A/N: This fic is rated T for angst, violence, and minor swearing uttered by antagonists to come in later chapters. I will post warnings in front of each chapter if there are any. Updates may be a little slow, as I've decided to risk publishing this even though I've only completed a few chapters so far. Please review and leave me some feedback! Your comments motivate me to write. Thanks so much for reading! Enjoy the first chapter of 'Another Reason.' :)
Warnings: Mild violence
When Kendall strode into apartment 2J, he was not at all surprised by the sight before him. Smirking amusedly to himself, he peered into the kitchen and saw Carlos, who was on his knees with his forehead pressed against the glass of the oven window, longingly monitoring the tray of food slowly cooking inside. There was no doubt in Kendall's mind that the guys were going to be dining on corndogs and tater tots for supper.
He quirked a bushy eyebrow, approaching his Latino friend and clapping a hand on his shoulder. "You know," Kendall told him, "staring at the oven isn't going to make it cook any faster."
Carlos's unblinking eyes remained glued to the spot. With each exhalation a thin fog glazed over the window. For a moment, Kendall wondered if Carlos had even heard him. It was possible, considering the noise emitting from the living room was practically thunderous. Upon further inspection, Kendall realized that Carlos was in fact murmuring something to himself. Curious by his friend's trance-like state, Kendall leaned forward to hear what Carlos was saying.
"Fifty-two, fifty-three, fifty-four, fifty-five…"
Kendall stood erect and rolled his eyes. He figured he might as well go see how Logan and James were faring, since a hungry Carlos could either be extremely dangerous or no fun at all. Bearing in mind that Carlos was busying himself by becoming a human timer for his tray of food, Kendall assumed the latter.
"Headshot!" Logan exclaimed, bouncing up and down. The television was near its maximum volume, the monitor jiggling slightly with each violent explosion on screen. Both Logan and James stood atop the orange couch in their excitement, feet sinking into the cushions. Logan's eyes were wide with delight and triumph, whereas the brown-haired boy appeared frustrated and a bit vexed. Their thumbs worked rapidly on their videogame controllers, moving joysticks and clicking buttons.
Kendall had to holler in order to be heard over the sound of their game. "Did my mom call?"
"Hah! Take that!" Logan shouted victoriously, grinning ear-to-ear.
James huffed an annoyed sigh. "Oh, come on! You can't just crouch behind a bush and wait for me to come out of the portal. That's such a cheap move."
"It's called strategy," Logan quipped.
The argument had only begun, but Kendall could already sense it would never cease unless he stepped in. With four long strides he was in front of the TV and manually lowering the sound to a more reasonable level, immediately catching the attention of Logan and James. When they finally noticed he was there, the two boys hopped off the couch and onto the floor, pausing the game by pressing a button on the controller.
Kendall tried again. "Did Mom call?"
"Oh, yeah," replied Logan. "She said she's stuck in traffic, so her and Katie won't be back for a while." He nodded towards the kitchen. "Carlos is handling dinner."
Just the mention of the word had Kendall's stomach rumbling. It was nearly eight o'clock, and he had last eaten at lunchtime. Usually Mrs. Knight prepared the evening meal, but she had taken Katie out on a 'mother-daughter bonding adventure' to do some shopping. Kendall had spent a good portion of the afternoon hanging out with Jo, and had found out upon glancing at the screen of his neglected cell phone that he had a missed call from his mom.
"Okay, two on two," James said, changing the subject. He restarted the match settings of his and Logan's game as he spoke. "Me and Kendall versus Logan and Carlos, a.k.a., the losing team."
Kendall instantly accepted the challenge, snatching a controller from the coffee table and plopping down on the couch. "Oh yeah." He called to the boy in the kitchen. "Carlos, get in here and play."
Carlos said nothing. His nose remained squished against the exterior of the oven, palms flat against the surface. Knowing Carlos's short attention span, Kendall wondered how Carlos was possibly managing to keep his gaze so solely fixed upon an object for such a lengthy period of time.
"Come on," Logan urged. "With my tactical game play and your… spontaneous grenade-throwing, they won't stand a chance."
"I am so hungry," Carlos said monotonously.
Unfortunately for him, the boys were not going to take 'no' as an acceptable answer. With a smirk and a nod of his head, Kendall wordlessly commanded James and Logan to fetch their friend in the connecting room. The two exchanged knowing glances before marching up to Carlos, each seizing an arm and forcibly peeling it away from the appliance Carlos was situated in front of.
