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The Man Comes Around, Part One (of Two)

Title: The Man Comes Around
Author: pennilesspoet17
Rating: R
Pairing: Kris/Adam
Genre: Drama, Angst, H/C, Romance
Word Count: 19,300
Summary: Adam has pushed his body (and soul) to the limit in a quest to pursue his dream. Forced to take a break, he finds himself on a secluded ranch, light years from the life he’s grown so accustomed to. Horses were never his thing, but he has a soft spot for cute boys, and he’s determined to unravel the mystery surrounding the adorable but troubled ranch hand who teaches Adam to ride.
Notes: Written for a long-ago prompt at kradamadness. <3 Huge thank you to my lovely and talented betas, bubby_wubby and catalm.
Warnings: Listed at the end of the story.



And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder:
One of the four beasts saying, "Come and see."
And I saw.
And behold, a white horse.


Adam always figured that if he were ever to find himself waking up in a hospital room, it would be to a tearful, fretting mother, a worried father and maybe even a soft-eyed boyfriend at his side.

So it’s a little jarring to wake up to find his mother glaring down at him, and his manager on her phone and iPad (and sadly, no boyfriend to speak of).

“You scared us to death, Adam,” Leila says with a trembling voice.

“What happened?” Adam asks, because the last thing he remembers is performing in front of a packed house, sweating profusely, his heart thumping, and the low thrum of the song’s bass line ringing in his ears.

“You collapsed on stage. You’ve been going nonstop for months, and your body finally hit its limit. So whether you or your...management team,” Leila glares across the room at Lane, who has the good sense to look chagrined, “like it or not, you’re not working for the next two months.”

“Two months!”

“It’s not that long, Adam. And I’m sending you someplace where you have no access to internet, or television, or-”

“This sounds like a punishment,” Adam pouts, because really? Does such a place even exist anymore? Who doesn’t have internet?

Leila leans down then, and places a clammy hand on Adam’s cheek. She’s looking at Adam with equal parts concern and frustration.

“It’s for your own good, sweetheart. You need to clear your head and settle your spirit. And you can’t do that out here on the road, or back in LA.”

“Fine,” Adam sighs, though inside, he thinks that his mother might be right. He could really use the break.

~::~

Two weeks later, any warm feelings Adam might have had for his mother and her ideas of a “vacation” have vanished.

He’d taken a plane from LAX to Denver, and then a smaller plane to Colorado Springs, and is now in a rickety old pickup truck, driving into what can only be described as bum-fuck middle of fucking nowhere. The driver, an older, gruff man with weather-worn features and a slight limp, hasn’t said more than two words to Adam since he arrived. (On the upside, the guy seems to have no idea who Adam is; on the downside, he looks at Adam like he walked off of a space ship, not an airplane.)

The truck turns off of the main highway (if it can even be called that), and onto an unpaved dirt road. As the truck bounces and jerks along, Adam wraps one hand around his seat belt to pull it away from his neck, and uses the other hand to anchor himself to the worn, dusty bench seat. By the time the truck pulls off of the dirt road and onto a smaller gravel path, Adam’s stomach is a wreck.

The truck rolls up to a sprawling stone and wooden ranch house. Several smaller matching buildings dot the property, along with what appears to be a large wooden barn. Adam steps out of the truck, willing his trembling legs to keep him upright. The solid ground feels good under his feet after such a rough ride. He takes a deep breath and stretches his arms above his head.

“Mr. Lambert! You made it,” a portly, older man appears on the front porch of the house. Adam drops his arms and walks on still shaky legs towards him. The man has wide, friendly blue eyes and snow white hair. He looks kind and fatherly, and Adam can’t help but smile at him.

“I did. Thank you for having me. Your house is beautiful,” Adam replies. Inside, he’s trying to hold back his panic. He’s in the middle of nowhere. This isn’t the kind of place that shiny, famous gay boys visit willingly. Still, the man in front of him seems nice enough.

“Thank you kindly. I’m Jack,” Jack extends his hand, rough and tan from years of manual labor. As Adam extends his hand-soft and freshly manicured-he feels an unreasonable wave of shame course through him. Jack doesn’t seem to notice. He simply offers a solid hand shake and a warm smile. Adam feels himself relax immediately.

“Adam. But, I guess you already knew that,” Adam laughs.

“Lloyd is taking your things over to the north guest quarters. I’ll walk you over there, if you’re interested in washing up a bit before supper,” Jack smiles. Upon Adam’s nod, Jack leads him toward one of the smaller buildings not far from where they’re standing.

The guest house is small, but more than enough for one person. Lloyd, Adam’s driver, is placing the last of Adam’s bags in the small entryway when Jack and Adam arrive.

“Thanks,” Adam smiles. Lloyd nods politely and limps away without a word.

Jack leads Adam from the entry way and into the living room. The room is bright and airy, with large windows along each wall. The back window offers an amazing view of the rest of the property, with the mountains looming in the distance. A small kitchen is adjacent to the living room, and beyond that, a small bedroom and bathroom.

“It’s not much, but it should serve your needs,” Jack says, as Adam looks around.

“It’s perfect,” Adam replies honestly, “thank you.”

“Deena cooks most every meal, so your kitchen is really just here for show. But if you have some kind of dietary thing, let us know. We have breakfast at six, lunch at noon, and supper at five.”

“Six...in the morning?” Adam asks, stunned.

“It’s best to get the day started before it gets too hot out. You’ll get used to it,” Jack chuckles, and slaps Adam on the back jovially. “Get yourself settled, then head on up to the main house in an hour or so.”

After Jack leaves, Adam pulls out his phone, and is not surprised to see that he gets no service. Sighing, he turns the device off, tossing it into his backpack.

When his mom told him she had booked him six weeks at Phoenix Ranch, he had assumed that a) the ranch was in Arizona, and b) the ranch was one of those spa/ranch-type places that he’s always hearing about. But from the looks of it, this ranch is a real, working ranch, and Jack fully expects Adam to participate in whatever it is that they do here.

