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City of A Thousand Wonders
by astolat

"The music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free, and good men die like dogs. There's also a negative side."
— Hunter S. Thompson

Adam was ready to get back to L.A. by the time the tour was over: he could have gone out and sung every night, but after—the mobs of fans, the hands reaching for him and the desperate, almost painful cries, everyone just so intense, and he loved it, he loved it, he kept trying to soak up every minute, but by the end he thought he was overflowing and there just wasn't room for any more.

And as for what he wasn't ready to give up yet—well. It wasn't his, anyway, and it wasn't ever going to be his, and it was better to stop pretending and let go. Or anyway, it was going to be better, once he got his kickass album out the door and fucked half a dozen gorgeous twinks to celebrate, and maybe got his act together and stopped pining.

So he packed up his bags after the last show and told himself he was happy, and then he went into the bathroom and patted down his face so the makeup wouldn't smear, and then he went out smiling to hug everyone else goodbye and promise to text, to call. The car was waiting to take him to the airport; he gave Lil one last squeeze, waved to everyone, Kris and Katy standing at the far end waving back, Allison running over to pounce and hug him and say, "I'll see you in L.A., loserrrrr!"

He bopped her on the head and went downstairs, and in the car he shut his eyes and told himself it was time to start the detox, and to start, he had to go forty-eight hours without calling or texting.

As it turned out, though, the universe did not so much approve of his plans, because the first call he got the next morning was from one of his people at RCA to tell him he and Kris and Allison had all been invited to a magical celebratory evening with Clive Davis that very night, because yes, the first thing he wanted to do back from tour and in recovery was eat dinner with his crush and a hundred-year-old album-destroying music exec. But, such was his life, so Adam summoned up a smile and said, "That's really great, please tell him thanks, I'm looking forward to it," and he had himself a nice strong vodka drink before the limo pulled up to his front door.

He mixed another as it pulled up to the condo Kris and Katy were renting. Katy was literally standing at the door watching Kris go, giving him an adorable little wave and a nod as he turned back to look at her. "Oh, fuck me," Adam said, out loud, and tipped back half the glass as Kris opened the door and swung in his guitar case. "Hey," Adam said, fatalistically, and patted the seat next to him.

"Hey," Kris said briefly, and climbed in, his thigh sliding warm against Adam's; he put his guitar case down and looked at Adam's glass.

Adam raised it. "Vodka and club, you want one? I'm tending bar."

Kris cracked half a smile. "No, I, uh," he said. "I think I'm flying dry tonight."

"He's not going to make us sing for supper, baby," Adam said, looking at the guitar. "You do realize he isn't actually going to bite your head off? Didn't you meet him at the after-party?"

"Did you?" Kris said, his head jerking up.

Adam shrugged. "Just to say hi to, it was insane. But he's an exec like the rest of them, he's just lasted long enough to learn where all the bodies are buried. It's going to be fine. I don't think you could be disrespectful if you tried."

"Thanks," Kris said dryly, quirking, and then he sat back quiet and thoughtful while the limo slid through L.A. traffic. After a while he said, "So after this—what are you going to be doing?"

"Making an album?" Adam said, raising an eyebrow. "Going out on tour? Any of this sound familiar."

"Yeah, I mean—sorry, I meant more—" Kris said, except he stopped there and didn't say what he meant. He looked down at his hands. "I guess we—won't be seeing a lot of each other anymore," he said.

Adam bit his lip. They were both going to be in L.A., they were going to be running on parallel tracks. It would be the easiest thing in the world to have breakfast together, coordinate studio sessions, get lunch, go out for a drink after, stay pathetically hung up—

"It's going to be crazy for a little while," he said. "We're going to be on the run. But we'll come back to earth eventually." He gave Kris a smile. "Next year in the Idoldome, you know?"

Kris nodded without looking up.

The limo rolled up to Allison's house, and in a minute the driver buzzed them to say, "She's running a little late, she'll be out in five."

"No problem," Adam said. He looked out the window and wondered if he should go in for emergency fashion consult, and then Kris said, roughly, "Adam?"

"Yeah?" Adam looked over.

Kris still was staring at his hands. "Can I—nevermind. I'm sorry." He sat up and rubbed his thighs, looking away.

Adam eyed him and said, "Come on, spit it out."

Kris licked his lips—umm, Adam thought sadly—and then Kris said, "Is it—would it be okay if I—did something inappropriate? Would you mind if—?"

"Uh, you've met me, right?" Adam said. "How inappropriate could we be talking about here?" And then Kris turned, fast, fast, and kissed him.

Adam didn't really react immediately—he was hung up on the fact of it first. And it was a fragile, awkward kiss, Kris's mouth only a little bit open and just pressed against Adam's, not really fitting in with him; like a first kiss when you didn't know how to do it, clumsy and sweet, and more importantly, Kris was kissing him. Kris was kissing him. Kris was—

— about to break the kiss off, and that was clearly not ever desirable, so Adam kicked his scattered flailing brain to the curb and slid his hands into Kris's hair and held him for it, licked his tongue out and teased Kris's mouth open and panting. He tilted to fit their mouths together and catch at Kris's breath, to lick at his tongue and tease Kris's lip, full and soft and pink between his teeth. Kris's eyes were shut and he was gasping softly for breath, and Adam put his hand on Kris's belt, and then the door lock went and he jerked up and away as Allison pulled open the door and jumped in onto the seat.

"Heyyyy!" Allison said, and poked him in the arm. "You were supposed to come in and help, man."

"Oh, yeah," Adam said, vaguely, his brain was back on the Kris fucking kissed me what the fuck track. "You look great, baby, you don't need help."

"All set?" the driver asked, and shut the door on them, and they were rolling again.

"I hope he's not a creepazoid," Allison said. "All those old record label guys are so weird."

"We're going to be right there," Adam said. "No creeping will occur on our watch." He looked over at Kris, who was leaning over the minibar and getting out a beer. His lip was puffy, kiss-stung and red, and his hands were shaking just a little as he got the bottle cap off. It had actually fucking happened. Adam waited until Allison was busy getting a Coke and he leaned in and hissed to Kris, "Don't think you are getting out of talking about this after."

Kris looked at him, his eyes wild and almost desperate, and it made Adam want to grab the beer out of his hands and start kissing him again, kissing him again, fuck; he'd kissed Kris once now. "This is going to happen again," he said, into Kris's ear. "And more than this is going to happen, baby, I'm going to kiss you until you can't breathe, and then I'm going to hold you down and—"

Kris was shivering; his hand had fallen on Adam's thigh and he was gripping hard, so hard it hurt, and Adam didn't care at fucking all, because god, Kris wanted him, Kris was his, and they were so completely screwed and right now he didn't care at all. Allison was looking out the window, and Adam licked Kris's earlobe, pulled it into his mouth and sucked on it, smooth unbroken skin under his tongue, and Kris jerked and pressed his mouth shut hard on the noise Adam could feel trembling somewhere down in Kris's throat, under his fingers.

Adam let Kris's lobe slide out of his mouth and sat back, licking his lips, and got the rest of his drink for a cool swallow, half ice melt by now. There was time, they had time. Kris was slumped deep into the seat with his head tipped back over Adam's arm, his eyes shut and his mouth open and breathing hard. Adam wondered how long Kris had been working up to this, wanting this, until it got so bad he couldn't help himself in the back seat of a limo thirty seconds from getting caught, and it made Adam want to throw his head back and yowl at the moon or belt out a song or just start dancing.

"You want to put the radio on, baby?" Adam said to Allison, as she turned back around.

"Check it out, we're there," Allison said. "Wow, I hope there isn't a landslide, shit."

Adam looked out the window. "Okay, yes, I am with you on that," he said, because the house was almost cantilevered out from the side of a cliff. It was very cool, though, all clean sharp boxy lines, very twenty-first-century Frank Lloyd Wright or something.

The driveway gate slid open, automatic, as they pulled in; the driver brought them right up to the front and came around to get the door, too late: Allison had already jumped out. "Thanks," Adam told the guy, and put his hand on Kris's lower back as they got out. Kris paused and put back his shoulders and stopped trembling; he looked over at Adam, serious and maybe almost scared. Adam rubbed his hand up Kris's back, between his shoulderblades. "It's going to be okay," he said, and he wasn't talking about dinner.

"Yeah," Kris said, low and soft. "I know."

