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Two Thousand Little Kisses

Chapter Text

Chisolm’s basement was small, but it had a bed and a private bathroom and enough space for Vasquez to lay his guns out and clean them before the op, so he was fairly well pleased with it. As far as any of them were expecting, it should just be a simple in-and-out – bust open a few electronic locks courtesy of Red’s expertise and lift some files for express delivery to the U.S. Embassy, but then Vasquez had been on too many expeditions with this particular team to expect anything to go smoothly.

There was the squeak of bed-springs from behind him, the gentle whisper of cards, and then Faraday asking casually, “Do you want to see a magic trick?”

Vasquez turned around and arched an eyebrow, one arm over the back of the folding chair, oilcloth still in hand. Faraday’s hair was sticking up on one side, a bright pillow-crease across his left cheek, eyes bright and mischievous. He was also, Vasquez noted with some interest, only wearing one of the pairs of briefs that Vasquez had gotten him half as a joke for his last birthday – black silk dotted with tasteful red spades.

“Welcome back to the land of the living, cariño,” he greeted with a grin. Faraday rolled his eyes and shuffled the cards again, his well-loved deck slipping through his fingers like water, or smoke – some ethereal and dancing thing.

“Some of us were on the world’s most boring stakeout until the ass-end of the morning,” he grumbled with a smirk, tilting his head and beckoning Vasquez over. “C’mon. Magic trick.”

Vasquez sighed, long-suffering, but wiped the gun oil off his hands and crossed the little room. The bed wasn’t really big enough for two grown men of their size, but Faraday scooted gamely over to the wall even so, lying on his back with his left side pressed up against it. Vasquez slid in beside him, on his side with his head propped up on one hand, splaying the other out across the bare plane of Faraday’s stomach.

Faraday grinned, wide and impish, and fanned the deck out, the blue knot-work pattern on the backs out toward Vasquez.

“Pick a card, any card,” he said, tilting his face away, toward the wall. “Don’t let me see it.”

Vasquez snorted a laugh – he’d seen this trick a thousand times already, had fallen for it on their first op together nearly five years ago now, and still Faraday insisted on performing the bit to its fullest. He pulled a card out of the deck and glanced at it, pinning the suit – clubs – and the number – seven – to the forefront of his mind.

“Got it?” Faraday asked.

“Sí, mijo,” Vasquez confirmed, sliding the card back into the deck. “Got it.”

“Good. Now,” Faraday continued, shifting so that he was half-facing Vasquez – though still on his back - and sliding the cards back together, shuffling them with a twisting flick of his wrist and cutting the deck, “with a shuffle, and a cut, we reveal – ” he produced the two of hearts with a flourish, wagging his eyebrows – “your card.”

“We both know that’s not my card,” Vasquez said with a sigh, putting his hand back on Faraday’s belly and dragging his thumb back and forth.

“Just play along,” Faraday reprimanded quietly, still grinning. Vasquez rolled his eyes and Faraday grinned wider. “Was your card – ” he reached up, hand just beside Vasquez’s head, and twisted his wrist, card fluttering into existence in his fingers, “the seven of clubs?”

“Mmm, lo siento, querido,” Vasquez said, mournfully shaking his head. “No.”

Faraday frowned, flipping the card around and scrutinizing its face for a moment.

“You sure?” he asked, suspicious. Vasquez nodded.

“Seguro,” he assured, letting his thumb dip below the waistband of Faraday’s briefs. Faraday sucked a little breath. “I don’t remember the number, but the suit was definitely spades.”

“Oh, really?” he asked, green eyes glittering over his sharp-edged smirk.

“Really,” Vasquez promised, low and dark.

“You know,” Faraday murmured, setting the cards on the windowsill alongside a half-empty pack of Camels and the world’s saddest pinch-bowl ashtray, “I think I remember it being spades, too.”

Faraday leaned over and Vasquez tilted his face up to meet him. His mouth was soft, breath still a little sour with sleep – though Vasquez had kissed him with blood in his teeth on multiple occasions so it was hardly worth noticing – all of him warm and lush. He hummed into it, pleased, and reached over to curl a hand around Vasquez’s neck.

“See?” he murmured sweetly against Vasquez’s mouth. “Magic. Works every time.”

Vasquez laughed and rolled over on top of him just to shut him up.

Chapter Text

“No,” Faraday glowered, one hand pointing at the open collar of Vasquez’s jacket, half-empty tumbler of whiskey dangling from the other.

It was so late in the evening that it could almost be better called morning and Vasquez – who was mostly drenched, extremely tired, and had spent the better part of the night getting shot at while Faraday was busy drinking himself into a sulky stupor because his particular skill-set wasn’t required for this mission – was very decidedly not in the mood.

“Sí,” he replied archly. The warm bundle poking out of the top of his jacket yipped its agreement. Faraday thought for a minute.

“I’m allergic,” he said smugly, crossing his arms over his chest and shooting Vasquez a triumphant smirk. Vasquez snorted and rolled his eyes. His boyfriend was not at his best this deep into the bottle.

“You’re not allergic,” he assured, making his way over to the couch and unzipping his jacket as he went, one palm curled under the little warm belly so that it didn’t fall to the floor. “I would know.”

“You would not know,” Faraday grumbled.

“I’m your medical power of attorney, querido,” Vasquez said slowly. “Yes I would.”

“Fuck,” Faraday muttered darkly. “Well, I don’t like it.”

Vasquez shrugged his jacket off onto the floor and collapsed onto their half-sunken sofa, propping his boots up on the table.

“Tough shit,” he replied, cheerfully tossing out one of Faraday’s favorite phrases. He ran his thumb under the little furry chin, grinning at the squeaking growl and gentle pressure of sharp baby teeth. “Come say hello.”

Faraday sighed, long-suffering, and knocked back the remainder of his glass. He settled down hesitantly onto the far end of the sofa, frowning with his nose wrinkled, staring at the wiggling black mass on Vasquez’s lap like it was something dangerous and horrifying – which, for Faraday, was a list that was pretty much limited to paperwork and non-alcoholic drink mix.

“It looks like a rodent,” he said sourly. Vasquez rolled his eyes again.

“She’s a puppy, Joshua,” he snapped. “Don’t tell me you’re afraid of a puppy.”

“I ain’t scared!” Faraday bristled, scowling furiously. “I just, I don’t know, I don’t get on with dogs! They don’t like me.”

“I didn’t like you at first, either,” Vasquez said easily. “She will learn, too.”

“That is a bald-faced lie,” Faraday grumbled, but he was scooting closer. He held his hand out carefully, brushing his fingers against one floppy, silky ear.

The puppy turned to sniff at him, curiously licking at his thumb, and Vasquez was immensely grateful that he was still looking at Faraday’s face, saw the gentle, tender way his mouth curled up at the corner.