Adam isn’t afraid of working; in fact, too much work is what landed him here in the first place. But the idea of being out in the sun all day doesn’t exactly appeal to him; under the dyed hair and glam make-up, he’s still a pale ginger kid, after all.

Reluctantly resigning himself to his fate, he moves to unpack, and hopes to hell he remembered to bring sunscreen.

~::~

Deena is a short, round woman with an easy smile, warm brown eyes and unruly red hair. She hugs Adam immediately, and then assigns him to salad duty.

“Your mother said that you’ve been working too hard, but I told her you were just doing the wrong kind of work,” Deena says conversationally, “slice the cucumber thin, dear.”

“She’s probably right,” Adam replies with a sigh.

“Mothers usually are.”

Adam barks out a laugh, just as the kitchen door swings open and a slight, dusty, extremely cute boy walks in. He stands in the doorway for a moment, large brown eyes blinking up at Adam.

“Shoes off, Kristopher!” Deena crows without even looking up.

The boy flushes adorably, then reaches down to pull off his work boots.

“Go wash up; supper will be ready in a few minutes.”

The boy nods and darts out of the kitchen without a word.

“That’s Kris. He doesn’t say much, but he’s wonderful with the horses. Do you ride, Adam?”

“Um. No. Not really,” Adam looks back over his shoulder, but doesn’t see where Kris has gone.

“Well, when you’re ready to learn, you’ll want to see Kris.”

~::~

Dinner is an informal affair; Deena and Jack have a long wooden table, with benches lining each side and wide chairs at each end. The food is placed in the center of the table, and it isn’t long before the table is crowded with men from the ranch. Adam only recognizes Lloyd and Kris, but is quickly introduced to a burly, bearded man named Henry, an older, thin Latino named Joe, and a tall blond man named Sam. They all work on the ranch in some capacity or another, and seem to get along with each other quite well.

The meal is loud and boisterous, with plenty of beer and food to go around. Adam can’t remember when he last had a meal like this, so full of fat and carbs, and yet he can’t bring himself to care. He digs into his pasta as Henry tells him - in extraordinary detail - about his first time helping to birth a calf. He glances over at Kris again, who is eating heartily while Deena chats his ear off. Kris has yet to say anything, but Adam wonders if it’s just because he can’t get a word in edgewise.

It’s strange, Adam thinks, how quickly he’s been accepted into this group. He’d purposely come to dinner wearing toned down clothes and next to no make-up, but he thinks he still sticks out like a sore thumb. Yet no one batted an eye when he sat down, and no one has mentioned his celebrity status. (Of course, with no television or internet around here, it’s possible none of them have even heard of him; he’s only been in the spotlight for two years.) He wonders how everyone around him appears so unaffected by a person who clearly has no business out on a ranch. No one seems insincere with their welcoming demeanor and jovial conversation - maybe Adam has just spent too much time around cynical urbanites.

Before he knows it, his plate is empty, Deena is bringing out a pie, Sam is telling them all about his adventure with a runaway calf, and Adam tries to work out in his head how many hours at the gym this vacation is going to require when he gets back to LA.

~::~

It’s been a long day, but Adam doesn’t feel like sleeping just yet. It’s a warm night, so he takes his tea out to the front porch of the main house and settles onto one of the wooden rocking chairs. He lays his head back, closes his eyes, and absorbs the sounds of the late evening. He can hear horses out in the stables near the house and the buzzing of flying insects. He hears Deena and Jack moving around in the house behind him; it’s otherwise silent.

He’s beginning to understand why his mother chose this place. She was right when she mentioned that he needed to clear his head. He’d been going nonstop for a long time, working to make a name for himself, and then dealing with the chaos that ensued once he finally did. He hasn’t had a steady relationship for more than two years, and now, with his 30th birthday looming, he feels like he should be more...balanced. More settled.

He’s startled from his thoughts by the sound of the screen door slamming. He opens his eyes to see Kris looking down at him apologetically.

“It’s okay, you’re not disturbing me. Have a seat,” Adam smiles.

Kris seems hesitant, but moves to sit on the chair next to Adam. He sits on the edge of the chair, looking tense and unsure. An uncomfortable silence settles between them, so Adam clears his throat and speaks.

“How long have you been working here?”

Kris looks up at Adam, bites his bottom lip and shrugs. Frustrated, Adam tries again.

“Um. Deena says that I should see you if I want to learn to ride. She says you’re great with horses.”

Kris seems to brighten at the mention of horses, so Adam pushes forward.

“Could you...do you have time to show me? In the morning?”

Kris nods with a small smile, and Adam feels like doing a victory dance.

“Kris?” Deena pushes open the screen door, and pokes her head out. “Oh, there you are, sweetie. I just wanted to make sure the horses are all locked away for the night.”

Off of Kris’s nod, Deena smiles. “Okay. Good night you two. Don’t stay up too late.”

Kris stands as Deena disappears into the house. He looks back at Adam and offers a small wave as he makes his way to the door.

“Oh. Um, yeah, good night. See you tomorrow.”

Kris nods, and slips back into the house.

~::~

The early morning sun glares into Adam’s room at an ungodly hour.

He’s not sure why the daylight seems so much brighter here; but it rouses him well before six.

Breakfast is ham, eggs, toast, fried potatoes and coffee black as tar. Not everyone is at the table this morning; Deena explains that some folks get started a bit earlier, and most everyone shows up again at lunch time.

Kris is one of the people who wasn’t at the breakfast table. Adam finds him in the stables, running a brush along the hind quarters of a muscular, tan horse. He’s humming softly to himself, a tune that Adam can’t place, though he’s sure he’s heard it before. He stops humming as Adam nears, his posture tensing slightly.

