Unless it's lies or it's love

For Kradam BigBang 2010. (Many thanks to Cathalin for beta, to Mrsfjl66 and Reoracer for first reading and China Shop, for being smart.)

Adam and Kris are real people but this is a work of fiction.

He is such an idiot.


Climbing up on the speaker scaffolding next to the stage had been bad enough. Trying to jump down afterward, even from halfway up, was just unforgivably stupid. It had seemed like an awesome idea at the time, like something Kurt Cobain might have done, wild and dangerous and full of that punk rock whateverness. But the thing about Kurt Cobain was that he was actually suicidal, which meant he didn't care if he lived or died or ended up limping across the stage in front of twelve thousand people, trying to grin and look all rock star even though he could feel blood pooling in his boot, feel the hot sick absence of anything in his knee that meant he was about to be in for a whole world of hurt.

And fuck, it really did hurt now, even elevated in front of him on the exam table with some crew guy's sweatshirt bunched up as a compress on top of it, strapped down with Lane's pretty blue scarf. And the hospital is slammed tonight, a three car pileup and a bunch of drunken mishaps and what looks like the entire population of a college sorority, all green-faced and sick with food poisoning or the flu. The ER staff had put him in one of those mostly-private curtained off rooms when it became obvious that people were going to be creating a disturbance asking for his autograph, but they were definitely not putting him ahead of anybody else when it came to actually seeing the doctor. Not that he thinks they should. He's not that kind of guy. But...everything would be easier if he was that kind of guy, right now.

"You want me to call your mom?" Lane asks, for the millionth time. She's great at organizing stuff, but she doesn't deal with potentially emotional situations very well.

Adam pats her hand. "Nah," he says, also for the millionth time. "She's asleep. But I texted her. She'll know I'm okay."

Lane nods. "I just thought. I don't know. Should I hold your hand or something?" She looks kind of alarmed by that idea, but determined to do it if she has to. Adam decides he thinks that's kind of sweet.

"No," he says. "Seriously, I'm fine. I'll be fine."

She looks relieved, thumbs open her phone and frowns at the little screen. "Shit," she says. "Dammit. Stay here, okay?" She gives him a stern look, like she thinks he might otherwise disobey.

Adam lifts his eyebrows at her, inclines his head toward his bandaged knee. She grins. "Oh, yeah," she says. "Well. Good." And then she's pushing through the curtain and into the hall.

Adam sighs. He shifts a little on the exam table and then shifts again when his knee twinges, and then pulls his phone out of his pocket and checks his email, his twitter. There are already videos of him in the ER on Youtube, which means his replies are full of hysterical speculation that he actually died or is dying or is maybe just never going to walk again, poor, tragic Adam, gay and crippled, omg!! He rolls his eyes and taps out a quick tweet: Waiting for doctor but totally fine, friends. Ego hurts more than knee!! :) After a second, he takes a quick picture of himself making a rueful face and twitpics it as well. Proof for the skeptics.

There's a rustling and a stir outside the curtain then and Adam sits up straight, hoping. It's not the doctor, though -- it's a nurse, and behind the nurse is a guy with a little kid. Huh. The nurse holds the curtain open and ushers the other two inside. "Sorry Mr. Lambert," she says, brisk and cheerful. "I'm afraid we're going to have to ask you to share your room."

Adam shrugs. "Hey, no, that's fine. Whatever you need." The guy has a black eye starting to show up on one side of his face and a smudge of something that's either a bruise or some dirt on his jaw. He's small and dark-haired, has these soulful brown eyes. He'd probably be pretty hot, Adam thinks, if he didn't look so sad. Adam sits up a little more, pulls his jacket straight. The guy doesn't seem to notice, though. He doesn't meet Adam's eyes or anyone's, just tugs gently on the little kid's hand, murmurs something and watches while the kid climbs up to sit in a chair. The guy takes the chair next to the kid's and sits there, not looking at anything in particular, one arm cradled against his chest.

The nurse makes sure he's settled and then disappears. The little kid watches her go, then turns to peer around the room. He's maybe three or four, has blond hair sticking up on his head, a jacket zipped up over his fuzzy yellow pajamas. When he spots Adam, his eyes go really wide and he stops there, staring. Adam figures it's probably the hair, which is pretty tall tonight and streaked with blue and glitter, or maybe his face, which is still made up for the stage. He doesn't know much about little kids, but that has to be kind of scary, right? So he gives the kid a reassuring smile.

The kid puts his head on one side, considers Adam for a few seconds and then smiles back, sweet and open. "Hi," he says.

Adam can feel his smile getting bigger. The kid is pretty fucking cute. "Hi," he says back.

"Are you, um. Did you get hurt?" the kid says.

Adam nods. "Yeah. I was dumb. I climbed up somewhere and jumped off, banged my knee."

The kid nods, too. His gaze wanders over to the oxygen tanks high up in the corner, and then to the blood pressure thingy on the wall. He stares at that for a while, then hops down from his chair and wanders over to reach up and touch it, curiously. The heels of his boots have little lights in them when he walks on them. Adam is totally jealous.

"Josh, don't touch, buddy." It's the guy, the kid's dad. His voice is low and a little hoarse. He clears his throat.

Josh looks over his shoulder at his dad, his fingers still on the machine. His dad shakes his head, smiling a little. Josh sighs and lowers his hand, shuffles back across the room and slumps dramatically across his dad's lap. His dad brings a hand up to card his fingers through Josh's hair. He seems like a nice guy, a good father. Adam wonders how the hell he ended up in the ER in the middle of the night, obviously suffering from having been at the wrong end of a fight.

"How old is he?" Adam asks.

The guy glances up at him, looks away again. "Three and a half," he says. He sounds tired and kind of sad and Adam doesn't know what his story is but there obviously is a story. The guy's hand is wedding-ringless where it combs through his kid's hair, and it's also shaking a little.

"He's cute," Adam says.

The guy smiles. "Thanks." He pauses, shifts a little, uncomfortably. "I'm sorry if we're bothering you too much. There was uh, a drunk guy in the waiting room and he was getting kind of loud, and so--"

Josh pushes up from under his father's hand so he can look at Adam. "That guy said the eff word." He widens his eyes significantly.

Adam widens his eyes, too. "Whoa," he says. "Rude. Good thing you got out of there."

Josh nods. He leans his head against his dad's knee again, this time facing toward Adam. "You got sparkles in your hair," he says.

Adam nods. "That I do," he agrees. He glances at the kid's dad. They kind of smile at each other. "Seriously, it's fine," Adam says. "I was bored anyway."

The guy looks down, still smiling a little, though it's lopsided because of the bruise on his jaw. "Well, thanks," he says again. His hand settles on his son's small back, spread wide and protective.

Adam clears his throat. "I'm Adam."

The guy shifts. "Yeah, I know," he says, half-amused and half-wary. "You're, you know. Kind of a rock star." He shrugs, gives Adam a quick, half-teasing look.

Adam grins. "Yeah, okay, but it's a segue," he says. "You're supposed to tell me your name now." He lifts his eyebrows, expectant.

The guy's mouth twitches. "I'm Kris," he says. "Um, Kris Allen. I'd shake your hand, but I think mine might actually be broken." He tilts his head toward the hand he still has cradled against his chest, his face rueful.

Adam winces sympathetically. "You jump off a speaker tower, too?" he asks.

Kris's eyes flick away and down. His face does something complicated and unhappy, and the hand he has on Josh's back goes visibly tense. "Something like that," he says.

Dammit. All that nice easy banter they'd had going on a moment ago is suddenly gone from the room. Kris is staring at a spot in the middle distance again, his eyes sad, his jaw tense. Josh shifts around so he can look up at his dad's face, frowning worriedly.

Adam clears his throat. "I, uh. Look, I think it's going to be a while yet. Does Josh like Spongebob? I have a bunch of episodes on my phone if you want to let him watch."

Josh stands up straight again, worry forgotten. "I like Spongebob," he tells Adam. "Dad, I do like Spongebob."

Kris smiles. "I know you do, buddy." He gives Adam another uncertain look. "I really don't want to be a bother," he says.

Adam waves a hand, already tapping his way into the Spongebob episodes on his phone. "Whatever, it's no problem. Here." He holds out the phone, the cartoon already playing on it. Kris leans forward to take it in his good hand, his eyes on Adam's, grateful and still a little wary.

"Thank you," he says. His fingers are warm, callused at the tips. He takes the phone and holds it carefully, cupped in his palm, and Josh scrambles up into his lap so he can see. Adam smiles, watching them, and leans back against the wall behind the examining table, letting his head rest against the plaster, letting his eyes fall closed. The fluorescent lights make a buzzing he can just barely hear over the low hum of chaos outside their curtained room. The music from the cartoon is familiar and tinny through the iphone's small speaker, broken occasionally by Josh's sleepy laugh. Adam takes a deep breath and tries not to think about his schedule, tries not to wonder how bad it's going to be, whether they'll be able to adapt the stage show for the last few tour dates so nothing has to be canceled. Either way, he thinks, the label's going to be pissed. And the rumors are going to be ridiculous.

He sighs and breathes in again, lets all of it go. What happens is what happens; it's out of his hands now. Worrying about it isn't going to get him anywhere, so instead, he falls asleep.

He wakes up a while later because the chaos from out there seems to have drifted in here: there's a doctor bent over Kris, his white-coated back to Adam, doing something to Kris's arm that makes Kris grunt muffledly, his sneakered foot (all Adam can really see of him from here) twitching on the linoleum. Another person wearing scrubs is clipping x-rays to a lightbox on the wall, telling the doctor something about a simple ulnar fracture. The curtain is partly open. There's an IV-lugging dude standing in the gap, staring blankly inside, a pair of pee-stained sweatpants about two seconds from falling right off his skinny hips. And in the middle of it all, small and forgotten, is Josh. He's got his back to Adam but Adam can see that he's tense and still, trying to peer around the doctor so he can see his father. One of his thumbs is in his mouth; the other hand is curling and uncurling at his side.

"Hey," Adam calls, softly. "Hey, Josh. Can you, uh. Can you help me with something?"

Josh's head tilts and he makes a questioning noise, but his eyes are still on his dad, whose foot is bobbing up and down a little manically now, the movement obviously a substitute for the cursing out loud its owner would like to be doing.

"You have to come here, though," Adam says. "Just for a second, okay?"

Josh glances at Adam and then back at his dad. "Okay," he says finally. He scuffs over to Adam's table and looks up, expectant.

Adam looks back at him blankly, because shit -- he should have thought about what he was going to ask for help with ahead of time, probably. Hmm.

Josh sniffs and shifts his feet. "Um. You want me to tell you a story?"

Adam nods. "Yes," he says. "Yes, I do. Exactly."

Josh nods too. He frowns up at the ceiling and sucks his bottom lip into his mouth and wrinkles up his face in an expression clearly borrowed from someone adult, eyes narrowed in thought. "One time there was a boy with a dog named Adam," he says, finally. "And they had a truck that could eat garbage and they drove it up to the top of a mountain to see the grandparents and then at the top of the mountain the monster came and he had a garbage head and the truck eated him." He gives Adam a wide-eyed look.

"Whoa," Adam says.

Josh shrugs. "Well, that was why they brought that truck," he says, like duh, Adam. "And that's the end."

Adam applauds. "That was awesome," he says. "I liked it."

Josh nods again. He pulls open one of the little drawers in the side of Adam's examining table and then pushes it closed again before Adam has to ask him to, fair head bent, small fingers twisting at the knob. "My dad hurt his hand," he says, softly.

Adam nods. "Yeah. He's going to be okay, though. They're fixing it." He looks up and sees that the doctor's moved to close the curtain, leaving him a clear view of Kris. Kris is watching them. His face is a little paler than it had been a while ago, but his eyes are warm. Adam smiles at him, reassuringly, and then the doctor is between them again, explaining something to Kris about the cast.

Josh tugs the drawer open again, just a little way, and then slams it closed. "I'm going to put Jay in the garbage truck," he says.

Adam has no idea who Jay is but he's pretty sure little kids are never supposed to look this sad about anything. He digs in his jacket's pockets, looking for some kind of distraction, and finds a slightly bent ticket stub from a fashion show he'd seen a couple of weeks ago, when the tour had been in New York. "Hey," he says. "You want to see me make an airplane out of this?"

Josh shrugs. He purses his lips like he's thinking about it, pulls the drawer open and closed one more time. "Yep," he says.

Adam smiles. "Okay, cool. Check it out then. Watch this."

**

The airplane has been made and re-made three or four times before the doctor finally finishes with Kris's cast. He's washing his hands at the sink while the nurse shows Kris how to remove the cast for bathing after the first week is up and Adam is starting to think he might finally get a turn with the doctor when there's some kind of commotion in the hall past the curtain and everybody's pagers go off. The doctor leaves in a rush with the nurse close behind, the curtain flapping in their wake. Adam sighs.

"Do you want me to do the airplane this time?" Josh asks, patting his hand.

Adam blinks and smiles down at him, opening his mouth to agree. Kris is there before he can say anything, though, good hand on Josh's head. "We're all done, buddy," he says. "No time for more airplanes right now." He takes the paper from Josh's hand and offers it to Adam.

Adam shakes his head. "He can keep it," he says.

Kris gives the wrinkled plane back to Josh. "Thanks," he says. "I mean really, man, thank you. This could have been a lot crazier for him." He puts his hand back on Josh's head, strokes the hair from his forehead with one thumb. Josh is oblivious, busy flying the plane around in the air in front of his face, making motor noises with his mouth.

Adam smiles. "It was no problem," he says. "Honestly. It was good to be able to think about something other than my own stupidity."

Kris shrugs and makes a face, tilts his head so he can rub his chin against his shoulder. He still looks pale and tired, his eyes dark-circled, his forehead creased. "Yeah, well," he says. "I appreciate it." He half-turns and then stops, good hand lifting to the back of his neck. Something about the way he's hesitating makes Adam wonder, suddenly, if he has anywhere to go.

He opens his mouth to ask if he can give Kris a ride someplace, but the doctor comes back in before he can actually say anything, and this time Lane is at the doctor's heels, asking what sounds like a series of pointed questions, and then somebody says "Josh," in a sharp, worried voice and Josh's head comes up, a bright smile on his face for the first time all night. Adam watches him launch himself at the waist of an older blonde woman in a pair of sweat pants and an oversized coat, watches the woman swing Josh up and hug him close, her eyes searching out Kris. Kris is smiling, too, but it looks wary; he hunches his shoulders and shakes his head at some question in the woman's eyes, a clear not now. He turns back to Adam. "So, um. Good luck with your knee," he says.

Adam smiles. "Thanks. Uh. You take care of that wrist." Kris huffs a laugh and ducks his head and suddenly Adam wants to ask for his number, not even because Kris is cute but just so he can...keep track of them. Make sure they're both okay. But the doctor does something both painful and distracting to Adam's injured knee before he can and when he looks up again, Kris is gone.

