A/N: Written for a kind of accidental post made by Katie (WHO IS RUINING MY LIFE) over on Tumblr. It was originally meant to be short and simple and fluffy but um. Ten thousand words of ridiculously elaborate plot later, I think it's safe to say that I failed that pretty epically. It's still stupidly fluffy, though, so if you start feeling vaguely queasy while reading this, I've warned you. There's also a little not-quite-background Kendall/Logan in there somewhere, too, as well as a lot of OT4 friendship.

PS: I own nothing. Title is from Pixie Lott's Hold Me In Your Arms.

and when i'm lying here and you are holding me, i know the fear in me will pass
pixie lott, "hold me in your arms"

i: because Carlos' mom is scary

Carlos meets James when they're both seven years old.

He and Kendall are playing an intense game of one-on-one hockey at the rink, (even though Carlos' mom thinks they're playing football in the park, because she thinks Carlos is too small to play hockey, but Kendall thinks hockey is the best sport ever so Carlos thinks so too because Kendall is his best friend), and Carlos is throwing himself into it with more enthusiasm than skill, inches away from scoring his first goal, when the door to the rink slams open and shut, and Carlos looks up, terrified, so sure it's his mom come to bust him—

—it isn't.

It's another boy. He's taller than both Carlos and Kendall and he's kind of pretty, Carlos thinks, with the softest-looking brown hair he has ever seen and big brown eyes and pink cheeks.

Kendall slams into Carlos, and Carlos goes crashing down onto the cold, hard ice.

"Pay attention," Kendall says, grumpily, and reaches a hand down to haul Carlos back up.

"Sorry," Carlos replies and, the minute he's steady on his skates again, slides across the ice to where the other boy is watching them. Kendall shouts something after him, but Carlos ignores him. He stops with both hands on the railing right in front of the other boy and grins. "Hi. I'm Carlos."

"I'm James," the other boy says. He's even prettier up close. "You're not very good at that."

Carlos glares. "That's mean," he says, crossing his arms over his chest defensively.

James shrugs. "I used to play hockey back home," he says. He sounds a little snotty, Carlos thinks, and his eyelashes look girly. "I'm way better than you are."

"Oh, yeah?" Carlos is kind of furious, because this boy is a jerk. "Prove it."

James almost sounds bored when he says, "Sure." He drops his bag onto the floor and pulls out a pair of really nice-looking blue skates. There's something written on the sides in white, but it's upside down from where Carlos is standing and it takes him a while, (and a good deal of squinting), to make out the words J. Diamond. He snorts. James looks up at him, one skate on and the other in his hand. "What?"

"Your last name is Diamond?" Carlos asks, because he can't help it. "That's stupid."

James' eyes flash and then he's standing on the ice in front of Carlos, almost a head taller and glaring down at him, mouth a tight, white line. "Diamonds are the superstars of jewels and I'm going to be a superstar, too, so shut up."

Kendall is next to Carlos now, and he looks annoyed, hands on his hips and pouting. "What's going on?" he asks. "Carlos, I thought we were playing hockey. Who's this?"

"This jerk is James Diamond and he says he's better at hockey than I am," Carlos answers, "even though his name is stupid."

"You're stupid," James growls, and then Carlos is on his back on the ice with James on top of him, and they're rolling around and tugging at each others' clothes and hair and anything they can reach, and Carlos is so angry, because James is an asshole for no reason and Carlos was just trying to be nice to the, (still kind of pretty), new boy because his mom taught him to be nice to people.

He doesn't even really know how long they roll around on the ice, but it's long enough that his fingers start to go numb and his toes butt starts to prickle uncomfortably from the cold. It's long enough that Kendall gets bored and skates back to the nets to practice his aim, long enough that Carlos is freezing and a little dizzy from all of the tugging back and forth.

They don't stop until his mom's voice shouts, "Carlos Garcia, what are you doing?" and Carlos stills instantly, fingers curled tight in the fabric of James' sweater, and hides his face in James' collar.

"Oh, no," he whispers, because this is bad; he's playing hockey and he's fighting, two things he is not allowed to do ever, and his mom is going to kill him.

Kendall is back at their side, then, twitching anxiously, as Carlos' mom strides across the ice in her boots, hands on her hips. "It's not Carlos' fault, Mrs. Garcia," he tries, hesitantly, but Carlos knows his mom won't accept that as an excuse.

He's going to be grounded forever.

Except then James stands up, dusts ice off his jeans, and holds out his hand for Carlos' mom to shake. "Hello, I'm James Diamond," he says, politely, smiling brightly. "I'm new in town, and Carlos and—"

He looks at Kendall, blankly, and Kendall supplies, "Kendall," obviously confused.

"Right, Kendall," James laughs. "I'm so bad at names," he confides to Carlos' mom, and when Carlos dares look at her face, she looks completely and totally charmed by James' blinding smile. James continues, confidently, "Anyway, Carlos and Kendall were just showing me around a little, and I was the one who wanted to play hockey. Carlos said he wasn't allowed, but I begged him, because I really love hockey, so he was just being friendly. It was all my fault, and I'm very sorry."

He's going to get yelled at. Carlos knows it. His mom is going to shout at him and James is going to hate him forever because he called him a jerk and got him yelled at by his mom. Carlos knows it, because that's just how life goes for him.

Only, Carlos' mom doesn't yell. Instead, she says, "Oh," and then, "Well. I guess, if he was showing you around, it's okay this one time," and, finally, "Just try not to hurt yourselves too badly, and you can stay for another hour or so before Carlos needs to come home for dinner, okay?"

Carlos is on his feet in a second, grabbing on to James' arm for purchase, and gaping after his mom's retreating form, before turning his wide eyes on James. James looks kind of smug and also kind of embarrassed. "Dude," Carlos breathes, "that was awesome."

James' smile is dazzling, all straight white teeth and bright eyes. "That was nothing," he says, picking up Carlos' discarded hockey stick and tapping it against the ice a few times. "Wait until you see me play hockey. That's awesome."

Carlos laughs. James is pretty cool, he thinks. James can stay.


ii: because bullies are scary

It's almost a year later, and Kendall is turning eight in only a few weeks, and his parents are letting him invite the entire hockey team over for the biggest, wildest, craziest birthday party ever, and Carlos is super excited because all the awesome things in life always happen when he's over at the Knights', and throwing in birthday cake and the rest of the hockey team is bound to make it all that more awesome.

