This prologue fic summarizes the events of YAGS and ZAGS relevant to the AAGS series of works. It is not necessary to read if you are already familiar with the games, although you may wish to do so anyway to ground yourself in the "correct" canon for the series.
If you have not played YAGS or ZAGS, this fic will contain massive spoilers for both games. It is strongly recommended that you play the games first, if you ever want to, as the plot points within this fic will ruin major developments in both games, and therefore ruin the experience of getting to know the characters.
Carlos slides down the wall of the hospital hallway until he's sitting on the floor, squeezing his eyes shut, trying to forget the look on Elliot's face. Elliot, his frat brother who had been touch and go for a while because he had his face beaten in by Robert, another frat brother, for being gay.
No, not for being gay, Carlos reminds himself. You don't know that he's gay. He just confronted Robert over Robert's brother being gay, and that was enough.
The distinction didn't really matter though, because Elliot was still in that hospital bed, hooked up to machines that kept him alive, and had just opened his eyes for the first time since the incident. It'd been two weeks since the night that Carlos can still remember clearly, staring in frozen shock at all the blood everywhere, even after the paramedics and police had come and he had done his best to bumble his way through their questions even as he felt like his heart was breaking.
Elliot, his first crush ever since he'd really allowed himself to accept the fact that he was gay.
And Elliot, the person who probably blamed him now for what happened. For not stopping Elliot when he stood up to challenge Robert's increasingly-common homophobic rants. For not standing up with him. For not being better about pushing back, himself, in the weeks beforehand. For letting it all get to him, to the point where Elliot felt like he had to do something, as Carlos' friend.
Carlos barely notices Adam, his best friend, and Chris, Adam's roommate, sitting on either side of him now, looking at him with concern. He laughs to himself.
I've already lost Elliot. What would they say if they knew?
"He was defending me," Carlos says, as if it explains the current situation, ignoring the way Adam immediately looks sympathetic.
"Dude." Adam's voice is reassuring, and Carlos feels irrationally angry at it. Adam wouldn't be so understanding if he knew.
"He was defending me..."
...because he knew...
"...because he knew I had a crush on him."
He doesn't mean to say it, and doesn't even realize he had until the words are out. Immediately, he can feel his heart skip a beat and his lungs feel like all the air have been pushed out of them.
Oh god. What did I just do?
"Du... wait. What?" Adam's voice is full of confusion now; disbelief. Carlos thinks he hears a tinge of bitterness, or maybe disgust in it, and he really doesn't want to think about what that means. He glances over at Adam's face, but that doesn't really help clarify anything. He stares at the floor instead.
He doesn't want to say it. He doesn't want to admit out loud the thing that he's been desperately trying to hide, and to change, for the past two years -- although if he's being honest with himself, it's really been much longer than that. He's always thought that, if he never said it, he could make it not be true. That he could sleep his way through sororities of beautiful women and fix it. That he could be the kind of man he was supposed to be -- that everyone else expected him to be.
It had only taken a few months of knowing Chris to throw all of that out the window. Not because he had a particular interest or anything in Chris -- no, that was still Elliot, and not telling Elliot was the one thing he'd started to regret more and more with each passing day -- but because he'd seen Chris struggle with it too, and find nothing but love and support from Adam and his other friends, and start to embrace that side of himself. It was enough to make Carlos think that maybe, he too, could find that kind of acceptance and support, even if he still hated himself every day for it.
Adam was his best friend, and if he really thinks about it, his first true crush. But Adam was straight, and Carlos had buried those feelings long ago after he'd wormed his way into Adam's life and they'd become best friends. Even if Adam took Chris' coming out well, it didn't mean anything for him. What if Adam thought he'd been lying to him during their entire friendship? What if Adam realized the truth? He didn't think he could bear to disappoint, or even lose, his best friend because of this flaw -- this problem -- that he'd so desperately tried to overcome.
He realizes that Adam is still staring at him, confused, and a response still sticks in his throat. He buries his face in his hands instead, squeezing his eyes shut and taking some comfort in the darkness. It wasn't too late to back out. To play it off as a joke. To pretend that Adam and Chris had somehow misheard him.
Instead, he decides to be brave, for the first time in his life.
"I'm gay, chico."
He feels relief at it, but it's almost immediately replaced by terror, the knot in his stomach overwhelming now, and his throat dry as if he'd never be able to speak again. He can feel Adam's eyes on him, but he doesn't dare look at his face.
He tells himself it will be okay, because Adam took Chris' coming out well, even as he knows this is different. Chris had told Adam shortly after they'd met. Carlos and Adam had been friends for much longer. And as the seconds tick by, and as Adam continues to not say anything, he can feel that small bit of hope fading.
"I knew it. You hate me." He doesn't mean to say that out loud either, but apparently his mouth is connected a little too closely to his brain today. He isn't sure whether vocalizing that fear, that feeling, makes him feel better or worse.
"No!" Adam's voice is sharp and unsettling, echoing in the empty hallway and filled with anger, or maybe betrayal, or maybe anger at feeling betrayed. He still doesn't dare look at him. "Carlos. Don't you dare say that."
"Don't you ever dare say that I hate you. Don't you ever dare think that I hate you."
That's even more promising...
"You're like a brother to me. You're my best friend. I love you." Adam's voice shakes, and Carlos doesn't want to think about why, even as he lets the words wash over him in a tidal wave of relief. He glances over at Adam, who seems to be staring out into space now as he sighs, and Carlos thinks he looks hurt.
Hurt is good? he wonders, even as he doesn't dare say anything else.
"I'm, um..." Adam pauses, as if trying to find the right word, before settling on the one Carlos had picked out. "Hurt, I guess. That you didn't tell me sooner."
The confirmation doesn't help of course, and Carlos feels a sudden need to make the situation better. Even if this was tough for him, he doesn't think he can stand the feeling he gets from those words, and from the thought that he's somehow disappointed Adam. "It's not exactly something I've told anyone before."
He wants to say more, and explain how he hadn't even allowed himself to think it until recently, and apologize more properly, but it's enough. Adam looks at him softly, sympathy and concern in his face now. "Dude. You know that I know that Chris is gay. You know I don't care."
Carlos shakes his head. "I know. I just..." He sighs and leans back against the wall, daring to glance over at Chris, who's quietly looking between the two of them. "I don't know. You know what it's like, Chris."
He isn't sure Chris even understands what he's talking about, but Chris focuses on him before nodding, the message seemingly having gone through. "Yeah. I do."
Adam sighs again next to him, and Carlos looks back over at him. "You're right. I guess I just... couldn't understand." Then a smile ghosts across Adam's lips, and that helps. "But I'm glad you told me now." He puts his hands on Carlos' shoulders, turning him toward him, and it shouldn't be as comforting as it is. "But, dude. I don't care. It doesn't matter."
He lets go of the last thread holding himself together as Adam pulls him into a hug, finally allowing the tears to fall, all relief mixed with cautious joy now. Things are going to be alright.
"You're still my best friend," Adam says, his chin on Carlos' shoulder, the warmth of his embrace and the arms wrapped tightly around him hammering the point home. "And I'm... sorry. About Elliot."
He wants to say more, maybe thank Adam for this or try and explain himself, but the sound of footsteps in the hallway draws his attention, and he looks up to see a man and a woman -- Elliot's parents -- quickly walking toward them and toward Elliot's room. He thinks that he should say something, or do something, but instead he lets Adam hold him and reassure him, even as they brush past and look at him and Adam with a disapproving glare before disappearing into the room.
That looks brings everything rushing back, and he suddenly pushes Adam away and jerks backward, almost falling into Chris in his panicked attempts to escape the situation. It reminds him of his mother's face, when one of his brothers' friends had come out. It reminds him of the revulsion in her voice when she'd forbade them from seeing him again. It reminds him of the moment when he'd lost all hope that things could go well, and realized he could never be himself.
It's a reminder of why he'd so desperately tried to deny this truth for so long.
But why would... do they think Adam and I are a couple?!
"Did you see that?" He shudders, and shakes his head. Adam is looking confused now.
