel entirely. Trying so hard to feel bad makes no sense.
“So I have a question for you,” he says.
“Yeah?” Kris doesn’t look up. He’s hunched over a notebook, scribbling phrases and words, crossing them out, writing them again.
“Is it supposed to be on your neck instead of your face?” Adam asks. “The beard, I mean. Is that what the kids are into these days, neck beards?” Kris shoots him a withering look.
“You think you’re so funny,” he says. Adam clasps a hand to heart his and affects a wounded expression.
“I’m hurt. I ask you an honest question because I want to be educated, because I thirst for knowledge, and you mock me.” He does his best to whip up some fake tears, but that’s always been one theatrical trick that’s eluded him.
“Gunning for the Oscar again, are we?” Kris asks wryly. “Dream the dream, buddy.”
“I can’t believe you’re such an asshole,” Adam tells him.
“Maybe you should write a dark, introspective song about your feelings,” Kris suggests, raising an eyebrow at Adam. Adam almost can’t believe he said it. Maybe he should be hurt, but he can’t help but laugh.
“Maybe you should blow it out your mule,” he says.
“That doesn’t even make sense.”
“Your mom doesn’t make sense,” Adam returns, and Kris must have seen it coming because he says it in unison along with Adam. They’re grinning at each other like idiots. It’s almost like it used to be, back when they were on Idol. Back before everything got complicated. Adam knows it’s not that uncomplicated anymore, but just for a little while he’s going to let himself pretend.
It’s a rare day off and the universe couldn’t have obliged them with a nicer one. The sun’s shining, there’s a soft breeze. Everyone around them smells like sunscreen and fresh air. And no one really gives a shit who they are. Sure, at first people recognized them on the ferry, asked for autographs and pictures. But now they’re more interested in climbing the Statue of Liberty, or taking goofy pictures of themselves pointing at it. Adam and Kris are just another couple of tourists. Which is a bit of a bust, since part of the point of doing touristy shit was for people to notice them together, but it’s such a nice change of pace that Adam can’t care that much.
“Decided to shave, did we?” he asks casually. Kris’s skin looks pale and fresh where the beard had been. Adam resists the urge to run his fingertip along Kris’s jaw. It’s something he used to do when they were together, test how close Kris’s shave had been, how soft the skin there is.
“Don’t think you had anything to do with that,” Kris says. “Because you didn’t. I was going to shave anyway.”
“Mmhmm,” Adam purrs. Something in him had popped loose when he knocked on Kris’s door this morning and saw him clean-shaven. It had snapped through his veins like electricity. He can still feel it now; it’s all he can do not to bounce on the balls of his feet even when he’s standing still. “You’re going to get a sunburn on all that brand new skin.”
“I never get sunburns,” Kris says. He bends to peer into those binocular things that ring the island, staring over at Manhattan.
“Which is what you always say just before you get a horrible sunburn,” Adam returns. Kris rolls his eyes and moves towards the railing. He climbs onto the lower rail, leans out over the water. For the hundredth time, Adam thinks that Kris must have been a nerve-wracking child, always tilting chairs back and leaning over drops and basically inviting disaster.
“Okay, give it to me.” Kris looks over his shoulder at Adam, hangs onto the rail and leans back until he’s at a forty-five degree angle to the ground. “The sunscreen. I know you brought some.” Adam reaches into his pocket and wordlessly produces a small tube of sunscreen that he tosses to Kris, who hops off the railing and catches it easily. He squeezes some out onto his hands and carelessly rubs it over his face, missing huge swathes of skin.
“Here,” Adam says. The sunscreen is a cool layer between Adam’s fingertips and the warmth of Kris’s skin. He smoothes it over Kris’s face and down his neck, following the vee of Kris’s shirt, his arms and hands getting the same treatment. Adam tilts Kris’s chin up with a knuckle, turns his face this way and that. “That should do it.”
“Thanks,” Kris says. But Adam doesn’t let go of his face just yet and Kris doesn’t move away. His eyes are light, almost sherry-colored in the sunlight. He looks happy. He looks like Adam feels. As if of their own volition, Adam’s fingers uncurl and wrap gently around the column of Kris’s throat, his index finger and thumb on opposite sides of Kris’s jaw. He can feel Kris swallow under his palm, his pulse a steady beat just under the surface. Adam wants to lean down, to touch his lips to Kris’s in a gesture of affection, of happiness. He’s about to do just that when Kris says, “Where is it?” Adam blinks, confused.
“Where’s what?” he asks.
“The camera.” It’s like Adam’s heart has been plunged into a bucket of ice water. His insides turn cold and it takes all of his effort not to drop his hand abruptly. Oh right, the camera. Because they only do this for show now, this is for only for an audience. It used to be something he was allowed to do. Something that was his… Well, not his right, but his privilege. It used to be his privilege to touch Kris wherever, whenever, however, without really having to think twice about it. That he could forget how things have changed seems impossible.
“Kid with a cellphone,” he says, as if his heart didn’t just break in half all over again. Kris nods.
“You’re good at this,” Kris says. “I almost believed that. Maybe you should act after all.” Adam lets his hand drop away. He balls his hand into a fist and pushes it into his pocket, the fabric tight across his knuckles.
“Yeah, maybe I should,” Adam says. He takes his sunglasses from where he’d hooked them on his collar and slides them on. It’s too bright here, too sunny. He misses England a little. It had suited his mood. “Come on, ferry’s about to leave. Let’s go back.”
They haven’t been here long enough to really make it worthwhile. There must be something on Adam’s face that makes Kris decide not to question, though. Or maybe he isn’t interested in asking in the first place. He just trails Adam towards the boat and stands silently at the rail a few feet away as the ferry cuts through the water back to shore.
He’s been grumpy all day. Actually, if he’s honest with himself, he’s been grumpy for several days, ever since their field trip. He’s going to have to give Anne-Marie one hell of a bonus this year after the way he’s been snapping at her. Of course, it would probably help if he stopped doing things that make him grumpier. He should eat a slice of fucking pizza instead of having yet another salad, for one. He shouldn’t listen to Kris’s set from the stage wings, for another.
There’s a reporter skulking about again. Adam’s always had a pretty good relationship with the press but now he’s starting to get sick of them. Maybe because this is the first time he’s had anything to hide. She sidles up alongside him now and peers past him at Kris onstage.