“You love her,” he said, smugly.

“She’s hideous,” Faraday replied, but he was smiling.

“Mentiroso,” Vasquez grinned easily.

Faraday huffed a breath and rolled his eyes. He curved his hand gingerly over her head, small enough that he could get his whole palm around it, rubbing his thumb against her cheek. She opened her mouth wide, pink tongue lolling, little scraggly tail thumping against Vasquez’s thigh.

“What’s her name?” Faraday asked quietly.

“Don’t know yet,” Vasquez shrugged. “Thought I would ask you.”

“Yeah?”

“Well, she’s our dog,” Vasquez smiled at him, fond, and nudged their knees together. “Figured you might want to help me choose.”

“Our dog,” Faraday murmured quietly, and Vasquez’s chest pulled tight, warm with affection. His boyfriend was so easy, sometimes.

“Sí, mi amor,” he replied gently. “Our dog.”

Faraday ducked his head, the way he always did when he was happy and didn’t want to admit it. The puppy flopped down, lolling over to the side so that her fuzzy belly was in the air. Faraday snorted and scratched at it.

“She’s still hideous,” he murmured quietly. Vasquez sighed and closed his eyes, leaning his head back against the couch.

“Whatever you say, mijo,” he agreed easily, slinging his arm around Faraday’s shoulders and hauling him over, the three of them all sprawled together across the sofa in the low light of dawn. “She’s ours, either way.”

Chapter Text

It was one of those lazy afternoons in the late summer when jobs were scarce, the warm beams of sunshine lulling the normal bustling buzz of the city down to a quiet, drowsy hum. With no preparation work to do – no research, no firearms needing attention, no last-minute alterations to adjust and allot for – Faraday had retreated to the hammock strung up between the two big oak trees in the backyard, lounging in board shorts and a white undershirt with a lunchbox sized cooler of beer within arm’s reach.

Vasquez had wandered out almost an hour ago now, clad only in a pair of ‘Kiss Me, I’m Irish’ boxers that definitely belonged to Faraday, a book in hand. By this point in the afternoon, they were both pleasantly day-drunk, Faraday on his back with Vasquez sprawled over top of him, dozing like a big cat in the sunshine, book tumbled down into the spotty grass and long-forgotten.

There was a radio on the back patio about ten feet away, tuned into some local alternative radio station, quiet enough that Vasquez could barely make out the strains of music over the cicadas trilling loud overhead. Faraday had fallen into a complacent silence some minutes ago, trailing his hand through Vasquez’s hair and sighing contentedly every once in awhile, sipping leisurely at one of the cheap IPA’s he preferred during the warm summer months.

He smelled like sunscreen – fair countenance given to burning if he wasn’t careful – and faintly of sweat where Vasquez’s face was tucked into his neck. Vasquez sighed and shifted, smirking a little when Faraday dropped an absent kiss to the top of his head.

He’d been teetering back and forth on the edge of sleep for awhile now, soothed to lethargy by the gentle caress of Faraday’s hand in his hair, the warm, comfortable weight of Faraday’s arm across his waist. It was rare that they had quiet moments to themselves, and Vasquez was exceedingly grateful for every one they got. In their line of work, it was a gamble everyday that both of them would be returning home, period.

He was drifting pleasantly, Faraday warm beneath him, a breeze stirring up in the yard and passing cool over his face, when Faraday sighed and ran his fingers gently along Vasquez’s cheek, up into the hair over his temple.

Fuck, I love you,” Faraday breathed, so quietly that Vasquez thought he might have dreamed it.

He very carefully kept his breathing deep and even, despite the warm, brilliant pulse that rolled through his body like smoke. Faraday wasn’t generally given to sharing his feelings – every intimate emotion either couched in layer upon layer of bitter sarcasm or deflected and refracted, like the truth of a magician’s trick.

After a few long seconds – just enough time to keep plausible deniability on his side – Vasquez sighed and nuzzled closer, keeping his eyes closed and not saying anything. Faraday just dropped another gentle kiss to his hair, humming along with some top hit from the nineties that Vasquez couldn’t remember the name of.

Chapter Text

"Okay, but they have to know we know, right?" Teddy Q asked, quiet and skeptical, one eyebrow raised. "I mean, they ain't subtle."

Through the open sliding glass door, Faraday was clearly visible on the long couch, his back against one armrest and legs sprawled out in front of him, one dossier open on his lap while the others were stacked atop the low end table behind him. He didn't even look up when Vasquez sidled over, two beers in hand, and nudged his knuckles against Faraday's knee.

Faraday lifted his legs obligingly so that Vasquez could slide underneath them and then settled them down across Vasquez's lap. Vasquez, without hesitation, reached over and fished around in the front pocket of Faraday's jeans for a second, Faraday leaning over a little to accommodate. After a long moment - and one quick, knowing flicker of Faraday's eyes above the sharp curl of his smirk - Vasquez came up with Faraday's keys, and the well-worn bottle opener attached therein.

He popped the caps off and tucked Faraday's keys back where they belonged, obviously taking his time about it until Faraday reached out to swat at him. With a roguish grin, Vasquez handed one of the bottles over, and they tapped the necks together and took a sip in perfect synchronization.

"You know these are twist-offs, right?" Faraday asked, amused, and set his beer on the table behind him, grabbing one of the additional dossiers and handing it to Vasquez, who simply shrugged.

"Soft hands," he supplied with a grin, tucking his bottle down into the divot between the couch cushions and opening the dossier across Faraday's knees.

"Now I know that's a lie," Faraday snorted.

"Shh, guero," Vasquez said gently without looking over. He wrapped his hand around Faraday's ankle underneath his jeans, thumb sweeping back and forth. "I'm working."

Faraday rolled his eyes but settled placidly back into perusing his own file.

Teddy turned toward his compatriots with his eyebrows high, as if to say, 'Are they fucking serious right now?'

Emma, at the end of one long-bleached sun lounger with her MacBook open on her lap, shrugged.

"I think it's because Faraday found out about the betting pool," she said.

Beside her, Chisolm, equally invested in a schematic of their target's office building, shook his head absently.

"He found out about one of the betting pools," he corrected. Teddy frowned.

"There's a betting pool?"

"Two," Chisolm repeated, looking at Teddy like he was disappointed and expected better. "One for when they started dating, which we're pretty sure was back in March sometime, and one for how long it takes Faraday to cave in and give up the ghost after finding out about the first one." He considered for a moment. "Smart money's on December."

"But," Teddy frowned, projecting out the dates, "March was seven months ago. That's nearly a whole year."

"Vasquez gets soft around the holidays," Emma provided over the quick burst of her fingers tapping against the keyboard. "He'll start to get melancholy about keeping it a secret and Faraday will crack like a discount plumber."