The stitches and the instructions for cleaning them and how to take the pain meds and use the crutches, and then the series of decisions Lane needs him to make right now keep him occupied all the way back to the hotel. And then it's late and the meds are kicking in and he's more tired than he can remember feeling in a long, long time, so he gets out of his torn-up stage clothes and slides between the sheets, most of the way asleep before his head even touches the pillow.

Sleep keeps him under for several quiet hours, until suddenly, at four thirty-five in the morning by the glowing digits on the alarm clock next to the bed, he wakes with a start and remembers: his phone.

It's the kind of mistake you really, really can't make if you're famous: even if there's nothing potentially incriminating in his photos (and shit, there probably is), there are some extremely "intense fans" out there who would probably pay a lot of cash for the contact information he keeps in his address book, real numbers and email addresses for so many celebrities he knows, for his own relatives and friends.

He uses the phone in his room to dial his own number but it goes straight to voicemail. The battery's probably dead. He calls the phone company next and they tell him that although they can stop the phone from being a phone, they can't wipe the information on it unless he has one of a bunch of apps he doesn't have, but that they're sure it won't be an issue because of course he's probably got a password set up for access. "Oh, yeah," he says. "Thanks." He puts the phone back in its cradle and scrubs at his face, trying to wake up enough to think what to do. When Neil mocked him for not having a password lock on his phone, he'd told Neil his paranoia was creating a sinkhole of negative energy in the ozone layer. At the time it was hilarious because it made Neil's mouth open and close a couple of times in an I'm-so-disgusted-I'm-past-speech kind of way. It's maybe less funny now, though. In retrospect.

Logic tells him he should be freaking out, but he isn't, not really. He's not naive; he knows Kris could probably use the cash, he knows people do shitty things when they're desperate, especially if they have kids. But he trusts his instincts, and even though they didn't actually say much to each other, even though he really knows nothing about the guy in real life, his gut tells him he has nothing to worry about. Kris is going to do the right thing no matter what, even when the right thing makes no sense in the real world. He isn't going to sell Adam's personal information to the highest bidder. He probably isn't even going to look.

Adam settles back into his pillow and lets his eyes fall closed. In the morning, he'll tell Lane what happened. Right now, he's going to sleep.

***

Lane calls the phone company back and says stuff to them in The Language of Geeks that makes them put her through to a supervisor. The supervisor says stuff to Lane that makes her mouth tighten in a way Adam has come to associate with people getting their asses kicked, but it seems that ass-kicking won't help in this case, likely because the ass that really needs to be kicked is Adam's.

She hangs up with a dejected sigh. They sit in silence for a while, listening to the airport noise humming all around them. "I don't think he's going to mess with me," Adam says. "He really doesn't seem like the type."

Lane gives him a look. It's a very jaded look. Adam shrugs, like what else are we going to do? and after a moment, she nods.

And Adam thinks maybe it's karma or something, maybe the shittiness of having to do the last four shows of the tour from a stool in the middle of the stage getting balanced out by the universe, but Kris really doesn't mess with him. Not one of the pictures in Adam's phone shows up on the internet in any capacity, as far Adam can see. None of Adam's contacts starts getting weird texts or calls. Nothing. It's a good thing, because the label actually tried to find Kris when Adam remembered he knew Kris's last name, but the only local listing they found led to a guy who told the label rep Kris had moved: no forwarding address.

***

The ceiling above the futon in Alex's office has a crack that runs crookedly across the diagonal of the room, looking like a river on a map. It makes Kris wonder about earthquakes, about how the house he's staying in now has probably weathered a few of them, about how there are probably cracks like this all over the place, under the paint maybe, in places that are more difficult to see. It's a little scary -- they never had any earthquakes to worry about in Arkansas -- but it's kind of reassuring, too. If the house has survived this long without falling down, chances are pretty good it'll keep on surviving, right? Maybe those cracks are, like, a way to measure strength.

He shifts on the futon, trying to find a comfortable hollow for his butt, trying to get settled enough to let himself fall asleep. Josh is down for a nap so it's a good window of opportunity, but he can't seem to make himself actually do it, close his eyes and drift off like he desperately needs to. Sleeping has been hard lately. Moving across the country -- even if you have a place to stay when you get there, even if you're lucky enough to have a job and free childcare all lined up -- is stressful as heck. He hasn't really slept solid since they left. Hasn't really slept solid since Jan suggested this, actually, called him at his parents' place to ask how they were doing, listened while he explained about how he'd fought with Jay and broke up the band, how they'd had to move out of their old place and stay with his parents and how he thought he might be maybe losing his mind. He'd told that much to other people, too, but Jan was the only one who didn't seem to think he was overreacting, who seemed to get that there was more going on than what he felt he could actually say. She hmmed softly, into the phone. "Well," she said, after a moment. "I need a full-time counter guy at the bakery now, and Alex's office has a futon. I've always thought you guys would like living out here, you know that. Maybe this is a good time to try it. I mean, what have you got to lose, right?"

There hadn't been an answer for that, so he'd packed up and started the drive to the west coat three days later, just bringing Josh and whatever else he could fit in his crappy little Civic, paying for the gas on his hardly-used credit card. It was so completely unlike a thing he would ever do, but it had felt necessary. It still feels necessary, despite all the stress and the not-sleeping and the weirdness of living someplace completely new. Things were easier back home, but he feels alive out here in a way he hadn't there, like there's a point to everything again. He doesn't know how things are going to work out, but he thinks maybe not knowing is a good thing.

He sighs and rolls onto his back, somehow forgetting -- again -- that he doesn't have a cast on his left arm anymore and smacking the knuckles of that hand into the plaster. He sucks in a sharp breath, swearing softly, curling up around the pain in his hand. He doesn't even hear Josh coming until there's a small hand on his face, patting gently. He squints open one eye.

Josh's face is close enough it looks enormous, brown eyes wide and concerned. "You hurt your hand?" he says.

"Yeah," Kris says. "I'm okay, though."

Josh nods. He pokes Kris's nose, thoughtfully. "Honk honk," he says.

Kris smiles. He catches Josh's wrist and pretends to bite Josh's finger. Josh laughs out loud, delighted. Kris kisses his fat palm. "We should go to the library," he says. "You want to find your boots?"

Josh purses his lips. "Sandals," he says.

Kris shakes his head. "Boots," he repeats, a little more emphatically. "It's rainy outside, still."

Josh's shoulders slump dramatically. Kris pats him on the back and rolls off the futon, slipping into his own shoes again. "I know, buddy, the climate's always getting in the way of your artistic vision. Maybe we should have moved to L.A. instead of San Francisco, huh?"

Josh nods silently, still depressed. Kris snorts and follows him out of the room.

They find Alex in the kitchen, pasting fake plastic rhinestones to construction paper in the shape of a sparkly cowboy hat, the tiny kitchen TV on in the background behind him. Carrie's squatting at her dad's feet, busy tying his shoe-laces into knots.

Kris grins. "Hey, Alex," he says. He reaches into the cupboard for some goldfish crackers, pours some of them into a lidded container. "That's a pretty sparkly hat you're making, there."

Alex dabs some more paste onto the paper and carefully presses a pink rhinestone next to the gold one he's just finished. "Right?" he says. "Carrie thought it was lame so I had to finish it myself. She'll see how awesome it is once it's finished, though. She. Will. See." He scowls ferociously down at Carrie, who grins back up at him, broadly, unconcerned. "Hmm," Alex says, narrowing his eyes at her. He purses his lips, goes back to gluing rhinestones again.

Kris laughs, snapping the lid onto the cracker cup. "We're going to the library," he says. "You guys want to come?"

Alex looks at Carrie. Carrie nods. "Yeah, okay," Alex says. "Just let me put this someplace to dry." He presses a green rhinestone into the last spot in the hat's outline, then stands and looks for a spot for it on top the refrigerator. Kris kneels near the back door to help Josh and Carrie into their rainboots and coats. Halfway through Carrie's left boot, the TV catches his attention, though, the tinny speakers filling with a strangely familiar laugh. He lifts his head and there's Adam Lambert on the screen, looking a lot less disheveled than he had at the hospital, hair slicked back and makeup unstreaked, his face relaxed and happy. "...recording his highly anticipated second album now in San Francisco's own Red Dog Studios," the voice over says. Carrie puts a hand on his head, enquiringly, and he blinks and smiles up at her. "Sorry," he tells her. "I got distracted." He tugs the boot the rest of the way onto her foot, helps her put on her raincoat. By the time he's on his feet again, there's some other story on the TV and Alex is back, wrapping a plastic bag around a stack of story books he's planning to return. He smiles at Kris, questioningly. "Ready to go?" he asks.

Kris nods, pulling on his coat and taking Josh's hand.

But later on, when he's scraping crusted Cheerio gunk off the chair Josh was sitting on for snack, he remembers. Adam's phone was one of the things Kris had dropped the ball on in the middle of all the chaos. There had been too much going on and he hadn't managed to figure out how to get the phone back to him right away, and he hadn't had the energy to keep working at it. Now seems like a good time to fix that.

He googles the studio they'd mentioned on TV, dials the number and scrapes some more Cheerios off the chair's leg while it rings.

***

The studio has this complicated security system you need to know a code for and have a keycard thing to get through. It's hard to do when you have a coffee and a bottle of water and a laptop and a thermos full of green blended stuff that's supposed to cleanse your internal organs of parasites and residue if you drink three ounces of it every hour. Adam's shoving the thermos under his chin when the guy who does the front desk pushes the back door open from inside and holds it for him so he can get through. "Thanks," Adam tells the guy. He should really know the guy's name; they've been here for a week and a half already.

The guy tugs the door closed again and gives Adam a smile. It might be a flirty smile or it might not be. Adam's gaydar doesn't work in San Francisco; it's like there's too much residual gay in the atmosphere or something. This guy is short and has a couple of piercings in both ears and a tattoo that crawls its way out from under his collar, down both forearms, shows up faintly through the back of his white shirt. He's not Adam's type, strictly speaking, but he has nice eyes and the tattoo would be. Interesting.

"No problem," the guy says. "I have a message for you anyway." He follows Adam down the back hall to the front of the studio, to his desk, which is Lane-standards-organized and totally bare on top except for a single post-it. The guy plucks this off the desk and hands it to Adam, smiling again. Sadly his phone rings before Adam can pursue it any further. He gives the guy a nod of thanks and makes his way up the stairs to the second floor, which is where the studio they're working in is. He doesn't look at the message until he's inside, until he's unloading the pile of stuff in his arms to the couch in there, smiling good morning to Monte, who's already working, curled around his guitar in the soundproofed booth through the glass, waiting to start a new take.

The post-it says: Kris Allen says he still has your phone, is in SF, happy to return it, pls call.

It's so completely unexpected he has to read it three or four times before he understands it. Kris Allen, the mysterious disappearing phone guy from Arkansas, is here. With the phone.

He walks to the table in the corner without looking up from the post-it in his hand, puts the coffee cup on it and wanders back out the door. There's a landline phone in the kitchen. He'll call from there.

*

Kris picks up on the second ring. Even his "hello?" sounds nervous.

"Hey!" Adam says. "You did have it! Thank god, man. I was worried I'd left it at the hospital somewhere."

Kris is silent for a few seconds. "Is this. Um. Wow."

Adam smiles. He sinks into one of the kitchen chairs and stretches his legs out. "Did I wake you up?"

"No," Kris says. "I just. I thought it would be a PR person or something. So."

"Huh," Adam says. "That probably would have been the right way to do it. I got so excited when I heard you still had my phone, I forgot to think first."

Kris clears his throat. "Yeah, I. Have it. I'm so sorry. It was in my pocket. I don't know what I was thinking. I just...I must have stuck it in there when the doctor came and then I guess I forgot about it. God. You probably. Listen, I swear I'm not some crazy stalker, man. I mean, I think you're cool but I moved here three weeks ago and I had no idea you were going to be here when I did. I mean, I don't even listen to your music all that much. And that. Probably wasn't the best thing to say." There's a muffled thump and then some rustling on the other end of the line.

Adam grins. "It's fine, seriously. I'm not everybody's cup of tea. I get that."

"You're really good tea, though," Kris says, earnestly.

Adam laughs out loud. "Well. Thanks."

Kris sighs. There's a small silence. "I called your label," Kris says, finally. "The day after. But I think I pressed the wrong thing or something, because nobody ever called me back. They sent me an Adam Official fridge magnet, though."

"Yeah? Well, you better send it right back, then. Since you're not actually a fan."

Kris laughs, short and surprised. Adam smiles. "Just kidding," he says. "You can keep it. But, um. You can't keep my phone."

"Right," Kris says. "No. I can mail it to your management, maybe...or oh, you probably want it right way, though, huh? Should I send it with a courier or something?"

"Well, why don't I just come and pick it up?" Adam says.

There's another pause. "Or you could just come and. Pick it up," Kris says. "Okay. Cool."

Adam grins again. "Yeah? All right, then. Where are you?"

*

The address Kris gives him is an organic bakery in the Haight. It has steamed-up windows and a clapboard sign with the bread of the day chalked in the middle: Dark Onion Pumpernickel Twist. The tables at the front of the store are all full of people, so it's loud and warm in spite of the rain outside. The air is full of the smells of yeast and cinnamon, with a dark overlay of espresso and chocolate. The space behind the counter is crowded, full of movement: a kid with a lip piercing and dark hair falling out of a ballcap is steaming something in a tall metal cup while a guy with an engineer's hat mixes something green in a blender and a blond woman with a tattoo winding up from her wrist makes the customer's change at the till.

Kris is squatting behind the glass display case with a tray of cookies balanced on his knees, using one hand to arrange them on a platter in the case. He's wearing a spiderman t-shirt that probably used to be red but has been washed so many times it's faded to pink. There's a gray beanie on his head, one of the bakery's green aprons tied around his waist.

Adam makes his way to the case and bends down so he can peer through the glass at Kris. Behind him, people are starting to notice him, murmuring recognition. But Kris is totally absorbed in proper cookie placement; he doesn't even lift his head. Monster Cookies the little placard at the front of the tray says, Rawr!

Adam taps at the glass with his knuckles. Kris's head jerks up, his eyes wide and startled. He smiles when he sees Adam, though, tries to stand and remembers the cookie tray, lifts it just on time to prevent it from dumping its monstery contents on the floor. "Hey," he says, a little breathlessly, once he's upright. "Uh. Give me a second?"

Adam nods. Kris sets the tray on the counter behind him, then seems to reconsider, turning back to pick a cookie off the front of the row. He holds it out between gloved fingers, lifts his eyebrows at Adam. "Still warm," he says.

Adam kind of has to say yes to that, right, so he takes the cookie and grins his thanks. It is still warm and it tastes heavenly, oaty and chocolatey and good. He widens his eyes at Kris, appreciative.

