samanthahirr: (Diptych)
[personal profile] samanthahirr
Title: Diptych
Pairing: Kris Allen/Adam Lambert
Genre: Romance, Action, Criminal AU
Word Count: 42,000
Rating: NC-17
Warnings: stalking, violence, language

Chapter  1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6

Trying to move a piece of merchandise that was the target of a highly publicized FBI investigation wasn't difficult; it was impossible.

Adam threw the burner phone across the room, just missing the frame of his favorite little Degas. No one would buy. They wouldn't trade, or even take it off his hands for a future IOU. He would have better luck throwing the damned thing in the Hudson River, he thought grimly, glaring at the attaché case that housed the source of all his troubles.

Priceless historical significance and financial investment aside, the thought was tempting: just sink it and have done with it. But he'd just tipped the entire network of black market dealers in the New York metropolitan area that he had it, and if anyone snitched, the Feds would be busting down his door in a heartbeat.

Hell, if he was really willing to take the loss, he might as well ship the diptych back to the Verner Gallery and hope the investigation got called off. The Feds already had Sinclair to chase down. Why would they still care about Adam?

It was worth considering. Brad would have an opinion, and Kris would know if giving it back would actually work; Adam would ask them tonight. In the meantime, it sounded like the safe thing to do. Kris would approve, if nothing else.

Assuming Kris wasn't still in federal custody.

He snapped his little black book closed at the thought and looked around the small storage space. A thin layer of dust had collected in the weeks since he'd last been able to come here. He ought to be taking better care of his collection. Adam took in the contents of the room: all his most-beloved possessions, each acquisition a happy memory now hollowed out by worry.

With a heavy heart, Adam forced himself to unpack the box of Swiffer dust pads and got to work.

Nobody stopped him on his way into the building that night. In fact, there was no sign of the surveillance van anywhere on the street. Adam looked around the lobby suspiciously, half-expecting a crowd of G-men to jump out of the nonexistent shadows and drag him out of the elevator. But the lobby's familiar security guard didn't move a muscle, the doors slid shut without interruption, and the 6th floor hallway was blessedly empty when he arrived at his destination.

Adam breathed a sigh of relief and started opening the locks.

The living room was dark when he stepped inside, but light spilled out of the kitchen, so he called, "Kris?" before correcting to, "Brad?"

"In here," Brad called, and Adam set down his briefcase and headed into the kitchen.

The sight nearly knocked him off his feet. Brad was sitting next to Kris at the table, holding an ice-pack to Kris's face and rubbing the back of Kris's neck.

"Kris," Adam gasped. "What happened?"

Kris batted unsuccessfully at Brad's hand before giving up. "Hey," he said, his voice muffled by the icepack.

"Honey." Adam hurried to his side and got his fingers under Kris's chin, lifted his face up.

Brad sighed and withdrew the icepack, revealing Kris's black eye.

"Honey," Adam said again, his chest knotting up in impotent anger. "What happened?" He sat in the chair next to Kris and brushed his thumb over Kris's full lips, drawn thin with pain.

"The Feds didn't like our little distraction this morning," Brad said. His voice was angry, but his hand was gentle as he placed the icepack back over Kris's eye. "So they took it out on him."

The guilt Adam had been feeling all day suddenly threatened to suffocate him, but Kris shook his head slightly, his hand finding Adam's and pulling it into his lap.

"It's a different case now," Kris said, his good eye closed as he squeezed Adam's hand. "New agents, more pressure. They found James Sinclair's body yesterday—"

Adam's head jerked up to meet Brad's gaze.

"—they think he's been dead a week. Tortured. The photos they showed me…."

Kris shuddered, and Adam focused on Brad's hand, where he was squeezing the base of Kris's neck in a gesture of support.

"They think it's about the diptych; somebody else must be looking for it. Sinclair's partner, Firth, said Sinclair was scared of the original buyer, some collector who commissioned the job. That's why he sold the diptych to you and took off."

"I never heard anything about another buyer," Adam protested. The last thing he would've done was step on a collector's toes—especially one wealthy and bold enough to bankroll his own heist. That was just common sense. He'd thought Sinclair was smart enough to know it, too.

"It's just one possible lead right now," Kris continued, "but they've put Firth in protective custody. And…they think you're next."

"Me?" Adam blurted. "Look, if this collector wants the diptych so much, he can have it. I'll make some more calls, try to track him down—"

"You didn't sell it?" Brad asked, at the same moment Kris pulled away from the icepack and gasped, "No!"

Kris looked up at Adam, his good eye wide with fear. "The things he did to Sinclair," his voice cracked and he squeezed Adam's hand tighter. "The coroner's report said he was alive for it. His hands, Adam."

Adam's stomach turned queasily, but he swallowed and put a comforting arm around Kris's shoulders. "Okay, then I won't go looking for him. But if he's looking for me, the FBI will be the least of my problems."

"Did you tell them about the guy conning his way into our home yesterday?" Brad asked Kris.

Kris turned toward Brad and said grimly, "I didn't talk. I just listened." Brad nodded, and Kris looked down at the table. "The FBI doesn't care about the diptych anymore; it's a homicide."

