Word Count: 11, 968
Summary: AU - What if Adam hadn’t given up on Broadway and moved to New York to be in Wicked? What if Kris had split up with his girlfriend, Katy, and moved to New York to find himself? What if they happened to show up and perform on the same open mic night?
Disclaimer: This couldn't be less true if it tried.
Notes: This took me a little longer to write than I expected it too. I think it has its fair share of problems, but my first venture into AU has been really fun and I look forward writing more of it in the near future. Until then, I have so many ideas in my head and I hope to get them all down and maintain my sanity at the same!
Sometimes it takes someone besides yourself to turn your life around...
Adam hated being dragged to open mic nights. He always felt like he had to get up and sing, and most of the people sucked, and you couldn’t hear yourself think with all the karaoke screeching going on in the background. Sometimes all he wanted to do was relax and have a nice conversation with friends. But Brad had insisted and Adam wasn’t very good at refusing him; Brad was unrelentingly pushy, but in an endearing sort of way.
The club was crowded, a steady murmur of anticipation rising with the humid, smoky air. There was a decent line by the sign-up sheet - longer than Adam had ever seen it - and he tried to use this as an excuse to get out of entering his name. But Scarlett flat-out refused.
“This is the one time we get to hear you sing anything other than the same-old Broadway crap. And you’re not getting out of it.”
Adam rolled his eyes. “Sorry my career bores you,” he said, though he wondered if he could even really call it that since he hadn’t landed a part in nearly a year.
“Besides,” added Brad as he gripped Adam’s wrist and steered him to the line. “It’s always amusing watching you knock all these amateurs out of the park.”
Adam sighed but secretly kind of agreed. He could sing his face off, and with a voice like his, there was no room for modesty. It was good to get his face out there, anyway. You never knew who might be lurking in the booths at the back of the club, on the look-out for talent.
As Adam waited, he checked out the other contenders. There was an overweight kid who looked like she was searching for some confidence, a relatively plain but cute guy with a guitar strapped to his back, a really tall guy with glasses, another young girl with bright orange hair, and a few others he couldn’t see from the back.
After signing and indicating his song choice (How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore?), he headed to the table close to the stage where Brad and Scarlett were sitting.
“You’ll be great,” she said bracingly.
Brad was looking at his nails as he drawled, “She insisted we sit up close so we can watch you, only now we have to pretend to enjoy the other losers.”
“The other losers?” Adam pointed out, but he laughed. It was an inside joke between the two of them, since neither had done much worthwhile with their lives and were barely managing to make ends meet.
They used to live together, but that had resulted in a very unhealthy kind of half-relationship, occasional fuck-buddies but best friends during the day. When Adam had started to develop feelings, Brad had only distanced himself further. In the end, Adam had moved out and they had mostly forgotten about it. Mostly. Somehow things always mended between them, no matter what had gone down. It was a pattern in Adam’s “relationships.”
The club manager tapped his microphone and started mumbling some rules or whatever. Adam wasn’t paying attention.
The first singer he took note of was that girl with the orange hair he had seen in line earlier. He was pleasantly surprised - she performed a decent version of one of his favorite Bowie songs. But the alcohol kept coming and Brad was doing impressions and Adam’s brain went a little bit fuzzy for the next few singers.
Then he caught the easy sounds of a guitar strumming along from behind him - the first guitarist so far, as every other singer had used the piano accompanist.
Brad gave Adam a wink. “He’s a cute one.”
Adam turned around to see the guy he had seen in line before, whom he had judged to be quiet and unassuming. So far, Adam's impression seemed correct: he was wearing plaid and appeared sort of small on the stage, playing like he was in his bedroom or something. Adam thought that that’s probably where this guy usually jammed.
But then he opened his mouth, and Adam’s jaw dropped.
This guy could sing. Like, really. And not even in the karaoke, open mic night kind of way. In the singer-songwriter, superstar kind of way.
It was an acoustic cover of Heartless and Adam was riveted. The interpretation was brilliant, the arrangement vividly thought out, the melody smooth and sure. Suddenly it didn’t seem so much like a bedroom jam anymore. It felt like the real deal. Perhaps Brad could see the shocked expression on Adam’s face, for he was engaged in a fit of giggles with Scarlett on the other side of the table. Adam flapped a hand back at them to signal his disapproval and kept on staring.