Kris smiles again and then stops smiling, wipes his face on his t-shirt's sleeve. The other counter staffers are kind of staring at him, now; he shakes his head, glances back at Adam and then waves toward the half-door that separates their workspace from the storefront. "Guys. Can I...?" They flatten themselves against the counter behind them so Kris can get past.

Kris disappears through a set of doors that probably lead to the kitchen. There's a gust of warmer air when he opens them, anyway, and a lot of blendery, clattery noise. Adam sticks his hands in his pockets, pretending not to notice that things are a lot quieter behind him right now, because wow, awkward. He reads the chalked-up menu over the counter instead. It seems they serve soup and sandwiches along with the baked goods. Today they've got borscht and something involving harvest squashes. When he lowers his gaze, all of the other counter staff are still watching him, though the lip-pierced kid is at least trying to pretend to be too cool. Thankfully Kris comes back before anybody asks for an autograph; he takes in the situation with a glance and winces, flushing a little. "Shit," he says. "Uh. Come on back here."

He leads Adam back through the kitchen doors and stops just inside them, where there's a small enclave of no activity before the chaos of the kitchen starts. This is where people leave their backpacks and collect their aprons, where the schedule is and the corkboard with notes that say stuff like nine pounds of goat cheese from Burbish next time and YOU'RE nine pounds of goat cheese and your MAMA. Adam laughs at them, tilts his head toward them when Kris gives him a questioning glance.

"Ha, yeah. That's Jan. She owns this place, so I guess she gets to tell yo mama jokes if she wants to."

"You found work pretty quickly, huh?" he says. "Didn't you just get here a couple of weeks ago?"

Kris lifts a shoulder, tilts his head. "Yeah, it's. Jan's Josh's aunt, so. It's all nepotism, I guess."

Adam blinks. "Josh's aunt but not...your sister?"

Kris shakes his head. "Other side," he says. "Hannah's sister. My, uh. Ex's. Sister."

"Oh." Adam nods. Kris nods, too. There's a small awkward silence. They both look away from each other, down at the floor. Kris is still blushing, Adam sees, glancing up at him covertly. He looks maybe a little uncomfortable to be talking to Adam now, though it's hard to say why.

"Oh," Kris says finally, making Adam's gaze lift to his face again. "Hey. Here's your phone."

Adam takes it, slips it into the pocket of his jeans without really looking at it. "Thanks," he says. "Well. I guess I should--"

"How's your knee?" Kris says, at the same time. They both laugh and it's so weird, because Kris is still a little stiff, still seems to be trying to keep his voice down like he's worried, what, that his co-workers are going to overhear their conversation and misinterpret? Maybe? But he's dragging the conversation out, too, like he wants Adam to stick around longer. It's confusing.

Adam puts his head on one side and licks his bottom lip, thoughtfully, before he speaks. "It's...okay," he says. "I got lucky, I guess -- no tendon damage. How's the wrist?"

Kris holds up his arm. "Got the cast off a week ago," he says. "I keep forgetting I can actually use it for stuff, though."

Adam nods sympathetically. "They made me use crutches for a couple of weeks," he says. "I told them I'd way rather just limp, but apparently that's bad somehow. They called my mom."

"Low," Kris says.

Adam waves a hand, nodding exaggeratedly. "Right? But that's the kind of people they are: sneaky and underhanded. There can be no trust."

"Sad."

Adam nods. "A sad state. A sad state of affairs."

Kris laughs like he can't help it, lifts a hand to scratch at the back of his head through the beanie, lowering his gaze to the floor. There are still dark circles under his eyes and strain lines around his mouth, but he looks better now. Not as lost. "Josh settling in at his new place okay?" Adam asks.

Kris's face twists into a momentary grimace. "He...yeah. I mean, we're staying with Jan, actually, but he loves Jan, and so. Yeah."

"Oh, that's good. I mean, you probably miss having a place of your own, but it's hard to find a good apartment when you aren't actually in the city yet. I did that when I moved to L.A.." He curls his lip, remembering.

Kris glances up at him, quick and then grateful when he sees Adam isn't going to push for more details about the move. He seems to be relaxing a little now; maybe he was just. Shy. Or something.

"Yeah," he says. "I bet. Did they...you were touring when that happened, right? Did you have to cancel shows?"

Adam shakes his head. "Nah, just modified stuff so I could sit instead of dancing."

"Oh, that's good," Kris says. "You could--" The kitchen door slams open before he can finish the sentence, though, and Josh bursts through it. He grabs his father's belt with both hands, his small face full of indignation. "Carrie took the piano," he says, urgently.

"Well, what did Uncle Alex say?" Kris asks.

Josh's scowl deepens. He leans backward from his grip on Kris's belt, pushes the toe of his boot against his dad's foot. "Take turns."

Kris lifts his eyebrows, presses his lips together. "Well, I guess it must be Carrie's turn then, hey?" He bends to put a hand on Josh's back, though, gives him a couple of sympathetic pats. "Look who's here, though, buddy -- it's Adam."

Josh's head comes up, eyes wide. "Oh," he says. He lets go of his dad and takes a couple of steps closer to Adam and stops, hands twisting in front of him.

Adam smiles at him. "Do you remember me?" he says. "You helped me make airplanes one time."

Josh puts his head on one side. "You got Spongebob on your phone," he says.

Adam grins. "Yeah, wow, that's right. That's me."

Josh nods. "We moved," he says. "I sleep on the bottom bunk and Carrie has a blanket with a monkey on it and I had to wear Carrie's pants which is too big and last night the monkey said go up on top the tree, please, so I did and then I fell down and then I broke my arm and they put a cast on it and all the trees was sad and they made me a sad song and when I played it on the piano Carrie said MY TURN and she took the piano away."

Adam avoids Kris's eye and manages not to smile. "That sucks," he says.

Josh nods glumly. He puts his hand on Adam's, tugging at one of his rings, eyes narrowed in concentration. "This is from a pirate," he says. "He was going to steal it but you stopped him and now he went to jail."

"The things I didn't know about my rings," Adam murmurs. He lifts his eyes to Kris's and, since Josh's head is bent, he lets himself grin.

Kris smiles, too, and it lights up his whole face, lightens the dark circles under his eyes. "Josh tells awesome stories," he says. "We're still working on the lines between real life and imagination, though."

"Lines schmines," Adam says. "Who needs 'em." He pats Josh's head, gently, the fair hair fine and soft beneath his fingers. "I dig pirates," he says, winking at Josh when Josh looks up at him. "I'm glad I have a pirate ring."

Josh nods. "You got lots of pirate rings, actually," he says. "I think all of them."

Adam widens his eyes. "That is so cool," he says. "I didn't even know." He looks up to see if Kris has overheard and sees that Kris is talking to the blond woman from out front, now; she's leaning in the kitchen door and looking sort of apologetic but mostly just harassed. It seems a lot louder in the front of the store, now, too. Lunch rush, Adam figures. Kris nods at the blond woman and she gives Adam one last look before she disappears.

"You have to go," Adam says. Kris twists his mouth up, but he nods. Adam nods, too. He gives Josh another smile. "Thanks for telling me about those pirates," he says. "If you want to, you could draw me the story of what happened when they met me and then maybe your dad could email it to me?" He tears a piece of paper from the pad next to the schedule, borrows the pen tied there to write down his email address and hands it to Josh.

Josh frowns at the paper as if he's reading what's on it, then moves closer to his father again, hands the paper to him and grabs the hem of his t-shirt, smiling past the cloth at Adam, suddenly shy. Adam pulls the door open, turns and lifts a hand in a wave. "It was nice to meet you," he says. "Seriously." He meets Kris's eyes. Kris nods but doesn't say anything, just gives Adam another smile and ducks his head.

Josh waves back, small hand lifted high. "See you," he says.

Adam grins and lets the door fall closed.

***

When Kris was seventeen, there was a kid at church who had come out as gay and it had been...you know. Fine. None of the pastors had stood up and given a sermon about how gays were going to hell, anyway; they weren't that kind of church. The kid's parents hadn't sent him off to cure-the-gay camp. Nobody beat him up as far as Kris knew. People mostly just left him alone.

But Kris's mom said, "Oh, gosh, poor Mallory." (Mallory was the kid's mom.)

And Kris's dad said, "Well, I guess that explainsthat," and Mr. Nordquist, who they were standing with in the parking lot at the Walmart, gave a bark of laughter and threw back his head and clapped Kris on the shoulder, like Kris had had anything to do with it.

Charles said, "Man, I have never been happier that I dropped out of soccer. I mean, no hate or whatever, but...gross, man." Everybody else had laughed and Katy and Lauren told Charles he was a jerk, but they didn't really seem to mean it.

So Kris just never felt the need to make a big declaration or whatever. He knew it would probably be fine, but he didn't want to make people uncomfortable if he didn't have to, didn't want to be the brunt of somebody's dad's jokes, didn't think there was any reason to make his mom the object of other moms' pity. He liked girls as often as he liked guys; at first he figured he'd just ignore the crushes that didn't fit and everything would work out. Even later, after he and Jay started doing...whatever it was that they were doing, it wasn't something they ever actually talked about, even with each other, and so. Here he is.

That afternoon, he and Matt are taking the baking trays out of the sterilizer and putting them away and Matt says "So, you and Adam Lambert, huh?" and gives Kris a sly, sideways grin, and Kris knows Matt's just messing with him, and he knows his next line should be, like, "So, you and your mom, huh?" and everyone would just laugh, but he feels himself turn bright red before he can say anything, and he ends up just muttering "shut up," instead.

There's a silence. Matt stops in the middle of putting a pan back on the rack, one arm outstretched, eyebrows arched. "Oh, like, really?" he says.

Kris shakes his head, exasperated. "No," he says. "I just. Had his phone."

Matt doesn't look any less intrigued. "You had his phone," he repeats.

"Matt." Jan's looking at them from her spot behind the big counter, her eyes on Kris for a second, serious and concerned, then moving over to look warningly at Matt. "Leave it alone."

Kris swallows and bends to put the pan he's holding into the big shelf under the stoves. A few seconds later, Matt starts moving, too. "I hear the Sourdough Lady was here this morning," he says.

Kris clears his throat. "Oh yeah?" The Sourdough Lady is kind of awesome; she's maybe 80, wears a tweed suit and a neck scarf no matter the weather, always insists on a cup of piping hot black tea and a single piece of sourdough toast.

Matt nods. "Still kicking, I guess," he says.

Jan rolls her eyes, wipes the side of her face against her shoulder. "Aw, Matt. Soul of sensitivity."

Kris huffs a laugh, reaching up to shove the rack they just emptied in beside the others on its shelf. "I'm glad she's back," he says. "Megan was worried about her."

Matt nods, looking a little affronted. "That's what I meant," he says, waving a hand at Kris.

Jan just shakes her head and smiles, her eyes moving up to Kris's face and then away again. It weirds him out a little, how she keeps looking at him, but he doesn't know why.

"I'll, uh. I'll grab the garbage," he says. He doesn't look to see if her gaze follows him out of the room.

*


The real strangeness doesn't start until the next day, which is inexplicably busy, even for a Wednesday. Kris is at the till, ringing up a dark chocolate espresso brownie, a monster cookie and three lattes for a group of teenaged girls, and it's weird because they're all laughing at something and he doesn't get the joke but he thinks it somehow involves him because they're also all glancing at him and, like, shoving at each other.

"So, uh," he says finally. "It's $17.54?"

One of them hands over a twenty. He sets it on top the cash drawer so he can make her change and she puts her elbows on the counter, leans close to watch him do it, chin in her hands. He blinks at her. She smiles brightly back. "Are you...really dating Adam Lambert?" she asks.

He drops her change on the floor. Her two friends are doubled over with laughter now, faces in their hands. The girl who spoke is just watching him, eyebrows raised, as if it's a totally legitimate question. "What?" he says. "I...what?"

She shrugs. "Well, he tweeted about this place, right, and he said the counter staff was cute, and I mean, I guess she's cute, too--" she nods toward Megan, who's obliviously making somebody a smoothie "--but I don't think she's Adam's type. So." She shrugs again. "Plus Perez posted a picture of you."

Kris shakes his head. He slides the twenty into its spot in the till and closes the cash drawer, then crouches to gather the girl's dropped change. She leans over the counter a little more so she can see him. "Don't worry about it," she says. "You can keep it. Just, like, tell your boyfriend to play some shows here, okay? I mean, he's in town anyway, right?"

They sit down after that, but they keep watching him and giggling to each other and he kind of can't deal with the weirdness after a few seconds so he asks Megan if she minds if he takes his break early and then heads into the kitchen when she nods. George is back there, standing in front of the schedule with his thumbs hooked in the straps of his backpack, sucking thoughtfully on his lipring while he checks out his shifts. "I close three times this week," George says.

"You need to trade or something?" Kris asks.

George shakes his head. "Nah. Just noticing."

Kris nods. "Huh," he says. "So. Hey, what's it mean when someone says they tweeted something?"

George considers this. "I guess probably Twitter? Unless they're, you know. A bird. I guess."

Kris raises his eyebrows at George. George frowns back, like what?. George either has an awesome poker face or he's the for real kind of crazy -- Kris hasn't figured it out yet.

"What's Twitter?" he asks.

George shrugs. "A website," he says. "You know, like on the internet? Oh! Your boyfriend can totally show you -- he has an account on there."

Kris blinks. "I don't." He rubs his forehead. "I don't have a boyfriend, George," he says.

"Oh," George says. He makes a sympathetic face.

Kris shakes his head. "No, I'm not even. I mean, we weren't ever dating. I only met him a couple of times."

George nods. "I am totally not judging you?" he says. "Because I one time thought I was in love with this girl I met at Coachella and then it turned out she was only making out with me because she thought I was someone else." He claps Kris on the shoulder. "Well. I'm not even scheduled today. So. Good night."

After he gets back to Jan and Alex's place, Kris googles "Adam Lambert Twitter" on Alex's computer. Adam's Twitter site has a picture of him dressed like a stagey magician from the twenties as its background, half-ridiculous and half-beautiful. At the very top of the page is this:

Mondo Bun on Delmar in San Francisco: best monster cookies in the WORLD, guys. Cute counter staff too. Check them out. :)

Kris blinks at it for a few seconds, face hot, until Alex walks by and asks him what's wrong. "Just...nothing," he says, and he closes the browser before Alex has a chance to come over and look at the screen.

The day after that, two scruffy looking guys with giant cameras get out of two separate parked cars when he rounds the corner onto Delmar and follow him all the way down the block to the staff door at the bakery, snapping pictures of him and trying to get him to tell them about the kinds of sex he's been having with Adam Lambert. He makes it inside before they can catch up and is just starting to catch his breath when Matt holds out the bakery's phone, looking kind of freaked out.

Kris eyes the phone. "Who is it?" he asks.

"They said they were from Entertainment Tonight," Matt says.