“I always thought this song was about you,” the reporter says idly. She’s got that moony, dreamy look on her face that so many girls get when they hear a love song. Adam guesses that it is a love song, though it always felt more familiar, more intimate to him. More like a testimony. A promise. That was then, though. This is now. Now it’s more of a joke.
“I always thought it was too,” Adam answers quietly. She turns to look at him, her face questioning.
He just shrugs, smiles, gives her shoulder a squeeze in friendly dismissal. The green room isn’t much of a retreat – he can still hear Kris finishing up his set. But at least he can be alone here. No reporters allowed. He’s about to give in to one temptation and take a slice of pizza when Kris comes backstage and goes straight for a bottle of water.
“Someone needs to crank up the air conditioning a notch,” he says as he takes a huge swig. Some of the water escapes and trickles down his chin to drip onto his shirt, the water leaving dark spots on the light fabric. Adam must have a strange expression on his face, because Kris looks over at him and frowns. “You okay?”
“Oh, I’m fine,” Adam says, his voice sounding high and strange. “Just thinking about your act.”
”That routine you have up there, how heartfelt you make it sound.” Adam makes a sound somewhere between a laugh and a snort. Good grief, he sounds like a horse. He wills himself to shut up, but he can’t seem to stop the words piling up behind his teeth. “You put on one hell of a show, that’s for sure.”
“Thank you?” Kris says uncertainly.
“If I didn’t know better I’d believe you actually felt all those things you sing about,” Adam continues bitterly. He’s pretty much given up any pretense of being cool and aloof. He knows that he’s more angry at himself than at Kris. It’s not Kris’s fault that Adam allowed himself to be suckered right along with the paparazzi and the reporters. It’s childish to blame him. Well. Maturity is overrated.
“What the hell are you talking about, Adam?”
“Well if you don’t know, I’m certainly not going to explain it to you.” Oh god, now he sounds Neil’s last girlfriend. He’s got to stop while he still has some dignity to salvage. He heads for the door like it’s the only escape hatch from a sinking ship. Kris catches his arm as he brushes past, though. Adam tries to shake it off but Kris is stronger than he looks and he’s not letting go. The force of his grip rocks Adam back a step until he’s standing in front of Kris, his shoulder almost grazing Kris’s chest.
“What’s your problem?” It’s not a rhetorical question; from the look on his face, Kris expects an answer. He’s obviously irritated, but there’s a flicker, just the tiniest flicker of something else in his eyes. Concern? Hurt? Hope? Adam has no idea anymore. He studies Kris’s face like it’s a puzzle, looking for a clue, for the trick that will make all the pieces sort into place. Kris stares right back.
If this were a movie, they’d kiss. The soundtrack would swell, their eyes would drop to each other’s mouths, and then they’d be kissing like they can’t decide if they want to climb inside each other or tear each other apart. It’s not a movie, though, and shit like that never happens in real life, which is why Adam could just about pass out from surprise when that’s exactly what happens. He thinks Kris was the one who made the move. But the fact that he can’t remember means it might have been him. It’s definitely him pushing until Kris’s back audibly connects with the wall. No matter who’s doing what, the result is the same.
Kris’s fingers are calloused from his guitar, they catch and snag on the material of Adam’s shirt. He slides his hand down Adam’s stomach to fumble with the fly of his jeans. It’s in the back of Adam’s mind that he should be surprised by this, that he should stop it and try to figure out what the fuck is happening, but instead he just urges Kris’s hand downward with his own. Kris has only just gotten his fingers under the fabric, Adam’s only just groaned at the touch, saying, “fuck, oh fuck,” right into Kris’s ear, when the sound of the door opening makes them both freeze.
“Ooh, awkward.” Anne-Marie’s voice fades as she backs out as quickly as she came in, shutting the door behind her. For a split second, Adam is consumed with a moment’s pure, irrational hatred for her. There’s no sense in it. She did him a favor, really. The last thing Adam needs is more complication.
Somehow he and Kris manage to extricate themselves and pull apart without ever looking at each other. Of course, for all Adam knows, Kris could be trying to catch his eye. Adam’s too busy staring at the floor to tell while he fumbles with his fly. When he reaches the door, he accidentally pushes on the wrong side, his hands too close to the hinge, but he keeps pushing, heaving it open by brute strength until he can slip through. It’s not the most graceful of exits, but it’s fast. And at the moment, fast is all he cares about.
Kris isn’t wasting any time. The knock on the door had woken Adam up long before his alarm was set to go off. The second Adam opened the door, Kris had barged right in.
“I really don’t want to talk about yesterday,” Adam says. And boy, he sure doesn’t. Fewer topics appeal to him less than his own weakness.
“I think we should,” Kris insists.
“I think you’re a pain in the ass,” Adam says.
“I think I learned it from you, now will you shut up and listen to me?” Kris gives Adam such a hard look that Adam rolls his eyes and waves his hands in permission.
“Fine, what about yesterday?” he asks. He’s expecting a lecture of some sort, or a discussion of how to keep it from happening again. Kris has always had a knack for surprising him, though.
“I think we should have sex,” he says. Adam’s mouth drops open involuntarily. He feels like a cartoon character or someone on a sitcom. “Again, I mean,” Kris amends. “Like, repeatedly.”
“Thanks for the clarification,” Adam says dumbly. “I don’t think I can have this conversation until I brush my teeth.” He heads towards the bathroom in a daze, vaguely aware of Kris trailing behind him. Did he just say they should have sex? Repeatedly?
“It makes sense,” Kris says. Like whether you fuck someone is a purely pragmatic decision. Adam has to admit, though – if it were, life would probably be a lot simpler.
“In what world?”
“Uh, in the world where you stuck your tongue down my throat yesterday?” Kris leans against the door jamb, arms crossed over his chest. He gives Adam a look that defies him to challenge the logic. Adam buys himself a little time with his toothbrush, rinsing and spitting three more times than he usually does. He looks back up at Kris’s reflection.
“That doesn’t mean I want to have sex with you,” he says. Probably not the strongest counter-argument.
“Actually, Dr. Kinsey, I think it might be related,” Kris says. “Your fight-or-flight thing was interesting to watch, though.”