Adam seized onto that. "I was thinking I'd have to send it back to the gallery," he admitted. "Now…. Maybe we make a deal with the Feds? Give them what they want and let them deal with Sinclair's killer?"

Brad bit his lip and shrugged. "What d'you say, short stuff?" he asked Kris.

Kris hesitated, blinking at the table before saying slowly, like the words were being dragged out of him, "I don't know. It might work. I can talk to them about a deal tomorrow."

His hand was shaking in Adam's grip, and when Adam looked down, his gaze landed on Kris's wrist and the ring of bruises where the handcuffs had been. He hissed and caught Kris's forearm, brought it above the table into the light.

Brad raised his eyebrows and nodded toward Kris's back, as though there were more injuries Adam hadn't seen yet, and Adam wanted to fucking murder somebody.

But Kris said, "It's nothing. I'm fine."

"I'm sorry, baby," Adam said anyway, stroking Kris's hair. This was all his fault; he'd used Kris as a decoy just so he could get to his black book of contacts. He never should've been so stupid, or so selfish. Kris had been fine with the Feds on Saturday, but he hadn't been playing shell games back then.

They didn't move for half a minute, the three of them a still life of linked bodies, sharing misery and comfort.

And then Brad asked, "Do you still want that gun? 'Cause I bought in bulk."

After Brad finished icing Kris's face, Kris told Adam he wanted to take a shower. The troubled look in his eyes and the way he refused to let Adam join him in the bathroom said something else, though: that Kris needed to be alone. Adam tried not to think the worst—that this mistake had already cost him, that Kris was having second thoughts about being with him.

Guilt and fear overcame Adam's desire to cuddle him jealously in his bed. He let Kris retreat into the bathroom and sought his own comfort in Brad's room.

"It's my fault—"

"It was his idea," Brad said, mid-brow pluck.

"And I should've said 'No,'" Adam insisted. "It was a terrible plan."

"It was a great plan," Brad corrected him. "The guy's smart; don't knock his ideas."

"I know," Adam said, and added a half-hearted, "Shut up." He forced his fear down and focused on the things he could control. "I don't want him talking to the Feds tomorrow, not after what they did to him."

"Well, we can't send you out there," Brad said, and made a small 'ouch' noise as he tweezed. "What would you say? Hi, I'd like to hypothetically confess to trafficking in stolen goods?"

Adam tried to counter with a sensible argument why he shouldn't allow Kris to approach the FBI again. All he could come up with was, "What if it doesn't work?"

"I have no clue," Brad said, "but we can't worry about that until we try. And we'll find out soon enough; don't drive yourself crazy tonight." He set down the tweezers, licked his fingertips and smoothed over his brows, and finally turned away from the mirror with a fond smile. "Who am I kidding? You're already crazy. I'm surprised you haven't broken down the bathroom door yet."

Adam flushed, anger and jealousy welling up again at the memory of their bruises on Kris's body.

"Exactly," Brad said knowingly. "Not that it hasn't been fun listening to you two moaning and screaming the house down these last couple days, but I can't take another night of it." He squeezed his slender body into an extra-tight black t-shirt and tugged it down to his waist. "Justin's back from the Hamptons, and I'm not about to give up on my con just 'cause my favorite alias got cracked. Besides, I'm horny as hell thanks to you two, and I need to work it out of my system. Justin's massive cock should do the trick."

"What if the Feds follow you?"

Brad turned slowly and stared at Adam for a long moment. "Wow," he said finally. "Really? Nothing?"

Adam blinked. "What, they might! Kris said they have your file…."

Brad stepped over to the bed, caught Adam's face in his hands, and kissed him hard on the lips. When he pulled back, he was beaming.

Adam frowned, confused. "What was that for?"

"For being you," Brad said, and pecked him again. "Now I'm gonna go get laid—and hopefully get another Tiffany present out of my trust-fund baby. And you, go get your glorious ass back in that bedroom before your Prince Charming wonders why you aren't waiting naked on the bed for him."

Adam snorted and smacked Brad's impertinent ass. "You're hysterical, really."

Adam wasn't waiting naked on his bed when Kris finally came out of the bathroom; he was curled up on the living room sofa with a mug of hot coffee—heavy on the Baileys. Brad had left a while ago, the shower had shut off fifteen minutes ago, and Adam itched to go in there, but he couldn't. He didn't deserve to. What kind of beautiful and brave, loyal and smart man let Kris get hurt like that? He was trying to believe Brad’s assurances that it wasn’t his fault, but he still should have anticipated it, should have insisted on a different plan. Adam had to do better if he wanted to keep Kris.

Kris came out wearing Adam's dressing gown, and the sight of him in the too-long black robe made Adam smile despite the way his gut twisted at the icepack pressed to Kris's face, a reminder of the bruises he had yet to see.

"Hey," Kris said, and curled up next to him. He dropped the icepack on the coffee table, stole Adam's mug, and took a big sip. His eyes widened at the alcohol's kick before he took another sip.

"Hey, yourself," Adam said, letting his fingers play with Kris's damp hair as Kris leaned against him. He closed his eyes and let Kris's proximity take the edge off his fear; Kris couldn't be done with him if he still wanted to be this close.