Kris swallows. He takes the phone and ends the call without putting it to his ear, sets the receiver back in its charging cradle. Matt's still looking at him. "Seriously," Kris says. "I'd have mentioned it if I were suddenly dating a rock star, okay? It's just. A really weird misunderstanding."

Matt nods. "Sure, man," he says. Above his head, the TV in the corner cuts to a shot of something disturbingly familiar; after a couple of wobbly seconds, Kris recognizes the outside of the bakery. LAMBERT IN LOVE? says the red banner text at the bottom of the shot. He finds the remote and raises the volume in time to hear the announcer's grating voice talking about the tweet Adam had made and the cameraphone picture that Perez Hilton guy had posted of Kris and Adam talking at the bakery's counter the day Adam came to collect his phone. The shot switches to that photo. In it, he's holding out a cookie for Adam to take. The smile on his face is sort of ridiculous.

Shit.

"I have to, uh." He puts his hand on his forehead, closes his eyes for a second and breathes out. "I should probably call my mom."

The employee bathroom is the most private place they have for phonecalls; he locks the door behind himself and dials the familiar number, presses the phone to his ear. His mom picks up on the second ring, sounding a little out of breath and pleasantly surprised. "Kris!" she says.

"Hey," he says, and he catches sight of his own reflection in the small mirror over the sink. He looks pale and freaked out; he closes his eyes and turns around, leans back against the sink and looks at the wall instead. "Mom. Hi."

"I was just thinking about you," she says. "Your dad called to let me know he's buying pizza for dinner tonight, and I was halfway to telling him he should remember to get one without any bell peppers on it."

Kris laughs. "I didn't die, mom. I'm not even out of the country." There's a print of a famous painting on the wall, a lady in an orange dress sitting at a sidewalk table in some cafe. It's a pretty good print. You can see the smears where the paint would stick out a little from the canvas. If it was a canvas. He puts his hand out, traces one of them with a finger. "So listen," he says. "I might be on the news tonight, but it isn't true, okay?"

"What's not true?" his mom says. She sounds alarmed. "What happened?"

"Nothing. Happened." He clears his throat.

"Kris," she says.

He grimaces. "Seriously, it's not. It's stupid. They might say I'm dating this. Um. A rock star. A man. But I'm not, okay? They made it all up."

Someone knocks on the door. "Kris," Jan says, muffledly. "It's Adam. Like, Lambert Adam. Like, on the phone."

His mom's still saying something in a worried voice; he closes his eyes, forces his attention back to her. "Mom, I'm really sorry, but I have to go. I. I'll call you tonight, okay?" He ends the call before she can say anything else, pushes the phone back into his pocket and opens the door. Jan lifts her eyebrows at him, holding out the bakery's cordless.


Kris takes it. "Hello?"

Adam sounds muffled, but it's definitely him. "Kris!" he says. "Oh my god! I am so sorry!"

Kris sighs. "No, it's. Not your fault."

Adam pauses for a second. "It's kind of my fault," he says. "I shouldn't have tweeted anything so specific, not right now. I thought I was returning the favour you did when you gave me back my phone, maybe getting you guys some more business. I should have known better."

Kris clears his throat. "I'm. Jeeze. I'm not mad, okay? But I don't really know what to do. It's kind of a mess here right now."

"Jesus," Adam says. "Are they still out there?"

Kris tugs the blind away from the window over the staff door, peers out into the street. "Oh, yeah," he says. "They're multiplying, actually -- I think there are three of them now."

Adam sighs. "Okay," he says. "Okay. They're hitting this story really hard today because it's been a slow week -- I think they'll probably forget about it if I make a statement and we just keep you off camera for a few days. Out of sight, out of mind, you know? Can you just. Lay low for a while?"

Kris presses his lips together, lets out a breath. "How long a while?" he asks.

"I don't know," Adam says. "A few days? But don't worry -- I'll, um. Compensate you, of course. For the lost wages."

Kris frowns. "I'm not. I can't take any money from you," he says.

"But it's my fault you can't work," Adam says, like this is obvious.

Kris shakes his head. "It's TMZ's fault I can't work."

"Yeah," Adam says. "But it's--"

Kris cuts him off. "Look, man, I'm not going to do it. Okay? I can't just...go around taking charity or hush money or whatever you want to call it. Maybe I'm not rich, but. I'm not that kind of guy."

Adam's silent for a few seconds. "Fuck," he says. "I'm sorry. I keep trying to fix it and I keep just. Making it worse." He breaths out, loud in the receiver. "Okay," he says. "Okay. What if I hire you?"

Kris blinks. "What?"

"What if I hire you?" Adam repeats, sounding excited. "What if you were, I don't know. A studio assistant. Or something. For a few days. Would that work?"

Kris thinks about it. He thinks about all the bills he still has to pay from the move, the deposit and first month's rent he needs to save up for a new place. He still doesn't feel right about any of this, but the excited buzz of conversation from the front of the bakery reminds him that it's all happening the way it's happening whether he feels right about it or not. If he goes out there to work the counter, it's going to be a freaking zoo, and there's only so much he knows how to do in the kitchen.

He squeezes his eyes closed, lets out a breath. "Okay," he says. "Yeah. Thank you."

He can hear Adam's smile through the phone. "Oh, awesome. All right. I'll send a car to come and get you."

***

On Kris's first day as a rock star's assistant, he:

* hangs up on Ryan Tedder by accident;

* drops a box of receipts on the floor, completely messing up the way they'd been filed by date; AND

* syncs Lane's calendar the wrong way, erasing week after week of meticulously colour-coded scheduled appointments and to-do lists

The last thing happens toward the end of the day, which he's mostly spent undoing his own dumbness with the receipts; when he actually understands what he's done, when he actually gets why the screen of Lane's laptop is suddenly all blank except for the names of the days and the dates, he's reduced to pressing the fingers of both hands over his mouth and making a small, muffled noise of despair.

Lane looks up from her phone, on which she's texting somebody urgently about something, and peers over his shoulder.

"Uh oh," she says.

"I'm sorry," Kris says. He seems to still have his fingers pressed onto his mouth, though, so it's pretty muffled. He isn't sure if she understands.

"No, it's." She pulls the laptop over. "Not your fault." She taps some things into the keyboard.

Kris slides his hands up over his face and into his hair, which he grabs at because he feels like he kind of has to grab at something. "I'm really really sorry," he says. "I have no idea why I clicked that."

Lane shakes her head, eyes on the screen. "It's okay," she says. "I should have been watching." She clicks a couple more things.

Kris squeezes his eyes closed. He thinks seriously about just getting up and leaving right now, sneaking out the front door and catching the bus home. If he does it without saying anything first, Adam might not notice he's gone.

"What's going on?" Adam says, from behind them.

Kris lowers his hands and opens his eyes. Adam's leaning over Lane's chair, a stick of celery in one hand, looking concerned. He swallows his mouthful and does some kind of weird nonverbal exchange with Lane, who shakes her head.

"Nothing," she says. "Kris had a little mixup with the calendar, but it's fine now." She shifts her gaze to Kris, smiling. "Time Machine," she says, like that makes some kind of sense.

He blinks. "Oh," he says. "...cool?"

Lane nods. "Seriously. Check it out." She pushes the laptop back his way and he sees that the calendar is all restored the way it's supposed to be, colourful and complex as a pageful of hieroglyphics.

Kris feels all the breath leave him at once. "Oh, thank God," he says. He looks at Adam, tilting his head back awkwardly. "I am really not cut out for this," he says, as earnestly as possible. "I think I might actually hurt somebody next."

Adam presses his lips together, looks around at the comfortable furniture, the painting on the wall, the tray of pebbles you're supposed to rake with a tiny wooden rake. "With what?" he says.

Kris doesn't smile. "I could find a way."

Adam lifts his eyebrows. "Is that a threat?" he says, but he's smiling, and he squeezes Kris's shoulder. "Come on. You can take notes while we're working. I'll get you a notebook and a pen -- nothing you could possibly hurt with those, right?"

Kris thinks he's maybe being a little optimistic, considering, but he doesn't say that. He just sighs and gets to his feet, follows Adam out of the room.

Monte's in the middle of recording something when they get back to the booth, his lone guitar part a little strange without the rest of the band to contextualize things. Adam puts on a set of headphones so he can hear the missing tracks, listening with a thoughtful look on his face. Kris finds a spot at the edge of the squishy brown couch and sits down. Recording guitar part, he writes at the top of the first page of his notebook. He doesn't know what the song is, though, and he isn't sure what else there would be to say about it anyway. He taps the top of the pen against the page, feeling dumb. He suspects that this is the kind of job he gets Josh to do sometimes when he's making supper: "and you can help by stirring this very important empty bowl, buddy!" He scowls down at the page, draws a spiral in the margin and then scribbles it out again.

His phone buzzes at his hip. He puts the notebook on the couch next to himself and squirms around until he can fish the phone out of his pocket, squints at the screen. Saw u on tv, the message says. Anything u want to get off yr chest? It's from Charles, and it's followed by a :D face, but he knows Charles well enough to read between the lines, see that he's actually asking. He's already dealt with a couple of calls from his mom; he'd forgotten to call her back last night and she was worried about him, and wondering where Josh was in all of this, and then wondering if Alex was really the best babysitter for Josh, considering she hadn't personally met him. And Kris knew she was just concerned, that she loves him and loves Josh and doesn't want anything bad to happen to either of them, but he knows his mom well enough to read between the lines, too. He'd made excuses, hung up in the middle of their conversation again. Charles's text was probably sent at her urging, come to think of it.

Nope, he texts back. He locks the phone again and shoves it back in his pocket, grabs his notebook and draws another spiral. Adam sits down next to him while he's scratching that out, stretches his legs out and puts his hands in his lap, knocks his toes together, thoughtfully. His feet are bare. Of course. Kris's mouth tightens. He doesn't look up from his notebook.

"Things okay on the home front?" Adam says.

Kris shrugs. He knows Adam's just trying to be nice. But Adam's been trying to be nice since they met, and the harder he tries, the more messed up things seem to get for Kris, because Kris's life is this hard-won, carefully balanced thing, and Adam is rich and famous and not used to having to be careful about anything.

"Seriously," Adam's saying. "If there's anything I can do..."

Kris shakes his head, breathes out a laugh and shoves his hands over his face, into his hair. "No, really," he says. "Thanks, but. I'm good."

Adam's still looking at him. "I actually don't think that's true," he says.

Kris lifts his head, looks Adam in the face. Adam's all concerned and kind and completely oblivious; for some reason, it makes Kris more frustrated than ever and apparently this is where his tipping point is. "Okay, no," he says. "It's not true. I'm not good. You're right. I have no idea what I'm doing here, and apparently I came out on national TV today and I just. I have a kid, you know? That kind of thing isn't. Good."

Adam's head is bent, his eyes on his hands in his lap, his mouth tight. When Kris runs out of words, he waits a few seconds, like he wants to make sure Kris is finished, and then takes a breath. "I know that this is a crazy situation, and I get that it sucks to watch people say things about you on TV when they aren't true. Believe me. I get it. But that, what you just said...it's homophobic, okay? How's it not good for Josh if a bunch of strangers thinks you're gay?"

Kris sighs, pushing his hands through his hair again. "I don't mean it like that. I just. You don't understand. I'm not like you. I don't get to spend my days hanging around at a studio in my stupid bare feet talking about whether I should make my...dance song sound like a spaceship or whatever. I live out there, in the real world. It actually matters what people think of me."

Adam looks at him for a few seconds without saying anything. He doesn't have to say anything; Kris can read that look on his face well enough. He turns his own gaze back to the notebook, closes the paper cover over the ballpoint pen and hands it to Adam. "I'm going to go home. I'm not going to say anything to those press guys, don't worry. This...it just isn't going to work."

He makes it as far as the stairwell before Adam catches up with him, grabs a handful of his hoodie's sleeve to get his attention. Kris stops walking, gives Adam a look.

Adam's face is still as closed off and unhappy as it was in the studio. "If you leave on foot, they'll get it on camera," he says, flatly. "Then they'll never leave it alone. I'll get you a car."

Kris nods, then looks away from Adam's face, at his own sneakers on the scuffed hardwood of the hallway floor. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees Adam nod, too, already turning to get his phone, and it seems all wrong, suddenly, like he's messing up again, choosing the wrong...side. The wrong door.

"I'm not," he says, and Adam turns back toward him, frowning. Kris swallows, closes his eyes. "I'm not straight. Okay? So this is not what it looks like. I'm not worried about people thinking stuff that isn't true." He opens his eyes. Adam's looking at him again, his eyebrows raised, face blank with surprise. Kris laughs because he can't help it, puts his hands over his mouth to stop himself from losing it completely, shakes his head. "You probably. This probably seems really pathetic to you, but that's the first time I've ever actually said that."

"No," Adam says. "Hey. Everybody has their own...pace. Nobody's pathetic." He looks a little dumbstruck, though, and that's making Kris's nervous laughing thing kick in again. He takes a breath, lets it out, wraps his arms around his stomach, willing himself to chill.

Adam smiles down at him, shakes his head. "When I came out, I just, like, told one friend and then my mom. You're kind of an overachiever, baby."

Kris laughs out loud, puts his hands over his face and laughs again, helplessly, shakes his head. He feels weird and wary and exposed, and he isn't sure he likes it, but it feels like it's out of his hands. Adam watches him, smiling, puts a hand on his shoulder and rubs a little with his thumb. "Look, I think you should come back in," he says. "And not just because I'm worried you're going to go tell the tabloids you think I suck in bed, either."

Kris huffs one last laugh, pressing his hand into his mouth hard enough it kind of hurts, then lets go, stands up straight again. "Okay," he says, and when Adam turns around to lead the way back to the studio, Kris follows him.

The rest of the day goes by a lot faster, even though he's still just taking notes in the corner of the studio. Monte finishes with the track he's recording and everybody comes back into the main room where the couches are so they can work on a new song. There's a lot more to write down, now, though some of it is maybe a little strange: put Romero movie screams in layered backing track? zombie = metaphor for post-breakup feeling, vampire = metaphor for bad relationship. Werewolves = ??? (Prob don't include werewolves.) When they have some ideas for a theme and a couple of lines of lyrics, they start playing around with the melody again, seeing what they'll need to do to make it fit, and in the middle of one heated argument that's made Adam get out of his armchair and pace around the room, Monte strums a couple of chords and then turns to Kris, who's next to him on the couch. "What do you think?" he says.

Kris looks up from his notebook (in which he's just written Adam: hook too upbeat, should be MUCH SCARIER). Monte's watching him, expectant, and Adam's stopped pacing to look at him, too. He clears his throat. "I think, um. I think you need a bridge, just a couple of lines, maybe, to cover the key change and shift the mood."

Monte grins, turns to look at Adam and lifts his eyebrows. Adam rolls his eyes. "Okay, fine," he says. "But I'm keeping the screams."