"We need to work on your poetic flair," Chisolm snorted.

Teddy sighed and looked back in through the doorway, unconvinced.

Faraday, apparently deeply invested in whatever he was learning from his file, had sunk back against the armrest and was staring intently down at the dossier, brow furrowed ever so slightly as he chewed absently on a hangnail. Vasquez was watching him with a look of such naked fondness that it made Teddy's chest hurt to see it. He cut his gaze quickly away, face flushing.

"Yeah," he sighed, a little incredulous, "I really don't think it's gonna take that long."

Chapter Text

Faraday came awake in a sudden, explosive burst of pain.

"Oh, fuck," he wheezed, staring up into the dark and reaching to gently shift Vasquez's arm off of his ribs, taking care not to wake him.

Where Faraday could fall asleep at any time and tended to remain still as a corpse while doing so - one of many useful habits developed during his short-lived but deeply intensive stint in the military - Vasquez slept fitfully, flailing wildly in the night, arms and legs akimbo, mumbling nonsense to himself every now and again. The first time they'd slept together it had scared the ever-loving hell out of them both, Faraday woken by a sharp jab to the ribs, swinging desperately out at his presumed attacker and very nearly breaking Vasquez's nose.

In the many long months since then, he'd developed a tolerance for it; a fondness, really, though Faraday would take that secret to his grave.

It wouldn't have been such a big deal, this time, if the fuckers who'd gotten the drop on him in the stairwell last night hadn't had steel caps in the toes of their boots. As it was, his torso was mostly just a stretch of mottled bruising from collarbone to hip all along his right side. Painful, but imminently better than the unholy vengeance Vasquez had unleashed on the poor bastards, long disappeared to the bottom of a river somewhere courtesy their team's slightly disturbing body disposal skills by now.

While a wandering arm was fairly benign, in the world of Vasquez's nightly comatose acrobatics, it was not exceptionally pleasant when applied with even mild force to Faraday's injured side. Luckily, aside from the damnable fondness, Faraday had also developed a diversionary tactic for precisely such occasions.

He rolled over with a wince so that he was on his un-injured side, facing toward Vasquez, who was sprawled across the mattress with his mouth open, hair smushed up at the back like a cockatiel.

I can't believe I willingly have sex with that, Faraday thought, fond and faintly horrified, and scooted forward, sliding an arm over Vasquez's waist.

Vasquez stirred a little, frowning, and grunted, "'sat?"

"Just me," Faraday murmured, nosing at Vasquez's hair, pressing a gentle kiss to his temple. "Go back sleep."

Vasquez hummed, a soft, nonsensical noise, and rolled over, just as Faraday had predicted. He tucked his head under Faraday's chin, arms curled into the minimal space between them, and nudged his knees against Faraday's.

Faraday took this a step further, slinging a leg across Vasquez's hip and dragging his fingers tenderly through Vasquez's outrageous bedhead. Vasquez made a little pleased noise against Faraday's throat and settled down again, blessedly still.

Faraday had learned, over the course of many interrupted nights in the interim, that Vasquez would sleep quietly if he was halfway pinned to the mattress, anchored and soothed by the presence of someone beside him. Faraday hadn't been much for cuddling prior to starting this thing, but he'd be lying if he said he hadn't rapidly reconsidered his position on the subject.

He shifted a little closer, knowing full well that he was going to wake up with a mouthful of Vasquez's hair but unwilling to move even despite that, and pressed a kiss to the top of Vasquez's head.

"Hmm," Vasquez mumbled contentedly. "'S dragons in the canyon."

Faraday smirked, huffing a laugh into the dark.

"There sure are, sweetheart."

Chapter Text

 

"You'd think we'd have more notoriety than this," Faraday grumbled. To his right, Chisolm huffed a laugh. To his left, nothing - not since the dynamite months before. Despite the thick and pervasive silence, there came the little nudge of an elbow against his elbow, Vasquez expressing his amusement. Faraday turned to grin at him.

"It might be the notoriety that's the problem," Chisolm drawled. He clapped a hand to Faraday's shoulder. "Cover me."

"Yessir!" Faraday agreed brightly.

They were hunkered down behind the local general store, a pile of crates all that stood between them, their fellows, and a whole passel of outlaws with their dander up something mighty. Apparently the farm-burning sons of bitches didn't appreciate it when some wild vigilantes rolled into town and tried to drive them out.

More would be the pity, Faraday thought meanly, when the stubborn cusses realized just who they were dealing with.

"How many you got over there?" Faraday asked without bothering to turn his head. Beside him, Chisolm readied himself to dart across the narrow alley.

There was the gentle pressure of a hand curled around his left wrist, Vasquez tapping three times with his index finger even as he said the number aloud. It was faint and difficult to hear over the hullabaloo, particularly while he was facing the wrong direction, but the steady, certain feel of Vasquez's fingers on his skin was all the information Faraday needed.

It was a habit they'd fallen into during his long recovery, when Faraday was still trying to reconcile the reality that his right ear was permanently dampened, and the left shot completely. During those first few weeks, every little motion out of the corner of his eye, every passing touch startled him. Vasquez had taken to lingering on his bad side anytime Faraday didn't quite trust his surroundings, accommodating for Faraday's freshly inflicted deficiencies. Eventually, he had come to the bone-deep realization that anytime something shifted in the periphery of his vision, or nudged up against him where he couldn't hear its approach, it would only be Vasquez - there to replace what Faraday had lost.

"Two out this end," Faraday supplied, fighting the urge to holler. It still crept up on him when the world got loud, the desire to raise his voice up over everything until he could hear it all the way 'round, though he knew the likelihood of that ever happening was dead and buried back in Rose Creek. "You got yours handled?"

Vasquez's pinkie finger curled around Faraday's - a brief, affirmative warmth.

"Right then," Faraday announced happily, Ethel angled at the corner of the distant milliner, where, with any luck, the bastards would poke their heads up like weasels when Chisolm made his move. "Whenever you're ready, boss."

"Don't call me boss," Chisolm said, and then took off in a sprint.

It was over almost laughably fast after that, all of the posse either settled down in the pokey until travel accommodations could be made or leaking their lifeblood out in the street.

Faraday was tucking his gun away when there came a soft squeeze just above his elbow on his left arm. He grinned but looked over to his right, where Vasquez was standing on Faraday's good side with one arm around Faraday's back.

"Good shooting today, guero," he said approvingly, in that dark, low rumble, palm still cupped around Faraday's elbow.

"Grassy-ass, ah-me-go," Faraday replied. Vasquez snorted and rolled his eyes. Faraday tilted his head to where the rest of their merry band was sauntering toward the nearest saloon. "Up for a round?"

Vasquez sighed and squeezed Faraday's arm again, gentle.

"You buying, guerito?"

Faraday huffed a laugh.