"See what?" he says, and Carlos kicks himself. Of course he didn't see. He was facing the other way. Even if he had, he wouldn't have understood it.
"The way they looked at us." Carlos can barely get the words out, squeezing his eyes shut and taking comfort in the darkness again. He thinks back to Chris' coming out to his own parents, and how jealous he had been, but also how hopeful that maybe, for the first time, Carlos had someone he could talk to about it. He also remembers how bitter he'd been, Chris' parents reaction just reminding him of how different his own would be. "That's how my parents would look at me if they knew."
"Dude." Adam's voice is quiet, reassuring, and he cautiously puts a hand on Carlos' arm. That, for some reason, is infuriating, and a reminder of how much Adam really didn't understand.
"Don't 'dude' me, chico. You don't know what it's like." It's bitter, and undeserved, and he can tell it stings Adam a bit. "It's easy for you, Mr. California. You're straight. And it wouldn't matter if you weren't."
Adam doesn't say anything else, instead looking between him and Chris, as if unsure how to react. Carlos doesn't blame him -- he isn't sure how he'd be reacting in this situation, either.
Then he sighs, just needing to get out of this hallway and out of this hospital as soon as possible. "My cast is off. Let's go. Elliot needs to rest anyway, right?"
Carlos insists on swimming, now that his arm is finally cast-free for the first time in a month, even though it's way too cold out for the outdoor pool. His arm, not used to the motions anymore and feeling way too light for what he expects, refuses to cooperate, and it's just another punch in the gut that he can't do anything right, and can't be the person he wants to be.
Adam drags him to lunch afterward, insisting that he eat despite Carlos not really feeling like anything at the moment, and the three of them sit in silence at a table in the student center, chewing their burgers while Carlos stares at anything but Adam or Chris.
After what feels like hours, Adam sighs and puts down his burger. "Okay. We need to talk. Even if I can't understand, we need to talk."
Carlos isn't sure how he feels about it, instead focusing on his chewing as he stares at Adam. He really doesn't want to talk about this. He isn't sure what Adam could do or say to make things better, anyway, unless he somehow had a magic wand that could make his parents -- make the world -- okay with everything.
But he's pretty sure that, if Adam had a magic wand, Carlos would just want him to make him straight, instead.
"Look. Dude. I really don't care that you're gay," Adam starts, and Carlos winces at the word, even though he'd used it himself. "But you have to tell us what's bothering you. Is it Elliot? Is it his parents?" He pauses, seemingly thinking. "Is it your parents?"
Carlos can't say it, instead chewing the burger that has long since turned to mush in his mouth, staring Adam in the eyes until Adam sighs again and turns away, picking up his burger and returning to his meal. He feels a pang of regret at that. Adam was just trying to help, even if there was no way he could.
"Yes," he tries, finding that easier than explaining. It's not much, but it's a start, and Adam puts his burger back down.
"Yes, your parents?" Adam asks, and all Carlos can do is nod. Adam's expression immediately softens, and he puts his hand on his arm. Carlos jerks his arm away. He can't deal with that right now. Adam pulls his hand back, continuing to look at him with sympathy. "I'm sorry."
Carlos takes a deep breath and shakes his head, trying to find the courage to voice his thoughts. "I just wish I could tell them." It should be easier now that Adam and Chris know, but he's also never spoken these words out loud before.
"Why can't you?"
Carlos laughs, involuntarily, at just how little Adam understands. "Chico. You're serious, aren't you?" He feels a bit of regret at Adam's expression, and reminds himself that Adam means well. "They would disown me. At best."
"They're your parents. They love you."
That should make him angry again, but instead it just hurts, reminding him of everything he knew he could never have if he couldn't fix himself. "You don't understand. Homosexuality... isn't a thing." He doesn't want to talk about his mother, right now. "I mean, it's a thing, and people whisper about it. But no one really talks about it." He shakes his head, trying to push the memories away. "You've met my mother, chico. Do you really think she would be okay with this?"
Adam picks up his burger again, chewing in silence, and the silence speaks volumes. Carlos resists the urge to rub it in his face.
"Yeah, exactly," he says instead, figuring it gets the point across, but Adam still doesn't look convinced. He sighs. "It's not your fault, chico. I mean, obviously, it's not your fault. And I know you mean well. And I'm glad you're here for me. But I don't think this is something anyone can help with."
He expects Adam to object, or push back, but instead he just nods. "Well, I'm always here in whatever way I can be, dude."
That helps. "I know. Thanks, chico. I'll get over... this... again. I just..." The memory of sitting in the hallway, of the look on Elliot's parents' faces, comes back to him now, despite his best efforts. "You didn't see the way his parents looked at us."
"Maybe they thought we were being a nuisance in the hallway." His voice is level, as if he's trying to be reassuring.
Carlos laughs at both the tone and the statement. "Yeah. A nuisance. Because they thought we were a couple."
"Carlos..." Adam's reaching out an arm again.
"That's all they think I am," Carlos spits out, the anger overwhelming him now. He pulls his arm out of reach.
"Carlos. Dude. You're overreacting."
"Am I?" He wants to look away, but can't.
He stares at Adam for a bit, trying not to explode at his friend. Adam, for his part, stares back, eyes full of concern, and he can't handle that look right now.
"I need to go."
"I need to go swim." It's something to do, at least, even if he doesn't think he'd actually be able to manage it at the moment.
"I'll come with you."
"No!" He's actually angry now, at Adam, for not understanding. Adam, for not leaving him alone. Adam, for caring about him too damn much, and certainly much more than he deserves. "I just need to be alone right now."
Adam doesn't say anything, and Carlos glares at him, daring him to object. He really can't deal with that right now.
"Fine," Adam says, eventually. "Just... be safe."
That almost sets Carlos off again. "I'm not going to go fuck some guy in a back alley, chico."
Adam seems taken aback, and he feels a bit of satisfaction at it, that his words are finally doing something. "That's not what I..."
"I'll be fine." He hopes that comes across as reasonably final, but of course Adam doesn't let it go.
"Just... come by later."
"Fine." He really wants Adam to shut up, already.
"Carlos. Come by later." Adam's being stubborn, but Carlos knows he's more stubborn.
"I said fine, chico! What else do you want me to say?"
Adam seems to crumple, resigned, and Carlos hates that he did that to him. He stands, not even caring that his food is still only half eaten, desperately needing to be anywhere but here, at the moment.
"Okay. Fine," Adam says, quietly. "Go swim."
Carlos grabs his coat and storms out, not looking back.
He does manage to swim, for a bit, despite the water being freezing and the air being freezing and his arm still not really working the way he wants it to, but he tells himself it's something. That the biting cold and numbness creeping into his limbs are what he deserves for being such a fuckup and taking the first step toward throwing away his life and ruining his friendship with Adam and giving up the last hope he ever had of being normal. He swims until he's worried he's actually going to drown from the exhaustion or the cold, and takes a shower in the locker room, the water actually feeling like an improvement despite it, too, being frigid. Afterward, he sits on a bench by the pool, staring out over the water, wondering if it would just be easier to end it, but feeling like that, too, would require more courage than he thinks he could ever muster up.
And that's how Adam finds him, shivering and unable to feel his hands, tears he doesn't even know are there streaming down his cheeks. The first thing Adam does is punch him, hard, in the arm, and that breaks him out of it.
"Ow! Chico! What was that..."
"You idiot!" It's Adam's turn to be angry, now. "Do you have any idea how worried I've been?!"
That should make him feel something, but instead he just shrugs, taking comfort instead in the cold and the numbness. "Probably not."
The anger falls from Adam's face, and he sits next to Carlos, all worry now. "Carlos. Dude. Let me help."
Carlos shudders, despite himself. "I'm cold."
"No shit. You've been sitting out here for hours." Adam's voice is softer than Carlos thinks it should be, especially as he stands again and grabs Carlos' arm, pulling him to his feet. "Get up. We're going."
Adam throws an arm around his back, and he's honestly thankful for it now. He feels like his legs are probably too shaky to support his own weight at the moment. "We're going back to your room. And you're not leaving until we've talked, this time." He pauses, and looks angry again. "And you better not have hypothermia, or I swear to god I will sit at your hospital bed and never let you hear the end of it."