Kris was silent for a long moment before saying, "I didn't tell you the whole truth, before. About today."

Adam braced himself for whatever was coming and said against his chilled temple, "You can tell me now."

Kris took a deep breath and said softy, "They want you to make a deal. That's why they told me about the murder, showed me the photos of Sinclair's body. They'd guessed I'd already told you everything about the case, and they wanted me to tell you this, so you'd be scared into coming to them, asking for a deal."

Adam's skin crawled as he realized how easily the FBI had manipulated him. He'd thought the deal was his idea. They'd used Kris perfectly, and he hated them for that even more than the physical harm they'd done.

"But it won't be a good deal," Kris continued. "They're gonna use you, set you up as bait." He took another deep breath, still not meeting Adam's eyes. "I'm not gonna let you do that. I'll talk to them tomorrow, find another way."

Kris's knuckles were white where he was clutching the mug.

"Kris," Adam whispered, his voice strained from holding back his guilt and anger.

"They weren't my people," Kris blurted. "When I'd suggested…. I thought it'd be my guys out there. People who…used to be my friends. These guys, they hated me. They wanted me scared. That's why…." Kris gestured to his face, and lower, to whatever Adam hadn't seen yet.

And that was it; Adam would be damned if he was gonna put Kris in someone else's hands again. Kris had been scared and hurt—was still scared and hurt. And Adam was putting a stop to that, right here and now. He would do everything in his power to protect Kris, because that's what he deserved.

"You're not going out there again. We'll figure something out, our own play," Adam promised, wracking his brain for a new plan. "There's still no proof I have the diptych, just Firth's statement, and maybe some rumors after today. So if I send it back to the gallery…then there's no deal and no case. They can't rope me into anything. And they can't touch you again. Ever."

It might not be the best idea in the world, but Adam had all night to come up with something better. And he would; he would come up with a million plans to keep Kris from getting hurt again.

Kris looked up at him, worry in his eyes but a tentative smile on his lips, and he shifted around, putting down the mug so he could lean up and kiss Adam. Adam opened his mouth and let Kris take the lead, Kris's tongue tracing along Adam's lips and finally slipping inside to meet Adam's, coffee and cream sweet in his mouth. Kris made a small sound and pressed harder against Adam's body.

Adam wanted to take, but he didn't dare—not until he knew where the bruises were, where he could touch without causing more pain. He cautiously put his hands on Kris's hips, just holding him close for now.

The kiss became wetter and more urgent as Kris's teeth got involved. He nibbled on Adam's lower lip, trailed biting kisses down Adam's jaw and neck, licked his way back up to Adam's ear, making little moans and shifting his hips in Adam's hands. "Adam, please," Kris whispered.

Adam's cock twitched at Kris's words. He reached between them and found the silk belt of the robe, unthreaded it and pulled it open, the fabric slipping apart easily. Kris hummed when Adam's hands cupped his bare waist and slid higher, to his shoulders. Adam pushed the robe off Kris's shoulders, watched it slide down his body like shimmering water, but he closed his eyes in fury when he got a glimpse of the dark stain across Kris's lower back.

"Adam," Kris repeated, an impatient note in his voice as he squirmed above him.

Adam opened his eyes and made himself look at the marks of the FBI's revenge on Kris's skin. His jaw clenched at the fist-sized bruise low on Kris's ribs, and he slid his hand down Kris's arm, barely a whisper of touch over the bruises on his left elbow, where fingers had dug in cruelly. Kris's wrists were ringed in matching dark bracelets from too-tight cuffs.

Kris was trying to distract him, mouthing along his collarbone. But when he bowed his back to lick at one of Adam's nipples through his t-shirt, Adam could see over Kris's shoulder to the big bruise on his lower back, the darkest part of it a horizontal line, as though Kris had been thrown against a table or desk, and Adam's hands squeezed hard on Kris's unmarked upper arms.

"Kris," he growled.

"Kidney's fine," Kris mumbled against his chest. "S'just surface bruising. C'mon, touch me."

Short of watching Kris take a leak, Adam would have to trust Kris that he was really okay. But he wanted to do the same and much worse to whoever had put those marks on his lover.

"Please," Kris demanded impatiently, so Adam didn't say anything at all, just fisted a hand in Kris's hair to drag their mouths together, sealing their lips together in a deep, claiming kiss.

Kris slid his knees forward to straddle Adam's hips, and he rocked his hard cock against Adam's stomach as Adam plundered his mouth, the tip of Kris's cock leaking against Adam's t-shirt.

Adam licked Kris's lips and got a hand around Kris's cock. He started jerking as he kissed his way to Kris's ear. Kris arched into him, holding onto his shoulders for support as Adam jacked him and bit at Kris's earlobe, sharp, stinging bites fueled by the anger still burning in his chest. Kris whimpered and held on, his forehead down on Adam's shoulder as he panted and writhed.

"I'm gonna take you away," Adam said. "Saint Thomas. Bali. Rio. I'm gonna take you away where nobody can find us," he promised and scraped his teeth over the skin behind Kris's ear.