"You got your own damn money, hombre," he said, and considered for a moment. He pulled his deck from his pocket, brandished it up in the air. "Play you for it?"

Vasquez considered this.

"Sure," he said. "Maybe Lady Luck is still hanging around."

He circled around to Faraday's left side, falling into step so they were walking shoulder to shoulder.

"I got four," Faraday said, which was respectable considering it'd been a gang of about fifteen, though none of them were especially gifted with firearms. "How about you?"

Vasquez wrapped his hand around Faraday's wrist and tapped five times.

"Did I say four?" Faraday asked curiously, scratching his chin as he made his way up the saloon steps with Vasquez at his side. "I meant five."

Vasquez bumped their shoulders together, and Faraday didn't need to hear him to know that he was laughing.

Chapter Text

"Ay, chingado!" Vasquez muttered, ducking behind a dumpster as a bullet ricocheted overhead with a metallic twang. He fired off a return shot, grinning smugly to himself when there came a distant yelp of pain.

"Pinche cabrón," he muttered darkly. "¿Piensa que puede dispararme porque tiene una pistola lujosa?"

There was a little scuffling noise from behind him and he turned to discover a carton of Chinese food clumsily sliding along the concrete. He stretched a leg out, carefully shifting the cardboard with the toe of his boot, and found himself staring into a pair of huge, limpid brown eyes.

"Díos mío," he sighed, dropping into a crouch. He wagged his fingers playfully and the puppy wandered over, all graceless stumbling. It sniffed his fingers a few times and then licked his knuckles, yipping excitedly.

"Hello, you," he scratched at the puppy's ears, setting one of its legs to kicking so fiercely that it lost its balance and toppled over in a floppy mess of limbs. Vasquez huffed a little laugh and clicked the safety into place, sliding his gun into his shoulder holster. He scooped the puppy up and held it to his face, laughing again when it licked his cheek.

"Oh mijo," he murmured, delighted, rubbing behind its ears, "he's going to say that he hates you but I promise you, he'll be lying."

Chapter Text

If a fellow had insinuated to the Joshua Faraday of one year ago that he would regularly be spending nights in the woods after getting run out of town for defending the honor of a Mexican outlaw, he would have laughed in their face and probably slugged them across the mouth on principle.

Months out from Rose Creek, with busted knuckles, welts rising on various and sundry parts of his body, and the outlaw in question tending long-sufferingly to his many minor contusions, the notion made a lot more sense.

"Why always do you do this?" Vasquez asked, clicking his tongue. He dragged his thumb carefully across Faraday's lower lip, swollen and sore where it was split down the middle. Faraday flinched, and the motion of it sent a twinge through the left side of his face, bruised blue along his cheekbone.

Vasquez frowned, poured some water out of his canteen onto a handkerchief and dabbed gently at the wound. Faraday hissed a little at the sting.

"They shouldn'a run their mouths off," he grumbled darkly. Vasquez snorted.

"You say worse every day," he murmured, setting his fingers delicately against Faraday's chin and guiding his head to the side. He studied the bruise for a long moment, swiping his thumb absently against Faraday's jaw, and then raised the handkerchief to Faraday's cheek with a resigned sigh.

"I do not," Faraday groused. He considered. "Well, not really." He hunched his shoulders up, glaring into the dark line of the trees beyond Vasquez's shoulder. "Not like they were."

"Idiota noble," Vasquez muttered, but he was smirking fondly. Faraday sighed and reached up, wrapping his fingers around the wrist of Vasquez's free hand and bringing it to his mouth.

"You know I don't - " he started, lips dragging gingerly against Vasquez's knuckles. "I'm only tryin' to get a rise outta you." He grinned, mischievous and flirtatious in the flickering light of the fire, and admitted, low, "I like the way you look at me when you get all flustered."

"I don't get flustered, guero," Vasquez scoffed. Faraday ignored him.

He turned Vasquez's hand over, kissed his palm.

"I like your clothes, and the funny way you talk," he continued, ducking his head to drop another kiss against Vasquez's wrist, over the fluttering line of his pulse. "I like the way you call me 'guero.'"

Vasquez swallowed, thick, and sighed.

"Guero - " he started, but Faraday cut him off, looked up at him with those sparkling green eyes and breathed, dark and hoarse, "Yeah. Like that."

Vasquez huffed and rolled his eyes, but he tugged Faraday over by the collar of his shirt, carefully fixing his mouth over Faraday's in a gentle kiss - all soft heat and the bitter tang of old pennies.

"It was still stupid," he muttered. He could feel Faraday grinning against his lips.

"Plenty a' folk out there who'd jump at having a handsome gentleman defend their honor," he said teasingly, cupping a hand over Vasquez's thigh, sliding it up and up until Vasquez sucked a breath.

"Nothing gentle about you, guero," he grumbled. Faraday laughed against his cheek.

"No, there ain't," he agreed cheerfully, bumping their noses together, grinning wide and smug. "Probably why I won."

Vasquez rolled his eyes.

"It was three men, querido," he said, unimpressed. "Most of whom were one more round from passing out."

"Still won." Faraday shifted up onto his knees, climbing forward until he was straddling Vasquez's lap. "What say you help me celebrate?"

Vasquez huffed again, but leaned up willingly when Faraday tilted down to meet him.

 

Chapter Text

The Standard Issue offices were all sleek glass and shining chrome, the cutting edge of modern refinement.

Faraday dragged himself down the long hallway, doing his damnedest not to catch his reflection in any of the gleamingly polished surfaces. He knew he wasn't at his best today - in a rumpled Henley he'd grabbed from the floor of his bedroom while his phone alarm screamed at him, still half-drunk on top of his hangover - and didn't need the painful reality of his reflection to confirm it.

He'd been out until one in the morning at the soft-opening of a new jazz club in the Village on assignment for the magazine, and up considerably later than that with a tall, dark-eyed drink of water all the way from Mexico for his own pleasure. He'd half-wondered if he dreamed it, having woken up alone and still a little dizzy with the residual buzz of tequila, but he had the pleasant, low-grade ache in his thighs - and other places - that suggested his memory was fully functional.

He clutched desperately at the largest to-go cup he'd been able to swindle out of the bubbly co-ed behind the counter of the Starbucks kiosk in the lobby, and attempted in vain to ignore the headache that was doing an energetic tap dance on the inside of his skull. He hadn't had time to shower before booking it onto the subway so he was sure he smelled like a day-old ash tray somebody had soaked optimistically in Old Spice, and he'd only realized upon arriving to the office that he had an undeniable love-bite tucked along the hinge of his jaw.

Faraday frowned, glancing at the thin reflection of it in one of the fashionable but highly impractical glass walls. It was dark and red and obvious. He sighed and took a truly monstrous sip of hideously burnt dark roast.