“I came to my senses,” Adam corrects him. He sounds petulant, like a kid determined not to lose face. Kris ignores him. Something about his face is grim, determined. It’s a strange counterpoint to his words. It’s confusing.
“There’s obviously still something there, or I wouldn’t have ended up with my hand down your pants yesterday,” Kris says, looking a little irritated now. For a second Adam hates him for mentioning it, for making Adam’s gut tighten at the memory.
“So, haven’t we both been tense and distracted by all this? We can barely concentrate. And people are starting to notice.”
“My point is, this is stupid. Everyone thinks we’re fucking anyway, and we certainly can’t fuck anyone else if we want this little charade to work. Why shouldn’t we just fuck each other? God knows we could both use it.”
“Boy, you are a sweet talker,” Adam laughs faintly. “And since when do you have such a dirty mouth?”
“Since I started hanging out with you,” Kris says with a dismissive wave. “You’re really going to tell me that after what’s happened this last week, you haven’t been thinking about it?”
“I might have been,” Adam admits grudgingly.
“Is that a yes?” Kris persists. His face is challenging, defiant, wary. It’s a puzzle. Adam wishes he could think. His brain is flashing bright red warning signs. His dick has no such hesitation, though. They never do seem to agree.
“It’s a maybe,” he says finally. Kris purses his lips, one corner kicking up.
“Well,” Kris says. “You know where to find me if it turns into a yes.”
The idea sticks in his head all day, all through the bus ride to the next venue, the rehearsal and sound check, the meet and greet. It even stays there during his set, and usually Adam is single-mindedly focused on performing and performing only. By the time he’s prying his boots off in his hotel room that night, he’s made fifteen different pro/con lists, talked himself into it, and then back out of it a hundred times over.
When he walks next door to Kris’s room, he’s got his rationale all planned out: why it’s a bad idea, why they shouldn’t complicate things, why it would be a mistake. He practices saying it in his head even. For once, Adam is going to ignore impulses and be responsible and careful. He’s going to be mature. He’s going to say no.
Funny how he’s too busy fucking Kris through the floor to say anything at all, though.
It’s not as angry as it was last time, but it’s just as rough, just as forceful. Red patches are already forming on elbows and knees and shoulder blades, battle scars from the scratchy carpeting. Adam knows if he looked, he’d be able to see the mark of his teeth on Kris’s shoulder, his neck, the arc of his ribs. His lungs work like a bellows, sucking air in as they expand, Kris’s head on Adam’s chest rising and falling with each breath. He’s so spent that he drifts off to sleep, only to wake up an indeterminate amount of time later with Kris’s hand wrapped around his already-hardening dick. Kris gives him an innocent look.
“I guess I should take this as a, ‘Yes, Kris, I am interested in having sex with you’,” he says. Adam scowls at him.
Yes. “No.” God. “Shut up, asshole.”
“Make me,” Kris challenges. And, well, Adam’s never been one to back down from a challenge.
It’s one of the weirder things Adam’s done in his life. He’s done some weird things too: had career-changing, ‘shroom-induced visions in the desert. Dressed up like Liza Minelli as a birthday present for a guy he was kind of dating but mostly just having kinky sex with (and boy, that’s one he doesn’t mention in interviews). But those don’t compare in terms of sheer complicated thorniness to…this. Whatever this is. It might not have become quite so complicated if they hadn’t both suddenly reverted to sex-crazed teenagers with hormones coming out of their ears. They can’t keep their hands off each other. Hotel rooms, bathrooms, backstage. Once in the employee’s-only hallway of a dingy bar that almost resulted in someone calling the cops on them. It’s like they’ve opened the floodgates. Adam can’t remember the last time in his life he was this fucking horny. He spends every day feeling so hot that he’s surprised his clothes haven’t started smoking.
“You realize the irony in this,” he says. They’re taking advantage of an unscheduled hour and an empty green room, one with a door that locks for once. Adam’s arm is numb from Kris’s weight on it, his chin is so raw from Kris’s stubble that their make-up artist is probably going to kill him, and the pressure of his dick against the fly of his jeans is almost painful. He feels better than he has in ages.
“In us hiding the fact that we’re having sex from the people who are pressuring us to pretend we’re together so no one knows we split up?” Kris asks. “Nope, don’t see it.”
The knock on the door is an unwelcome intrusion. “Phone interview in five!” Anne-Marie calls. Adam could kill her. As soon as he’s able to walk, he just might. At least she’s wised up since the last time she walked in on them. Now she knocks every time, no matter what, sometimes even when the door is half open and she can see them in there, fully dressed and ready for company. She hasn’t said a word to either of them about it, though Adam knows she must be curious. He jokingly calls it her “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.
“Duty calls,” he says to Kris, in a tone of voice that leaves no doubt to what he thinks of that duty at the moment. “It’d be easier if we could ask them to wait until we got off. Whose dumb idea was this?”
“Hey, don’t blame me, I’m the one who didn’t like this sham in the first place,” Kris says, but his lips twitch and he doesn’t say it with the same venom he would have even a couple of weeks ago. Adam suppresses his own smile. It’s insane, but he can’t deny that it’s weirdly exhilarating.
It’s all like reading a book that he used to love but has almost forgotten – the unexpected familiarity, the half-remembered phrases, known but still somehow new. Their easy shorthand still exists, the innate understanding they had of each other even before they were together. All of it should make Adam even more wary, even more careful with himself. Instead he just wants to be around Kris more. It makes him feel almost foolish, how much he wants Kris, how much he can’t stop thinking about it. He makes resolution after resolution – that he won’t make the first move, that he’ll let Kris come to him, that he’ll be too busy, that he’ll say no – and he breaks every single one. He wants Kris all over again, all the time, in every way possible. So much for all the learning and growing he thought he’d done over the last year.
They barely ever go anywhere anymore unless Anne-Marie forces them to. The weather lately has been beautiful; Adam can tell from the hazy sunlight that filters through the curtains as they lie in bed all morning. But it hasn’t been enough to tempt them outside during what little free time they have. Kris has lost his tan completely. He’s starting to look like some sort of cave dweller. Adam’s taken to leaving extra big tips to hotel staff since they always leave behind a veritable colony of room service dishes and take-out containers when they move on to the next city. They’ve been having so much sex that Adam can’t believe they aren’t too sore to even move.