Monte inclines his head. "You can keep the screams," he says, gracious.

Adam nods. "Okay, then."

*

Josh is asleep when Kris gets back to Jan and Alex's place. It's pretty late. Kris sneaks into Carrie's room anyway, kneels next to the bottom bunk so he can watch Josh breathe for a few seconds, still and serious as he always is in sleep, small fist curled under his cheek. Kris tugs the borrowed comforter up over his shoulder and presses a kiss into his damp, curling hair, takes a few seconds to breathe, there, before he stands up again. He finds Jan and Alex in the kitchen, emptying the dishwasher. "Thanks again, you guys," he says. "I'm really sorry I had to leave him with you for so long with no notice."

Alex smiles over his shoulder at Kris, takes the sippy cup Jan's holding out to him and turns to find a place for it in the crowded cupboard. "Don't worry about it," he says, muffledly. "It's not every day you suddenly find out you're dating a rock star. I mean. It's kind of a big deal."

Kris sighs and rolls his eyes, shoves his hands into his hoodie's pockets. "Nobody's dating anybody," he says.

Jan lifts her eyebrows. "Yeah? You sure about that? Because man, that photo Perez posted looks pretty flirty to me."

Kris presses his lips together, gives her a look.

"Teasing," she says. She takes the cereal bowls off the dishwasher's top rack one by one, hands the entire stack of them to Alex. "But for the record," she says, not looking at him, her voice maybe a little too casual, "If you ever wanted to date somebody...like Adam Lambert? That would be okay with me. With us." She gives him a quick look, anxious and serious and smiling all at once, and it's weird because even with the five-years-older thing and the dark-hair-instead-of-blonde-hair thing, she's never looked more like her sister.

Kris's heart goes KATHUMP in his chest and he swallows, ducks his head, lifts it again so he can give her the nod she seems to be waiting for. She nods, too, still smiling, then turns back to the dishwasher and starts stacking kid-sized plastic cups in a primary-coloured tower. He doesn't know what to do next, if he should say something, do something. He swallows, shoves his hands deeper into the pockets of his hoodie and takes a breath, then chickens out and turns to leave.

"So, hey," Alex says, sticking the cups into their spots in the cupboard. "We started Josh on knife juggling lessons today, and then we let him play with matches before bed. That's cool, right?"

Kris clears his throat. "Oh, totally," he says. "Best babysitters ever."

Alex nods. "I was thinking maybe tomorrow, we could do trapeze." He nods a couple more times, scratches his beard like he's considering it.

Kris laughs. "I like it," he says. "Baby trapeze. We'll put them on Youtube and get super famous and then maybe all three of us can retire."

Alex taps his own temple with one finger. "Now that's using your head," he says.

Kris grins. "Good night, you guys," he says, and he wanders into Alex's office while they're still good-nighting back. He undresses without bothering to turn on the light, lies down and tugs the sheets over himself, squirming into a comfortable position on the pillows. The light from the street leaks through the blinds in here, so it's never completely dark. He lies there for a long time, not sleeping but not thinking, either, exactly, just watching as the headlights of passing cars streak their way across the opposite wall.

Right before he finally falls asleep, he realizes that Jay probably saw him on TV today, too. Probably it means something that it took this long for that to occur to him, but he falls asleep instead of thinking about it.

***

Tommy thinks the zombie love song should be called Land of the Dead, because of the movie. He thinks there should be more sound effects, and he wants to throw in a little echoey soundtrack sample at the beginning of the track.

Monte throws his hands up, takes off his guitar and leaves the room.

"He'll come around," Tommy says, patting Adam's shoulder. He shifts around until he's lying on the couch with his legs over Adam's lap, pulls his hood up over his head so it shades his eyes. Adam pulls the notebook he's using to write lyrics in out from under Tommy and props it on his knee, closes his other hand absently around Tommy's shin. The lyrics are either brilliantly wry or ridiculous; he can't tell which yet. He can't tell anything about them, really. He's been working on them too long. He sighs and lets his head fall back against the couch, rubs at his eyes. When he lifts his head again, he catches Kris watching him from his spot on the other couch.

He smiles. Kris smiles back, then flushes, then lowers his head, does some more scribbling in his notebook. He's wearing a plaid shirt today and looks like a character from a show on the WB, corn-fed and younger than he actually is, not at all like a guy Adam would ever have expected to be hanging out with.

"Bored?" Adam says.

Kris lifts his head again, still a little flushed. He shrugs. "No," he says.

Adam grins. "Liar."

Kris laughs, shrugs again. He bends his head to his notebook and scratches something out. "It's cool to see how other people collaborate on a song, actually," he says. "I-- It's interesting."

Adam nods. He watches Kris's pen do a tight spiral in the margin of the notebook. "You write, too, huh," he says.

Kris lifts a shoulder like he's going to shrug again, but rubs the side of his jaw on it instead. "Not seriously," he says. "I mean, not like you guys."

Adam shifts a little, opens his mouth to ask for more detail, but of course Monte comes back in before he can actually say anything.

Kris looks up, gratefully. Tommy props himself on his elbows. Monte pauses for dramatic effect in the doorway, hands braced on the frame, then says, "You can have the sample."

Adam grins at him. "All right," he says. "Let's record this motherfucker before we start disagreeing again."

*

Recording takes the rest of the afternoon, but it's fun, the kind of work that only happens occasionally, when things go right and new ideas end up mostly being good ones. He thinks they have a pretty solid foundation laid by the time they're finished. LP and Cam will have to come in and lay down their parts before they'll actually be able to tell what it sounds like, but he has a feeling it's going to be good.

They start locking stuff down for the night after that, even though it's only five o'clock. Kris stands up and closes his notebook, looking a little confused in the midst of the action. "We're quitting a little earlier today," Adam says. "There's a show at the Civic the day after tomorrow so the whole crew is back in town tonight. We're all meeting up for supper. You should come -- it's going to be fun."

Kris shakes his head. "I should. I have to go get my kid. Thanks, though."

"Bring him!" Adam says. "You totally should. We're just going to Naima. It's okay for kids, I think." He looks at Monte for confirmation. Monte nods.

Kris hesitates.

"Come on," Adam says. "You're part of my crew. You should be there."

Kris shakes his head, but he's smiling. "Okay," he says. "I'll call Alex."

There's some semi-ridiculous spy stuff involved with getting Kris and Josh into the restaurant without attracting any cameraphone attention, but they have a room booked, so it's not too bad once they're inside. Lane, who'd done the spy stuff, introduces them to the group and everyone says hello at once, which is loud enough to make Josh turn and hide his face in his dad's shoulder. He stays shy until he spots Adam, then immediately forgets about anything except Adam's sunglasses, which are on top of his head right now, which is evidently not something his dad ever does because Josh finds it fascinating and eventually needs to get up on his chair and touch them before he's satisfied that they're not a separate set of alien eyes or something. Adam comes over to their side of the table so he can lean down accommodatingly, one hand braced on the arm of Josh's chair, while small fingers pat at the top of his head. After a couple of seconds, Josh seems to be satisfied; he slides back down into the booster seat the restaurant staff brought out for him, anyway, already more interested in the colouring mat and crayons on the table in front of him than in what's on Adam's head.

Adam looks up, smiling, and finds Kris watching him again. This time, Kris looks down only for a second before he lifts his gaze again, smiles back at Adam. "He really likes you," he says, nodding toward his son.

Adam had been about to say something inane, like it must be cool for everything to still be so mysterious, but that takes him aback, makes him blink, look away, his eyes finding Josh's bent head, small and concentrating. "I really like him, too," he says. He looks up and meets Kris's eyes, and Kris smiles again then turns his attention to Josh, who's spotted Taylor's phone on the table next to him and is trying to reach it. Kris catches him around the waist and swings him into his lap, blowing a raspberry against his neck, making him giggle. "Lets read this book," Kris says, holding up one of the menus.

Josh squirms around so he can look up at his dad's face, suddenly serious. "That's a menu," he says. "Dad. It's not a book."

Kris drops his head so he can laugh out of sight, lifts it again to grin at Adam over Josh's head. "You're right, buddy," he says. "I do not know what I was thinking."

The food is really good and it feels amazing to be with the whole band and the dancers again, some of them for the first time in a couple of months. Sasha and Brooke just wrapped a show they were both working in London, so they have stories to tell about people Adam and Terrance both used to work with, and stories to tell about the girl Sasha fell in love with over there, and then some mocking to do because Sasha never fails to fall for girls who live oceans or continents away. Tommy's next to Kris and they seem to be getting along pretty well. Kris is laughing often, anyway, relaxed enough to lean back in his chair; at one point, they're both playing air guitar for reasons Adam can only guess about.

"So that's your new boyfriend, huh?" Terrance says, leaning in warm and solid against Adam's right side, head tilted so he can speak softly and still be heard.

Adam laughs. "According to TMZ." Terrance doesn't laugh with him, doesn't say anything, either. Adam reaches for his wine glass, takes a sip, sets it back on the table and twists the stem between two fingers and a thumb. His eyes slide over to Kris across the table; Kris is still talking to Tommy but Josh is in his lap, now, fair head lolling sleepily back against his dad's chest. Adam smiles (because come on) and Terrance snorts.

"Uh huh," he says. He lets his gaze move back to Kris. Adam lowers his to the wine glass again. "He's pretty cute," Terrance says.

Adam gives him a look. Terrance shrugs, like just saying. Adam sighs. "He is cute," he allows. "But he's also totally closeted. I'm so not going there."

Terrance does smile now, tilting his head back so he can look Adam in the face.

Adam frowns. "Really," he says.

Terrance laughs, slides an arm around Adam's shoulders and kisses him on the cheek. "You know what?" he says. "You're adorable." He pushes himself to his feet, one hand braced on Adam's shoulder. "Also, I have to pee."

Adam watches him go. When he turns back around again, Brooke's watching him, leaning with one elbow on the table, smiling a little. He lifts his eyebrows at her, spreads his hands: what?

She grins and shakes her head, takes a cherry tomato off the end of her fork with her teeth.

*

In the car on the way home, Kris says, "you're really close with your, uh. Crew." He waves a hand.

Adam nods, pulling into the lefthand lane so he'll be ready to turn onto Delmar. "I've known some of those guys for almost a decade," he says. "And then we all spent, like, a year on a bus together during the first tour. We're kind of like family now."

Kris nods. He's leaning against the passenger window, most of his face in shadow, one hand plucking at a loose thread on his jeans. Josh is asleep in the carseat in the back. They've already dropped Terrance at his hotel.

"They're not what I expected," Kris says, into the hush. He clears his throat. "I mean. Not that I was expecting anything bad. But you don't act like famous people."

Adam laughs, pulling into back lane behind the bakery. "That's because we're totally faking it," he says. "Me and Terrance were doing shows at the mall like, two years ago. I still can't believe I have a fan club and shit." He pulls into the driveway of the house next to the bakery and turns off the engine.

Kris is smiling, but his head is still bent and he hasn't moved to unbuckle his seatbelt yet. "Yeah, well," he says. "They were really nice. I felt. Welcome." He shifts, takes a breath and lets it out again in a rush. "Look man, I'm really sorry. I was out of line yesterday. This whole...thing, I know it wasn't your fault."

Adam presses his lips together for a second, closes his hands over the steering wheel and then spreads them out flat. "Okay," he says. "Thank you."

Kris nods, unclips his seatbelt, one hand on the door.

"How are you holding up, though?" Adam asks. "Is this. Are things weird with your family?"

Kris lifts a shoulder, lets it down again: yeah, Adam translates. "It's funny, though," Kris says. "Jan and Alex pretty much told me they knew and were okay with it. I mean. Not in so many words, but it was pretty clear. So. That was good."

"Hey, that's awesome," Adam says. He squeezes Kris's shoulder, gives him a little shake. Kris nods, grinning helplessly.

"I thought they would probably be fine, but. I guess you never know, right? And Jan's from home, too, so that made me think maybe. I don't know." He lifts a shoulder again.

Adam hmms agreement. "There's hope," he says, and Kris nods again.

They stay there for a few more seconds, until Josh stirs in the back seat and starts to cry. Kris flashes Adam a last grateful smile and gets out of the car, leans into the back seat to make quick work of the complicated strap-and-buckle thing the carseat has going on. Adam gets out, too, but he has no idea how to help so he mostly just stands there making faces at Josh over Kris's bent back until Josh stops crying and gives him a watery smile instead. "Can I carry something?" he asks as Kris straightens, sleepy kid in his arms.

Kris blinks; he has the bag full of kid stuff strapped across his chest and the carseat in his spare hand, clearly used to managing on his own. "If you want, that would be...nice," he says, handing the carseat to Adam.

Adam takes it, follows Kris across the back yard and into the house. The back door leads into a dim little hallway and then the kitchen, where Jan and a big bearded guy who has to be her partner are sitting at the table eating pie from the pan. They both look up when Kris and Adam come in, forks paused in mid-air. "Hello, Adam Lambert in my kitchen," says the guy.

Kris laughs, ducks his head, lifts it again. "Um. Adam, this is Alex and Jan. Adam, uh. Gave us a ride home."

Adam smiles his winningest smile at them, does a little wave. Jan's eyes slide to Alex's face and they do a complicated, married-person exchange. "Nice to meet you," Alex says. "My daughter and I are big fans. We thought your last video was the bomb." He does a woop-woop move with both hands, sprinkling some pie crust crumbs on the table.

Adam laughs out loud, delighted. "Well, thank you," he says. "I aim to please."

Kris shifts his grip on Josh, who's fallen back to sleep again, rubs a hand up and down on Josh's back. "It's true," he tells Adam. "They sing along and everything."

"Aw, that must suck for you, then, huh?" Adam says, setting the carseat down in a corner of the kitchen. He looks at Alex and Jan again, puts a hand alongside his mouth. "He's not a fan," he stage-whispers, tilting his head toward Kris.

Kris laughs, shakes his head. "Man, you are never going to let go of that, are you?"

Adam smiles down at him, pityingly. "No," he says. He looks up at Jan and Alex again, lifts a hand. "It was nice to meet you."

They wave back. Kris lifts his eyebrows in what's probably supposed to be the hands-full equivalent of a wave. "Thanks for the ride," he says, a little more softly than he'd been speaking before.

Adam touches his shoulder. "Good night," he says.

*

In the middle of Kris's fifth day as Adam's assistant, Justin Bieber gets arrested for driving under the influence and Kris gets to go home, everybody at the studio waving him off like it's the end of summer camp or something, Kris himself looking relieved and uncertain and kind of strangely small. Adam says, "I can call you, right?" and Kris nods and smiles and stands there patiently while Adam makes sure he's got Kris's number programmed into his phone. And then he's gone, down the back stairwell and out into the parking lot, to the car they have waiting for him.