"Yes," Kris moaned, and shivered with pleasure.

"Nrgh," Adam groaned, glaring at the clock.

Kris shifted and murmured something, easing into Adam's spot when he rolled to switch off the alarm clock. Kris was sleep-warm in his bed; Adam's morning workout plan went out the window.

His phone flashed on the bedside table, and Adam thumbed it on to check his messages. He'd missed some calls when he turned the volume off last night. Brad, Brad, Brad…. Adam ignored the voice messages and dialed Brad's number as he settled back on the few inches of pillow Kris hadn't stolen. Adam smirked and gave 3:1 odds Brad wouldn't appreciate the wake-up call, no matter what his latest Justin-crisis was.

After two rings, a voice with a thick accent answered, "Adam Lambert, good to finally hear from you."

Adam's eyes flew open and he stared at the ceiling. "What? Who—"

"I represent a very powerful man, Mr. Lambert. A man who wants what belongs to him—what he has paid for. You have the Matheron Diptych, and I have your boyfriend. Are you interested in a trade?"

"Fuck, fuck," Adam gasped. He couldn't breathe, couldn't think, beyond, "Don't hurt him."

"I won't, as long as you're willing to trade," the voice said, the threat belying its reasonable tone.

"Yes, of course, you can have it, I don't care. Just…let him go."

Kris was suddenly awake and leaning over Adam, his mouth twisted in an angry line.

"A good decision. I'm going to text you an address. You will bring the diptych to me by 3:00 today. Come alone. If we see any of your FBI friends, we'll start cutting on your boyfriend. Just like we did to Mr. Sinclair."

"I'll bring it, I'm coming, don't hurt him," Adam begged before he realized the call had ended.

He held the phone clenched in his fist until Kris pried his fingers open and took it from him. "Tell me what he said," Kris ordered, deadly calm.

"He has Brad—the guy who killed Sinclair. He wants to trade for the diptych."

Kris nodded once. "Okay."

"Okay?" Adam repeated, pushing Kris off of him so he could sit up. "This is not okay. He's gonna hurt him, and it's my fault. I never should've bought the—"

"We're gonna get him back," Kris cut him off firmly. "It's gonna be okay. We have what they want; we'll make the trade, and Brad'll be fine."

Adam wanted to believe him, almost badly enough to will it so, but this was Brad. His Brad. Kidnapped by a murderer, being held god only knew where…unless he was already dead, and Adam would never see him again, never see Brad's pretty face and wicked smile teasing him.

"Adam, focus. Did he say how many of them there were? Is it just one guy?"

"I don't know, how would I know that?" he snapped and stood up to pace, one hand buried in his hair, the other waving in the air.

Kris trailed him across the floor. "Did he say I, or did he say we?"

"He said…" Adam paused and then started walking in the opposite direction. "He said we."

"Okay, so there's more than one guy." Kris didn't sound scared; he sounded like this was something he knew how to handle.

Maybe if he'd still been part of an FBI team, he could have. But Kris didn't have backup. They were alone, with the FBI on one side and killers on the other, and no one to turn to for help. This was Adam's fault, and Brad was paying for Adam's arrogance or stupidity or crap luck, whichever had lead him to buy the fucking thing.

"I can't lose him," Adam said, and Kris's arms wrapped around him, trying to turn him around. Adam resisted. "If he's— I can't handle that. I can't live with that." The thought of that empty bedroom, of Brad missing from Adam's table, of everything being over between them, just like that—he was pretty sure it would drive him insane.

"I know," Kris said into his shoulder blade. "I'm not gonna let that happen. We're gonna get him back, I promise."

Kris caught Adam's hips and forced him to turn and meet Kris's eyes. When Kris flinched, Adam finally felt the tears running down his cheeks.

Kris reached up and got his fingers in Adam's hair, dragged Adam's head down. Kris kissed him, a long press of lips against his, and whispered fiercely, "I'll get him back for you, I promise."

Kris walked out of the bedroom in his jeans and t-shirt—the fourth day for each, and Adam thought briefly that he should've done laundry last night, should've taken care of Kris's and Brad's clothes, because there were always dirty clothes in Brad's bathroom.

He gulped his coffee and tried for the twenty-fifth time to make his brain stop thinking about Brad. But absolutely nothing could distract him from the absence in his home, the lump of panic in his throat. It was hopeless.

And then his thoughts derailed completely when Kris picked up a small box off the kitchen floor and drew out a brown leather shoulder holster, flipped it both ways to inspect it, and threaded it over his muscled shoulders. Adam watched in silence as Kris pulled a small silver handgun from the box and ejected the ammo cartridge to examine it.

The silver gun went down on the oak table, and out came a larger black gun, square-barreled with a longer cartridge. Kris muttered numbers under his breath as he stuck the black one in the holster, his brow furrowed in concentration. He pulled out the last gun—a small black revolver with six full chambers. He looked between the two on the table, tucked the silver one in the back of his jeans, and held the revolver out to Adam.

"Um," Adam said.

Kris's eyes lifted to Adam's, and his frown eased. "You ever used one of these?"

