Chapter 1: ⁿᵒᵗʰᶦⁿᵍ ˡᵉˢˢ ᵗʰᵃⁿ ʳᵉᵐᵃʳᵏᵃᵇˡᵉ.
Jay is in a small and aging downtown convenience store when it happens. He has never been in it before, spending most of his time in the more expensive parts of the Auradon area, so the fact that it happens right at this moment, right when he is here, is nothing less than remarkable.
He had a photo shoot that was set to the backdrop of an abandoned warehouse and although much preferring to have recreated the scene in his own spacious studio, being the professional photographer that he is, he conceded to the change of location. After all, when your clientele are as high profile as his, sometimes you have to play ball. He's on his way back to his studio when he ends up stopping at the convenience store, or he is on his way home, it's one in the same really.
There is a small building consisting of four floors that Jay calls home. The first floor being that of Evie's 4 Hearts, the high fashion boutique owned by his old friend and up and coming designer Evie Grimhilde. The second floor being Beast B's, Benjamin Beast's clothing store, consisting of mostly casual yet smart attire for men. The third floor is Cobra Studios, his favorite place in the world, and the top floor is his very own loft, so he is never far away from his work. Which makes him sound like a workaholic. Which is completely accurate. But when you are a fashion photographer and you are taking photos of celebrities from around the world, sometimes you have to work on their schedule. So it's good to be close by.
The whole set up is genius really. Female celebrities pick and choose from Evie's 4 Hearts, while the males get their choice of Beast B's, before wandering up to take their glamour shots with prominent photographer. Though sometimes people prefer to explore both stores, which Jay is all for. The forced binary of gender stereotypes do not exist in his studio.
So it is when he is on his way home and realizes he still has not bought any food for the dog, that he pulls into the convenience store, praying they stock food for animals. They don't. But he buys himself a snickers and an ice coffee anyhow, because he is a child in a grown man's body. Except for him there are only three people in the shop. A boy, probably not a lot younger than him, with blonde hair and yellow bandana on his head is sitting on the counter and talking with someone on his phone. Jay is waiting behind a young girl, probably his age. He doesn't see her face, he can't, but he must admit that a big - obviously made by the girl - silver dragon on the back of her purple jacket is quite impressive. She's quietly humming a song to herself while sketching something in a small green notebook when another person, a petite girl with long cyan hair and stormy brown eyes behind the register says it.
"You tell little de Vil when you see him that I got that weird, salty chocolate that he likes back in stock. Don't know why I bother, he is the only one who buys it," she grumbles.
Jay freezes. He hasn't heard that name in a long time. De Vil. It means nothing. There are probably plenty of people in the world with that name. Are there? The chances that this 'little de Vil' is his de Vil from the Isle are minimal. Yet there are these alarm bells going off in his head and a churning in his stomach telling him that even a minimal chance is a chance all the same.
"And more spray cans? You're going to get yourself into trouble, and I ain't taken the blame when mother comes in here looking to whoop someone's ass," she continues.
The girl in front of him chuckles and heads over to the exit, yelling a "Bye, shrimpy- oops, I meant Uma!" over her shoulder, in a way that suggests she is very much used to, and very much unaffected by the "shrimpy's" grumpy demeanor. She does this all without even stopping doodling, and he can see a portrait of someone very, very familiar in her notepad. It's so impressive that Jay almost finds himself distracted when he gets in front of the girl he now knows as a "shrimpy", aka Uma. Almost.
He is placing his things on the counter slowly while building up the courage to ask a question he hasn't asked anyone in a long, long time.
"Uhm... sorry for eavesdropping, I just happened to overhear you mention... a de Vil? Would that be- would that be Carlos de Vil?" he awkwardly asks.
He can feel his heart thudding against his rib cage. He had not dared hope to find him for a long time now. Uma narrows her eyes at him as she looks him over.
"Don't you come in here asking me about that boy. I won't have that in my store. If you have business with him, fine. But that's between you and him," Uma answers gruffly.
Jay is incredibly confused. Does that mean this de Vil is Carlos de Vil? That it could be his Carlos de Vil?
"What? No, him and I used to-" Jay tries to explain but is quickly cut off.
"I don't care what you used to do. If he wanted you to know where he was, you'd know. Honestly, just leave the boy alone, he has had enough trouble without another like you sniffing around," Uma says, obviously frustrated and getting angry.
Just as Jay feels all hope fading, that there is no chance this woman is going to give him anything helpful to work with, the dragon girl comes to mind. He doesn't answer the girl when she asks why is he in such a rush, the adrenaline is back, the hope is back, and with a new surge of energy he is collecting his chocolate and drink and running out the store.
If the dragon girl was on foot she could not have gone far and Jay saw no other cars parked near the rundown store. He runs to the sidewalk and looks in both directions frantically hoping to see a familiar face, he doesn't. But much further down the road walking in long strides he does spot the familiar figure of the girl, retreating quickly into the distance.
Jay has always been the one for sports, at least he thought he was, but the quick sprint he has broken into is making him reconsider. He is gaining on the girl fast and it isn't until he is within a few meters of her that he realizes he is chasing after a stranger to ask about someone he hasn't seen in years. The "shrimpy" could be right, Jay begins to think, perhaps this person doesn't want to be found. Perhaps it is not even his de Vil they were talking about. He feels insane and yet it doesn't stop him.
"Wait, excuse me! Wait, please!" Jay calls out, panting heavily and struggling to catch his breath. He wasn't right the first time about the sports thing.
The purple haired girl stops, raises an eyebrow at him and watches as Jay dramatically bends over a little as if having run a marathon, rather than a 200 meter sprint at best. She seems slightly amused though at Jay's theatrics which gives him some confidence that perhaps this time the conversation will go a little better.
"Sorry for chasing you down... like this... I just couldn't help but overhear... you and the other girl talking.... And she mentioned a de Vil to you?" Jay says between breaths.
The girl immediately sighs and rolls his eyes.
"Listen man, do I look like a whore to you? No, wait, don't answer, I see that sassy spark in your eye. Just go bother someone else," she says and immediately begins to walk away.
"Wait, what? No!" Jay says, catching up to her until the dragon girl stops again and looks at him.
"He has curly white hair, brown eyes, he's short... actually- I'm not sure if he is short. He was short. I can't really imagine him being tall but then-" he's cut off mid-ramble.
"Look, if you don't even know who you're talking about, I am not really telling you anything," says the dragon girl.
"I know who I'm talking about. I just wanted to know who you were talking about," Jay replies.
The girl looks at him suspiciously.
"Because I'm an old friend. From the Isle. Isle of the Lost. And, well, I'm looking for him," Jay says, unsure of himself but desperate for some sort of answer, some sort of tangible piece of information, that he can cling to.
'Isle of the Lost', how's called one particular district, section settled just between Auradon and Corona, is definitely not a great place to live. Still, Jay thinks about it with a wide smile on his face, since memories about Carlos come mainly from that place.
Jay doesn't tell anyone that he's from the Isle. It's a place for gangs. Drug dealers. Not a famous photographer who always tries his best and not only makes shoots that get on the covers of magazines, Jay himself gets on the covers of magazines. He doesn't want anyone to know. He's not ashamed, but an information like that would certainly damage his career.
But if it's the only thing that will help him find Carlos, he'll try.
"If you were an old friend of Carlos' then you wouldn't be mentioning Isle. Carlos doesn't have any friends from there, except for me" she says, frustrated and determined to prove her point. "And as far as I'm concerned, if you can't find him, then he doesn't want to be found. So search for some other pretty girl for the night, because, believe me, you won't find any pretty boy."
The young girl is slightly confirming his fears. Carlos de Vil doesn't want people to find him. Doesn't even want Jay to find him.
He can't help but ask, "But he is from the Isle, isn't he?"
Jay has to call it out as the girl has already began to walk away. He gets no answer, but it's too late. He is convinced. There is a Carlos de Vil in downtown Auradon, originally from the Isle of the Lost. It has to be his Carlos de Vil.
He walks slowly back to his car and begins his drive home, all the while contemplating his next move. There is no question about whether or not Jay is going to try and find him, he has to find him. The only real question is how?
He doesn't want to reach the conclusion that he is reaching as he pulls in beside his building, but based on what was said to him he can't really reach any other. The dragon girl asked him if she looked like a whore, told him to search for some other pretty girl for the night, and Uma mentioned something about having business with him, business she didn't want brought into her store.
He could be totally wrong. He really could. But business that involves whores and pretty boys in the night suggests a certain kind of profession. He feels sick thinking it. The idea devastates him. The image in his mind of the tiny boy with freckles and the biggest smile that caused the sweetest dimples, selling himself on the streets? His Carlos de Vil. A prostitute.
The only plan Jay can come up with is to cruise the downtown neighborhood, where the prostitutes tend to linger. If Carlos really is one and he knows the people in the area, he hopes that is where he will be.
And so this is what Jay does every night for a whole week. He keeps having to politely decline all the working women who approach his car as he cruises, slowly searching for a face he is sure he will recognize, despite the many years that have passed.
Halfway into his second week he is feeling defeated. He isn't even truly sure that it's his Carlos de Vil the dragon girl was talking about or that this Carlos de Vil is a hooker. He is parked downtown, having a break from trolling the street corners to drink a coffee. Between work and his new found hobby of inspecting the nightlife, he has had little to no sleep.
It is just as he is thinking that it's a hopeless case he hears the tap on his window. He rolls it down to see a woman standing there, short dress and fishnets clearly visible.
"You looking for some company tonight, honey?" she asks, clearly a rehearsed line.
Jay shakes his head slightly, staring into his lap. "No... yes- I mean... kinda? I mean, yes, I am, but I can't seem to find him. I don't know what else to do."
He is definitely way too tired. He just had such a strong sense of hope that finally he would be able to see Carlos again. But as has happened before, his premature optimism jumped the gun too sun, leaving him worse than ever.
"Oh, 'him'? What a pity," she says smiling at him. "You must be searching for the pup, like every other man, then. I'm sorry, but it's very late at night, sweetheart, I'm afraid someone already took him home," she says casually, smiling a little bit and playing with her fingers. "But, if you still have hope or anything, you're simply on the wrong block," she adds, standing a little straighter and lighting a cigarette.
Jay's head snaps up. How could he be so stupid? He is on the wrong fucking corner. He has only been seeing the same prostitutes this entire time. Of course Carlos would be in a different area. His Carlos is smarter than this, goddammit.
He is asking the woman for directions of which street he needs to get to, handing her a fifty and driving away with that premature optimism taking control again. Why had he not realized that sooner?
Once he reaches the street the lady had told him to go to he decides to park his car and walk instead. He walks the length of the street, up and back, passing different people. Some people are simply walking to get where they need to go, some are nervously eyeing everyone. But noone is just blatantly a prostitute.
He walks the same long street for an hour or so until a small figure catches his eye. Dressed in black shorts that reach just under his knee and a black and white t-shirt that is much too thin for this weather, the boy crosses the road to come stand on the same street as Jay. Jay knows. At least he thinks he knows. Even from this distance. The white hair, the way he holds himself. He knows that boy.
He gets closer and begins to jog slightly when he sees the boy approaching a car. He is leaning over talking to the man inside through the passenger window in the street, smiling and laughing when Jay comes to stand on the sidewalk opposite. The boy is facing him. A tiny boy with freckles and the biggest smile that causes the sweetest dimples.
"Carlos?" he calls out softly, despite his heart thumping in his chest.
The boy looks up.
He's found him.
Chapter 2: ᵗʰᵉ ᵇᵃᵈ ˢᵗᵘᶠᶠ.
mentions of drug use, death and slight reference to child abuse in this chapter. just thought i should mention it in case anyone does not wish to read about such topics.
Jay watches as a look of complete shock washes over Carlos' features. He's staring frozen over at him, his big brown eyes wide and vulnerable, full pink lips slightly parted. It isn't until the man he had been talking to in the car becomes impatient and simply drives off that Carlos seems to snap out of it.
It's as if almost a switch is flicked and the young boy cocks his hip and completely transforms in front of Jay's eyes. All signs of vulnerability immediately hidden away, Carlos raises an eyebrow and looks Jay up and down.
"Something I can help you with?" he asks suggestively.
This completely throws Jay off. He is in such a state of shock he has no idea what to say. He was so consumed by the idea of finding him he hadn't thought to what he would do when he actually did. But now here he is, in the flesh, and Jay's got nothing.
"If you're not looking for company you need to move along, a crowd isn't exactly good for business," Carlos says impatiently, crossing back to the sidewalk and giving Jay an annoyed face before beginning to walk off.
This is what snaps Jay out of it.
"Wait! Carlos, please," Jay says following him, slightly confused.
Maybe he doesn't recognize him, it's possible, but Jay is almost positive that the moment Carlos' eyes met his he knew exactly who he was looking at. Or maybe that was just wishful thinking.
Carlos turns around and looks at him, irritation clearly written all over his face.
"What do you want?"
"It's just.. Can I- can I talk to you?" Jay asks.
Carlos shakes his head exasperated.
"You are talking to me. And time is money and you've already lost me one possible customer tonight," he says taking a step closer. "You need to leave. Now. Or find someone else to talk to if that's what you're into," he says, eyes searching Jay's, attempting to convey just how serious he is about not wanting him around.
They're close now. Jay can see the paleness of Carlos' skin, his freckles looking almost like scars on it, the way his t-shirt hangs from a pair of sharp collarbones, the small tattoo on his neck, the tiredness in his eyes. He wants to memorize all of him. Imprint him in his mind. He wants to photograph him.
"Carlos?" he questions confused. "Please, I'm not into talking, whatever that means. And I wasn't looking for just anyone, I was looking for you," Jay says.
"Well, you found me and yet, you don't seem to want to fuck me," Carlos exclaims too loudly, while taking a step back so he is no longer staring up at Jay.
"Not quite what you were hoping for, I suppose? Don't worry. I can point you in the direction of someone else and- hey, if you tell me what you're into I'll even give you a few recommendations, Desiree is probably free now," his voice is almost cheerful as he says it, but the forced smile on his face would suggest otherwise.
Jay shakes his head aggressively.
"I am Jay and you are Carlos. I don't want anything. It's just... I'm just... It's me. It's Jay," he ends desperately, not knowing what else to say.
Carlos lets out a long sigh and looks down for a moment before peering back up at him, one side of his face covered by his curly hair.
"I know," he answers quietly.
Jay was put into the foster care system at the age of five. His mother had died when he was nearly three, leaving him with a heartbroken man who couldn't think of any way a child like Jay would be useful for him. Jafar had gone out one night night, and on his way home he was in a head on collision with a drunk driver. Both died on impact.
He doesn't remember much of that first year, except he was in and out of different foster homes, scared and consequently acting out. He couldn't get used to the different rules, the different mannerisms or the sudden feeling of being completely alone. He would make the decision before he was even placed with a family to have them kick him out as soon as possible. The only place that made him feel the safest was the group home that he was situated in immediately following his father's death.
Some people considered the group home - located very, very close to his old home and his father's shop, dangerously close to the Isle, as quite a lot of children came from this area - purgatory. It was where groups of kids stayed while social workers were looking for suitable families to place them with, but for Jay, it was the closest to home as it was going to get. He was in a two bedded room where there was a constant stream of different kids coming and going. There was a communal eating area, a big yard to play in and everyone had to pitch in to keep the place running. But most importantly, there was no one around trying to welcome him into their family and teach him how to be their new son; there was no one there trying to replace his parents.
Though not all foster carers were looking for new additions to the family. Some were just looking for new additions to their bank account, and Jay found them easier to deal with. As soon as he started breaking shit and they realized he cost more than he was worth he was booted back to the group home.
It would be a year in that he would meet Carlos de Vil. Now six and feeling a lot tougher than he actually was, Jay was woken late in the night to find one of the staff leading a tiny, tiny boy into his room. The woman whispered to the boy and gestured to the bed that sat vacant against the opposite wall, before pulling back the blankets and tucking him in.
It was not the first time this had happened. Some of these kids had parents who weren't very kind to them. So sometimes after cops had been called at ungodly hours, kids were brought in to stay the night - Jay had woken more than once to find a child covered in bruises had been assigned to the empty bed in the night and he had slept right through all of it. It was sad, Jay hated it. But he would come to see it quite a lot given the circumstances.
He had strained his ears listening for any signs of crying once the woman had left. But the tiny boy remained silent. Crying was something else he had got used to hearing, he had met only one child that didn't cry - he never got her name, but he's found her notebook. It was enough. Every page of it was covered in drawings, letters and her initials. M.B. He really wanted to get to know her better, but she wasn't there even for three days, and she already got adopted by some rich family. It definitely wasn't a surprise, the girl was really pretty, and she had the longest purple hair he'd ever seen. She looked quite good as for someone that just got separated from their parents. And there really was never a good reason why a child was put into foster care and separated from their parents. It usually was either due to death or violence. There weren't many other reasons Jay had heard about.
He had sat up in bed and peered through the dark at the boy. He was pressed against the wall. Almost wedging his small body between the wall and mattress. As if afraid of someone sneaking up behind him and perhaps he had a reason to be. Jay wouldn't ask. Not yet at least.
"You okay?" he called out.
But the boy wouldn't answer. He wouldn't answer anyone. It would be a full week before Jay would hear his voice. In the meantime, he would find out his name was Carlos, he was almost five years old, and his mom just died from a heroin overdose.
Nothing of significance particularly happened to get Carlos talking to Jay. It was as if he simply had come to the conclusion that he liked him and that was that. From memory, Jay thinks the first time he heard him speak was when he caught him giggling at the faces he was pulling at one of the other kids across the table while they were eating.
"Do you think that's funny?" Jay asked, grinning at him.
In the quietest voice Carlos answered.
So Jay kept going, directing them at Carlos. From then on, Jay couldn't escape the boy. Not that he ever really tried. He was perfectly happy with the company, and Carlos needed to have someone around anyhow. He was small, even for a nearly five year old, and that meant he was an easy target. Not that Jay was much of a match for any of the older kids, but he could definitely handle the ones their age. Carlos didn't always need help though. Turns out once he started talking he was quite a feisty little thing. Jay loved him from the very beginning.
Carlos was a little messed up though. A lot of kids who came from parents with drug-related backgrounds had seen horrible things. Carlos, of course, wasn't an exception. His father was never in the picture, his mom never even indicated she really knew who he was, alluding to several different men in her past as possibilities. This included one of her drug dealers, her ex-best friend's husband and a guy she once slept with when she was really high after a fashion show.