“Morning Kris,” Adam smiles warmly. Kris nods, then tosses his brush into a metal bucket. He moves to the next stable, to another horse. It’s slightly darker, almost copper in color, with a smattering of white spots along its back and hind quarters. The horse shakes its tail a bit as Adam approaches, so he steps back and watches Kris lead the horse out of the stable, and into a large, gated ring. Kris glances over his shoulder as he leads the horse out into the sunlight, so Adam moves to follow.

Kris is standing next to the horse’s nose, his hand wrapped loosely around a long leather strap. As Adam walks toward them, the horse lets out a noise that sounds like a snort and shakes its head. Kris runs his hand along the horse’s nose, and down its neck, cooing and whispering softly as he does so. The horse calms under Kris’s ministrations, and he keeps stroking the horse’s nose as he turns back to Adam.

“This is Rusty,” Kris says, his voice warm and low, words threaded with a slight honeyed drawl that twists something in Adam’s gut, “he’s a little nervous ‘cause he’s never seen you before, so we need to get you better acquainted.”

“You...uh, you talk?” Adam gapes, because other than the humming, he hasn’t heard a peep from Kris since he arrived.

“‘Course I talk,” Kris replies with a shrug, which is kind of annoying because he’s acting like he doesn’t remember last night’s one-sided conversation. “Come say hi to Rusty,” Kris continues.

Sighing, Adam gives in and walks slowly toward the horse. The horse seems to tense a bit, but Kris’s hand keeps him calm.

“Look him in the eye, and relax, Adam,” Kris says softly, “He can feel your anxiety.”

Adam looks at Kris, who is focused on Rusty, then back at the horse, who is standing patiently, his big brown eyes looking at him with an intensity that is slightly jarring. He takes a deep breath, then another, and feels his shoulders relax. He hadn’t even been aware of how tense he was until his shoulders dropped.

“Run your hand down his nose. Let him know that you mean no harm,” Kris says, and Adam does so. The hair under his hands is stiff but soft. He continues to stroke, even as Kris backs away slightly.

He can’t explain it, but Adam can feel the moment that the horse relents. It’s a remarkable feeling, this strange connection he suddenly feels to this horse. He doesn’t even notice that Kris has left them alone until he returns to his side, a large, thick blanket in his hands.

“He likes you,” Kris smiles, “let’s get him saddled, then we can go on a practice ride.

Kris rounds the horse and throws the blanket over the horse’s back. He walks toward the fence, where a wide, brown saddle is sitting. He pulls it off of the fence, and carries it back to the horse. He tosses it up onto Rusty’s back, adjusting it until it’s centered.

“Pay attention, ‘cause you’ll be doin’ this yourself tomorrow,” Kris says, as he brings a thick leather strap up under the horse. He threads the strap through a heavy buckle, and yanks hard, tightening the strap, then buckling it. He does the same to the strap along the back end of the horse. Rusty doesn’t so much as flinch as Kris saddles him. The implicit trust between them is remarkable, Adam thinks. Kris finishes with the second strap, and turns to Adam.

“Alright?”

“Um, yeah. Seems easy enough,” Adam smiles.

“Ready to mount?” Kris asks. Adam arches an eyebrow at the statement, but pushes down the urge to reply with a coy flirt. He’s not sure how Kris would react to that.

“Sure,” Adam replies instead. He rounds the horse and stares at the saddle. Rusty suddenly seems really tall, and Adam isn’t entirely sure how he’s supposed to get on him.

“Put your foot in the stirrup, and grab the horn,” Kris points to the knob sitting at the front of the saddle, “pull yourself up, then swing your leg over his body.”

Adam swallows nervously, and nods. He takes a moment to curse himself for wearing such tight jeans today, and then does as he’s told. He puts his foot into the stirrup, and wraps his hand around the horn. He pulls himself up, and is about to swing his leg over, when Rusty, traitor that he is, moves back two steps, and throws Adam off balance. He tumbles to the poof dirt, landing hard on his ass.

“That was a good first effort,” Kris chuckles, extending his hand down toward Adam. Adam shoots him a glare, but takes Kris’s hand.

“You alright?”

“Fine,” Adam grumbles. His pride hurts more than his ass, to be honest. He dusts the fine granules off of his pants, then glares at Rusty.

“I’ll keep hold of him; try again,” Kris says, as he wraps the leather straps around his hand.

Nodding, Adam slips his foot into the stirrup, and pulls himself up. Rusty stays still as he swings his leg up and over, and settles himself into the saddle.

“Yay!” Adam grins proudly. Kris smiles and hands Adam the straps.

“Nicely done.”

“Thanks! Now what?” Adam asks.

“You’re gonna use the reins in your hands to control him. You don’t need to yank hard, Rusty is well trained, he knows what to do. Pull both to stop him. Pull the right to turn right, left to turn left.”

“I can do that,” Adam replies.

“Okay,” Kris smiles. He clicks at Rusty, and pulls a bit on the bridle. Rusty follows Kris around the pen obediently, as Adam gets used to the very strange sensation of a moving animal underneath him.

“This is weird,” Adam says, and Kris chuckles.

“You’ll get used to it.”

~::~

Once Kris is sure that Adam is comfortable with Rusty on his own, he leaves to saddle his own horse. Adam continues to ride Rusty around the pen while he waits. At one point, Joe walks by with a big plastic bucket in his gloved hand.

“Up on a horse already?”

“It’s all Kris’s doing,” Adam stops Rusty at the fence near Joe and looks down at him with a proud grin.

“He’s the best,” Joe nods with a proud smile, before continuing on his way.

Adam leads Rusty back into the center of the pen, just as Kris emerges with the stately tan horse he’d been brushing earlier. He’s wearing a wide-brimmed, brown cowboy hat now, and carrying another hat in his hand. Adam stops Rusty in the center of the ring, and watches Kris lead the horse toward them. In his tight jeans, fitted plaid shirt, and dusty work boots, Kris pulls off the cowboy look very, very well. (Apparently he has a cowboy kink. Who knew?)

“Here, you should put this on,” Kris hands Adam the black hat, “Your nose is turnin’ red.”

