This fic follows on Breaking the Surface, which in turn follows Falling Into Place, and therefore contains spoilers for and will not make sense without those two works. You should read both works first.

Monday July 26, 2021

Carlos puts his arm around Adam as he finally stops pacing and instead falls next to him, onto the couch that's been doubling as Adam's bed for a while. When things had started getting bad again, Carlos had insisted Adam move in with him and Nick so he could take care of the both of them.

He honestly had needed the support too, with his husband also exhausted or absent much of the time. Nick sits on Adam's other side, and neither of them speak, waiting for Adam to start.

"I... I can't do this anymore."

Carlos pulls the arm he has around Adam tighter, pulling him closer. He can tell Nick has a hand on Adam's arm now, gripping it reassuringly.

"Chico. It's okay."

Adam shakes his head, and Carlos hates how utterly defeated he looks. He's sure he's never seen that look on Adam's face before.

"Dude. I... this is what I wanted to do my whole life. To help people. To save people's lives. I can't just... give up on that only after a few years."

"None of us signed up to deal with this, Adam." Nick's voice is tinged with exhaustion in a way that's familiar to Carlos now, and he thinks it's a miracle that Nick's even awake at the moment, after taking a double shift because they were so short-staffed after a similar stint a couple days earlier, especially when he still has lingering lung issues.

"You didn't, maybe. But emergency work was where I always thrived. Quickly assessing and triaging a patient. Operating under pressure, uh, no pun intended."

Nick ignores the setup. "Adam. This stopped being emergency work a long time ago and started just being torture. Don't think so little of yourself."

"And I can't let the rest of you down. We're already so... so short on people."

"That's not a reason to drive yourself into the ground, chico." He wants to try and say it without being blunt. He's not sure if Adam could take blunt, right now.

"This was supposed to be over," Adam says, squeezing his eyes shut, and Carlos hates how bitter he sounds.

"It was, but there's nothing we can do about the fact that it's not," Nick says, and Carlos thinks that's the opposite of reassuring.

"Well, quitting and calling defeat at least isn't going to help. It'll just make things worse."

"Adam. You can't keep pushing yourself."

"But you still are." Adam looks over at Nick, his expression judgemental.

"I had a break in the middle."

Adam scoffs, in disbelief. "A break? Dude, you almost died. And then came back to work anyway before any of us recommended it. That's not a break."

"It was a mental reset, even if the physical part was a bit more of a problem. You've been at this, nonstop, for 16 months now."

Carlos reminds himself to talk to his husband again about that. He doesn't like the way Nick has been pushing himself either, but he knows Nick well enough to know he's still managing, for the moment. His concern right now is with Adam.

"I should be stronger than this." Adam's voice is shaking, as if he's holding back tears, and Carlos doesn't think he's ever seen him cry before.

"You need to take a leave, Adam. There's absolutely no shame in that." Nick's voice is firm in the way he uses with Carlos when he doesn't want an argument.

"I'm already taking advantage of the counseling, dude," Adam retorts, and Carlos thinks Nick should have expected it wouldn't work on him.

"That's not the same thing and you know it. Start with a short one, if you're really worried about it. Just to have that... mental reset."

"I can't leave the rest of you hanging like that."

"Adam. You've done your part. You've done more than your part. It's time you took care of yourself, too."

Carlos finds he's really glad Nick's here for this, not only because he'd be more familiar with the situation and options at the hospital, but also because the words would mean more coming from him, as a colleague.

"I don't know, dude." He lets a tear fall and Carlos resists the urge to wipe it away. He reaches instead for the box of kleenex and holds it out, and Adam takes one, blowing his nose.

"Think about it, at least, okay? Seriously think about it, because I know otherwise you're just going to keep pushing on until you break."

Carlos thinks Adam's already broken, now, but he doesn't dare say it.

"Fine. I'll think about it."

"Pizza should be done soon," Carlos volunteers, glancing over at the oven timer, wanting to end that conversation and glad that he can contribute in some way, at least. "Eat, and then I'm sending both of you straight to bed."

"It's not good to sleep so soon after eating, dude," Adam says, but there's a hint of a smile on his face, and Carlos is glad for it.