On her own, Carlos' mother took care of him as best she could whilst still managing her addiction. She was a fashion icon a couple years ago, before this waste of space, her son, came along. They had lived in a big house that his mother afforded when she still had some money from her career, due to child benefits and splitting the rent between multiple different roommates, all addicts. They would get together and take different drugs, inviting over different people they had met with similar proclivities.
During these times, Carlos would be left alone in his room. His mom (Cruella, was her name, as Jay learned later) would tell him to go to sleep and not come out, even if it was four o'clock in the afternoon and he had yet to have anything to eat. He used to sneak out to grab some bread or cereal and would often witness people blacking out or becoming violent or paranoid from a bad trip. But the worst part for Carlos was the ones his mother would let stay over and share their beds, including Carlos' one.
Which is why at night he could barely get to sleep, constantly waking in a panic, panting and dripping with sweat. It was as if he had to constantly keep watch to make sure they weren't coming in. It's also why he has to sleep with his back to the wall. As Jay learned later, Carlos used to hide in a wardrobe, but in 'his' new room there wasn't any. He would do it at home so he could see them coming trough the wardrobe's doors and before they slipped into the bed, squeeze himself between his mother's expensive clothes and wooden doors. Then just sleep under there until morning.
Even though technically nothing bad could happen to once he was in the group home, not to mention there wasn't any wardrobe in the room, he needed the solid comfort of the wall pressed against his back where nobody could sneak up on him. On really bad nights, Jay would find him curled up in a ball underneath his bed. So he would end up pulling him out and tucking him into his own. Pushing his small body up against the wall and curling up next to him so there was nothing that could get between. At first he was wary that this might make Carlos worse, might make him feel trapped with someone again. But Carlos had just gone straight to sleep and in the morning told Jay he smelled like the good stuff. Jay didn't know what that meant, but it was obviously enough to make him feel safe in sleep.
The first time they were separated, when Carlos just turned five and Jay's seventh birthday were around the corner, Carlos was sent to live with a foster family and it was awful. Jay had also been sent to another. But the staff knew he'd be back soon, he always was. Jay had quite a mouth on him and still hadn't changed his mind about the group home being his actual home. He was not interested in finding a new family. Especially now that he had Carlos. That was all the family he needed.
Carlos had had a tougher time. He had attached himself to Jay so completely once his mother had died, that it was traumatizing to be taken somewhere where Jay wasn't. He was inconsolable and couldn't stop crying. The family he stayed with had boys of their own and had no patience for a cry baby, and they ended up locking him in the basement to get away from his crying. He was back in the group home not a day later, Jay was already there and waiting with open arms.
Jay had been so angry hearing Carlos' watery voice tell him what happened that it was in this moment he came up with the plan. Jay hated the foster homes, Carlos hated being away from Jay. So a week into their stay if one or both had been sent to a different carer, they would make a run for it. The meeting place they decided on was a park they were sometimes allowed to play in when they had tagged along with staff on a supply run and behaved themselves. They promised each other that no matter how many times they were split up or made to go back to a home, in a weeks time they would find each other again.
And that's exactly what they did. It didn't bother them that they were yelled at or punished for constantly running away, it wasn't going to stop them. They did it for years, catching buses or hitching rides if they had to. It happened so often their social workers began to overlook their cases and focus on their other charges. Perhaps if the system weren't so flawed and there weren't so many kids who needed help, Jay and Carlos wouldn't have been able to pull it off for so long.
For five years they did this. It was just after Jay turned twelve that things would change. He wouldn't realize it at the time, but what he initiated back then would lead to the breaking of that promise they had made so many years ago.
To this day, Jay still wants answers as to who it was that was responsible for what happened, or what didn't happen. Even if it turns out it was his fault.
Chapter 3: ᶦᶠ ᵗʰᵃᵗ'ˢ ʷʰᵃᵗ ᶦᵗ ᵗᵃᵏᵉˢ.
there's a new d3 trailer and i'm dead so have this chapter before my funeral.
"You look the same," Jay says fondly.
Carlos looks up at him, visibly uncomfortable under his gaze. He doesn't agree. He doesn't agree at all. If Jay looks any closer he'll realize he's only a shell of the boy he used to be, so he doesn't want him looking any closer.
"Still so tiny," he continues.
Carlos turns his head away with a reluctant smile, schooling his features back to something more neutral when he looks back up at him.
He doesn't say anything back. But that's okay with Jay, he's used to it, after all. He is just happy to finally be in Carlos' presence again, warmth and affection spreading throughout his limbs despite the cold weather. Which is when he notices Carlos' slight shiver.
"It's too cold for you to be out here in only a t-shirt," Jay says, hand moving as if to touch the fabric of his white sleeve.
But he decides against it when he sees Carlos tense. It brings him back to the reality of the situation. It has been almost ten years since he had last seen him - he can't just reach out and touch him like he used to. Despite the fact he wants to, wants to gather the small boy up in his arms like when they were kids.
A silence has settled. Carlos standing awkwardly and only looking at him for a few seconds at a time before averting his gaze back to their surroundings, not able to really focus on anything. Jay is wearing simple black jeans and a yellow button down with a long dark brown coat, one of Ben's designs that hangs to mid-thigh. He takes it off purposely, Carlos watching him warily and gently places it over the younger boy's shoulders.
Carlos grabs at it and goes to quickly remove it, wanting to protest that he doesn't need it. But Jay shakes his head at him.
"I'm not going to just stand here and watch you freeze," he says.
Carlos pauses for a moment before answering.
"You don't have to," he says, fidgeting with the jacket, as if still debating whether he should just take it off and hand it back over.
"I'm not going to take it back, even if you try. So either both of us have no coat or you keep it on. Besides, it looks better on you," Jay says, smiling as he looks Carlos up and down.
It's true. It looks good on him, it looks better on him. It's a lot bigger on his smaller frame, falling down to his knees on either side of his body, and the way it's just sitting on his shoulders makes him look like a model and Jay has seen many models, so he'd know.
Again, Carlos doesn't answer him. He doesn't really know what to say, he hadn't planned on ever seeing Jay again. He doesn't know what happens now that he has. His hope is that Jay will just leave soon and not come back. From what he couldn't help but find out over the years about him, Jay has made something of himself. Really made something. He doesn't need someone like Carlos in his life tainting that.
"Come home with me."
It's out of Jay's mouth before he even really thinks about it and from the look on Carlos' face it was the wrong thing to say.
"No, not like that," he says quickly. "It's just cold and it's getting late. And I want to talk to you," he explains.
Carlos shakes his head.
"It might be late for those of you whose working hours are nine to five. But the night's only just beginning for someone like me."
Carlos looks at him with determination, almost challenging him to look away in discomfort.
"But I've only just found you. You can't expect me to just walk away and go home. Please, Carlos, come with me," Jay says.
He has been nothing but desperate since he first heard Carlos' name mentioned in the convenience store weeks ago and upon finding him, the feeling has only increased.
"I can't. This is how I make my money. Might not be conventional for someone like you. But it's how I get by," he answers, reaching for the coat and taking it off his shoulders. "Thanks for the coat," he says, despite only having worn it for less than five minutes and gestures for Jay to take it back.
Jay doesn't reach for it. Just stares at Carlos in concentration. There is no way he is leaving without him. It's been nine years and yet he can tell that he is just as attached to him now as he was back then. The idea of Carlos leaving his sight for even just a minute seems impossible already.
"You won't come with me, will you?" he asks, knowing the answer.
Carlos shakes his head. "I told you. I can't."
"Fine," Jay says, taking a deep breath. "How much for the whole night?" he asks, nostrils flaring, clearly uncomfortable with his own question.
Carlos blanches and stares back at him.
"What? You're going to pay me to come home with you?"
It's clear he did not see that one coming.
"If that's what it takes," Jay says, more sure of himself now.
Carlos hesitates. Should he give him a fake price to just try or simply tell him to go away and leave it at that? He doesn't want Jay back in his life, he can't have Jay back in his life. Too much has happened. But money is money and Carlos doesn't really have a lot of choices these days.
"250 for the night. Upfront and in cash," he says decidedly, just to try his luck. Maybe Jay is really so desperate that he'll pay him that much.
Still, he can do this. He can spend one night with Jay. It's better than some of his other prospects. Besides, no one really asks to spend the whole night with him and 250 dollars will be enough to get him through the week, not that it would make much difference. He'll still be out when the sun goes down tomorrow.
Jay nods his head and turns to walk back in the direction of his car, looking around to see that Carlos has yet to start following him.
"Come on then 'Los," he calls, "and put the coat back on. It's yours now."
Carlos winces slightly at the familiarity of the nickname. He wishes Jay hadn't of said it. It seems wrong given the circumstances. He never wanted to associate Jay with this part of his life. He was happy with what he remembered.
He eventually takes a deep breath and does what he is told, putting the coat back on, properly this time, and begins to follow. He wants to say that this isn't the strangest thing that has ever happened to him since he started working the streets, but despite all the odd requests and sometimes dangerous encounters, this seems to be the one that has thrown him the most.
They are silent on the drive back to Jay's. Jay is too busy with his own thoughts, trying to convince himself that he is doing the right thing. He feels uncomfortable purchasing Carlos time like this. He has no problems with handing over the money, but he doesn't like the way it makes him feel. Like he's using Carlos. Not that he's going to actually 'use' Carlos. He just can't bear the thought of leaving him. Like he said, if this is what it takes to get Carlos to come home with him, spend the night in a real bed, he'll do it.
Carlos is watching as the downtown Auradon area vanishes the further they drive, the buildings around getting increasingly expensive. He briefly wonders how well off Jay actually is. He didn't seem to have any qualms about handing over 200 dollars just to have Carlos for a night. Must be nice not to worry about money like that. He knows though that Jay's earned it, they both came from very humble beginnings. Things just don't always work out for everyone as well as they did for him. Even the car he's sitting in feels too nice, like he shouldn't be allowed in it. Though he has sat in more expensive cars in his line of work, with rich businessmen looking for a fix before going home to their wife and kids.
He sinks further into the seat, attempting to disappear inside Jay's warm coat. But even then by doing so an expensive cologne invades his nostrils, not helping him to forget where he is. Especially when there is this underlying familiar scent. He shouldn't be able to recognize Jay's smell, when they were kids they used to wash with the cheap soaps that the group home bought in bulk. But there it is, a smell that is undeniably Jay.
The car pulls over in a main street and Carlos looks over at Jay confused. Jay gives him a wry smile before mumbling, "I just have to get some money out."
Carlos looks out the passenger window feeling uncomfortable as Jay legs it as quickly as he can to the automated machine. Carlos could make a run for it while Jay's distracted if he wanted to. Just get out of the car and disappear into some dark alleyway. But he doesn't, he stays right where Jay left him, despite the fact he is internally shouting at himself to move, to get out. He doesn't know why he doesn't, perhaps he is just so indecisive about what to do with Jay, that his body is just doing nothing.
Jay is back in the car before he knows it, shutting the door and buckling his seat belt before turning to Carlos.
"250 for the night. Upfront. In cash," Jay says, handing the crisp bills over.
He's so dumb.
Carlos takes them without looking at Jay, before sliding down the seat a little so he can fit them in his jeans. Jay watches the movement, noticing how narrow his hips are. He wonders if he were to wrap both his hands around them, would he be able to touch the tips of his fingers together at the small of his back.
He quickly shakes the thought and starts driving again, eager to just get Carlos home. Well, to his home. Just somewhere where he knows he is safe and warm and away from men looking to take advantage of him. He doesn't really want to think too hard on what Carlos has had to do to get by. He can't stand the idea and if he dwells on it too long he may just start to cry.
When they pull up to his building he tries to subtly gauge Carlos' reaction. It's ridiculous, but he's nervous, he wants him to like it. Jay takes him through the back entrance in the car park, bringing them around to the elevators in the main foyer. To the left is the entrance to Evie's 4 Hearts and on the right a set of elevators. That's how most of the levels are set up. There are two elevators that lead up to small foyers where the stores and Jay's studio opens up. The top floor however just leads straight into Jay's loft, which is why there are two sets of elevators and one which requires a passcode. The elevator on the left is for customers and clients that only has access to the first three floors, the right is for personal use that goes all the way to the top.
Jay puts the code in and the elevator doors open, he gestures for Carlos to go inside and watches how he folds his arms across his chest and clutches the coat closer to his body. Jay makes sure not to stand too close once he's pushed the button for the fourth floor.
When the doors open, again Jay tries to take in Carlos' reaction at seeing where he lives. He wants him to approve of it so bad it's absurd, but all Carlos offers is a small smile. The place isn't huge, it wasn't really meant to be a place of residence, but he thinks he did a pretty good job of turning it into one. The whole building used to be an old public library before they moved it to a bigger and better location, with the third floor containing research rooms with computers that Jay turned into offices. The top floor was simply used for community meetings and bingo apparently.
Jay renovated everything, Evie and Ben doing the same with their floors that had contained all the books. Upon exiting the elevator on the top floor, one steps out into the main room. There is a kitchen in the corner to the left, a living area to the right, and a small hallway directly opposite the doors leading to a bathroom and the bedrooms.
"Do you want anything to eat? Drink?" Jay asks.
Carlos shakes his head, looking uncomfortable and feeling out of place.
And silence ensues. Again. But this time Carlos makes the effort to break it.
"So you own the whole building?" he asks, walking over to the DVD cabinet and looking through the titles, trying to distract himself from how awkward he feels.
"No," he chuckles, relieved at something to talk about. "We lease it. That's Evie, Ben and me. They own the stores on the first and second level," he says.
"Sounds like a pretty sweet deal. You're lucky," Carlos answers, looking over at Jay who is hovering awkwardly near the kitchen. It seems he is not the only one feeling out of place.
"Yeah. I have Evie to thank for that. She won a reality TV show and we were able to secure the lease and put most of the prize money she earned toward getting this place up and running," Jay says.
"TV show?" Carlos queries.
"Yeah, Project Runway? It's for designers, it's where she met Ben. He was runners-up and the one who found this place. We all put in, Ben with what money he had saved and me with what money my parent's left me. But it was Evie who really backed the whole thing," he says smiling.
Carlos looks at him with an odd expression and it takes Jay a moment to realize why he looks so troubled.
"I mean my foster parents," he says awkwardly.
Carlos nods slowly. They have yet to talk about their past, specifically the part of their lives when they all of a sudden were no longer together. Jay wants to ask him about everything that has happened since he was lost to him, particularly why he became lost to him in the first place. He is about to open his mouth to do just that when he sees Carlos stifle a yawn.
"Are you tired? Of course you are," Jay says glancing at his watch. "It's past two in the morning. Come on, I'll show you where you can sleep."
Carlos follows silently as Jay leads him down the hallway. Jay tells him as they pass the first door on the left that it's the bathroom, before leading him to the end of the hallway. He opens the last door, also on the left and Carlos steps into a bedroom. He can tell it's definitely not Jay's, it's too plain.
"This is the spare room. Make yourself at home, no one really stays in it. My room is the only door on the right if you need me for anything," he says, gesturing back into the hallway.
Carlos stares at him.
"What?" Jay says, worried that Carlos doesn't like the room.
"Is that it?" Carlos asks.
"What do you mean?" Jay says confused.
"You brought me all the way back here for a five minute chat and then to just... sleep?" Carlos questions in disbelief.
"I told you, that's all I wanted," Jay says matter of fact.
Carlos just continues staring.
"Well, I guess I'll say good night. Help yourself to whatever and, uh, have a good sleep?" Jay says, ending his sentence like a question.
For the millionth time that night, he again is unsure of what to do. So he sort of just nods awkwardly and walks into his own room. He can't help though but listen as Carlos shuffles around, curious as to what it is he may be doing.
He eventually gives in to his own tiredness and changes into some sweatpants and a t-shirt, allowing himself to drift to sleep with images of a grown up Carlos de Vil flickering behind his eyelids.
He wakes in the morning to his alarm going off, telling him it's eight o'clock and he needs to get up. He stretches leisurely in bed, slowly becoming more alert before he remembers the events of last night. Carlos, Carlos de Vil is in his loft right now, sleeping in his spare bedroom.
He gets up with a spring in his step he is usually lacking so early in the morning and steps out into the hallway. Would Carlos be up this early? From memory they both used to like their sleep-ins. He sees that the door to the spare room has been left open and decides to chance a peek to see if he's awake.
The room is empty. The bed looks like it hasn't even been slept in, if it weren't for the way the throw blanket at the end of the bed is slightly crumpled, he wouldn't have thought Carlos had been there at all.
He makes his way towards the main room, poking his head into the bathroom for any sign of the small boy and finding nothing. There's no one in the kitchen or living area either. Carlos is gone. Jay rubs his eyes in frustration, before throwing his hands to his sides feeling defeated. But then something catches his eye on the kitchen bench.
It's his coat, folded neatly with a small torn off piece of paper sitting on top of it. He slowly walks over to it.
The biggest smile makes its way across his face.
Chapter 4: ʷᵉ ᵃˡʷᵃʸˢ ˢᵃᶦᵈ ʷᵉ ʷᵒᵘˡᵈ.
As Jay went through his teenage years, he would often find himself visiting the park where Carlos and he used to meet. He did it religiously when Carlos first disappeared, at least once a week hoping that he would one day turn up and find Carlos there waiting for him, ready to tell him with the greatest amount of drama and theatrics about how he was unable to get to him but managed an eventual sleek escape. It never happened.
So as the years passed, it instead became a place where he would go to be by himself. A place where he could clear his head and think. He often felt like by doing this, by returning to what was once their park, Carlos was somehow still with him, sharing whatever burden was on his mind.
There was never any sign that Carlos himself had ever returned, but when he was thirteen he went back once to find an inscription carved into the wood of the bench that sat opposite the playground. It was the bench they used to sit on while waiting for the other to show up. It simply read:
Love you, J.
He never knew if it was Carlos who put it there or if the message was even meant for him, but whenever he would go back he would sit there and absentmindedly run his fingers over the rough carving. A few months before he left Agrabah completely and headed to center of Auradon with Evie after she landed a place on Project Runway, he had heard that the park was to be taken down and made over.
So one night he returned to the park and with a small saw his foster dad used to use to cut down overhanging branches, sawed off the panel of the bench holding the carved words and took it home.
He has been holding the piece of wood in his hands all morning and comparing it to the note Carlos left him.