Carlos finally breaks, bawling now as Adam rubs his back and whispers words into his ear that he can't really hear or understand. Instead, he focuses on the warmth of Adam next to him, and on the way that, despite everything, Adam is still there for him and Adam still cares about him and Adam, damn him, still wants to help.
He's only vaguely aware of Chris standing awkwardly to the side, noticing him mostly when he turns to leave. He blows his nose on his coat sleeve and takes some stumbly steps in the direction of the house, and Adam helps him.
It isn't until they're back at the frat house, in Carlos' room, and sitting on his bed, that he realizes just how cold he really had been. Adam had found a cup of hot chocolate for him, from somewhere, and he holds it until the numbness in his hands turns to pain and the pain turns to warmth, and he's glad that he probably actually didn't do anything too bad to himself.
"Dude," Adam starts, a hand still rubbing his back. "I know I can't understand what it's like, but I still want you to talk to me. I'm sorry I reacted less... supportively, I guess, than I should have. I'm sorry if you feel... stuck. But I promise things will be okay, dude. Maybe not with your parents, but in the end, things will be okay."
"How can you know that?" He should be upset again, but instead he just feels defeated, and maybe wanting to see if Adam actually could help, somehow.
"Because you're one of the strongest, kindest, most loyal people I know, Carlos. I love you like a brother, and I promise you that you'll always have me. You bring so much joy to people in your life just because of who you are and how you are. You're surrounded by people that care about you. You're going to be okay, even if it takes a while, and even if you can't see that now. Because I, and everyone else who cares about you, will do whatever we can to make them okay."
"Chico..." He honestly isn't sure how to respond to that, and he thinks that if he wasn't all cried out from earlier, the tears would be falling again.
"Come here, dude." Adam pulls him into another hug, and he wraps his arms around him. He pushes his feelings for Adam aside, instead enjoying the way he feels safe, now. Supported. Carlos is sure he's never been held quite this way by anyone before, not even by his mother, who'd always been the one he ran to when he needed comforting.
But the thought of his mother brings it all back, and he shudders, pushing Adam away. "They can't know, chico. My parents, I mean. They would never let me come back here. I would lose everything."
He expects Adam to object again, to tell him that they're his parents, dammit, so of course they'd understand. But Adam surprises him by nodding. "I'll do whatever I can to help, dude. If you ever need anything. Anything."
Carlos wants to joke that Adam doesn't know what he's signing up for, but the honestly in Adam's voice makes him swallow the thought, and the words, and he just nods instead. "Thanks, chico. That... means a lot to me."
Adam smiles at him softly. "Well, you mean a lot to me, dude." Then his face grows stern. "So don't ever do this again, okay? If you have a problem, come find me. I want to talk you through it, and do whatever I can. I don't want you to be so stubborn and keep it inside and let it eat away at you like this."
Carlos nods again, intending to keep that promise. "I will. And just... thanks. For... you."
Adam doesn't say anything else, but pulls him into his arms again, rubbing his back comfortingly, and this time Carlos finds he does have tears left after all.
Carlos finally managed to drag Chris and Adam away from studying for finals, to The Yard, their favorite local pizza restaurant, for dinner. He's pretty sure they could all use the break, even if he himself hadn't actually done that much studying yet.
The place is even more crowded than usual, and they push their way through the crowd to the hostess stand. Carlos normally doesn't mind crowds, but the sheer size of this one still feels a little stifling.
"Looks like they're a little busy tonight," Adam says, and Carlos starts to tease him for stating the obvious when someone calls Chris' name.
Carlos looks over to see a bearded guy in a purple shit and a girl with purple and pink in her hair, waving at them through the crowd. He's honestly impressed they saw Chris at all, and thinks to himself that the guy looks vaguely familiar.
"We're going to see a movie tonight!" the girl says as the guy gives Chris a hug, and she follows suit.
"Oh, us too," Carlos says, thinking that Chris seemed reasonably at ease with these people, so they couldn't be all that bad. "You should join us!"
Chris seems to realize they haven't been introduced. "Oh, uh... this is Dan and Liz. This is..."
"Carlos," the man says, grinning at him. "We've met before."
Carlos gets a hug too, and he struggles to remember when they'd met before, but he comes up blank. His memory is normally so good that the fact that he doesn't remember really bothers him.
The guy seems to notice, and laughs. "It was brief. I'm just good at remembering the names of cute guys who cross my path."
Carlos blushes at that, even as the words trigger something inside him that he files away to think about later. Fortunately, a table soon opens up, and they sit together, and order, and the conversation moves to classes and finals. As he deflects Adam's questions about his study habits, and watches Dan and Liz interact with each other, Dan's comment from earlier comes back, and he feels brave again.
"Can I, um... ask you a question, Dan?" He grabs his water and takes a gulp, trying to force himself to not back out now. Dan smiles at him, and Liz pokes Dan's arm. Dan swats at her, playfully, not breaking eye contact with Carlos.
He swallows. "Are you and Liz dating?"
The reaction is immediate. Liz looks amused but disgusted, Dan laughs, and Adam and Chris immediately look uncomfortable. "Definitely not," Dan says, and Carlos thinks he should have just taken the more direct route.
"Okay, um." He forces the next words out of his mouth. "Are you... gay?"
Adam chokes on his pizza, and Carlos hits him on the back, finding that it's something to focus on instead of the way his face is suddenly burning and his chest feels too tight.
"You know, a lot of people would consider that a rude question," Dan answers, and Carlos doesn't dare look at him. The tone of his voice isn't surprised, or judgemental, but he still immediately regrets asking. He starts to stammer out an apology, but Dan interrupts. "No, no, it's fine. I'm not a lot of people. I just do a lot of people. In the butt. Where those people are men."
The response is a relief, and he dares to look at Dan now, and Dan's grinning, and Liz is grinning beside him as she giggles. He stops patting Adam's back, and Adam grabs some water.
"Why do you ask?" Dan's looking at him with curiosity now.
Carlos thinks back to the conversations he and Chris have had about sexuality. It was nice to talk, at least, but Chris is still relatively new to the whole thing too, and he wasn't sure how much the discussions really helped with his own processing of the situation. Besides, Chris didn't have any experience with sex, with any gender, and that was the piece he'd been the most interested in discussing.
He forces himself to continue, figuring that backing out now would make things even worse. "I, uh... Chris and I have been talking about things, but I was kind of... I don't know."
Dan grins at him again, and he braces himself for what's coming next. "I knew it! You're totally a fag."
His vision goes blurry, but he can make out Liz's expression, angry now, at Dan. "Daniel! Language! That's rude!"
"Sorry!" Dan seems to not have realized what he said could be taken badly, and Carlos thinks that it must be nice to be able to have that kind of attitude. "Nate and I just..." He shakes his head, smiling again. "You're totally gay, though!"
Carlos wants to disappear into his chair, and doesn't even dare look around to see if any of the nearby tables have heard, or are listening to their conversation at the moment.
This was really, really a mistake...
Fortunately, Liz seems to be moderating Dan, somehow. "Hey, I am too," Dan says, a little less enthusiastically now. "Most of the people at this table are. But sorry. Um. You're gay, and want to meet more gay people, and generally find yourself, right?"
That actually sounds like a pretty good description of things. "Um. Something like that."
Liz frowns at Dan. "Dan, I'm channeling Liz today, but you're making him really uncomfortable."
Carlos wants to ask if he'd gotten her name wrong, or if there was another Liz, but Dan smiles at him again, more gently this time. "Sorry, sorry. I, um... I totally know that feeling. You should come to Q&A sometime."
He recalls Chris having mentioned it in the past, but he'd dismissed it as some sort of study group for a class. "Chris has mentioned that before. What is it?"
"It stands for Queers and Allies." Dan is grinning again. "Although in practice it's pretty much all queers and no allies."
Liz giggles. "Everyone there is friendly. If anyone gives you shit, my girlfriend will shut them down. I think it's a nice way to meet people."