Obviously it helped that the guy was attractive, but Adam could feel that he had the potential to be absolutely huge. He played like he’d been playing for a thousand years, fingers brushing the strings with utter grace; those hands were built to make music.
“Thank you, Kris Allen, with a ‘K.’ All the way from Arkansas,” the announcer said over thunderous applause as the plaid-wearing smallish Kris ambled off the stage. Adam watched him all the way, and could have sworn a glance was thrown in his direction. Eventually Kris sat by himself at a round table on the other side of the stage, fairly close up. Adam instantly became very aware that he was about to perform, that this guy was about to see him sing. And it kind of made him want to try harder, really blow him away. Kris Allen with a K.
As all this went through his mind, Brad and Scarlett’s giggles were evolving into raucous laughter, drawing confused looks from people sitting near them. Adam whipped around.
“What are you guys laughing at?” he demanded, which only made Scarlett double over and Brad slam the table with a fist, screaming, “Oh God, I’m crying, I’m actually crying.”
“Seriously, Adam,” said Scarlett, the first to calm down enough to form a sentence. “Your face. Could you be more obvious?”
“Someone’s got a little crush...” Brad teased, wiggling his fingers at Adam.
“What! No!” he protested, and then lowered his voice in mortification. “I mean, what? The guy, he was a good singer!”
“Oh, and he’s not your type at all, honey,” drawled Brad.
“What do you mean?” said Adam, suddenly nervous and a little sweaty.
Scarlett rolled her eyes. “Tiny in the adorable kind of way. Brown hair, brown eyes, innocent-looking. A singer. From the South.”
“Alright, alright,” said Adam, shushing her and pointedly looking everywhere but at Brad. “I was just thinking he was really good, that’s all.” Which was absolutely one hundred percent the truth. They were just enjoying making something out of nothing.
“Okay then,” said Brad significantly, and Adam’s eyes were drawn back, a little afraid. “You’re up next, anyway, and you better make it good for the boy from Arkansas...”
Adam unconsciously sent a glance over to where Kris Allen was sitting - thankfully he was looking up, hands folded, seemingly fascinated by a flyer pasted on the ceiling, unaware of anyone who might be staring at him in a creepy way.
After a moment, Adam forced his head around, coming face-to-face with a knowing look in Brad’s eyes. Adam said nothing and went back to sipping his drink.
It seemed to be only seconds later that it was his turn to sing, and as Adam strode to the stage he let himself slip into the mode, his stage persona, the Adam Lambert that was confident, sexy, and powerful. But as he reached the microphone and instinctively looked to where Kris Allen sat and took in a pair of wide, fascinated brown eyes gazing right at him, Adam gulped and his hand slid a little on the mic stand. But then the music began and he went for it.
It was probably a little overboard, Adam thought to himself as he ended on a ridiculous, register-defying, high-belting, multiple-riffed run, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. He smiled hugely at the cheering and whooping audience, and knew that he had killed it. He just had to keep himself from looking over at Kris to gauge his reaction.
When the show ended, Adam found himself bombarded by admirers. As nice as the compliments were (How have we never heard of you before? You must be on Broadway or something!), he was frustrated. He had a mission, and that was locating Kris Allen, be damned whatever the hell he was going to say to him. Whatever. Adam didn’t worry about details like that. He’d find an excuse. He would love to be able to say in the future, “Yeah, I ran into Kris Allen once... before he made it big.”
Scarlett and Brad were getting bored and told Adam that they were leaving, but not before sending him a few embarrassing winks and air kisses. Adam laughed and waved them off but he was nervous. Funny, as he honestly could not remember the last time he had been shy about going up and talking to someone. Apparently, Adam reasoned, this guy is just that good.
Soon enough he had spent over half an hour making small talk with various people, and still Kris was nowhere to be seen. He was almost ready to call it a lost cause when the crowd parted and there he was, like a beacon of plaid, standing alone in a corner, shrouded by murky bar lights.
Adam watched for a few seconds as a couple of people went up to Kris to comment on his performance. But he shrugged them off with a tiny mumbling of thanks.
Then, unexpectedly, he turned his head a little and looked directly at Adam.
Adam froze, gripping his Sam Adams far too tightly. But he couldn’t very well just stand there. He mustered up some Lambert swagger and approached.