"Maybe I'll top your slice with Ambien. Nick can write me the prescription."

It's a bit rougher than his usual jokes, but Adam seems to appreciate it anyway, and the smile is more noticible now. "Fine, dude. Let's have your jalapeno pharmaceutical pizza and then we'll sleep."

"That's the spirit."

Monday August 9, 2021

"What do you want to do, chico?"

He resists the urge to put a hand on Adam's shoulder as they walk down the Embarcadero together. Adam stares out over the water.

"I don't know. It feels so wrong that I'm here right now, instead of working. And I really shouldn't be making you take a vacation day from work for me."

"I had too many piled up anyway, chico, and it's not like there's a lot of opportunity to use them at the moment since we can't really travel anywhere. Seriously, what do you want to do?"

"I don't know. The restrictions are gone, right?"

"Most of them, yeah. I think the vaccination requirement isn't in effect yet, though, in case that matters to you."

"Sorry. I really should be more on top of that stuff."

He gives in and stops walking, settling for patting Adam's shoulder instead. "Dude. Stop kicking yourself for literally being buried under patients for the past year or more."

"I don't think that's proper use of 'literally', dude." But it breaks the tension, and Adam smiles.

"How about something outdoors? Nick and I went to the Palace of Fine Arts on our first date, and I haven't been back since then."

"That'd be nice, dude. Maybe we can grab a sandwich or something and find a place to eat around there."

"Sounds like a plan, chico."

They wander the park for a while, eventually finding a taco truck around lunch time and settling on the grass, looking out over the water at the rotunda.

Adam grabs a taco and munches it, finally looking relaxed. "This was really nice. It's been a while since I've been able to do something like this."

Carlos thinks how much he misses doing this kind of thing with Nick, too, but he swallows that thought for now. "Yeah. We should do this more often, now. At least... for now."

He doesn't want to talk about the leave, because he knows Adam still finds it touchy, and he kicks himself mentally for almost bringing it up.

Adam just nods, not seeming to have noticed, taking slow deliberate bites and staring out over the water.

"Excuse me."

A couple of women -- masked, he notes, with approval -- stand a few feet away, waving at them.

He feels a bit self-conscious, and puts down his taco and quickly tosses his mask on before responding, despite it certainly being okay. "Hey!"

One of the women holds out her fist and makes a fistbump motion. He returns it, punching the air. "Sorry to interrupt, but we were just wondering where you got those tacos."

"There's a truck just over there." Adam says, pointing. He makes no effort to put on his mask, and it makes Carlos feel a bit like he's overreacting with his. Still, after what he went through with Nick, he'd like to take any precaution he can to keep anyone else from having to go through the same thing.

"Thank you!" The woman follows Adam's finger, then turns back to them, smiling. "It's such a nice day."

The other woman nods. "Aren't they all? It's one of the best parts of living in the city."

Carlos laughs. "Yeah. I'm surprised more people aren't out here, but I guess it's a weekday and travel still isn't really a thing."

The first woman nods, and waves at them. "Well, I think we'll try that food truck. You two enjoy your date!"

"Oh. We're... not..." Carlos starts, but they're already walking away.

Adam's holding back a laugh, and throws his free arm over Carlos' shoulder. "Is this a date? Am I going to need to put out afterward?"

Carlos blushes, and pushes him away. "Shut up, chico."

He tugs off his mask and grabs his taco again, crunching it thoughtfully.

"I'm sorry you and Nick haven't had time to do things like this," Adam says after a while, and when Carlos turns toward him, he's looking guilty.

"Dude. That's not your fault."

"Even so. It's not fair that you get to do this with me and not your husband."

"Chico. I want to do this with you. I didn't get to do anything with you for a long time, last year, while I was still living with Nick. It's fine. We're just making up a little for lost time."

"Yeah, but living with him and doing things with him are different."

"Can we drop this?" Carlos doesn't like how close they are to talking about Adam's leave, again. "I promise it's fine, chico. It's nice for me, too, to get out like this again with someone, and it's nice that it's you."

Adam nods, seemingly not satisfied, but not wanting to press the point. He grabs another taco, and Carlos watches him take a bit before turning away again and eating, thinking about another safe topic to discuss.