He likes the idea, but the thought of going still makes him nervous, and not just because it means more forcefully embracing this part of himself. "...maybe," he says, not wanting to be dismissive, but not sure he'd be able to work up the courage to go.
"We meet every Saturday morning around 9, although I think tomorrow's the last scheduled one for the year," Dan says, picking up his slice of pizza gain. "You should come by. Third floor of the student center."
Carlos nods and watches him take a bite before he realizes he's staring, and tears his gaze away. Dan is intriguing to him, and not just because he's one of the most unapolgetically brash people Carlos has ever met. He also just feels so comfortable in his skin and with himself that it makes Carlos jealous, even as he thinks that he'd never want to be quite that abrasive. He wonders if Dan's the kind of person who would be up for talking about the more sexual part of sexuality. He wonders if Dan's the kind of person who would be up for doing more than talking about the sexual part of sexuality.
He blushes and focuses on his pizza, instead.
And he thinks Q&A might actually do him some good.
Carlos hestitates outside the door to Adam and Chris' room before knocking, and not just because it's early. His heart beats in his chest and he tells himself he can't back out now, even if Chris doesn't agree.
The door opens and Chris blinks at him sleepily. He does his best to put on a cheerful face. "Hey, Chris."
Chris nods and steps aside. Adam glares at him from his bed before covering his face with a pillow, and Carlos tears his gaze away. Despite the fact that he knows Adam sleeps shirtless, and despite the fact that they're often casually undressed around each other, it still feels like he's intruding.
"Carlos. Dude. It's too early for breakfast. Or running."
Carlos takes a deep breath, steadying his nerves. "Actually, I was, um... curious about Q&A. And wanted to see if you'd go with me, Chris."
That seems to get Adam's attention, and he pushes his pillow aside and looks at Carlos with a bit more interest now. "That's a good idea, actually. Chris had to drag me along when he wanted to go the first time."
Carlos laughs at the thought, despite himself. "You've been to Q&A, chico?"
Adam just smiles at him, softly. "As moral support, but yeah."
Carlos dares to look over at Chris, who's smiling, and nods. "Yeah, I could... I could do that."
So they go together, Carlos forcing himself to follow Chris out the building and to the student center and up the stairs and down the hallway, even as it feels like each step is becoming more difficult. He stops in the hallway, as he imagines they're nearing the room, and tugs at Chris' coat. Chris stops and looks at him with concern.
"Why am I so scared, Chris?"
Chris seems to think, always the quiet and contemplative one, before smiling at him in a way that is surprisingly reassuring. "I felt the same way my first time. But everyone is friendly."
That helps enough, and Carlos releases his grip on Chris' coat and follows him the rest of the way down the hallway and into the room.
He stops in the doorway, feet feeling like they're not obeying his commands again, and instead nervously looks around the room. He sees Dan and Liz sitting together, chatting, and Dan seems to perk up when he sees him. "Carlos!"
Dan comes up and gives him a hug as Liz looks on, and another woman near the front, who seems to be in charge, smiles at Chris. "Nice to see you again, Chris," she says, and she somehow seems so genuinely happy that he's there that Carlos can't help but feel a little jealous.
"There's plenty of room over there," Dan says as he releases Carlos, and instead points toward the couch where Liz is sitting. "Come join us!"
He looks to Chris for guidance, who just shrugs and walks toward a different corner. Carlos looks apologetically at Dan before following, but Dan doesn't see surprised, instead returning to the couch and plopping down next to Liz again. Chris finds space against a wall next to a different couch where a blonde man in a gray shirt is seated, reading some sheets of paper that don't quite look dense enough to be an essay, and Carlos stands next to him, not sure what else to do.
"This is James," Chris says, and Carlos suddenly realizes he's been staring, finding this James to be one of the most attractive people he's ever met, even despite not knowing him at all. He tears his gaze away, blushing. "James, this is Carlos." James seems to nod, but doesn't say anything else, and Carlos' throat is too tight to say anything back. "That's Liz B. in the purple," Chris continues, gesturing toward the woman near the front of the room. "She's in charge. She's dating Liz G., who you already met with Dan."
That answers a few things for him, and he idly wonders if that meant he too could one day date some else named Carlos, and how that must cause a lot of trouble for the two Lizzes.
Stop getting ahead of yourself, he chastizes. You're not out yet. You're even even sure you're comfortable being out yet. It's way too early to think about dating. He catches himself looking at James again, and tears his gaze away. And stop thinking about James.
Liz, the leader one, calls the meeting to order, but he can't really focus on what he's saying, instead staring at his hands and trying to calm his breathing and ignoring the way his heart is still hammering in his chest. Before he knows it, people are filing out, and he realizes the meeting must be over.
Dan plops down on the couch next to James, and James shifts uncomfortably as Dan grins at Carlos. "You made it, Carlos!"
"I... I guess." He tries to appreciate the fact that Dan is being welcoming, and take comfort in the way Liz G. grins at him as she sits on the arm of the couch, but instead he just feels even more out of place.
"Goodness, you still look absolutely petrified," Liz B. says as she walks over to them.
"Reminds me of you, Chris," the other Liz says, grinning at Chris now. Chris shuffles awkwardly, blushing.
James stands, pulling on a long trenchcoat and grabbing a messenger bag. "Time to go. Only four more shows."
Carlos resists the urge to ask what he means by shows, but Liz G. just grins at him. "Bye, James!"
James seems to hesitate, looking at Carlos, and Carlos feels himself blushing at it. "Um." Then he hands him a piece of paper, and Carlos blushes harder as their hands brush. "Let me know if you want to talk."
"Jameson has a crush!" Dan's voice is filled with glee, and Carlos didn't think he could turn redder, but he does.
"Not hitting on you," James says, as if it needed clarification. "Just... talking."
"Is that what they're calling it nowadays?" Dan's voice is tinged with jealousy, he thinks, and he doesn't want to see his face at the moment.
James shakes his head, and Carlos stammers out some thanks before he walks out the door.
Dan takes James' place and moves closer to him. "So. You could, uh... talk to James. Or the two of us could have some more, um... intimate..."
"Ahem." That's Liz B., who's looking disapprovingly with Dan now.
"...conversation. What'd you think I was going to say, Liz?"
Liz doesn't seem convinced, and Carlos blushes at what Dan's implying. "Uh huh. The two of you can talk in here all you want, but take your 'conversation' somewhere else."
Carlos blushes harder at that, but Dan just grins. "So distrustful. You should see someone about that, Liz."
She shakes her head, but stands and grabs her purse. "I should get going as well, actually. Study group to make."
Liz G. jumps up and kisses her cheek. "Bye, Chris! Dan! Carlos!"
"Seriously though," Liz B. says, glaring at Dan again. "No sex in here."
They walk out, and Carlos isn't sure what to say. He clutches the paper James handed him tightly in his hand. "I should probably go... too..."
"Sure," Dan says, dismissively. "Seriously though, let me know if you want to talk." Then he grins. "Or talk."
Carlos nods, and heads back into the hallway. Outside the room, he feels like he can breathe again.
"I'm going to go do homework," Chris says, and Carlos jumps at the sound of his voice, forgetting he was there.
"Right. Thanks, dude. For... coming with me."
Chris nods and walks down the hallway, and Carlos uncrumples the paper. It looks like an instant messenger screenname, and he thinks to himself that he'd been meaning to make an account anyway, to talk more directly with Elliot.
He heads back to his room, thinking about both Dan and James, and hoping that the Q&A visit had yielded at least one (or maybe two) good things out of it.
Between finals and travelling to Adam's for the holidays, Carlos mostly forgets about the Q&A visit, or at least manages to intentionally push it out of his mind. It isn't until he's back on campus after the break, sitting at his desk after a long day of dreading classes the next day, that the piece of paper he'd put on the edge of his desk before break catches his attention.
He grabs it, smoothing it out, and staring at the screenname, thinking to himself that he really shouldn't put it off any longer. He didn't want James to think he was being rude by not reaching out when James had been so thoughtful in providing it.