“Thanks,” Adam takes the hat, and pulls it on as Kris mounts his horse quickly and fluidly.

“Ready to ride for real?” Kris smiles.

“Lead the way, cowboy,” Adam grins.

~::~

They ride to the perimeter of the ranch grounds, and by the time they ride back for lunch, Adam’s ass is screaming at him.

Lunch is chili with thick slices of bread and butter, and tall glasses of lemonade. The group gathers at a long table around the back of the house to eat.

Adam eats standing up.

As the group disperses, Adam moves to help Deena clear up the table.

“Did you have a nice ride with Kris this morning?”

“I did. He’s a great teacher. He...I mean, after last night, I didn’t think he spoke.”

“He’s a man of few words,” Deena nods as she stacks empty bowls.

“I tried to talk to him while we were riding but...he only seems to want to talk about horses. What’s wrong with him?”

“Nothing’s wrong with him,” Deena replies defensively, “He just chooses to communicate differently is all.”

“I didn’t mean to...um, did something happen? To make him-”

“It’s not my place to tell you those kind of things, Adam,” Deena scolds.

“You’re right, I’m sorry,” Adam replies, “I just-”

“You’re curious. I know. Kris is a good man, and yes, he hasn’t had it easy. But none of us have, you know? Respect his boundaries, and you’ll find that you can learn a lot about him without those pesky words gettin’ in your way.”

Deena walks back into the house before Adam can reply. He looks across the yard to find Kris looking back at him, and indecipherable expression on his face. Kris blinks, then turns toward the stables.

Adam moves to follow. If Kris is only willing to talk about horses, then Adam will talk about horses all day long.

~::~

Over the next week, Adam learns more about horses than he ever thought he wanted to.

He also helps Kris shovel horse shit, learns how to change a shoe, how to wash the horses, and how and when to feed them.

He goes to bed every night more exhausted than he’s ever been, he wakes up to sore muscles screaming at him, and he no longer thinks twice about piling a second helping onto his plate at meal time.

For Adam, the afternoon rides make it all worth it.

Kris doesn’t say much on their rides, but he looks more content, more relaxed up on his horse than he does any other time. Adam thinks that if Kris had his way, he’d just ride around on his horse forever, like some wayward loner in an old Western.

Kris’s horse is named Jackson. Kris talks to Jackson more than he talks to anyone else. Adam isn’t sure that Kris knows that Adam knows that. He’s not sure that he knows that Adam has seen him in the stables at the break of day, muttering soft words meant only for Jackson’s ears.

It’s early on Sunday morning, and Adam wakes with the sun. He takes a short shower, slathers on sunscreen, and dresses in simple jeans and a t-shirt. He considers shaving, but he’s been letting it go for about three days, and is kind of getting used to the stubble. He looks at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. His face, completely free of make-up, is covered in freckles, and is slightly browner, with patches of red from where the sunblock had rubbed off. The strawberry blonde stubble looks a little odd with his jet black hair, which hangs loose and product-free around his face. If he were at home right now, he’d be fretting about the incredibly poor state of his skin, but out here, in the middle of nowhere, he thinks that all of the work he puts into his regular routine would be a huge waste of energy. He smiles at his reflection, rubs the stubble on his cheek, and heads out.

It’s still too early for breakfast, so Adam wanders over to the stables. As he gets closer, he hears Kris’s voice, soft and low. He slows his steps, and hovers in the doorway. Kris’s cadence is melodic, quiet and raspy. It’s a song, Adam realizes. Kris is singing.

What have I become? My sweetest friend. Everyone I know goes away in the end. And you could have it all; my empire of dirt. I will let you down. I will make you hurt.

Kris is running a hand over Jackson’s nose, his lips barely moving as the words whisper out of him. Jackson is standing completely still, his head bowed gracefully.

The horse near Adam whinnies, startling him. He glares at the horse (a sleek black mare with a temper to rival any diva), but the horse simply grunts and shakes its head. When he turns back, Kris is looking at him with wide, startled eyes.

“Hi,” Adam says with a slightly sheepish wave. He feels like he’s been caught interloping on an extremely private moment, yet he can’t bring himself to be fully regretful of what he heard.

“It’s early,” Kris croaks. He runs his hand down Jackson’s nose again, then steps away from the horse, and toward Adam.

“I know, I - I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt, but, um, you have a really lovely voice,” Adam smiles softly.

“Oh. Uh, thanks,” Kris shrugs. He rubs the back of his neck with his left hand and looks at the ground.

“Kris, I...I know you don’t know me very well, but if you ever want to talk. People say I’m a good listener.”

Kris looks up then, his expression blank, and his mouth set in a tight line. “Jackson’s a good listener too.”

“Kris. Jackson’s a horse.”

“I know that. I’m not an idiot.”

“I didn’t mean-”

“You think I’m weird ‘cause I talk to horses and not people. But words don’t hurt horses...they don’t-” Kris stops suddenly, and shakes his head. Adam can see him closing up again, can see his body folding in on itself. He hates himself for pushing too hard, for upsetting the careful balance of trust that he and Kris have established over the past several days.

“Kris, I...I’m sorry, I-”

Kris holds up a hand to stop Adam from continuing. He looks up at Adam with bright, wide eyes, then rips his hat off of the fence post, and storms past him without another word.

Adam lets out a shaky breath and swallows hard. Hours of work gaining Kris’s trust, shattered in a silly moment of impulse. He looks up to find Rusty looking down at him, his eyes warm and understanding. It isn’t hard to see why Kris finds solace in these gentle creatures. They don’t judge, they don’t criticize. They’re always there.

He approaches Rusty, and runs his hand along the horse’s long nose.

“My mom always said my impatience was what would cause me the most trouble, Rusty. Sometimes I really hate when she’s right.”

Rusty grunts, then nudges Adam with his nose. Adam takes the hint. He quietly saddles the horse, and leads him out of the stables and into the open field before mounting him and heading west.

~::~

The ride serves to clear Adam’s head for a while.