"Noooo," he whined, effortlessly being lifted from his knees. "The package says they need to cook for fourteen minutes, and they've been in there for eight minutes and forty-nine seconds! Well, it's probably, like, nine minutes now. I mean nine minutes and one second. Two seconds. Three. Four. Five. Six…"
His heels scraped the floor as he was dragged by Logan and James into the living room. With a small shove to get him to sit, Carlos was placed beside Kendall on the couch and had a controller promptly thrust into his hands.
"The battle has begun!" James declared dramatically, starting the game.
Carlos seemed to completely forget about his corndogs and tater tots the moment James's words were uttered. The boys' virtual characters darted all directions, firing laser guns at each other and detonating explosives. The apartment was alive with noise, not just from the blaring television, but from the string of sardonic jeers spilling from James's competitive mouth, and from the witty retorts Logan shot back, all in good fun, of course. Carlos quickly recovered from the temporary trauma of being literally pulled away from his beloved dinner and joined in on the fun, laughing continuously at Logan and James's incessant bickering while still attempting to maneuver his character.
It always amazed Kendall how entranced the four could become when faced with something colorful and violent, like videogames. Soon they were oblivious to everything around them except for killing each other on screen. Kendall was enjoying himself thoroughly, and time completely escaped him.
It wasn't until a harsh odor assaulted his nose that he glanced over into the kitchen. He gasped and fumbled for the 'start' button on his controller, pausing the game. "Oven on fire!" he cried, pointing.
Carlos gasped loudly and bolted to his feet. "Ah!" he screamed, diving over Kendall in his attempts to get off the couch. Kendall caught a foot to the face before Carlos flopped off his lap and landed on the floor, rolled a few times, then picked himself up. Kendall shook off the stinging on his cheek and rushed behind his friend, Logan and James following closely behind.
Thick, black clouds rolled out of the oven. Carlos fearlessly yanked open the door, yelping and withdrawing his hand when orange flames lashed out at him. Kendall grabbed the sleeve of Carlos's shirt and tugged him away from the oven, just incase Carlos, in his state of panic, didn't have enough sense to remember that fire was hot. Because that happened one time.
"What do we do?" James coughed, waving his hand in the air.
Before Kendall could propose a plan, Logan was parting his way through the group and halting in front of the oven, fire extinguisher in hand. Cold foam squirted from the black tube, coating the inside of the oven in a matter of seconds. The flames disappeared, and with a final squirt, the smoke ceased wafting out as well.
Logan stood stationary for a moment, staring at what he had just done. Normally he was the last person to step up and take charge. Kendall squeezed Logan's shoulder appreciatively. "Nice," he said.
Logan nodded, breathing a sigh of relief.
A high-pitched cry came from Carlos as he fell to his knees, reaching out to the charred nubs remaining on the blackened tray. His moment of pity was gone as quickly as it came, and he whipped around to his three friends. "Now what are we going to eat?"
Kendall coughed a few times before answering, clearing the remaining smoke from his lungs. "Fun Burger?"
The restaurant was a good fifteen minutes away by foot, and once most of the smoke had been fanned out of the apartment, the boys were on their way. The sky was already purpling, and upon squinting, Kendall noticed a few tiny stars dotting above. Carlos led the way down the sidewalk, endlessly jabbering since the four had left.
"If you guys would have just let me watch my corndogs, none of this would have happened," he ranted. "But oooh no, you had to make me play that stupid game." He stuck a finger at Kendall and James. "Which, by the way, me and Logan were owning you at."
Kendall groaned, stuffing his hands into his jacket pockets as he walked. He knew as soon as they arrived at their destination Carlos would shut up, but it was hard to be patient sometimes.
"Uh, no," James replied, stepping beside Carlos, "I believe it was Kendall and I who were about to be the victors."
Carlos gave James a semi-playful shove to the shoulder. "Were not! Right, Logan?"
"Please leave me out of this," Logan moaned.
Kendall chuckled to himself.
The taller boy returned Carlos's gesture, nudging him to the side. "Were too."
"Were not." Carlos smacked James on the chest.
"Ow! Were too!"
With every shout back and fourth a light punch was being thrown. Until, that is, the Latino let out a scream and lunged forward, tossing his body on top of James in hopes of wrestling him to the ground. James cried out and stumbled from the weight of Carlos practically on his back, then thrashed left to right to throw him off.
Kendall and Logan stopped and instinctively took a step backwards. Kendall could faintly understand what his fighting friends were shouting to each other, only being able to make out bits of broken sentences.
"Woah!" Logan suddenly cried. "Road, road!"