He downloads the program and clicks through the screen to create an account, adding James' contact to his list and staring at it. It occurs to him that he should add Elliot's screenname to his contacts too, but he doesn't feel like digging through his email for it at the moment. Instead, he double-clicks on James' name and stares at the empty textbox, feeling a lot more nervous than he thinks he should.
Is he even online? Does this thing show his name even if he's not online?
He tries, anyway, deciding to start simple.
CarlosCarlos123: its carlos
The response is fairly immediate.
CarlosCarlos123: sorry for taking so long to message you
CarlosCarlos123: but i just signed up today
Carlos tries to think back to why he wanted to talk to James in the first place. Chris had told him about James, and how James had helped Chris with his own coming out and growing more comfortable with himself. Carlos thinks it's maybe a bit unfair to put that burden on James again, but he honestly isn't sure what else to do. He supposes he could ask Chris for Dan's screenname, but he thinks Dan would probably be a little overwhelming, at the moment.
CarlosCarlos123: i guess im still really scared
CarlosCarlos123: about things
JABRamar: Want to talk?
Carlos is confused, for a moment, but then another message comes through.
JABRamar: In Q&A now.
JABRamar: Not alone.
JABRamar: Can meet you somewhere.
Carlos is pretty sure the frat house isn't the right place for a conversation like that, but isn't sure he wants to brave Q&A again at the moment, either. He decides on more neutral ground, that wouldn't require James to go too far out of his way.
CarlosCarlos123: how about the student center
CarlosCarlos123: in the atrium with the chairs
He waits for another response, but James doesn't seem to send anything else, so he grabs his coat and makes his way to the student center, heart pounding the entire time despite knowing that James would be nothing but kind, and supportive. But it's still nothing like talking to Adam or Chris. He knows Adam and Chris, and he knows what conversation with them would be like. He has no idea what to expect with James
He finds an empty table in the atrium, sitting and nervously fiddling with his jacket sleeves until James appears, smiling at him before taking a seat at the table.
"Hi," Carlos tries. That seems safe enough. James nods at him, seemingly waiting for him to speak. "So I..." He searches for the right way to start. "I guess I recently... came out. But it was only to my best friend Adam and Chris. And I guess, uh... Q&A... people." He pauses, but James is still smiling at him, and that that somehow helps. "One of my good friends, uh... last semester, got beaten up by a homophobic asshole in my frat..."
"Elliot?" James' voice is soft, but still so unexpected that Carlos jumps at it.
"Yeah. Did you... know him?" He tries not to think about what it means if James knew him. He wonders if it means Elliot had been to Q&A. He wonders what that would mean.
"Know of him. Heard from Chris."
"Oh." Carlos supposes that doesn't tell him much. Of course Chris and James talk, and of course Chris would have told him about Elliot. "Does that... is Elliot... g..." He can't get the words out, and feels bad that he's even trying. "Does that mean he's..."
James just shrugs, but his smile fades a little, and Carlos feels guilty at it. "Ask him."
"Right. Of course." He needs to change the subject, and tries to pull it back to himself. "But Chris and everything made me feel like... I'm not doing enough." He squeezes his eyes shut. "Like if Elliot and I... had a chance or something... I feel like I've blown it by being in the closet." He really doesn't want to think about that, right now. "And Chris... and you... and my friend Malik who works the gym checkin desk... you're all so..." He pauses, searching for the right word, still not daring to open his eyes and look at James. "...open."
He does open his eyes then, finding James looking at him, friendly and not filled with any of the judgement he'd been expecting. "You and Chris reminded me of me. Last year," he says, and that surprises Carlos.
"You were... scared too?"
Carlos isn't sure he believes it, but James doesn't seem like the kind of person who would lie to make him feel better, so he supposes the fact that James seems to be so comfortable now should serve as a goal for him rather than some unattainable aspiration.
"It took me a long time to accept myself," James starts, staring off into the space behind Carlos now. "I could have passed as straight. After all, I do like women."
Carlos isn't too surprised to hear that James is bisexual, and he can't help but feel jealousy at it, thinking that he would love the ability to pass as straight, and legitimately enjoy sex with women, and legitimately be able to pursue a relationship with a woman. But even as he thinks that it would be easier, he feels a pang of remorse at even thinking it. He wasn't straight, or bisexual, and he was supposed to be here to help himself come to terms with that, not to pursue some pipe dream that would somehow magically make his life okay again.
"But that somehow felt like I would be denying a part of myself that mattered," James continues, seemingly not noticing Carlos lost in his own thoughts. "And it took me a long time to come to terms with that." James is looking at him again, smiling, and Carlos blushes at it despite feeling reassured. "There is no way to come out. There is no right way to be gay."
Carlos thinks he really needed to hear that part.
"Some people are like Dan. They don't care what anyone else things. I guess to a certain extent you have to be that way sometimes because the world isn't as accepting as it should be." Carlos considers James' words, again thinking of how much he envy's Dan's ability to be unapologetically himself. "But he lives his life that way, and expects everyone else to too." James' voice has a little bitterness in it now, and despite not really knowing Dan that well, he thinks it's a pretty accurate assessment.
I guess I'm glad I'm not like that, even if just because I don't know how I'd manage on my own right now. I have to keep lying, at least, because of my parents. To my parents.
"So come out in your own way, at your own pace," James continues, smiling again. "Don't let anyone dictate how, o where, or when you do it. That's up to you." He pauses. "And don't blame yourself for the past," he says, and Carlos knows he's talking about Elliot now. "Don't feel like you're letting people down by not being as out as you think you should be. If people have a problem with that, that's on them." Then he smiles, but it's a sympathetic one. "And I'm sorry about Elliot."
Carlos doesn't want to think about Elliot right now. "My parents wouldn't approve."
"Ah." There's absolutely no judgement in James' voice, and it shouldn't surprise him given everything he'd just said, but it still does. "That makes it harder." He pauses, seemingly considering, before continuing. "You said you know Malik. I would not have made the decisions he did, in his position."
Carlos thinks about how surprised he'd been when Malik told him he was gay, and how he hadn't been able to confess back. He thinks about how Malik's parents had kicked him out, and how he was working the gym desk now for enough money to survive, managing what was essentially a full-time job between his classes. Carlos doesn't think he could do it, and not just because of the logisitical difficulties of immigration. "Oh."
"I'm glad he did the right thing for him, and he made it work. But it could have ended badly." James sounds so confident in the statement that Carlos doesn't want to contradict him, despite feeling like it did go pretty badly. "Just like others shouldn't dictate when you come out, there is no shame in remaining closeted. Including to family. Sometimes physical and financial well-being are more important."
Carlos lets the words sink in, and justify some of his fears and reluctance, finding he's glad he spoke to James. He doesn't think he would have gotten nearly the same response to the topic from Dan, and Chris still seems reluctant to discuss the situation with Carlos' parents, maybe feeling guilty that his own coming out to his parents had gone so well.
James shrugs. "Not a good situation though. Sorry you're in it."
"...thanks." He isn't really sure what else he can say in response.
"But sometimes family surprises you," James starts, before seemingly thinking better of it. "Not that you should take a risk if you're not sure."
Carlos flashes back to the look that Elliot's parents had given him and Adam in the hallway, and shudders. "I don't think that'd happen in my case, but it's nice to think about."
James smiles at him, softly. "In time they will understand."
"I... hope so."
"And you have friends here who support you."
Like you? Carlos thinks, even though he's pretty sure it'd be way too premature to call James a friend. Still, he thinks of Adam and Chris and realizes that the statement is still true.
They sit in silence for a bit, Carlos not sure if James has anything else to say, but deciding he doesn't as the minutes stretch on.
James smiles and moves to stand. "You're welcome. Always happy to talk. Hope this helped." He stands and adjusts his messenger bag. "Q&A Saturday morning, if you want."
Carlos nods and watches him walk off, finding that the conversation really did help, and thinking that maybe he should try and make it to another Q&A meeting.
Carlos sits in the hospital waiting room next to Adam, the pain in his fist nothing compared to the sense of dread in his stomach and his chest over everything that had just happened.
"Dude." Adam's hand rubs his back, and Carlos wishes the x-ray results would just come already.