It’s just him, Rusty and a wide expanse of land, stretching out and out and out. The land is dry and rocky, but he can see the shadows of the evergreens higher up the mountain, and beyond that, a vibrant, brilliant blue sky.

A week ago, he might have felt lonely and restless here in this silent place. But at this moment, he finds the solitude fortifying. From his vantage point atop this stellar horse, he feels like he’s on top of the world.

He thinks it would be easy to lose himself in this feeling. To rely on this, and nothing else, to make the world seem right. He knows now, without question, that this is what Kris has done.

Adam still isn’t sure what has happened in Kris’s life to drive him into hiding. But he’s sure that that is exactly what Kris is doing. Jack and Deena are good people to take Kris in, to allow him to find himself. But he wonders if letting him hide away is wise. He wonders if this is really what Kris wants.

Maybe it is. Maybe Adam presumes too much. Maybe Kris truly is happy here. But something in the way Kris looks at him tell him that it isn’t so. Something inside of him tells him that Kris longs for more. Adam wants Kris to know that it's okay to want more; It's okay to say it out loud. Yet any trust Kris had in him was likely shattered this morning, because Adam pushed to hard, too fast.

He has time. He has four more weeks. He could start again.

Adam clicks at Rusty, guides him east toward the ranch, and sets off across the wilderness in a gallop.

~::~

It’s nearly noon when Adam returns.

He puts Rusty away in the stable, and walks toward the main house with a bit of trepidation. He’s been gone a long time; he hopes he didn’t break any rules by taking Rusty out for so long, all alone.

Lunch is in full swing when he walks into the kitchen. The group is busily making their own sandwiches from an array of fixings that are laid out on the table. Deena is frying up bacon on the stove, and Jack is slicing up a plump tomato.

Kris is nowhere to be seen.

“Adam! There you are! My goodness, we were about to send out the cavalry!” Deena exclaims. She grabs Adam’s wrist, and shakes it gently.

“I’m so sorry, Deena. I should have told someone I was going out for a ride.”

“It’s fine. I figured you must have. Kris was pretty upset earlier - did you two have words?”

“Yes. That is, I crossed a boundary I shouldn’t have,” Adam looks down at his shoes, the way he used to when his mother would scold him as a child.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll work it out. Kris has taken quite a liking to you,” Deena pats Adam’s arm, “Go make yourself something to eat. I’ll fix something for Kris, and you can take it out to him.”

“Out? He’s not in the stables. I’ve just come from there.”

“No, he’s out behind the old tool shed,” Deena sighs, “He needs to eat something, and you two need to sort this out.”

~::~

Adam carries the bacon and tomato sandwiches out to the tool shed that Deena had directed him to. He’s never even noticed the shed before now. It’s an older building, made primarily of wood, and it looks like it could collapse at any moment. (Adam sincerely hopes that Kris isn’t inside of the thing.)

He walks around the shed, and looks around. It’s quiet back here, and the weeds and grass are overgrown and prickly. The ground crunches under Adam’s feet as he moves farther back, toward a small grove of trees just beyond the shed. Kris doesn’t seem to be back here. Adam bites his lip and looks back toward the main house. Maybe he went back to the stables after Adam returned?

“Adam.”

Adam looks up above him, to find Kris sitting on a thick branch over his head. Kris’s expression is blank, and he doesn’t seem to want to say anything more. Adam backs away from the tree a bit so that he doesn’t have to crane his neck as much. He holds up the sandwiches like a peace offering.

“Deena says you need to eat,” he says.

Kris jumps out of the tree, landing with a heavy thud several feet from Adam. He walks forward slowly and takes the sandwich from Adam’s proffered hand.

“Thanks,” he mutters, sliding down the trunk of the tree to the ground.

Adam watches Kris for a moment, as he opens the paper towel and studies the sandwich laid out before him. He pulls off the top slice of bread, and wrinkles his nose adorably, before peeling off the tomato and tossing it into the weeds. Smiling, Adam lowers himself to the ground in front of Kris, leaving plenty of space between them.

“Do you mind if I eat with you?” he asks hesitantly.

Kris looks up at Adam, his face still revealing nothing. He shrugs noncommittally, and takes a large bite of his sandwich.

It’s not a no, and that's more than he thought he'd get today, so Adam slowly unwraps his own sandwich and takes a bite.

~::~

Adam sleeps fitfully that night.

He isn’t sure if it’s the howling wind, or the emotional day that keeps him tossing and turning all night long. When he finally is able to fall under, it’s to dark dreams.

Kris is hurting; twisting and writhing in the shadows just beyond Adam’s grasp. Yet every time Adam reaches out, Kris shrinks away, leaving Adam cold and deeply afraid.

Adam wakes to the sound of shouting, not far from his bedroom window.

It’s late; later than Adam has slept since his time here. Frustrated, he tosses the blankets off his body and rushes through his morning routine, anxious to get outside and find out what’s going on.

The ranch is buzzing with activity; everyone rushing to and from the main house. Panic courses through Adam as he hurries toward the stables.

Adam walks in to find that Jackson and Rusty are both saddled, and two of the other horses are gone. Kris is loading tools into a bag that hangs off the front of Jackson’s saddle. He turns as Adam approaches.

“What’s going on?” Adam asks breathlessly.

“Wind knocked down some fence posts along the perimeter,” Kris drawls, “We just need to get them fixed before we lose cattle.”

“Oh,” Adam says, relieved, “How can I help?”

Before Kris can reply, Deena appears with two neatly wrapped bundles in her hands.

“Well, hello there, Sleeping Beauty!” Deena winks. Adam ducks his head to hide his flush. “I made you boys something for lunch; I doubt you’ll be back before noon. Adam, why don’t you come grab a quick bite while Kris finishes packing. It’s going to be a long day.”