Kris Allen’s eyes were filled with an intriguing anxiety. It looked as though he couldn’t wait to tear away his gaze. Adam smiled. It seemed to take an age to reach him, and even when he got there, it took a heart stopping moment to remember to introduce himself - the guy was way cuter up close, almost blindingly so.
He stuck out his hand. “I’m Adam Lambert,” he said confidently. “And I think you’re Kris Allen?”
Kris blinked a few times as though he was staring into a very bright light. “Yeah.”
Adam waited to see if Kris would say anything else. He didn’t. Adam swallowed. “Um, I just wanted to say. Your performance, it was really good.”
Kris squinted. “Really?”
“Yeah,” said Adam, running a hand through his own hair. “It was so original. Your voice is great.”
Kris mumbled unintelligibly and folded his arms.
“You don’t believe me,” Adam guessed.
“No!” Kris nearly shouted, maple-brown eyes going wide. “I mean, I believe you believe what you’re... sorry,” he sighed and hung his head. “I suck at accepting compliments.”
“I can see that,” said Adam, laughing a little and letting himself relax. “But I’m really fucking serious. You were by far the best.”
Kris smiled tentatively. “That’s funny, because I was going to say the same to you. If I ever talked to you, I mean. I wasn’t going to go up to you.”
Adam cocked his head, suppressing a grin. “Why not?”
Kris scrunched up his face and looked Adam up and down. “Well, you’re kind of intimidating.”
Adam raised his eyebrows.
“You know, the nail polish. The hair. The clothes.”
“You’re pretty observant.”
“Well, anyone would notice you,” Kris said, and then immediately seemed to regret it, folding his arms again and looking all around the club for an excuse not to meet Adam’s eyes. “Since, uh, you were really good, I mean. Impressive.”
Adam couldn’t hide his smile any longer. It seemed to be a theme between the two of them.
“Well, I’m glad you stayed and saw me. You’re not with anyone, right?”
That got Kris’ attention - his expression was downright alarmed. “Huh?”
“You came alone. You could’ve left after you went up.”
“Oh,” Kris said, looking relieved. “Well, I dunno. It’s only polite to hang around.”
At that moment, Adam concluded that this guy was kind of fascinating.
“So why did you come alone? And all the way from Arkansas?”
Kris looked at him for a moment, hard and blazing. “It’s kind of a long story.”
Then Adam dared to reach forward a little and touch him on the arm, brief but interested.
“I’ve got time,” he said.
And so they slid into a booth and ended up talking for the next two hours.
Adam learned that Kris had dreamed of being a musician as a young kid but had been discouraged at college; Arkansas wasn’t exactly a staple of music, and he had had the value of being “realistic” shoved down his throat at every turn. So he had become a substitute teacher instead, driving out forty-five minutes to play occasionally at bars with a couple of friends on the side. But soon the job in addition to his increasingly serious relationship with his girlfriend Katy had taken up more of his time, and as a result music had kind of been squeezed out of his life. It was no longer a priority, as Kris had said, accompanied by a small smile.
But then he turned twenty-five, and he wasn’t where he had ever wanted to be. Comfortable, yes, close to marriage, yes, a tight-knit family and friends, an okay salary, all yes. Still though, and Kris blushed as he said this, he was looking for something special. And sure, everyone is, but he had never wanted to end up exactly where he had begun, married with 2.5 kids in a small town, doing something that at the core was a replacement for something he had wanted more. So he had started playing again.
Only Katy, and his job, weren’t so supportive anymore. Kris kept feeling like he had to choose between something safe and a risk, between what he thought he should have and what he wanted to have. Katy didn’t understand Kris’ sudden and drastic unhappiness, dubbing it a phase, a mid-life crisis, and that had only made him angrier.
Passion had won out in the end. And so after a rushed, shockingly stoic goodbye to his parents and girlfriend, he had picked up and left for New York, carrying only a suitcase and a guitar, and showing up at the first open mic he came across.
“I didn’t know where else to go, I guess,” finished Kris, shrugging.
Adam just stared for a minute, in awe of the journey this guy had taken for the love of music.
“You seriously just left? No plans at all?”
“There was nothing keeping me there anymore.”