They're in Kendall's room, Kendall's toy racing track covering most of the floor, the two of them flat on their stomachs as they race each other with the tiny, remote-controlled cars that Kendall collects. Carlos is winning, because he's that awesome, and Kendall is frowning, because he's a bad loser, and when Carlos lets out a victory whoop and nudges Kendall with his shoulder, Kendall pouts furiously and huffs, "Well, I'm not inviting James to my birthday party, so there."

"But—" Carlos gapes, and he then hits Kendall's shoulder. "You can't, he's on the team! That would be mean, Kendall."

Kendall glares at the carpet. "I don't want him there, so I'm not inviting him," he insists, stubbornly, and he won't look at Carlos as he says it. "He's stupid and selfish and I don't like him, and it's my birthday, and if he's there, he'll make it all about him and he'll ruin it."

It's not a secret that Kendall and James don't get along. Carlos doesn't understand why, because they both like hockey and video games and they're both really awesome, so they should like each other, but they never have. Ever since James moved to Minnesota and joined the hockey team, they've been at each other's throats any chance they get. It makes Carlos kind of sad; they're his two best friends in the world, and he hates that they don't even try to get along. He doesn't get it, because Kendall is always really nice to everyone, everyone except James, and James isn't nice to very many people, really, but he's extra mean to Kendall, and it all sucks, basically.

Carlos had kind of been hoping that maybe they would finally give each other a chance at Kendall's birthday party and realize that they totally should be friends, but if Kendall isn't even inviting James, then James will be the only boy on the team not invited that will only make him hate Kendall even more than he does already.

"You have to invite him," Carlos tries, a little desperately. "You're the captain and you can't invite everyone else and not him. That's not team spirit!"

Kendall glares at Carlos, then, and Carlos shrinks away from his angry face. "If he's so important to you, then maybe I won't invite you, either!" Kendall shouts.

Carlos wants to cry, but he bites the insides of his cheeks and swallows it down. "Maybe you shouldn't," he replies, angrily, because if Kendall wants to be a stupid idiot, then Carlos isn't going to stop him. "Maybe I don't want to go to your stupid birthday party anyway!"

"Well, maybe I don't want to be your best friend anymore!" Kendall says, then, and he's standing up now, arms crossed over his chest and glaring down at Carlos, and Carlos stands up too so he can look right at him when he adds, "Maybe you should just go to James instead. Maybe I don't care!"

There's a part of Carlos that wants to stay and do something—shout some more, maybe tell Kendall he's being a loser and that of course Carlos still wants to come to the birthday and, please, won't he forgive him, please?—but he's afraid he'll really start crying if he stays any longer, so he says, thickly, "Maybe I will!" and then he's storming out of Kendall's room, down the stairs, and out of the house, door slamming behind him, and he runs all the way home.


Kendall catches up to him before school the next day and says, in a rush, words tumbling over each other, "I'm sorry for yesterday, I didn't mean it, I still want you to be my best friend and I don't want you to not come to my party and I don't want to be in a fight with you, so can we please be friends again?" and Carlos nods, and it feels like he can breathe again.

He asks, hesitantly, "Is James still not invited?"

Kendall scuffs his dirty shoes against the ground. "I don't know," he answers, petulantly. "Mom says that I should invite him because otherwise it isn't fair, but I don't want to." He looks at Carlos, then, uncertainly. "You'll still come, though, right?"

"Yeah," Carlos says, and then adds, quickly, "But you should invite James, Kendall. James is awesome, and if you would just—"

"No," Kendall interrupts, a little fierce, and he's glaring at the ground, hands in his pockets. "James isn't awesome, he's a thief. You were my best friend first, and it isn't fair that he comes and steals you away. What's so special about him, anyway? He's a jerk."

Carlos isn't sure he understands what Kendall is saying, but he says, "You're still my best friend, dude," and feels a little lighter when Kendall smiles, small and reluctant, but there. "James is my other best friend, though."

"I know," Kendall sighs. "Mom said that it isn't fair that I get mad at you for having other friends." Carlos secretly thinks that Mrs. Knight is super smart, but he doesn't say anything. Kendall scrunches up his nose, like he's smelled something bad. "I guess I'll stop being mad at you for playing with him sometimes," he allows, "but I'm still not inviting him to my party."

And Carlos doesn't want to fight, so he grins at Kendall and lets it go. He'll make Kendall and James like each other eventually. He has to. Kendall has been his best friend since forever, and James is—James is amazing. He's funny and always knows the best pranks and he's always up for whatever Carlos comes up with and he never, ever says no, and he's still the prettiest person Carlos knows, even prettier than Sophia from their class, who is definitely the prettiest girl in the world.


Jonah Henley is the captain of the peewee hockey team. He's a sixth grader with a huge nose and jaw, and he's always scowling at everybody. Carlos is a little scared of him, actually; he's a bully and he doesn't like Carlos much. Carlos doesn't know why, because he's never done anything to him, but ever since Carlos became goalie for the mite hockey team this year, he's been going out of his way to make life hard for Carlos.

He doesn't do anything when Kendall is around, because Kendall is captain of the mite hockey team and even Jonah Henley knows better than to mess with him unless he wants to get kicked off his own hockey team. But Carlos is alone, waiting for James to finish fixing his hair in the bathroom, (one of his teachers mussed it up when he got a good grade on a test earlier in the day, and James hates it when his hair is messy), and he knows from the minute he sees Jonah and his friends from the peewee hockey team come around the corner that something bad is going to happen.

Jonah stops in front of Carlos, who is sitting on the stone railing in front of the school, and smirks down at him. Carlos looks at his feet, hanging over the edge of the railing and not quite reaching the ground. He wishes James would hurry up.

Jonah grabs his backpack and throws it down the stairs. Carlos' books scatter on the steps. He bites his lip and doesn't say anything. Jonah pulls his helmet off his head, and Carlos makes a desperate grab for it, but Jonah is too tall. "What are you going to do now, baby?" he taunts, holding Carlos' helmet over his head. His friends are laughing. "Are you going to cry?"

Carlos bites his lip harder. He's not going to cry.

Jonah hands the helmet to one of his friends. Then he pushes at Carlos, and Carlos grabs onto the edges of the railing so he doesn't fall off. "Are you scared, baby?" Jonah asks, shoving a little at Carlos again, and Carlos feels his heart hammer in his throat as he thinks of how far the fall behind him is, (a few feet, nothing more, but enough that it'll hurt falling down it, especially without helmet to protect him), and he's squeezing his eyes shut and trembling a little, terrified, and Jonah laughs loudly and pushes him again, fingers clenching in the material of Carlos' shirt.


It's James' voice.