Adam glances at Kris, who is busy taking the food from Deena with a nod. Kris turns back to finish packing, and that’s when Adam notices that Rusty is equipped with the same bag that is on Jackson. Relief courses through him at the idea that Kris seems to have forgiven him, at least enough to partner up with him this morning. And he must be doing an adequate job with their chores, if they’re letting him ride out to help fix fences - at least, he hopes that’s the case. Smiling, he follows Deena back to the main house.

“I’m sorry I overslept. I hope Kris wasn’t waiting for me,” Adam says as they reach the house.

“Oh, not at all,” Deena shakes her head, “Lloyd and Henry took off at dawn to survey the damage nearest to the herd. You and Kris will be taking some of the outer areas. No need to rush.”

Adam settles at the table, and Deena sets a large bowl of oatmeal in front of him, along with a bright red handkerchief.

“Put that in your pocket,” Deena advises, “you might need it to cover your nose and mouth if the wind picks up again.”

“You mean like a train robber?” Adam smiles. Deena laughs warmly, and pats Adam’s shoulder as he digs into his meal.

~::~

Kris is waiting for him just outside the stables when Adam steps back outside. He’s wearing a thick leather jacket and his hat, and has a matching jacket in his hand. Adam can’t imagine wearing something so heavy in this heat.

“You’ll need it when we start working with the razor wire,” Kris states, noting Adam’s arched brow.

They ride out to an area not far from where Adam rode out the day prior. It feels different, Adam thinks, being out here with Kris, but in a good way. Kris is riding along the perimeter, kicking at various posts to test their durability. He hasn’t said much since they left the ranch, though Adam wonders if it’s because he’s focused on the task at hand. They ride for a while, until they come upon a crooked post, tangled in razor wire.

Kris slides off Jackson, and opens the bag he’d packed earlier. Adam dismounts Rusty, and runs a soothing hand over the horse’s long neck.

“Get into your saddlebag and pull out your gloves,” Kris says. Adam does as he’s told. He rounds the horse and follows Kris to the fence. Kris looks over the mess somberly, then reaches forward and pulls at the fence post. When it doesn’t give easily, Adam hears Kris swear under his breath, then watches as he pulls a set of long wire cutters out of his back pocket. He snips at the wire, freeing the post, then pulls it upright again.

“Okay,” Kris says breathlessly, “hold on to this, and try not to touch the wires.”

Adam nods, and holds the post as steady as he can, “Like this?”

“Perfect. Try not to move,” Kris says as he drops to his knees and works to anchor the post down. He works carefully around Adam as he threads the wire around the post again, his movements slow and deliberate.

They finish the post, and move on, stopping to repeat the same process three more times. By the time they reach the fourth post, Adam can no longer take the heat. He peels off his jacket, and leaves it in the dirt as he steadies the post over Kris’s head. They have a pretty efficient system in place now, so it takes them less time to secure the fourth post than it did the first.

It kind of happens in slow motion, the accident. As Kris is finishing securing the wire, Adam’s arm muscle twitches, and his forearm slides across the razor wire. He lets out an undignified squeak, and tumbles back against the dirt, his arm stinging like nothing he’s ever felt. He closes his eyes, and tries to breathe, but he feels dizzy, and his arm is really starting to ache.

“Let me see,” Kris says calmly, as he drops to his knees and pulls off his thick work gloves. Adam shakily extends his arm, watching Kris peel back his shirt sleeve carefully. Kris picks up his canteen, and pours most of the remaining water on Adam’s wound to wash out the blood, dirt and sweat, before reaching into his back pocket and producing a dark blue handkerchief. He wraps it tightly around Adam’s arm, then splays his hand out over the cloth.

“Okay?” Kris asks softly. Adam looks up from the wound to find Kris looking at him intently, his hand warm and secure on Adam’s arm.

Adam takes a shaky breath, and nods jerkily. Kris runs his hand softly along Adam’s arm, and opens his mouth, as though he is going to say something. When nothing comes out, Adam places his hand over Kris’s, and smiles.

“Thank you,” he whispers. Kris offers a small smile, his gaze soft and open. Adam is so hyper-aware of every place where they are touching right now, that he hardly notices the dull throb in his injured arm. He leans forward slightly, watching Kris for a sign; a signal that he should keep moving forward, keep this connection alive. Kris’s plump lips part slightly, and Adam thinks that he has never wanted to kiss someone so badly in his life.

Behind them, one of the horses lets out a panicked whinny. Kris jerks back, and is on his feet in an instant. Adam turns to see Jackson bucking and rearing in a panic. Kris is grasping for the reins, speaking to Jackson as calmly as he can.

Adam stands and moves toward Rusty, who is farther back but also highly agitated. He isn’t sure what’s caused this, and he isn’t sure he should be approaching Rusty in such a state, but the horse seems to calm a bit as he notices Adam. He easily takes the reins, and runs a calming hand down Rusty’s nose.

“Adam, get on your horse!” Kris yells, and Adam has never heard him so panicked. He scrambles up onto Rusty the best he can with his sore arm, but it takes him longer than it normally does. When he’s finally settled, he sees Kris walking a slightly calmer Jackson toward him. Both man and horse look incredibly frightened. Adam feels his stomach drop.

“What happened?” he asks, as Kris carefully mounts his horse.

“Rattlesnake. I think he’s been bitten. We have to go back,” Kris’s voice is trembling something awful. He kicks at Jackson’s sides, and takes off back toward the ranch without another word.

As soon as they are back at the ranch, Kris slides off of Jackson and runs into the main house. He emerges a few minutes later with Jack in tow, and Deena not far behind, a cordless telephone pressed to her ear. Adam slides carefully off of Rusty, and watches from a distance as Jack and Kris study Jackson’s leg.

The horse’s right front leg is swelling, and the horse seems slightly listless. Adam doesn’t know much about horses, and knows even less about snakes, but he’s pretty sure that nothing about this is good.