A motion near him catches his attention, and he turns toward it. The women are back, carrying their own tacos, looking around for a good spot to sit. He waves at them.

"Hey. Want to join us?" He stops. "Well, not join us, but sit near us and we can talk or something." That feels safe enough, both from a health standpoint and a conversational standpoint.

"Sure, thank you." They move to what feels like a reasonable distance and sit down. "It's nice meeting new people, especially now. I don't know how Emma's not sick of me by now."

The other girl hits her arm, and it reminds him so much of himself and Adam that he smiles.

"Sorry, where are our manners?" The other girl, who fistbumped him earlier, does so again in what he takes as the replacement for a handshake. "I blame the pandemic for our rusty social skills. I'm Emma. This is Cass."

"Cassandra, technically, but no one calls me that. She's actually just Emma, though, instead of something fun like Emmeline." She seems to grin at the face Emma makes.

"It's nice to meet you. I'm Carlos, and this is Adam." Adam waves from beside him.

"We haven't really been doing things," Emma says as Cass pulls off her mask and grabs a taco. "So it's really nice to meet new people. It's probably overkill now, since we're both vaccinated and all, but we're still doing that whole quarantine bubble thing. We started it last year in the first wave, since we were roommates anyway, and we could both work from home, and it felt easier to just keep doing it. We can keep up with most of our other friends virtually anyway, or go out and do things like this with them in the park."

"What do you do?" He realizes too late it might spur the same question back at them, and he really doesn't want Adam talking about that right now.

"We're both software engineers. I work at Twitter. She works at Google." It's Cass who says this, he notes, and tries to make sure he has it straight in his head.

Cass works at Twitter. Emma works at Google.

"That sounds nice." He watches Emma grab a taco for herself, and steels himself for what's coming next.

"What about you two?" she asks before taking a bite.

"Oh, um. I work in administrative affairs at Zuckerberg General." He throws an arm around Adam's shoulders. "Adam here is being a bum for a bit." He immediately kicks himself.

That was worse than just saying it. Stupid, Carlos..

Adam shakes his head, but fortunately doesn't seem upset or phased. "I'm a doctor, at SF General." He remembers how Adam's never liked the new name, but Carlos uses it out of habit from the calls he has to make. "But I'm on leave right now."

"I'm so sorry," Emma says between bites. "That must be really tough."

Adam shrugs, and Carlos feels a need to change the subject, but Cass does before he can. "Is that how you two met?"

He seizes on the opportunity, even though he's sure Adam wouldn't care about the misunderstanding. "No, we met in college. I have a husband. Um, who isn't Adam. Adam isn't my boyfriend. Just my best friend." He pauses. "And Adam's straight. And single," he adds, for good measure, even though all of this is definitely more than he needed to say. Adam blushes beside him.

"Oh! I'm sorry for assuming." Emma looks truly guilty about it. "It's just that you two looked so... comfortable, together."

"I think we're pretty comfortable together too, Em, and we're not together."

"That's true." Emma grabs another taco, blushing slightly. "What does your husband do?"

He knows she's just making smalltalk on the obvious topic, and Adam doesn't seem to be particularly bothered, but he still wants to change the subject as soon as possible.

"He's also a doctor, at... um, at the hospital. He's at work right now."

"I'm sorry. That must be rough." It's Cass this time, looking at him with more sympathy than he would have expected from a stranger.

"It's been... rough sometimes, but they're making a difference, so I'm glad I can do what I can to help." He kicks himself again for using 'they're'. "I guess we're still doing the quarantine bubble thing too, but it makes a bit more sense for us, since he and Adam both, um..." He trails off, kicking himself again, wondering how he's managing to screw up such a simple conversation so much.

Cass must sense his discomfort, because she changes the subject. "So how long have you been living in the city?"

"Since the summer of 2009. So that's what... just over twelve years?" He tries to do the math in his head, and Adam nods beside him, confirming.

"What first brought you here?" Emma asks.

"I moved here with Adam when he came here for med school. That's actually how I met Nick. Um, my husband."

"That sounds nice. It's a long time to live in the city."

