This fic follows on Falling Into Place, and both contains spoilers for and will not make sense without that work. You should read that work first.
They'd met at the only gay club within driving distance. Carlos had finally convinced himself to go, after Eva had volunteered herself as his wingwoman and driver so he could drink as much as he'd wanted. It wasn't anything like he'd expected, but he also wasn't really sure what he'd expected. He'd had his first alcoholic beverage -- a cosmo, at Eva's suggestion, although he wasn't sure how he felt about the cranberry -- and hit the dance floor with her, bodies against each other in a way he's pretty sure would have made Tom furious, even though he and she were no longer a thing and Carlos was absolutely, 100% gay.
Tony had noticed him early on, he'd told him later, watching as he'd chugged the rest of his first drink and grimaced and then unbuttoned another button on his shirt. Tony had also made the first move, of course, gently nudging Eva aside on the floor and replacing her, grabbing Carlos and claiming his mouth in a kiss that was hot and needy and so unlike the way Dan had ever kissed him.
They'd fucked in the bathroom, in a stall with Carlos bent over the disgusting toilet as he'd muffled his cries in Tony's hand, sealed over his mouth so tightly he thought he might pass out. And it was the dirtiest, but definitely hottest, thing Carlos had ever done.
Then Tony had smirked and left without another word, leaving Carlos with a sore ass -- particularly given the lack of lube, despite the lubed condom -- and his hands covered in his own spunk, and he thought he could never get enough.
He came back the following week, on the same night, alone this time. Tony had been there, in a corner, waiting for him, grabbing him as he'd approached and claiming his mouth again. They hadn't even made it to the bathroom this time. He'd jerked him off right in that corner, one hand down the back of his pants fingering him and the other wrapped around his cock so tightly it was almost painful, and Carlos would have been mortified if it wasn't so fucking good.
Tony didn't leave this time, instead wiping Carlos' cum on Carlos' own shirt before dragging him out onto the floor. If he'd thought he and Eva had been intimate, it was nothing like this, feeling like he was literally being pulled into the other man, hips grinding against each other and needy again, despite the orgasm he'd just had. Then Tony had dragged him back to the corner and made Carlos blow him, and that, too, was the hottest thing.
So it had surprised him when Tony showed up on campus a few days later, catching him and Adam after classes, with some flowers and a question that Carlos hadn't expected he would ever hear in his life, much less from Tony, who he'd expected was nothing more than a quick but hot lay. He'd said yes, of course, and promptly ditched Adam so they could fuck in the nearest bathroom. This felt different somehow, even though it was just as rough. It was his first time having sex with a boyfriend.
But as he listens to Tony's voice now, berating him for not having his priorities straight, he wonders if the past two months had been a mistake. He shakes his head and nods at the right times, apologies on his tongue but not in his heart and tears in his eyes that he refuses to let fall until Tony seems to have had enough and storms off.
He stands there for a bit, trying to pull himself together, but realizing it's probably a lost cause right now.
And then he goes to find Nate.
"Can I be honest with you, Carlos?"
Nate's looking at him with an expression he can't read, but he nods anyway. Nate has always been straightforward with him, but with none of the snark of Dan that he's pretty sure he couldn't handle right now. "Please do."
"I'm not sure the two of you have the same priorities or goals in your lives."
"That's a very polite way to say 'he's wrong for you', dude." Carlos isn't sure he likes the sound of that, anyway. He finally has a boyfriend, dammit. He should be doing what he can to make this work.
Nate just shrugs. "Let's ignore for a moment the fact that a good partner should never make you choose between him or your friends. Would you choose him over Adam if it came down to it?"
"No." Carlos doesn't even have to think about his response. "Adam is my best friend. He's first in my life."
"Then I think you have your answer," Nate says, and Carlos doesn't like it.
The last thing Carlos expects to see when he walks back into his apartment after a swim is Tony and Adam, sitting on the couch, chatting. Tony smirks at him and Carlos feels a moment of joy at seeing his boyfriend and best friend together like that. But then Tony's words -- and their angry makeup sex the day before where he remembers apologizing for things he doesn't think he should be apologizing for -- come rushing back to him and the feeling is gone, replaced instead by a sense of dread.
"Hey," he tries, and Adam smiles at him.
"Hey, dude. We were just chatting."
Carlos nods, dropping the bag with his swimsuit and towel on the floor. "That's... good. What about?"
Adam starts to answer, but Tony stands, interrupting him. "So I was thinking we could get dinner tonight and then have an evening in afterward. If you and Adam didn't have any plans."
Carlos involuntarily flinches at that, understanding the subtext and implication behind the words despite the tone being friendly. Adam doesn't understand though, and laughs, and for some reason Carlos' heart sinks at it. "He's all yours tonight, dude."
"Great," Tony says, still staring at Carlos, judgement in his eyes, and Carlos can't do it anymore.
"No?" Tony's eyes narrow at him and Adam just looks confused now.
"No," he repeats, turning away from the two of them. "I'm sick of this, Tony. You've been wanting me to choose, and I'm choosing. If you can't accept that, then we're over." He can't say Adam's name out loud, or the fact that he knows now that he'll always choose Adam, no matter what. He's not sure how Adam would take such a confession.
Tony's silent for a bit, and Carlos doesn't dare look up. When he finally speaks, his voice is flat. "Then I guess we're over."
Carlos thinks he should feel some sense of loss or regret at that, but instead he just feels relief. He's not sure he wants to think about why, because he thinks that his first breakup should probably be hitting him harder than it is. He listens to the footsteps as Tony walks toward the door, looking up just as Tony's hand touches the doorknob. Then Tony turns, looking past him at Adam, and Carlos feels his heart sink at what he knows is about to happen.
