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Be My Man

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Paul has kissed Carlos exactly 7 times. No halfway kisses, no nose touches. Just exactly 7 times. He knows because he's counted on his fingers at least three times every day since he left. He knows because how do you forget an asshole like Carlos? He knows because those moments were pivotal in his becoming happy.

1.

The first time Paul and Carlos kissed was in a dark hallway of their apartment building. It was after Daniel had dragged him to the band practice, after Paul learned 'hot priest goth guy' was actually named Carlos and played the bass guitar (like a god he might add).

Paul was smoking against a wall in the stairwell, Carlos nagging on him about "illegally smoking." And Paul hated that smug, shit eating grin that spread across the pale man's face like a snake slithering across the ground. It pissed him off.

So, to shut him up (not because Carlos was just so, so pretty) Paul pulled him against his body by his tie. Kissed him hard, all teeth and gums, no technique, no romance.

He still remembers that Carlos tasted like beer and cigarettes that night.

2.

The second time Paul and Carlos kissed was January first, 2001. They were at Sam's apartment, smoking weed for new years. It was a party- big or small? Paul couldn't remember. But he did remember snow falling into Carlos' black hair while they sat on the fire escape. The contrast between the two made Paul's stomach turn and he sighed a little under his breath.

He watched the light from the streetlamps below and the light of the moon hit Carlos like he was an angel. Paul took another puff from his cigarette and felt Carlos' cold hand on his wrist. Heard the yelling of the guys inside, counting down until the ball dropped.

He and Carlos counted down from five, smiles lighting their faces, and Carlos was beautiful and sharp like the shards of glass from the beer bottle he threw from the ledge just a few minutes earlier. And as zero hit, with no warning, Carlos closed the gap.

His lips were warm compared to Paul's cold ones. Carlos smelled like expensive cologne and his fingers dug into Paul's wrist like they were the only two left on earth.

This time, Carlos tasted like fruity alcohol and mint.

3.

The third time the two kissed was the day Turn On The Bright Lights was released.

Paul sat at the counter of a diner, felt a bony knee against his as they ordered cups of cheap coffee from a tired man with wilting brown hair. Carlos was smoking in this diner, blew smoke in Paul's face and kicked his foot against Paul's calf.

Hungover as shit, Paul grinned sloppily at the other man. "We're a real band now, man," he said and Carlos nodded. Tracing his features with his eyes behind tinted sunglasses, Paul felt like maybe everything would be okay.

After drinking their coffee and eating small cookies on porcelain plates, the two headed out into the dark night. Cold air enveloped Paul's skin, sharp needles of ice through his denim jacket and dress shirt. They stumbled out together, and against Carlos' cheap rental car, Paul felt lips against his own.

He pressed himself against the other man and placed a hand to a protruding hip bone. The heat from Carlos' breath, the constant pressure of lips against his, and maybe he didn't feel the fall air stinging his cheeks.

They kissed for twenty minutes that felt like seconds, and Carlos tasted bitter and smokey.

4.

Forth time Paul and Carlos kissed was backstage at Pepsi smash.

Paul's hair was greasy and his heart was beating too fast, too fast, too fast. He couldn't breathe and he knew he couldn't drink before he went on. He should've washed his hair, he should've done this and this and that and the other thing.

All Paul could focus on was the constant reminders of the cameras that awaited the four band mates. Paul knows the song, right? He knows the chord progression, right? Everything blurred together and Paul dug his blunt nails against his palm.

He didn't feel a single thing but constant nausea and dizziness until the familiar press of lips against his melted him down to a puddle. A strong hand against the back of his neck, holding him tight, grounded him and maybe he worried that Carlos could feel the grease from his hair.

Forehead pressed against Paul's, "You're okay, right? We can do this." And Paul felt stable.

5.

Fifth time they kissed was during the tour for antics.

They were at a club, Carlos dj-ing for the after party and Paul felt nothing as he downed another beer. Beer after beer after beer until he was dizzy enough that the girl hanging on Carlos' arm blended into the world around them.

Paul stood in the bathroom of the bar and stared himself dead in the eyes. He looked as bad as he felt, a fat, dirty, child that meant nothing under the scope of things. He cut and did a line off the counter that made everything soft around the edges, made his pulse quicken, made him forget all about the girl hanging off Carlos, forget about the weight of his sadness hanging over him. And he stared at himself for what felt like seconds to him, but what was later revealed to him was fifteen real minutes.

Hands turned him around and he saw Carlos, a face that wasn't ridden with anxiety, no worry for him, no starstruck wonderment because 'man, that's the guy that sings that one song!". It was normal Carlos, not caring, cold eyes and all.

Paul smiled his best at Carlos. Felt the cool lips of the other man against his neck, his jaw, his cheek. He felt nothing and his heart pounded too much and too fast. Carlos kissed him on the mouth and Paul didn't come to until he woke up in his briefs in Carlos' hotel room.

6.

It was during the recording for Our love to Admire.

Paul was skinny. He was thin. He was agelic and attractive…. At least that's what he was told by the people who wrote about him. Carlos didn't say this. Daniel and Sam didn't touch him as much, either, didn't hug him, didn't look at him too much. Paul didn't mind, at least those girls would think he was enough.

He sang the line again, "you don't hold a candle." And it wasn't right. God damn, he would never get it right. His throat was raw and he stared at the white wall in front of him, the empty apartment echoing around his voice.

A doorbell came through the silence and Paul yelled over it to just come in. The pain in his throat stabbed through him as he yelled out, and he wanted to bang his head against this goddamn table, wanted to just cut his heart out and scream as loud as he could.

"Hey," a masculine voice called from the door jam and Paul felt prickles down his spine. Paul turned to the man in his doorway and lit a cigarette. He nodded a greeting and hummed under his breath again, re wrote the line once more.

He felt a hand on his shoulder and facial hair against his cheek. Carlos kissed his skin lightly, barely there. Said, "You are enough." And left the apartment.

Paul cried for three days and wrote the entirety of Miind Over Time after the wave of emotion.

7.

The final time they kissed was the day Carlos left.

He was still too skinny, was still too much as the recording process proved, but he was leaving. He was gonna be out of Paul's life for good, he made that clear.

Carlos didn't seem sad about it though, didn't care about anyone's god damn feelings but his own and okay, Paul could play that game. The not caring one.

He gave Carlos the cold shoulder as he stood in his bedroom doorway. Until the suffocating silence became too much to handle. "You're a piece of work, you know that?" And Carlos turned to him and laughed his stupid, god damn, 'I know don't I?' laugh.

It pissed Paul off even more than it ever had, but he helped Carlos pack anyway. Moved boxes of CDs and vinyl across the ground.

They moved boxes around together for a long time, all in complete silence until, finally, outside of the curtainless windows, the sky sent dark waves of night through the clear glass.

Paul lingered in Carlos' front doorway and felt utterly empty. Carlos was… a friend. His best friend, maybe and he was just fucking letting that go.

It was shit.

And Paul said this, yelled it maybe, but said that he felt like his best friend was leaving him behind for no god damn reason. After calming down, Paul did finally apologize, told Carlos he deserved to be happy as he was about to leave the apartment.

Before he did, though, Carlos placed a strong hand on his hip and kissed him. Said "I'm sorry,"

And he tasted like last memories and bittersweet endings.