He can't really tell if the writing's the same. Writing something by hand and carving words into a bench don't make for an easy match on comparison. But there are enough similarities that it's kept the smile from leaving Jay's face as he takes the elevator down to his studio to begin work for the day.
"So?" Evie says, eyebrows raised.
Jay looks up at her kinda confused. He is in his office editing photos and replying to emails when Evie had walked in.
"So what?" he asks.
"Soo, what's put you in a good mood? You have been all doom and gloom for the past few weeks and now you're sitting here smiling at your computer screen like a maniac. Did that project you've been all hush hush about finally start going well?" she asks.
Evie must be on her break. She spends most of her time in Evie's 4 Hearts in the back room working on the next fashion line Ben and her are collaborating on, occasionally walking around the store floor helping people find what she knows would suit their needs.
"Yeah.... about that. The project I was working on wasn't really a project per se. And it wasn't really work related... at all," he says sheepishly.
He hadn't really wanted to tell people what he had been up to. He wasn't sure it would go anywhere and he didn't want to worry Evie. She is aware that Carlos de Vil can be a sore subject for him.
"No kidding," Evie snorts. "Usually you can't shut up about whatever photo ideas you have come up with for E4H or Beast B's. I figured it must be unrelated."
Jay glowers slightly. He is not that obnoxious. He doesn't answer her and instead just hands over the piece of paper he had propped up next to his computer to stare at intermediately while working.
"Thanks, J," she reads aloud. "Who is thanking you? And for what?" she says looking puzzled.
"Carlos de Vil, for lending him my coat," Jay answers.
Evie stares at him wide-eyed and Jay begins to nervously chew on his bottom lip. He doesn't know why he is nervous to hear her response. Evie knows all about Carlos. She was the first real friend he made after Carlos disappeared and she never once complained when he would talk non-stop about him on the days he was really missing him. Not to mention that she definetely heard something about a famous fashion designer, Cruella de Vil, who had died from heroine overdose and abandoned her only child that noone knew even existed until now.
"Carlos de Vil?" she asks.
"The Carlos de Vil?" she says slowly.
"Yes," Jay replies.
"Carlos de Vil from the Isle? From when you were a kid? That Carlos de Vil?" she asks again.
"Oh my god, yes! Carlos de Vil. That Carlos de Vil. Carlos de Vil from the Isle," he says, slightly exasperated.
"How?" she asks quietly.
"It's a long story. No, wait, actually, not really. I heard someone mention a de Vil when I was downtown on a shoot. No one would really tell me anything when I asked about him but from what they said, it implied he was working the streets. So I went searching some of the downtown spots for him and-"
He is cut off.
"You what? That's what you've been doing at night? Cruising for hookers? Jay!" she says incredulously.
"Well. Yeah. But only so I could find him," he answers lamely.
She shakes her head.
"I cannot believe you right now. That is so dangerous, Jay. What if you got mugged or something? That is not a safe area. Were you walking around with that expensive watch just shining on your wrist? Wallet in hand? It's like you were asking for someone to rob you. You are so reckless!" Evie scolds.
Jay shifts uncomfortably. That wasn't exactly what he was doing, but close. This is also why he didn't tell anyone what he had been up to these past couple of weeks. He knew it wouldn't go down well. They'd have probably insisted he take Ben or their at least Doug with him in case something happened. But he knew if he had of turned up with a crowd, Carlos would have never talked with him. Carlos was always anxious around strangers when they were little. It had to be just him.
"Look, E, I'm sorry for not telling you, I just had to do it on my own. I barely got out of the car most of the time anyway. I mean, I wasn't even sure if it was him they were talking about or if I had understood what they said properly. The whole thing was just one big shot in the dark," Jay says, tone apologetic as he looks up at his closest friend.
"But you found him," she says.
The smile that has been occupying Jay's face all day returns.
Carlos de Vil is stood leaning against a lamppost, smoking a cigarette and watching for any cars that slow down on approach. He's wearing a plain white t-shirt with a collar and a pair of black skinny jeans. On his feet are a black pair of knock-off vans that have seen better days. He is shivering in the night air but determined to stay out, all he needs to do is capture someone's interest and the night will finally begin. Unknown to him though, he already has.
On the opposite side of the street and much further down, Jay is sitting in his car. After a long talk with Evie in which he revealed everything that has happened up to that point in time, she had asked him what his next move would be. His reply had simply been to go back out there and find him again and so that's what he's doing. She had also wanted to know what his endgame was, what was he hoping to achieve by bringing Carlos home with him of a night.
He didn't have an answer for her. He knew he wanted to get Carlos off the streets, but he didn't really have any sort of long-term plan to make that happen. And he also didn't have Carlos on board with, well, anything really. He seemed reluctant to be in his company, not that this has discouraged Jay in the slightest.
Jay watches as Carlos' attention is drawn by something to his left and sees it's someone approaching him. He's half out of the car and ready to run down the street when he recognizes the person. It's the dragon girl. He sees her hand Carlos a Starbucks cup and they exchange a few words before she continues on her way. Jay smiles, he's not the only one looking out for Carlos.
He slowly makes his way over to him, watching how Carlos cups the hot beverage between his hands, clearly cold and attempting to get warmer. Jay comes to stand next to him and leans against the other side of the lamppost.
"What are you doing here?" Carlos asks, glaring at him.
"You forgot your coat," Jay says simply and Carlos glances down to notice the piece of clothing tucked under his arm.
"It's not my coat, it's your coat," Carlos says.
"I told you last night it was yours now," Jay replies.
"I can't keep that. It costs more than my rent! Look, what are you doing here? You can't just keep showing up like this," Carlos complains.
"Why not?" Jay asks.
"Because men won't approach me if you're here. No cars are going to slow down when they see I'm standing with a fucking Beast B's model, I-"
"Hey, I did a shoot for them! Remember when I told you about Ben and Evie?" Jay cuts in casually. "Well, Ben is actually-"
"Oh my god! You can't be here! You're scaring away my customers," Carlos says in frustration.
Jay lifts his head and puffs out his chest a little, glaring at people as they walk past. Carlos rolls his eyes as he realizes that his words are having the opposite effect of what he was going for.
"Jay. Stop," he says sternly.
"No. Come home with me," Jay says instead.
"You can't keep doing this," Carlos says, turning to face him.
"Yes, I can," Jay replies.
"You're just going to do this every night, aren't you? Pay 250 dollars just for me to sleep at your loft?" Carlos says, raising an eyebrow.
"You said time is money," Jay shrugs.
"I don't even do anything!" Carlos says, voice getting louder.
"And I don't care," Jay answers.
"But I do!" he yells. "I am not some charity case!"
"So then just come back with me. No money involved," Jay says.
"You know I can't do that. I need to make money, Jay. You don't get it. I've gone days without eating to pay rent and I've gone weeks late on rent so I can eat. I can't afford to just have sleepovers whenever I want," he says, frustration still clearly evident in his voice.
Jay is aware that if he were to ask Carlos about perhaps spending some time together during the day, that money really could be taken out of the equation. But selfishly he knows he is doing it this way to keep Carlos from spending his nights working the streets.
"Okay, so 250 was it?" he asks, ignoring the fact Carlos is clearly annoyed.
"We are not doing this," Carlos says flatly.
"We'll say 300, but this time you have to stay and have coffee with me in the morning," Jay says, moving to stand in front of Carlos.
"Yes," Jay says. "Now come on. I'm getting cold."
He reaches over and tugs on Carlos' wrist, pulling him in the direction of his car. The boy groans loudly, rolling his eyes, but begrudgingly trudges along behind him all the same.
They go through the same routine as they did the night before. Jay, who has the money prepared this time, hands over the cash as they sit in the car and Carlos again doesn't look him in the eye as he does so. Before they drive off, Jay places the coat he had been carrying on Carlos' lap without a word and Carlos rolls his eyes for the third time that night at the taller boy.
Their time together is again spent in relative silence. As they enter the loft, Jay makes for the kitchen, grabbing himself a glass of water and offering Carlos the same. He again declines, standing opposite him with his arms crossed over his chest, still very much annoyed.
"I don't know why you're so surprised. What did you think I was going to do when I woke up not to find you here? Just forget all about it?" Jay says with a shadow of smile on his face.
"A girl can dream," Carlos replies sarcastically, even though Jay's right, he knew it wouldn't be the last time he would see him.
Jay chuckles as Carlos huffs and plays with his fingers, unable to keep himself still. Jay wants him to be comfortable here, look at this place as a second home. They have a long way to go.
"What is that?" Carlos says, a slightly alarmed edge to his voice.
Jay looks at where his attention is focused and sees Carlos has spotted Dude curled up on the couch. Last night when Carlos had been here, Dude already asleep on his little bed Jay's room. So they had yet to meet.
"That's Dude, my dog," Jay says grinning.
He is fully aware that getting a dog was something they had talked about doing when they were little.
Carlos slowly makes his way over to where Dude is sleeping and sits on the couch next to him softly. Jay watches quietly as the young boy, in complete awe, reaches out a hand and gently runs a finger down the dog's side. Dude shifts and lifts his head yawning, before standing and climbing into Carlos' lap. Carlos smiles and strokes his head, scratching behind his ears.
"You got a dog?" he asks in disbelief, looking over at Jay.
Jay nods and says as if it were a given.
Jay eventually turns the TV on and sits down on the couch himself, making sure to leave a comfortable distance between Carlos and him. There is some bird documentary on that he is barely paying attention to, finding the enamored boy cooing and playing with his dog far more entertaining.
Too soon though he finds he is falling asleep. He wants to stay awake and just watch Carlos for hours on end, but even Dude has curled up, ready for bed. He eventually stands, stretches and takes his glass back over to the kitchen, putting it in the sink.
"I don't know about you, but I am exhausted. If you want you can stay up or take Dude into your room to sleep. He has a bed in mine, but half the time he winds up on my bed so he won't mind," he says, amused at how Carlos still hasn't taken his eyes off of the dog in his lap.
"Yeah," Carlos says absentmindedly, curling his hands around the small animal and lifting him to his chest as he stands.
They both walk down the hallway, Jay to his room, Carlos into the spare room.
"Goodnight 'Los," Jay calls out before entering.
"Goodnight Jay," Carlos says back, looking away from Dude for the first time since he got him in his arms.
Jay wakes in the morning to find his loft empty again, but this time the coat is missing and there is a steaming hot cup of coffee sitting on his bedside table.
Chapter 5: ᵈᵉˢᵖᵉʳᵃᵗᵉ ᵗᶦᵐᵉˢ.
"So let me get this straight," Ben says, trying to wrap his head around what Jay has just told him. "An old friend of yours that disappeared when you were twelve, you have found nine years later in the same city, working the streets. And in order to stop him from doing so, you are paying him to stay with you. That is what you are telling me?"
Evie, Lonnie and Ben are in his office right now, staring down at him from where he sits in his chair. Evie insisted he tell her what happened last night and so he had no choice but to fill Ben and Lonnie in on what was going on. They would have found out eventually anyway. Lonnie has a way of getting people to open up to her and while technically she works as store manager for her oldest friend, Ben, in Beast B's, she is always fluttering about between floors getting in everyone's business. And if Lonnie knows something, Ben knows. So it was inevitable really.
"When you say it like that it sounds so... shady," Jay says, cringing. "But it's not like I'm paying him to sleep with me. Just to have a warm bed at night. I couldn't just leave him out there."
"We know you wouldn't take advantage of someone like that, Jay. But it's still a weird situation," Evie says softly.
"Well, what else was I suppose to do? He wouldn't come with me and I couldn't just walk away," Jay answers, frustrated.
"From the sounds of it though, he's been out there for a long time, Jay. He probably knows how to handle himself better than you do. And you can't just come along and expect him to want to be your friend again, to just allow you to change and control things for him. Especially if he doesn't want you to," Evie says gently.
"He's just a bit guarded at the moment. It's been a long time. What do you want me to do? Just not try? Give up?"
Jay feels like they're ganging up on him. None of them seemed very impressed with what he's told them has been happening.
"That's not what we're saying, Jay," Lonnie begins. "You said it yourself, it's been a long time and people change. I mean, he's running before you even get up in the morning, he doesn't want to be here and you might just have to accept that. Have you even thought about what's going to happen if you keep paying him money like this? He's going to think he owes you something, that he's in your debt. It's not really healthy, Jay."
Lonnie is being less gentle than Ben and Evie, but she's worried. She knows by now how much Carlos means to him and she doesn't want him to get his hopes up if it turns out Carlos is not the same boy he used to be.
"What? He doesn't owe me anything! I am not just leaving him to have to fuck random strangers to survive! I refuse to let that be his life!" Jay says, raising his voice.
"Jay," Evie says, "we get that you have to try, but you need to be careful. We're just concerned you're not thinking about this realistically," Evie finishes in a voice attempting to calm him.
Jay stands up. He needs some air.
"Look, I know you guys are just looking out for me and I love you for that, but I can take care of this myself. Really," he says, leaving the room without waiting for a response.
He needs to get away from everyone and their concerned looks. No one gets it. Jay would do whatever, pay whatever, and give up whatever if he knew it would help Carlos. He understands that paying someone he hasn't seen in years to stay at his loft at night is a precarious situation. But it's Carlos. And in Jay's mind, that's all the explanation needed.
He feels bad for snapping at his friends like that though. He really shouldn't. The three of them are the only family he has left and he owes a lot to all of them.
It hadn't been an accident when Jay had referred to his foster parents as his actual parents when he was with Carlos the other night. He really felt like they were his family, and they came into his life around the same time Carlos went missing. Without them there to support him through it, he probably wouldn't have survived.
They were also the ones that led him to Evie. They enrolled him in Auradon Prep, which wasn't even pretty close to his home in Agrabah, but it was a vast improvement from the public school located in the same area as the Isle, Dragon Hall, where Carlos and he had attended on and off throughout their years in the system. They were sent there only because it was close to the group home but everyone knew that they were foster kids. They both hated it.
At Auradon Prep he was only known as George and Mary Tull's grandson. The Tulls were quite old when they adopted Jay, so everyone just assumed that he lived with his grandparents. It was at this school that he'd meet Evie. They became friends quite quickly, and with Jay already having a passion for photography, and Evie already beginning to design her own clothes, it was natural that he would start photographing her designs.
It was his photographs that they submitted and sent off to Project Runway that got Evie through. When she won, she moved away from the where she lived to this time to the center of Auradon, and asked Jay to move with her. His foster mother had passed from cancer when Jay was sixteen and father from heart disease two years later, leaving a devastated Jay on his own again. And so it was at eighteen he ran away, having nothing left keeping him in Agrabah, long given up on finding his lost childhood friend.
Things would get better though. Evie would meet Ben - son of a famous movie star - during the competition and a new friendship would begin to bloom. Jay, who supported her throughout the entire thing couldn't help but love the man also, despite still wanting Evie to win. They were close throughout the whole competition and had even began to spin some ideas together about their own side project.
Evie eventually took home the title, with Ben runners-up. He wasn't upset about losing to her, just as she wouldn't have been upset if it were the other way around. Soon after that Ben would find the old building and they would begin to make their dreams a reality. Ben was living with his old friend Lonnie, and Evie had just moved into an apartment with her boyfriend Doug. So when Jay approached them about the top floor becoming his loft, no one took issue. After all, he became their resident, go-to photographer for whenever they needed new shots to advertise their new designs.
Jay also began to attract his own attention. He got his big break when Audrey Rose, a teenage movie star who was a fan of Evie's, did a shoot with him for Evie's 4 Hearts. After that it had started as odd jobs for different magazines, but eventually he was taking photos for the most famous people in this area. Since then he's had a comfortable, steady stream of loyal clients and business deals. Though his loyalties lie with Evie and Ben, and if they need him, then they come first.
At the moment he is trying to set-up a very special shoot for them. Their side project has finally come to fruition. Together, Evie and Ben have created a special collection that will be available only in Evie's 4 Hearts and Beast B's, known as Bevie. It's a homage to the collective name they were given on Project Runway, when fans took notice of how well they worked together and got along.
The new clothing line consists of more androgynous wear for boys and girls. It moves away from the gender barriers of what people are expected to wear and is tailored to work with both slight and fuller body types. The upcoming release of the new line is what has Ben and Evie living in the back rooms of their stores, working on getting everything together by the deadline they have set for themselves.
Jay just hopes he can pull himself together to get everything sorted on his end, he has been quite distracted lately.
Carlos is currently walking down the street with two garbage bags in hand, full of all his earthly possessions. It's similar to how it used to be in foster care, having someone pack what you own into garbage bags like rubbish before sending you off to live with strangers. With Jay's recent appearance in his life, things are really coming full circle.
Carlos had left Jay's early that morning to return to his own apartment. It was tiny, with almost no furniture, just a bed that sat in the corner, but it was his own. He had walked into the building to find his landlord waiting for him. He was over a month late on rent again and had been dreading coming home for this exact reason. But at least he had the money to pay it now.
His landlord would make sure to get the money from him, with interest, before handing him the garbage bags full of his things and informing him he'd been evicted. He knows it had probably been the hundredth time he was late on rent, but he is sure he is supposed to get some sort of eviction notice before being kicked out. Carlos would argue, if he thought it would help him at all. Even if he tried to escalate things, the authorities have never been much help for people like him.
So here he is, walking to Mal's house to ask if he can keep his things in the shed in her backyard. At least until he can figure something out.
Carlos walks into the front yard of the residence and around the side of the house. He is here often and Mal's foster mom, Ursula, takes very little notice of when he comes and goes, mostly just insisting on 'fattening him up' whenever she sees him and filling him with her famous spaghetti.
He walks into the backyard and into the shed that sits against the fence. The shed is covered in Mal's art; the girl uses spray paint to create murals on the outside and has different art pieces on the inside. Every time Carlos comes over though it's different. She is always changing her mind and thinking of something new and re-doing the whole thing. Or she's out in some alleyway doing it there.
When Carlos enters he sees Mal, dressed only in grey sweatpants and a green sports bra, asleep on the couch that sits in the corner. So he plants himself on Mal's stool and wheels himself around looking at the different pieces she is working on. He gently runs a finger down one of the colored walls, inspecting it after to see if the paint is dry.
"Stop messing up my work," Carlos hears mumbled from the corner of the room.
He smiles and turns towards the sleepy face of his friend.
"It's dry and you know it. And besides, this will probably last a week before you paint right over it again," Carlos says, scooting closer to her.