Carlos opens his eyes and James is standing next to Jonah, hands on his hips and glaring fiercely, his eyes dark and stormy, and Carlos has never been this happy to see James before. James marches over and squeezes himself in between Jonah and Carlos, and Carlos grabs onto the back of his shirt and leans his head against his back, heart still hammering. James is a whole head shorter than Jonah, but he doesn't look scared. He just looks pissed off.

"What do you want, Diamond?" Jonah snarls, impatiently, but James doesn't move. He doesn't even flinch. He reaches a hand back and pats Carlos' arm, awkward because of the angle but it still makes Carlos breathe easier. Jonah narrows his eyes. "You think I'm scared of you?"

"I don't know," James replies, and his voice isn't shaking at all. "You think I'm scared of you?"

"You should be," Jonah says, but Carlos thinks he sounds a little less scary now, like maybe he's a little confused that things aren't going the way he expected them to. "I could beat you and your little boyfriend up without breaking a sweat."

James scoffs. His hand on Carlos' arm tightens a little. "You wouldn't dare," he says. "My mom is Brooke Diamond and she'll have you kicked out of school if you hurt me or Carlos. You can forget all about hockey, too."

Jonah looks uncertain. "Hiding behind your mommy?" he asks, and Carlos thinks it's probably supposed to be taunting, but everyone knows who Brooke Diamond is, and everyone knows that she is one scary, determined woman. Carlos grins into James' back. Jonah rolls his eyes. "Whatever," he says, then, and pushes Carlos' helmet at James' chest. "You're not worth it."

Carlos waits until they're gone before he comes out from where he's hiding behind James. "Thanks," he says, beaming up at James, and James smiles back and hands him his helmet. Carlos puts it on and taps it twice, a habit he's picked up lately, and walks down the steps to collect his books.

James follows. "I'm sorry you were scared," he says, softly, as he hands over the last of Carlos' books. He's frowning and not meeting Carlos' eyes, and Carlos blinks.

"I wasn't scared," he says, automatically, even though there's really no way he can deny the fact that he was. He shrugs his bag onto his shoulders and shifts on his feet. "But, um. Thank you."

James shrugs, too, still not looking at Carlos. "You're my best friend," he says, simply, as if that explains everything. Maybe it does. Carlos isn't sure, but he's young. He thinks maybe he'll figure it out when he gets older.


Kendall invites James to his birthday party. When Carlos asks what made him change his mind, Kendall looks very serious when he says, "I heard what he said to Jonah Henley, and anyone who stands up for you to that jerk is a good guy in my book."

Carlos doesn't realize it at the time, and he doesn't think about it again until many years later, when they're in L.A. and Kendall and James are fighting over something stupid, but Kendall and James are friends because, at age almost-eight, they decided that fighting over Carlos when all they both really just wanted was for him to be happy was stupid.


iii: because horror movies are scary

They're twelve years old and Kendall brings a horror movie to their weekly Movie Night for the first time. He hides it in his bag when he leaves so his mom won't see, and he clutches his bag tightly when he arrives at Carlos' house so Carlos' parents won't see, either. They're too young to watch horror movies, (it's rated R, and they're not even allowed to watch PG-13 movies on their own yet), and their parents would kill them if they knew, but Kendall's been talking about wanting to try watching one for weeks and they're all a little bit too curious to stop him when he puts it on, long after Carlos' parents have gone to sleep and left the four of them to their own devices.

It starts off fine.

There are a couple of high school kids camping in the woods and it's actually kind of boring, really, with way too much romance, (except that Carlos' stomach maybe kind of secretly flutters a little at the way the blonde girl and the quarterback look at each other and smile), and not enough action.

Until one of the kids gets kidnapped and slaughtered by a man in an utterly horrifying mask.

Carlos yelps and ducks behind his pillow. James laughs, low in his throat, and Carlos' stomach does a terrifying somersault at the sound. It's a pretty common feeling, when he's around James, has been pretty much since the first time he saw James, but he's starting to think that maybe it isn't actually all that normal.

Because James and Kendall are starting to talk about pretty girls and how they make them feel, and sometimes Carlos thinks that that sounds kind of similar to how he feels around James.

He ignores it. Instead, he reaches out and punches James in the stomach. "Shut up," he hisses, and James is wheezing and laughing, rubbing his stomach. Carlos pulls the pillow away from his face and looks back at the screen. The high school kids are walking around the forest, calling out for their missing friend. "I was just surprised," he insists, stubbornly, and punches James again when James laughs.

The music coming from the television is freaking him out a little. The red-haired girl disappears into thin air as the music swells. Carlos tugs at his pillow, wants to cover his eyes, heart hammering in his throat, but he doesn't. He doesn't want James and Kendall and Logan to think he's a baby.

Next to him, Logan is frowning at the screen. "That isn't even possible," he huffs, crossing his arms over his chest and shifting in his seat. "People can't just disappear like that."

On Logan's other side, Kendall rolls his eyes. "Stop ruining it, Logan," he pouts.

"But it's—" Logan starts, with obvious intent, but Kendall covers his mouth with a hand and shakes his head, all without looking away from the screen. Logan pushes his hand off. "Fine," he says, "I won't say anything. But it's still stupid," he adds under his breath, and Carlos kind of wants him to keep talking, wants him to keep picking the movie apart and making it something ridiculous and unrealistic, because the red-haired girl is being cut into pieces on the screen and Carlos kind of wants to puke or cry or both.

They're back at the campsite, and the music is going crazy, and the kids are freaking out, and Carlos is breathing fast and heavy, fingers clenched tight against his sides, his whole body stiff and unmoving, and then there's the man in the mask again, suddenly, out of nowhere, and Carlos flinches violently and grabs onto James' bicep on instinct, fingers curling into the sleeve of James' shirt as he closes his eyes and waits for it to be over.

James doesn't laugh at him this time, and when Carlos finally opens his eyes, James' eyes are flicking from the television screen down to Carlos. "You okay?" he asks, softly, when he sees Carlos' eyes open. Carlos nods, tightly. James frowns. He moves around a little so Carlos is pressed against his side, snug and warm. "It's just a movie, man," he whispers, and Carlos nods again, breathing out deeply, a little easier than before.

Next to them on the couch, Kendall says, teasing, "I thought it was unrealistic and stupid, Logie," and when Carlos looks over, Logan is pale as a ghost and glaring at the screen, determinedly ignoring Kendall. Kendall nudges him with his shoulder. "You're not scared, are you?"

"Of course not," Logan scoffs, but his voice is a little shaky, a little uncertain.