"I don't know if there's anywhere else I'd rather be." He smiles at Adam, feeling like it's not just the fact that both Adam and Nick are here, at this point. He really does like living here.

"Well, Em and I are both fairly recent transplants, compared to you. We were best friends in college, and moved here together for jobs afterward. It's been... three years?"

Emma nods. "Yeah. 2018. Also, were?"

Cass grins, and it reminds him of them, again. "I don't know. Maybe Carlos here has replaced you as my best friend."

"Mmm. Well, then you can walk home, miss, because I still have your purse."

Cass bats at her, almost falling into her as she lunges for her bag, and manages to come out victorious, at the expense of her taco.

"So what's Twitter and Google like?" Adam asks, and he wonders if it's a good sign that Adam is asking them about their jobs.

"Different, now," says Cass, picking up the remnants of her taco from the grass and placing it into the container lid. "I think I'd call it good different though? Even though I do miss seeing my coworkers face-to-face. Video conferencing is great, but it's not always the same."

The conversation moves on from there, and he keeps glancing at Adam, but Adam doesn't seemed bothered by any of it, smiling and laughing along in the way he does when he's feeling reasonably relaxed but is thrown into a situation with new people.

They exchange phone numbers once Emma reminds Cass that the two of them are going to be late for a virtual call, deciding to make plans to grab tacos together again soon.

"It was really nice meeting the two of you, today," Emma says.

"Drag your husband along next time, Carlos!" Cass seems way too excited by the thought of meeting another new person. "We'd love to meet him."

"I'll try," he says, waving before switching to a fist as Emma fistbumps him again. "It was nice to meet you too. Good luck with the rest of your day."

He watches them leave, and throws an arm over Adam's shoulders. Adam smiles at him. "They were nice."

"Yeah. There must be something about this place that attracts friendly people."

Adam shakes his head. "Want to walk some more? We're close to the Presidio, and that area has always seemed nice."

"Sure, chico. Let's do it."

He grabs their trash and throws it into a nearby trash can, before running to catch up with Adam.

He's looking forward to seeing Emma and Cass again, not realizing before now how much he's missed seeing friends -- are they friends, already? -- outside of video calls.

Tuesday August 17, 2021

Carlos grabs a dumpling from the box, his other arm firmly laced around Nick's.

"Is that one chicken or pork, babe?"

"I'm not sure." Carlos takes a bite and looks at the filling. "I think it's pork."

Nick reaches for the box Adam's holding instead, stabbing a dumpling and trying his best to hold a napkin under it while his arm motion is limited by Carlos' arm.

He's glad that the department head had insisted Nick take a couple days off after attempting to work a triple shift and instead falling asleep in the breakroom, and Carlos had jumped at the opportunity to arrange another meetup with Emma and Cass.

"Hey!" He looks up at the voice to see Cass waving at them. "Sorry we're late. Em had a call that ran a little over."

Emma holds out her fist from behind Cass, and Carlos smiles, doing his best to return the motion with his hand holding his fork. He notes with amusement that their masks match their shirts, today.

"And you must be Nicholas!" Carlos doesn't miss the way Nick cringes at Cass' words.

"Just Nick, please. And yes. ...Emma?"

"I'm Cass. She's Emma. It's nice to meet you!"

"Dumplings?" Emma's looking at the food they're holding, now. "Those look pretty good."

"Oh, yeah. We couldn't find the taco truck today, but this seemed like a good option." Carlos hopes they weren't too set on tacos.

"We'll go grab some and be right back!" Emma grabs Cass' arm and drags her in the direction of the truck. Cass lets herself be pulled, waving at them again.

"Did you introduce me as Nicholas, babe?" He takes a bite of the dumpling, looking at Carlos with a mixture of annoyance and amusement.

"I don't think so?"

"I think it slipped into conversation, last time," Adam says, grinning.

"For that, I'm going to call you Edward, today."

"But I didn't change my middle name. No part of my name is 'Edward'. You could at least call me Price. Or, um... Rod, I guess?" He isn't sure anyone's really used his middle name before.

Nick just leans over and kisses him before taking another bite of dumpling. "Whatever you say, Eddy." Carlos isn't sure that's an improvement.