They walked through the entry hall into a huge sunken living room; there were other people there already waiting, turning to look as they came in. "Hey!" Adam said, shaking hands with David Cook, who said shortly, seeming a little distracted, "Hey, how's it going?" and turned to shake Kris's hand too, and then with Ryan. "I didn't know this was a party; is Paula here?"

"No, you know, Paula's never made it to one of these," Ryan said, smiling, and turned to introduce him to Carrie Underwood, who was working on a glass of champagne, fast, and moving to a second one.

"What's the guitar for?" Cook was asking Kris, and then the double doors at one side of the room were opening, and an absolutely stereotypical butler stepped out to say, low, "Mr. Davis would like to ask you all in," and Clive was standing up at the end of a long dining table holding out his arms, expansive and a little bit silly, like he thought he was Hearst in Hollywood circa 1928.

The pose didn't go with the extremely cool furniture, brushed stainless steel table and smooth lacquered grey chairs. A wall of windows looked out over L.A., and the overheads were dimming as they walked into the room, so the lights of the city glittered amber and red down below, and there were red candles and red plates on the table.

"Well, look at this. I'm so happy to have all of you together here again," Clive said, "and our new arrivals. We're very excited to have you, Kris, Allison, and—Adam," and oh, wonderful, Clive was a creeper.

Adam didn't remember Clive looking at him like this right after the finale, but it had been a pretty crowded room, and he hadn't had a Rolling Stone cover yet or been chased by hordes of screaming fans all summer. But Adam had been leered at in a whole lot of ways, and not just since Idol, either; he was used to it, it was even flattering. This—wasn't. The longer it went on, the more he wanted out, and he wanted to keep himself between Clive and Allison while he got it.

Alli was feeling it too; he felt her almost huddling up against him so their sides were pressed together, hiding behind him. And what the fuck; his heart was actually speeding up. Adam flicked a look over at Kris, who was standing on the other side of the table, his hands white-knuckled on his guitar case.

Clive hadn't stopped smiling; apparently he hadn't picked up on it. "Why don't we sit down and get started?" he said, and there were waiters in the room, pulling the chairs back. Everyone else was sitting down, girls sweeping their skirts out of the way, nobody really talking, and Allison made a short uncertain move towards hers. Adam put his hand out without thinking, grabbed her wrist and stopped her. She froze, and Clive paused, halfway to sitting himself, and straightened up.

Kris was looking across the table at him, wide-eyed, and Adam said, "I'm really sorry, I got a call just before we came in. We have to go," because he'd stopped giving a fuck if people thought he was weird a long time ago, and there was something seriously fucking wrong here.

The horribly creepy thought occurred to him, how much could you get people to pay to get to fuck Idols? There were some people he'd seen on tour he was absolutely sure would mortgage a house for it. He wouldn't have been shocked if there were whips and chains in a back room about to be brought out, and some kind of shit in the wineglasses to make sure they didn't complain about it.

Clive sighed—but he didn't sigh disappointed, he sighed satisfied, and then he said, "Adam. Adam, my dear boy. You have no idea how long I've been waiting for one like you," and Adam was backing away from him, pushing Allison along behind him, without knowing why. There was something wrong. There was something wrong, with—the lights, or the—acoustics or—

Allison gasped, behind him: one of the waiters had grabbed her arm. "Oh, get the fuck off her," Adam said, shoving the guy back, and looked at the table, what the hell, were they all going to just sit there—

Except yes, everyone at the table was just sitting there, staring down at their empty plates: all of them beautiful and polished and almost shining, and the room was so dark—so dark, and there was a shadow spreading over the back wall, behind Clive—

"Oh my fucking God," Allison said, and she sounded so small, so scared, and Adam was not saying a word because if he had, he would've sounded the same way. He didn't even want to look at the shape of the shadow, except his eyes kept dragging over towards it. He tried to stay locked on Clive's face, but he had the horrible feeling crawling up his back that in a second that was going to be worse, much much worse, as a pale shine started climbing over Clive's eyes behind the tinted glasses—

More of the waiters were coming up behind them, hands on Allison and on him, and Adam grabbed his empty chair and fucking swung it, knocked a couple of them down and pushed Allison back behind him, towards what felt like the safety of the windows. But Clive was coming, taking off his glasses and smiling, and oh my God, it was worse; Clive was putting out a hand, and in the shadow on the wall it wasn't a hand, it wasn't anything like a hand, and it was reaching towards them.

Allison screamed, and Adam wanted to scream. He couldn't move. Clive was coming closer, and his face wasn't making sense anymore, smearing like cheap makeup running under hot lights, and something else showing through underneath. "No," Adam said, or tried to, as it came closer. His stomach was trying to clench into a single hard knot. "No—"

"So open," it whispered softly, still smiling at him, hungry, and then what was left of Clive split wide, and Adam did scream, because the thing inside wasn't something that belonged anywhere in the world. The glass was cold and hard behind him and there was nowhere to run. Allison was crying brokenly, grating in his ears, and Adam couldn't even shut his eyes to block out what was going to happen—

And then Clive—the thing—stopped, and something slid blue-white-hot and shining out of its chest, from behind. Clive looked down with its mouth opening in a yawning, hollow O of rage and fury, and Kris pulled the sword out of its back.

Clive didn't turn. Turning would have meant—legs, a body, a face, something that made human sense; Clive didn't have any of those things anymore. It twisted, though, and something like a limb slapped at Kris, hard. He ducked under and jumped back, quick. The guitar case was lying empty on the floor behind him, and he dived under the limb and swung the sword at the Clive-thing again, a slice into whatever it was made of.

Adam still couldn't move. There were tears running down his face, and Allison had crumpled to the floor; he could feel her shaking behind him. "Kris!" he managed, a hoarse warning—one of the waiters was coming up behind him.

Kris spun and took the waiter out, neat straight-out slice that took off the guy's head, like Kris decapitated people all the time, and the waiter toppled over going down like a mannequin. The thing took the chance to lash out at Kris, though: it caught him this time, on the leg, and Kris stumbled and went rolling across the floor.

His face was clenched in pain as he dragged himself up again, limping; his pants where the thing had touched him were shriveled and peeled back like they'd been burned, and his skin underneath was red and blistering. His shirt had come unbuttoned, hanging open, and he was wearing a circle pendant on his neck glowing like the sword. "One of youuu," the thing hissed, and it lunged at him, all of it somehow sloshing across the space falling and rising and squirming like a sack full of maggots, something horrible, and Kris was backing away fast with his leg dragging.

Adam managed to make himself move, managed to grab the chair again and throw it, lame and useless, except when the chair hit wetly, the thing looked at him again. The gaze felt like being hit. Adam slid to his knees trying not to heave, everything blurring, but Kris was leaping in. He swung hard, and part of the thing fell off, sliding onto the ground and dissolving into a steaming puddle on the floor, like melting soft-serve, a horrible putrescent smell filling the room.

It shrieked, writhing away and shrill, coiling up around itself, and Adam put his hands over his ears, choking down sobs—no one, no one should ever have had to hear—and then abruptly there was a feeling like a cool, clean rush of water thrown in his face, Kris's hand on his arm, pulling him up. Adam stared at him, helplessly; Kris was panting, shaking, and he said, "Get Allison out of here—Adam, take Allison and go—"

Adam didn't have words to say how much he fucking desperately wanted to do just that, and how much he was not in a million years leaving Kris behind with that

"You can't," Kris said, even though Adam hadn't said anything. "You can't stay here. Please. Adam, please, I need you to go. Come on, look at Allison."

Kris was dragging him over to her; when Kris touched her, she gasped and managed to uncurl, and he shoved her up and into Adam's arms. "Go," Kris said, trying to push him, and the thing was pulling itself together again, slower but moving.

"Kris," Adam managed, just barely, protesting, because that—there was no way, there was no fucking way—the Clive-thing was hunched up and sort of breathing, collecting its strength, and it was huge and impossible and monstrous, and it was going to fucking kill Kris, if he stayed here it would—

Kris looked at it desperately, and then he swallowed and said, "Adam, do you—can you trust me? Can you let me—"

Adam didn't know what Kris wanted, but when Kris looked at him again, he felt the same sort of instinctive curling away as when—as when Clive had looked at him, as though there was something in him, something that Clive had wanted to take out and—and eat, and Kris wanted to—

"No," Kris said, letting go, "it's okay, go—just go now—" and Adam reached out and grabbed Kris's hand and pulled him back and said, "Yes," and Kris hesitated a second, his face torn and so worried, his hand hovering, and then Adam pulled him in and kissed him, saying yes again, letting him, and then Kris was pulling

It did hurt. It hurt like—it hurt like having your heart broken, and it hurt like standing on a stage hearing ten thousand people screaming your name, and it hurt like the hard rocketing crash after a cocaine and vodka bender, and it hurt like straining his voice to hit a high glittering note just out of reach. Adam couldn't fucking breathe as he let Kris have it, all of it, but it wasn't at all like what Clive had wanted, because Kris wasn't taking it away, he was just tapping into it, to all that love and strength and pain.