Mal huffs and stands up, indicating for Carlos to get off her stool. Carlos does and plonks himself straight onto the couch. He stretches out and gets himself comfortable, watching as Mal grabs one of her cans, shakes it, and just gets straight back to painting.
"Why are you here so early? Bad night?" Mal asks without looking away from what she is creating.
"No. I actually had a good night's sleep," Carlos answers, staring up at the ceiling. Mal has sprayed this intricate galaxy pattern that swirls above him.
"Really? How'd that happen?" Mal asks.
"You remember that guy you said was asking about me at Ursula's?" Carlos says, looking back over to Mal.
"Yeah," Mal says slowly.
"Well, he found me," Carlos answers.
"If he's giving you trouble you let me know," Mal says seriously, pausing what she's doing for a second to give Carlos her full attention.
"No, no. He's fine. But there is something else you could help me with," Carlos says, giving her a smile.
Mal just raises an eyebrow.
"I got kicked out of my place and I was hoping I could leave my stuff in here until I find another," Carlos says hopeful.
Mal looks on the ground where the two garbage bags sit, only now just noticing them.
"Yeah, I don't mind. But where are you going to stay? You know I would offer here, but Uma's aunt and some cousins are coming to stay for a while and we're going to have a full house. And you know how stressed Ursula gets when relatives visit," Mal explains.
Carlos snickers. "Yeah, I know. It's cool, though. I was just going to ask Harry," Carlos answers, not looking at Mal.
"Harry? Really? But I thought you said you were done with him?" Mal asks with worried expression and something that looks quite like fear in her green eyes. She looks away.
"Yeah well, desperate times," Carlos says casually, standing up.
"Wait, Uma told me to give you this. It's that salty chocolate stuff you like. She also told me that you're the only one who ever buys it, and by that she probably meant you owe her something," Mal says while reaching into her worn out backpack sitting among her spray cans.
Carlos chuckles and opens the chocolate bar, offering it to Mal.
Too soon it's night and Carlos finds himself back on the streets, looking for anyone interested in some company. Earlier in the day he had managed to find Harry and organize to stay at his place until he can find some other crappy and dirt-cheap apartment to rent.
Harry works as a bartender at one of the strip clubs (that his father owns, by the way, and Carlos has no idea how a man known as 'Captain Hook', one of the most respected drug dealers on the Isle ended up here, in the center of Auradon, but he doesn't complain) along the stretch in which Carlos tends to work. He used to crash at Harry's sometimes when they would hook-up.
Carlos wouldn't say they are friends exactly. And he certainly wouldn't say that they were ever romantically involved. Harry just used to finish working his shift around the same time Carlos would be getting ready to close business for the night. And if Carlos was late on his rent and avoiding his landlord, he would end up back at his.
It was never said out loud that what they had was an arrangement of sorts, that they'd fuck and Carlos would get a place to recover from his busy night. But that is basically what it was. Harry never just invited Carlos over to hang out and Carlos never stayed unless he needed to. Not that Carlos hadn't been attracted to Harry at the time, just between Carlos' past and the line of profession he was in, he wasn't really that interested in a proper relationship.
He hadn't stayed at Harry's in a while though. He was a bit of a drinker and could get aggressive with Carlos. He didn't like it. He didn't like it at all. But as he said, desperate times, because there was no way he was going to consider any other option. He just couldn't.
And he is even more sure of that when he sees his other option walking toward him looking like he just stepped out of a magazine. Carlos doesn't understand why Jay takes photos of models when he could be one himself. Modelling the clothes seems like it would be much more fun.
"So, you left. Again," Jay says as he comes to stand next to him.
"I had things to do," Carlos answers carefully.
Jay makes him feel so on edge. Just knowing Jay knows what he is, what he is doing here, makes him want to disappear.
"I said you had to have coffee with me in the morning, not make me one and leave it in my room," Jay says, smiling over at him before continuing.
"Which is why I've decided I didn't get my money's worth and you need to come back and have that coffee with me tomorrow morning," he finishes, a joking tone to his voice.
Carlos takes a deep breath. He decided last night that that was the last time. Jay cannot be in his life anymore. He can't bear the way he looks at him, like he is still that small, innocent boy he once knew. There is nothing innocent about Carlos anymore, that was ruined years ago.
"No. I'm not coming," Carlos says evenly.
"What?" Jay says, not really expecting Carlos' answer.
"I'm not coming with you. Last night was the last time," Carlos says, forcing himself to keep looking up at Jay.
Jay opens his mouth as if to say something, before closing it again.
Carlos notices out of the corner of his eye that a car has pulled up to the curb and a middle-aged man is staring at him quite obviously through the window.
"You should go home, Jay," he says, before walking over to the car.
"Wait! No!" Jay yells. "Is it the money? Because I'm sorry if-"
Carlos cuts him off.
"Go home, Jay," Carlos repeats calmly. "It's cold."
With that, Carlos gets into the stranger's car and shuts the door behind him, refusing to look at Jay as the car drives away.
Chapter 6: ᵈᵒⁿ'ᵗ ᵍᵒ.
warning; mentions of sexual situations and violence.
i gave harry a motorcycle because d3.
Carlos almost couldn't go through with it. He has done this for years and so is used to blocking it out and just getting on with things, but knowing Jay is out there right now, aware of what he is doing at this very minute makes him feel sick. He can't help but wonder if Jay is picturing it, thinking about what he was unable to stop. Tears begin to form in the corner of Carlos' eyes. He had never wanted Jay to know in first place.
It's hardly his worst encounter, the man seemed timid and unsure of himself, a first timer if Carlos absolutely had to guess. And he had only wanted Carlos' mouth which he was grateful for. He didn't enjoy blowing strangers but at least he didn't have to bend over for someone while he was feeling so awful.
He wishes Jay never found him. Carlos' life had mostly been filled with unhappiness and fear, but he had reached a place where he felt he at least had some sense of stability and control. Maybe not physically, but certainly emotionally. He had been living on his own and working on the streets for a long time now, and he no longer felt scared and weak all the time. Granted those feelings had been replaced with an emptiness that he could never quite shift, but did aid him in situations where he needed to shut down emotionally. Which was most nights really.
While Carlos focuses on distancing himself from what he is doing, Jay is still standing on the same sidewalk, quickly pacing back and forth and slowly losing his mind. He is roughly running his hands through his long hair, constantly scanning the streets as if Carlos will of a sudden appear again, safe and without company. The more he paces, the more he worries, and the more he worries, the angrier he gets.
Would Carlos really rather fuck some stranger than stay with Jay? Has Jay really changed that much that Carlos can't stand the sight of him? Is there really nothing left of the friendship they once had? Or maybe Jay has had it wrong this entire time. Maybe Carlos and he were never as close as he thought they were and when Carlos disappeared all those years ago, it was simply because he just didn't care about him anymore. Jay can feel his blood pumping through his veins, he is so angry. It's bubbling under the surface and he is struggling to keep a calm exterior as he stalks back and forth along the street.
Between the time it took to drive somewhere that was isolated enough for Carlos to get the job done, and then be dropped back off to his main stretch, it had been about an hour. Carlos had earned himself a 30, not as impressive as his previous night's work, but then those nights weren't exactly normal circumstances. And also didn't involve any 'work'.
He is out of the car, combing his messy hair back into place with his fingers as he trudges back to the sidewalk, when he notices someone tall barreling towards him. He thought it was bad having Jay see him leave with someone, but seeing him afterward and knowing they both know what has just happened is much worse.
Carlos self-consciously touches his mouth, as if Jay would be able to tell what he had just been doing with it. Not that there was any possible way, but he can't help the way he nervously drags his fingers across his lips as he watches Jay's furious approach.
When he comes to a stop in front of him, Carlos can't look at him. His shoulders are slightly hunched and he keeps his hand slightly covering his mouth.
"So? Was it worth it?" Jay asks, his breath hitching as he speaks.
Carlos swallows as he glances up at him, noticing the way the tendons in his neck stand out against the pale skin of his throat.
"What are you still doing here?" Carlos mumbles.
"What am I still doing here?" Jay asks, slightly hysterical. "I don't even know. I mean, you sure as hell don't want me around, do you?" he says, voice getting louder.
"Stop," Carlos warns quietly.
"Well it's true, isn't it? You'd rather go off and fuck strangers than god forbid spend any more time with me," says Jay sarcastically.
"Shut the fuck up," Carlos hisses. "Listen up, I don't know what kind of reunion you were hoping for but I need you to get something through that big, stupid head of yours. This is who I am now. This is who I have been for years. And I have managed to do just fine without you, so you need to back off."
Carlos punctuates the 'back' and 'off' with two stabbing fingers to Jay's chest.
"Oh, really? This is 'you doing just fine'?" Jay asks, gesturing to where they are. "Because having sex for money isn't really what I'd classify as just fine. I mean, how much did that guy pay you? How many more guys will it be tonight? There is no fucking way that you're doing just fine when-"
"Shut up, just shut up!" Carlos yells, the dam of emotions he was holding back, flooding over as he practically screams at Jay.
"Don't you see?" he says desperately, "you're ruining everything!" His voice is breaking and he knows the tears will come soon.
He backs away from Jay as he gulps for air, trying to hold back the sobs. He turns away from him and starts to quickly walk away, not wanting to have to stare up at his face any longer. A hand wrapping around his wrist stops him and he is turning around to tell Jay to let him go when another body comes crashing into the taller man, slamming him up against the wall of the building they're standing in front of.
"Get the fuck off him," A rough voice says and Carlos begins to panic. He recognizes this thick accent. Then he realizes that it's, in fact, Harry who has got Jay pinned against the brick wall, pressing a forearm over his throat.
"Harry, stop!" Carlos says, reaching for his shoulder to try and pull him off. "He wasn't hurting me, everything's fine!" he pleads.
"Go wait for me by my bike, pup, your new friend and I are going to have a little chat," Harry says to Carlos, staring into Jay's face who is struggling to breathe.
"No, let him go, please!" Carlos says anxiously, forcing himself between the two men, placing his hands on Harry's chest and coaxing him backwards.
Harry hesitates for a moment, staring down at Carlos, before his eyes flicker to Jay's again. Harry keeps the steady pressure of his palms against his chest, until he finally takes a step back from Carlos and Jay who is still crowded against the wall.
"He's fine. It's fine," Carlos says, keeping his hands up between them in order to keep Harry at bay, he refuses to move until he knows for sure he won't change his mind and do something stupid.
Harry glares at Jay over his shoulder for a moment longer, before finally looking away and gesturing at Carlos.
"Come on, we're leaving," he turns and begins to walk away.
Carlos lets out a shaky breath and can feel Jay do the same from where his chest is pressed up against his back. He takes a second to revel in the warmth he can feel radiating from Jay's body, before pulling away from him and slowly turning around to look up at him.
Jay looks at him sadly, back still pressed against the wall, defeated.
"No, don't go," he whispers, shaking his head faintly.
Carlos lowers his gaze and shakes his own head, he has made his decision. He turns to follow Harry, feeling his heart ache in his chest.
Ben is working quietly in the backroom of Beast B's. He often works into the night, finding he does his best work when no one else is around. Not that he doesn't appreciate his colleagues who help him to create his designs, he couldn't do it without them, the solitude just sometimes helps him think better. He is in the middle of putting a new design together, when a deflated looking Jay walks in and sits down in one of the free chairs across from where he stands. He doesn't look over at Ben, just stares at the wall in front of him, regret and sadness painting his features.
Ben waits and continues placing pins in his latest creation, knowing Jay will start to speak when he is ready. It doesn't take long.
"So, I should have listened to you guys. I pushed too hard. And now he hates me," Jay says, sounding completely miserable.
Ben doesn't answer, just waits for him to continue.
"I shouldn't have gotten angry with him. I was just so worried," Jay's voice is breaking, he's close to tears.
"I wasn't even angry at him. I was just angry at the situation and that I couldn't do anything to help," Jay says, covering his face with his hands and wiping away the tears that have escaped his eyes.
"Jay, you know we only said those things because we were worried about you. We weren't trying to make you feel like we were against you. We're always on your side," Ben says gently.
"I know. It's just- he was my best friend. And I want him back. And I want him safe. And-" Jay stops mid-sentence to take in a shaky, watery breath.
"Those are very nice things to want for someone, Jay. And I'm not going to stop you from doing whatever it is you need to do. But I am going to say two things and I want you to really think about them when I'm done," Ben says.
Jay takes another deep breath, seemingly a lot calmer and gives Ben his full attention.
"Firstly, you need to be careful about paying him to stay with you."
Jay opens his mouth as if to argue.
"No, just listen," Ben says. "I think this is what Lonnie was trying to say to you earlier. By giving him money, whether you mean to or not, you are creating an imbalance in the friendship. And if you truly want it to become a friendship again, you need to be aware of that. Remember when you talked to me about how you felt when Evie put all her money toward getting this place started? How you felt like you could never repay her?"
"Yes, but we ended up going through with it in the end," Jay answers.
"That's only because we all had faith that this would work and we could eventually pay her back for what she did for us. How do you expect Carlos to pay you back, Jay? You and I both know that there is no way," Ben says, his serious voice keeping Jay from arguing.
"Fine. But you said you wanted to say two things, so what's the second?" Jay asks, grumbling slightly.
"The second and probably the most important, is I know you want to help Carlos and get him off the streets, but you have to be aware of the fact that Carlos might not want the same thing. And you're going to have to respect that if you are intent on keeping him in your life," Ben states, giving Jay a meaningful look as he screws up his face at the very idea of leaving Carlos on the streets.
"And," Ben continues, "even if he does want to get off the streets, he may not necessarily want your help in doing so. He has had to rely on himself for a very long time now. You have to remember that you have missed out on nine years of Carlos' life and he may not be willing to allow you back into it yet. You're in a complicated situation, someone could end up getting really hurt, and it might not even be you."
Jay doesn't answer Ben. Just goes back to staring blankly at the wall, contemplating what has just been said to him. Ben doesn't seem to mind, returning to his dress mannequin and adjusting sleeve lengths on his half put together jacket.
Jay knows Ben is right, he has to be careful. He can't force himself back into Carlos' life if he isn't ready. And he can't force Carlos to do anything he doesn't want. He just can't imagine that Carlos would be happy with this life, happy to be selling himself to strangers.
He shouldn't have yelled at him. He had been trying so hard not to scare Carlos off and he basically nearly got himself beat up from screaming at him. He still hasn't been able to ask Carlos what happened all those years ago, what caused him to disappear. A part of him is scared of the answer, but he knows he can't tip toe around it forever. After what happened though, he may never get the chance to ask.
Somewhere across town, Carlos' hips are pinned against a counter, while Harry presses his own into him from behind. He is placing lazy kisses on his neck and Carlos is still undecided about whether he is into it or not.
Walking back to Harry's motorcycle with him earlier, he had worked out quite quickly that after his shift had ended early, he had started drinking. Despite not having an actual license, Carlos had insisted on driving back to Harry's house himself, not quite trusting the inebriated man.
Carlos had been terrified when he saw it was Harry who had grabbed Jay, aware of how aggressive the Hook could be. He didn't want a fight to break out, he didn't want Jay getting hurt over him. Harry is shorter than Jay, with messy brown hair and stormy blue eyes, but he is stockier, and he knows how to use his body. He is just glad that Harry was with it enough to listen to Carlos when he asked him to let Jay go.
"So who was that guy back there, another unsatisfied customer?" Harry asks, pressing his hips into Carlos' ass.
Carlos shakes his head, feeling uncomfortable.
"Did you fuck him though?" Harry grabs onto his hips and spins Carlos around so they're facing each other, immediately going for his collarbones.
"No. It's not like that," Carlos answers quietly, turning his face away. Not so Harry can have better access to his throat, just so he doesn't have to look at him.
"Really? Because I think he was totally your type," he says against Carlos' neck.
"I don't have 'a type', Harry," Carlos tells him for hundredth time, closing his eyes to escape Harry's lustful gaze. "And you know it."
"Yeah? Then what am I, puppy?" Harry asks with perfectly faked hurt expression. He looks almost like he cares. "Isn't 'big dick' your type anymore?"
Carlos can't bear it anymore. He is still so wound up from his fight with Jay and he can't stand hearing someone talk to him like that. He stands up straight and pushes Harry away from him.
"Okay, that's it. You have to stop," he says, annoyed.
Harry doesn't take the hint.
"What? No, come on," he says, reaching for Carlos again and pressing himself back into him.
"Stop!" Carlos says shoving him away roughly, rougher than he usually would with the man in front of him.
The shove earns him a backhand across the face. Carlos tastes the blood before he registers the pain.
Chapter 7: ᵗʰᵉʳᵉ ᶦˢ ˢᵒᵐᵉᵒⁿᵉ.
Carlos is sitting back where he had started yesterday morning, on Mal's small couch in the back shed. The difference this time however, is he is sporting a busted bottom lip and a darkening purple bruise along the right side of his jaw.
Harry had apologized immediately after the hit had taken place, feeding him a feeble excuse about being drunk and that Carlos should know how he gets. But Carlos had simply walked out, no real destination in mind, ending up at Mal's without even really thinking about it, and winding up camping out on the couch. Mal had walked in early that morning to find him sleeping, and not wanting to disturb her battered looking friend, she had quietly started painting without a word.
Upon waking, Carlos lets out a small groan, looking over to Mal who gives him a look that says it all.
"I know," Carlos says, before she can say anything.
"Can we just agree, no more Harry?" Mal simply asks.
Carlos nods his head solemnly, grateful Mal is not going to lecture him.
He already knows what she is going to say. Harry has shoved him around and given him a few smacks to the face before, usually not enough to draw blood, but this definitely isn't the first bruise the man has left on Carlos' skin. He shouldn't have asked to stay with him. Carlos knows better, he does. He just hadn't seen an alternative at the time.
"Where are you going to stay? You can use the couch if you really need to, but it's getting really cold out here. It was freezing last night too, you should have come in and woken me," Mal says.
Carlos shakes his head at his friend. "I was fine, I've slept in worse places," he chuckles, but Mal doesn't join in, giving him a grave look.
Carlos sighs heavily and starts reassuring her. "I'll work it out, I promise. Besides, Uma's aunt is going to be here soon. You'll probably want the couch for yourself to get away from her family."
"What about Gil? Have you asked if you can stay with him?" Mal presses, ignoring Carlos' continued attempts to make light of the situation.
"No, I wouldn't do that to him," he answers, shaking his head again. "He'd probably worry worse than Ursula with the hours I keep. And... and you know his father," he adds quietly, looking away from the purple haired girl.