It doesn't take Emma and Cass long, and they soon return with their own boxes, finding a spot reasonably far away. Cass pulls a sort of blanket out of her bag, and Carlos thinks he should have thought to bring something for them to sit on, too.

"What kinds did you get?" Emma asks as she holds the boxes, watching Cass smooth out the blanket.

"Adam and I are having chicken. Eddy here wanted to try the pork, and I'll probably have some, too."

Emma looks at him, confused, and Carlos clears his throat. "That's me, now, apparently."

"I won't ask," Cass says, looking at him in amusement as she sits on the blanket, and Emma hands her a box before joining her.

"I couldn't resist trying the pork belly," says Emma, pulling her box open. "Is that what you got?"

"Oh, no. It's just the regular pork ones." He considers asking if they want to swap one, but given how all of them seem to be particularly careful at the moment, it doesn't feel appropriate.

"Those looked too similar to the chicken, for me, and I thought I could just steal one of Cass'."

"Excuse you." Cass turns away from her, deliberately holding her box out to her side. "No thank you."

"So, Nich..." Emma catches herself. "Nick. How are things at the hospital?"

Nick swallows his bite before answering. "Not great."

Carlos glances over at Adam, and notices how his shoulders seem to stiffen.

"I'm just so frustrated," Cass says, pulling off her mask. "Those of us who were responsible, and are still responsible, have to suffer because some people can't put a stupid piece of cloth on their face and spend like two seconds being jabbed by a needle. And I can't even imagine how much worse it is for you! At least all Em and I have to do is sit at home and order meals in."

Adam makes a face that Carlos doesn't know how to interpret before Adam turns away, but he doesn't think it's a good thing.

"Um. So what..." He really needs to change the subject.

"I know, right?" Adam's voice shakes, and Carlos realizes he's angry. The last time he'd heard that tone was when Adam had confronted Tom and Steve at the frat house after Tom had outed him.

It's apparently new to Nick, though, because he's no longer chewing, instead staring at the side of Adam's head with concern.

Carlos stuffs his fork into his dumpling box, puts it down, and unhooks his arm from Nick's, reaching out instead for Adam's back. "Chico..."

"Sorry." Adam seems to deflate at his touch. "I just... it's been a rough few months."

"Please. Don't hold back on my behalf." Cass is looking at Adam with a combination of sympathy and glee, he supposes at finding something they both have a strong opinion on.

"I just..." He stops, his voice tinged with bitterness. "I hate feeling like I'm useless, and like I'm not good enough. But no matter what I've been doing, it's not enough."

Carlos stands, moving behind Adam instead and wrapping his arms around him. Adam sighs and leans back against him.

"Chico. You were doing more than enough. Stop kicking yourself for things beyond your control. This is 'you' time now, so you can go back and keep kicking viral ass later."

"Listen to the man," Cass says, spearing a dumpling. "He knows what he's talking about."

"I'm just letting everyone down. I'm letting Nick down. He's pulling triple shifts because of me."

"Nuh uh. Nope. Don't you dare blame yourself for that, Adam. You being out for a few weeks isn't the problem." Nick punches him gently in the arm, for good measure.

"Maybe not me specifically, but me, and a dozen other doctors and nurses and orderlies and technicians and..."

"And would you blame any of them if they needed to take a break for a while, or even leave the field altogether, right now?" Cass is staring at Adam as if she's trying to make a point.

"No, of course not." Adam's answer is so quick that Carlos is pretty sure he isn't getting the message.

"Then why do you blame yourself?" She takes a bite of her dumpling as Emma just stares at Adam, looking incredibly sad.

"I just... I should be better than that," he says after a time. He sounds defeated, though, and Carlos isn't sure if he likes it.

"You can't carry the weight of the world, or of this pandemic, on your shoulders, Adam. Listen to Carlos. He's right." Carlos is surprised by how gentle Cass' voice is.

"You mean 'Eddy'," Nick says, voice monotone as he takes another bite, and that seems to work, because then Adam's laughing.

"Right. Eddy has always been the wise one, among us." Adam reaches back and ruffles his hair.

Carlos feels like he has to object, even though he's glad it got Adam out of his spiral. "This doesn't feel fair. There's two of you and only one of me."