Then Kris broke their lips apart and said, "Take Allison and get out of here, Adam, please," and touched his cheek, once, before he pulled back and turned to face the thing again, and Adam stumbled back, hollow and dizzy.

Kris was raising the flashing sword, moving in, but Allison was heavy and shaking in Adam's arms, and he put his arm around her and got her moving towards the door, gripping onto the backs of the chairs for support. The waiters weren't getting in their way anymore—they were standing around dully, their faces blank, arms hanging limp, barely even blinking. It creeped Adam the fuck out to go past them, but every step got them further away from that thing, closer to fresh air, and then Allison was saying, "David—oh my God, David," and gulping a sob to tug on David Archuleta's arm. The kid was sitting in one of the chairs, pale and staring down at his plate, not moving either, until Allison almost dragged him out of it onto the floor.

Adam caught his other arm, and half-supported the two of them out of the dining room. David started to move a little bit on his own as they got further away—through the living room and towards the doors. They were closed, but Adam heaved on them with his shoulder, and they burst open and let the three of them stumble down the stairs and out, onto the lawn.

Adam found himself sliding down steadily to his knees, and then he was bent over double and vomiting on the lawn, his stomach trying to turn itself inside out. David was sobbing like a child, helpless, saying, "He took—he took—" and crawling away from the house. It was dark outside, air sticky with a late-September heat, and he could still feel it in the house behind him, the thing, all the way back there. He had a horrible thought if it wins—and that was the only thing that could get him moving, to grab Allison and David, pulling both of them up like kittens by the scruff of their shirts, dragging them along down the driveway, all three of them with their arms around each other.

But when they were halfway down to the gates, there was something like an explosion—except soundless, and there wasn't any shock wave, so Adam didn't even know what to call it; it was more as though the air around them just rippled. He fell down again, but it was with relief—like he'd been pushing against something hard, and all of a sudden it had given way. He stayed on the ground braced on his hands, catching his breath, and then he looked around—the house was there, it looked the same, it was still dark; but somehow everything felt different.

And then it shivered, the whole building, and there was a low metal groaning sound somewhere below. It tilted a little. "Oh my God," Allison said, coughing. She was still clutching onto David's arm.

David stirred and said, thick and choked, "Cook—was Cook there tonight? Is anyone still in—"

Kris was still in there. "Keep going," Adam said. "Both of you—" and he got up and started back towards the house.

It was still hard. He didn't want to go anywhere near the place, and it was even harder climbing up the steps. Something horrible had almost happened to him here, so horrible he couldn't even let himself think about it, and going back was—but he had to, even though he edged through the open doors instead of touching them, and he just stood in the entry hall for a while, shaking. Then the house groaned again, and the floor trembled underneath, like a small earthquake, and Adam made himself move.

The waiters were all on the floor with their eyes still open, limp like rag dolls, dropped where they were standing. Their faces looked like wax. The lights were out and spilling sparks, electrical wires exposed; the candles on the table had gone out. The house shuddered again, all over, and the floor slanted under his feet: the windows were looking down at an angle. "Kris!" Adam called into the dark room, and he shook David Cook's shoulder, grabbing onto his slowly tipping chair.

Cook jerked and looked up at him, pale in the broken-up light. "Adam," he croaked, "where—" and then he was pushing himself up, fast, stumbling back from the table as the chair fell over. "Jesus," he said, choking. "Jesus God—" He squeezed his eyes shut and said, "Archie—where is—fuck, that thing, it—"

"He's outside," Adam said, and then he saw—he saw—

The sword had gone out. Kris was lying sprawled and still inside a blackened ring on the pale grey stones of the floor, his hand flung out and still clenched around the hilt.

The floor was stained black everywhere else around him, with something Adam didn't want to get anywhere near, and something further back near the wall, a decaying mass. It wasn't anywhere near the same as looking at Clive before, but he could still feel the absolute horror of it, lingering like a cloud. A pins-and-needles buzz climbed Adam's leg as soon as he forced himself to step onto the black, and it crawled over his skin as he got to Kris's side, until he was in the safety of that pale exposed ring around him.

"Kris," Adam said, cupping his face. "Kris."

Kris stirred a little and opened his eyes, dazed and unfocused; his pupils didn't match. "Come on," Adam said.

"It's—is it—" Kris whispered, hoarsely, and turned his head coughing—something wet and dark on Adam's fingers, coppery smell.

"It's dead," Adam said, or at least it had better be, but he was betting on dead. "Kris, come on, the house is—"

Kris's eyes were closing. He was smiling a little, and his free hand reached up and patted at Adam's clumsily.

"Like hell," Adam said, and got hold of a scrap of bare skin, unbroken, showing through the torn shirt. He pinched hard, until Kris flinched and opened his eyes to look up at him again. "I am so not done with you," Adam told him. "Put your arm around my neck."

Kris looked at his hand. He still had the blackened, chipped sword clenched tight. Adam had to reach out and help him unwrap his fingers, and then he slung Kris's arm over his shoulders and got an arm under his legs and heaved him up.

Some of the others had started moving, now—Cook had shaken a few of them, and they were one after another stumbling, crawling towards the door. Ryan was still sitting at the far end, though, smile fixed and face empty.

Adam had to fight all over again to make himself step back onto the blackened floor, and he was stumbling under Kris's weight. Kris's head was tipped against his shoulder, and Kris's breaths were shallow and fragile. Adam had to walk tilted, leaning away from the wall. More sparks were dripping from the ceiling, throwing up brief huge shadows that made him flinch, and he had to hook his ankle around the doorframe to get through into the living room.

The whole house shook again, and again, and it was easier to breathe but his arms and his back were killing him—Kris was dead weight in his grip, and it was like climbing a steep slope to get towards the door now. Jordin and Cook were ahead of him helping Carrie out the door—she was sobbing softly and barely able to walk. Adam strained and strained and got there, little by little, but there was a crack opening in the stairs, deep and dark and widening, and as he grabbed onto the doorframe it all started to go.

There was no time—he just had to throw himself, curling around Kris as the ground fell away underneath him, and they were rolling down the stairs and onto the blacktop as the house cracked, roar of shattering brick and metal as it folded down and slid away down the dark slope, water spurting from broken pipes behind it, tangles of wire and cable hanging loose, jagged spurs of metal beams jutting out into the sky, and the horror riding away with it.

Adam pushed himself up, bruised, tasting blood in his mouth, and pulled Kris into his arms again. His eyes were closed, and there was a long scrape running along his cheek, wet trickles down his face and over his jaw. "Stay with me," Adam said. There were sirens in the distance, coming. "Kris, you're staying."

Part II

The hospital was clean and bright and full of blinking machines and wonderful, relentlessly calm people that Adam wanted to hug. He kept crying at random times—he would think he was okay and then his eyes were leaking again and he needed another bunch of tissues. But the nurses were all really sweet, and after his blood tests came back, a doctor gave him a beautiful beautiful shot of something that made the whole world go soft and fuzzy and comfortable.

They'd given him a private room, but after the drugs, he started to get heavy and sleepy, and there were things behind his eyelids he couldn't be alone with. They'd already taken him off the glucose drip, so he crawled out of the bed and sneaked down the hall until he found Allison, curled up in a chair in David Archuleta's room. Archie was lying on his side, his hands under his head.

"Cook tried to fight," he said softly. "I remember—he tried to fight, but they—I guess they held us, and then." He was shivering again.

"Don't think about it," Adam said. "Repression. Repression is your friend."

"He—it—took it," Archie said, glassy. "He took it, and it's gone."

"Maybe," Allison said, wavering but determined, "maybe it grows back."

Adam pressed his hands between his knees and thought about Ryan, sitting at the table blank and smiling, with that thing dead in the room. He didn't think it all grew back. He looked up; Cook was standing in the doorway in a hospital gown, sweaty-pale and his face hollow. "Hey," he said, quietly. Adam stood up and gave him the chair, and took Allison out with him so Cook could sit down next to Archie, and put a hand on Archie's head, and bend in over him; they both closed their eyes, and Adam pulled the door shut behind him and Allison.