His co-workers were going to eat him alive.

Resigned to his fate, he shouldered open the door to the writer's room and stumbled through, muttering, "Sorry I'm late."

Billy Rocks, sub-editor and - Faraday suspected - astoundingly lifelike humanoid robot, glanced over, looked him up and down, and arched a deeply judgmental eyebrow.

"You look like shit," he said blandly.

"I'm never doing tequila shots with an actual Mexican ever again," Faraday responded, wincing even through his sunglasses at the morning sunlight streaming, bright and joyous, all throughout the easternmost corner of the 44th floor. "Can somebody shut the goddamn blinds?"

"Not a chance in hell," Emma Cullen said pleasantly.

She was young for an art director, but undeniably talented, and always willing to shout somebody down if required, which was a quality Faraday appreciated providing he wasn't the one on the receiving end of her wrath. This morning she was lounging behind a standing desk with a truly beastly monitor on it - some fancy artist's tool that she had forbade Faraday from even looking at if he could help it. She smirked knowingly at him over top of it, face tinged blue from the glow of the screen, and asked, "Did you have a good time?"

"He's drinking coffee from the lobby," Teddy Q opined with a grin, balancing on the back two legs of his chair with his MacBook open across his knees. "Must've been good if he wasn't even willing to get up for his," he wagged his eyebrows, waving a pinkie demurely in the air, "real I-talian espresso."

"Aren't you just a fuckin' junior detective," Faraday muttered, kicking viciously at Teddy's chair as he passed and wincing when it thudded hard against the floor.

Teddy and Emma both laughed at him - loud and ringing and deeply obnoxious - while Billy smirked, quietly amused.

"You're all monsters," Faraday muttered darkly, dropping miserably into his rolling chair and pressing his face against the cool surface of his desk.

"You bring it on yourself," Billy said.

"Staying out until all hours," Emma agreed, shaking her head sorrowfully and affecting a comically exaggerated Southern accent, "drinking liquor with strange men."

"It is literally my job to do that," Faraday grumbled, glaring at her. He considered for a moment and waved a hand lazily in the air, grinning as roguishly as he could manage when it tasted like something had died in his mouth the night before. "Well, except the strange men part. That's mostly for fun."

"Please spare us the details," Goodnight murmured, not evening bothering to look up from where he was staring intently at his monitor over a pair of very chic wire-frame glasses. As the senior print writer on staff, the only thing that could reliably pull Goody away from an article when he'd hit a groove was Billy, who had earned the right to monopolize Goody's attention by putting up with eight years of so-called wedded bliss.

"Your loss," Faraday said with a shrug, mustering the energy to push himself into an actual, vertical seated position. He winced as he did it, and sighed, "Why does the whole world hurt?"

"Because tequila," Teddy Q said absently, frowning down at his MacBook. He dropped his fingers to the keys, typing something lightning fast, and added, "And probably also very athletic sex."

"Hear, hear," Faraday agreed. Teddy smirked wickedly at him.

"Is that really something a man oughta be doing at your age?" he asked thoughtfully. "Aren't you worried about breaking a hip?"

Faraday scowled and flipped him off. Behind him, Emma whistled, low.

"Wow," she drawled. "You know it's bad when you walk right into one of Teddy's setups."

"Fuck you very much," Teddy replied amiably, smug and pleased with himself.

Faraday pinched the bridge of his nose, pushing his sunglasses up and out of the way. There was the distant whisper of the door swinging open, but Faraday was already halfway through groaning piteously, "Could you all shut up for two goddamn minutes?"

"Mister Faraday."

Faraday winced - because he knew that voice - and affected his best shit-eating grin as he turned to greet their editor-in-chief.

"Sam," he said brightly. "What brings you to our humble corner of the world?"

Sam arched an amused eyebrow and tilted his head to the man hovering at his shoulder.

"Giving our new writer the nickel tour," he provided benignly. He turned to the man at his side and added, "This is Joshua Faraday, our local culture correspondent. He's something of an acquired taste. Please don't feel as if you're under any obligation to interact with him outside of a purely professional capacity."

There was a low chuckle, followed by a horrifyingly familiar, thickly accented voice.

"I've developed the taste for far stranger in my travels."

Faraday looked over, and his stomach dropped down to his toes. He had a visceral memory of that mouth - lush and wonderful, edges tilted up with amusement - wrapped around his dick less than twelve hours ago. He swallowed again, flicked his gaze up as his face flooded with heat, and found himself staring into a pair of dark eyes, glittering in the the sallow sheen of he overhead lights with the same delicious promise as he'd seen in the twisting glow of the jazz club the night before.

"Hi," Faraday croaked. The man - Eduardo, he'd said his name was when he'd offered to buy Faraday a drink, although he hadn't seemed to mind when Faraday called him Eddie, panting on his hands and knees with Eddie curled possessively over his back.

"Hi," he responded with a knowing smirk. His voice was just as gorgeous as it had been murmuring nonsensical Spanish against Faraday's jaw in the small hours of morning.

Faraday swallowed again. This was bad.

He could feel the rest of his co-workers watching him curiously, waiting for his usual freewheeling showmanship, but he couldn't think about anything beyond how Eduardo's legs looked just as salaciously long in his black slacks as they had in the fitted jeans he'd kicked off onto Faraday's floor.

"Um," Faraday said, floundering in search of something to say that wasn't either hopelessly trite or a deeply inappropriate comment on Eduardo's talent for fellatio. Sam rescued him, thankfully, though he shot Faraday a worried glance as he gestured around the room.

"This is Emma Cullen, our art director. Teddy Q, digital content. Our fashion correspondent is on assignment but he'll be back next week, and I believe you know Goodnight Robicheaux."

"Vasquez," Goody greeted with a grin, rising from behind his mahogany desk to offer a firm handshake. "Good to see you."

"A ti también," Vasquez - and that was a little better; an added layer of distance that Faraday desperately needed - grinned jovially. "Told you I would make it to New York someday."

"And we are lucky to have you," Goody agreed with his usual easy charm. "If you'll forgive my rudeness, I need to finish up an article before lunch, and it's proving to be more temperamental than I expected."

"Of course," Vasquez assured easily, and turned to flash a grin at Billy, nodding his head. "Billy."

Billy smiled at him, with teeth.

Oh God, Faraday thought, a little hysterically, what did I sleep with? He pushed himself up from his desk so suddenly that it made him a little dizzy - although, admittedly, that could have been the lingering tequila buzz. Everybody turned to look at him.

"What?" Faraday snapped, and Emma's eyebrows jumped toward her hairline. Even Sam was eyeing him warily, though Vasquez mostly just seemed amused. "I have to - " he took a few absent steps toward the door, waving a hand in the air and taking care to keep distance between himself and Vasquez, " - uh - I have meetings."