"Whatever you say, Logie," Kendall grins, shaking his head. He keeps his shoulder pressed to Logan's, though, in silent support. Logan doesn't pull away.

Back on the screen, the man in the mask is chasing the blonde girl through the forest and she's screaming and the music is out of control, but Carlos grips James' arm tighter and James scoots a little closer, other hand coming up to hold Carlos' wrist, and Carlos' stomach does that terrifying and exhilarating somersault again. It's still scary and part of Carlos still kind of wants to close his eyes and pretend to not be watching, but he doesn't feel like he's about to throw up or burst into tears anymore, and James is warm and comfortable against his side.


James and Kendall fall asleep first, already passed out in their sleeping bags and snoring softly by the time Carlos gets settled in his bed. Logan is still in the bathroom, fiddling with his braces, and Carlos listens to the sounds of him puttering around in there while he tries to convince himself that no men in any masks are going to come bursting into his room tonight.

"Hey, Logan?" he whispers, when Logan is crawling into his own sleeping bag, and waits for Logan's hmm before he continues, "That movie we watched. Why was it stupid and unrealistic?"

Logan is silent for a moment, as though he's thinking, and then he starts talking. His voice sounds funny because he's wearing his extra night retainer and doesn't have as much room to move his tongue, but his words are confident and steady as he points out the movie's many logical flaws. He doesn't ask why Carlos wants to know, doesn't force Carlos to admit that it's because he thinks that maybe if he listens to Logan pick it apart bit by bit, the same way he does with math and science, maybe he'll actually get some sleep tonight. He probably knows without asking, honestly, because Logan is crazy smart, easily the smartest person Carlos has ever met, but Carlos appreciates that he doesn't mention it.

Eventually, Logan's voice fades away, and Carlos can hear him shuffling in his sleeping bag, as though he's trying to stay awake, and he says, "Goodnight, Logie."

Logan hums. "You know," he says, in the tone of one telling someone a secret, "I was telling myself all of that over and over when we were watching it. Probably would've freaked out if I hadn't."

"Really?" Carlos tries not to sound too hopeful, but he can't help it. It's not that he wants Logan to have been scared, but it's kind of nice knowing that he wasn't the only one. Especially since James and Kendall both seemed to think it was way cool.

"Mmmh," Logan hums, and Carlos can hear him yawning in the darkness. "I'm pretty sure there's a reason those movies are rated R." He sighs, sniffles, and it's all familiar noise to Carlos, the sounds of Logan about to fall asleep. "But at least Kendall and James liked it, right?"

"Yeah," Carlos agrees, quietly. "James—"

He trails off, unsure what he wanted to say. James made it better seems dumb, James kept me safe seems even dumber, and Carlos doesn't even want to think about how Logan would react to James was probably the only reason I didn't puke all over you.

But Logan says, soft and more asleep than awake, "You think James is pretty amazing, huh?" and adds, before Carlos can panic and deny it, "It's cool. I mean. I don't care if you like boys or girls or just James, it's. Whatever, right?"

"Right," Carlos agrees, shakily, and Logan hums contentedly, snuffles a little, and then his breathing evens out. It's too dark to see anything, but Carlos knows he's asleep. Carlos rolls onto his back and stares up at his ceiling, heart beating too fast again.

He very determinedly does not think about what Logan said until he falls asleep himself.


iv: because growing up is scary

Being fourteen is terrifying.

Everything is changing. His body, his voice, his thoughts, his friends, his life. Everything.Kendall and James are both getting stupidly tall, and James spends way too much time on his hair and face and he works out every day, even on the days they have hockey, and Logan has started reading a lot, these boring as all hell textbooks about physics or math, or stuffy novels with way too many run-on sentences written by Russians way before they were even born, and Kendall has a job stocking shelves at the supermarket which takes up all of the time he isn't playing hockey so sometimes it feels like they're spending all their time there, and Carlos' voice is changing and he spends most of his time feeling awkward and smelly and terrified that he's going to pop a boner in front of his friends or his teachers or his parents.

And as though that wasn't stressful enough on its own, he also has to start high school.

High school.

The place of horror and terror and everything that makes the lives of teenage movie heroes everywhere a living hell. Carlos always thought those people in the movies were being melodramatic, (he learned that word from Logan at age ten-and-a-bit, because Logan was always calling James it. He still does that, actually), and should just stop letting everything get to them so much, but he's starting to see where they're coming from. Because being a teenager is hard enough on its own, with all of the thoughts and feelings and things that come along with it. Is it really necessary to put them through high school at the same time, too?


"It's called proper education," Logan says, when Carlos asks him on their first day, "and yes, it is necessary. Stop whining, seriously, you'll be fine. You'll get on the hockey team and no one will mess with you."

Kendall stops walking. "Wait," he says, holding out a hand, and Carlos stops too, looks back at him, confused, because Kendall is frowning at Logan, and Logan is fiddling with the straps of his backpack and not looking at Kendall. "Aren't you joining the hockey team?" Kendall asks.

Logan clears his throat. "Well, you know, I would, but—" He laughs, high-pitched and nervous, almost like a panicky giggle, and looks up at Kendall. "I need to really focus on my grades and stuff, and hockey is an unnecessary distraction from what's really important." He pauses for a moment, before adding, "Which is getting into a good pre-med program at a respectable university."

"But you love hockey," Carlos protests, genuinely confused.

"Oh, um, well, yeah, I like it, sure, but love is such a strong word, you know?" Logan stutters, awkwardly.

Kendall grabs his shoulders. "Logan," he says, firmly. "What's going on?"

"Why do you think anything's going on?" Logan asks, and it would be a lot more convincing if his voice wasn't doing that thing it does when he's lying, where it gets all high and nasal and it almost sounds like he doesn't know whether he wants to laugh or cry. "Nothing's going on. Pffft."

"Logan," Kendall repeats, shaking him a little.

Logan sighs. "I just don't think I'll have time for hockey if I want to get into a good college," he says, softly, and pulls out of Kendall's grip. "I'll miss it, sure, but my education is more important." He starts walking towards the school, barely looking over his shoulder to call, "Coming?" back at them. Carlos looks at Kendall and James. Kendall is still frowning. James shrugs.

They follow Logan into the school, and Carlos forgets all about Logan's weird behavior when he sees the building looming in front of him, huge and intimidating and his life for the next four years.


Carlos is sitting cross-legged on his bed, music blaring from his crappy boom box, frowning helplessly at his algebra homework, when the door to his room swings open and Kendall marches in, dragging a protesting James after him.