"I never had to," Adam said nervously. He reached for the gun, but Kris put it back in the box. "I need it," Adam insisted, and then asked, "don't I?"

Kris shook his head. "If you can't shoot, forget it. I can shoot well enough for both of us. Besides, if we get searched walking out of this building, I don't want you caught carrying an illegal weapon."

Adam blanched, remembering the enemy waiting downstairs. "Are you sure this is gonna work?" he asked.

"Yeah," Kris said without hesitation. "A public place with a lot of pedestrian traffic and too many exits to cover—it's a surveillance team's worst nightmare."

"Okay," Adam said and picked up his bag.

Kris pulled his jacket off the chair and covered the dark red skin around his eye with Brad's DSquared sunglasses. "Are you ready?"

He would never be ready. But he had to try.

They made it safely into their waiting cab without incident. Adam was a little breathless; sauntering out of the building under the noses of the FBI's surveillance team like they were just going out for breakfast—while armed with two unregistered firearms—was a little nerve-wracking.

A minute into their drive, Kris looked out the rear window and said quietly, "Blue sedan, left lane."

Adam took a deep breath and didn't panic. Kris had expected a tail; this was still part of the plan.

The cab dropped them off at Chelsea Market. Adam took Kris's hand and swung it as they walked into the ground floor arcade of shops and restaurants. The market was packed with the breakfast crowd, and Kris and Adam blended in easily, taking their time, pointing in the glass windows of the various shops. They picked up coffee at 19th Street Espresso and applesauce doughnuts from Amy's Bread, and browsed through the artisanal chocolate, cheese, and nut shops.

Kris kept up a smiling commentary on the two agents tailing them. Adam tried not to look over his shoulder when Kris reported that Agent A had taken a seat at one of the tables in the gallery, or that Agent B was in line behind them at Jacques Torres Chocolates. It was fitting, he supposed, that his first date with Kris would be staged for the FBI's benefit.

Kris kept his eyes peeled for the right density of patrons inside The Cleaver Co., and when he deemed it full enough, he took Adam's hand, loudly pulling him into the shop to sample the catering company's crab cakes and duck-and-cranberry turnovers. Adam grinned indulgently and squeezed through the crowd at the counter, moving deeper into the narrow shop. Within seconds they were out of sight of the storefront windows, and Kris was shoving through the Employees Only door, leading Adam blindly through a maze of doors to the open loading dock they'd spotted on their drive up.

Adam tossed their coffee cups and leapt the four feet to the street, right behind Kris, and then they were climbing into their waiting cab and heading east and north to the Midtown Tunnel with no one behind them.

45 minutes later they pulled up at Adam's self-storage unit in Sunnyside. Adam paid the driver an extra-big tip to report a different drop-off location, and they headed inside.

The security guard tipped his head and greeted Adam as "Mr. Randall" when he buzzed them through to the elevators.

"I thought you didn't have any fake identities," Kris said, leaning against the wall of the elevator.

In the light of the lone fluorescent bulb, with his hands tucked in his pockets, and his leather jacket hanging open, exposing the pull of cotton across his chest, he looked dangerously appealing. And this was dangerous ground, fittingly enough—sharing his last secret. Adam watched Kris and said, as the elevator doors opened, "I didn't. Until I moved to New York."

Kris followed him into the hall, and Adam hesitated. He wasn't having second thoughts, but now that they were only 20 feet from his storage room, the enormity of it was sinking in.

"I just have the one, and I only use it for this place. Nobody knows about Mr. Randall, not even Brad. And not the FBI," he added.

Kris nodded; he hadn't mentioned it on Saturday, so obviously it hadn't been in Adam's file.

"I've never brought anybody here. Not Brad. Not anybody." Adam took a deep breath and looked at the key in his hand. He'd carried it for so long, his and his alone. "C'mon," he said, and started walking.

"You don't trust Brad with this?" Kris asked softly, and Adam stiffened.

"I do," he tried to explain. "But so much of his time is spent with other conmen and contacts. Any of them could try to get him to talk, and it's…it just made sense…."

He wasn't saying it right. He didn't know how to explain the betrayal of their breakup. Trusting Brad with his life, his secrets, and his stash was different from trusting him with his heart. Or at least it should have been. But it had gotten all tangled up, and in the end it had been easiest to keep this part of himself hidden, private.

Until now.

The fact that he'd brought Kris here didn't have to mean anything. It was necessity; they were on their way to the drop, Adam needed to get the diptych, and Kris was his protection. But that wasn't the whole truth. Because Adam was glad Kris was here, glad it wasn't just his secret anymore.

"Adam?" Kris said, putting a hand on Adam's wrist, and Adam realized he was standing in the middle of the empty corridor, staring blankly at the door in front of him.

Adam shook himself and turned the key in the lock. "I thought about bringing you here. I wanted to," he said, because he wanted Kris to know he was welcome—that it wasn't just necessity. He pushed the door open and stepped out of the way.