"Sure," Teddy Q said with a smirk. "Meeting last night's booze for a second time."

Faraday glowered. Teddy wagged his eyebrows, held a hand up in the air and slapped his other against it. Behind him, Emma shook her head.

"No, sweetie," she said sadly.

"I hate all of you," Faraday hissed, startling when Vasquez laughed. He turned, staring wide-eyed, cheeks flushing when Vasquez arched an eyebrow at him.

"Meetings!" Faraday blurted desperately and backpedaled out the door, making a beeline down the glass-encased hallway towards the men's room.

"Is he always like that?" he heard Vasquez asking distantly, low curl of amusement in his deep voice sending a flare of want up Faraday's spine.

"Pretty much," Sam sighed.

Faraday hunched his shoulders and walked a little faster.

Yeah, he thought darkly. This was bad.

Chapter Text

Vasquez swiped a hand across his brow, sweaty and parched with his shirt untucked, and paused on the threshold of Emma Cullen's modest cabin. He could hear her hollering even through the door, which meant that Faraday was awake and no doubt causing a ruckus.

" - need to rest!" She was shouting, red-faced, with her hands on her hips. Faraday glared up at her, perched at the edge of the cot in the corner. He had dark shadows under his eyes and wasn't wearing a shirt, bandages stark white against his skin. There was a fine tremor in his hands where they curled over the edge of the thin mattress, sweat at his temples.

"I told you, I ain't tired!" Faraday snapped. He started to struggle up off the bed, but all it took was a gentle press of Emma's hand against his shoulder to knock him back down to the cot with a wince. "Damnit, Emma - "

Vasquez whistled and both of them looked over, bizarre reflections of one another with their fair faces flushed, eyes glittering furiously.

"What's the problem?" he asked. Faraday jerked a thumb at Emma.

"Somebody thinks I ain't man enough to be up and about," he grumbled darkly. Emma narrowed her eyes at him.

"You need to rest," she snapped, flickering her eyes skyward for a second before turning to scowl at Vasquez. "God save us all from fool men intent on reopening their wounds. Would you handle this before he hurts himself?"

"Quit talkin' about me like I ain't sittin' right here!" Faraday hissed. Emma ignored him, turning on her heel and stalking off toward the kitchen, muttering under her breath about cooking dinner for ungrateful idiots.

Vasquez chuckled and strolled across the room to where Faraday was trying to push himself up again with no small amount of difficulty, shoulders quivering. He sighed and knocked his knee against Faraday's.

"What are you doing, guero?"

"Should be obvious," Faraday muttered darkly, voice thin with pain. Vasquez rolled his eyes.

"Lie back down, idiota," he said fondly. "Man gets shot five times and tries to blow himself up, he deserves a siesta."

Faraday huffed.

"I don't need a siesta," he glowered. "I've been sleeping for days."

Neither of them mentioned how he slept in fits and starts, gasping awake in the small hours of the night and rousing Vasquez from his little nest of blankets on the floor with his whimpering.

"Scoot over, then," Vasquez instructed amiably with a little jerk of his head. He didn't bother waiting for Faraday to acquiesce before he sat down beside him, tugging his boots and socks off.

"What are you doing?" Faraday asked suspiciously, but at least he'd stopped trying to force himself into a standing position before his body was ready for it.

Vasquez dropped his hat onto the carved wooden chair next to the cot. He hadn't bothered with his vest or his gun belt today, as both were fairly useless for work in the fields, but he pulled his shirt off over his head and tossed it onto the floor, sighing with relief at the sudden rush of cool air against his skin.

"You might not need a siesta, cabrón, but I could use one." He grinned teasingly at Faraday and added, "Some of us have to work for our keep around here."

He swung his legs up, shifting so that he was laid out flat on the cot, between Faraday and the wall, fingers interlaced and palms folded over his stomach. He closed his eyes and settled in with another sigh, waiting patiently for the question he knew was coming.

"And I factor into this plan how exactly?" Faraday asked after a long moment, hesitant and curious.

Vasquez cracked an eye open and glanced at him.

"You're keeping watch," he said, like it ought to be obvious. Faraday frowned, wary and discontent like he thought Vasquez might be making fun of him.

Vasquez closed his eyes again and settled back against the thin mattress.

"I sleep better when someone is watching, and you say you aren't tired, so." He shrugged.

There was another long moment of thoughtful silence and then a slow, careful shift. The cot wasn't especially large, and it was a tight fit with both of them on it, Faraday with his back up against the wall near Vasquez's head, the line of his leg warm where it pressed all along Vasquez's side.

"Gracias, guero," he said, reaching out to pat gently at Faraday's calf.

Faraday huffed a snort and ran a hand once, rough, through Vasquez's hair.

"Shut up and go to sleep," he grumbled, but it sounded like he was smiling.

 

Chapter Text

There was a sale on lean chicken breast.

Vasquez considered this for a moment, referencing the list he had scrawled out on a long piece of notepad paper earlier that afternoon, half of it already scratched off and spotted all over with scribbled addenda. His mamá had always told him that a grocery list was a live and evolving thing, but Vasquez hadn't really understood her until recently.

He and Faraday had stumbled into cohabitation out of necessity, both of them too broke and too paranoid by turns to live alone when Chisholm had thrown their ragtag team together so long ago. Even before they'd started sleeping together it had been readily apparent that Faraday was disastrously ill-equipped to look after himself, consisting on a diet of almost exclusively gas station burritos, beef jerky, and whatever 24-pack of beer was cheapest. Vasquez, unwilling to lose, first, a teammate and, later, a lover to something as foolish as rickets or scurvy, had taken it upon himself to start slowly sneaking foods with actual nutritional value into Faraday's diet.

Smoothies were a hit, as was anything that Vasquez could shape into a patty and disguise with pickle chips, chipotle mayo, and an obscene amount of onion - Robicheaux had paid him out $100 when he got Faraday to eat a quinoa burger without complaint. He'd eventually started messing around with old family recipes, and Faraday had been more receptive than he'd hoped, tucking merrily into flautas and his mamá's famous menudo without batting an eye.

He'd had to make a few concessions - baking instead of frying and substituting oil for lard - as the whole point was to keep Faraday healthy, not feed him into an early grave, but on the whole it had been a success. Now, a few years into it, groceries and meals were largely Vasquez's responsibility. He considered the chicken again, wracking his brain.

He could make his abuelíta's arroz con pollo. It was easy to pack up, and Faraday would be on the night-shift with Red for the next two weeks. He had wandered off the moment they arrived, presumably to hunt for snacks, which Vasquez knew from experience he would eat until he was sick unless provided with a more appealing alternative.

"Vas!" The man himself called merrily, staggering up the bread aisle under a monstrous armful of crinkling plastic. "Ketchup chips are a dollar a bag!"