“We should do something,” he says one idle afternoon. They’re watching some random movie, killing time until the inevitable handlers will come to whisk them away to the venue. Kris is lying on his side on the couch, Adam on the floor in front of him. Adam’s head is against Kris’s stomach so he can feel it bounce every time Kris laughs.
“Like what?” Kris asks. His hand is resting on the edge of the cushion next to Adam’s head. He keeps brushing his pinkie absently against Adam’s ear, like he’s not even aware he’s doing it.
“I dunno,” Adam says, closing his eyes and concentrating on that next brush of Kris’s finger. “Go for a walk. Find a museum. Go to the local dump to smell the trash.”
“Well, when you put it that way…” Kris laughs.
“C’mon, man, we’re starting to look like albinos.” Adam stands. He holds out a hand to Kris so he can help him up. Kris looks up at him and chews his lip thoughtfully. Adam can’t help but fix his eyes on Kris’s mouth, on the white teeth sunken into a lower lip pink enough for most girls to envy. The focus of his gaze hasn’t seemed to escape Kris.
“I have a better idea,” he says. His tug on Adam’s hand is sharp and unexpected. It’s enough to bring him toppling down onto the couch, knees and elbows colliding, Adam’s forearm forcing an oof out of Kris when it slams into his stomach.
“Sorry about that,” Adam says. His voice is quiet. Their faces are barely an inch apart. Kris shifts so he can hook his leg over Adam’s hip, the motion creating some interesting friction. Adam sucks in his breath and tries to keep his eyes from crossing.
“I know how you can make it up to me,” Kris says. Adam doesn’t need convincing. He didn’t really want to go anywhere that much anyway.
“What demographic is this supposed to appeal to, exactly?” Adam looks around him at the stretches of unnaturally green lawn guarded by windmills, dragons, and what appears to be a hot dog smoking a pipe. “Are we trying to tap the lucrative Putt-Putt market?”
“No such thing as bad publicity,” Kris reminds him with a nod towards the handful of photographers outside the fence, camera lenses glinting. "Stars! They're just like us! They suck at minigolf!" Adam remembers when he was young and naïve and thought that the paparazzi were just clever on their own without needing discreet calls from PR people to drum up mutually desired attention. It seems like a long time ago. He takes the club Kris is offering and swings it listlessly, fighting the urge to twirl it like a baton.
“Don’t,” Kris warns like he knows what Adam is thinking. “You’ll break a windshield. What color ball do you want?”
“Blue,” Adam quips with a smirk. Kris laughs and shakes his head.
“If your balls are still blue after yesterday then you’ve gone straight past horny into addiction territory.” Still, he drops the blue ball into Adam’s outstretched hand before taking a green ball for himself.
Adam hasn’t played miniature golf in years, not since he was in high school, but it’s not so complicated that it makes a difference. He’s still pretty good at the windmills. Kris is terrible at them.
“You’d think you’d have better hand-eye coordination,” Adam says as Kris’s ball ricochets off a windmill blade for the fifth time in a row.
“My faults make me a more authentic person,” Kris tells him. Then he looks around, picks up his ball and throws it by hand into the hole at the base of the windmill.
“I’m in love with a cheater,” Adam laughs. Kris laughs too, but there’s a shadow to it, some strange undercurrent. He looks over at the people on the next hole, back at the handful of stray photographers still waiting by the front gate. Like he’s not sure whose benefit Adam’s saying it for. Adam hates that he’s not sure either.
It’s scary to realize he can’t tell anymore, what’s pretending and what’s really real. It all gets mixed up in his head until he doesn’t remember whether he’s pretending he’s in love with Kris for the press’s sake or pretending he’s not in love with Kris for his own sake or pretending he’s cool with everything going on for Kris’s sake. It’s probably something he should examine, try to figure out. Instead he tries not to think about it.
“They have trampolines!” Kris says when he spots them in a fenced enclosure after they turn in their clubs. He makes a beeline for them and has clambered on and started bouncing before Adam even gets there.
“Really?” Adam asks. “This is what passes for excitement for you? I’ll skip it, thanks.” But he’s smiling, he can’t help it.
“Come on, try it,” Kris coaxes. He gives a couple of jumps, stiffens his knees and lets the trampoline bounce him a little. “A kid could do it, don’t be such a chicken.”
“Nice, go straight for the peer pressure,” Adam says. He folds his arms over his midsection. It does look fun. It also looks undignified and potentially unflattering. He can’t see the paparazzi anymore, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t around somewhere.
“Buuuuck buck buck buck bu-CAWK,” Kris clucks at him, bending his knees now and bouncing higher and higher, until he has to flail his hands at the air to stay upright.
“Do you really think that’s going to work on me?” Kris just gives him a look from midair. “Fine, it’ll work on me,” Adam grumbles. “How do I get on this thing?” Kris arrests his motion with a practiced move that leaves Adam both curious and envious. He takes one bounding step over to the edge and holds his hand out.
“C’mon,” he says. Adam tries not to give any symbolism to the moment. Kris is just helping him up, that’s all. He takes his hand and allows himself to be heaved gracelessly onto the trampoline. Kris looks down at him. “Just like in Big,” he says, amused. He hauls Adam to his feet.
“Then I just…jump?” Adam asks. He gives an experimental flex of his knees and sets himself in motion.
“You’re obviously a natural, catching on so fast,” Kris says, already bouncing again.
“This seems pointless,” Adam mutters, ignoring the sarcasm, but he works at it, gets into a good rhythm. He doesn’t usually like to have so little control over himself, but it’s kind of Zen, actually. His body settles into the mechanics and his mind floats, a slave to physics and gravity. Kris does all sorts of twirls and flips and somersaults but Adam’s content just to jump, to see how high he can get, to let the pressure collect in his skull at the top of each jump until it feels like his thoughts might float straight up into the sky.
“I feel like a ten-year-old,” Adam gasps at the top of a jump.
“Good,” Kris answers. Adam just catches a glimpse of the grin on his face as he zooms past, on his way up while Adam’s on his way down.
“We made Perez,” Adam says. It’s a slightly awkward topic of conversation, considering the situation. They’re currently naked in a whirlpool Jacuzzi, for one. Adam’s foot is arched over Kris’s dick, for another. Adam decides to take it as a measure of his skill that Kris doesn’t go soft immediately at the mere mention of Perez Hilton.