Kris was still in the ICU, and no, they still couldn't go see him, and that was all that any of the nurses could tell them, or would tell them; they got chased back into their separate rooms, and then Allison snuck over and ended up climbing into the bed with Adam so they could cling on, shivering. The drugs were starting to wear off again.

Riding the tail end, they both managed to fall asleep that way for a while, and then his mom woke them up. "It took me half a year to fight my way in here, there are five million reporters outside," she said, hugging both of them. "Thank God you're all right. What the hell happened? The house just fell off a cliff? They're saying thirty people are dead, and Clive—"

"Mom," Adam said sharp and fast, cutting her off as Allison flinched against him, "ask me in about a year, and we'll see if I can tell you about it without screaming. Seriously," he added, running a hand over his face, wiping at the corners of his eyes. He was crying a little bit again, and he leaned into her some and held Allison closer, too.

"Everyone's going to totally think we're nuts," Allison said, half-laughing, in a completely not funny way.

"We're rock stars, baby, we're allowed to be nuts," Adam said, stroking her head. "We'll tell them we were drugged. Something in the water they gave us—like, we all went on a really bad trip."

"Is that what happened?" his mom said warily, her arm still around his shoulders, and he could tell she was trying to decide if it was time for an upgrade from worried to freaked out.

"No," Adam said, "but that's the version that doesn't get us all locked up for psychiatric evaluation?"

The doctors loved the story, he could tell as soon as he gave it to them, even though they'd tested all of them up and down and backwards. "Maybe something with a short half-life, like Rohypnol," one of them said to another. "Some new designer thing—" and they were nodding; Adam got the feeling that they had been checking on available rooms in the psych ward, even if committing a dozen Idols was probably not high on their career goals list.

After that, they started letting them go. Adam didn't know if he actually was ready to be a functional member of society again yet, but he was very much ready to be out of the hospital gown before someone took a cellphone photo of his bare ass, and his mom had brought him jeans and a t-shirt so he didn't have to put on the ripped suit: he shoved that into the trash without even taking it out of the plastic bag the hospital gave him. Allison's family had gotten in, and he saw Cook leaving with Archie—Cook looked over and gave him a short nod from under a ballcap, good job on the story, and one after another they went down to the garage to try and slip out past the media frenzy.

"Come on," his mom said, rubbing his back. "Let's get you home. Every instinct in me is yelling to stick you in bed and feed you about ten gallons of matzoh ball soup. Your dad and Amy are on their way up," which sounded like absolute heaven and everything he wanted: bed, chicken soup, love.

"First it's time to break into the ICU," Adam said, though, because he wasn't going anywhere until he'd seen Kris.

It was like a jolt to step off the elevator and see Katy sitting in the waiting room with a cup of coffee and a magazine. Adam compartmentalized like anything and went to give her a hug; she squeezed him hard and then held him back and studied him intently, like she was checking for something, and then she nodded. "Thank you," she said. "They told me you got Kris out."

"Yeah," Adam said, belatedly getting his brain in gear and starting to wonder. "Um, did you know what he had in the guitar case?" he asked—a little warily, because he was still in the hospital and in reach of people in white coats, so—

"Yes, of course," Katy said, and paused, and then she added, "I'm sorry we couldn't warn you—Kris wanted to, he didn't want you and Allison there at all. But we all agreed we couldn't take the risk. It was so hard to get this chance."

Adam shut his mouth on the first five billion questions while he picked out one to start with, and then he said, "We all? Who is we all?"

His mom stayed in the waiting room with a cellphone in case anything changed, and Katy walked down to the hospital cafeteria with him to get another cup of absolutely awful coffee and sit in a corner behind a giant ficus where no one could hear her tell him, totally as calm as if she wasn't out of her everloving mind, that she and Kris were in some fucking secret holy order of—of knighthood or something.

"It's not that strange," she said, a kitten-adorable brass-balled liar. "We keep ready in case we're called on, and other than that, we live our lives pretty much like anybody," where anybody meant someone who lived like a monk and practiced sword-fighting in the backyard four hours a day.

"Wow, and I wanted to know the secret to Kris's abs," Adam said. "Medieval warfare and fasting twice a week does wonders, who knew. Uh, do his parents know about this?"

"Our parents are in the order, too," Katy said, looking mildly surprised. "They thought it would help us, being together—it's hard sometimes, being in school or working with other people—people outside the order, I mean. There's a lot of temptations there. It helps if you're taken—people don't ask you to go out as often, they expect you to be a little more—" she waved a hand, "square, I guess."

"Yes, obviously," Adam said, staring at her. "That makes sense."

In the way where it made no sense at all, except for how Kris had always been a little too good to be true, so good that for the first few weeks Adam hadn't really trusted it—he'd kept waiting for Kris to slip, because come on, for fuck's sake, no one was a saint; except apparently Kris was, and Adam didn't really know what to do with that.

"Can you get them to let me see him?" he asked her. "Has he woken up yet?"

Katy paused, and then she said very gently, "Adam—"

Something squeezed tight in his chest. "They said he was stable," he said sharply. "They said—"

"They're just going by his vitals, they can't see the hurt." Katy looked down at her coffee cup, her face sad and wistful. "He took down one of the—I won't say the name, but one of the worst things that there can be. It's kind of a miracle he's hung on this long," she said softly. "His parents are going to be here in a couple of hours. I think maybe he's holding on for them."

She hesitated, and then she said, "I promise I'll get you in time to say goodbye, if he starts to fail."

But she said it like she meant when instead of if, and Adam got up and pushed away from the table and left her there. He went back upstairs to the ICU and straight past the nurses' station, ignoring them when they said, "Adam, you can't go—" He looked into each of the alcoves until he found Kris, pale and still against the pale sheets, long slow dragging breaths not coming out of him anywhere near as often as they should have been. There was a single chair dating from 1973, molded orange plastic, and Adam hooked it over with a foot and sat down to take hold of Kris's hand.

It felt cold, colder than the room and somehow empty, like Kris wasn't really in there. Adam rubbed it gently, running his thumbs together up the fingers, drawing slow circles in Kris's palm. "Come on," he said softly. "Come on, Kris. You're the fucking American Idol, don't even tell me you don't want to come back to that." He bent his head and dropped a kiss into the palm, fuck anyone who was peeking through the curtains.

He pressed Kris's hand to his cheek, thought about what had happened in the house—about what Kris had touched in him. Adam tried to visualize it again, that place inside him reaching out to Kris, even though he had to almost coax himself—it's okay, it's going to be okay, it's Kris. He thought maybe it was working a little, because it felt so unbelievably scary, a sharp ache starting low in his gut. His heart was pounding, and the only thing that kept him going, kept him reaching, was thinking about how fucking brave Kris had been, going in there knowing what he was up against, and this was nothing next to that.

"Also—" he said, managing to force it out, wavery, "also, there is an amazing blowjob in your future, so think about that, okay? I'm just saying, I get the impression that hasn't been so much a priority in your life so far, so—"

Kris's fingers twitched against his skin, and Adam huffed a little laughter into his palm and said, "Oh, of course, there we go," and shut his eyes. He curled Kris's hand around in his and pressed it to his lips as the heart monitor slowly picked up, beats coming stronger, and held on until the nurses coming in made him let go.

They made him leave eventually, although not until after he'd gotten a glimpse of Kris's eyes, vague but open, following the doctor's penlight: one of the nurses coaxing him away from the bedside had whispered, "Just stay here and don't move and you won't be in the way." But after Kris's eyes had drifted shut again, she came to Adam and said, "All right, baby, it's time you go home and get some rest. He's out of the woods, you can come back and talk to him tomorrow."

Adam was having a hard time feeling his legs at that point, so he thought maybe that wasn't such a bad idea, and when he went out into the waiting room, his dad was there. Adam didn't so much hug him as fall onto him, so grateful for the support, for someone who could hold him up for a little while, and he was crying again, shaking.

"Come on, kiddo," his dad said, rubbing his back, quiet and steady. "We're going to get you home."

Adam managed to keep himself upright long enough to wash his face before they left, which turned out to be a good thing, because the paparazzi and the press had found a way into the garage level. There were thirty of them, all scattered around and hiding behind cars, and Adam was so far beyond running that it turned into a giant knot around him, immobilizing, cameras flashing endlessly even with his parents and Amy trying to block them away.

Adam found himself laughing brokenly, hand in front of his eyes, saying, "Fuck, where's Quween when you need her?" and finally they had to give up and just break for a side exit, except that dumped them straight into the solid mass of people lined up on the sidewalk behind barricades, watching the hospital front entrance, some of them clutching teddy bears and flowers and gift bags and candles.