"But I have a date," James is saying, "that I need to get ready for, and—"

"This is more important than your date, James, come on," Kendall insists. It kind of sounds like he's said it before. "This is about Logan. You know. Our best friend."

James rolls his eyes. "So he doesn't want hockey to get in the way of his studies," he huffs, pulling his arm out of Kendall's grasp and straightening his shirt. "What's the big deal? Logan's a nerd. We all know that. I'm sure he'll still go to the games to watch us play and we can still go out for burgers afterwards, so stop making such a big deal out of it."

"But Logan loves playing hockey." Kendall looks like he's only moments away from stomping his feet like a child. Carlos is still sitting on his bed, cross-legged, blinking at his two friends who have yet to actually acknowledge his presence, despite it being them who came to him. "Besides, you heard him when we asked him about it. He was lying." Kendall spins around to look at Carlos. "Right?"

"I think so," Carlos answers, because he isn't actually sure—Logan does a lot of weird things when it comes to school—but Kendall's right, it had sounded like Logan was lying to them.

James sighs, dramatically, and plops down on Carlos' bed. His left foot lands in Carlos' lap, haphazardly. Carlos' heart pounds stupidly. His crush on James hasn't gotten any better since he was twelve and finally admitted to himself that Logan had probably been right, (Logan usually is), a few days after their whispered conversation in the dark. It's hard to get over someone like James, (and, admittedly, Carlos isn't especially trying to get over him, either).

"All right, fine," James concedes, "something's up. I'm not going to cancel my date for this, but I'll let you have an hour of my prep time, so use it wisely," he tells Kendall, pointing a warning finger at his face, and Kendall bats it away impatiently.

"So," Carlos says, pushing his algebra away from him and sliding back to join James against his headboard, "what are we going to do?"

Kendall's face lights up. "First of all," he starts, in his I have an awesome plan and you are all going to go along with it voice. Carlos loves that voice, because the most amazing things always happen when Kendall has a plan. "We need to figure out what's going on." Kendall hesitates for a moment and looks almost uncertain, as though he's not sure whether saying what he wants to say next is a good idea. He takes a deep breath. "I think it's his parents."

Carlos inhales sharply. "Oh."

It's not exactly a secret that none of them really like Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell all that much. They're not bad people or anything, but they're really strict and they always make Carlos feel like he's doing something wrong, and their house is always so clean, it makes Carlos feel like he's in a hospital. Or a museum, maybe, with all of the expensive-looking antiques all over the place. Carlos has only been there a handful of times in the five years he's known Logan, because Logan prefers to spend most of his time at one of their houses, too.

"That whole speech about hockey being a distraction did sound like something Mr. Mitchell could have said," James agrees, slowly. "But, dude, if his parents don't want him to play hockey, what are we going to do about it?"

"We're going to change their minds," Kendall says, like it's that simple. Like that's all there is to it. Carlos looks at James, and James looks back. James looks as skeptical as Carlos feels. Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell might not be as casually intimidating as James' mom, but there's something about them that always makes Carlos feel uncomfortable.

Still, though. Logan is his friend and he's always been there when Carlos needed him, so Carlos isn't going to chicken out when he needs him.


The next couple of weeks are kind of awful. Hockey tryouts aren't for a while and until he joins the hockey team, Carlos is just another short, awkward freshman, (one who wears a helmet and is maybe a little excessively cheerful sometimes, even), in a sea of vicious upperclassmen who think making fun of the new kids is the best thing ever.

Meanwhile, Kendall and Logan are in a fight because Kendall tried to talk to Logan's parents about hockey and only made everything worse, (but at least now they know for sure that it was his parents' idea in the first place), and James has a girlfriend.

Katie isn't James' first girlfriend, but she is the prettiest. She's got really long, reddish brown hair that she braids in a thick braid that goes all the way down to her waist, and she wears headbands with butterflies in them and flowing summer dresses, and she's tiny and has a cute laugh, and the two of them look ridiculously beautiful together when they walk down the halls of the school, fingers twined together.

(Kendall thinks it's creepy that she has the same name as his little sister because, "it sounds like you're perving on my baby sister, dude", which makes James wrinkle his nose and pretend to shiver, which makes Kendall punch his shoulder, which makes James laugh, every time).

Carlos isn't upset. He has a crush on James, it's true, but he also loves James as a friend and that's way more important than some silly little crush. Katie makes James happy, and that's good enough for Carlos. (Besides, if was going to get upset every time James had a new girlfriend, he'd probably never smile again. James likes girls and girls like James).

It does, however, mean that Carlos is pretty much alone in navigating the treacherous halls of high school and walking the fine line between not pissing off either of his two other best friends, (because Logan is still mad that Kendall went to his parents, and Kendall is mad that Logan is blaming him for making things worse), the first month or so, and he kind of really wishes James was around to help with that, because Carlos isn't good at watching what he says to people.

Which is probably how he ends up accidentally siding with Logan, (all he says is that maybe Kendall should've thought about it before he went barging into Logan's living room and started calling his parents "controlling bastards"). Which is probably how he ends up with his back against the wall and Logan shouting at three juniors wearing letterman jackets in a language that Carlos doesn't even understand.

The three juniors blink at him, confused. "What the hell is that, French?" one of them asks.

"It's Latin, stupidus," Logan replies, tersely. He's vibrating a little; Carlos doesn't think he's seen Logan this pissed since the time their sixth grade math teacher gave him a ninety-six on a test that Logan was convinced he should've had a hundred on and he spent an entire weekend making lists and charts and seriously detailed PowerPoint presentations of reasons why their teacher was an imbecile who obviously didn't know basic math.

They managed to talk him out of actually marching up to their teacher with it, but still.

One of the juniors—who is tall and bulky and has blonde bangs covering his face—raises his eyebrows at Logan, incredulously. "Are you insulting us in Latin?"

Logan says something in Latin that sounds snotty and not very nice, and Carlos flinches. He can already feel how badly this is going to end, and it isn't like he isn't willing to take a beating for his friend—he is completely and totally willing to punch these dicks if they even try to lay a hand on Logan, and he will, too, without hesitation—but both he and Logan are still pretty tiny and Carlos sees broken bones in his future.

Which would be bad because hockey tryouts are in a couple of days, and they're definitely not going to get on the team if they show up with broken arms or legs.

But then James is there, between Logan and the jocks, putting a hand on Logan's chest when Logan tries to shove past him. "What's going on here?" he asks, and his voice is deceptively calm. Carlos remembers the time he stood in front of Jonah Henley in the third grade and how he hadn't been scared at all then, either.