~::~

An old red pickup truck pulls into the driveway, and a petite blonde woman steps out, wearing tight jeans and a button down plaid shirt. She pulls a large brown bag out of the bed of her truck, and walks purposely toward Jackson. Adam watches as Kris and Jack explain the situation. The woman nods, and says something that Adam can’t hear, before leading Jackson back into the stables, Jack not far behind. Adam watches Kris watch Jackson walk away, his heart breaking.

“Come on, let’s all sit down for a spell,” Deena says soothingly. She wraps a gentle hand around Kris’s elbow, and nudges him toward the chairs on the front porch of the main house. Kris sinks into his chair with a weary resignation, seemingly unaware of the way Deena is fussing around him. Adam sits carefully in the chair next to Kris, his eyes never leaving his devastated face. Kris’s head jerks to the side, his eyes landing on Adam, though Adam isn’t entirely sure Kris even sees him. But when Deena reemerges from the house with two tall glasses of lemonade, Kris looks up at her with a slight frown.

“Adam’s been hurt,” he rasps, “he cut his arm on some wire.”

Adam had forgotten about his arm until Kris had mentioned it. He lets Deena tut and fuss over the shallow cut, but his focus staying primarily on Kris. Kris’s eyes haven’t left the stable.

After she finishes dressing Adam’s wound, Deena walks back inside the house, leaving Kris and Adam alone with a heavy silence.

“He’ll be okay, right?” Adam eventually asks. Kris is quiet for several seconds. Adam bites his lip, nervous that he’s losing Kris again. But after a moment, he replies, his tone flat and his voice raspy.

“Depends. If infection sets in, his leg will be useless.”

“Will...I mean, will he still be able to walk and stuff, without the use of the leg?”

Kris looks over at Adam, his eyes wide and sad, and Adam can see, before Kris says anything, what the answer will be.

“No. He’d have to be put down.”

Adam feels the words like a punch to his gut. He doesn’t know what to say, doesn’t know if he should say anything at all. He looks down at his lap and swallows thickly.

“I keep losing everything I love most,” Kris whispers, so softly that Adam thinks it must have been only to himself. He looks over at Kris, his posture anxious and tense, his hands gripping the arms of the chair tightly. Adam can’t find the right words to say to Kris, can’t think of anything that doesn’t sound trite or cliché. Instead he reaches out, and places his hand over Kris’s, the way he had earlier, before everything had been shot to hell. Kris doesn’t respond at first, but slowly, eventually, he loosens his grip on the chair, and turns his hand. Adam threads their fingers together, and holds on tight.

Adam stays with Kris until Jack and the vet emerge from the stables. They are cautiously optimistic about Jackson’s chances, but still wary of infection. Kris darts off of his chair and rushes back to the stables the moment the vet leaves. Adam decides that the best thing he can do is leave Kris alone with Jackson for a while.

Adam has spent nearly every day working with Kris; now that he isn’t, he’s not entirely sure what he should do. He offers to help out around the property, but Lloyd and Henry are still out mending fence posts, Joe is nowhere to be found, and Sam is doing patchwork on the roof of the tool shed - no way in hell is Adam climbing up there.

Deena emerges from the main house to find Adam wandering a bit aimlessly between the stables and the house; he wants to give in to temptation, and check in on Kris, but he’s not sure if he should push.

“You did the right thing, lettin’ him be for a spell,” Deena smiles up at Adam, then hands him a freshly baked cookie. Adam wonders when she has the time to do all of these things.

“He’s so upset...and I feel like...like I shouldn’t push him.”

“Jack is heading into town to pick up some supplies. Why don’t you head out with him? It’d do you some good to get off the property for a bit.”

“Town?” Adam hadn’t given much thought to the world outside of Phoenix Ranch for a long while; now that Deena mentions it, Adam feels a familiar restlessness creep up into him. “Would Jack mind?”

“Not at all! He’ll be happy to have the company. It takes nearly an hour to get there,” Deena smiles, patting Adam’s shoulder before turning back toward the house.

“Oh that’s...wait, an hour?”

~::~

The town isn’t large by any stretch of the imagination; Adam has only seen one traffic light so far. But compared to the ranch, its a metropolis. It’s strange, being around so many unfamiliar faces again. Adam’s grown quite used to the small ranch family.

Jack parks the truck in a dirt lot near the center of town. Small, rundown storefronts selling various wares stand next to makeshift wooden stands selling fruits, vegetables, jams, honey, and handmade crafts. It reminds Adam of overcrowded, overpriced farmers’ markets back in LA. He strolls from stand to stand, studying the weathered faces of the townsfolk, watching as Jack chats jovially with nearly everyone, smiling as he’s introduced. The people in town are as warm and welcoming as everyone on the ranch had been.

As they wander away from the marketplace and deeper into town, Jack picks up everything from brown sugar to drill bits. Adam figures that, with the town being so far away, they must wait until they absolutely need to go. He’s kind of taken living in a large city for granted, he supposes. He can pop into Whole Foods whenever he wants to (or rather, his assistant can; he can’t really go anywhere without getting recognized).

There is a certain freedom about this place, Adam realizes. If he needed to come into town to buy something, he could, and there would be no fans stalking him, no paparazzi following him. He’s happy that he’s finally, finally successful, and wouldn’t give up his career for anything, but having this total anonymity, even if it’s not real, is more wonderful than he can articulate.

He thinks about the way he felt yesterday, all alone out on Rusty, and only one word comes to mind; contentment.

Fate, it seems, is a cruel bitch, because as they turn the corner to head back to the truck, Adam is recognized by a group of teenage girls.
He isn’t sure why, but it makes him more uncomfortable than he’s ever been, and keenly disappointed that his bubble of relative anonymity has been burst.

“Must be strange,” Jack says quietly as the giggling girls finally skitter away, “havin’ people know so much about you.”

“Yeah. I mean, I’ve kind of gotten used to it, but it’s never...comfortable,” Adam shrugs. He’s not really sure he can explain it well. Fame is a strange beast, and likely not something Jack has had much to do with.

He and Jack walk in silence for a while. They are packed up, and making the hour-long drive back to the ranch before Jack speaks again.