Adam reeled; holy shit, he could feel it, all the energy coming off the crowd like the other side of being in that horrible shadowed room: shimmery-hot, glittering and beautiful, and it all wanted in, wanted to lift him up and flood him and overwhelm all at once, and people were turning to stare.

"Oh, fuck," he heard his mom say, distantly, while it all came rushing at him, filling in every one of those lingering choked-up dark corners. "It's okay," he said, gasping, "oh my God, it's so much," trying just to hang on. And then he raised his voice and said, "You guys, I would love you all forever if you just don't let the paparazzi come after us," and one woman said, "Oh my God, Adam, my car is parked right there if you need a ride anywhere," pointing at a giant mommy-car SUV.

He kept trying to stay open to the energy as they ran for the car, except by the time he was climbing into the back seat he was reeling with it, laughing helplessly and giddy, so far beyond tripping; it was the best high of his life. "No, I'm good," he managed when his dad and mom started arguing over whether they should take him back to the hospital. "I'm amazing. Just let's go now. Oh my God, this is incredible."

His mom gave the woman directions to her place, and Adam signed her an autograph even though she was really sweet and said she didn't need anything. He beamed at her, too, and her eyes went a little blurry for a moment and she said, "Thank you," dazed, "I mean, you're welcome. Thank you," and she just stood there for a while before she stumbled back around her car and got in to drive away.

Inside, he went straight for the guest room and fell face down on the bed. He wasn't really asleep, he heard his parents and Amy talking in the living room, distantly, and he knew when his mom looked in on him. But he was floating somewhere glittering and beautiful and safe, and he didn't really want to make the effort to come back down just yet.

His mom came in again at some point—maybe the next morning? it was light out again, anyway—and another while after that, she and his dad both came in together, and Adam vaguely flopped an arm at them to say, no, really, all good, and then they went away again and let him keep drifting. The line of sunlight from under the windowshade slid across the floor, up the far wall and faded away while he listened to cicadas buzzing outside and thin snatches of music swelling up and fading away inside his head.

Kris's voice drew him out of it, low and tired and distant: the sound of it made Adam open his eyes, blinking at the early morning light washing the room pink—he vaguely remembered his mom coming in and opening the shade. There was a tray on the end table with orange juice and toast and chicken soup gone cold.

Kris's voice wasn't in his head, though, it was outside, and Adam stumbled out of the bedroom to see his parents watching a press conference on FOX: Kris in a wheelchair in the ICU waiting room looking faded-pale, with Katy standing next to him golden and slim and serious, saying, "We're going back home to Conway."

His mom and dad were talking to him a lot over it, all, "— slept for two days!" and wanting him to go back to the doctors, so Adam had to fumble for the Tivo remote and rewind, and then he had to watch it three times to actually believe it. Kris was talking halting and slow, pretty much just signing off on whatever Katy had just said.

"Something like this—remembering what's important—" he said on the television, high-definition showing his skin all sallow and his lips thin and bloodless, a few clusters of burst red capillaries that someone should have covered up for him, and he trailed off and let his head drop back into his hand. Then Katy saying, "I'm sorry, we're finished here," and speaking to the orderly holding the chair, turning them away from the microphones and cameras, and it was over.

He would have watched it a fourth time and maybe a fifth, but the phone was ringing: his publicist Janna on the line, and she said, "Oh, they're doing it all right. Katy told them this morning he's breaking the contract, he's walking away. They're both crazy and Jive is having fits. Listen, we're going to have to do a little bit of a fast one here, but we're talking to the sponsors, so far they're all fine having you step into the role—"

"This is so not happening," Adam said, and hung up on her and called Kris. And got voicemail, so he texted instead, and then he called again, and again, and again, until finally Katy picked up on the other line. "What the hell are you doing?" he said.

Katy sighed a little, soft. "Adam, this was never about Kris being a rock star," she said. "He needed the access, that's all. Now we're going home."

"To do what?" Adam said. "Fine, so Kris got into this to be a hero, you can't tell me the music doesn't matter to him."

"I am telling you, Adam," Katy said. "Worldly things don't matter. Those aren't what's important—"

"If the world doesn't matter, what the fuck is the point of saving people from horrible monsters?" Adam yelled. "What are you saving anybody for, if being happy doesn't matter, if life doesn't matter? Then who cares about anything?"

Katy paused, and then she said, patiently, "I want to thank you for bringing him back," sounding pretty much as if Adam had gotten her a cup of coffee fixed just right.

"Oh my God," Adam said, ready to reach down the phone line and strangle her. "You know, just tell me something, if you'd known he wasn't going to make it back—" Then he stopped and said, slowly, "Did you know—Fuck, you did," he said, answering himself. "You knew what that thing was, and you knew he wasn't coming back—"

"This is what we train for," Katy said simply, like she hadn't sent Kris to face that thing, to die in that room with it, alone and with that horror all around, and Adam didn't know how to speak to her, didn't know how to say a word. After a long pause, she said, calm and final, "Goodbye, Adam," and disconnected the line, and he sat in the living room with the phone clutched in his hand, staring blindly away until his mom said finally, "Adam."

He jerked and looked at her, and then he said, "I need the car keys."

There was a little bit of an argument, especially after Adam let it slip that his plan was to go and drag Kris out of the hospital and away from his crazy monk family, which was a little tricky to explain since his mom didn't know they were crazy monks and had some issues believing that, even after Adam had pointed out the completely irrefutable evidence of Katy being insane on the television.

Adam did eventually have to agree that yes, a shower first was probably a good idea, and so was an outfit he hadn't just slept in, because he needed every possible advantage here, including making sure that he didn't look like a crazy person. And all right, he had to eat something because fainting in the middle of a kidnapping was probably not going to be a good idea, so he went along with that, too, but then his mom went into the other room to talk to his dad, and Adam managed to sneak out the kitchen door with half a bagel and a Red Bull still in his hand.

The vigil outside the hospital had died down now that it was Monday, and the news trucks and the paparazzi were mostly gone. Adam slipped in through the garage and roamed the hallways until he spotted one of the nurses he remembered and she gave him Kris's room number; then he lurked in the hallway with his cap pulled low like a ridiculous stalker until Katy came out, saying over her shoulder, "The car should be here in a couple of hours. I'll be back soon," and headed away down the hallway.

Kris was sitting up by the window, in pajamas, still pale and washed-out, staring out at the crappy view full of smog and traffic. "So what the actual fuck," Adam said, and Kris jerked around.

"Uh, hey," Kris said. "I—it's good to see you."

"No, really," Adam said, "I want to know."

Kris turned his head aside again and swallowed visibly, muscle working in the side of his jaw. "I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I shouldn't have let you and Allison walk in there. I should've told you. I knew it, I just—"

"Okay, not what I was talking about, although I will say, I would love to know how exactly you would have explained that Clive Davis was going to try to eat our souls literally rather than metaphorically," Adam said. "But at the moment I'm really more concerned with this brilliant plan where you go back to Arkansas and disappear off the face of the earth." He went over to the little closet. There was a pair of sneakers, he got that; there was a small duffel bag of clothes, he left those. He did not foresee Kris needing a lot of clothes in the near future.

Kris was still saying, "Adam, I only did Idol to get at him."

"Such bullshit." Adam said. "You love music. You love the crowds. You love being the American Idol. Don't try to snow me, Kris."

"Do you even get that I made it because of—this?" Kris waved a hand vaguely at himself. "The way we live, people can kind of tell. They can see it in you. That's how we knew that I'd be able to win."

"Mm hm," Adam said, tossing the sneakers down in front of him. "So you won because people picked up on the fact that in addition to being a great musician, you're incredibly sweet and noble and also some kind of ridiculous hero. Ugh, you cheater."

"I'm not that noble," Kris said, looking up at Adam, and that was absolutely want in his eyes, which had to be a good sign even if he turned his head away and flushed after. "Adam, seriously, you should just take over being the Idol—"

"Okay, and back in the real world where I don't give a fuck and you did your best to get yourself killed saving my ass, put on your shoes, and we're leaving," Adam said.

"I—what?" Kris said, looking at the sneakers.

"I don't even know what you're planning to do otherwise," Adam said. "But I am willing to bet it is something incredibly stupid like give up music and turn into a hermit."