"Díos mío," Vasquez muttered, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Guero, you don't need thirty bags of ketchup chips."

"One dollar," Faraday said intently, dumping his armload - which Vasquez still found ridiculous despite being only four or five bags in actuality - into the cart atop a box of spring mix that Vasquez had picked up, perhaps too optimistically. "Per bag."

"I heard you the first time," Vasquez sighed. "Is that all you're getting?"

Faraday considered for a moment, eyebrows jumping as he reached behind himself, up under his jacket. He produced four bags of beef jerky in varying flavors from where he had likely had them stuck into the waistband of his jeans.

"Thought about just stealing 'em," he admitted with a grin, tossing them into to the cart alongside the eggs, "but I figure we're trying to be respectable these days."

"Garlic jerky?" Vasquez asked with a frown. "Really?"

Faraday wagged his eyebrows. Vasquez stared at him, unimpressed.

"You're brushing your teeth before you get home," he said darkly, and Faraday hooted his triumph. He sidled around to hook his chin over Vasquez's shoulder, slinging one arm casually around his waist. He'd been in a good mood recently, which, naturally, made Vasquez highly suspicious.

"What else do we need?" Faraday asked, eyes scanning the list. He frowned, wrinkling his nose, and added, "What's a leek?"

"It's like an onion," Vasquez responded absently, while Faraday dragged his thumb up and down over his stomach, outside of his shirt. "For the soup you like."

"Oh!" Faraday perked up. "Fuck yeah!" He glanced to the array of freshly-packaged meats that Vasquez had been loitering in front of and offered, "Chicken's on sale."

"I was thinking about making arroz con pollo," Vasquez admitted. Faraday made a little thoughtful sound.

"Is that the rice stuff?"

"Sí," Vasquez assured. Faraday pressed a kiss to his cheek.

"Yeah, do that," he said agreeably. Vasquez turned, eyes narrowed, and Faraday blinked at him, corners of his mouth tilted up in a smirk.

"What?" He asked, so guilelessly that Vasquez knew he was faking it. He scowled.

"You're up to something," he said slowly. Faraday laughed, more genuine.

"Usually," he agreed easily. He tilted a shoulder down the aisle behind him and said, "I need to grab a few more things. Meet you at the register?"

Vasquez stared at him for a long moment, suspicious, before sighing and waving him off.

"Fine."

Faraday grinned and sauntered off down the aisle. Vasquez considered for a second.

"No more ketchup chips!" he added hastily. Faraday just waved a hand and kept walking.

By the time he'd collected the chicken and the remainder of his list - largely just a few stray vegetables and last-minute drive-by additions - and made it to the front of the store, Vasquez was starting to get a little worried. It wasn't that he expected Faraday not to have secrets - hell, espionage was their business, in many ways, and it would have been foolish for either of them to expect total transparency from the other. Usually, he was better at reading Faraday's moods - able to tell when he was hiding a minor injury, some emotional baggage he didn't want to deal with, an opinion he thought Vasquez wouldn't like. Faraday was always fairly affable for all that he balanced it with heavy sarcasm and a deeply offensive level of crudeness, but the gentle affection was unusual.

Last time Faraday had been like this had been the month after Vasquez brought Maria home. He'd stumbled across the puppy - tiny and alone - eating lo mein in the shadow of a dumpster he'd ducked behind for cover, and despite his initial grousing, Faraday had been totally enamored of her within moments. As if summoned by his thoughts, Faraday strolled up with an easy grin. He had one of his hands tucked into the pocket of his jacket and the other around the handle of a grocery basket stacked with goods. Vasquez studied the contents and looked up to Faraday's face - his grin gone sheepish and a little embarrassed - with his eyes wide.

"Guero," he heard himself say, distant and hoarse. "What?"

Faraday swallowed and ducked his head, glancing at the floor and nudging Vasquez's boot with the toe of his shoe.

"It's five years, soon," he said with a shrug. "Your mom said you guys do some cookie thing for big celebrations."

"Polvorones," Vasquez nodded, chest clenching.

"Yeah, that," Faraday replied. He wagged the basket in front of him, smiling hopefully. "Surprise?"

Vasquez stared for a long second, affection bursting painfully out to the edges of his being, and reeled Faraday in by his belt loop to demonstrate precisely how surprised he was.

In the end, they didn't get escorted from the premises for public indecency, but it was a near thing.

Chapter Text

“Vasquez!”

It was nearing four-thirty in the afternoon, the very last stragglers of the weekly Wednesday extra help session having wandered off to meet family members in the car pool lane or else to set out on the short jaunt through the undeveloped field to the east of the high school into the suburbs beyond. It had been a long and demanding day of trying to get teenagers to give a shit about a language, a culture, that wasn’t their own, and that voice was precisely the last thing that Vasquez wanted to hear. He sighed, despondently locking the door to his classroom, and turned to face his least favorite co-worker.

“Faraday,” he said bleakly. “What do you want?”

The physical education teacher was glowering, green eyes dark and narrow over his carefully manicured stubble and ferocious scowl. He stormed down the hallway, a clipboard in hand, a pen tucked underneath the brim of his Washington High Wildcats baseball cap, and an honest-to-god whistle on a cord around his neck. He was a walking, talking cliché and Vasquez was deeply, deeply ashamed that he was so miserably attracted to the man.

“I need to talk to you about Teddy Q,” Faraday demanded, crossing his – really very nicely defined – arms over his chest. Vasquez sighed. Nobody should look that good in khaki pants and a polo shirt.

“What about him?”

“He’s failing your class,” Faraday said hotly. Vasquez arched an eyebrow and snorted.

“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”

“I mean to say, why is he failing your class?” Faraday amended, rolling his eyes.

“He doesn’t understand the work, and he doesn’t come to any of the extra help sessions,” Vasquez shrugged. “I work with him when he’s in class but past that there’s not a lot I can do.”

“He’s not in the extra help sessions because we have cross-country on Wednesday afternoons,” Faraday explained. He glanced at his watch. “They’re still out running now.”

Vasquez shrugged.

“What do you want me to do about it, guero?”

He smirked, satisfied, when Faraday scowled harder at the nickname. Angry was a good look on him.

“I don’t know!” he half-shouted, waving his arms in the air. “He’s a good kid. Work with him!”

Vasquez pinched the bridge of his nose.

When, cabrón?” he snapped. “Extra help is Wednesday after school. Every other student that comes has made accommodations to be there. You want me to move it, inconvenience all of them, just because Teddy likes to jog?”

“No!” Faraday scoffed. “No. That would hardly be fair, just.” He sighed, reached up to tug his baseball cap off and scrub a hand through his hair, pen falling and rolling to the side. “Damnit.”