Mal focuses her attention back on coloring the walls with a new portrait piece of a very, very beautiful blue haired girl, with full red lips and big brown eyes. He wonders, is she real? Or did Mal come up with this idea of this look by herself? Is she Mal's friend? He can swear he saw this face somewhere before. He looks closer for he details of the picture, but it's still unfinished. He wonders-
"You better make sure Ursula doesn't see you. She'll go looking for Harry herself," Mal smiles for the first time since Carlos has woken.
"I don't doubt it," he says, returning the smile.
"Seriously though Carlos, is there someone you can call?" Mal asks.
"There is someone," he answers quietly.
After changing his clothes, leaving Mal's and catching a bus from downtown, Carlos finds himself standing out the front of Jay's building. He doesn't know what he's doing here.
The building looks more impressive in the light of day then it does when he had seen it at night. On the front, arranged on top of each other in the order of floor location and made of polished mirror-reflective lettering, are the names of each business contained within. Evie's 4 Hearts shop is at the very bottom, written in a pretty cursive, sitting underneath the more graffiti styled Beast B's. Above them both sits the words Cobra Studios, the mere sight of the name causes Carlos to cringe, reminding him just how bad of an idea this is.
He manages to make it inside and over to the elevators. He doesn't know the passcode up to Jay's loft, but he is sure if he were to take it up to his studio, he would find the man there. He stares at the 'up' button that signals the elevator, hesitating to press it, when all of a sudden he shakes his head and turns around, changing his mind and deciding he can't go through with it. He doesn't even know why he came here in the first place, the whole thing is stupid. He is heading back over towards the exit when he hears his name being called, stopping him mid-step.
He follows the voice and finds himself staring at very, very beautiful blue haired girl, with full red lips and big brown eyes. She has her wavy hair tied up in a high ponytail and a pair of high heels on that look as if they could puncture something if she were to step on you. He recognizes her. Kinda.
"Thought so. He's described you in enough detail, I'd be more surprised if I couldn't pick it," she says smiling.
Carlos just furrows his brow, still unsure who he is looking at.
"I'm Evie," she says quickly, realizing his confusion. "He said he mentioned me?"
Carlos nods slowly in realization. "Yeah, he did. Uhm. Hi," he says, feeling uncomfortable, he needs to get out of here as soon as possible.
Evie watches him for a few seconds in silence before continuing.
"Well," she says, letting out a heavy exhale, "you better come in."
With that she turns on the spot and heads into Evie's 4 Hearts and Carlos reluctantly follows her into the backroom.
"You guys can take an early break," she says upon entering.
There is a team of people currently occupying the room and working away. There are about six of them, some with measuring tapes, some handling different fabrics, and others going over sketches of different designs. They immediately set their things down in response to Evie's words and begin to head out, and Carlos tries to keep his head down and face hidden.
"You too, Doug!" she says, and Carlos spots a single person that had stayed at their seat - Doug. He has glasses on and writes something in a big notebook. He looks up when Evie mentions his name.
The boy stands up, says something quietly to himself, and - giving Evie a kiss on her cheek - leaves, still writing something in his notebook.
When everyone's finally gone he looks back up at Evie who just shrugs, "It takes a village and all that," she says offhandedly, gesturing in the direction of her ebbing staff. "Do you want a coffee?"
Carlos shakes his head. "No, that's fine, you don't have to-"
Evie cuts in. "Please, there is a coffee machine in the corner over there!" she says, pointing. "I literally press a few buttons and... magic, coffee!"
She is already walking over to the machine and grabbing a mug before Carlos is able to say anything more. So he just sits down on a chair that's been placed next to a mannequin wearing the beginnings of a red, peter pan collared dress.
He mumbles a thank you when she eventually hands him the cup of fresh coffee, but soon is wincing and sucking in a sharp breath when the hot liquid touches the cut on his lip.
"Yeah, that looks pretty nasty," Evie says, tilting her head slightly. "We better get you a bit more cleaned up before he sees you."
Evie heads to the back of the room and goes through a door Carlos hadn't even noticed was there. He assumes it's a bathroom when he hears the sound of a tap being turned on and water hitting a sink. When Evie returns with a wet tissue in hand, she makes a beeline for Carlos. And before he can protest, she is angling his chin up with one hand and dabbing at the dry blood on his lip with the other.
Carlos keeps quiet despite the sting and lets Evie clean his face without complaint. It's not like he has split his entire lip open, he's just got a cut from where Harry's knuckles connected with his lip and teeth. The bruise and ache in his jaw probably hurt the most, that is when he isn't drinking coffee or allowing strangers to clean his wounds.
"There," Evie says, taking a step back and examining her work. She frowns, "He's going to freak out when he sees your face."
Carlos deflates. This was the worst idea ever.
"You stay here and drink your coffee," Evie says. "I'm going to call him down and give him the heads up on what he's about to walk into, but be warned, this is not going to be pretty."
She turns and exits the room and he can see her pulling her phone out of a pocket in her blue leather jacket as she goes, obviously preparing to call Jay. Carlos sits in silence and waits. And it's torture. He feels like he's waiting to be scolded, like when they were kids and would be returned to the group home after running away from another foster family. They used to be made to sit in the main office and wait for the head of staff to come in and yell at them. The waiting always made Carlos anxious, Jay was never too bothered.
These are very different circumstances though, and instead of Jay being by his side as they wait to be yelled at, Jay is the one who is going to be doing the yelling.
"Okay," Evie says with a grimace as she walks back in, "he's on his way down."
"That bad, huh?" Carlos asks.
Evie just offers him a sympathetic smile and paces slowly as they wait.
Jay was so angry last time they had seen each other, Carlos shouldn't have shown up here like this. He's only going to make it worse. He is not ready for this he thinks, as his heart thumps inside his chest. But the frantic sound of hurried footsteps coming in tells him it's too late.
"Oh my god!" Jay says as soon as his eyes land on Carlos.
"Jay. It's fine," Carlos says carefully.
"Oh my god!" he says again as he gets closer to him.
Once directly in front of him he makes a move as if to touch the damage on Carlos' face, before changing his mind and running his hand messily through his own hair.
"Oh my god!"
"Jay, you need to calm down," Evie says from behind him, watching as Jay gets increasingly more distressed the longer he looks at Carlos.
Before he can answer, or repeat another "oh my god", the sound of chatting voices floods through the room and they all look up to notice Evie's staff back from their break, completely unaware of what they are walking in on.
Evie looks at Jay and nods her head in the direction of the door. Jay immediately gets the hint.
"Come on," he says quietly to Carlos, walking them to the elevators.
They take Jay's private one with the passcode, so Carlos figures they're heading to his loft. Carlos is grateful for that. He didn't want anyone else seeing his face. Though he is dreading being alone with Jay. Especially now that the initial shock has worn off and Carlos is sporting a face like thunder.
When they reach the loft and exit the elevator into the main room, Jay doesn't say anything for a while. He just stands there and stares at Carlos. The tension is palpable, but Carlos just waits in silence.
"What happened?" Jay asks, his voice low and serious.
Carlos shrugs a shoulder nervously before answering. "I was kicked out of my apartment. So I asked Harry if I could stay with him. And we had a disagreement," he answers vaguely.
"You were kicked out of your apartment?" Jay asks, face blank.
"Yeah, I was evicted."
"And what?" Jay says, anger creeping into his voice. "You didn't think about maybe asking me for a place to stay?"
"I had stayed at Harry's before," Carlos says weakly.
"Right. Harry," Jay says sarcastically. "The same Harry that had me pinned by the throat last night? That Harry?"
Carlos doesn't answer.
"What kind of disagreement?" Jay asks, changing his line of questioning so quickly that it throws Carlos.
"What?" he asks confused.
"What happened exactly between you and Harry?" Jay says, enunciating each word slowly through gritted teeth.
Carlos can tell Jay is trying to keep his anger in check, but an outburst is sure to come soon. Carlos seems to be very good at bringing that side out in him. The side of Jay he had left behind a long time ago. The angry foster kid.
"That doesn't matter," Carlos says dismissively.
"It does matter."
"Why?" Carlos snaps in frustration.
"Because I want to know if you have broken fucking ribs or something that you're also not telling me about. For fucks sake! Why didn't you come to me?" Jay practically yells back.
"Stop acting like you have the right to be angry at me about this! It's been almost ten years, Jay. We-" Carlos says, gesturing angrily between the two of them with his hand, "are not best friends anymore! Okay? Stop acting like we are."
Jay lets out a shaky breath and slightly turns his body away from Carlos, covering his face with his hands. He mumbles a "fuck" under his breath and tilts his head back toward the ceiling, and it is then Carlos realizes he is crying. He watches as Jay keeps the heels of his palms pressed against his closed eyelids, frustrated with his own emotions.
Carlos quietly walks over to him until he is standing in front of the taller man and grabs both his wrists, pulling his hands away from his face.
"He got a little handsy. So I shoved him, he backhanded me, and then I left. No broken ribs. Nothing," Carlos says calmly, hoping Jay understands this insight as the peace offering it is.
Jay looks at him carefully and sniffs. "Show me," he says.
"Jay..." Carlos sighs.
But he just continues staring down at him, not trusting Carlos to tell him the truth. And right now Carlos would do anything to get him to stop crying, so letting out an even bigger sigh, he lifts his shirt for him.
Jay cranes his neck and looks over the expanse of Carlos' chest, ghosting his fingers over his ribs, finding no marks, only smooth skin and lots, lots of freckles.
"See? Nothing," Carlos says, dropping his shirt back down.
He gives Jay a small smile and reaches his hands up to his face, using the backs of his fingers to wipe away the tear tracks marring Jay's cheeks.
Jay grabs at Carlos' wrists this time and keeps them by his face, suspended in mid-air so Carlos can't back away from him.
"Why did you come here?" he asks quietly.
Carlos opens his mouth as if to say something, but just shakes his head and looks down. He doesn't even know the answer to that.
"You have to stay. Please stay? Just until you can find somewhere else," he says softly.
Carlos looks back up at him, searching his eyes for something he isn't even sure of, before nodding.
"Just until I can find somewhere else."
"After what happened?" Carlos says warily, staring at Jay from over his mug.
"Where did you stay after it happened?"
It's the next morning and they are sitting opposite one another at the table, quietly drinking their first coffees of the day. Jay can't get over how much he has missed seeing Carlos mussed hair and sleepy eyes of a morning. They sit in relative silence until Jay asks something that has been bothering him.
"After Harry hit you? You said you left."
It was only once Jay had gotten into bed last night that it occurred to him that Carlos may have spent the night out in the streets, all bloodied and bruised.
"Oh, I stayed at Mal's," Carlos answers.
"Mal? Who's Mal?"
Carlos smirks. "The girl you chased down to talk to when you were looking for me. When you were at Ursula's."
"Oh, the dragon girl," Jay says smiling, glad to finally have a name to go along with the face, until he realizes something. "Wait, she told you about that? Did you know it was me who was asking about you?"
"No," Carlos says.
Jay narrows his eyes at him.
"Well, I mean, M may have mentioned the Isle and the words awkward and brunette," he says sheepishly. "But it's not like it's the first time a guy has come around asking for me."
Jay just rolls his eyes.
Carlos stands up when they are both finished their coffees and takes them over to the sink, turning the tap on and looking in the underneath cabinet for some form of dish-washing liquid.
Jay scrunches his face up and grins.
"You don't have to wash the dishes, you know," he says.
Carlos stands back up, holding the soap in his hand victoriously and continues with what he is doing.
"Yes, I do," Carlos says. "I have to do something around here. I can't just stay here for free and do nothing to help out."
"You're not doing nothing. You're keeping me company," Jay says simply.
Carlos rolls his eyes. "Yes, but usually when I keep someone company it involves an orgasm. You're just having me sleep in your bed and drink your coffee."
"I like having you around," Jay says instead.
Carlos glares at him from where he stands in the kitchen.
"Fine. If it makes you feel better, I'll occasionally slap your ass when you walk past me and blow you kisses from across the room," Jay says, keeping a straight face.
Carlos snorts and turns his back on him in order to start washing the dishes, but Jay is able to catch the smile that has appeared on his face before he does so.
He sits at the table watching Carlos for a while, before he looks over at the time and realizes he needs to start getting ready to head down for work.
"So, I have to work today," Jah says, breaking the silence. "You're welcome to just hang around the studio if you like, but it's going to be pretty boring. I'm just booking models and setting a shoot up for Evie and Ben. Nothing exciting."
Carlos glances over his shoulder at him while he speaks, but continues with the dishes he has started.
"Or you can stay here. Whatever you want to do," he finishes, trying not to sound controlling but wanting to know where Carlos will be during the day.
"That's okay. I'm actually going to head back to Mal's. I need to grab some clothes," Carlos says, turning around to give Jay his full attention.
"Oh, right. Of course," Jay says, only now just noticing Carlos is wearing the same t-shirt and jeans from last night. The fact that Carlos had actually still been here in the morning when he woke up was enough to distract him from anything else.
"Oh, shit," Jay says suddenly. "I never even offered you anything to sleep in, I'm so sorry," he apologizes.
"That's okay," Carlos says again, shrugging and turning back around. "I usually just sleep in a shirt and underwear anyhow."
Jay blinks slowly and pauses, caught off guard by the statement, before snapping out of it and clearing his throat.
"Yeah. Uh, cool," he says awkwardly and rolls his eyes at himself.
He doesn't know why he feels so flustered at that generally tame piece of information.
"Well, you're also welcome to wear any of my clothes," he says eventually. "Though they'll probably be about five sizes too big."
Carlos looks over his shoulder at him again and smiles.
Jay practically skips into work that day.
Chapter 8: ᶦ'ᵛᵉ ᵍᵒᵗ ᶦᵗ ᶠʳᵒᵐ ʰᵉʳᵉ.
It's the next day, Jay has already gone down for work, and Carlos is currently walking around his loft inspecting everything. He isn't snooping, just taking his time looking around the place without Jay's watchful eyes taking in his every move. Jay watches him a lot. He tries to be subtle about it, but Carlos always notices. It's been his job for years to notice someone's eyes on him after all.
He has Dude in his arms as he does so, the dog wriggling every now and then as if trying to escape, but Carlos can't help but keep him cuddled up against his chest. He is the most perfect thing he has ever seen and it's been a while since he has experienced this kind of innocent affection, even if it is from a pet.
Jay's loft is simply designed yet with a modern look about it. The furniture and walls fit a mostly black and red scheme with a splash of yellow or white from the photo frames hung along the walls. Carlos wonders if they're Jay's own work, but some are smaller shots as if from an old school camera, with him and different people in it. There is one of a very young looking Jay and Evie, it's the Jay he remembers most. They must have been in high school when it was taken; Evie has darker and way more curly hair and Jay looks slightly gangly like he hasn't grown into his limbs yet. It makes Carlos feel a strange sort of melancholy, an almost confirmation that he's missed too much and really doesn't belong in Jay's life anymore.
Carlos eventually puts Dude down and heads into the bathroom. It is by far his favorite room in the loft. It isn't the biggest, but it has a huge clean mirror and the water pressure in the shower is amazing. And always blissfully hot.
Carlos' old apartment had a shower that mostly ran cold and would often stop working. The whole place was always freezing with no heating system and there was a constant leak coming from the ceiling. The building itself was very old and his neighbors were practically nonexistent. They were mainly not very nice people, drug dealers, gangsters. They weren't really living there, at least not in hours when he could meet them, but sometimes he could hear screaming and doors slamming shut.
Sometimes there would be banging on his own door and he had come home from working all night to find the place had been broken into more than once, the pathetic lock on his door busted right open. When sleeping, Carlos would often curl up on his mattress on the floor, back pressed to the wall, watching the door just in case. It's why he mostly spent the whole night out, he felt safer sleeping during the day.
Carlos decides to take himself down to Jay's studio. He had again been invited to hang out there if he didn't have any plans, and since he hadn't actually seen the place yet, he was curious. He takes the elevator down and winds up in a foyer with creamy tiles and floor to ceiling windows that make the place look bright and immaculately pristine. There is a young girl with shoulder length brown hair and a blue bow on her head, sitting at the front desk watching him as he awkwardly makes his way over.
"Hi, I'm looking for Jay," he says quietly.
She looks down and makes to flip through an appointment book when Carlos pipes up again.
"I'm not here for business. Jay's a... he's a friend," Carlos says pathetically, thinking he should have just stayed in the loft.
"Oh, you're Carlos! I'm Jane, I work at reception. Well, mostly I just tell people that they've reached the wrong floor when they're looking for Ben or Evie. But it's nice to meet you," she says, eager and bubbly.
Carlos smiles at her, liking her honest candor.
"Just go on through," she continues. "He said you might be coming in at some point, he should be in his office."
Carlos nods and walks towards the end of the foyer, glancing back to see Jane typing away at the computer on her desk, smile firmly in place. She can't be a lot older than him, but somehow she looks way more innocent and happier. Carlos can't help but like her for it. He'd kill to be that way again.
The studio is set out differently to what he had briefly seen of Evie's 4 Hearts. Evie's floor didn't have a front desk in the foyer, just an entrance to the left which led straight into the store. He hadn't got to take a very good look inside though, he was too focused on keeping his head down and following Evie to the back room.
Jay'a studio instead, begins with a corridor that Carlos is tentatively walking down. He walks until there are two hallways on both his left and right, where he stops to contemplate. He has no idea where Jay's office is and he doesn't want to walk where he shouldn't. So he continues going straight and finds himself standing in a big open room, painted all white. This must be the actual studio room where the photos are taken. There is a small desk and chair toward the back, but no one is sitting there, and there's a door just behind it. Again, Carlos is afraid to go in.
Footsteps catch his attention and he turns to see someone holding multiple Starbucks cups, strolling down the corridor. The man is tall and blonde, not a slightest sign of smile on his face. Carlos makes his way over to him quickly.
"Excuse me, could you tell me where Jay's office is?" he asks politely, hoping he doesn't seem too out of place in the quiet studio.
"It's down the left hallway here," the man says, pointing to where he had passed earlier.
"His is the one on the end, I'm actually about to go in and give the bossman his coffee now," he continues.
"Oh. I can take it in for him if you like. You have others to deliver by the looks of things," Carlos says, gesturing to the other coffees and coming off far more relaxed than he feels.