"No, I'm just—going back home," Kris said. "Back to—there's a council, they give us missions, and—"

"Oh, fuck that," Adam said. "Baby, whatever dues there are in life, you are paid up forever. Are you seriously going to tell me that you'd walk into a room with another of those—"

Kris flinched hard and went more pale, white and shocky, and Adam moved on instinct, grabbed his hands and pushed again. He still had too much floating around in him, and Kris had wiped himself out so badly—and it was easier this time, less painful and scary somehow, maybe because he could see the color creep back into Kris's skin, Kris's head falling back a little and his mouth parted, and Adam couldn't help it; he leaned in and kissed his soft mouth, bit and sucked at Kris's lips, licking breath out of him, and Kris was shuddering and almost collapsing against him, pawing at his shirt trying to get a grip, panting out, "Adam—Adam—you can't—"

"Shut up," Adam said, drunkenly, because oh my god, it was starting to—it felt good, not just okay but amazing, and Kris was arching up into him and clutching at his shoulders, shivering. "Come on," Adam said, and slid his arm around Kris's waist and pulled him up out of the chair. "Time to go."

"I'm not, I don't," Kris said incoherently, but he shoved his feet into the sneakers when Adam walked him over to them, and he let Adam tug the beanie down on his head and steer him out the door. The hallway was clear, no sign of Katy yet, and the nurses at their station were all preoccupied.

It was a little tricky navigating the stairs—Adam kept having these moments of inappropriate laughter just bubbling up out of him, like being drunk on champagne, and Kris was wobbling badly back and forth. They had to stop and sit down a few times, but fortunately Kris had only been on the third floor, so it didn't take too long to get back down into the garage, and then Adam packed him into the car and let go, which let his head clear up just a little.

"Whoo," Adam said, leaning against the car frame, panting. "Holy shit."

Kris's head was tipped back limply against the headrest, his eyes wide and dazed up at the roof of the car. "'d we get out here?" he said vaguely.

"There were stairs, I think?" Adam said. He kept a hand on the car for support as he went around to the driver's side. He sat and panted a little bit, but any minute now someone was going to notice that the American Idol had disappeared, and while Adam was totally prepared to hang on to Kris against all comers, he would really just as soon do that from a more defensible position.

Adam managed to drive them back to his new house without hitting anything. Kris had pulled himself together some on the drive, though, and he didn't get out when Adam opened the passenger door. "Adam," he said softly, sad-eyed but with some of what Adam had seen in Katy, that impenetrable steel, "I appreciate this. I appreciate that you—care this much. But I'm part of something important. I can't just walk away from it."

The edge of the door frame was biting into Adam's hand where he was gripping on tight. "And you're going to just walk away from me?" he said, and saw Kris flush up and look away. "You kissed me, baby."

"I—I thought—" Kris said.

"That you were about to die horribly?" Adam said. "And that made it okay?"

"No," Kris said, "no, it didn't." He swallowed. "I guess I just wanted to know what—" He stopped. "I'm sorry. I had no right."

"You really didn't," Adam said. "And you also didn't mention you were about to ditch me for heroic death, possibly with not-so-heroic death for me included," because he wasn't the saint here, and he was absolutely prepared to use any means necessary, even if it meant steeling himself against watching Kris flinch again.

Kris rubbed his hands together, staring down at them. "I don't know what you want from me."

"There's a list," Adam said. "It's pretty long."

"I can't—Adam, this here, this isn't my life," Kris said, flipping a hand, towards L.A., the house, the palm trees, maybe even at Adam. "I'm not this person—"

"How do you even know?" Adam said. "Your whole life has been this crazy training thing, you haven't even tried. Kris, have you ever even kissed a guy before me?"

"Uh, no," Kris said, flushing.

"So it's just been Katy, and if you've ever done anything less vanilla than missionary—" Adam paused, because Kris was getting even more fidgety, and Adam said warily, "No blowjobs at all? No—? What have you—oh my God."

Kris looked somewhere between annoyed and mortified. "Sex is—it's part of—it has power," he said, a little defensively. "It's a sacrifice—"

"No fucking kidding!" Adam said. "Okay," he took a deep and appalled breath, "get out of the car. And we are going inside, and you are giving me twenty-four hours, and if you still want to throw everything away, and give up the world, and go back to being a celibate monk, then I will take over the whole Idol thing, and make a huge spectacle of myself so the press will leave you alone quicker and Jive and 19E won't try and sue you or what the hell ever they're planning on."

"I don't—" Kris started.

"You owe me that much," Adam added, ruthlessly, and Kris stopped and bit his lip. Adam took a slow deep breath, careful: he'd gotten there, he could feel it; he had Kris on the line. "Come on, baby," Adam said more gently. "Come with me. Just one day."

Kris swallowed again, and for a moment he didn't move, then he swung around and got out of the car, not quite looking at Adam, and headed for the front door. Adam got the bag out of the backseat and followed him, reached around to unlock the door and let Kris inside, leaning in to brush a kiss across the back of Kris's neck.

Kris sucked in a breath, and stumbled a little as he went in. Adam dumped the duffle on the floor and locked the door behind them, and then he grabbed Kris by the hand and tugged him along upstairs to the master suite. He'd been here less than one full day himself: his tour jacket was still lying thrown across the foot of the bed, feeling like a shed skin from another life, his bag of makeup was splattered across most of the counter in the bathroom where he'd gone rummaging before leaving for the dinner party.

He started the steam shower going, huge gusts of fog billowing out, and turned back; Kris was standing there in the bathroom, eyes fixed somewhere in the middle distance. "Hey," Adam said softly, and reached out to tug Kris in closer, gently. Kris came, and Adam took hold of the hem of his pajama top and pulled it up.

Kris raised his arms and let the top come off. His nipples were hard and tight, and he licked his lips, still not looking up. Adam touched him on the chest, just his fingertips, and it was like a circuit closing, electric. Kris trembled. "God, what is this," Adam said, swaying in towards him.

"You—we're—oh God, Adam," Kris said, groaning. "It's the—you keep giving it to me—"

Adam shuddered all over and murmured into Kris's ear, "Is it going to get even better when I'm inside you?" and Kris said strangled, "Adam, please."

Adam let go just long enough to strip his shirt off and shove his jeans down, stepping out naked. Kris was watching him, eyes wide but hungry, leaning back against the counter and gripping onto the edge for support with both hands; his shoulders and his biceps were bunched up tight. Adam slid one finger into the waistband of Kris's pajama pants, back of his knuckle rubbing warm against Kris's belly, and Kris arched for him, his mouth folded tight, almost in pain, eyes squeezed shut.

"Shh, there we go," Adam said, softly, tugging them down slow, past Kris's hips, letting them slip away and puddle at his ankles. Kris was wearing boxer-briefs, snug, and his cock was straining against the cotton, jumping when Adam put his hand over it and pressed in with the heel of his palm.

"Oh," Kris said, choked.

"Yeah," Adam said. "Take them off for me."

Kris held still just a moment, then he gripped the waistband and pushed them down all at once like diving into a cold-water pool. Adam drew him back towards the shower, and he came in. They were crowded close together, water thrumming against Adam's shoulders. Kris was breathing hard, silently, chest rising and falling, and he reached out and put his hand on Adam's chest like he didn't one hundred percent believe he could do this, that he was allowed.

"I don't know—how this works," Kris said, almost harshly. He was staring at Adam's collarbone, where a thick rivulet of water was snaking over the ledge and down his chest, spilling over Kris's spread out fingers.

"How it works is you can have anything you want," Adam said, whispering it into Kris's cheek, his temple, and Kris slid his hand, stuttering on the wet skin, across to Adam's nipple. He rubbed his thumb roughly over it, back and forth and watching it go hard and pebbled, his face almost dazed. Adam felt the same way, watching Kris's hand move on him, water running down between them and steam clouding up around their legs, Kris's cock full and hard and right there near his own, the sweet soft curve of Kris's hip under his hand.

Adam couldn't help it; he pressed his hand into the small of Kris's back and drew him in closer so he could take Kris's mouth, steam damp on his upper lip and drops running down his cheek. Adam imagined love and heat radiating out from his hand, sinking through Kris's skin, and Kris gasped and arched up into him, his hands going abruptly up, one clenched on Adam's shoulder, another into his hair, so unexpectedly strong and desperate. Adam nuzzled at him urgently, kissing everywhere.