Monte goes home to spend some time with his family the day after that. Paul has the flu and Tommy's taking two days off to hang out with his (not so) ex girlfriend, who's coming through town for a visit. Adam sleeps in as long as he can, goes for a run in Golden Gate Park, takes his mom out for Pinkberry. Still, he's bored by the time evening comes around, feeling too antisocial to go out but too restless to watch TV for long. He pulls out his laptop, eventually, googles himself out of idle desperation, clicks two things and then has to cover his eyes with one hand and backspace desperately with the other. No more googling himself. He totally knows better. He taps a thumb against the spacebar, sighs up at the ceiling, makes a face at himself and clicks his youtube bookmark instead, types "kris allen" in the search field. He totally isn't fooling anyone, anyway, he thinks. Might as well just give in.

The first few videos in the list of results feature a dude with a long flowing mullet and a handlebar mustache who is apparently part of a country and western group called KRIS ALLEN AND THE SOUTHERN THUNDER, and no stretch of Adam's imagination allows him to believe that the Kris he knows has anything to do with this. The fifth hit, though, is labeled "Kris Allen and Jay Westerhaver live at Josephine's" and the shadowy still has a small guy bowed over a guitar in the middle of a dimly-lit stage. Adam clicks it.

The crowd sounds like a bar crowd, or a cafe: a hum of conversations, the clink of glassware. The camera wavers into place, focuses on the stage. It's definitely Kris Kris up there, maybe a year or two younger but still obviously himself. He's standing next to a blond bearded guy who's a little bit taller. They've both got a acoustic guitars; Kris has a mic on a stand. They strum a couple of chords, heads cocked, listening. The blond guy meets Kris's eyes then nods and ducks his head, tucks a lock of hair behind his ear and bends to do something to an amp. Kris steps up into the mic and lifts his head, blinking at the lights in his face. "Hey," he says, and Adam can hear the accent right away, a lot stronger than it is now. "Sherry told me we could eat for free if we played you all a couple of songs, so. Um." The crowd noise continues mostly uninterrupted, though whoever's holding the camera says "YEAH!", loudly. Kris's head turns in the camera's direction. He smiles faintly, strums a couple of random chords, makes a scrunched up face at his friend on the stage, who grins. And then they launch into the song.

Adam's been doing music for a long time. He can hear the places where Kris's voice doesn't quite make the note he was reaching for, the rough edges where the harmonies he's trying to make with the guitar and his friend's voice don't quite come together. He knows that there's nothing new about the kind of song Kris is singing in the video: it's a pretty standard AABA construction, no fancy ornamentation in the bridge, no place for orchestration to swell up into the song as is so popular in the genre right now. But the melody is gorgeous, and there's a hook Adam really wants to sing. And Kris's voice has a nice rich tone, and his presence on the stage is endearing and engaging and real. The crowd noise in the club has mostly died away by the time they pull the song to its close, and there's real applause afterward. Adam kind of wants to applaud too.

He clicks some of the related links in the sidebar, watches Kris and Jay perform a couple more songs from the same night at Josephine's, watches Kris play by himself at some kind of church event, bowl-cut and teenaged, trying to look cool while he jumps around the stage in a white "Youth for Christ" sweatshirt. There are a few more recent videos attached to that one, harder to find because the performer listed is a band, The Shutdown, but Kris is the guy fronting the group, and the songs are definitely his. The band is a little rough still, but they're good, good enough to draw a pretty big crowd and get them excited, good enough Adam watches every video and wishes there were more.

When the last one finishes playing, he closes the window and then shuts his laptop's screen and sets it aside, grabs his hoodie from the back of the couch and his keys from their spot on the table near the door, then heads outside.

*

Jan and Alex's place still has lights on, which is good because he remembered as he pulled into the spot in front of their house that little kids live here and it's almost nine o'clock, and he thought that maybe if you had little kids you had to go to bed when they did. But somebody's awake in there, still. He parks the car and walks up the sidewalk in the dark, trips over a frisbee and stumbles a step or two, swearing under his breath. He's trying to find his way around a small green tricycle when somebody laughs. He freezes, lifts his head and squints into the dimness at the front steps. Kris is sitting there, watching him, elbows on his drawn-up knees. Adam lifts the tricycle out of his way, sets it down behind him.

"Hey," Kris says. "What are you doing here?"

Adam sits down next to Kris on the wooden steps. "Came to see you," he says. "Why the hell are you lurking on the front steps in the dark like a serial killer?"

Kris snorts. "It's nice out," he says. "I just spent an hour convincing Josh that sleeping is, in fact, a thing we do every night. I wanted to get a little fresh air." The t-shirt he's wearing looks damp in places and there's a spot of spaghetti sauce on his shoulder. His feet are bare under the jeans. His hair is kind of a mess.

Adam smiles. "I hated sleeping when I was little," he says. "Didn't want to miss anything."

"Yeah, I think that's Josh's problem, too. He just. He's sure that as soon as he closes his eyes, I'm going to be, I don't know, riding a triceratops around while eating ice cream cones and cotton candy." Kris lifts a hand in the air like he's lassoing something, head turned so he can grin at Adam in the dark.

"That's your triceratops lasso?" Adam says. "A lasso is a thing you...need, for triceratops riding?"

Kris laughs, leaning over his bent legs to brush an ant from his bare foot. "Well, obviously," he says.

"I saw you on youtube," Adam says, after a small silence. "Tonight. I searched you because I was curious and there were a bunch of videos, performances you were doing, and. Kris. You're really good."

Kris shakes his head. His eyes are on the street now, his face still and serious. "Nah," he says. "I mean, thanks. Seriously, thank you. But I played for a lot of years, messed up college so I could do music instead and I. It never went anywhere, you know?"

Adam rolls his eyes. "Well yeah," he says. "You were in Arkansas."

Kris shakes his head again, not like he's disagreeing, but. Adam doesn't know what the head shaking means exactly. He sighs, turns so he can see the side of Kris's face, the strange stony sadness that's suddenly there. After a few seconds, Kris sighs too, rubs at his temple, shoves his hand through his hair.

"What happened to your band?" Adam asks. "You guys were amazing."

Kris's face twists, his shoulders tightening. "We broke up," he says.

Adam presses his lips together. "Like, permanently?" he says. "Because I don't want to promise anything, but I have these friends who have a label and I really think they'd be interested."

Kris exhales. It sounds like it was supposed to be a laugh only it didn't quite work. He puts a hand on his mouth, lowers it again. "Wow," he says. "Man. Are you being serious right now?" He swallows, waves a hand when Adam draws breath to speak. "No, don't, I don't think I can. It's. Pretty permanent."

Adam pulls off the ring he's wearing today, twirls it around and around between his fingers. "Personality stuff?" he says. "Or creative stuff?"

Kris laughs that unfunny laugh again. "Personality stuff," he says. He glances at Adam, looks away again, eyes on the street, mouth tight. "The other guitar player. Jay. He and I just. There's nothing to even work out."

"He was the other writer?" Adam says.

Kris nods. "We wrote together. All of those songs." He wraps one hand around the opposite arm, rubs at it unconsciously. "He was. We were really close for a while. Not just in a band together but friends, too. And then I. I guess we started sleeping together. And when that ended, it didn't end well."

Adam looks at him. Kris looks at the sidewalk. A muscle in his jaw twitches and Adam remembers the way that whole side of his face was one big bruise that day at the hospital, how he sat like he's sitting now, hunched into himself, angry and hurt and embarrassed. "Jesus," Adam says.

Kris shakes his head again, swallows hard. He's holding onto his wrist hard enough Adam can see the outlines of his fingers in the skin there, now, but he doesn't seem to notice. His eyes are still fixed on the sidewalk at their feet, his jaw clenched tight. Adam puts a hand on his back, strokes the ridge of his shoulder blade with his thumb. "Okay," Adam says. "Yeah. That's pretty fucking permanent."

Kris huffs a laugh, pushing both hands over his face. Adam slides his arm the rest of the way around him, tugs him in close for an awkward sideways hug. After a moment, Kris worms one arm out from under Adam's, wraps his fingers in Adam's sleeve and holds on.

When they let go of each other, Kris's eyes are red-rimmed. He makes an embarrassed face, scrubs at his cheek with the heel of his palm. Adam presses his lips together, reaches out to push his fingers into the messy hair at the side of Kris's head, strokes his wet cheek with a thumb. "I'm sorry," he says, taking his hand away. "I shouldn't have asked. It wasn't any of my business."

Kris shakes his head, shrugs. "I don't mind," he says. "I kind of. It was good to tell somebody what actually happened."

Adam hmms, softly, because what the hell do you say about that? He can't imagine living through something like that and then having to keep it a secret. Like, he isn't scandalized; he literally can't imagine it, what it must have been like. He puts an arm around Kris again and they sit in silence for a while longer, until Kris shivers again and Adam takes a breath, sits up straighter, stretches his arms over his head. "You should probably get inside," he says. "And I should go to bed."

Kris nods and stands up and Adam does, too, hands in his hoodie's pockets. They look at each other awkwardly for a moment and then Adam bites his lip, steps down a couple of stairs and then turns back so he can look up at Kris. "What he did was totally fucked up and wrong," he says. "You probably...know that. But. I thought maybe I should say it anyway."

Kris's head is bent again, his eyes on the stairs. He nods, swallows, doesn't look up.

Adam touches his arm. "Okay," he says. "So. Good night."

Kris gives him a tired smile. "Good night."

***

After the thing on the porch steps, Adam keeps calling him. At first, Kris thinks he's just checking up because he's worried, which is sweet, but then he keeps doing it, and he starts coming up with things Kris and Josh need to do, too, like coming over to the house he's renting so they can watch Monsters Vs Aliens in the crazy home theatre that came with the place, or going to this acrobat circus it turns out is run by some friends of his and Brooke's, or driving over to Terrance's aunt's place for a Terrance-is-in-town barbecue a few days after that. Everybody just kind of...sweeps them up like they're part of the crew, includes them in ride plans, acts like it's totally normal for Kris to be elbow to elbow with Terrance's cousin Lanny, eating grilled salmon and talking about politics while Josh runs around the back yard with Lanny's kids. It's nice. It reminds him of home.

He calls his parents afterward, sitting on the closed toilet in Jan and Alex's bathroom while Josh splashes around in the tub, tells his dad about the weather and the food and the kids Josh had been playing with, how strange it is to watch Josh figure out how to socialize, how he wishes he could step in and help sometimes, how hard it is to remember to stand back and let him try to figure it out on his own.

"That sounds familiar," his dad says, amused. "You were always after the older kids when you were small, couldn't understand why they didn't want to hang out. It was hard to watch."

Kris smiles. "These guys were a little older. Five and seven. They were sweet about it, though. No, uh. Excluding."

Josh tips his tugboat upside-down, watching the water he'd collected in its cabin splash back into the tub. "What's excluding?" he says.

"Where did you meet the family?" Kris's dad asks, at the same time.

Kris shifts the phone to his other ear. "Uh," he says, and then Josh asks what excluding is again, a little more insistently this time, and when Kris puts a finger to his own lips to remind Josh not to interrupt, he tips the water from the tugboat onto the floor. Kris sighs and reaches into the tub to take the tugboat away, gives Josh a head shake when he opens his mouth to object, grimaces when hurt tears well up in Josh's eyes instead. "At work," he tells his dad. "That's. Where I met them. Sorry, dad -- I gotta go. I think somebody's maybe a little bit over-tired."

Josh's wail comes right on cue. Kris's dad laughs into the phone. "Yeah, okay. Love you."

Kris smiles again, but it feels a little different this time. A little more complicated. "Love you, too," he says, and then he shoves the phone in his pocket and reaches for a towel.

Josh wails all the way through drying off and getting into his PJs and having his ears cleaned. Then Alex brings Carrie into the bathroom upside down, lowering her until her grinning face is next to Josh's, and Josh stops crying abruptly so he can laugh instead. Kris gives Alex a grateful smile. Alex flips Carrie right side up and sets her on her feet so she can brush her teeth, winks at Kris and squeezes a bit of strawberry toothpaste onto Carrie's brush.

After the kids are in bed asleep, Kris loads the dishwasher and cleans up the kitchen and then stands with his elbows propped on the counter, his phone between his two hands. He thumbs into his contacts, scrolls down until his parents' number is highlighted, stands there for a long time with his thumb sliding across the call button over and over, never pressing down. I like him, he imagines saying, and he's okay with that, he'd be okay with saying that much, he thinks, but the conversation wouldn't stop there. It's like pulling a loose thread; that small admission has this whole alternate history behind it, these years of not saying everything, of making excuses and telling half-truths. Eventually he thumbs the phone off instead, slides it back into his pocket and walks into the living room. Jan and Alex are on the couch, halfway watching a home improvement show and halfway arguing about whether Alex should give up programming to become a master carpenter, for which he claims to be ideally suited despite having almost cut off his own thumb during woodshop in school.

Kris sits on the edge of the armchair next to the couch they're sharing and then stands up and reaches back to pull the doll he accidentally sat on out from under his own butt, tossing it into the toybox in the corner. "So, uh," he says, sitting down again. They stop arguing immediately, eyes on Kris. He lowers his gaze and swallows, twists his hands together between his knees. It's stupid how hard it is to take a breath right now. "I kind of. I'm not straight. Which. I think you guys already know. But. I wanted to actually say it out loud and stuff." He lets all his breath out at once, gives them a cautious look.

Jan's already rolling off the couch. She bends to wrap her brawny baker's arms around him, squeezing him close. "Aw, yay," she says softly, near his ear. "Congratulations."

When it becomes clear Jan's not going to be letting Kris go any time soon, Alex gets up and hugs them both. "I'm proud of you," he says. "Especially if you're thinking of being not straight for Adam Lambert, because that's kind of like winning the gay lottery, right? I mean, damn."

Jan punches him in the arm, hard enough to make him stop talking and rub at it. Kris squints up at her, face hot, laughing a little and still kind of shaky, and she smiles at him. "I'm proud of you, too," she says.

He makes a face. "Don't go too crazy," he says. "I just spent the evening chickening out of telling my parents."

She shakes her head. "Give it time."

*

Adam invites him back to the studio on the last day. They have nineteen songs recorded with another one due to be wrapped today. Not all of them are going to end up on the album, and they're probably going to have to re-record at least one or two of them before the label's going to be satisfied, but they're pretty much finished. "Finished!" Adam says, and Kris can picture the grin on his face even though he can't see it, obviously, over the phone.

"Congratulations, man," he says. "That's. Amazing."

"Thanks," Adam says. "I think it's good. I mean, I hope it is. Cohesive and shit. More mine than the first one." He clears his throat. "Anyway. Do you want to come and listen to it? I'm finishing the vocal on last track today, so right after that, we're going to listen to the whole thing all the way through before we send it to the label guy."