Kendall gasped and hustled ahead, grabbing a firm hold of the collar of Carlos's shirt and yanking him away from James, who was being tugged forward by Logan. They had been dangerously close to the curb, almost toppling onto the busy street.
Carlos and James were glowering at one another as Kendall and Logan separated them. "What have we told you about fighting near the street?" Kendall chided.
Carlos looked at his feet. "To not to," he said sheepishly.
Kendall heaved a sigh and cast his green eyes to the road, taking note of the traffic that flew past. A black car rolled by, much slower than the rest of the vehicles. For a second or two Kendall stared after it, wondering if the driver was somebody he knew. When the car proceeded to turn a corner, he shrugged it off and refocused his attention to his friends.
They continued en route to Fun Burger, James smoothing out a disheveled lock of hair and Carlos struggling to straighten the collar of his shirt. Logan walked between the two, eyeing them cautiously to make sure they didn't start at it again and fling themselves off the curb.
A light breeze drifted past, causing goose bumps to prick the back of Kendall's neck. He burrowed his hands further into his pockets. By LA standards, the sixty-five degree weather was a bit chilly for this time of year. If Kendall was back in Minnesota, sixty-five would be a heat wave. He'd be enjoying his time outside in shorts and a tank top, no doubt having a squirt gun fight with the guys. His time in California had softened him to the effects of the weather, and in a way, Kendall was bothered.
"Did you know who that was?" Logan suddenly asked.
Kendall was confused. "What?"
Logan nodded towards the street. "That car that drove past."
The blond craned his neck, eyes immediately falling on a slow-paced vehicle just ahead. It was the same car he had seen moments earlier. "I couldn't tell," replied Kendall, though he hadn't gotten a decent look of the driver.
Fun Burger finally came into view, and Carlos promptly broke out into a run, proclaiming his hunger for the world to hear yet again. Logan laughed and shook his head as he bounded after his friend, Kendall and James giving in and jogging behind.
Carlos flung open the restaurant door, nearly shattering the tiny bell that jingled upon his entering. He dove into the nearest booth and scooted against the wall, placing his palms flat on the table.
Kendall, Logan and James took their time, entering and sitting at a leisurely pace. Kendall himself was eager to get a burger in front of him, but his self control was stronger than Carlos's.
Fun Burger was a nice place to eat. Red, vinyl booths spanned against the checkered walls, with a few tables cluttering the center of the eatery. The fifties-styled diner was abuzz with upbeat music, despite the fact that the boys were the only costumers inside. The place was unusually empty.
Logan slid into the booth next to Carlos, with James and Kendall seating themselves on the other side. As soon as they were settled, a uniformed waitress appeared carrying a bundle of menus.
"Burger and fries," the boys all said in unison.
The young girl raised her eyebrows, shrugged, and twirled back around. She disappeared behind the front counter, no doubt informing the cooks of the boys' orders.
Carlos slumped his head down, forehead smacking into the table. "I am so hungry."
"We know," muttered Logan. "You've told us ten times."
James clutched a hand over his stomach. "I'm starving, too," he said. Then he turned to Kendall. "What about you? Did you catch a bite with Jo?"
Kendall shook his head. "No, our movie was at six, and we didn't think to eat before that." As if on cue, his stomach growled.
"Ooh!" Carlos's head snapped up. "I have an idea. Let's play a game."
"Like what?" asked Logan.
"Um." Carlos thought it over for a few moments. " 'Would you rather?' "
"Fire away," said James.
Carlos put a hand on his chin, pondering. Playing a game wasn't actually a bad idea, because if Carlos wasn't occupied soon, he may start shoveling uneatable objects into his mouth to alleviate his gnawing hunger. It had happened one time when the boys were seven, and Carlos ended up going to the emergency room for swallowing one of Logan's toy Matchbox cars. Carlos hadn't done anything in the likes since that day, but nine years later it was still a worry etched in the back of Kendall's brain.
"Okay," he finally said. "Would you rather go a whole year without seeing a girl, or a whole year living with Gustavo?"
Silence descended upon the table as each boy carefully contemplated the options.
"That's…" Kendall began.
"Too hard," James finished.
Logan shook his head. "They're both so torturous."
Amusement glinted in Carlos's eyes as he awaited an answer. Kendall could practically hear the Jeopardy! theme play.
"What would you pick?" Logan asked the Latino after several moments of deep concentration.
Carlos shrugged his shoulders. "I asked you first."
Thankfully, the question was quickly forgotten when the waitress reappeared, balancing a large tray on her shoulder. She skillfully lowered the burgers onto the table plate by plate. Carlos instantly dove in, and Kendall hoped his friend remembered to breathe.