"Oh," Kris said—not really oh, not words, more a sound, a low huffed-out breath catching in his throat. "Oh." He was panting hard, and they were tangled up close; Kris's cock was bumping against Adam's, and Adam reached down and wrapped his hand around them both, stretching his fingers to keep a grip on them. Kris jerked, hips hitching forward, and he pressed his forehead against Adam's shoulder and just stared down, watching while Adam slid his hand up and down again, thumb riding easily over the heads of their cocks and back, clean wet shine spreading slick while the water drizzled away over their shoulders and down their backs.

"Has anyone, have you ever," Adam whispered, stroking, bringing Kris with him, feeling a little guilty at the burst of satisfaction, Kris's little head-shake, his pressed-tight desperate mouth—Kris deserved this so much, deserved to have had this, and it hadn't ever been one of his turn-ons before, but Adam was so greedy for it anyway now, for being Kris's first, his only; he didn't want anyone else to touch Kris like this. He felt hot and jealous and happy all at once—not a mean kind of jealousy but excited, wanting to love all over Kris forever and ever, share this with him, watch him like this, holding on tight and shuddering out over Adam's hand as they tipped over the edge.

Kris's hands were shaking after, while they toweled off and even when they tumbled damply into the bed and collapsed into each other, holding on, and when Adam woke up in the early morning, Kris was awake and looking at him, his face almost wounded, his fingers resting on Adam's skin like permission was still going to be taken away any second. But he had to be feeling this, he couldn't—

"This is good," Adam whispered to him urgently, curling his hand around Kris's side, his thumb on the scar—the old scar, and oh fuck, it wasn't surgery at all, someone had done that to Kris to hurt him, and it made Adam want to wrap protectively around him all over again. "Kris, it's beautiful. You can't tell me this isn't amazing—"

"Why do you—" Kris said, his voice breaking on it, and abruptly he sat up, half dragging himself away. "Yeah, this is amazing, but then it's over, and what's left doesn't—I don't know what's left, why do you want me when you've had, you're going to have, so many people like this—"

He stopped because he had to, because Adam had cupped his face and was kissing him too much for Kris to say anything else. Adam was laughing between kisses, helplessly, because how could Kris not just know, with this live current running under Adam's hands on his skin. But he told Kris anyway, pulling him down and rolling them over together in the bed, sheets knotting around them, and Adam kissed him and said, "I love you, I love you," and said it wordlessly too, pressing more love on him so Kris would be able to recognize it next time, every time, and then Kris was shining in his hands, like a light coming on inside him, flickering start and brighter and brighter, glowing everywhere, and his.

They slept some more after that, and then Adam woke up with the desperate need to eat everything in the world, so he left Kris snuggled up in the covers—not without many a pang—and went downstairs to forage in his fridge, which turned out to contain his half-finished diet Coke from the trip home from the airport—not helpful—and one ancient box of stale lo mein that he was pretty sure he hadn't even ordered. He debated over it for almost a solid minute out of pure desperation, then managed to make himself throw it in the trash and dig out a delivery menu instead.

His blood was still fizzing like a shaken-up soda and the tips of his fingers were prickling. It was better than before—there was actually room to be hungry now, and Adam felt able to form enough complete sentences to order french toast and bacon and coffee. After that, he was also able to focus enough to realize probably he needed to call his mom, who yelled a whole lot until Adam said, "Mom, you don't understand, I had to get him out of there," and then his mom said, "Adam, Katy is not a bad guy, she's his wife," and he said, "She was wasting him! He was a virgin!" and then she said, "He was a—wait, was?" and he said, "Well, obviously was, I haven't been sitting around on my ass the last twelve hours," and then she said, "Oh my God, I'm disowning you," which was entirely unfair.

"Also there are about eighty-three messages for you," she added, "and I promised Paula I'd ask you to call her back: she sounded really upset, and she said she was calling for Simon and Randy, too."

"Oh my God," Adam said, "They must be completely freaked out, I don't even know—" and he had to dither for about ten minutes before he could make himself call Paula back, because what was he going to say? I'm really sorry Ryan didn't make it out, but it's probably for the best because his soul had been eaten up like a bowlful of jello?

The call was even worse than he'd expected—Paula sounded choked up and hoarse, like she'd been crying, and she kept asking what had happened, how the accident had started, whether he'd seen anyone trying to get out—even after he told her, and she sounded so confused.

"And there wasn't, was there anything—strange?" Paula said, vaguely. "Anything you couldn't—" and Adam bit his lip and wondered how many times Paula had hung out with Clive.

"Listen," he said, "do you want to come over? We can kill a bottle of wine and—and talk about it, maybe," because God knew he wouldn't have wanted to be alone in this, and Kris was here, so if they sounded Paula out together and she decided they were nuts, at least it would be two to one if she told anyone. And that would be one more reason Kris couldn't go anywhere, not that Adam really needed it: if Kris had some kind of nutty relapse, that was what leather wrist cuffs were for.

"And don't even think I won't dig them out right now if you start talking about going home to Arkansas again," Adam said, when Kris struggled halfway out of the covers and started saying something about his mission.

Kris blushed. "No, I'm not—" he said, and stopped, and then he cleared his throat and said quietly, "I'm not going anywhere, as long as you," which was more than enough excuse for Adam to push him back down and kiss him and kiss him, little ripples of light chasing his fingers and his lips across Kris's skin. Everything was going absolutely amazingly, until Kris let his head fall back, Adam's mouth on his throat, and choked out, "You said—delivery—and—"

"Mm, not that hungry right now," Adam murmured.

"—and—Paula's coming!" Kris gasped.

"Oh, fuck," Adam said unhappily, "what a bad idea that was," and licked the hollow of Kris's throat a couple more times before letting him loose.

Kris half-fell out of the other side of the bed and staggered towards the bathroom wild-eyed and bare-assed, which was not helpful. "Okay, going downstairs," Adam said determinedly, and fortunately the food came right then too.

"I'm not leaving," Kris said, sitting down across from him, wet and spiky-haired and delicious.

"Good," Adam said warily, passing over the second orange juice. "Why is there a but attached to that sentence?"

"It's not over," Kris said.

"Oh my God, it is so over," Adam said, his voice rising involuntarily, because he was not up for even considering any other possibility. "He—it—was a smear on the ground! Believe me, I am never going to forget that smell for the rest of my life."

"No, Jesus, that's not what I meant," Kris said. "That one, Clive, yeah, he's gone."

"There are more?" Adam said.

"There are five of them in the world that we know of," Kris said. "They're hard to find—you can't usually tell what they are until they try to feed. If you don't get them when you get the chance, if they get away, it can take a long time tracking them down again."

"And now it's down to four!" Adam said. "Job well done—"

"Clive wasn't one of them," Kris said, which okay, probably not a good thing. "He's not one of the ones we knew about. He was younger."

"I don't really want to know how you could tell that," Adam said. "What does that even mean? He was practically the Cryptkeeper."

"Clive Davis the guy was probably just, uh," Kris said.

"Eaten?" Adam said.

"Yeah," Kris said. "I need to talk to the elders, but I'm guessing one of the others—spawned and used him as the—the—"

"Oh my God, stop, stop now," Adam said, shuddering all over, his whole body trying to curl into a tiny ball of no.

Kris did stop, hunching up his own shoulders. "Yeah. Probably around when Idol started."

"Great," Adam said. "And cue the instant buffet for baby."

"I'm betting the other one is still nearby," Kris said. "It'll probably make a break for it once it figures out what happened to Clive, but there's a shot I could still—"

"Get yourself killed horribly?" Adam said. "Because in case I haven't expressed this thoroughly enough, you are not an acceptable casualty as far as I'm concerned—"

"We're all acceptable casualties when it comes to this," Kris said. "Adam, you don't understand, these things don't just eat people one at a time. The one here on the West Coast set off the 1906 quake, and the only reason it wasn't a lot worse was because five of the order died slowing it down. The big one in Europe started freaking World War I. They want us—all of us—dead."

"Can I point out that just possibly it would be a good idea to share this information with the rest of the world?" Adam said. "How about the next time someone else fights one they have a tank instead of a sword?"

"It's not all that great to have a tank on your side if the thing takes over the six guys driving and points it at you instead," Kris said. "It's the training that matters. I could've hit it with a guitar or a chair. A sword's just pretty easy to work with if you're used to it."

"And besides, it was so Luke Skywalker," Adam said, and Kris grinned, quick and half-guilty, and Adam had to lean over and kiss his mouth again, because okay, he was a fan of Luke Skywalker, Luke was pretty adorable. And Kris was even more adorable, and right here at his kitchen table, and not very far at all from naked, and—the doorbell was ringing.