"So is that Eddy with a 'y' or 'ie'? Just so I can make sure I have it right in my phone." Cass is grinning, her eyes twinkling, and Carlos tries his best to look put out even though he's grinning too.

"Definitely a 'y'." Nick says, smiling now. "Tell us about your meeting, Emma."

Carlos squeezes Adam again, and moves back next to Nick as Emma launches into an explanation of her current problem at work, and feels himself start to relax as the five of them settle into remarkably comfortable conversation.

He glances over at Adam, who's still smiling. He catches his gaze and Adam nods, and Carlos gets the unspoken message.

You're welcome, chico, he thinks, grabbing his food again.

Thursday August 26, 2021

"Cass and I are going to grab some coffee."

Carlos looks up from his laptop at Adam, who's slipping his shoes on, considering asking if he wants company.

He decides against it, figuring Adam would have asked, himself, if it was intended to be a group thing. Besides, he had work to do. "Have fun, chico."

"I'll let you know if I won't be back for dinner." Adam checks his pockets for his keys and mask.

"What is this coffee thing, chico? 'Coffee' normally doesn't entail a full meal."

Adam just shrugs. "I just want to leave my options open."

Carlos stares at him. "Dude. Are you going on a... date?"

"What? No!" But Adam blushes anyway. "We're just grabbing coffee, and walking for a bit. I wasn't sure where we'd end up, and didn't want you waiting for me if we found ourselves on the other side of the city or something."

"Uh huh. Whatever you say, chico." He turns his attention back to his laptop, waving at Adam. "Enjoy your date."

"It's not a date!" Adam protests, pulling the door open.

"Use protection!"

He sees Adam give him the finger out of the corner of his eye before the door closes behind him.

Friday August 27, 2021

"So how did your date go yesterday, chico?" He grins over at Adam from the couch as Adam walks out of the bathroom after having slept in until the afternoon.

Nick, sitting against him and wrapped up in his arms, looks over at Adam, curiously. "You went on a date?"

Adam throws up his hands. "It wasn't a date! Cass and I just got coffee and walked around the city for a bit."

"Right. All I know is that you didn't come home for dinner, and I went to bed with Nick when he got home at 10, and you still weren't back."

Adam crosses his arms, leaning against the wall. "The restaurant we tried to get takeout from didn't have their act together. It took a while."

"That doesn't sound like 'just coffee', chico."

"Okay, first of all, we're in the middle of a pandemic, so dating is very much not a thing at all right now."

Carlos isn't sure he'd agree with that, but he likes how animated Adam is getting.

"Second of all, it wasn't a date! She just wanted to talk for a bit, so we got coffee and talked!"

"Sounds like more than a 'bit', Adam," Nick says, and Carlos appreciates that his husband is getting into it now.

"Dude. What is happening right now?"

"Payback for 'Eddy'," says Carlos, pinching Nick's arm so he yelps.



"Can we not do this right now?" Adam actually looks, and sounds, frustrated. "Nick has to go to work soon, and I'd like us to have some time that isn't... this."

Carlos doesn't want to let it drop, but he does anyway, for Nick's sake. "Fine. Movie?"

"It'd have to be a short one, Eddy." Even though he can't see Nick's face, he knows he's smirking.

"For that we are watching Jackass."

"Great. That just means I can take a nap before work." Nick shifts so his face is in Carlos' chest and makes an exaggerated snoring sound.

Adam sits on the couch, shaking his head. "Maybe something episodic?"

"Jackass is a series, too."

"Dude." Adam's looking frustrated again.

"Fine, chico. Let's just do some Black Mirror."

Nick turns around so he can see the TV again, and Carlos starts an episode. But as it plays, and he glances over at Adam, Adam seems to be staring off into space.

Wednesday September 1, 2021

"Hey!" Carlos holds out his fist in Cass' direction before remembering that it's Emma who does that.

She smiles at him, holding her fist out anyway, and they bump virtually. "Hey, Carlos. Thanks for meeting me."

"Just for calling me 'Carlos', alone, you've made this entire conversation worthwhile."

Cass laughs. "Sorry. I forgot I'm supposed to call you Eddy."

"I can still leave, you know. We haven't gotten coffee, yet."