Kris took a hesitant step forward, then another, and reached for the light switch. The dark room came to life, boxes and paintings and small sculptures revealed by the light, and Kris gave a soft gasp that Adam felt in his chest. Kris stepped slowly into the room, hands reaching out but not touching the medieval unicorn tapestry hung on the near wall. The yellow overhead light shone harshly on the ancient silk, obscuring the fine nuances of pastel, but it was still beautiful, still made Adam's heart ache in a way he couldn't describe. Kris's eyes drifted to the ornate Japanese screen next to the tapestry, and then to the small bronze Boccioni sculpture, its twisting angles shining sharply, inviting and dangerous to touch.

Kris turned again, taking in the entirety of the room, and Adam's heart was in his throat. He'd wanted Kris here, wanted to see Kris's smile, the awe and understanding in his eyes as he looked at everything Adam held dear. He'd assembled this collection over the past ten years: 11 paintings, 4 sculptures, the screen and tapestry, the case of small baubles, the cameo and necklace, rings no one had worn in a century or more. Things he jealously guarded against the world and would never sell, no matter how bad things might get. He'd wanted Kris to appreciate them, see the same beauty Adam did.

But seeing Kris in this room now, he was struck by something completely different—how well Kris fit. How he was just as important to Adam as the Degas, the Terekhov, the three Ensors—and Adam had a strange thrill at the feeling that this was a completion of sorts. He had everything he valued most in one room….

All but one.

Guilt and grief reared their hydra heads, making it impossible to swallow. He should have brought Brad here, he realized, watching Kris approach a stack of frames and gingerly pull the first one forward to peek at the second canvas. Brad would have loved this. But Adam had shut him out while still trying to keep him close, and he didn't know if he would get the chance to take it back, to fix that.

Adam's eyes fell to Sinclair's attaché case and the one objet d'art that didn't belong. He'd stashed the diptych here, with all his treasures, because it was too hot for the condo and might take a long time to sell. Now, he wanted it gone, couldn't stand the thought of it in here any longer, where Brad had never been.

Adam turned his back on Kris and dug out the toolkit from his Perotti backpack. He moved the attaché case to his small desk, turned on the banker's lamp, and set aside the polishing cloths and jeweler's loop to make room. The diptych was light, the two panels of painted poplar smooth under his fingers. He touched it gently, unable to disrespect its history, its fragility, and carefully eased it open to reveal the portraits inside.

He took a moment to study the gold pins that held the hinges together, and then took the pliers and began tugging, painstakingly removing the two pins that had bound the panels together as one piece for five centuries, separating husband from wife. It caused a physical pain in his chest to diminish the piece, no matter how carefully.

"I'm sorry," he told them softly.

Behind him, Kris made a small sound, a whimper like he'd made when Adam moved inside him, and Adam glanced over his shoulder to see Kris hovering over the velvet-lined jewelry box, peering at its contents with wide eyes and shaking fingers. Adam tried to hold onto Kris's awed expression as he returned to his work, sliding the second pin free and dropping it in a small Ziploc bag so the diptych's new owner could undo the damage he had done and restore the piece.

"I need your help," Adam said when he was finished.

Kris didn't respond, and Adam had to turn in his chair and say it again, louder. Kris looked up, that awed expression still on his face, and Adam's pride warred with his anxiety in a discordant collage of emotions.

Kris came forward and opened the plastic wrap, helped Adam wrap the panels separately and slide the portrait of Jeanne de Laval into a plastic Duane Reed shopping bag. While Adam arranged the portrait of King René of Anjou facedown in the attaché case, Kris taped the shopping bag closed with several strips of duct tape.

They stared at the bag and the case for a moment, neither saying what had to happen next.

"Did you like any of them?" Adam asked softly, stalling.

Kris took Adam's hand and squeezed it. "They're all so beautiful. Thank you for letting me see them."

"Which was your favorite?"

"The blue painting, with the couple drawn on the flower vase."

"Chagall, Les amoureux," Adam said, and smiled fondly.

"Chagall," Kris echoed, shaking his head. "It's an amazing collection."

"I love it," Adam said simply. And then he fished the key out of his pocket and pushed it into Kris's hand. "If something happens, I want you to have the Chagall. Give the rest to Brad…if you can." He couldn't bring himself to say if Brad survives. "I want him to have it."

Kris squeezed Adam's fingers painfully tight around the key before he loosened his grip and accepted it, slid it into his own pocket.

"He needs someone to take care of him," Adam added. "He'll try to tell you he doesn't, but don't listen to him."

"Everything's gonna be fine," Kris promised, and picked up the plastic shopping bag. "I can take care of both of you."

They walked five blocks north in a cold drizzle, grey clouds thick overhead. When they'd reached a particularly run-down block, Kris picked up a piece of cement and smashed the back window of a brown sedan. Adam waited nervously, watching both ends of the empty street as Kris climbed over the seat and unlocked the door, then hotwired the car.

"Now we're really in trouble," Kris laughed under his breath once the engine started.

"'Cause transporting stolen property is so legal," Adam said, smiling despite the dread in his gut.

Just past JFK airport, they pulled into an industrial zone of warehouses and massive fuel tanks and followed Kris's GPS app to a small warehouse with no visible activity. They looked at each other and didn't speak. There was only one plan—one brilliantly simple plan—and if that didn't work, well.