Adam groaned a little and broke off to go to the door. Paula was standing out there with huge sunglasses on and her lipstick a little crooked; Adam hugged her and said, "Hey, come in. I'm so sorry."

"I don't have much time," Paula said, coming in behind him, and all of a sudden Adam felt the hair on the back of his neck rising up sharp and prickly. He turned back around to see Paula taking off the sunglasses, and he started backing away from her. She was smiling. "I would make this longer—you're worth it," she said, earnestly and horribly, "but I can't take the risk. I only need to know who killed my spawn."

She was putting out a hand towards him, and her face was starting to go a little blurry around the edges, and Adam said, "I don't know what you mean, it was an accident," loudly, backing away past the kitchen door; out of the corner of his eye, he saw a flicker of movement—Kris looking up. Adam didn't let his own eyes flick over.

"It doesn't have to hurt," Paula said, following him towards the living room. "That just makes it taste better. This could all be very easy. Just tell me who it was."

Then Kris said, "It was me," from the kitchen doorway, and as Paula turned, he nailed her with one of the bar stools.

She split open under the impact, a mass of huge smoky tentacles boiling out of nowhere, spilling out over the floor; Adam blindly put out a hand, trying to block them away, and Kris jumped one and had him by the hand and was pulling him back through the doors and out onto the pool deck.

"Oh my fucking God!" Adam yelled at him as they ran. "Paula?"

"I told you they're hard to spot!" Kris yelled back, grabbing one of the folded-up patio umbrellas out of its stand, and holding it like some jousting lance he turned to face the glass doors as Paula came roaring out at them, that blue glowing light running down along the length of it.

"Do you need more? Take more!" Adam said, because fucking hell, and he put his hands on Kris's shoulders and pushed everything he had, all the glittering energy still under his skin. Kris gave a weird shocked hiccuping noise, and the umbrella pole flared from blue all the way to white, just as Paula hit.

As the point drove into her, or it, the light seemed to pile up at the point of impact and go cascading out over the seething, boiling mass of its body, outlining in brilliant flashes a horribly glaring eye, a dozen long jagged slashes of mouths, tentacles like the cables of an ocean liner looped on and over one another. Then Kris was gripping Adam's wrist, and he was yelling, "Don't look! Don't—" and he grabbed Adam's face in his hands and pulled him away and kissed him, kissed him and kissed him until Adam could close his eyes again and just cling on, holding onto Kris as the static electricity went blue-white-yellow crackling overhead and the thing went on thrashing horribly around them, smoking and vile, and there was nowhere safe in the world except here in Kris's arms.

The mass of it heaved and settled and finally broke apart and sank away into the ground, leaking into the cracks between the paving tiles like runoff after a rainfall. Adam kept on kissing Kris, because he wasn't sure the thing was dead, and this was working for him anyway, until Kris broke away panting and flushed and hanging on, and looked down at the awful twisted-up smudge left on the flagstones.

"Wasn't that supposed to be the old one?" Adam said, panting too. He slid his arms around Kris's waist and pulled him closer again, nestling in; he didn't really want to be apart.

"Yeah," Kris said, clinging on to him too. "It was. You're okay? You don't feel sick or—"

"Ask me in a couple of days when the adrenaline rush has settled down," Adam said, leaning into Kris's anxious hands as they ran up and over his arms and shoulders. All of a sudden he felt utterly wiped-out, like being on the road home after Burning Man coming down from three kinds of drugs and an orgy and music and desert heat all crammed in together—not sick exactly but hollowed-out in a good way, spent. He pressed his face against Kris's hair and breathed in the warm sweet smell of him, and after a little bit he managed to say, shaky-joking, "I guess she really won't be coming back for this season after all."

Then the glass doors banged open and Katy rushed through, holding a sword, with Kris's brother and dad behind her, also with swords, and Kris's mom behind them. They all stopped just out on the deck. Adam stared at them; then he realized he was snuggling Kris and Kris was just in boxers and he was in pajama pants and both of them were barefoot. And okay, Adam was absolutely prepared to fight for Kris, but possibly not at this particular moment swordfight, especially since Katy looked like she really knew what she was doing with that thing.

"Was that—is it gone?" Katy said, looking at the charcoal-gray smudge all over the ground. The patio umbrella was lying in the middle of it, bleached bone-white and still glowing faintly.

"Yeah," Kris said. "I don't even know how. It hit us and—boom."

Kris's mom came over to them and put one hand on Kris's forehead, another on his cheek, then smiled up at Adam and reached for him; Adam was inclined to be a little wary here, but he let her, and the touch felt good, warm and somehow soothing. "You're both all right," she said, stepping back, beaming at them. "All right, now you two sit down here, I'll need to take another look; but first we need to get this cleansed before it gets too deep. No, honey, you rest," she said firmly, pushing Kris down into a deck chair, and then the four of them joined hands and did something that made the horrible smudgy stain lift off the ground and dissolve away.

Then she herded them all back inside, where she looked into the fridge and shook her head with a despairing expression and sent Neil and Daniel out to do some grocery shopping. "Whole milk, and some heavy cream too," she said, "and as much fruit as you can find that looks good, and eggs. And steaks and potatoes, and you'd better buy me a couple of frying pans too, because I don't think there are any in here."

"So, not that I'm not grateful," Adam said, while she sat them down and made tea—he did at least have that, and honey—"because apart from my life getting saved I just bought this place, but I do feel I need to mention here that I'm keeping Kris," because he thought it was important to establish a claim, although he kept a little bit of a wary eye on Katy's sword.

"Oh, yes, honey," Kim said absently as she hunted out some mugs. "I don't think the two of you could keep apart for long anymore, the way you've gone and got tangled up."

So apparently it was not the very best idea to go mashing up your energy with someone else's to begin with, and if one of you happened to be a conductor or power sink or whatever Kim said Adam was, it made it really hard for the other person to let go, and the more you did it, the harder it got, and what also made it harder was if you stayed in physical contact for a long time, like for instance fucking like bunnies for twelve hours straight. Not that Kim said so specifically, but Adam could interpret that last bit from her little cough.

Kris swallowed and said, "I'm sorry. I should've known better. Adam, the elders could probably—ow," he added, and Adam paused just before kicking him in the ankle, under the table, because Kris was already rubbing his ankle on the other side, where Katy was sitting.

"You saw what it did out there!" Katy said to Kris.

"I'm not seeing Adam pulled into this," Kris said. "He hasn't been trained—"

"Well, honey," Kim said in reasonable tones, putting the tea down in front of them, "of course we don't want to get civilians dragged in if we can help it, but after all, the bond couldn't have happened without Adam's consent."

Katy added, "And the order in Kyoto has just got a lead on the old one in southeast Asia."

"Okay," Adam said, "wait, so you're okay with this."

"There hasn't been a bonded pair in the order for something like a thousand years!" Katy said. "Of course I'm all right with that. We could maybe even go after the one in Europe if you can pull in enough power." Her eyes actually gleamed a little bit.

"Adam, you don't get it," Kris said, "this is dangerous—"

"Dangerous is one thing," Adam said. "I can handle a little danger to save the world. What I'm not okay with is martyrdom. And there is absolutely no celibacy and fasting in my future."

"I don't think that should be a problem, honey," Kim said cheerfully. "All of that is to gather energy and all, and you don't need any help with that."

Adam was totally prepared to seal the deal on those conditions, except Kris dragged him away upstairs. "I didn't do this to—I didn't mean to—" Kris said.

"Mm-hm," Adam said. "No, I see the whole diabolical plan now. You've been planning all along to tempt me into a life of killing monsters with your adorable ass. All of that resisting was just for show." He kissed Kris, who was still trying to protest, and took his face in his hands. "Look, do you want to quit? Because believe me, I am fine with that. But as of this morning I was getting the impression that I was going to have to dig my heels in just to keep you from burying yourself alive."

"I can't quit," Kris said. "That doesn't mean you have to sign on."

"I think I do have to, assuming that I like you alive, which I do," Adam said. "And just to be clear, there will be no more suicide missions on my watch. A world tour of synchronized dancing, laser lights, and blowing monsters into tiny bits with our combined amazing, that's all good."

"And like that, you're okay with all of this," Kris said, helplessly, but he was letting Adam pull him in close, and his arms were sliding around Adam's waist.

"Well, I still think you're all crazy, but I know a lot of crazy people," Adam said. "Besides, I already have ideas for the costumes."

= End =

With many many thanks to Cesca and Merry and Terri for beta! <3

This is a sister-story to House of the Living, but they both stand alone.

All feedback much appreciated!

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