“And what did he have to say?” Kris asks, eyes closed. He looks so relaxed that Adam’s not sure he won’t just slide bonelessly under the surface of the water at any second. The massages they just got were effective. Of course, the motion of Adam’s foot probably isn’t hurting either.
“He says that we were spotting canoodling at a mini-golf course last week. And there was a play on the word ‘boing’.” Adam doesn’t mention that in the accompanying picture of the two of them, his own expression is so completely besotted that he couldn’t even look at himself when he opened the link. Kris hates Perez. He’ll probably never look for himself.
“Trampoline humor, clever,” Kris says. “What the heck is canoodling, anyway? It sounds like something you do with pasta.” Adam doesn’t bother answering. He shifts on the seat to get a better angle with his foot. Judging by the grunt that sounds like it was wrenched from the back of Kris’s throat, Adam would say it’s a better angle indeed.
“Would you like a refill, Mr. Allen?” one of the spa attendants says as she collects his empty glass. Kris looks at her and tries to answer, but Adam increases the pressure of his foot until Kris’s eyes practically roll back into his head.
“I think he’s fine,” Adam tells her. It’s a good thing for her that the hot tub is set in a raised platform. Otherwise she might have gotten more of a view than she bargained for.
“You did that on purpose,” Kris manages once she’s left.
“Oh, sorry,” Adam says, his voice patently insincere. “Want me to stop?” He starts to pull his foot away but Kris’s hand splashes underneath the water and catches him around the ankle.
“I will murder you with a loofah if you do.” Since Kris’s eyes have closed again, Adam permits himself the luxury of a smirk. Kris is quiet, he always has been, but Adam can hear the quickening of his breath over the burble of the water, the soft groans he makes, throaty exhalations that anyone else might take as sounds of relaxation but that Adam recognizes instantly. He relaxes his foot, pulls it away to flex it in the warm water while he waits for Kris to recover. He tries not to be smug about how long it takes.
“I don’t know how you handle that guy,” Kris says finally, his voice noticeably lower and scratchier than it had been earlier. “Perez, I mean.” Then he looks down at the water. "God, I hope they drain these things. We should tip the cleaning staff."
“He’s not that bad,” Adam shrugs. “Sometimes he’s even useful.”
“That guy’s about as useful as swine flu,” Kris mutters.
“You’re just a homophobe,” Adam teases him.
“I’m a self-hating gay,” Kris agrees.
“Oh, so you’re gay now.”
“Eh, no,” Kris says, lolling his head back onto the ledge behind him. “But my boyfriend is.” It makes Adam’s heart seize up for a moment, but he laughs it off. He has to. The second he starts taking things like that seriously is the second he’s completely fucked. Of course, that’s assuming he isn’t already completely fucked.
“I’m just saying,” Adam says, giving his head a sharp jerk as if to shake some sense into it, “that sometimes Perez is exactly what you need.” Kris drags his head up and gives Adam a look he can’t quite read.
“Good publicity, I guess,” Kris says.
“Yup,” Adam agrees.
“Can’t buy that kind of stuff,” Kris continues. There’s a strange look on his face, like he just remembered something he’d have rather forgotten.
“Not really,” Adam says uneasily. He’s about to say something else – what, he doesn’t know, some inane comment on the temperature of the water or something to cover his sudden feeling of nerves – when Kris stands in a fluid motion, water sheeting off his body as he steps out of the whirlpool.
“I’ll see you back up at the room,” he says, not looking at Adam as he wraps a towel around his waist and fumbles to fold it securely. Then he’s gone, leaving Adam to prune in the water and wonder what just happened.
“So you know I’d normally rather poke my eyes out with a spork than talk about either of our sex lives with you,” Neil says as soon as Adam picks up the phone, even before any hellos or how are yous, and Adam knows this call won’t be going anywhere good.
“Neil, don’t,” he says, warning clear in his voice. He’s the older brother. Neil should respect the unspoken hierarchy of siblings. Too bad Neil never gave a shit about that sort of thing.
“I got linked to Perez Hilton talking about you by ten people. And I saw that look on your face. What the hell is going on with you and Kris?”
“Nothing,” Adam says. “Nothing!” he repeats when Neil snorts in disbelief. “It’s…we’re…it’s nothing. It’s complicated.”
“Which means you’re fucking,” Neil says flatly.
“Hard to believe I saw through your clever code, isn’t it?”
“Remind me why I take your calls again?” Adam sighs.
“Because as pathetic as it is, I’m the smartest person you know. So, what, are you two actually back together now instead of just pretending?”
“No,” Adam says. He doesn’t have an explanation; he can’t tell Neil what’s going on because he still isn’t sure himself. Apparently his silence is explanation enough, though.
“Not convinced this is a good idea, big guy,” Neil says doubtfully.
“It’s fine,” he says. “It’ll be fine. No strings attached.”
Neil snorts. “Figures that’s what he wants.”
“It’s what I want, don’t take it out on him,” Adam says, but part of him needs Neil’s loyalty, his anger on Adam’s behalf. He needs someone who’s fully on his side, no matter how juvenile and childish and unfair “his side” may be.
“I’ll be honest, Adam, I’m not sure you’re capable of no strings with him.” Adam wants to tell Neil that he’s not sure either, but saying such a thing out loud would make it too real. It would shatter the illusion Adam’s carefully constructed that he’s no longer prone to such human weaknesses where Kris is concerned.
“I’ll be okay. I’m fine.” He wills his voice to sound like he means it. Like it’s true. It has to be true. He’s not strong enough anymore for it not to be.
“I trust you,” Neil tells him at length, like he’s choosing his words carefully. “I just don’t want you to get hurt again.”
“Thanks.” Adam tries not to well up and get all maudlin. He and Neil have never had that kind of relationship. They’re more the mocking-and-titty-twisters type of brothers than the emotional-honesty type.
“I wish you’d told me yourself, though,” Neil says. “I think Perez’s site gave my computer Chlamydia.”