"Yeah, thanks. I'm the intern so I get to do the coffee runs. I'm Chad by the way," he says, reaching his hand out and looking Carlos up and down in a way that's more than just friendly.
"Carlos," he answers in return, shaking his hand calmly.
Chad holds on for too long, maintaining eye contact in a way Carlos is sure he thinks is charming. He knows guys like this, too aware of how attractive they are and too damn cocky about it.
Once Chad lets go and indicates which cup is for Jay, Carlos retreats quickly down the hall and to the end office on the right. He looks back to see Chad is still watching him and gives a weak smile before opening the door and pushing his way inside.
The office isn't very big, just a simple desk and computer on one side facing the door, and two chairs on the opposite. Jay is sitting at his desk, hunched over with his phone pressed to his ear and staring at something on his computer screen.
He looks up with irritation at the sound of his door being opened, but his expression soon changes into a smile at seeing it is Carlos coming in. He silently gestures for him to take a seat, before making grabby hands at the coffee Carlos is carrying. The boy smiles and hands it to him, curling himself up on one of the chairs so he can rest his head on his knees.
Jay is arguing with someone, something about a model he had booked cancelling on him and not wanting just anyone. Carlos isn't really following, he just smiles occasionally when Jay rolls his eyes in his direction and steals sips from his coffee when he thinks he isn't looking. Mal sometimes gets him Starbucks when she isn't busy and it truly is the best coffee.
When Jay finally gets off the phone, he lets out a huge sigh and leans back in his chair, giving Carlos a lazy smile.
"Sorry about that. How are you? You didn't seem to be awake when I got up, so I thought I'd let you sleep in," Jay says.
Which is true, the door to the spare room was closed when Jay stumbled out of his own room that morning, so he figured Carlos was still sleeping. He had to resist the urge to go in and check Carlos was still there though, and hadn't bailed during the night. It was very difficult.
Carlos just smiles at him and looks around the office a bit. There are photos on the walls of Jay and various celebrities. It all feels a bit surreal.
"You took photos of all of them?" he asks.
"Yeah, I did. In this studio. Do you want a tour?" Jay asks eagerly, despite being slammed with work.
"I sort of already gave myself one. Jane out the front didn't really tell me where your office was exactly," Carlos says sheepishly.
Jay chuckles. "Well, you probably saw the studio then, and the other offices in the hall are like for accounting and the business side of things. They handle everything for Evie, Ben and I. Opposite hall is just to the bathrooms. And that's pretty much all there is to see," Jay finishes.
"The room at the back of the studio?" Carlos asks curiously.
"That's the change room for models or any clients coming in for shoots. Usually we have a rack of clothes in there and a row of mirrors for make-up."
Carlos nods again, just taking everything in. It's all very organized, they have everything covered. And here's Carlos, without even a place to call home.
He is broken from his thoughts by the sound of Jay's office door opening from behind him. He startles a little and places his feet back on the floor, sitting up straight.
"Jay, babe, there you are!" says a tall girl with long dark hair and pretty pink blush covering her cheeks.
Carlos watches as she comes in and perches herself on Jay's desk.
"What do you mean, there you are?" Jay says, scoffing. "This is my office, where else would I be?"
"Usually you at least come down and say 'hi' to me, I haven't seen you all day," she pouts.
"It's barely gone noon. And I've been busy," Jay looks over at Carlos, shaking his head.
"Oh, shit! Are you in a meeting?" she asks, finally taking notice of Carlos.
"No, actually. This is Carlos," Jay says smiling. "Carlos, this is Lonnie."
Carlos waves awkwardly, eyeing the tall girl.
"So this is Carlos!" she exclaims, looking him up and down. "It's nice to finally meet you," she smiles.
"Yeah, you too," Carlos replies, despite not knowing how she is connected to Jay.
Lonnie looks back at Jay and mouths, "he's so cute."
Jay just glares at her and hopes Carlos hadn't seen. He did.
"Anyway," Jay says loudly, "like I said, I'm busy, work, you know?"
He's nodding his head at Lonnie trying to give her the hint to leave.
She just rolls her eyes. "Fine. But we're still having drinks tonight. Like always. And Carlos, you should come," she says, standing and looking over at him.
Carlos looks at Jay unsure.
"You should definitely come," Jay says. "We have them every Friday night in the studio. The whole staff is invited, it's really relaxed. It's just to wind down from the week."
"Well, that's what it's supposed to be," Lonnie says, nudging Jay's shoulder with her hip. "Some people just end up doing work while we all drink."
Jay just chuckles and shrugs his shoulders as Lonnie stares him down.
"Whatever, I better get back. But you need to come, it'll be fun," Lonnie says to Carlos, leaning down and placing a kiss on Jay's cheek. "See you later, babe," she calls out to Jay as she leaves the room.
The door closes behind her and a silence descends the room.
"So," Carlos begins, looking down and playing with a piece of thread that has come loose from his ripped jeans, "is she your girlfriend?"
"What?" Jay asks surprised. "No! Lonnie's just like that with everyone. She's not. No," Jay says quickly.
Carlos looks at him and grins, amused with how flustered Jay has become.
Jay takes a deep breath. "That's Ben's oldest friend. She's a good friend of mine, too," he says calmly.
"That's nice," Carlos says, expression softening.
"Did you have to check every office before you found mine?" Jay asks, changing the subject and wondering if Carlos had to awkwardly apologize to some of his employees on the way in.
"No, actually. I bumped into Chad, your intern. Hence the coffee," Carlos says, gesturing towards it.
"Oh, Chad. Yeah, he is mostly Evie's intern but we all kind of use him. He is kissing ass at the moment when it comes to me though, he wants to be a model apparently."
"And what? You don't like muscle?" Carlos asks.
"No. Not really," Jay says, staring at him intently.
Carlos nods slowly and averts his eyes.
"So, do you think you actually might have a few drinks with us tonight?" Jay says.
Carlos bites his lip and steels himself. Jay is not going to like this.
"No, I can't."
Jay furrows his brow. "Why not?" he asks. "Do you have something else that you need to..." Jay's sentence peters out as he realizes.
Carlos is going out to work the streets tonight. He hadn't really thought about how that would factor in with Carlos staying with him. He almost forgot it was something that might happen even though Carlos was under his roof.
Jay calmly gets up from his chair and walks over to stand in front of the door. Carlos twists in his seat and looks at him confused.
"What are you doing?" he asks.
"I'm blocking the door so you don't run out of here angry with me before I finish what I'm about to say," Jay says seriously.
Carlos glares at him in disbelief.
"You don't need to go out there, not tonight. Or the night after that. Or any night. At least for a while," Jay says, before Carlos can argue.
Carlos groans loudly. "We have been over this, Jay. I want to be able to pay my own way and like, put in for groceries or something. I can't just stay in your loft rent-free. I can't. The only reason I wasn't out last night was to give my bruise a chance to fade"
"It's barely faded," Jay says incredulously. "And you can."
"Can what?" Carlos asks.
"Stay at mine rent-free. Stop thinking about the money. I don't care about the money. It's just one friend, helping another out. No big deal. Friends do that," Jay says.
Carlos sighs, he isn't use to people just doing nice things for him. There's always a catch. People always want something. Always.
"You don't need to be going out there, just stay. When you find a new place, if you still feel the need to do it then, well, I can't stop you. But for now, just stay," comes Jay's calming voice and Carlos finds himself agreeing before he even really thinks about it.
Carlos is in the elevator on his way down to Beast B's, Jay had encouraged him to go explore as he was just going to be making more boring phone calls for most of the day, and didn't want Carlos getting bored with him.
Exiting the elevator, Carlos finds Beast B's to be set up much like Evie's store. The entrance is to the left, well, right when coming from out of the elevators, but they both lead straight into the stores. The store itself is huge, filling the same amount of space Jay has managed to use for his offices and studio, with rows of clothing. Though there is the sizeable back room where the designers work that takes up some of the floor.
Inside Beast B's, there is everything from jackets, to shirts, to shoes, to hats, to suits and ties. The place is amazing. Carlos makes his way over to a rack of hats, takes a peek at the price tag and immediately balks. No wonder people like him don't know about places like this.
"Can I help you with anything?"
The sound of the voice behind him is so cheerful and so soothing, Ben is immediately captivated by the man it is coming from. He is tall, well, not really, but everyone feels tall compared to Carlos, with a big smile on his face and smooth dark blonde hair and hipnotizing eyes. He recognizes the face immediately from some of Jay's photos in the loft, as well as the resemblance to this famous actor, whose name he can't really remember. This must be Ben.
"No, but thank you. Jay actually said you wouldn't mind if I looked around. I'm Carlos," he says, assuming like everyone else he has met so far, that Jay has told Ben about him.
Ben smiles and nods his head.
"Hi, Carlos. I'm Ben."
Carlos smiles back, quite taken with the gentle man already.
"How do you like the place?" Ben asks, gesturing around him.
"It's incredible. I don't even know where to start," Carlos answers.
"Well, feel free to roam as much as you like and try anything on," Ben says.
"Oh, no, that's okay. I was just looking," Carlos replies, he couldn't afford anything in here anyway.
"No, for real. Any friend of Jay's is a friend of mine. You know what? Wait here. I'll grab some things I think you'll like."
Ben is off and walking through the store, grabbing things and draping them over his arm before Carlos can say anything. He's noticed a pattern with Jay and his friends. They all have a difficult time accepting no as an answer.
"Here, take these and see what you think," Ben says once he makes his way back over, loading Carlos up with a handful of t-shirts, jackets and jeans.
Carlos hesitates and considers his options, but Ben just points him in the direction of the change rooms and walks off to talk with a customer who has just come in.
Carlos goes into one of the stalls and places the clothes Ben has picked for him down on the bench inside. They're mostly all black, except for a red shirt and white scoop-neck jumper. Carlos loves all of it. He tries the jeans on first and is impressed Ben was able to pick his size just from looking at him. Though it is his job, he supposes. He must do this for customers often.
Carlos tries everything on, finishing with the red shirt that he pairs with a black and white leather jacket, eventually stepping out from the stall to get a better look at himself in the full length mirror on the wall. He looks good. For once Carlos thinks he actually looks good, even with the fading bruise along his jaw. He looks up to see Ben standing behind him smiling.
"You like it?" he asks.
Carlos nods. "They're really beautiful clothes. Thanks for letting me try them on," he says sincerely.
"They look good on you, you should keep them," Ben tells him.
Carlos shakes his head furiously, "Oh no, I couldn't do that."
"Go ahead. Jay uses this place as his own walk-in closet anyway. Though I do get him back with all the photos I make him take," Ben jokes.
Carlos still declines, as is his habit.
"You are keeping them," Ben tells him, "because I need you to do me a favor in return."
Carlos arches an eyebrow at him ominously. People only ask him for certain kind of favors, he didn't really think Ben would be the type to want that kind of thing. It would break his heart if he weren't so use to people turning around and using him for what he is.
"I need you to try on some of the new designs for me," Ben says instead, surprising him.
"Why?" Carlos asks warily.
"Because, the model that was supposed to try them on cancelled. That's what Jay's dealing with at the moment. And she was small. So I need someone small," Ben answers simply.
"You're going to let me keep all these clothes, just for trying on some more?" Carlos asks.
These people confuse him. They offer too much for too little.
"Yes. That's exactly what I'm going to do," Ben says, looking him straight in the eye.
"Okay," Carlos concedes. "But I'm only going to keep one," he says firmly, he will not be some charity case.
Ben just smiles and gestures for him to follow him out and into the back room.
He spends most of the afternoon in there, holding still and trying on clothes from Ben and Evie's new line. The clothes are exactly the type Carlos wishes he could always wear if money were not a factor, and even though they were made for a female model, they still fit him quite well. He is currently wearing a black shirt with silver studded details on the collar and placket, that's so amazing he is beyond words. Ben's been taking notes on each item he tries on, making comments to his team on bringing some in at the seams or changing certain lengths on things. Carlos doesn't really understand everything they are talking about.
"Do you mind if we go down to E4H so I can ask Evie something? I just need her to see you in this," Ben asks after a while.
Carlos just nods and follows along behind Ben again, he has got his own clothes and the Beast B's red shirt tucked under his arm. It's the piece he decided to go with after Ben's offer. He knows he could probably leave it and just come back for it later. But he can't seem to put it down.
When they find Evie, she smiles at the sight of both of them and immediately is walking over to Carlos to fiddle with the new Bevie shirt he is wearing.
"Hey, Carlos!" she says to him with a smile, smoothing her hands down his shoulders, seemingly unfazed he is wearing one of their new designs. "Ben, I think we need to adjust the shoulders. It needs to be more fitted, there's too much room here," she says, going into work mode.
Carlos tunes them out, just getting lost in his own thoughts. He almost can't believe what is happening. Everything feels very surreal. Never would he have thought that he'd be wearing such nice clothes and playing model for a day for two very talented designers. Yet, here he is, and surprisingly, he doesn't feel as uncomfortable as he thought he would. It's Ben and Evie. They both have this very genuine way about them, a kindness in their eyes. Carlos doesn't see that very often.
He is snapped out of his thoughts by Evie's voice.
"Oh, hey, Jay," she says.
Carlos whips his head around to see Jay is leaning against the wall just inside the door, arms folded over his chest and one leg crossed over the other, quietly observing. Carlos wonders how long he's been there.
"What brings you down this way?" Evie asks.
Jay's eyes are glued to Carlos and he gives him a small smile before pushing off the wall and walking over.
"I came down wondering who had kidnapped Carlos," he says, coming to stand in front of him so he can take in the whole ensemble.
"We didn't kidnap him. Just... borrowed him," Ben says, winking at Carlos and following Evie over to one of the tables.
They begin to talk quietly among themselves, looking over at Carlos every now and then, while Jay just keeps smiling at him.
"What?" Carlos finally asks.
"Oh, nothing," Jay says, smile getting wider. "So, how was your day?" he asks playfully.
Carlos laughs. "Shut up. I'm just being helpful."
"I can see that," Jay says, tugging on one of Carlos sleeves before leaning closer.
"Do you think they'll notice if I steal you back?" Jay whispers conspiratorially.
Carlos glances over at the two designers and shrugs.
"Well too bad, I'm going to do it anyway. But first, let's take this shirt off. They'd kill me if I let something happen to it," Jay says and without thinking, reaches up and begins to unbutton Carlos' shirt.
The atmosphere rapidly changes when their eyes lock and the gesture begins to feel oddly intimate. Jay's hands slow down without him even realizing as more and more of Carlos' skin becomes exposed. Carlos' own hands eventually come up and carefully cover Jay's, effectively stopping him.
"I've got it from here," Carlos says quietly, staring at Jay, and Jay swallows hard, taking a decisive step back.
They both awkwardly look away from each other as Carlos changes back into his t-shirt, Ben and Evie curiously watching on from the sidelines.
Chapter 9: ᶦᵗ ᶜᵒᵘⁿᵗᵉᵈ.
i wasn't able to write for a while but i'm back and shit's about to go down.
It is later that evening and Carlos finds himself standing among a sea of strangers, dressed in his new, neatly buttoned, Beast B's shirt, unable to stop his own self-conscious fidgeting. He had agreed to come along for Friday night drinks which included the staff from all three floors, and is currently holding a glass of water in his hand as he quietly observes their interactions. They are all in the open space of Jay's studio, a collection of alcohol set out on a table that's been placed in the center of the room. Apparently everyone is welcome to help themselves to it, and they've already done that. And then there's Carlos. With a glass of water. Because he knows better that a drunk nineteen year old would be quite suspicious in a such fancy place.
He feels very out of place here and is curious to know if anyone is wondering who he is and how he fits in with the two designers and their photographer. He hopes no one asks. He doesn't have an answer ready for them, mostly because he isn't sure either.
He had started off the night by Jay's side, but eventually too many people kept commandeering the brunette's attention, leaving Carlos feeling a little lost. That was until he felt an arm being looped through his, and he looked up to find Lonnie smiling at him and guiding him through the crowd. She hadn't put him on the spot in front of people or made him participate in conversations, just simply made him feel included, never removing her arm from his. It was as if she could sense his discomfort and was providing him with an anchor to hold onto and keep him grounded. She had just introduced him to Evie's boyfriend and her own fiancé, when Carlos had to excuse himself to use the bathroom.
He hadn't really needed to go, just needed a minute to take a breath, splash some water on his face and gather himself. Despite Lonnie's comforting efforts, he has never been very good with people he doesn't know and he hasn't been around so called 'polite society' in a while. These people are from a different world compared to him, making small talk about restaurants they have been to and holidays they have been on. Carlos' small talk is very much limited to foods that cost less than eight dollars and will last the week, and which corners you should stand on that won't get you arrested.
When he comes back out of the bathroom, he is unable to find Lonnie. Evie is also nowhere to be seen and Jay is sitting at the desk at the back of the room, flanked by Ben and a group of other unknowns. He wants to go over there, stand with Jay again, but his expression seems serious and it appears that despite the bottle of cider that sits on his desk, he has his laptop out and is working. Lonnie had been right.
When Carlos finally spots a familiar face, he instantly wishes he hadn't. It's the intern Chad, a sly grin appearing on his face as he too notices Carlos and begins to make his way over. Carlos briefly wonders whether if he had asked Jay, would he have let him invite Mal. She would have probably been bored out of her mind, but at least Carlos would have had someone to stand with and he wouldn't look so alone and approachable.
"Hello again," Chad says once he reaches him.
"Hi," Carlos answers, feigning enthusiasm.
"So, I never did get a chance to ask you earlier, but I suppose you're a model?" Chad says, tilting his head as he gives Carlos another once over with his eyes.
Carlos shakes his head quickly. "No, not at all. I actually don't work here. Just a friend."
"Of whose? Mr. Photographer?" Chad asks, glancing over to where Jay sits.
"Uh, yeah. Jay," Carlos answers.
Chad gives him a calculating look before continuing. "Yeah, I just thought you were since I saw you in the new Bevie stuff earlier today."
"Just helping," Carlos says, shrugging it off.
"I'd kill to try that stuff on. I'm actually a model myself, you know? I mean, I haven't landed any big campaigns or anything yet, I'm actually hoping this internship might help me out with that," Chad says smirking.
Carlos just nods. He wonders how bothered Chad would be if he actually was modelling for Bevie. He wonders how bothered Chad would be if he was modelling for Bevie and he found out that he is a prostitute. The thought makes Carlos have to suppress a chuckle, he'd fucking hate it.
"Does Jay talk to you about that kind of stuff? Like how he chooses his models?" Chad continues.