“It’s just so spontaneous. You don’t seem like - ”
“Like that type of guy?” Kris cut him off with a sly grin. “Don’t worry, I get that a lot. I mean, I surprised myself. But you know, it really wasn’t that spontaneous if you think about it. It had been building up inside me for a while. I don’t care if my family thinks I fucked up my life, or if it really is fucked. This was what I was meant to do, you know?”
“Yeah,” said Adam softly, spellbound.
When it was rounding two in the morning and they were just getting into an interesting conversation about spirituality and fate, the only people left in the whole place, a staff member dropped by to let them know that the bar was closing. Adam rattled his head and sort of came back to reality. Kris blinked a couple of times.
They left together and paused outside the building. Adam set down Kris’ suitcase. They looked at each other, but neither spoke. It was dark, and as quiet as New York City ever was. Adam listened to the shuffling of Kris’ sneakers as they scraped the pavement.
Adam was working up something to say, to ask for a phone number, something, but Kris surprised him. They had only just met tonight, but Adam was quickly learning that Kris was full of surprises.
“I feel kinda bad, unloading my whole life story on you when I barely know anything about your life.”
Adam could only make out half of Kris’ face, the other masked by shadow, but he was positive that there was an edge of a frown there, peaking out shyly from the darkness.
“Hey, I mean, it was kind of fascinating,” he said earnestly. “I was glad to hear it.”
The corner of Kris’ lip turned up, and Adam had a strange urge to reach out and brush it with a fingertip. He knew he had to say something, had to ensure that he would see this man again. But the words weren’t coming. His jaw was glued shut, body frozen. He had never felt this way before, so hesitant and unsure, so torn in two.
Kris was sort of smiling like it was the end - Adam could tell - and indeed he began to turn like he was planning on walking away. Finally, something snapped in Adam. A desperation, a realization: if he didn’t do something, right now, he might never see Kris Allen again. And someone like that, someone that special, simply wasn’t meant to walk into your life and then just walk right out again.
Kris turned back sharply.
“Do you even have any idea where you’re staying?” Adam spluttered. “You could use a contact in the city. You need friends. I could help you out. I have room.”
The words had all come tumbling forth, and Adam felt a little bit stupid, standing there panting like he was short of breath. But he had laid out what he had to offer, had held out his hand to Kris, and whether or not he took it would show if he was ready to discover what else they could give each other.
“Yeah,” said Kris, letting a huge smile spread across his face. “Yeah, that... That’d be great.”
Adam didn’t even bother arranging his own face to disguise the warm glow that had risen up in him.
“I don’t think I made it clear how amazing you really were,” he muttered as they began to walk together to his place. He reveled in the sound of their footsteps falling one after another, overlapping and tangling until you couldn’t tell whose were whose.
Kris just laughed.
Kris slept on Adam’s couch that night in his shitty apartment in Manhattan, and kind of never left.
They didn’t talk about it; Kris had never mentioned searching for another place, and Adam had purposely never indicated that he wanted him to leave, and so somehow they had ended up living together. Kris was paying half and everything once he found a job as a full-time waiter, part-time musical guest at a restaurant in the city. They were even rearranging, looking for another bed. And the gay factor seemed to be a non-issue (Adam had tried to bring it up but Kris had shushed him, saying “Don’t worry about it. Bring back all the guys you want”).
Brad and Scarlett found the whole thing hilarious, positively howling on the phone when Adam had first dropped the news. But when the four of them went out for drinks for the first time, they seemed to cool down a bit and realize what a genuine, kind, and funny guy Kris was. Adam was so proud of the way they all got along that he bought everyone a couple of rounds and they then proceeded to get very, very drunk together for the first time. Kris, unsurprisingly, had turned out to be a lightweight and Adam had pretty much carried him home.
That night Adam regaled his entire life story to Kris, how he had always dreamed of acting in the theater, how he had left all his friends in L.A. (except for Brad and Scarlett, who had tagged along) and his club-scene life-style to perform as an understudy in Wicked, only to be kicked to the curb after a year and not be able to find a steady role since. He had become notorious for changing up the melodies.
It all had felt a bit beneath him anyway, being a chorus boy. In high school, performing on Broadway had been the sole plan, the pinnacle of his dreams. But now that he had been there, that world suddenly seemed sort of tame.