"My stupid wrist had better not be broken." He knows it's not what Adam is asking about, but he really can't bear the thought of another cast, and not being able to swim again this semester once the weather warms up.
"Dude. Are you okay?"
He squeezes his eyes shut, really not wanting to talk about this right now. "I will be if my wrist isn't broken."
"Okay, stop it." Adam's voice is serious now. "Steve was way out of line, you haven't seen Robert since that night, and Tom just..." He pauses, trying to find the words before seemingly giving up on the attempt. "So don't give me that. Talk to me, dude."
Carlos thinks over the events over the past couple of hours. He'd gone with Adam to the frat house, as moral support, when Adam had decided finally that he was going to formally resign his membership in the frat. Carlos thinks it'd been a long time coming, but wanted to be there anyway in case Steve, the house leader, had decided to give him a hard time about it. It was supposed to be a quick stop before they did their usual Friday thing and got dinner somewhere.
But everything had very quickly gone downhill when they'd arrived to find Chris and his maybe-boyfriend-but-not-officially-so James sitting in the common room waiting for them, asking if they'd wanted to join them for a movie. The fact that they were obviously together and comfortable with each other had bothered Carlos, mostly because of the frat and his general sense that the house still wasn't a particularly great place to be anything but aggressively straight, but it somehow had really touched a nerve in Tom, Carlos' other frat little, who started on a homophobic rant that somehow ended up in Carlos being outed in front of the (fortunately) few brothers in the room at the time and Steve.
He'd mostly lost track of the conversation at that point, mostly trying not to break down in panic as Tom stormed out, but then Steve had started up on some lecture about how Carlos should remain closeted and not stir up drama at the house, and that had led to a lot of angry yelling by Adam and angry looks by Steve, and as if his brain was already not functioning by any means, Robert had turned up, ostensibly to collect his things after being expelled the previous semester for the whole Elliot situation.
Seeing Robert again had tripped something in him, and brought back all the anger and regret he'd felt over losing Elliot and maybe having just been outed to all of his frat brothers, so he'd followed Robert and stupidly tried to throw a punch that Robert had easily blocked, and then Adam had found him clutching his wrist in pain and all but dragged him to the ER for evaluation.
He shakes his head, still not really wrapping his head around everything, although he thinks he's probably going to have a breakdown later from it.
"I don't know. I kind of... stopped following most of what happened after Tom started ranting about Chris and James." It's the easiest truth, at the moment, at least.
"Dude..." Adam rests a hand on his arm, gently.
"I... don't know." He isn't sure what else to say, and Adam's hand squeezes his arm.
"Well, if you want to talk at some point, you know I'm here for you, right?"
He does, the memory of Adam's expression and voice as he'd confronted Steve on Carlos' behalf still fresh in his mind. He'd never seen Adam like that before, and feels a sense of pleasant disbelief that Adam had gone to bat so whole-heartedly for him. "Yeah. Thanks, dude." It feels like not enough, but he isn't sure how he could put his gratitude into words.
The nurse eventually arrives with results, and they walk back to Carlos' room with a prescription for some painkillers and (fortunately) no more significant mitigation. Carlos sits on his bed and Adam puts the painkillers on his desk before leaning against it, watching him.
"I'm going to go, but if you..."
"Is Steve right?" Carlos doesn't mean to say it, but the thoughts swirling though his head are starting to settle, and the only thing he can think of at the moment is Steve's words, and the implication that this problem was something Carlos should be ashamed of, and keep hidden. He wishes he had never told Adam in his moment of weakness. It would've made things easier.
"What? A... oh." Adam looks upset again. "No. Steve is not right."
"It's not any of his business who you date or how you come out or if you come out, dude."
Carlos would almost believe if it he hadn't seen firsthand how much trouble he and Elliot had caused over the past few months. "Except it kind of is..."
"No." Adam's voice is firm. "Dude, no."
"You saw how Tom reacted..." He starts before shutting up. He really doesn't want to think about Tom right now.
"Tom was completely... terrible." There's a hint of anger in Adam's voice again, and Carlos doesn't want to start down that road.
"And I don't want to be causing any... trouble." That feels safer, and it's also the truth.
"Listen to yourself, dude." Adam seems a bit exasperated now, but no less concerned, and Carlos feels irrational anger at it.
"Why are you so worried about this, anyway? It's not really any of your business, either."
That hits home, and Adam looks a bit hurt. "I... You're right. This really isn't my business, especially given I'm basically leaving this group, anyway. But dude..." Adam smiles at him again, gently. "I care about you." Then his face falls. "And you're really not okay, right now, if you're thinking like this. I don't want you feel like this is your fault, in any way. If Steve has a problem with you being gay, that's his problem, and his fault. Not yours."
Carlos doesn't want to admit he's right, instead turning and lying down on the bed and staring at the ceiling. "But it would be easier." He sighs, thinking about Tom's girlfriend Eva and how she and Tom interact. "It's funny, isn't it? No one would bat an eye if I was dating someone like Eva... some girl, strutting her around this place like some prize."
Adam seems to shift uncomfortably. "I'm not sure that's fair to Eva, dude."
He's pretty sure it gets the point across, though. "But I'm not even talking about sex. Like if I was dating some guy and wanted to bring him to dinner or something. That'd be somehow... weird."
"And that's why Steve is full of shit."
Carlos shakes his head. "Chico. But he's not wrong. It would be weird. And problematic."
"But that's kind of on the people who make it weird and problematic. Not on you."
"That doesn't mean he isn't wrong."
Adam nods, reluctantly, but doesn't say anything else and Carlos decides he really doesn't want to be having this conversation, after all.
"I should get some rest."
"Do you want me to bring you anything?" Adam asks, concerned as always about him. "You haven't eaten dinner."
"I think I'm just going to take one of those pills and go to bed early." He really wants Adam to leave, already.
"Well, I..." Adam seems reluctant. "Come by if you need to talk tonight, okay? Seriously. Wake me up."
"I'm not going to wake you up in the middle of the night dude." He reminds himself that Adam means well, and to be fair, the last time he had kept things inside too long and done stupid things. But he still really just wants Adam to leave, right now.
"But do it if you need to. Otherwise, I'll check on you in the morning."
"You don't have to check on me like I'm an invalid, chico." He tries to keep his voice level, although the frustration is creeping through now.
Adam seems to notice, and sighs. "I... okay. I'll come by in the morning and we can get breakfast or something, then."
That seems fair enough. That's something they often do on Saturdays. "Fine."
Adam stares at him for a bit longer before grabbing his coat. "Good night, dude."
"Good night, chico."
He watches Adam leave, closing the door behind him, before he closes his eyes and tries to forget.
It doesn't work, and he doesn't sleep well that night.
Carlos hits 'send' on the email response to Elliot, feeling a bit guilty about the sparseness of the message and the fact that it had been a couple weeks since he'd gotten to writing back. He'd used to write to Elliot weekly, or more than weekly, catching him up on events at the house and checking up on his recovery, and this week in particular had had so many things he'd wanted to say. But the mere thought of mentioning Tom or Steve or Robert had raised an irrational fear in him that it would lead to a discussion about them, and Carlos doesn't think he could talk about that, right now, too worried that he would fall back into his regrets over blowing his one chance to be happy.
He starts up the instant messenger program anyway, looking over his contact list and Elliot's name there, thinking there's still time. Then he shakes his head, hiding Elliot's contact instead so he's not tempted, and is about to close the program when Dan's name appears on his list.
He'd added Dan's contact info a while back, after Dan had given it to him after another Q&A visit, along with more explicit offers for hooking up than his innuendo earlier times. Afterward, he had often found himself wanting to talk about topics that were maybe a bit more crude than he felt comfortable broaching with Chris or James, but he hadn't had the courage to actually send Dan any messages yet. As he stares at the contact now, and Steve's words come to mind, he starts to wonder if he really just needs a separate outlet for that side of himself. One where Steve wouldn't have any say, and one that was somewhat an extension of the Q&A group that would maybe help him feel more comfortable there as well.
He clicks on Dan's name before he can think twice and fires off a quick message.
CarlosCarlos123: it's carlos
DanTheMan42: Decided you want some of this?