"Right. Sorry," she says, and he appreciates that she's at least apologetic about it. "Blue Bottle?"

"They do a mean hot chocolate. That sounds good to me."

They walk together toward the nearest shop, but Cass is uncharacteristically quiet. Carlos waits for her to speak.

"Can I ask you something?" she says, finally.

"I assumed that's why we were meeting. Unless you wanted to get 'coffee' with me too, in which case I should probably text my husband so he knows I'm going to be out late."

Cass blushes. "Sorry about keeping Adam out so late."

"Dude." It comes automatically, and he looks over at her, but she doesn't seem to mind. "Adam's an adult. I'm not his keeper."

"But you are his best friend. And, if I'm reading you two correctly, you're more than best friends."

"Um." He feels himself start to blush at the thought. "No. We've never..."

"Sorry!" She turns redder. "That's not what I meant! I just..." She stops walking and looks at him. "I know your relationship is entirely platonic. But you love him. And he loves you."

Carlos nods. "That's true, yes." He wonders briefly if the feelings he still holds deep down for Adam are also obvious, but forces himself to focus on the conversation instead.

"So you're probably the most important person in the world to him."

"Um. I don't know if I'd say that." He probably actually would, but he's not going to admit it to her.

"Sorry. I guess my point is..." She takes a deep breath. "I like him."

He'd honestly been expecting that. "Okay. And?"

"I guess I just wanted your... blessing. To ask him out." She looks uncharacteristically nervous, from what he's seen of her.

"Dude. I told you. I'm not his keeper. You don't need my permission to ask him out." He realizes he's staring at her a little too intensely, and looks away.

"Well, you and he and Nick are also living together, so I feel like I'd need to ask you anyway, even if just from a bubble standpoint."

"Okay, that's fair." He supposes a date would probably entail kissing or at least some form of physical contact.

"But I also do need, um... your approval, I guess. I don't want you to feel like I'm... taking him away from you, or something."

A memory suddenly falls into his head. "You know, when I was first realizing I had feelings for Nick, and wanted to ask him out, I didn't, because I was worried about Adam. And maybe worried that Adam would feel like it would mean Nick was... taking me away from him, or something."

"I assume you talked to him about it. Adam, I mean."

Carlos nods. "I did."

"What did he say?"

"He, uh. He said he approved. He approved of Nick, for me." It's not exactly the right context, but he thinks it conveys the right sentiment, at least.

"Right," she says, falling quiet again. He looks over at her again, and she's staring at her shoes, shifting awkwardly.

"The fact that you're even talking to me right now I think means that you understand him. And me. That you understand us. I just... don't want you to feel like you're competing with me, or something."

Even though you would be, he thinks, feeling a little guilty about it.

"But I would be," she says, and he should be surprised by it, but somehow, he knows she already knew. "And I understand that. And I'd still... I'd still like your approval. Maybe because of that."

"Um. And even though he's on leave right now, he's going to want to go back. And he works in the ER, so that can be rough for hours and everything. So you'd be competing with that, too." He feels bad for effectively trying to talk her out of this, but he wants to make sure she understands what she's getting into.

She nods. "I understand. He and I have talked about that, already. I know what I'd be signing up for. I still want it."

He smiles, realizing she probably can't see it behind his mask. He gently pats her shoulder instead, realizing too late that it probably was too close of a distance, and that she hadn't given him permission to touch her.

She doesn't say anything, but just looks up at him, her eyes filled with hope and, he thinks, understanding.

"Then you have it. My approval, I mean." It shouldn't be a lot, but it still feels like a lot, and he's a bit choked up about it.

She nods again, and he can tell she's smiling now. "Okay. Thank you, Carlos." She stops, and her eyes twinkle. "I mean Eddy."

That cuts the tension, and he grins. "I see. Now you got what you came here for, so the gloves are off."

She laughs, and punches his arm, and his heart warms at it. And instead of the jealousy, or maybe panic, that he always thought he'd feel when Adam would potentially start seeing someone, he feels only happiness.

He wonders if this was how Adam felt when he and Nick kissed that day by Pier 9.

And he hopes that Cass can make Adam even a fraction as happy as Nick has made him.