Adam didn’t want to admit this revelation to Scarlett especially - she had been trying to get him to transition into mainstream music for years. Maybe he was just too damn proud to turn around his goals so late in life (he had even nearly auditioned for American Idol, out of desperation, and then stopped himself). But lately he had been sending out self-recorded tapes without telling anyone, including his friends and family. He was trying to get his face out there, on the look-out for musicians to write with, for producers that might be interested in someone like him, someone influenced by Bowie and Zeppelin and Muse and Queen. When it came down to it, Adam really just wanted to be a rock star.
Kris had nodded along quite a bit despite his drunkenness, assuring Adam that he was highly entertained by the story and that he would be there to support him in his “rock star endeavors.” But just as Adam was saying, “Thanks, that means a lot,” Kris’ head had dropped into Adam’s lap and he was dead asleep. Adam patted Kris’ hair and then extracted himself, thinking he wouldn’t mind if Kris woke up the next morning with no memory of anything Adam had told him.
For a few days he thought Kris had indeed forgotten, until he noticed a note stuck to a pile of CD’s that had appeared on the kitchen table on a Friday morning: I bought some David Bowie albums... you’re right, you would sound great singing music like this. - Kris
Adam grinned as he picked up a copy of Aladdin Sane and thumbed it lovingly. Everything about living with Kris was going great. There was only one teensy, itty-bitty problem: he was a little too cute for the good of either of them.
Obviously, Adam thought to himself every night as he tried not to focus too much on the fact that Kris was sleeping so close. Obviously I’m going to crush on the adorable straight guy who’s living with me now for some reason.
He hated so much that Brad and Scarlett had predicted this - they knew him too well.
But it really wasn’t that big a deal. He wouldn’t let it turn into a big deal. Besides, there were things about Kris that annoyed Adam. Like that he always forgot to roll the plastic bag up within the cereal box, or that he often “accidentally” mixed up the bags so that Adam would pour Wheat Chex when he wanted Corn Flakes. Admittedly, the fact that all of Kris’ flaws somehow had to do with cereal wasn’t the best sign ever. But there was no need to dwell on this.
Tuesday afternoon, Adam returned from a meeting with a talent agent in a rage. Not even the sight of Kris bent over his guitar scrawling some chords was enough to cool him down.
“Woah, dude,” said Kris, wide-eyed. “What happened to you?”
“Fucking agent. That mother fucker,” he said in a low voice, pacing with his fists clenched.
“Want to calm down and tell me what happened?”
Adam wrung his hands together. “This guy, he turned me down because I wasn’t ‘connecting’ with him emotionally. He said he ‘didn’t see genuine anguish’ on my face. Well, fuck. Who the fuck needs anguish anyway? It’s a recording!”
Kris looked at him blankly. “Well maybe they were going for something more subtle.”
Adam froze. “What the hell does that mean?”
Kris sighed. “You are pretty theatrical.”
“Um, yeah. Guilty as charged.”
“No, but I mean you project your emotions. Sometimes for the studio it’s about something a little more understated. A little more intimate.”
Adam tried to come up with an angry response, but what Kris was saying made too much sense. He dropped down beside him on the weathering black couch in a defeated sort of way and said, “Go on.”
“I dunno,” said Kris, seeming wary. “It’s just sometimes you gotta pull it back, make the emotion come from a real place and shut yourself away in your own world, because it’s a more direct connection to your audience than in theater when you’re so far away. With a song, you’re right there in their earbud. It’s personal. And you have to make them feel something genuine.”
“Teach me,” said Adam suddenly, turning toward Kris.
“What? Really?” he said hesitantly.
Kris held up a hand. “Only if you teach me something first.”
Adam raised an eyebrow. “Like...?”
“Stage presence. I have none, and I know it,” he added as Adam tried to argue. “I’ll never be noticed if I don’t channel some confidence. My brother told me once that I look like a little kid up there in front of a crowd.”
Adam frowned. Somehow he thought this was about more than stage presence. But he couldn’t say no with Kris sitting there, looking so desperate and lost.
“Alright, get up,” Adam said.
Kris obeyed and stood before him, scratching his head. “Well, this is awkward,” he said.
“It’s only awkward if you make it awkward. Now stand up straight, goddammit. And don’t scratch your head like you’re embarrassed.”