Dan is forward, as always, and it feels like a refreshing change of pace from the conversations with Chris.
CarlosCarlos123: i just wanted to message you so you had my screenname
DanTheMan42: Now you have, and I do!
DanTheMan42: And you should feel free to booty call me any time!
Carlos files that away for later. Instead, he asks Dan about himself, and Dan happily obliges, and before he knows it, they've been talking for hours in a way that somehow feels immediately comfortable, maybe because Dan has no boundaries and it allows Carlos to talk about any topic he might want to bring up without feeling like he's overstepping.
He goes to bed that night feeling more comfortable with things that he has ever since the Tom incident, and if he's being honest with himself, maybe even before that.
And as he falls asleep, he thinks to himself that he really would like to take advantage of the opportunity and start exploring some new things with Dan.
Carlos walks back to his room, the slight pain in his ass and lingering taste of his own cum in his mouth new, but incredibly exciting, and he thinks back over the past month.
After being initially reluctant to take advantage of Dan's offers out of his remaining need to just fix himself instead, and feeling like acting on his desires would be like stepping through a door he could never shut again, he thinks he maybe overcorrected, embracing the newfound sexual opportunities with a vigor that seemed to surprise even Dan. Dan had been more than accomodating, of course, introducing him to blowjobs (this time giving, of course), frotting, and fingering, and even helped him acquire his first dildo -- which he also thinks he maybe took to too eagerly at first.
But being penetrated by a person was something new, and Dan seemed to have wanted to make sure Carlos was really ready before they took that step. He thinks that Dan is maybe a bit of an enigma in that way -- unapologetically brash and outgoing, but in some way, concerned about his sexual partners' safety and comfort. And Dan must have also sensed something in Carlos, because after his first ever anal session, Dan had jerked him off and made him lick it off his fingers afterward with a low, demanding voice that Carlos hadn't dared disobey. And he'd loved every minute of it.
Carlos thinks that maybe this was the final door he could never shut again, in more than one way, but actually feels surprisingly okay about the whole situation now. He had the house, where he could continue pretending to be his macho, straight, womanizing self -- Steve had only been too happy to ignore the preceeding events, and Tom was still upset about the whole thing but he wasn't sure he cared about what Tom thought anymore -- and he had Q&A where he'd started feeling actually comfortable and like he could finally be himself. And he had Dan, where he could explore sides of himself that he had never even dared to consider before.
Maybe it was trying to have it both ways at once, but he isn't sure anyone could blame him for it. Sexuality was a tricky business.
He spots a familiar face walking toward him. Nate, Dan's roommate and someone he'd seen just an hour earlier when Dan had proposed a threesome between the three of them that Carlos had reluctantly turned down, seems to be heading to the student center with his boyfriend Jake, who Carlos had already met through Chris.
"Hello, Carlos," Nate says, stopping in front of him. Jake blushes and looks away, and seeing them together gives Carlos a sudden pang of jealousy that they have each other, but also fear of being so public with an eventual boyfriend. As nice as sex with Dan was, he thinks he actually wants something more, like a proper relationship, even if it means giving up the comfortable facade he's put on at the house, but he thinks he wouldn't be comfortable enough in public for anyone who might want him.
But one step at a time.
"Hey, dude," Carlos responds, remembering that Wednesdays are usually their board game evenings. "Going to play some games?"
"We are." Nate smiles at him in the way that he usually does, that Carlos often thinks is fake because it's different than the way Nate smiles at Jake. "You're welcome to join us, of course, but I think you'd said board games aren't your thing."
"They aren't, but thank you anyway." He isn't sure why the conversation feels so forced, but every conversation with Nate seems to have a bit of formailty to it.
Nate nods and starts to leave when he seems to think of something. "Oh, Carlos. Absolutely no pressure, of course, but Jake and Hannah and Nikhil and Chris often study together, and I was wondering if you would be interested in maybe studying with us, sometime. It'd be nice to have another upperclassman around, even if we're not necessarily in the same classes."
Carlos remembers that Hannah and Nikhil are Jake's other gaming friends, and he thinks he understands why Nate might feel out of place in that group. From what he's seen, they're often joking around with each other and talking about their computer science classes that Nate has no interest or background in. He's about to politely turn down the offer when he thinks that maybe this too could be good for him. Nate was comfortable with his sexuality in the same way Dan was, but less adamant about it, and he wonders if getting to know Nate better too would give him a better sounding board for his concerns.
"That sounds like a good idea, dude. Maybe I'll take you up on that."
Nate nods. "You have my email, I think? Just let me know what works for you. It was nice to see you again, today."
Carlos waves and watches as they continue on their way, and as Nate's hand finds Jake's and holds it as they walk.
And he feels that mix of fear and jealous again.
Carlos sits on a couch in the Q&A room, looking over all of the papers Nate had given him in their last study session. The first time, they'd talked for a bit while Jake and Nikhil worked on a seemingly nefarious coding problem, and Nate had seemed to seize on Carlos' statement that he wasn't really a fan of his biology major and wanted to try something new. Nate had suggested his own major, business, which actually sounded like a good idea, and he resolved to look up some more information about it on his own. What he hadn't expected was for Nate to return the following week with printouts of required classes and coursework, complete with notes on likely overlap with Carlos' existing classes from his biology major.
He thinks it was probably more than he deserved and had thanked Nate profusely for it, but Nate had seemed happy to do it, and seeing the papers again now convinces him that it's probably the right change to make, even if it would add another year to his graduation date.
That just means I can graduate with Adam, he thinks, actually liking the thought of that. And business would be an easier major to get a job with than biology. He isn't sure anymore about his after-college plans. Given the situation with his parents, he's increasingly worried that he'd either need to go back into the closet and find employment at home -- maybe the surf instructor job he'd always wanted but that he thought getting a degree for was pointless -- or try to find something in the states where he could actually be himself.
A couple of voices outside the door pull him out of his thoughts, and he looks up to see Liz and Liz walk through the door. Liz G. grins when she sees him.
He gets an awkward seated hug, not able to stand quickly enough to meet her embrace, but she doesn't seem to mind.
"Sorry if we're interrupting something," Liz B. says, opening a filing cabinet in the corner and rifling through it.
"Please. I'm just here to hang out. Let me know if I'm distracting you, or if there's anything I can do to help out."
Liz G.'s eyes seem to glint, and she grins. "There is!"
"Babe..." Liz B. is frowning at her now. "Leave Carlos alone."
"But you were worried about next year!" Liz G. looks at her as if disappointed.
Carlos is curious now. "What's this?"
"Liz needs someone to take over for her next year because she isn't sure she'll be around next year!" Liz G. seems happy again, grinning at him, and it takes him a second to realize what she's suggesting.
"Babe. You can't just draft Carlos into running Q&A. Besides, I'm still waiting to hear back from the fifth year master's program. I could very well still be around next year and it won't matter."
"But if you're not! And even if you are, what about the year after that? Carlos, you would be perfect! You're organized, and you get along with everyone, and you know how to command attention but not in the way that turns people off like Dan."
"Don't listen to her, Carlos," says Liz B., before looking like she misspoke. "I mean, she's not wrong, but ignore her. Also, I thought you were a junior, Carlos?"
Carlos nods, not sure why he's actually considering the idea now. "I am. But I was actually just looking at maybe switching majors, and that would mean I'd be around for another year, if that matters."
"It's perfect!" Liz G. sits next to him and grabs his arm, seemingly bubbling with enthusiasm now. "Liz wants someone who can take over for more than just one year before having to hand it off again, and everyone loves you and you would be great! And Dan would stop complaining that he has to stare at a woman every meeting instead of a hunky man like yourself!"
Carlos blushes at that, and Liz B. sighs. "Babe, leave him alone. Carlos, if it's actually something you'd be interested in, we can talk, but you really don't have to oblige her. Please feel free to put on a movie or whatever and don't let us interrupt."
He nods, and Liz G.'s attention seems to turn to the movies instead. She puts one on and leans against his side in a comfortable way as they watch it, but his mind keeps drifting back to her earlier words, and he wonders why the idea appeals to him so much.