Adam carried the briefcase, leaving Kris's hands free to open the side door of the warehouse. They stepped inside and found a huge, empty space, nothing but a blue cargo van by the garage door, a few cots set up against a corrugated wall, and a group of men stepping forward to stand in the middle of the oil-stained, concrete floor.

One of the men had an arm locked around Brad's, like he was holding Brad captive and holding him up at the same time. The halogen lamps were three-stories above them, shining sickly on Brad's pale face. Blood trailed down the side of his neck from his hairline, below the collar of his purple vinyl jacket, and fuck, fuck, Adam couldn't fall apart now.

The other two men had handguns drawn on them. Adam wasn't surprised to see Alexander in the group, but he was surprised when Alexander turned his gun on Kris and snarled in a thick accent, "That's one of them. He's FBI."

"No!" Adam protested, sidestepping to stand in front of Kris. "Not anymore. I bought him off; he's my personal bodyguard now."

"You should have come alone," the last man snapped, and Adam recognized his voice from the phone call: the man in charge. His face was hard, a cruel set to his mouth, and Adam shivered and kept his eyes fixed on him.

"I brought the diptych," Adam said, holding up the case to appease him. "I want to trade."

"Show me," the boss said.

Adam fumbled the clasp of the case open and lifted the lid, angling the case down to show them the crown and lilies device on the back of the portrait. "Here it is," he said, watching to see who knew the piece. The boss lowered his weapon and stepped forward, intent on the art, and Adam dropped the lid. "The diptych for my boyfriend," he said with all the confidence he could muster.

Kris was shifting subtly around him, getting a clear line of fire on the three men.

The boss studied Adam's face and then smiled. "Of course," he said, waving at the goon holding Brad. "That's the deal. You put the case on the ground. There." He pointed with his gun to a spot between their two groups.

Kris made a small noise of caution, and Adam let the case hang from his hand as he stepped forward slowly, his eyes fixed on the man bringing Brad forward. Adam reached the halfway point and set the case down, his hands painfully empty as he waited. The goon shot a look over his shoulder to his boss, got the final nod, and shoved Brad toward Adam.

Brad stumbled, his mouth pinching up like he was about to be sick, and Adam caught him before he fell, grabbing Brad's small body and hugging him tight, even as the guy kicked the case away from Adam.

"Adam?" Brad moaned.

"Step back," Kris hissed, and Adam had to tear his face away from Brad's neck, smelling sourly of vomit and blood, and squeeze him again before moving him back to stand with Kris.

The boss set his gun aside and picked up the case. He flipped up the lid to get a closer look, and then said calmly, "Kill them."

Kris had a gun out before anyone could blink, but Adam blurted, "That's not all of it!" and everyone froze and looked at him. "That's only half of it," Adam elaborated quickly. "I've hidden the other half."

The boss pulled out the plastic-wrapped panel, turned it over in his hand, and swore something long and angry.

"If you want it, you have to let us go," Kris said, his gun pointed at the two men aiming at him.

There was a long moment of silence, the five of them staring at each other as Brad sagged lower and lower in Adam's arms. And then the boss laughed, a sharp, sneering sound.

"I don't think so," he announced smugly. "I let you go and what? Trust you to call me? No. You aren't going anywhere. Grigory!"

The blond goon started to circle to the right, cutting off their exit and forcing Kris to split his attention between him and Alexander. Kris couldn't cover both men at once, and Adam read panic in the way his shoulders inched up.

They were screwed, fucked, about to die. With their plan a thing of the past, Adam closed his eyes and did the only thing he could think of. "I'll stay," he said.

"What?" Kris said.

"You let them go, and I'll take you to the other half. How about that?" he offered, looking to the leader so he wouldn't have to meet Kris's eyes.

"You aren't doing this," Kris said, and stepped closer to him and Brad.

Adam held his breath until the boss nodded, and then he answered Kris, "I am." This was the brave thing to do. Kris would appreciate that later. "I need you to take Brad."

"I'm not leaving," Kris said, a stubborn set to his jaw.

"Yes, you are," Adam said, his tone fierce. "You're gonna take Brad to a hospital. Right now."

"No," Kris said, but Adam shook his head and pushed Brad at Kris. Kris caught him around the waist, trying to keep his gun free without letting Brad fall.

Brad's head lolled on Kris's shoulder, and he blinked at Adam, a crease between his eyebrows. "What're you doing?" Brad asked, the words slurred and faint.

"It's okay, baby," Adam reassured him, and then he stared Kris down, pressing his advantage. "I need you to do this for me, Kris. You promised you'd take care of Brad."

Kris met his eyes for three seconds, four, and then cursed and shot a look at their enemies. "You don't even have a gun," he whispered.

Adam wanted to say something confident about not needing one, but he wouldn't have fooled anyone. "Go," he said, and took a last look at Kris and Brad before turning to face the Russians.

Alexander and Grigory stayed focused on Kris, their eyes and guns tracking him as Kris shuffled toward the door, supporting Brad. Adam didn't watch. He couldn't; he could barely keep himself from running after them, bullets be damned. Instead, he met the leader's gloating gaze and tried not to let his shaking show.