"Hell, yes," Kris says. Three hours later, he's on the way to the studio in the car from the service Adam uses and it's funny in a nostalgia way, like he's back where they started a couple of months ago. The front desk guy lets him in and he takes the stairs three at a time, rounds the corner into the studio itself, where Adam is in the middle of recording the vocal for the last song. Kris lets himself into the booth, quietly, stands next to Monte and sticks his hands in his pockets. Adam's music is maybe not his favourite kind of music, but listening to him sing like this is like watching Barry Bonds play ball. The hair on the backs of Kris's arms stands up. He shakes his head slowly, makes an embarrassed face when Monte looks at him. Monte just smiles back, waves a hand in the air and widens his eyes, like I KNOW, right?

Adam finishes the song and opens his eyes again, takes the headphones off and gives the booth a hopeful grin. Paul and Monte both give him two thumbs up. He pumps a fist in the air and gets up off his stool, stoops to get his water from the floor before he wanders back in to join the rest of them.

Paul's already getting the recording queued up to play back to him. "It was good," Monte says. Paul nods agreement, lifts one thumb without turning away from his equipment. Adam nods his thanks, turns to Kris.

"You thought it sucked, though, huh?" he says, making an exaggerated grimace.

Kris laughs. "Yeah, but I mean. I didn't want to hurt your feelings." He lifts a hand to the back of his neck, makes a face.

Adam nods. "Well. At least you're considerate." His hair is messy today, falling into his eyes, which are crinkled up at the corners right now, smiling even though his mouth isn't. Kris smiles back, helplessly, then feels dumb and ducks his head. Adam breathes out a laugh and puts a hand on his shoulder, uses it to steer him into the brown couch beside Tommy and then sinks down next to him, crowded close. "LP's getting Cam," Tommy says, looking up from his phone. "I think she thought you were going to need a second take."

"Gah, Cam," Adam says, close to Kris's ear. His knee is bobbing up and down, jostling the whole couch. Kris puts a hand on it and presses it down, smiles up at Adam when he lifts his eyebrows.

Adam laughs. "Sorry," he says. "I think I'm actually kind of nervous."

Kris pats Adam's knee a couple of times and then leaves his hand there, daring a little. Adam's eyebrows lift a little higher but he doesn't say anything, just puts an arm around Kris's shoulders and tugs him closer. Kris swallows. He can feel Adam's warmth all along his left side, each breath moving them both a little, stirring Kris's hair. Adam's knee is still and careful under Kris's palm. He curls his fingers inward, strokes with his thumb.

LP finally gets there with Cam in tow. He shakes his head like he's ashamed of her. "Starbucks," he says.

Cam makes a contrite face. Adam purses his lips at her and narrows his eyes, shakes his head from side to side. She spreads her hands.

"Anyway," Monte says. "Everybody ready?"

The songs weren't all written with Adam's involvement, but the majority of them were, and it shows. The album sounds like him, like stuff he'd say or think about, like movies and songs and books Kris knows he likes. There are at least five potential radio singles, hooky and full of flash, and then there are quieter songs and crazier ones, including the zombie love song Kris was there to hear written. It's a great pop record and he tells Adam that later on, after the first round of noisy congratulations have died down some. They're at the edge of the studio and Adam is looking at Kris like Kris's opinion matters a lot, his face open and little-kid vulnerable. "Really?" he says.

Kris grins, puts his hands on Adam's upper arms and gives him a little shake. "Really," he says. Adam drops his head forward, laughing, lifts it again so he can smile into Kris's face. "It's good, Adam," Kris repeats.

"It feels good," Adam says. Then, more softly: "Thanks."

Kris feels his face get warmer. He drops his hands, smiles at Adam, sticks his fists in his pockets again and shrugs. They stand there for a while without saying anything because Kris is too awkward to have normal human conversations and is therefore probably going to be doomed to loneliness forever. He bites his lip, forces himself to speak. "So you guys are out of here tomorrow?" he says.

Adam nods. "For a few weeks. Promo in Europe and then this thing in Japan."

Kris presses his lips together, nods without meeting Adam's gaze.

"I'm." Adam stops, lips closed, and breathes out through his nose. "I'm actually not looking forward to it. I mean, yeah, travel is great, first class hotels, whatever. But honestly, I'm loving San Francisco right now. I'm going to miss being here. And, you know. You."

Kris looks up. Adam's head is bent. He pushes the cap back down on his water bottle, concentrating on it like it's a difficult task.

"I'll miss you, too," Kris says, and then this thing happens where his fist actually comes up and bumps Adam on the shoulder.

Adam looks up again, amused. "Did you just...punch me on the shoulder? Champ?"

Kris presses his lips together hard, but the embarrassed laugh still gets out of him. "You want to make something of it?" he says.

Adam laughs, too, and then he grabs the front of Kris's hoodie with one hand and pulls him into a hug. It's a pretty comprehensive hug: two arms wrapped around him, Adam's head bent so he can press his face into Kris's neck. Kris breathes out and closes his eyes, turns his face into Adam's t-shirt and hugs him back just as hard.

"You're not going to disappear into thin air again, are you?" Adam asks, muffledly. He gives Kris a last squeeze and straightens up, one hand still hanging onto Kris's shoulder.

Kris meets his eyes, shakes his head. "Uh uh," he says. "I'm staying right here."

Adam grins, relieved and open and sweet. "Good," he says. They stand there beaming at each other in a way which probably looks totally assholey to anybody watching them. Kris wrinkles his nose, drops his head. "I better, uh." He tilts his head toward the door.

Adam nods. He pulls Kris into another hug, presses a kiss into the hair next to Kris's ear, quick enough for deniability, but Kris is pretty sure that was what it was. Then he pulls back, mimes a one-two punch at Kris's shoulder, makes a finger gun and aims it at him, winks when he pulls the trigger.

Kris laughs, shakes his head from side to side. "You're kind of a jerk," he says.

Adam winks at him. "Only for you, baby," he says. Kris grins all the way down to the car.

***

Europe is interviews and signings and a concert at a festival where there are fifty thousand people gathered in a huge marshy field, band after fantastic unmissable band playing until late at night, a thousand campfires twinkling on the slope. They close the mainstage on Saturday night, and it's kind of a religious experience and kind of an awful experience; he should have slept through the evening instead of watching everyone else. But they play well and the partiers love it and they're out of there pretty much before the applause dies away anyway, sleeping on the bus on their way back to Southampton. The rest of the band gets to relax until it's time to go back to New York, then, but management says face time is important and Japan is one of his biggest markets, and that means he has to accept this award in person, so three hours after their performance at Wight, he's on a plane to Tokyo.

Two more hours in the hotel and then a car to the studio for makeup and wardrobe and soundcheck and rehearsal. He's on the other side of tired by then; they'd let him bring Monte and that's a good thing because Monte won't let him do anything too crazy, including the thing with the lipstick letters that spell out FIERCE on his forehead ("What, too much?" he asks, dubiously, but Monte nods pretty emphatically and hands him a jar of cold cream). Then they get supper and Adam eats like he hasn't seen food in years because holy shit he's hungry suddenly, which makes sense because he hasn't eaten anything in something like fourteen hours, maybe longer, and then they're getting dressed to go on stage and then they perform and Adam's pretty sure they killed it but there isn't time to worry about it because the cameras are pulling back for a wide shot and they're playing the transition music and then it's time to get the award. The presenters are from a primetime Japanese soap, a production assistant had told them earlier. They're young and have these dazzling movie star teeth and the guy is wearing a suit Adam would seriously kill for, and it's all smiles and bowing and more smiling, but then the woman is handing him a black leather-and-chains thing, and at first he's afraid it's some kind of bondage underwear and his smile gets a little fixed, but no, it turns out it's actually a mask. The guy mimes looping the chains over his ears and then everyone applauds when Adam actually does it so he guesses he's probably done it right.

Bows, smiles, press, autographs in the street in the dark (how is it dark? it feels like midmorning) and then back to the hotel to gather his stuff and then the airport and then the plane. He falls asleep and wakes up when it's time to put his seat in the upright position and then falls asleep in the car and then wakes up with Monte's hand on his shoulder because they're back at the hotel. "What day is it?" he asks, and Monte isn't sure but the driver tells them it's Wednesday when he hands them their bags, Wednesday at one in the afternoon. They go up to their rooms and sleep for three more hours and then they play Madison Square Garden and then they go to a party and Elton John is there, sitting with his feet propped on a marble-topped coffee table, a mandolin in his lap. He's playing some country song Adam totally knows but can't think of the name for and a little blond woman is singing. It's really unexpected and really pretty and after they leave, after they're back in their hotel rooms and Adam's lying on his bed in the dark having raging insomnia, he remembers that the song was "Little Sparrow" and he thinks that he didn't even know Elton John could play the mandolin and for a few seconds he almost wishes he was still dating Drake because Drake was always up at strange hours and loved random shit like this and had a weird gayboy crush on Dolly Parton and would appreciate it. But Adam hasn't been dating Drake for a while and they aren't quite at the stage of exness that would permit an insomniac call in the middle of the night yet, and an insomniac call with an ex isn't what he wants anyway; he wants to have a normal sleepy boyfriend conversation about the epic weirdness that is his life right now.

He sighs up at the far away ceiling in the dark, and then he rolls onto his side and stretches for the night table and for his phone on the middle of it, thumbs it open and taps his message before he has time to think: you awake?

He sends the message and then props the phone on the middle of his chest and stares at its glowing screen in the dark and when it buzzes against his palm a few seconds later, he frowns at it confusedly for the space of two rings before he understands that he's getting a call, not a text, and this is why there aren't any new bubbles popping up in the chat thingy.

"Hey," he says, still fumbling the phone to his ear.

Kris's voice is rough with sleep, but he sounds pleased. "Hey," he says. "You're in my phone."

Adam grins, then rolls a little further so he can partly hide it in the pillow, because he's ridiculous, apparently. "I didn't mean to wake you up," he says.

"No," Kris says. "I know. It's all right. I'm glad to hear from you." He shifts and the phone rustles. "Japan go okay?"

"Yeah," Adam says. "They gave me a...thing. A mask. And a trophy that looks seriously like a sex toy. Oh, and? I ate real fugu at the hotel."

Kris huffs a laugh. "You sound like Josh," he says. "'And then and then and then...'"

"And you sound way more southern when you're sleepy," Adam says and then makes a face at himself, bunches a piece of hotel sheet between two fingers.

Kris just huffs another laugh. "No, I do not," he says.

Adam smiles. "How did the move go?" he asks.

Kris makes a tired sounding noise. "It was quick, though. And I got the beds delivered, so at least we didn't have to lift those." He sniffs. "We have a corner store that sells samosas. They're awesome."

"Mmm, samosas," Adam says. "I wasn't going to come visit you, but now? I might."

Kris laughs. "Jerk."

They lie there for a couple of breaths and Adam thinks his eyes might actually be starting to feel heavier, finally, but he doesn't want to sleep. Not yet. "I saw Elton John tonight," he says.

"Yeah?" Kris sounds kind of confused. "In Tokyo?"

"Nuh uh," Adam says. "In New York. Did you know he plays the mandolin?"

Kris makes a noise Adam's afraid might be choking but fortunately turns out to be laughter. "No," he says eventually. "Nope. I did not know that."

Adam sighs. "My life is strange," he says, sadly. "Kris, I'm one of those people. The people whose lives are strange."

"Hey, you know what?" Kris says. "You should draw a comic. And you should call it that. 'The People Whose Lives Are Strange'."

Adam smiles and smooths the bedsheets he's been crumpling with the palm of his hand. "Hmm," he says. "Yeah. It could be full of Hollywood in-jokes and blind items and stuff, and be all, like, elegant inked drawings and witty one-liners. Maybe we could sell it to the New Yorker."

"Mhmm," Kris says.

Adam smiles. "But there's one flaw in this plan," he says. "And the flaw is that I cannot draw." He says it in the voice of a spy movie villain, too, but the effort is totally wasted because Kris has fallen asleep.

***

Closing is Kris's favourite shift. The customer traffic usually slows to a trickle by 5:00 or so, which means the whole last hour they're open is for clean up. Kris closes with George more often than anybody and they have it down to a science: George wipes tables while Kris bags the cookies and muffins they'll sell as day-olds tomorrow, making sure to get an assortment of cookie types in each bag; George stacks chairs while Kris sweeps and mops; and then they both rinse blenders and display trays and steamer cups for the sterilizer. Usually George has stories to tell while this is happening: The Time He Ate Shrooms And Tried To Bike To Angel Island But Luckily Got Lost Before He Found The Bridge, for instance, or The Mystery Girl Who Stole His Ms. Pacman T-Shirt (And Also His Heart). It's peaceful and familiar, the kind of work you can do well without thinking too much.

Today, they have the kitchen door propped to let in the breeze. George is at the big sink in the kitchen, rinsing the cup from the juice blender before he puts it in the sterilizer's rack, and Kris is emptying crumbs from one of the cookie trays into the trash. "So hey," George says. "Did I tell you? I'm going back to school to learn...motherfucking pastry chefery." He wiggles his fingers in the air above the sink, dough-kneading style. "Cuz I slept with this girl the other night? And she was a tarot card reader, right, and she said I have this, like, shadowy man hanging over my head, and so. There you go." He nods a couple of times.

Kris lift his eyebrows, presses his lips together. "Huh," he says, after a moment. "That's. Cool."

"Right?" George says. "Because my mom would never say who my dad was, so." He shrugs. "It just makes sense."

Following George logic is actually pretty similar to following Josh logic: you just have to turn off the part of your brain that understands that the stuff in cartoons is fictional. "Right," he says now. "Because your dad was probably...also a pastry chef?"

George gives him an impatient look. "No, man. Just. He must be watching me from heaven, all worried about my lack of a stable career. And shit."

"Oh," Kris says. "Yeah. That actually makes a lot more. Sense."

"S'what I'm saying," George says.

Kris bends to tie the garbage closed so that George won't see the smile he can't quite keep off his face, and when he straightens back up again, Adam's standing in the propped-open kitchen door, fist raised to knock on the frame. He pauses when he sees Kris has seen him and grins and lowers his hand. "Hey," he says.

Kris can feel his cheeks heating up. It's dumb; there's nothing at all to be embarrassed about -- except maybe the incredibly stupid grin he can feel stretching across his face right now, the incredibly stupid look he's pretty sure is in his eyes. "Hey," he says. "You're. What are you doing here?" He doesn't wait for an answer, though, because the answer is kind of obvious and that makes him happy enough to step forward and close the gap between them, to meet Adam on the stoop and wrap his arms around him, tucking his head into the curve of Adam's shoulder and hanging on.

"Hey," Adam says again, muffled and pleased. He has his arms around Kris, too, and his face is tucked into the space between Kris's cheek and his neck. "I wanted to surprise you."

Kris squeezes him harder for a moment, then lets him go, steps back, one hand tugging at the hem of his t-shirt. He can't quite get rid of the grin. "I'm surprised," he says.