Carlos wants to roll his eyes. Really? This guy is trying to have Carlos get him an in with Jay? Carlos doesn't know a fucking thing about this place or how it works. And even if he did, he certainly wouldn't be helping Chad out, he's too obnoxious.
"No, he doesn't. I don't really know much about that side of things," Carlos answers politely instead.
"Yeah, neither do I, I can barely get Jay's attention for more than a few seconds. Maybe we should get coffee some time and you can tell me exactly how one becomes friends with him," Chad says and winks at him.
Carlos is not impressed. Not only is he trying to hit on Carlos, he's also trying to use him to get closer to Jay. And he isn't even being subtle about it.
Carlos' eyes search the room for some form of escape and land on Jay, who he is surprised to find is already looking back at him. Jay continues to stare, expression unreadable, despite the fact the people around him appear to be talking to him. Jay carefully drags his eyes away for a moment to glance at Chad where he stands, before returning to Carlos.
His eyes are slightly narrowed, as if he is trying to figure something out, and Carlos is about to give him some sort of 'help me' signal with only his eyes when a voice interrupts.
"Hey, guys. Sorry to intrude and I know it's after hours, but, Chad, would you mind grabbing me my sketchbook from my back room? I left it down there and I need to help Jay with something."
Carlos breaks eye contact with Jay to find Evie standing beside him, face slightly flushed from alcohol. Carlos is so happy to see her.
"Uh, yeah, sure. I'll be back," he says, smiling in Carlos' direction.
Once he has walked toward the corridor and out of earshot, Carlos turns to Evie and smiles.
"No problem," she says, smiling softly. "You want a drink?"
"So? I was nineteen once, too," Evie says laughing, handing him a glass of wine. He takes it. He feels like he'll need it, not to mention there's no point in arguing with Evie. "How you doin'"?
"Mostly okay. Until Chad cornered me. Is he always like that?" Carlos asks.
"What? Talking about himself and acting like a total sleaze?" Evie says, eyebrows raised.
"That's a yes then."
"The Bevie line is coming out soon and there's going to be a huge ad campaign that he wants in on, it's super annoying. He's even hit on me, can you believe? Damn, he's hit on Ben! And he knows for a fact Ben only swings one way, and it's not his. Talk about trying to fuck your way to the top."
"Oh my god," Carlos says, laughing again. "Why do you keep him around if he's like that?"
"He's our intern and Ben hasn't really seemed to notice. For a no-nonsense kind of guy he really is far too trusting for his own good," Evie says, rolling her eyes.
Carlos smiles and chances a glance back in Jay's direction, but his eyes are no longer on Carlos, focused back on his computer screen instead.
Carlos and Evie end up spending most of the night talking and laughing with one another. Chad doesn't come back over to him again, he assumes Evie's presence has something to do with it. They manage to find Lonnie again too, and between the three of them, three bottles of champagne are finished. This leads to a sufficiently drunk Carlos, which is unusual considering he hardly ever drinks. There is never really a good opportunity to or good enough reason. He has to keep his wits about him when he's out on the streets or with a client anyhow, so alcohol for him is a rarity.
But at the moment, his guard is down and he is sporting a lazy smile and glazed over expression. He's actually enjoying himself, despite the fact Jay stayed true to his workaholic nature and basically left him on his own. Well, that's not exactly what happened. Carlos was the one that slunk off into the background when he became too overwhelmed with the people crowding him. He just thought he would have come over and checked on Jay at least once during the evening. Carlos cringes as soon as he thinks that though, it makes him feel needy and weak. And so he quickly dismisses the thought, blaming it on the alcohol.
It doesn't help though, because without realizing, Carlos is staring over at Jay again. Watching as he takes the occasional sip from his bottle and moves his hand over the keyboard in front of him. Ben is still close by talking with someone, but there's no longer a crowd surrounding the photographer.
"Go over to him, baby!" Evie exclaims from next to him, breaking him out of his trance.
"No, it's fine. He's busy," Carlos says dismissively.
"No he isn't, he's just obsessive. Way too much energy, that kid," Evie mutters, grabbing onto Carlos' arm. "Come on!" she says, dragging them both over.
"Hey loser, stop being so boring!" she says as they approach Jay.
Jay just laughs and turns in his chair to face them, looking up at Carlos whose unfocused eyes are idly watching him.
"You okay?" he asks, reaching out and tugging on Carlos' hand.
Carlos just grins and nods at him. He's perfectly fine. Just a light-weight it seems.
Jay continues to work despite Evie and Lonnie's jeering, joining the conversation only every now and then with a comment or two, with Carlos staying mostly silent by his side. Carlos is barely listening to the conversation anyway. It's been a while since he has spent a Friday night indoors like this and so is just enjoying the feeling of being pleasantly drunk, and not cold, or scared.
When he does eventually tune back in, he finds the conversation has turned to that of first kisses.
"Well, Carlos? How about you?" Evie asks, having just finished telling her own first kiss story.
Carlos answers honestly, without thinking.
And just saying the name is enough to sober him up.
Jay is watching the conversation carefully and he can tell almost immediately that talking of the past is causing Carlos to become anxious. He recognises that name. He has no idea where he knows it from, but he definitely does.
"Come on then, so how old were you?" Lonnie encourages.
"Uh, eleven. I was eleven," Carlos mumbles.
"Annnd?" says Evie, unaware of his discomfort. "I told you guys everything! We need details!"
Carlos feels all eyes on him and a panic attack slowly rising, when all of a sudden a pair of strong arms are wrapped around his waist from behind.
"Leave him alone," Jay says, pulling him down and into his lap. "Not all of us kiss and tell," he mocks, laughing it off and hugging Carlos to him, effectively shutting down their line of questioning.
"Well, I do!" exclaims Lonnie drawing everyone's attention, seeming to catch on that perhaps they had stepped into some uncomfortable territory without meaning to. "So her name was Arabella, I was fifteen and-"
"Gross. This is not something I want to know," Ben cuts in.
"Well then walk away, you don't have to listen," Lonnie says.
"I'm not going to walk away, this is my..."
Carlos doesn't really listen to the rest of the conversation. He just sits where Jay has placed him, back pressed against his chest, arms resting against his thighs, and focuses on keeping his breathing even. Talking about things that happened during that time in his life always seem to bring back the most unpleasant of memories, fresh and raw as the day they were formed. He can't afford to let them surface, he wants to just forget.
Jay is surprised when Carlos doesn't move from his lap. He has had a couple of drinks and it was only on instinct that he grabbed Carlos and literally pulled him out of the conversation. He could just sense how uncomfortable he had become and so had done the first thing that came to mind. Jay's always been a bit more affectionate and tactile when drinking, he's just glad he hasn't caused Carlos to become even more uncomfortable with how forward he was.
Not wanting to break the moment and enjoying the closeness, Jay just continues working, scrolling through photo edits that he still feels the need to tweak just that little bit. Carlos watches through hazy eyes as he does so, enjoying this look into Jay's work.
His photos have an honest quality about them. There seems to be little air-brushing involved and the models in the photos are of all shapes and sizes. Some have crooked noses, smile lines, crowded teeth. It's actually quite refreshing to see such untouched, natural beauty. Jay's editing seems to focus more on lighting, exposure, color pops and the text and background designs that have been added later.
They sit there together silently as Jay works, Carlos eventually calming down and just lounging on him. One of Jay's arms is resting loosely around Carlos' waist, while the other clicks away on his wireless mouse. Carlos is lucky that he is so small, he's at just the right height that he can lean his head against Jay's shoulder, without obstructing his view of the screen.
Carlos glances across the room at one point to see people have started leaving, it must be getting late. He spots Chad too, talking with Jane but throwing glances over to Jay and Carlos every few seconds as he does so. Carlos wonders what he is thinking. Is he annoyed that Jay gets to touch Carlos? Or that Carlos gets to be this close to Jay? It's hard to tell with the wannabe model. But from what Evie says about what he's willing to do for his career, or rather who he's willing to do, his bet is on the latter.
Eventually everyone leaves, Evie and Lonnie coming over to give them both kisses to the cheeks. It surprises Carlos, but he accepts the sweet gesture for what it is, and he did have a really good time laughing with them earlier that night.
They're all alone now and Carlos makes no move to get up, he's gotten to that point where he no longer feels drunk, just extremely sleepy, and the yawn he lets out proves it.
"You should go to bed," Jay says from above him, dropping his hand from his laptop and leaning back in his chair. He slightly rocks the chair from side to side and it is almost lulling Carlos to sleep.
"Come on, I've got a bit more to do here. But you go, it's late," Jay says again when Carlos doesn't move.
Carlos lets out a big sigh and slowly stands. He is tired, but he was liking just being with Jay. When he was little he used to press himself up against Jay if he was anxious or scared, and despite the years, it seems the taller boy still has the same calming effect on him.
Carlos grabs Jay's abandoned drink and puts it, along with the wine glass he still has in his hand, on the table where everyone else has left the empties, and starts to walk toward the corridor that leads to the elevators.
"He wasn't your first kiss, you know," Jay's voice calls out.
Carlos stops and turns around, looking back at him.
"Nicholas, or whatever his name was. He wasn't your first kiss. Don't you remember?" Jay asks.
There is at least five meters between them from where Jay sits at his desk and Carlos has stopped near the beginning of the corridor, but Carlos can see the way Jay's eyes flicker down to his lips, even if it is just for a moment.
Carlos does remember.
Jay had been ten at the time, and Carlos eight. They had been given separate chores to do at the group home, mostly because they never got any work done when they were together. Jay was supposed to be helping out in the garden and Carlos was on dish-washing duties. But instead of doing their work, Carlos had climbed up onto one of the benches and opened the window that looked out into the yard, and Jay had climbed onto the table on the other side so they could sit and talk through the thin screen covering the window.
They weren't actually talking though, Jay was holding a bubble wand to the screen and Carlos, who had his mouth pressed against it on the other side, was blowing air through the flimsy mesh and creating bubbles, causing them both to laugh. Jay had found the bubble mix just sitting there and since they were bored, it seemed like the thing to do.
Jay kept dipping the wand in the mix after each bubble and holding it back up for Carlos, smiling as his best friend pressed his pink lips against the screen and struggled to blow hard enough to get a good bubble going.
After they had done it a few times and Carlos was over the struggle, he had made to sit back and take a break when Jay's voice had stopped him.
"Wait, keep your lips there," he said.
Carlos did as he was told without question, trusting Jay implicitly and expecting him to put the bubble wand back up to his face.
Instead he had put it back in the bottle and screwed the lid on, moving onto his knees so he was sitting directly facing Carlos. Jay's eyes were focused on his mouth with an intense concentration, and Carlos watched and waited patiently as he leaned in.
He could feel Jay's lips even through the screen, it felt a little odd due to the obstruction, but there was still the undeniable pressure of Jay's mouth, warm and real, pressed against his own. Carlos had no idea what to do, but his eyes had closed on their own accord and he was left breathless when his best friend pulled away.
When he finally reopened his eyes and looked at Jay, he could see that the normally out-spoken, older boy was at a loss for words, offering no explanation for what had just happened.
Carlos reached a hand up and gently touched his own lips.
"You kissed me," he had said bluntly.
He watched as Jay nervously turned his head to the side cringing, before running a hand through his hair and letting out a scoff.
"What? No," he said, forcing a laugh. "That wasn't a kiss. There's a screen between us. It doesn't count," Jay said, trying to act casual.
Carlos tilted his head and looked at Jay thoughtfully. Just as he was about to open his mouth and reply, they both heard a yell from behind Carlos.
"Jay! Carlos! Seriously? And what have I told you about climbing on the bench?"
Carlos turned back to the kitchen to see one of the female staff glaring at him, and when he had looked back through the window, Jay was already legging it across the yard.
Carlos looks at Jay now, all grown up but still very much the same, and wonders what he had been thinking that day when he decided to kiss him.
"You said it didn't count," Carlos finally says quietly.
Jay smiles softly.
Chapter 10: ʷʰᵃᵗ'ˢ ᵗʰᵉ ᵖᵒᶦⁿᵗˀ
warning; implied sexual situations.
it's about to get even worse
It has been over a week since Carlos agreed to stay with Jay, and things have slipped into a somewhat comfortable domesticity. Jay's mornings begin with him slowly getting ready and reluctantly leaving Carlos in his loft to head down for work. He spends most of the day alone in his office without him until, more often than not, Carlos will come into the studio at lunch and eat with him.
On the nights he works late, if he's not up in the loft by seven, Carlos again comes down but with something he has prepared to make sure Jay eats. There have been plenty of times Jay has skipped dinner and he rarely cooks, barely knows how. But Carlos does and he likes making pasta with his own homemade sauce, and Jay likes eating it.
They have taken to sitting on the floor of Jay's empty studio, or in the foyer with the full-length windows, which is eerie but beautiful at night once everyone has gone home and the world is quiet. They sit side by side in some sort of make-shift picnic, bowl in each of their hands, just enjoying each other's company as they eat their dinner.
Once they finish, Carlos will return to the loft and it will be on these late nights that Jay will come home a few hours later to find Carlos, who likes to try and wait up for him, asleep on the couch with Dude. Jay is starting to suspect he is no longer his dog's favorite, but he doesn't mind, the sight of them together creates an overwhelming warmth inside his chest.
For Carlos, he has found that despite all the years he has spent his nights working the streets, he is easily falling into the peaceful routine that comes with living with Jay. If he isn't spending time with Mal (or Gil when he's not working at Ursula's store), he has found himself moving between the floors of the headquarters for most of the day.
He'll start the morning having a coffee with Jay in the loft, before he heads down to Beast B's to find Lonnie. If Ben or Evie aren't too busy, he might sit on a stool in the back room and chat to them or listen to them babble about different designs for some of the day, but usually he's with Lonnie. Sometimes they call him in when they need him to try on clothes again for Bevie, but they aren't much for conversation during these times.
Lonnie likes to set Carlos to work. She treats him like her own little personal errand boy, which Carlos actually likes. He feels like he's contributing. And half the time the little odd jobs she gives him just consist of visiting one of the three bosses of each floor and giving them paperwork or messages.
He's also been helping with organizing lunch. The other employees bring in their own or walk down the street to the food court inside the mall, but Ben, Evie and Jay usually get Lonnie to grab their food when they are all really busy. Carlos has been getting Jay's order, Lonnie is responsible for Ben, and they both find out what Evie wants on their way out. They bring it all back to them and Carlos sits with Jay in his office during the break, chatting to him about the day so far, before returning to Lonnie.
Lonnie is a wealth of knowledge, giving Carlos different pieces of trivia about everyone in the business. He listens to Lonnie with rapt attention, quietly hanging on her every word. She even showed him the 'Cobra's Jacket' at Beast B's that Jay apparently designed himself. It's yellow with a gold cobra pattern winding around the sleeves and back. Carlos loves it.
Today however, was going to disrupt their newly found routine, more like shatter it. Both of them just didn't know it yet.
Jay had gone out to scout locations that morning, finally knowing what he wanted for the main photos that would wind up on the billboards and magazine pages for the new clothing line, he just needed some references for setting up the shoot.
He had an idea in his mind of a background half painted red and half covered with graffiti in shades of blue. The red side would represent the pristine and mature look of Evie's 4 Hearts, and the graffiti side would represent Beast B's more street-savvy, but still elegant style. In the middle, so that they are standing in front of the split between the sides, would be the model in the new clothes. And on the white side written in a small simple font: 'A Benjamin Beast's & Evie Grimhilde's Creation'. Underneath that, written in a big, bold and sleek font that Ben and Evie had chosen, would be the word Bevie.
Now that he had decided on the type of photograph he wanted to put together, all Jay needed was inspiration for the graffiti design that would cover the Beast B's side of the image. He hadn't really thought of anything specific when he came up with the idea, so he is out with his camera scoping out the street art, hoping that they will give him some ideas when designing the backdrop. He needed to do all this, and then return back to his office late in the afternoon for a meeting. He has a possible new client coming in who wants him to take some shots for his men's shoe line, but he's already wasted half his day driving around with little success.
Carlos, who he had left back at the studio in his office, is currently on Jay's computer halfheartedly looking for cheap apartments to rent. He had looked online earlier that week, but Jay had cut his search short, claiming he needed his computer for work. He suspects Jay hadn't really needed it right then and there and perhaps had an ulterior motive, but if he's being honest with himself, he wasn't putting much effort into actually looking anyhow.
He can't stay with Jay forever. He knows that. Even if Jay asked him to, he couldn't allow himself to live off of someone else like that. But that doesn't mean he isn't enjoying it, even if it is just for a little while.
He is scrolling through listings of apartments to rent in the downtown Corona - close enough to downtown Auradon, so he could visit Mal anytime he'd like - when he is interrupted. Carlos knew Jay had a potential client coming in that afternoon, he just hadn't expected him to turn up early before Jay got back. He also hadn't expected to recognize him.
Jane had apparently sent the man through to wait in Jay's office, not realizing Carlos was already occupying it. Carlos startles a little at the sound of the door being opened, but a smile begins to form across his face, expecting Jay to be the one coming through it. Instead however, he looks up to see a different familiar face, but decidedly unwelcome one.
"Well, well, fancy that," the man says, stepping into the room and smirking at Carlos.
Carlos maybe doesn't remember all the men that have purchased his time over the years, but he does remember this one. He's used Carlos' services on several occasions, but it had been a while since he had seen him.
He also happened to be Gil's father.
"Jay isn't here yet," Carlos says quickly, hoping to skip the pleasantries and just leave it at that.
The man walks around the office a little, staring at Jay's framed photography for a moment before speaking.
"Didn't really peg him as the type," he says, turning to look at Carlos.
Carlos glares at him. "The type?"
"Yeah, the type to have someone like you around. I guess we have more in common than I thought," he says, leering at Carlos and sitting himself down across from him.
"Don't bet on it," Carlos snipes. "We're just old friends."
"Old friends, huh? Well, how long until your old friend comes back? You still charge the same?"
And just like that, Carlos is reminded who he is, what he is. Spending time with Jay in his perfect little world had almost made him forget. He had gotten sucked into the fantasy too quickly, but reality was just as quick to come crashing back down around him. Who was he kidding? There is no escaping this kind of life. It leaves a mark that just won't wash off and just like that, you're forever tainted.
Carlos is almost thankful for the reminder. It would have been harder to come to terms with in the future if he kept living in this perfect fantasy for too long. He had forgotten his place in this world, he had forgotten where he belonged - on his knees.