“There’s a latent bond between the two, an unspoken intimacy that goes beyond outward gestures of affection,” Anne-Marie says. She’s reading from an article about them in Interview, a last-minute piece that 19e had rushed through a couple of weeks ago to make print before the end of the tour. “They don’t hold hands or make eyes at each other. Instead, their closeness is shown in the ease of their company, the clear respect of each for the other’s talent and character, the shared history that peppers their speech. It shows in the way Lambert unthinkingly nudges his salad towards Allen, Allen just as unthinkingly taking the beets to which, I later learn, Lambert is allergic.” She looks up at them, tosses the magazine folded open to the article in Adams lap.
“Is that good?” Adam asks. He picks up the magazine and scans the print, skimming for any surprises. Well, any surprises other than what she just read. Adam doesn’t even remember having beets on his salad.
“It is,” she confirms. “According to emails, higher ups are very happy. I’m about to go give them a call.”
“Good,” Adam manages. He glances over at Kris.
“Great,” Kris adds. “That’s great.” He gestures at Adam for the magazine and Adam wings it over to him like a Frisbee. Kris starts skimming through just like Adam had, a faint frown beetling his forehead.
“Don’t forget to sign the swag,” Anne-Marie warns them on her way out the door.
“Did we actually act like that?” Adam asks, once she’s gone. Kris shrugs but he looks equally thrown by the article.
“I guess we must have,” he says. Adam sighs. He remembers back when he was a kid and emotions were clean and uncomplicated, things like happy and sad and tired. The emotions he’s been having lately probably don’t even have names.
Hearing it spelled out so neatly in the article has thrown everything into relief, like how you don’t realize how dirty your car windshield is until you wash it and suddenly everything is painfully clean and bright. Only now does he remember all the little gestures, the unconscious kindnesses, the camaraderie. Kris saving the pineapple for Adam because he knows it’s his favorite. Adam taking the first shower so Kris can get a few extra minutes of sleep.
Kris seems to be suffering the same effect. He’ll do something, say something, and a shadow will cross his face, a faint recognition. This is what I used to do, this is how we used to be. It seems to disconcert him. Adam knows the feeling. He finds himself getting distracted, spending too much time in his brain revisiting the past few months for evidence, dissecting them for clues. Hell, he’s been staring at an infomercial for collapsing hangers for the last twenty minutes because he’s been too busy running his brain like a hamster on a wheel to change the channel.
“There’s never anything good on,” he says finally, when he realizes what he’s been watching. He switches the television off and tosses the remote onto the nightstand
“And yet, you keep watching,” Kris says through a mouthful of toothpaste. He likes to wander while he brushes his teeth. Ambulatory dental hygiene.
Adam makes a face at Kris. It’s a weird line to walk, not letting the contents of his brain show up on the outside so he can preserve this…whatever it is this is. If it’s even worth preserving. Adam’s heart gives a lurch at the thought, he feels sick to his stomach. He takes a pillow, presses it to his mid-section. “I’m sick of hotels,” he says to cover when Kris looks at him in concern.
“Getting close to the end, though,” Kris says. He switches the toothbrush from one side of his mouth to the other. Adam’s never known anyone who brushes his teeth as long or as thoroughly as Kris does.
“Yeah,” Adam says, the thought of it making him feel sad and wistful and confused. “I guess we are.” The end of a tour always feels like the end of summer camp. No matter how many times you wanted to go home, no matter how many times you hated everyone around you, no matter how sick of it you got, you always hated to see it end. Kris looks like he feels about the same way.
“I’ve been thinking that…” Kris hesitates, takes a breath. “You should stay.”
“Okay,” Adam says. “Stay where?”
“In the house. When we get back.” It doesn’t occur to him what Kris is saying at first. But then a synapse fires and he makes the connection between the end of tour talk, the staying in the house talk, the sad look on Kris’s face, like that kid telling Old Yeller he never loved him. Nothing like having your worst fears confirmed.
“The neighborhood always suited you better,” Kris continues hesitantly. “I was thinking maybe I’d find a place out on the west side. Something close to the beach.”
It’s about what Adam imagines being stabbed in the heart with an ice pick feels like. For a second he can’t catch his breath and when he does manage to breathe in, it’s ragged, turning quickly into a coughing spell. Then he’s just angry. At Kris for doing this, at Neil for being right, at management for putting them in this position, at himself for letting his dumb heart get him into trouble. It coalesces in his chest, a dull pressure against his ribs that feels tight when he breathes.
“Fine,” he says. “Whatever you want.” It’s a point of pride that he manages to keep his voice even, disinterested. Kris shifts uncomfortably.
“It’s just that-” he tries, but Adam cuts him off. He can’t hear that right now. He doesn’t think he wants to hear it ever. Right now he just wants to go to bed. Maybe when he wakes up he won’t be such a desperate, pathetic asshole who let himself believe deep down that they could fix things, that they were fixing things.
“It’s fine,” he says. He hunkers down under the sheets, pulling the covers up to his earlobes even though it’s too warm to be comfortable. Kris takes the hint. He pads quietly back into the bathroom and Adam can hear him spit into the sink, can hear the faucet run and the clink of a glass, the click of the light being turned off. Kris weight settles on the other side of the bed and he sits there for a while, long enough that Adam tenses, not knowing what to expect. He watches Kris’s bowed back reflected in the window.
“I think I’m going to sleep in my room tonight,” Kris says finally. He rubs uncomfortably at the back of his neck. Adam stops himself from demanding to know why, but only barely.
“Feels like a waste of a paid hotel room,” Kris says, as if in answer to Adam’s unspoken question. It’s a lame-ass fucking excuse. He laughs a little, like he realizes it’s lame too. Like he regrets having said it.
“Whatever,” Adam says. Whatever. Translated from the passive-aggressive for fuck you. He’s waiting for Kris to leave, but the mattress stays dipped under his weight. Adam’s on the verge of asking if he’s waiting for an engraved invitation, when Kris inhales sharply.
“Ah, screw it,” he says. The mattress jostles as he lies down and pokes his feet under the covers. He always sleeps all spread out, like a starfish, so even though Adam’s all the way to the edge of the bed, he can still feel Kris’s foot, cold on his calf. “Management isn’t hurting for money, right?”
“Whatever,” Adam says again. He wants to say, “What the fuck is wrong with us?” He wants to say, “I don’t want this to end.” To say, “I think about you more than I should. I want to touch you more than I should. You still mean more to me than I’m comfortable with.”