"Your friend here was just signing his own death warrant," the blonde one answers, and it sounds genuinely menacing.

Carlos grabs onto James' shoulder, gripping tight.

Logan's eyes narrow. He opens his mouth to speak, but James silences him with a glare. Then, he turns back to the three juniors. "Look," he says, reasonably, "if you want to beat Logan up, you'll have to go through me and Carlos first, and I'm sure beating up three defenseless freshmen will make you look real good to your coach." He holds his hands out. "It's up to you, man."

For a moment, the three juniors look at each other, and Carlos is a little afraid that they're actually considering living with the consequences, but then the short one with all the freckles says, "Guys, I don't want to get kicked off the team," and Carlos lets out a breath of relief, squeezing James' shoulder a little tighter as they walk off with nothing more than a few cliché comments that Logan better watch himself or else.

Once they're gone, James spins around to face Logan. "What the hell, Logan?" he demands. "Since when do you pick fights with people twice your size?"

Logan crosses his arms over his chest sullenly and stares at the floor beneath his feet. "They were idiots," he grumbles.

James rolls his eyes, hard. "You're an idiot," he retorts. He doesn't sound angry, exactly; Carlos thinks he sounds almost a little scared. It makes something cold settle in his stomach, because James never really gets scared. (Not unless someone is messing with his face, anyway). "Look, I came to tell you that Kendall is in the cafeteria and he's sorry and he misses you and you need to go see him because I can't look at his pathetic face anymore."

Logan looks up at James, and there's a kind of hesitant hope in his face. "He misses me?"

James rolls his eyes, harder. "Duh," he replies and shoves at Logan a little. "So can the two of you please make up now? Because everything is weird when you're not talking to each other."

Logan gives them both a small smile. "Yeah," he agrees. "It is." He takes a deep breath. "So, I guess I'll go talk to him, then," he says, and waits for Carlos and James to nod encouragingly before he walks off, dragging his feet like he's nervous, waving at them as he goes because he's a giant dork.

It's when he and James are alone that Carlos realizes something. "Hey, where's Katie?" he asks.

James slings his arm around Carlos' shoulder. "Don't know, don't care," he says, cheerfully. "She's with her friends somewhere, and I am spending time with my boys today."

Carlos grins. "Sweet," he says, and lets himself be dragged off to the chem lab.


Carlos never finds out what Kendall and Logan talked about when they made up, or what Logan told his parents when he came home, but three days later, all four of them join the hockey team together. Logan is beaming in his hockey gear, that bright, happy grin that automatically makes everyone around him grin back.


That weekend, they gather at Kendall's for another Movie Night, (they're not weekly anymore, because sometimes they have other plans, now—dates or work or homework or life, and Carlos can't remember the last time they had one), and Mrs. Knight makes them dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets and fish fingers and buttered popcorn and lets them drag mattresses and their sleeping bags into her small living room so they can collapse in front of the television whenever they want to.

It's long after midnight and Logan is half-asleep, curled into Kendall's shoulder on the couch, and Kendall is sitting very still. When the film ends, Kendall tosses Carlos a DVD and nods at the television, and Carlos obediently gets up to put it on, because Logan looks comfortable and tired, and forcing him to move just so Kendall can put on another film seems rude.

It's too dark to make out the cover of the movie as he's putting it on, but Carlos recognizes it the minute they get to the DVD menu. It's the same damn horror movie that scared him half to death when he was twelve, and Carlos has watched horror movies since then and he's not afraid of them anymore, (they're actually pretty cool), but he can't help the way his hands get a little clammy, his breath a little shallow.

Part of him will always be a little terrified of this particular movie, no matter how much he logically knows that it isn't even the scariest or goriest movie he's seen.

Halfway through it, Kendall and Logan are both asleep. Logan's head has slipped down to Kendall's chest in an angle that has to be killing his neck, and Kendall's head is lying on the back of the couch as his body curls around Logan's.

Carlos is watching them, something warm simmering in his stomach. Next to him, James shifts a little, and Carlos looks at him. He's watching Kendall and Logan, too. "You think they'll ever figure it out?" he asks, and his voice is soft.

"Figure what out?" Carlos asks, tilting his head back so he can get a better view of James' face in the dark. The light from the television screen reflects off his eyes.

"Them," James answers, waving a hand at their sleeping friends. "That they're—you know. That they're Kendall and Logan. That they're, whatever, meant to be, or something. I don't know." He looks at Carlos. "You think they'll ever figure it out?"

And, suddenly, intensely, Carlos is scared. He's scared, because they're all growing up. He's scared, because they're in high school, and James has girlfriends, and Kendall and Logan will eventually realize what he and James have known since fourth grade, and nothing will ever be the same again. They won't ever be kids again, they won't ever get to hide under their blankets with their favorite stuffed animal again, because they're growing up.

"Litos? You okay?" James asks, hesitantly, and puts a hand on Carlos' shoulder, and that's it, Carlos can't take it anymore, it's like everything that's been building up inside him these past few months finally comes crashing down and he's crying, actually, honest-to-god sobbing for the first time since he was a little kid, and James scoots closer and wraps his arms around him, tightly, and Carlos clings to the front of his shirt and cries into his chest as James makes soothing noises in his ear. "It's okay, dude, it's okay," he says, and then, "I mean, I don't really know what's wrong, but we'll fix it, okay? We'll fix it."

Carlos sniffles, pathetically. "You kind of can't," he mutters, and then jokes, weakly, "Unless you can stop us all growing up, I guess." James makes a noise like he doesn't get it, and Carlos hides his face in James' neck so James can't see his blush when he explains, "It's stupid, it's just—we're in high school and we're growing up and Kendall and Logan—and it won't ever be like it was before, you know? And I know it's stupid—"

"It's not stupid," James interrupts, and Carlos goes quiet. James pulls away from him a little, slides his hands up to Carlos' shoulders, and their faces are close enough together that Carlos can see the serious look on James' face. He feels a little dizzy. "Let's make a pact," James says. "Let's never grow up together." Carlos raises his eyebrows. "I mean it," James insists. His hands are warm and heavy on Carlos' shoulders. "Let's never grow up."

"Okay," Carlos agrees. He's glad it's dark enough that James probably can't see the way his face if flushed with happiness. It's bad enough that he's grinning like an idiot. He can't help it, though. Whenever he gets excited about something, he can't help the way his whole face lights up, or the way he starts bouncing in place. Kendall says it makes him look like a little kid, and Logan sometimes says it's exhausting, but James has never complained, ever, (most of the time, he does exactly the same, even), and Carlos can't help the way he bounces a little in his seat as he repeats, "Okay. Yeah, let's. Let's make a pact."