When the waitress wished them an enjoyable meal and left, Kendall grabbed hold of his warm dinner and took a big bite, chewing slowly. Logan popped a few ketchup-doused French fries into his mouth, James hasted in removing the pickles from underneath his bun, and Carlos ravaged his burger like a wild animal.
Kendall glanced up when a light jingling filled his ears. Two men stepped into the restaurant. Their eyes surveyed the interior of the building, landing on Kendall. He looked away, finding eye contact with strangers awkward. As Kendall took a second bite, he couldn't help but notice that the men seated themselves at the booth on the other side of Big Time Rush, in spite of the rest of Fun Burger being completely void of customers.
"Seven-hundred calories have never tasted so good," James murmured through a mouthful of food. He reached up to wipe a spot of grease from the corner of his mouth with his finger.
Logan nodded his head, too absorbed in consuming his fries to voice a response. Surprisingly, Carlos managed to mumble an incoherent sentence around the cheeseburger to his lips.
Most of the meal was eaten quietly, as four hungry teenage boys had no interest speaking to one another when the 'funnest' burgers in town were in front of them. Kendall had made his way through half his meal when Carlos finally said something.
They all peered at his plate and saw that it was indeed spotless.
"How?" Logan asked incredulously. He himself had only just finished his fries. Logan always ate the food on his plate one thing at a time, Kendall noticed. Now that Logan's French fries were gone, he'd start on his burger.
Carlos opened his mouth to answer. However, his face suddenly scrunched up and he put a hand over his chest, belching loudly and rudely. Kendall, James and Logan all laughed, earning a few head-turns from the bored workers resting at the front counter.
As their stomachs began to fill, conversation started up again. "So? Have you guys decided yet?" wondered Carlos.
The friends in question sighed. "Carlos," said Logan, "no one can possibly choose between those things."
"Okay, fine," relented Carlos. "Um… Who would win in a fight? Freight Train, or that guy who stands behind the Palm Woods and tries to sell expired coupon books?"
"Freight Train, definitely," Kendall said without hesitation.
"Freight Train," James agreed.
Logan nodded. "Yup."
Carlos raised his eyebrows. "Hey, Coupon Guy could put up a fight. Paper cuts hurt, dude."
Kendall chuckled as he rose to his feet.
"Where're you going?" said James.
He gestured to the corner of the building. "Bathroom." Kendall left the table when Logan began discussing what their plans for tomorrow were. As Kendall crossed the room to get to the restrooms, he thought about his own schedule for the next day. Gustavo had given the boys a rare day off, and what was even more atypical was that Jo was free, too. Kendall and his girlfriend had plans to meet up for lunch, which most likely consisted of a romantic picnic in the park.
The thought of Jo lighted a small smile upon his face. He pushed open the door to the bathroom and did his business. As Kendall approached a sink he realized he would pick living with Gustavo for a year over a year without girls - more specifically, a year without Jo.
He squirted a dime-sized amount of soap into his hands as the door to the room opened. The two men entered, Kendall offering a friendly smile and a nod when he looked up. He didn't think anything of it when the bubbles were rinsed from his hands and the guys were still standing stationary. He failed to notice one of the men, a skinny, spiky-haired guy, maneuver past him to a sink on the opposite end of the line.
Kendall turned off the running faucet and reached for a paper towel with dripping hands. When they were dried decently, he started towards the door. Only then did it hit him that the burly, thick-muscled man blocking the way was a bit suspicious.
"Uh, excuse me," Kendall said, trying to be polite.
Suddenly, a rough hand seized his forearm. Kendall let out a startled gasp, instinctively curling a fist at his side. His efforts were useless when a second grip clasped around his wrist and yanked him backwards with a violent tug.
His heart nearly leaped out of his chest from the abrupt force, mind whirling to comprehend what was happening. He was just about to slam an elbow into the body pressing against his backside when the stranger guarding the door gave a malevolent smirk. Kendall's blood ran cold when the man lifted the tail of his black shirt to reveal a pistol held by the waistline of his jeans.
Still squirming uncomfortably in the other's hold, Kendall opened his mouth to cry out for help. His fist twitched and quivered with desire to fight away the freak behind him. But dumbfounded shock prevented him from functioning in the way he wished.
Kendall's face reddened and he shuddered when he registered a voice in his ear. It was that dark, venomous tone from the spiky-haired man that had hot fear pounding through Kendall's body: "I wouldn't scream if I were you."