"You have to cut him loose at some point, Adam," Tony says, his voice bitter now. "He's stuck on his pathetic crush and you're giving him blue balls and he's never going to get a boyfriend this way."
Then he's gone and Carlos' face is burning. He doesn't dare look over at Adam. "I... need to go," he stammers out, even as he knows he needs to wait a bit so he doesn't run into Tony in the hallway or outside the building.
He doesn't realize Adam is next to him until he grabs his arm. "Dude."
"Let me go, chico." It comes out harsher than he expects.
Adam does, of course, but his voice sounds pained as he speaks. "Dude. We need to talk about this. Normally I would never pry, but in this case..."
"In this case it involves you," he says, hating the way it sounds, and dreading the conversation. He was about to lose Adam, too, and he doesn't think he could ever recover from that.
"Maybe let's sit down?" Adam gently sets a hand on his shoulder, and he doesn't shrug it off this time, allowing himself to be led to the couch where he sits and stares at the floor. He still doesn't think he could look at Adam, at the moment.
They sit in silence for a bit, Adam seemingly waiting for him to start, but Carlos not knowing what words he could find to make the situation right, again. He hates Tony for doing this to him -- to them. He wants to jump back in time and ignore his gut, and instead just pretend to be the happy, doting boyfriend and just go on the stupid dinner date and make all of this go away.
Instead, he sits until Adam speaks. "Do you have a crush on me, dude?"
Carlos squeezes his eyes shut, his hands clasped together so tightly it hurts. "Yes."
Adam's quiet for a bit, and a million thoughts run through his head, and he tries to work up an apology, or to say he was kidding. To take it all back somehow and make everything okay again.
"Okay," Adam says finally, and it's not full of disgust or anger or confusion like he'd expected. It just sounds... sad, but he still feels hopeful at it.
"Okay?" He doesn't dare ask more than that.
"I... I'm not surprised, dude," Adam says, and Carlos thinks he is surprised at that. "But I can't... reciprocate. I don't like guys that way, Carlos. And I'm sorry."
Carlos laughs at the absurdity of Adam apologizing to him. "Dude. Why would you apologize for that? I'm sorry for... ruining everything."
"You haven't ruined anything, dude." Adam's voice is so surprised now, and forceful, that he can't help but look up. Adam is smiling, gently, and when Carlos meets his gaze, his hand gently finds his back and starts rubbing. "You can't help the way you feel. And you've never made me uncomfortable or anything, if that's what you're worried about. I'm just sorry I can't... give you more than my friendship."
Carlos snorts, a laugh getting swallowed up by the tears threatening to come now. "Adam. Chico. You give me more than enough. You're the most important person in the world to me. I would do anything for you."
"I know," Adam says, smiling more fully now, and his heart leaps at both the words and the expression. "I'd do anything for you too, dude."
"I can't lose you, Adam." He doesn't mean to say it so straightforwardly.
Adam shakes his head, still smiling. "You won't, dude. And certainly not because you have a crush on me. I just..." His face falls as he seemingly thinks. "I don't want to get in the way of things that make you happy."
"Dude. Chico. Never." He hopes Adam can hear how much he means it. "You make me happy. Being your friend makes me happy. I never want to do anything to ruin that."
Adam pulls him into a hug, and Carlos realizes he's crying now. "You don't, dude. I don't think you could. I love you, and I want to always be there for you in whatever way you need me to be. Even if I can't be more than that, for you."
Carlos squeezes his eyes shut. "I love you too, chico. You're my best friend, and I hope you always will be."
He can feel Adam nod against him, but neither of them say anything else until Adam releases him, setting his hands on his shoulders instead and staring into his eyes, smiling. "Do you want to talk about it? About Tony, I mean."
Carlos shakes his head. They're getting dangerously close to discussing why they just broke up, and even if he thinks Adam already knows, and despite the conversation they just had, he doesn't think he can talk about that right now. "No. Not right now, at least. Can we just... get dinner or something?"
"Sure, dude." Adam pats his shoulder and pulls his hands back. "I'm sorry it's not a date like you were going to have tonight, but let's go get dinner and maybe we can watch a movie afterward."
Carlos wipes his nose on his shirt. "Thanks, chico. That... just thanks."
As he follows Adam out the door, he thinks he feels a bit lighter now that Adam knows, even if things didn't quite happen in the way he would have wanted them to. Adam knows, and he doesn't care, and he still wants to be Carlos' best friend. And Carlos is pretty sure there's nothing he'd want more in his life, all the boyfriends in the world be damned.
He still knows that he would choose Adam over any of them, in a heartbeat. And he thinks that maybe dating isn't all it's cracked up to be after all, if it means potentially losing this.
And despite everything that just happened, he feels happy.
"You sure you want to do this?"
Carlos hesitates, his hand on the door to the club, looking back at Eva who's staring at him with concern. Then he nods. "I do. This place is fun and I'm not going to let Tony ruin this for me too. Not like he almost ruined Adam."
Eva smiles at him and kisses his cheek, and they walk into the club together.
He heads straight for the bar and orders something 'different from a cosmo and not containing any rum', wanting to start fresh without any association to either his first meeting with Tony or their subsequent visits together afterward. The bartender hands him a whiskey coke, which he thinks is a reasonable choice despite not really knowing if he'd like whiskey. As he picks up his glass and turns around, he spots Tony on the floor with another guy.
Tony sees him too, and as they lock eyes, he grabs the other guy and kisses him aggressively, not breaking eye contact.
Carlos supposes he should feel regret, or sadness, at the sight. But instead, as he sips his drink -- delicious, even if just for the association he now has with it -- and lets Eva pull him onto the dance floor, he feels only relief and smugness that Tony can't get to him anymore.
He feels free.