Instead he says, “Your feet are freezing.”
“Sorry,” Kris says. He starts to move away, but Adam impulsively hooks Kris’s foot with his ankle. Kris stops. Waits. Adam should let him leave. Time to rip the band-aid off. But he can’t do it yet. Not yet.
“It’s fine,” he says. They both settle into silence, but for once Kris doesn’t fall right to sleep. His toe frets against Adam’s ankle, his breathing never evens out the way it always does. For once, Adam falls asleep first.
It’s like breaking up all over again. Except this time it’s worse. Somehow this time he cares more, he needs more, he hates himself more for letting it happen. He notices everything Kris does, everything he says. The slightest bit of happiness on Kris’s part is enough to send Adam into a spiral for the rest of the day; the idea that Kris can be happy when Adam is so miserable might as well be a sledgehammer to his chest. He feels like he’s on the verge of a breakdown. People always talk about being crazy for someone like it’s sweet and harmless. Like it’s not literally being insane over a person.
It might help if they’d stopped sleeping together. It’s probably impossible to heal when you’re ripping off the scab every night. But Adam can’t bring himself to do it, he can’t make a clean break. At first he’d thought Kris would be the one to do it so he wouldn’t have to. Kris hasn’t done anything to stop it, though. Maybe if Adam were in a more stable state of mind, he’d spend more time wondering why. So their nights are still spent together, barely speaking, an increasingly desperate and unhappy compulsion that Adam can’t stop needing.
Last time was easier. Last time they fought and yelled and Adam threw his things into a bag and left. There wasn’t this sad acceptance, this resignation, this helpless misery. Adam would give anything to be able to be angry again.
“I think we should sleep separately tonight.”
The words have been simmering on Adam’s tongue all day. All week, actually. Time and again he’s wanted to say them, to spit them out into the air, but he hasn’t been able to. Every night when he held open the door to his room for Kris, every time Kris hesitated before ducking through, every time they silently undressed, touched each other, only to sleep on opposite sides of the bed afterwards. A million times he thought about saying the words and a million times he didn’t. All week he’s heard the clock ticking, their time winding down, dwindling to nothing. Maybe that’s what kept him from saying the words until now, until the night before their last show. He’s always been a procrastinator. It feels good to say them, though, mixed in with the bad. It feels good to get some semblance of backbone.
“You do.” Kris pauses in the motion of shrugging off his jacket. He literally freezes, like they’re eight-year-olds playing freeze tag.
“Yes,” Adam says. He’s got this idea of how it’ll go in his head. It’ll be noble, sad, adult. They’ll both realize this is for the best. They’ll speak fondly of their time together. It will be a growing experience.
That’s not how it goes.
“I knew you’d get bored sooner or later,” Kris says, shrugging his jacket back up over his shoulders with an almost violent movement. His shoes are on the floor next to him where he’d kicked them off and he reaches for them now, attempting to stuff his foot into one as he hops on the other foot. It would be undignified if he weren’t so angry.
“What the hell does that mean?” Adam demands.
“This. All this. This fake relationship bullshit.”
“Wait a minute, you agreed to this same as I did,” Adam protests, but Kris continues talking like he never said anything.
“All that shit with the paparazzi, the photo ops, the fake happiness. The truly stupid thought that sex was a good idea.” He can’t get his foot into the shoe. He almost falls over and has to grab the wall to steady himself. It would be funny if it all weren’t so horrible.
“You started all that!” Adam says. Kris seems to hear that and he rounds on Adam, pointing the shoe at him like a weapon.
“Because it was what you wanted! You didn’t want it when it was real but you were more than happy to take it when it was fake. And oh boy, you just jumped at the chance for sex without strings, didn’t you?”
“Hey, now, you had to convince me of that,” Adam says angrily. He feels so completely turned around. None of this makes any sense.
“Yes, because you required so much convincing,” Kris says witheringly. “Sex was the one thing you were always interested in with me, right up until you decided I wasn’t worth the effort, you fell out of love, you got bored, I don’t even know why because you never talked to me, and you left me here with a goddamned broken heart.” He seems almost embarrassed to say the last, averting his eyes and clenching his jaw.
“Is that…but…I wasn’t,” Adam sputters.
“And fine, it was a way to be close to you again and I’m weak, whatever. I told myself I would be fine and that I could handle it just being sex, I wouldn’t get hurt again, but then that article and how I was acting and I just- I’m obviously dumber than I thought I was. I should have known better.” Kris punctuates each sentence by slapping his shoe against something – his arm, his leg, the wall, even Adam’s stomach. Adam’s too stunned at hearing his own thoughts over the last couple of months so neatly laid out as Kris’s own to even say anything. “This is what you do. You leave. Just like last time.”
“I didn’t leave because I was bored or fell out of love with you,” he says, shocked. “I left because…because-” He stops. Something in him, some sense of self-preservation or self-destruction makes his voice dry up in his throat.
Kris stops his agitated movements and stares at Adam, a challenge on his face. “Because why?” he says. Adam looks back helplessly. There are too many words, too many thoughts and feelings crowding inside Adam and pushing against the inside of his skin. He doesn’t even know what he would say. He’s been thinking about it for months and he still hasn’t found the words.
“Why, Adam?” Kris persists. Adam tries to speak, but he can’t. It’s too much. It’s all too much. Kris snorts bitterly, unhappily. “You don’t want me. You just don’t want to be alone. And now that tour’s ending we can call it off and you can go find someone new to slut around with.” Adam’s defenses flare at that, a last-ditch attempt to avoid facing the enormity of everything else.
“If that’s what you think of me, maybe I was right to leave,” he tells Kris hotly.
“Oh, did I hurt your feelings?” Kris scoffs. “Why don’t you just run away again?”
“Fine,” Adam says. He should say what needs saying. He should explain. He should try. It’s just that he’s too scared to try. It’s too late to try. “Fine.” He grabs his jacket from the closet, the hanger falling to the floor with a clatter. He stomps towards the door only to be brought up short by a shoe flying over his shoulder and hitting the jamb. Astonished, he turns towards Kris, who’s holding his remaining shoe so tightly, Adam thinks he might be imagining it’s Adam’s neck. “Did you just throw a shoe at me?”
“Stop leaving,” Kris grits out.