“We get famous-types out here a few times a year. Most of them are like you; intent on gettin’ away from their crazy lives. Some just need a place to sleep it off. Not many take to our way of life like you have, Adam. But everyone leaves here a little more settled, at least.”

“I wondered how my mom found this place. She must have made some calls,” Adam chuckles, “here I just thought she found you by pure happy accident.”

“Everyone who comes to us is a little broken in some way. Not everyone is a famous person looking for a break. Sometimes they’re just lost. Your mom knows someone who spent some time here.”

“What? Who?”

“Not my place to tell you that,” Jack replies lowly.

“Right, sorry,” Adam looks out the passenger side window, and watches the landscape blur past, his mind whirling. Clearly it wasn’t really his physical well-being that Leila was worried about when she sent him here. He shouldn’t be surprised; his mother has always had a scary sixth sense about her sons.

“Sometimes all you need to do to find what you need, is to stop running,” Jack says. Adam looks over at him, but Jack keeps his eyes on the road ahead.

“I wasn’t running,” Adam croaks, “I was working.”

“You sure about that?”

Adam swallows and looks back out the window.

“No,” he whispers.

~::~

It’s past suppertime by the time Jack and Adam return. They unload the truck, and settle at the empty kitchen table while Deena heats up their food. She sets down their plates and settles on the bench next to Jack.

“Kris didn’t show up for supper,” Deena says after a moment, “he won’t leave the stables.”

“It’s just how he gets,” Jack replies, “You remember how he was when he was first brought out here.”

“It’s too cold for him to be outside all night,” Deena huffs.

“Should...should I talk to him?” Adam asks tentatively. Deena looks at him, eyes warm and sad.

“It probably wouldn’t hurt,” she replies.

“You push him too much, he’s gonna clam up again,” Jack warns lowly.

“I’ll be careful. I think...I think Kris and I have sort of an understanding,” Adam explains.

Deena and Jack share a look, then Jack shrugs, and digs into his pot roast. Deena looks at Adam, and nods.

“Try to get him to eat something.”

~::~

Kris is curled in the corner of the stables, his eyes on Jackson’s pen. His supper is sitting on a plate next to him untouched, and a thick flannel blanket is hanging loosely from his slumped shoulders. He doesn’t respond when Adam approaches.

“How is he?” Adam asks softly. Kris doesn’t respond right away, but Adam refuses to give up easily. He squats down next to Kris, his head cocked to the side. Kris’s breathing becomes ragged and heavy, but still he doesn’t respond. Adam scoots slightly closer, and settles down on the dirt, his long legs crossed in front of him.

“When we were kids,” he continues when Kris doesn’t reply, “my brother and I used to find the thing that would annoy the other one most and do it over and over and over until the other one cracked. One summer, I found out that Neil hated the song Desperado, by The Eagles. Like, he really, really hated it. So I learned all of the words, so that every time he was anywhere within earshot, I would sing it. It made him crazy. Sometimes, when I want people to do something they don’t want to do, I’ll sing Desperado. It doesn’t really work, and people just look at me like I’m nuts. But it still drives Neil up the wall.”

Desperado, why don’t you come to your senses? You’ve been out riding fences for so long now. Oh you’re a hard one, but I know that you’ve got your reasons; These things that are pleasin’ you, can hurt you somehow. Don't you draw the queen of diamonds, boy. She'll beat you if she's able. You know the queen of hearts is always your best bet. Now it seems to me, some fine things have been laid upon your table, but you only want the ones that you can't get. Desperado, oh, you ain't gettin' no younger; Your pain and your hunger, they're drivin' you home. And freedom, oh freedom well, that's just some people talkin'. Your prison is walking through this world all alone.

“You’ve got a pretty voice,” Kris smiles sadly, his voice rough and low, “you were born to sing.”

“Thanks,” Adam beams, “See? That song always works.”

Kris flushes, and looks down at his feet. He shrugs, peering over at Jackson’s slumbering form. Silence settles between them again, but this time it feels more comfortable, more thoughtful than before. Kris doesn’t look at Adam when he softly speaks again, a minute later.

“I have a brother too.”

“Yeah?” Adam smiles, “younger or older?”

“Younger,” Kris sighs. He looks up at Adam, brown eyes wide and glassy, “I haven’t seen him since...”

Adam reaches out, and brushes a soft hand over Kris’s knuckle. Kris’s shoulders droop even further, resigned.

“Since we were kids. The family that took him...they didn’t want both of us.”

“Family? What-”

“I went to a different foster family. They didn’t really want me either. Said I was too much work,” Kris scuffs at the dirt with his foot, “Too weird.”

“You’re not weird, Kris. I know that might not mean much, coming from a guy with eyeliner and a half-shaved head, but I promise you, you’re not weird.”

Kris shakes his head, as though trying to shake off Adam’s words. Adam moves forward slightly, and uses his forefinger to tilt Kris’s chin up. His bottom lip is trembling, and tears are threatening to fall. Adam runs a thumb along his cheek.

“No one wanted me, Adam. There must be a reason-”

“Something is wrong with them, if they can’t see how beautiful you are.”

Kris takes in a shaky breath and blinks slowly. He studies Adam’s face for a long time, before pushing forward clumsily to kiss him.

Adam closes his eyes, lays a warm hand on Kris’s cheek, and lets Kris take the lead. Kris’s kiss is sweet and inexperienced, tentative and dry. His breath is shaky as he pulls away; Adam can practically hear the way his heart is hammering out of his chest.

“I-I’m sorry,” Kris whispers. Adam runs his hand down Kris’s face to his shoulder and squeezes gently.

“Don’t you dare apologize for kissing me,” Adam whispers. He tugs Kris toward him, lets him unfurl, and bury his face in Adam’s chest. Adam wraps his arms around Kris, and lays his cheek on the top of Kris’s soft hair.

“Adam,” Kris whispers.

“Yeah?”

“I hate that song too.”

Part 2