"Well played, Mr. Lambert," he said, his accent grating on Adam's nerves. "Now, tell me where you've hidden the other half."

Adam took a deep breath and scraped together some hauteur and arrogance. He'd used them as a mask for years; this was just another audience. They wouldn't know how scared he was—not if he didn't let them see it. He folded his arms across his chest and shook his head, reminding himself that he looked tall and powerful in his long, Gucci coat. "Not until I know they're safe. Not 'til I hear the car pull out," he said, and his voice didn't tremble at all.

"Hmm. Alright," the boss said. He set King René's portrait atop the briefcase and crossed his own arms. Grigory drifted back into position next to Alexander and his boss, and the three of them waited, staring Adam down.

Adam tried on a sneer. It didn't really work until he concentrated on their clothes: baggy jeans and European leather jackets with too much fabric at the waist. Alexander was wearing a black turtleneck, Grigory and the boss were in grey t-shirts, and it was all so stereotypically action-movie-thug that Adam wanted to laugh. The sneer came naturally then, and he tossed his head, enjoying his sartorial superiority in the absence of anything else.

Alexander muttered something to Grigory, and Adam turned to stare down his erstwhile suitor. Alexander certainly didn't appear interested in Adam now. He looked like a stone-cold professional. Adam remembered a few of the extravagant compliments Alexander had paid him last week, and he snorted softly. That was impressive dedication to his role.

Alexander noticed him watching and glared back, his own sneer on his lips. Adam smiled, batted his lashes, and enjoyed the way Alexander recoiled in fury.

The silence was nerve-racking, nothing but the patter of rain and the roar of a jet engine somewhere nearby. The boss's eyebrow twitched. Adam twitched an eyebrow right back, refusing to think about what would happen next: how they would climb into the cargo van and drive behind a warehouse two blocks over; how Adam would lift up the lid of the trash bin and pull out the plastic bag, a gun barrel digging into his back; how he would be pushed onto his knees on the wet pavement and get a bullet in his head.

Kris would take care of Brad; they'd both get clear and be safe, and that was all that mattered anymore. Adam could almost make peace with that.


"It's taking a long time," the boss said, drumming his fingers on his arm.

"Hmm," Adam said. "Maybe that's because Brad couldn't walk. Which one of you hit him?" he asked, anger bolstering his confidence as he stalled for time.

Grigory tilted his head. "I did," he said, in the heaviest accent of the three. "Little bitch talked too much."

"Little bitch?" Adam said. "Yeah, he can be. But he's my little bitch."

"And what will you do about it now?" the boss asked. "Your bodyguard is gone, your FBI friends aren't here to protect you. It's just you and us."

"And me," Kris said, and Adam whirled around to see him walking through the open door, his hands cupped around the butt of the big black pistol.

Adam wanted to kiss and strangle him. "What are you doing?" he demanded. "Where's Brad?"

"He's okay," Kris said tightly, taking quick steps to stand in front of Adam. "You're not." And then he raised his voice and called, "I'm not gonna leave you alone in here with that cocksucker," pointing his gun at Alexander.

"Are you changing the deal again, Lambert?" the boss asked, sounding amused and still confident, damn him.

Alexander was anything but amused. "You son of a bitch," he said, taking a step forward.

"I made you my bitch twice already. One'll get you ten I can do it again," Kris taunted him, adding fuel to the fire.

"Kris," Adam whispered, resting a hand on his shoulder, his eyes glued to Alexander.

Alexander took another step forward, his face turning red with humiliation and anger, and his boss said sharply, "Alexander!"

"What's the matter?" Kris pressed, acting out some plan Adam couldn't figure out. "You scared? Don't wanna get your ass kicked in front of your buddies? Come on, let's see what you've got!"

And Kris relaxed his grip on the gun, pointed it up to the ceiling, and beckoned Alexander to come fight him.

"Alexander," the boss snapped again, and Grigory reached forward, as though he meant to take Alexander's gun. But Adam caught the way Alexander's eyes narrowed and his grip tightened, and Adam shoved Kris aside just as Alexander pulled the trigger.

He felt the impact, felt his knee hit concrete, but mostly he heard—heard Kris shouting his name, the Russians shouting at each other, Kris firing over Adam's head, sharp reports echoing off the steel walls. And then Kris was dragging him, a hand fisted in Adam's collar, and Adam stumbled after him until his legs turned to jelly, well short of the door. Kris dragged him sideways, and Adam heard the collar of his lovely Thomas Pink shirt tear. And then Kris shoved him behind the bumper of the van, and Adam's whole body throbbed at once, cleansing his mind of everything else.

There was more shooting, and Kris's knee shifting against his arm. Kris was talking to him as he fired. Adam tried to focus past the white hot—or was it blood red—heat in his chest, but he couldn't make out the words. He tried to answer, tried to ask if he was going to die. He needed Kris to tell him he was going to make it, it was just a scratch, he was gonna be fine just like Kris had promised, but Kris wasn't looking at him, and the lights were going out.

There was firing, and firing, and silence, and Adam's body surrendered the fight.

Chapter 6
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samanthahirr: (Default)

October 2014


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