“Stop letting me leave!” Adam shouts back without meaning to. The look on Kris’s face is stunned. If Adam lets himself, he could go all to pieces. He fumbles for his anger, holds on to it like a lifeline. “And you know what, this is my room, so you’re the one who should leave.” He wrenches the door open and holds it there, staring at a spot on the wallpaper in front of him. They both stand where there are, locked in a stalemate for so long that Adam isn’t sure he won’t break down right here in the open doorway. He won’t look at Kris. He can’t.
It isn’t until Kris has finally stooped to pick up his other shoe, until he’s walked through the door and Adam’s slammed it behind him, that Adam finally lets himself cry. He presses his sleeve against his eyes hard, like you can stop tears the same way you stop bleeding. It doesn’t work.
He’d thought he had felt as awful as any one person could feel. Adam figured he’d reached the bottom and there was nowhere to go but up. He was wrong. He feels like a zombie. Not just because he barely got any sleep. He feels dazed, emptied, like a wrung-out washcloth. Over and over, he replays their argument last night, the things Kris said. He relives the entire tour with a new filter. It’s an uncomfortable sensation, realizing that you had almost everything wrong and that you’d fucked everything up even more, and he can’t help returning to it all day, worrying at it like a bone.
They don’t even see each other until they’re backstage together, just before the show. Adam hadn’t been sure if Kris was still angry, if he was putting off having to see Adam as long as possible. But when Adam walks into the green room just a few minutes before he has to go onstage and finds Kris there, he can tell Kris has been doing the same thing he has all day.
“Last show,” Kris says after they’ve both awkwardly wasted some time, circling, stretching, taking sips of water. Adam shouldn’t have let him go first. He should have been the first one to try, to bridge the gap. Another thing to feel awful about.
“Last show,” he agrees. So many words and thoughts are swirling in his mind that he can’t get any out. He needs someone to pull them from him, to wrench them out with brute strength. But that’s not what Kris is like, it never has been. That’s the problem. Adam moves towards the door, studies the broadsheet poster tacked up next to it for some local band called Bob’s Your Uncle. It sounds like a band Neil would be in. Kris just stands and waits.
“Did you know I had you on google alerts when I was in England at first?” Adam says when the silence becomes unbearable and he has to say something. Kris doesn’t respond, but Adam knows he’s listening. “I guess I was looking for proof that you missed me. That my leaving made a difference.” All the things they’ve never said are piling up between them, until they’re speaking just as loudly as anything they ever did say. Adam wants to explain, he wants to tell Kris how scared he was, how scared he still is. But nothing he could say would encompass all of it.
“You said forever with her and look what happened,” Adam says finally, even though it’s woefully inadequate. Adam never knew words could be painful to say. Not just in a mental or an emotional way, but actually physically painful, like swallowing something hard and sharp. He finally dares a glance at Kris, who’s looking just as broken as Adam feels.
“Adam, I was a kid. We were young and Idol happened and you happened and, just. Life blew up. She and I weren’t in the same place. You and I are.”
“But there’s no guarantee that-” Adam breaks off, unable to say the words. He can feel the prick of tears behind his eyelids and he stares up and to the side, trying to stave them off.
“No,” Kris says gently. “There’s no guarantee.” He reaches out for Adam’s arm. He slides his fingers from Adam’s elbow to his wrist, then laces them with Adam’s own.
“This is me not letting you leave,” he says, and oh god, Adam’s heart just about shatters. It seems like he’s feeling every single emotion in existence all at once and he has no idea what to do with them.
“Adam, you’re on,” the stage manager calls from the hallway. God, how the fuck is he supposed to go out there and sing like this? He raises his free hand and hastily wipes at the tears that have collected in his eyes after all. Kris squeezes his hand and lets go – too soon. It’s always too soon. Adam squares his shoulders and moves towards the door, but something snags him before he gets through, something makes him turn halfway back and look at Kris.
“I’m sorry I left,” he says, all the misery and guilt and anguish plain in his voice. Kris’s face softens, he gives Adam the saddest smile in the world.
“I’m sorry you felt like you had to,” he says. Adam gives him a smile to rival it and heads out onstage.
It’s the best show either of them has ever had. Adam feels completely destroyed and yet every note is on, his delivery is tight, he does things with his voice that are hard on his best day. Kris’s performance is the same. There’s a wildness in it, a barely leashed emotion. It’s strange. Nothing is fixed yet, there was no magic bullet, no one waved a magic wand. Adam’s not sure he’ll ever understand. But it’s different. He stands in the wings and watches and wonders if anything like this will ever happen again.
“So, uh,” Kris says after his last song, after the applause has died down a bit and the audience is rustling and murmuring. “You guys know that this was our last show on this tour. I just want to call Adam out here so we can finish it together.” He looks straight over at Adam in the wings, like he knew he was there the whole time even though Adam was behind his line of sight. The crowd has erupted again, the same way they always did when Kris joined Adam at the end of his set for a duet all during the tour. It’s weird to have so many people you don’t know so invested in your relationship. It’s a strange kind of pressure. Adam jerks away from the wall uncomfortably, tamps down the urge to flee. He walks onstage as casually and normally as possible, considering the circumstances.
There’s a question on Kris’s face as Adam moves towards him. For the first time, Adam realizes that it’s the same question Adam has himself, that they’re not so different after all, though Kris is obviously a million times more patient than Adam is. And for the first time in ages, he feels like he knows the answer. He reaches out and takes Kris’s hand.
“This is me not leaving,” he says. It shouldn’t feel like such a gamble, like such a huge risk, but it does. Maybe it always will. He holds his breath and waits to see what happens. It isn’t until Kris squeezes his hand and smiles that he can breathe.
“This is me not letting you leave,” Kris says for the second time that night, and Adam can faintly hear it over the speakers, echoing slightly in the room over the cheers and screams and applause. Kris’s hand is warm and sweaty in his, his face is limned in blue and red from the stage lights. It’s the scariest kind of relief Adam could imagine.
“Okay,” Adam says, his voice shaky.
“Okay,” Kris echoes, and then he laughs and it sounds so big and bright and perfect that Adam can barely stand it. He kisses Kris and Kris is laughing into his mouth and it’s not all fixed but it really is okay.
“Let’s go home,” Adam says.