When Jay arrives back at the studio he is running late by about five minutes, and so is surprised to find his office empty, despite Jane telling him his possible new client had already come in. There's also no sign of Carlos. Not that Jay had expected him to be exactly where he left him earlier that morning, but Carlos knew when he was coming back and since he had been gone most of the day, thought he might be around to say hello.
Confused, Jay walks back out to the main foyer to again ask Jane about where the man he is supposed to be meeting might be.
"Jane, you said you sent him through to my office, yes?" he asks.
"Yes, told him where it was so he wouldn't get lost this time too," she answers smiling.
He chuckles a little and walks back down the corridor. Perhaps because he was running late the man, who Jane had informed him name is Gaston LeGume, had decided to wander. Jay doesn't mind, he doesn't really keep any of the areas off limits, it's just now he has to find him.
He walks into the studio room to find the space empty, there's also no one in the change rooms at the back, though he knew the chances that the guy would find a reason to go in there were slim. He goes to the bathrooms instead, poking his head in tentatively, not wanting to make a new client uncomfortable if nature had indeed called.
He doesn't see anyone at the urinals, but one of the cubicles is occupied, and thinking this must be him, he goes to leave and just wait in his office. But just as he's about to do so, he hears a noise that stops him in his tracks. It's a moan.
He stays where he is and listens for it again, not quite believing what he just heard.
"Yes..." comes a hiss from inside the cubicle, mortifying Jay.
He goes to leave again, embarrassed at finding a man he's about to have a meeting with masturbating in his bathrooms, until a thought niggles its way into his mind. A horrible one.
He walks slowly toward the cubicle and filled with apprehension and dread, stoops down to peer underneath the door.
There's a pair of nice looking business shoes planted firmly on the floor, and kneeling in front of them, he can see Carlos' familiar black shorts and shoes.
For a moment Jay's whole body stills in shock, like he is unable to process what he's actually seeing. But it's only for a second, and then he is standing up and pounding on the locked door.
"Open the fucking door. Open it now!" he yells, banging as hard as he can.
He hears quick shuffling before the sound of a lock being turned, and the door slowly swings open.
The man who must be Gaston LeGume is standing there, hands still buckling his belt, and to his side, trying to look as small as possible, is Carlos, head down, lips swollen.
Jay feels physically sick.
He reaches across the threshold and grabs Carlos by the arm, pulling him behind his body so Jay is in between, eyes boring into a man that whilst he's never met before, already hates with a burning passion.
"What the fuck do you think you're doing?" Jay spits through gritted teeth.
"Hey, hey, easy there. There's no need for that," LeGume says, hands out in front of him. "I didn't mean to offend, I just thought-"
"You just thought what? You could come into my studio and treat it like a fucking brothel?!" he yells.
"Look, it was nothing personal. I didn't realize you had your boy here on a retainer, he certainly didn't say anything," the man says.
"What the fuck did you just say to me?" Jay snarls furiously.
"What?" LeGume says easily. "You really expect me to believe you keep someone like him around because you're just friends? We both understand how business works, I thought we might be of like minds."
Jay lunges at him, grabbing him by the lapels of his suit jacket, and shaking him hard, his face pressed close to his.
"Fuck you, you asshole. We are nothing alike," Jay says disgusted.
Jay keeps his hold on Gaston, but turns his face towards the source of the voice echoing through the bathroom. It's Jane, standing awkwardly in the doorway, obviously uncomfortable in the men's bathroom and the scene she has just walked in on.
"Carlos just ran out. He took the elevator down. He looked upset," she says, forcing herself to keep her voice calm and even.
Jay glances behind him and realizes she is right. Carlos is gone.
"I just thought you'd want to know," she finishes, but continues to hover. "Should I call any of the boys? I think I saw Jace in the hallway."
Jay shakes his head. "No, it's fine. Mr. LeGume here was just leaving."
He lets the man go, harshly pulling his jacket back into place. Jane nods and quickly leaves, heading back to her desk but still ready to pick up the phone and call security if she doesn't see Gaston leaving in the next five minutes.
"Get the fuck out of my studio," Jay says to him, taking a step back so the man can exit.
LeGume scoffs, but does as he's told, not wanting to risk having the aggressive photographer up in his face again.
Once he's gone, Jay starts to panic.
Jane said Carlos took the elevator down, but he's not in Beast B's or Evie's 4 Hearts. Lonnie, Ben and Evie had all asked him what was wrong when he rushed in asking if Carlos was with them, but Jay was in too much of a hurry to explain what he had done.
He wants to be furious at Carlos, and a part of him is, but mostly he just wants to gather the boy up in his arms and make sure no one touches him like that ever again. Carlos doesn't have a phone so he can't even call him, and he's been living at Jay's so there aren't any places he knows that he could go to find him.
Carlos had stayed with Mal when he ran out on Harry, and it seems the only logical place he would go now. But Jay has no idea where Mal lives. He's seen her on the strip Carlos usually works once, but that could've been just because Carlos was there at the time. He needs to find Mal. If he finds Mal, he finds Carlos.
Carlos had been hanging out with Mal on and off since he came to stay with Jay, and he wracks his brain thinking back on their conversations about it. Carlos hadn't mentioned an address, or even the part of town Mal lives in, though Jay assumes it must be in the same area of the convenience store where he first spotted him.
The store. Carlos had said they sometimes hang out with Uma and Gil at Ursula's shop.
Jay is scrambling for his keys and running out the building as quickly as he can. He notices Evie on his way out trying to get his attention, probably wanting to know what is going on, but he doesn't stop, there's no time.
When he arrives at the convenience store, Jay has to take a moment to massage his aching hands, he had caused them to become stiff and begin to cramp from how hard he was gripping the steering wheel on the way over. He takes only a minute though, not wanting to waste anymore time.
For by the time he had searched every floor of his building, and paced back and forth in his loft working out the store was his best bet on finding Carlos, it had been over an hour. A lot can happen in over an hour. Carlos just hopes that if Mal is the first person Carlos went to, he's still with her now. And if not, then at the very least he hopes Mal may know where he's gone.
Jay walks through the door and hears the little bell jingle overhead, and spots Mal immediately. She sits on the counter with a sketchbook in her left hand and a pencil in her right hand, doodling just like she was the last time he saw her.
Mal looks up at the sound of the bell and from the unimpressed look on her face, she remembers who Jay is. Jay finds this encouraging though, because if she's unimpressed with him, then Carlos has been here.
"Where is he?" he asks, getting straight to the point.
"Yeah," Mal sighs. "Not happening, sorry," she answers, going back to drawing.
"Please? I know you've seen him," says.
"I have, but that doesn't mean you get to," Mal quips, and if it weren't for the fact Jay is the one trying to get information out of her, he'd be pleased that Carlos has such a loyal and protective friend.
"I messed up, I know I did. It's just I found him with... someone," he says awkwardly, "and I got angry and I screamed at him and... I just need to see him."
Mal studies Jay's face for a while before rolling her eyes.
"Alright. Come on," she says, gesturing with her hand for Jay to follow him.
Jay does so warily, unsure of where they're going. Mal walks him through the store and opens the door in the corner at the back, again gesturing for Jay to walk through. He again does as indicated and his confusion immediately dissipates at the sight of Carlos sitting on a chair with his feet resting on a desk, a big pair of headphones on his head.
The room runs the length of the back of the store and isn't very wide, but it's been converted into an office with some space for a kitchenette, obviously by Uma, who he doesn't think would be too impressed with Carlos feet resting on her account books and various other documents if she was here. Then again though, if Uma was here, Jay doubts he would have made it this far.
Carlos himself, hasn't spotted Jay yet and is absent-mindedly bopping his head to his music.
"Carlos?" Jay calls, loud enough to be heard over the music blaring from his headphones.
Carlos looks up and immediately startles, sitting up and pulling the headphones off.
"How did you find me here?" he asks in shock, before peering over Jay's shoulder and spotting Mal behind him. "M, what the fuck?"
"Hey, don't swear at me," Mal says back, giving Carlos a pointed look. "I figured I'd let him say his piece, and then if you want, you can tell him to get lost once and for all when he's done," Mal says shrugging.
Jay glowers at the underwhelming support.
"I don't care what he has to say. I'm done. I don't want to deal with this shit anymore," Carlos says, refusing to look at Jay. He stands up and makes to walk toward another door near the kitchenette on the other side of the room.
Jay grabs Carlos' wrist to stop him without thinking, and is quickly interceded by Mal getting in between them, giving Jay a warning look.
"You don't touch him," she says, voice low.
Jay scoffs in disbelief, the anger he was feeling in the bathroom from earlier returning.
"Me? I'm the problem?" he says, slightly hysterical. "I'm the one trying to get him away from the people who want to do more than just touch him. What the fuck have you been doing?" he yells, getting into Mal's space.
Before he can even process it, Mal is grabbing his arm and twisting it behind his back, swinging him around to push him up against the nearest wall. This girl is really fucking strong as for someone her height. He can hear the sound of the backdoor closing in the background, and he knows that's Carlos leaving. Again.
"Calm down," Mal says evenly. "We don't talk like that in this store."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," Jay says hopelessly, his forehead resting against the wall. "I just want him safe and I keep messing it up. Why can't I get this right?" he asks desperately.
Mal loosens her grip and eventually lets Jay go all together. She's wanted the same thing for Carlos for years.
"You're lucky Uma's not here," Mal says instead, taking a step back and allowing Jay to turn around. "You pull something like that in front of her and she's grabbing her baseball bat."
Jay just exhales heavily and leans his back against the wall.
"What do I do?" he asks sadly.
Mal gives him a small smile. "You can't push him, he doesn't trust easily. And you can't get mad at him for just doing what he knows."
"But I can't just leave him out there, you can't tell me it doesn't bother you," Jay says.
"Of course it bothers me. But sometimes when people have been treated really badly, they decide to stop hoping for anything better, hurts less that way," Mal answers.
"What happened to him?" Jay asks quietly.
"He's never told me exactly, but from what he has said, I know it's not good."
Jay just nods.
"Well, go on," Mal says, nodding her head toward the backdoor. "He won't have gone far."
Jay goes to leave, but stops, turning back to Mal. "Why are you helping me?"
Mal shrugs. "He cares about you, I can tell. And I haven't seen him care about anything in a long time. It's just a gut feeling really, but I think you might actually be good for him."
Carlos is sitting in the gutter of the car park outside Ursula's, calmly smoking a cigarette. He can hear footsteps approaching, and without even looking it up he knows it's Jay in front of him.
"Come back," Jay says.
"What's the point?" Carlos asks, feeling defeated.
"What's the point?" Jay repeats. "The point is it took me years to find you. Not knowing whether you were dead or alive but hoping upon hope that you were out there somewhere, and that I'd get to see you again."
"Jay, stop it. I don't need this," Carlos says desperately. "You don't get it. You're making me get used to being comfortable, to being warm at night, and sleeping without being afraid. I can't afford to do that. I have gotten used to a certain kind of life and you're fucking that up. It's going to be so much harder to go back to it after being with you."
"But I-" Jay starts, only for Carlos to cut him off.
"No, listen," he says, "you may not want to hear this, Jay, but that kid you remember no longer exists. He is long gone. You need to accept it."
"Don't say that," Jay says upset. "Like I shouldn't even try. You were like my other half. There was a time when we could barely go five minutes without each other."
"We were kids, alright? We were friends once upon a time but I think now it's time we call it what it is," Carlos says, looking up at Jay with sad yet determined eyes.
"You don't know me anymore, I don't know you. This isn't some fairytale where we live happily ever after. You can't fix this. It's been too long," Carlos' breathing starts to hitch once he finishes.
Jay stares down at him for a while, taking in every feature, the way his lips quiver and his dark eyelashes fan against his freckled cheeks when he blinks. He nods his head, mind made up.
"I don't care what you say," he says simply. "You are still Carlos, and I am still Jay. And there is nothing pointless about that."
He kneels down so he is eye level with Carlos.
"Please? Please come back?"
"No," Carlos says, shaking his head frantically. "I'd rather be living rough, working the streets and paying my own way, then become someone else's pet," Carlos' voice gets increasingly desperate as he continues. "I know I'm just a whore but I do still have some principles. I'm not going to be your kept boy, Jay."
Jay nods. "You're right, you should be able to pay your own way. But what if you were paying your own way doing something different?" he asks.
Carlos tilts his head curiously. "What do you mean?"
Jay takes a deep breath before he speaks. "I want to give you a job."
"A job?" Carlos repeats.
"Yeah. A modelling job."
"Have you been listening to anything I've been saying? I don't want your handouts," Carlos says angrily.
"It's not a handout," Jay assures carefully. "It's not even my idea, it's Ben's. He wants you to be the face of the new line. Him and Evie agreed on it before I even knew about it."
He's telling Carlos the truth. Ben and Evie had come to him early in the week while Carlos and Lonnie were out picking up lunch. He hadn't said anything yet, because he wasn't sure how to approach Carlos about it without him reacting badly. Like he is now.
"This is insane. I am not a model. They're only doing this because they feel sorry for me," Carlos says.
"No," Jay says firmly. "Ben is an honest person and he doesn't do anything without good reason. He saw you in the clothes, made sure Evie saw you too, and decided you were the person he wanted modelling them. It's that simple."
"I can't do this," Carlos says, shaking his head.
"You can. You can continue staying with me until you find a new place like we agreed. And while doing so, you take this job and you make some money, real money, Carlos."
"I don't even know how to be a model," Carlos says.
"You wear the clothes, I take the shots. You may have to attend the launch party, but I'll be with you the whole time. After that, if you hate it, you can close bank and be done with it," Jay says matter of fact.
Carlos looks down at the ground and sighs, before looking back up at Jay.
"People like me don't become models. This is too much, you know it is," he says quietly.
It is then that Jay realizes it's not just the idea of the offer being a handout that bothers him, Carlos doesn't think he can do it, doesn't think he's good enough.
"I know you sell yourself short," Jay says softly.
"No," Carlos says sniffing. "I just sell myself."
"You don't have to," Jay says, reaching out and putting his hands on Carlos' knees so he looks him straight in the eye.
"Let me help you. Please? Please let me?" Jay says.
Carlos stares at him, really stares at him, searching Jay's face for a malice that just is not there.
"Okay," he answers.
"Okay?" Jay says, fingers pressing just that little bit into his thighs where they rest.
They're in Jay's car, driving back to the loft when Carlos speaks again for the first time since they left the car park. He takes a deep breath before he begins, as if building up the courage to say what he needs to.
"I just want to say I'm not sorry for what I did, but I am sorry where I did it. That was wrong of me. That's your studio, your space, and I shouldn't have disrespected it like that... So I'm sorry."
Carlos stares at the road ahead of him, as if unable to look at Jay's face while talking about what had happened.
"I wouldn't have found you if you'd left and gone somewhere else," Jay says shrugging.
He's not angry at Carlos anymore, just glad he has him back, safe and sound by his side.
"Yeah, but then you wouldn't have had to know, and no one would have got upset, and none of this would have happened," Carlos says.
"I'd rather know."
"Well, I'd rather you didn't," Carlos says, sinking into his seat. "Some things are better kept secret."
Jay looks over at Carlos curiously for a second and Carlos catches his glance.
"What?" he asks.
"Have you..." Jay trails off.
"Have I what?" Carlos insists.
"Have you been with anyone else since you came to stay with me?" he asks.
"That's none of your business," Carlos says quickly.
But now Jay's asked, he won't be satisfied until he gets an answer.
"Have you?" he pushes.
"Why do you need to know?" Carlos asks exasperated.
"Just tell me."
Carlos huffs, but reluctantly answers, "No. Not since that night with Harry."
"You slept with Harry?" Jay splutters.
"What? No...! I mean, yeah. But not that night," Carlos says. "I just meant not since that night when you saw me leave with that guy and tried to stop me. And then there was today..." Carlos finishes awkwardly.
Jay slowly nods and doesn't say anything for a moment.
"Is Harry like an ex or something?" he eventually asks.
"No," Carlos says bluntly.
"But you slept with him?"
Carlos shakes his head in disbelief at Jay's never-ending questions, but answers anyway.
"He provided me with a place to crash when my landlord was being a dick. I provided him with an orgasm."
Jay frowns in distaste at Carlos' blunt choice of words but continues.
"So he was like another client then?"
"Not really. I mean, we had our fun for a while but..."
"But not anymore?" Jay finishes for him.
"No, not anymore. Believe it or not, the taste of blood in my mouth after being hit in the face is a bit of a turn off," he says sarcastically.
Jay ignores him. "But you said he got handsy and then hit you? So you turned him down before that?"
"Yes," Carlos groans, becoming increasingly impatient.
"Why didn't you want to sleep with him?"
Carlos turns and glares at the side of Jay's face incredulously as he drives, unable to comprehend why Jay is so interested in Harry.
"He's gotten rough before, but it had been a while and he was being nice doing me a favor so I thought maybe..." Carlos says, letting Jay fill in the rest of that sentence. "But then... he started talking about you," Carlos says carefully.
"Me? What about me?" Jay asks, screwing his face up.
"What do you think?" Carlos says, implying the answer to the question is obvious.
Jay furrows his brow, Harry had wanted to beat the shit out of him that night. He assumes he must have still wanted to later. Was he threatening Jay in front of Carlos?
Carlos can see the confusion on his face and so just tells him.
"He talked about me fucking you," Carlos says.
"Oh," Jay says quietly.
"And you didn't like that," Jay says, it's not a question.
"I didn't like that," Carlos confirms.
"But whatever," Carlos says clearing his throat, trying to shake the awkwardness that has suddenly crept between them. "Harry is mostly harmless. Just has a short fuse when he's angry is all."
"Don't say whatever," scolds Jay. "He's a piece of shit and if he ever comes near you again I'm going to return the favor and bust his lip open."
"Yeah, okay. Easy killer," Carlos says chuckling.
But Jay doesn't laugh, giving Carlos a look that lets him know he's serious, before pulling the car into the buildings car park and turning the engine off.
Carlos starts climbing out of his seat, but stops before closing the door behind him, peering at Jay over the car's roof.
"Jay?" he calls out hesitantly.
"Yeah?" he answers, stopping his movements to look over at him.
"There's a chance I could run into Harry again. Or people like Harry. Promise you won't do anything stupid because of me, get yourself hurt because of something that might have happened."
Jay smiles at him sadly.
"I can't promise that."