Adam's grinning, too. "Well, good," he says. "It worked, then." He bites his lip, leans into the kitchen so he can look around. "You guys are closing up, right? I remembered the right time?"

Kris nods. "Yeah, we." He looks around. "I think it's just garbage now. And the bank drop."

George has his apron off already. He puts a hand on Kris's shoulder, leans around him to hang it on its hook and grab his backpack. "I've got the garbage," he says. He swings the backpack onto his shoulders, tugs the garbage bag out of the can and then pauses, turns to Adam. "Hey, you were fucking insane at Wight the other night, man. I saw it on Youtube." He shakes his head, kind of awed.

Adam lifts his eyebrows. "Thank you," he says, stepping out of the way.

George claps Adam on the shoulder. "No, thank you," he says, stepping off the stoop. He lifts a hand as he walks across the gravel lot behind the bakery toward the dumpster and his bike, but he doesn't look back.

Kris laughs. He lifts a hand, rubs at the back of his own bent neck.

"Are you busy tonight?" Adam says.

Kris shakes his head. "You want to come over? It's, um. Burrito night."

"Awesome," Adam says. "I love burritos." He crosses his arms over his chest and leans against the doorframe while Kris washes his hands and grabs the deposit bag from under the register. Adam stops him when he tries to leave, though, fingertips spread in the middle of Kris's chest. Kris looks at Adam's hand and then up at Adam's face, heart pounding for, seriously, no reason at all. Adam looks sober and maybe a little startled; he licks his lips and lowers his hand, clears his throat. "Apron," he says.

Kris flushes again. "Oh, yeah," he says. He fumbles with the ties at the small of his back, tugs it off over his head and hangs it on its hook. His hand shakes a little as he pushes in the bakery's alarm code, but Adam's already outside by then, hands in the pockets of the hoodie he's wearing, head tilted back to look up at the sky.

They walk to the bank on the corner without saying anything. It's one of those clear, warm evenings that happen here in September sometimes; the air is full of the sounds of Delmar in the evening, traffic and conversation, a kid playing drums on a plastic bucket on the corner, the music leaking out from the Dragon Cafe. Kris pushes the bag through the metal slot and lets it fall closed, turns to squint up at Adam, grinning for no reason.

Adam grins back and pulls one of his hands out of his pocket and touches Kris's shoulder with it, awkward and strange, a brief brush with the backs of his fingers. "You fell asleep," he says. "Right in the middle of a conversation."
Kris huffs a laugh. "Sorry, I. Do that." He grimaces. "It's kind of a thing." They start walking back down Twelfth, toward Jan and Alex's place behind the bakery. Adam tells Kris about the hotel in Tokyo with its insane windowed wall and its talking toilet and the way you could see the whole city spread out huge and alight when you looked out at night, and Kris tells Adam about how Josh read the "lost cat" sign on the pole outside their new place the other day, totally casual and unprompted, like he thought it was no big deal that he'd managed to teach himself to read. And then they're at Jan's house, and there's chaos while everybody's happy to see Adam at once and Adam tries to give out hi-fives to Carrie, who's bright red and beaming all over her round face, and talk to Jan about what Japan was like, and listen to Josh's solemn and immediate recitation of a story he needs to tell in which there are dogs and a motorbike and milk and a fire truck, and then Alex comes out of the house with Josh's backpack and sandals, hands them to Kris and puts his hands on Jan's shoulders. She tilts her head back to look at him. He lifts his eyebrows at her. She opens her mouth, closes it again. "Oh," she says. "Yeah. Um."

Alex winks at her, grins at Kris and Adam and lifts Carrie up under one arm, turning to head back into the house, waving at them over his shoulder.

Jan bites her lip. "So...yeah," she says. "I'm going to." She crooks a thumb toward the house, tilts her head in that direction, too. "It was great to see you again, Adam." And then she leaves.

Adam laughs and ducks his head, lifts it again so he can grin at Josh. "You hungry?" he asks, and Kris is pretty sure he's blushing a little and that's. Kris isn't sure what that is. It makes his heart trip up, makes his breath come faster.

Josh nods and Adam takes his hand, lets him lead the way to the car.
Supper is. Supper is kind of a blur, honestly, slicing ripe tomatoes and frying ground beef in his sparse new kitchen while Adam grates cheese and tells stories Kris doesn't really hear, quick glances when he thinks Adam isn't watching him, like he suddenly has to memorize the way the dark hair brushes the nape of Adam's neck when he bows his head, the way his smile curls at the corner of his mouth when he's distracted. Kris hardly tastes the food, eats on autopilot, clears the table the same way, stacking plates and silverware in one hand, grabbing the salad bowl with his other. He sets the plates on the counter and starts filling the sink, pulls open the fridge and puts the salad inside, closes it again. When he turns around, Adam's coming into the kitchen, too, a stack of empty cups in his hands. He smiles at Kris and Kris bites his lip, touches the countertop like he thinks there's something there he needs to wipe off.

"Can I, uh. Is there a dishwasher?" Adam asks.

Kris shakes his head. "No, just. I wash them by hand."

Adam sets his cups next to the sink and then puts both hands on the lintel at the top of the doorway and leans on them, watching while Kris washes a cup and rinses it under the tap, sets it to dry in the rack. Kris glances up at him then, kind of sidelong, and Adam laughs, so Kris does, too, reaching into the water for another cup without really looking, nervously rubbing his chin against his shoulder, lifting his eyes to Adam's blushing face and then chickening out, lowering them to the sink again. "So, uh," Adam says. "I kind of. Really want to ask you out on a date."

Kris says, "ha," breathless and dumb, looks up again, lifts a shoulder. "Well, you can ask," he says.

"Funny," Adam says, but he's grinning like he thinks it really is. "Fine. Kris. Will you go out on a date with me tomorrow night?"

Kris pretends to think about it, looking up at the ceiling and scratching his chin, but it turns out that Adam's hopeful face is kind of undeniable and he caves after a second or two, nods and meets Adam's eyes. "Yeah," he says. "Hell, yes."

Adam's grin gets a lot wider and he opens his mouth to say something else, but Josh pulls the blind down off the window in the living room before he can, and then it takes a few minutes to figure out that Josh is mostly crying out of embarrassment rather than any actual injury; by that time Adam's reattached the blind and is getting his shoes at the door.

Kris stands, a still-crying Josh in his arms, and makes an apologetic face. Adam shakes his head, smiling a little. "Tomorrow," he says.

Kris breathes out. "Okay."

*

They get take-out burgers and fries at a drive thru and eat it at a mostly-deserted beach, sitting in Adam's rented car watching the ocean swell up into the thick gray clouds at the horizon, then walking out on the sand for a while, talking about Josh and music and Europe and whether or not the black lumps at the curve of the beach are sea lions (no, it turns out). Then Kris says, "hey, so. I got a gig. At the Upstart," and then grins helplessly down at his sneakers in the wet sand while Adam's mouth falls open and his hands close on Kris's shoulders, shaking him back and forth a couple of times before he pulls him in for a hug.

"Fuck, I'm proud of you," Adam says, near his ear. He pulls back, takes Kris's shoulders in both hands again. "When is it? What are you going to play? What are you going to wear? You should totally wear what you're wearing right now, actually; it's hot."

Kris laughs. "It's on the 22nd," he says. "I think I'm mostly going to do covers, but I have a few new songs I can try out. And, uh. Thanks." He lifts his head, still smiling, and meets Adam's eyes. Adam loosens his grip on Kris's shoulders, strokes a little with his thumbs. Kris raises his eyebrows, bites his bottom lip. "Oh," Adam says. And then he slides one hand up to cradle the side of Kris's face and leans in and kisses him. It's careful at first, just this brush of lips, Adam's thumb on his cheek, his face close enough Kris can't see anything except a pale blur, dark eyelashes. He puts his hand on Adam's where it cups his face, strokes up Adam's forearm and around to his shoulder, pulling him down, asking for more. Adam makes this noise, this helpless-sounding thing that's half a moan, and then he kisses Kris again, using the hand he has on Kris's face to tilt his head, opening his mouth and nudging Kris's open, too. Kris breathes out and slides his other arm around Adam, kisses him until they're both breathless, until Adam's hands are moving restlessly, sliding up Kris's back and then down again, dipping under the hem of Kris's shirt to find skin, the other hand pushing deep into Kris's hair, tugging on it gently, pulling his head back so Adam's mouth can move, hot and open, over Kris's jaw to his throat. "Uh, do you want," Kris starts, and then has to stop to gasp, because fuck. He swallows, takes a breath. "Do you want to come over?" he manages finally.

Adam lifts his head so he can look Kris in the eye, and his face is flushed, his lips swollen from kissing, and Kris's hand comes up all by itself to touch Adam's cheek. Adam closes his eyes, swallows hard, Adam's apple bobbing. "If you want me to," he says.

Kris kisses him again, helplessly, lifting up on his toes. "Yeah," he says, against Adam's lips. "I really do."

*

It was later the first time, velvet dark outside and so hot the air felt like something you could swim in, thick and still, the street outside deserted. Someplace a cicada was whining on and on and it was late enough Kris was punch-drunk, laughing for no reason, curled on his side on the floor with his forehead resting on the hardwood, his guitar protected by the curve of his body, its neck smooth and warm against his left palm. Jay was laughing too, and then he was putting the notebook on the floor next to Kris's head, and when Kris opened his eyes he could see Jay's blocky handwriting there, could see their early start at serious lyrics, could see the slanted scrawl where it had all gone off the rails and dissolved into some kind of hiphop thing about the beers they should be drinking and if only Kris was thinking, and it wasn't really funny, but it had been a hard damn year and there had not been much to laugh about and so it kind of really was. "Damn," he said, seriously, "We are dope." And then Jay tugged the guitar from his hand and set it on the couch, and Kris rolled onto his back so he could watch him do it, could watch him bring that hand back down to cradle the side of Kris's face, big and hot and callused and awkward, and at first it seemed like part of a joke, and then it didn't. Kris felt his smile falter, felt heat and fear and embarrassment and desire tangle in his stomach, making him swallow hard. Jay's eyes were open and serious, watching him. Seeing. The TV was muted, highway traffic rushing distant like the ocean, no other sounds except their breath, loud in the late-night hush. Jay kissed him and Kris kissed him back, frantic and open-mouthed, desperate for it without even knowing he was. They didn't say anything, kept it zipped up and quiet, swallowed down and pushed under, in the dark. In secret.

You could write a book about the ways that this is not like that. Adam kisses him at a red light in the car on the way back to Kris's place, and then he does it again at the front door of Kris's building, crowded close while Kris fumbles with his keys and the lock, tipping Kris's head back and stealing the kiss from his upturned lips right where anyone could see them. They hit the wall hard when they finally make it to Kris's apartment, stumbling into it together because Adam was trying to take off his shoes and Kris couldn't wait for him to finish, had to try to kiss him right then, tugging him down so he could reach, pulling them both off balance. They make an almighty thump and then somebody downstairs thumps back a few seconds later and Adam's eyes get huge and alarmed, one hand lifting to cover his mouth, and Kris snorts and then laughs because Adam looks hilarious and weirdly adorable, like a character from some Japanese cartoon. Adam laughs too, and kisses him still laughing and that turns into something serious, open mouths and Adam's big hands pushed up under Kris's shirt, stroking his back and making him shiver, sliding around to pinch gently at a nipple. Kris moans out loud and Adam says "fuck, baby," and kisses him again, then turns him around and nudges him into the apartment, through the darkened living room to Kris's bedroom, his hands on Kris's waist and his chest, hot through the thin cotton of Kris's best shirt. Once they're in there, they try to take off each other's clothes, but it's tricky because they keep stopping to get lost in more kissing, half-tangled and unbuttoned, clumsy and sure.

Adam sits on the edge of the bed and reaches up for Kris, finally, long bare arm all pale freckled skin and smooth muscle, his collarbones like wings. "Come here," he says, urgently, "come on," and his hair is a mess, falling into his eyes, and Kris trips into him, one foot still tangled in his own jeans, catches himself on Adam's shoulder and laughs into his neck, kisses the flushed skin there and then moves his mouth to Adam's. They both moan then because it's too good to be finally naked together, skin on skin, kissing deep and wet and slow. Kris knees his way up onto Adam's lap and pushes him down into the mattress, kisses his way across his stubbled jaw and down his neck. Adam slides his hands up Kris's sides and then down his back, cups Kris's ass and pulls him in, pressing their cocks together. "God," Adam says, lips against Kris's temple. Kris rolls his hips, smiling when Adam makes a noise like a whimper and closes his hands hard on Kris's ass, fingers digging in. He puts both hands on Adam's face and kisses him on the lips, rocking into him again and again, their cocks sliding together sometimes, making both of them moan. Adam kisses him desperately, lifting off the bed to do it, one hand on Kris's back, sliding around to pull him as close as he can get him, his other elbow on the mattress, holding both of their weight. And Kris had plans, he had plans for this -- he'd wanted to suck Adam's cock, take him deep and swallow him down until his jaw ached. But there's no way he can keep himself from coming, not now, not with Adam thrusting up into him haphazardly and desperate, his mouth on Kris's, kissing blindly; not with their breath so loud and the bed groaning under them, Adam's voice in his ear, breathless and high, saying "oh fuck", saying his name. Kris pushes his mouth against Adam's cheek, cradles the back of Adam's head with one hand and drives his cock into the slick sweaty space between them, moaning helplessly, letting go.

*

"So," Adam says afterward, when they're cleaned up and lying on the bed together, Adam's dark head on Kris's chest, their legs tangled. "I think you're probably out to your neighbours, now."

Kris laughs and maybe he laughs a little too long because Adam lifts his head and looks down into Kris's face, touches Kris's cheek with the backs of his fingers, with his thumb. Kris swallows and breathes out and puts his hand over Adam's, and Adam kisses him on the forehead, on the lips. They look at each other silently for a couple of seconds. Then Kris widens his eyes like he just thought of something, says "hey, maybe this would work with my parents, too."

Adam looks alarmed for a second. Then he drops his head to Kris's shoulder, laughing. Kris grins up at the ceiling in the dark and pushes a hand into the thick hair at the back of Adam's head, letting it tangle around his fingers. "Yeah, okay," he says. "Maybe not."

*

In the end, he sends them a picture: Adam sitting on the floor in the living room of Kris's apartment, grinning at the camera around the safety pin he's holding in his mouth, gathering a blue cape in place around Josh's shoulders so he can be Superman for Halloween. This is my boyfriend, he writes in the email. (He's kind of a famous rock star. Try not to be too jealous.)

He causes kind of a stir back home with the news. Some of the people he knows defend him and others say exactly the kind of thing he used to worry they would. It doesn't matter, though. What matters is here already, his kid and his friends and music and his job, and Adam. The rest of the world will come around, or they won't. Kris is too busy living to pay it much attention.