James' smile is brilliant. "Good." He shoves at Carlos' shoulder and leans back to watch the movie. Carlos copies him. On the screen, they've reached the part where the blonde girl is running through the woods on her own, screaming. It's not so scary anymore. James nudges him with his shoulder. "But at least you're not freaking out over this anymore," he laughs.

Carlos punches him. It feels like the thing to do.


v: because thunderstorms are scary

They've been in L.A. for little over a month, and it's insane.

First of all, it's so hot everywhere. They had to go shopping for new clothes within a week because none of them owned anything that didn't make them almost sweat to death in the L.A. weather. Then there are all the people and they're all so different from the people back in Minnesota, all a little bit crazy and out there, and it makes Carlos feel right at home, in a way he maybe hadn't thought he would so far away from his family.

Plus, living with his three best friends is every bit as awesome as Carlos expected it to be. Sure, they fight a lot, but they've always fought a lot. But now, whenever Carlos has an awesome thought and has to share it with someone, James, Kendall, and Logan are always around to hear it. If he gets bored, (which he doesn't, honestly), he doesn't have to text them and ask if they want to hang out, because they're already right next to him.

The music thing is pretty crazy, too. Carlos never expected to love it the way he does. He thought he'd come, get a couple of months off to record a few demos, and it would be like a vacation but with singing and dancing and helping James achieve his dream, and then he hadn't really thought any further than that, but he does genuinely love it. He loves singing until his throat is raw and dry, loves dancing until he's dripping sweat and every one of his muscles are sore. He's not the type to think about the future the same way Logan and Kendall and James are, (they've had their futures planned out for as long as Carlos can remember—Logan has always wanted to be a doctor, Kendall has always wanted to play pro hockey, James has always wanted to be a pop star), but sometimes he thinks that if he was going to think about his future, this, being in Big Time Rush, singing and dancing, and doing it all with his best friends—

—yeah. That would be pretty cool, he thinks.


It's storming outside.

Carlos is used to nasty weather, living in Minnesota, but this isn't anything like Minnesota, because in Minnesota it was all snow and howling wind and rain, and it was wet and cold and miserable, but it wasn't like this. It wasn't crackling thunder and winds hard enough that it feels like Carlos' bed is shaking in its place, and Carlos is clutching at his sheets, eyes squeezed shut and heart hammering wildly and painfully in his chest, and he can't sleep, there's no way he'll ever get to sleep tonight, but he's exhausted from an entire day of dance rehearsal and he knows they have another one of those coming up tomorrow and he needs his sleep, but the sounds coming from outside the window are freaking him out.

A few feet over, James is probably sleeping peacefully in his own bed, but Carlos still rolls onto his side and stares at James' silhouette in the darkness. "James?" he whispers, hesitantly. He's not really sure what he'll say if James is awake. There's no way he's admitting to James that he's afraid of thunder.

James rolls over, too. Carlos can see him blinking his eyes open, as though he's tired, but he obviously wasn't asleep yet, because nothing can wake James when he's sleeping. "What?" James whispers back, and his voice is hoarse and rough.

"Nothing," Carlos answers. "Just. Wanted to see if you were awake, that's all."

"Really," James says, flatly.

"Yup," Carlos confirms, even though he's pretty sure that James doesn't believe him. "Goodnight," he adds, a little squeaky, when James doesn't say anything. He turns away so he's facing away from James, closes his eyes tightly, and breathes through his nose as he tries to ignore the flash of lightening and the crack of thunder that follows almost immediately after. He hears James move around in his bed and then suddenly James is crawling in behind him, and Carlos almost jumps out of his own bed. "What—"

"Shut up," James grumbles. "I can't sleep when you're freaking out because it makes your breathing really loud and I need my beauty sleep."

Carlos turns around to look at him. His breath hitches in his throat. James' hair is mussed and his eyes are half-shut and his t-shirt is wrinkled, and he looks perfect against the dark blue bedspread on Carlos' bed. Carlos clears his throat. "What makes you think having you in my bed is going to help?" he asks, because denying that he's freaking out won't get him anything anyway.

"Please," James scoffs. "I've been your safety blanket since we were seven years old."

"Oh." Carlos can feel himself blushing. It hadn't even crossed his mind that James might actually have noticed how Carlos likes to cling to him in situations he isn't entirely comfortable with, but of course James has. James isn't stupid. "I'm sorry?" he offers, cautiously, because James hasn't mentioned it before, but Carlos is suddenly afraid that James might hate it.

But James just says, around a yawn "It's cool," settling further into Carlos' sheets. Then he looks over at Carlos, one eyebrow raised. "Well?" he asks, a little impatiently.

"Well what?" Carlos asks. Outside, the thunder rolls again, and Carlos can't help the way his body jerks a little at the sound.

James rolls his eyes. "Well, aren't you going to come here, then?" he asks, holding out his arms and gesturing towards his chest, and Carlos feels his stomach drop out and his face heat up until he's sure James must see it in the darkness.

"But—" he squeaks. He clears his throat. "Um. Wouldn't that be cuddling in a bed, though? I mean, wouldn't that be—"

"Carlos," James interrupts, and he's clearly annoyed, "will you just stop freaking out? I'm tired and I just want to sleep, and if you cuddling me right now is going to make that happen, then, frankly, I don't care how weird it might be."

He gestures towards his chest again. Carlos hesitates, for a moment, until James makes a noise like he's about to do something drastic, and then Carlos slides forward and slowly, so slowly, wraps one arm around James waist, puts his head on James' shoulder, and feels James' arm wrap around his shoulder. James is warm and safe and familiar, and Carlos curls his fingers tighter into the fabric of James' shirt and scoots a little bit closer, so his knees are knocking against James' thighs. His heart is still beating fast, but it has nothing to do with the thunder outside.

James sighs contently, and Carlos can tell he's falling asleep by the way his voice sounds drugged when he says, "I didn't know you were afraid of thunder."

He doesn't sound mocking. That's the only reason Carlos doesn't vehemently deny it. Instead, he hides his face in James' shirt and mutters, "I'm not, really. It's just—thunderstorms weren't like this back in Minnesota."

"Oh," James hums. He holds Carlos a little tighter. "You're safe now, though. I'll protect you."

Carlos breathes out, shakily. When he leans his head back to look at James, James is asleep, face relaxed and beautiful. Carlos' stomach flutters helplessly.