"Then that's it. Thank you everyone for attending today." Carlos finally lets himself relax as he closes out the meeting, looking over at Liz B., who smiles and nods at him, and watching as everyone packs up and files out of the room.
"You didn't take my advice," Dan says, grinning, and Carlos blushes as he remembers Dan's words from the last Q&A meeting last semester he'd ran in conjunction with Liz. This had been easier, somehow, even though he'd run it himself. Maybe it was the fact that he'd been working with Liz over the past couple of weeks to really get a hang of the other aspects of running the organization, or just the fact that he'd been almost eager to get back to the place where he felt truly comfortable now after a summer of having to lie and pretend to be someone he wasn't.
"I still don't need to see a shirtless Carlos, Dan," Liz G. says, nevertheless coming up to Carlos and giving him a hug. "Also you did great!"
"That's why Liz is supposed to take off her shirt, too," Dan says as he grabs his backpack, and Liz B. glares at him. "You forgot the second part of my advice. But see all of you next week! And remember that my door and pants are always open. That goes double for you, Carlos." He winks at him as he walks out the door.
"There's more to this than just running meetings, babe," says Liz B., standing beside them now. "But you're really getting the hang of that part too, Carlos. So if you're sure you want to do this, I think you're more than ready."
"Thanks, Liz." Carlos is blushing again. "You've been really... supportive. And helpful."
"Congratulations, Carlos," James says, standing next to them and holding out his hand. Carlos takes it, and his grip is surprisingly firm as they shake. "I'm proud of you. Not just for running the meeting. You've come a long way."
Carlos thinks back to last semester, when he'd had to be accompanied to this very room by Chris to even have the courage to make it, and how scared he'd felt meeting these people, having these conversations, and starting to hook up with Dan. He thinks he doesn't even recognize that version of himself now, and he's thankful for it.
"Thank you, James. Talking with you last semester and over the summer really helped."
James just smiles at him. "Glad I could help." Then he looks behind Carlos and his eyes seem to light up, and Carlos realizes Chris must be waiting for him in the doorway. "I'll see you next week."
Carlos turns and watches them walk off together, hand in hand, and he thinks to himself that that, too, no longer feels so out of reach for him. The idea of having a boyfriend, and holding his hand in public, no longer fills him with fear or dread.
He feels like he's well on his way.
"I'm surprised you're awake for this, dude."
Carlos smiles at Adam as they walk toward the hotel where Carlos' mother and his brothers are staying. He can feel his chest tightening already at what he knows he's going to do, today. "That's a funny way to say 'I don't want to have breakfast with your mother', chico."
Adam looks briefly concerned before realizing that Carlos is teasing. "Dude. I'm just saying... you turned down breakfast with my parents because you thought you wouldn't want to be up this early, and now you're getting breakfast with your family. Also why do I need to be here, again? We're going to see them later anyway, right?"
Carlos punches Adam gently in the arm, needing that contact right now. "Because you haven't met my mother yet, and I want a chance to introduce you before we get overwhelmed with your parents and sister and graduation events and everything." He feels bad not saying the real reason, but he'd pretty sure Adam would stop him if he knew, and he'd had a hard enough time convincing himself to do this that he doesn't need that right now.
Adam ruffles his hair affectionately. "Fine, dude. It's also not too late for all of us to get breakfast together. I could call my parents and we could..."
"Carlito!" Carlos' mother stands from her seat at a bench outside the hotel, her arms open wide, pride on her face. Beside her, his brothers stand too, smiling.
He's suddenly cold, and tries his best not to shiver, as he plasters a smile on his face and gives her a hug. She's warm, and comforting, and he allows himself to enjoy it, knowing it would probably be the last time.
He feels guilty now, at what he's about to do to her. At what he's about to do to his brothers, who are innocent and really have no blame in the situation. But he tells himself there's no other way.
"Esto es mi mejor amigo, Adam," he says as he lets her go, trying to ignore the way her scent brings back memories. He doesn't need that right now.
"Encantada," she says, smiling at Adam as she holds her hand out.
Adam shakes it. "It's very nice to finally meet you, Mrs. Valverde. Your son is an amazing man, and I'm lucky to call him my friend."
Carlos blushes at that, and his mom smiles at him, gently patting his cheek in the way he'd always found comforting, but now is just a painful reminder of everything he's about to lose. He pushes the feeling aside, giving each of his brothers a hug, hanging on a little longer than necessary. They notice, of course, looking at him with confusion, but he just shakes his head.
"So," Adam says, starting to make an excuse to leave, and Carlos realizes he can't wait any longer. "I expect we'll be seeing all of you later. I'm actually going to go have..."
"Madre," he starts, interrupting Adam, and choosing the word because he intentionally wants the detatchment right now. "Hay algo muy... importante que se quero que decir." He shoves his hands into his pockets, staring at his mother before it's too much and he looks at the ground instead. He can't see Adam's face at the moment, but he really doesn't want to.
"De qué te preocupas, mi hijo?" He can tell she's confused. He forces himself to look her in the eyes, still holding out a glimmer of hope. He needs to see.
"Soy homosexual," he says simply, wanting to make sure that Adam can understand as well. He knows he wouldn't be able to explain it to him, afterward. He doesn't dare tear his gaze away from her eyes, focusing on his heartbeat and the faint warmth in his chest, hanging on to that hope that everything would be okay.
Then her face hardens, and she looks at him with such hatred that he would never have thought it possible if he wasn't seeing it now, and his heart feels like it's being ripped out of his chest. She turns, wordlessly, grabbing Antonio and Jorge's hands and dragging them back into the hotel. Carlos tries not to look at them, but he can't avoid their faces, filled with regret, or maybe sympathy, and his heart breaks again at that.
"Dude..." He can feel Adam's hand on his shoulder now, soothing, but he shrugs it off. He doesn't want comfort, right now.
"Do you think it's too late for me to join breakfast with your family, chico?" His voice shakes as he turns to face Adam, who seems to be staring at him in disbelief. "It's fine if it is. I can get breakfast back at the house."
"Dude." Then Adam's pulling him into a hug anyway, and he lets the tears fall, shaking in Adam's arms as he lets go of the last of his hope that they would understand. No matter how much he'd prepared himself for this inevitability, the knowledge that he'd never see his home again, that his life was now solidly divided into the before and after, was still too much to bear.
They stand like that until his sobs turn to quiet sniffles and Adam seems satisfied enough to let him go, instead placing his hands on Carlos' shoulders and attempting to look him in the eyes. Carlos just stares at the ground. "Seriously, chico. We're going to be late to..."
"You didn't tell me you were going to do that."
Carlos shakes his head. "You would have tried to talk me out of it." Even as he can't see Adam's face, he knows he wants to object, but he also knows that he knows that he's right. "I have a job now. I'm graduating. They have no hold over me anymore. I just... couldn't keep doing it."
Adam nods, pulling him into a hug again. "I love you, dude."
Carlos tries not to let that make him fall apart again. "I love you too, chico."
"So," Adam pulls away again, and this time Carlos does look him in the eyes. He smiles softly at him. "I'm sure another for breakfast wouldn't be a problem, and I'm sure my parents would love to have more time with you."
"Thanks, dude," Carlos says, walking toward the direction of Adam's parents' hotel, knowing Adam is following behind him.
"Do you want to talk about it?"
"No." Carlos is sure of that part, at least. "I've been... preparing myself for that for months." It's the truth, but he still finds that he doesn't think he was truly prepared for it. He glances over at Adam, who doesn't seem convinced. "Seriously, dude. If I need to talk about it, I'll ask. Please just... leave it alone, for now."
Adam nods, and he isn't sure if he's relieved or not at that. "Okay, dude. But um... what should we tell my parents?"
"Tell them my family couldn't make it," he says, simply. "It's the truth." He tells himself they're not his family, anymore, and it makes it a little easier.
Adam nods again, setting a hand on his shoulder as they walk, and he finds comfort in that.
Despite everything, and behind the overpowering sense of regret and loss that threaten to overwhelm him, he feels a sense of relief.
And he thinks he's actually looking forward to what the future might bring.