Slowly, as Adam coached him, Kris’ body-language became more and more sure: his shoulders were back, his arms were relaxed clutching his guitar, and he was standing tall and strong. But Adam wasn’t satisfied.
“Your face. You look scared.”
“I’m not scared,” said Kris, defensive. But there was, undeniably, fear in his eyes, which Adam found hard to pinpoint a reason for. It was like Kris was self conscious standing before him, body posed but expression giving everything away.
Adam furrowed his brow, thinking. “Give me a sexy face,” he said, completely serious, after a minute of silence.
Kris’ eyes grew huge. “I’m not sure I’m capable.”
“‘Course you are. Just think of the last time you tried to woo a woman.”
Kris’ silence was telling, his previously confident stance deflating a bit.
“Um, when was the last time you tried to - ”
“I was with Katy for seven years. I’ve never been with anyone else.” Adam’s face must have been shocked, or pitying, as Kris added with a shrug, “We assumed we’d be together forever. So should I play something now?”
Adam nodded, deciding to let the sexy face notion slide for the time being. He was frowning slightly as Kris began to play, an undefinable tightness growing in his chest. He wouldn’t have been able to describe his emotions if he tried. Kris was playing something he’d never heard before, a beautiful guitar part that sounded incredibly complex to Adam - it was a melody within itself. And when Kris’ voice finally was paired with the gorgeous acoustic, Adam could have cried. The words, even though he had a hard time breaking down their meaning, spoke of charcoal lights, familiar faces, and an unreachable place where there was something more, where he longed to go. The song certainly didn’t call for a sexy face, but the easy, quiet confidence with which Kris sang was different from how Adam had seen him perform before. Granted, Kris’ usual stage was sprawled out on his bed writing or sitting on a couch in the apartment. But something had changed, Adam was sure, that he couldn’t put a finger on. It was like... suddenly... Kris knew he was good.
As a final ghostly strum rang out, Adam opened and closed his mouth a couple of times but ended up just sort of nodding his head in recognition. Kris focused his eyes on Adam and he prayed his face wasn’t giving anything away. What he might be giving away, Adam wasn’t even sure. He just didn’t want Kris to find out before he did.
“Okay,” said Adam, clearing his throat. “Good. That’s great... You... You’ll look good on a stage.”
Kris gave him a small smile. “Your end of the deal?”
It took Adam a second to remember what he was talking about; he had been about to get up and start busying himself with something to break the tension. But he remained where he was, frozen, as Kris moved to join him. The air was even thicker now, more dense than ever, pressing around them.
“Sing me something,” Kris said. Their faces were mere feet apart.
Adam indicated the space before the couch where Kris had sung. “Do you want me to go - ”
“No. Right here. Sing to me,” Kris shifted a little more toward Adam, “just like this.”
Adam gulped; he was scared to move away, scared he would hurt Kris by recoiling, but they were so, so close, far too close. He could see every detail of Kris’ lashes, how they curved over shockingly bright and soft brown eyes.
He counted the beat with his pounding heart and let the first notes of One Republic’s Come Home ring from his throat.
Kris barely moved as Adam tried - really tried - to let feeling bubble up inside him. He closed his eyes. He reached out his hand but felt it collide with Kris’, whose rough, calloused fingers latched on immediately. He brought both of their hands down to the space between them, holding them there, and Adam understood.
Show me with your face, Kris was trying to say. Don’t perform, just be.
All of a sudden, it clicked. Adam opened his eyes and let everything show though.
I’ve been waiting for you so long, so long
Right now there’s a war between the vanities, and all I see is you and me
And the fight for you is all I’ve ever known
So come home...
He let the final high note soar and then fade, and that’s when he realized that those striking eyes of Kris’ were shining and watery.
“Remember when you asked me why I stayed after I went up?” Kris asked so quietly that Adam could barely hear. “I stayed to hear you sing. I saw you and somehow knew you’d be incredible.”
Adam swallowed the lump in his throat and croaked, “And was I?”
“You were even better,” said Kris, a grin creeping onto his face.
And then he got up and walked away, starting to pull out cheese and sauce from the fridge like he hadn’t said anything important at all. Adam was motionless, confused, catching his breath and pulling himself together. What the hell was Kris Allen trying to do to him?