Suddenly, the thunder doesn't seem that scary anymore, but Carlos is still terrified.


vi: because James is scary

It's weird how everything changes after that night and somehow still stays exactly the same. They still sing and dance and get themselves into more trouble than should probably be possible. They still manage to drive both Gustavo and Kelly and Mama Knight insane with their antics, (and that's not even considering how much Bitters hates them), and they still spend maybe too much time wearing tree hats and running around in a panic to fix their latest problem.

They're still them.

But then sometimes—sometimes Carlos catches himself looking maybe a bit too much at James, thinking maybe a little bit too much about that silly crush he's always had on James, focusing maybe a little bit too much on wherever James is in the room at any given time. Sometimes, it feels like his life revolves around James, maybe more than it should, more than a crush really justifies, and that scares him.

That scares him more than he likes to think about.


It's after their London adventures, and Kendall and Logan are off being Kendall and Logan again, for the first time in a really long time. (Ever since Jo left for New Zealand, to pursue her own dream the same way they're pursuing theirs, Carlos and James have watched Kendall and Logan gravitate towards each other with a purpose that wasn't there before). Carlos is in their hotel suite, spread across his bed, half-asleep and half-watching James as he rifles through his suitcase.

He's tired from everything they've done today, saved the world and played a kick-ass show, and he's just about to close his eyes and fall asleep when James' voice says, "So, today was pretty crazy, huh?" and he sounds almost nervous.

Carlos opens his eyes again. "Yeah," he answers, grinning at James. "But awesome, though."

"Definitely," James agrees, enthusiastically, grin spread across his face, and Carlos feels his stomach swoop pleasantly the way it always does when James is happy. But then the smile slips from James' face, slowly, and he takes a careful step towards Carlos. "So," he says, again, "you must have been pretty scared. With all of that clinging."

Carlos pretends his face doesn't flush bright red and shrugs, like it's no big deal. "We were being chased by, like, dozens of secret agents with guns, and there was an evil villain who wanted to take over the world. Of course I was scared. You were scared, too, remember?"

"I wasn't scared," James replies, automatically, and then frowns at Carlos, or at himself, maybe, Carlos isn't sure. "But that's not—ugh." He sounds frustrated, which isn't exactly anything new, but Carlos doesn't think he's ever seen James like this, not around him, and he doesn't understand what's going on. "Carlos," James starts, and then stops, and starts again, "When you cling to me, is that—I mean, do you just do it because you're scared and it's what you've done since we were kids?"

And just like that, Carlos' heart is racing. He wipes his suddenly sweaty palms on his jeans and licks his lips. "Um," he answers, intelligently.

James takes another step towards him, and there's something determined in his eyes, something that Carlos usually only sees when he's about to walk up to a girl, and it makes Carlos' stomach somersault wildly. "Carlos," James says again, when he's standing at the foot of Carlos' bed.

"James," Carlos says back. His voice sounds weird, even to him.

"You don't have to take me up on this," James tells him, and he's blushing, he's blushing, and Carlos doesn't think he's ever seen James blush before in his entire life, "but, just in case you wanted to, I don't know, cling, or, you know, whatever. That would be okay."

Carlos' mouth is dry and his head is spinning, and he thinks maybe he has some idea what's happening right now and it's the single most utterly terrifying thing that has happened to him ever. He swallows. "Um," he repeats.

"Because, you know," James continues, and he looks almost like he wants to look away from Carlos, but he doesn't, he keeps staring right at Carlos, and Carlos feels twitchy and exposed, "I don't mind when you do it. I kind of like it, actually. It's funny," he says, and then he's off, nervous babbling like the kind Carlos and Logan do, and Carlos watches with his mouth slightly parted as James trips over his own words, "I've never really minded when you did it, I guess because it felt natural or whatever, but I never really thought about it, because it was just something you did, you know? Something that made you Carlos. But then, when we were running around town today and I thought we were going to die, I kept thinking—I kept thinking about you, and that I should've asked you about the clinging sooner because it was too late now. Except then we didn't die and—wow, are you really not going to stop me?" he asks, and sounds almost a little insulted.

"I," Carlos starts, but it's hard to speak around the lump in his throat. "I'm kind of terrified," he admits, because it's the only thing he knows to say.

James swallows. "Well," he says, the blush on his cheeks deepening, "I'm right here, so—"

He holds out his arm, the same arm Carlos has been clinging to on and off all day, and Carlos draws in a breath as he gets to his knees and crawls across his bed to where James is standing. James' arm is shaking when Carlos touches it, gently. He looks up at James' face, (which is closer than usual, with James still standing in floor and Carlos on his knees on the bed), and James' eyes are wide, his mouth parted a little.

Carlos puts his other hand on James' chest. James' heart is beating as fast as his own. "James," he says, and then doesn't know what else to say, doesn't know what he wants to say, because this whole thing is weird and unexpected and a little mind-blowing, and he's afraid to breathe in case it breaks whatever moment they're having.

James covers Carlos' hand with his own. His fingers are warm and soft, and Carlos knows this, it isn't new information, but it feels new and exciting. James breathes out a laugh. "I kind of want to kiss you right now," he says, and Carlos' breath hitches.

"I kind of want you to kiss me right now," he whispers.

James exhales sharply, and then his lips are on Carlos', soft and almost careful, and Carlos breathes in through his nose and it feels as though something is trying to work its way out of his chest. He watches James' face when James pulls back, and there's the beginning of that familiar, dazzling, James Diamond grin tugging at the corners of his lips. "That was—yeah," James says, and before Carlos has time to ask what that even means, James is kissing him again, and it doesn't matter.

Because it's James, because James is kissing him, and it's like everything clicks into place, settling like warmth in his stomach, and Carlos twists his fingers in James' shirt and pulls him closer, and something tingles up his spine when James hums against his lips.

It's still scary, but it's also the best thing ever, even better than saving the world or performing an awesome show or corn dogs or the swirly slide—better than all of those together, because it's him and it's James, and it feels right, like this is where they've always been headed, like they've always been as inevitable as Kendall and Logan, and Carlos doesn't care about the consequences or the possible fallout. He can't, not when James' tongue is running across his lower lip, not when James is clinging to him as tightly as he's clinging to James.

It's completely and utterly terrifying, but Carlos has never been afraid of a little danger as long as he's heading into it with James at his side.

Once again, there's a much prettier version up on my Tumblr (wafflehood . tumblr . com) that you are very welcome to check out instead, if the formatting on this site bothers you as much as it bothers me~~~

(Hey, little sister, look at me still not capitalizing my titles, what up).