Vasquez absolutely did not sneak a glance at Faraday’s ass when he bent over to retrieve his pen – but if he had, it would have been just as glorious as always. Faraday straightened back up and tucked the pen into the breast pocket of his shirt. He still had his cap curled in one hand, hair sticking up a little from where he’d dragged his fingers through it.

“Can’t we work something out, you and I?” he gestured back and forth between the two of them. “Teddy’s a real asset to the cross-country team. I think it could get him some scholarships and I don’t want to see him penalized now just because he’s trying to look to the future.”

Vasquez whistled.

“Didn’t think you knew any words that big, guerito,” he said with a smirk. Faraday glowered.

“Fuck you,” he grumbled, low, darting a cautious glance to the empty hallway around them. While it would be far from the first time someone caught them cursing one another out after hours, they were on thin ice with Principal Chisolm already, and neither one of them particularly cared to be entered into mandatory behavioral counseling.

“No si tu verga era hecho de oro, guerito,” Vasquez sneered. It was a bald-faced lie, but Faraday didn't need to know that. If he thought Faraday might even possibly be interested, Vasquez would have made a move long before now. As the other man was just as likely to haul off and punch him as he was to accept a dinner invitation, any potential romance between them was limited strictly to the realm of the hypothetical.

Faraday rolled his eyes, unimpressed.

“Cut that shit out,” he snarled. “I’m trying to have a goddamn adult conversation with you. Least you could do is talk so we can both understand it.”

“Maybe you should have tried harder to make it to your extra help sessions,” Vasquez offered with a smirk. Faraday reached out and swatted him on the arm with a hand, just barely hard enough to sting.

“Come on, Vasquez,” he said, low. “I know you like Teddy, too. Can’t we try to come up with something?”

Vasquez considered for a long moment. He did like Teddy, was the thing. The kid was a little serious, and utterly useless at Spanish, but he was kind, and from what Vasquez had seen he was well-liked by almost all of his peers. He sighed and scrubbed a hand over his face.

"Saturday afternoons."

Faraday blinked, brow furrowing in confusion.

"What?"

"I can do Saturday afternoons, for an hour," Vasquez explained.

It wasn't strictly speaking true - he was in the habit of visiting his family on Saturday evenings, but the opportunity to help out one of his students and gain a little favor with Faraday dovetailed nicely with Vasquez's bone-deep desire to limit the amount of time his mamá spent making noises about nice single boys and girls from the neighborhood.

"Really?" Faraday asked, surprised, mouth tilting up at the corners with relief and delight. "That would be great! I'll let him know - "

"On one condition," Vasquez added on a whim. Faraday's glee faded a little, eyes narrowing.

"What condition?" he asked, suspicious and hesitant. Vasquez smirked, waved a hand at Faraday.

"You come, too."

"Me?" Faraday asked, incredulous. Vasquez nodded and he frowned. "Why?"

Vasquez shrugged.

"You asked me to help," he said easily. "I have to give up part of my Saturday, only seems fair that you do, too." He grinned, sharp. "Besides, guero, maybe you will learn something."

Faraday glared at him for a long moment.

"Fine," he sighed, and held out a hand. Vasquez rolled his eyes, but shook willingly. Faraday's grip was warm and strong, and it made Vasquez's chest tighten with interest. He let go, adding, "You got a funny definition of fair, you know."

Vasquez shrugged, tucked hands into his coat pockets.

"Maybe," he agreed, turning on his heel and heading off down the hallway. "Or maybe I just like the idea of watching you struggle your way through lessons written for students half your age."

There was a moment of furious silence.

"You're an asshole, Vasquez!" Faraday snarled at his retreating back. Vasquez waved a lazy hand in the air.

"See you on Saturday, guero!" he replied without bothering to to turn around.

This, he thought gleefully, was going to be fun.

Chapter Text

At the end of the day, a through-and-through below the collarbone was far from the worst injury that either of them had ever seen. Faraday knew this, had provided immediate stop-gap measures to most of Vasquez's worst wounds with his own shaking hands, even, but something about seeing him in the bed that they shared, paler than usual and grimacing slightly in his sleep despite the top-tier pain relievers Faraday was taking care to administer at precise intervals, got Faraday's back up something fierce.

There was another muted burst of laughter from out in the living room and Faraday scowled, set his book aside on the nightstand. He was going to have to reread the last few chapters anyway, too lost in his own head to retain anything of worth. As he pushed himself up off the mattress, Vasquez stirred, blinking sleepily through the haze of prescription narcotics.

"Guero?" He asked, muzzy. Faraday settled back down next to him, reaching out to run a hand gently through his hair. Vasquez tilted his head into it, sighing contentedly.

"Sorry, sweetheart," Faraday murmured gently. "Just poppin' out to tell your adoring public to shut the hell up."

Vasquez huffed a drowsy laugh and opened his eyes to smile soppily up at Faraday.

"Be nice," he admonished, tone a little slurred. Faraday smirked and leaned over to press a kiss to his forehead.

"Never," he promised, and Vasquez snorted. He ran his fingers through Vasquez's hair again and asked, "You want anything?"

Vasquez considered for a moment, face pulling down into a thoughtful frown.

"Soup," he said, very seriously. Faraday huffed a little laugh and nodded.

"All right," he agreed easily, dragging his fingers through Vasquez's hair again. "Any particular kind?"

"La que hace tu mamá," Vasquez mumbled blearily. "Tomate."

Even after all these years Spanish was mostly so much gibberish where Faraday was concerned, but he understood enough to parse Vasquez's meaning. It was an old Faraday family tradition to make tomato soup when someone was sick, and Vasquez had developed quite the taste for it over the course of their relationship.

"Of course, darlin'," Faraday assured, and leaned over to drop a kiss carefully to Vasquez's mouth. He hummed happily into it and sighed when Faraday pulled away. "I'll be right back."

"Gracias, guerito," Vasquez murmured and settled back against the pillow, eyes drifting closed.

Faraday paused for a moment on the threshold of the room, leaning into the doorway and just watching Vasquez breathe, the steady rise and fall of his chest under the thin sheet, the stark white bandages wrapped around his left shoulder.

He was fine, Faraday reminded himself, probably for the hundredth time. He was home, and he was fine. There was undoubtedly going to be some physical therapy in his future, and probably a lot of moody days when they started weaning him off the painkillers, but he was still here, for Faraday to fall asleep with at night and wake up beside in the morning. His chest clenched, tight, and he swallowed around a sudden knot in his throat.

Faraday let out a long breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and gently shut the door.

Vas is fine, he assured himself. He'll be fine for two minutes while you get him some soup and he'll be fine when you get back.

He steeled himself, set his shoulders, and stalked down the hallway to the living room.

A handful of his teammates were sprawled out across the furniture, a few of them clustered on the floor next to the coffee table. They'd dug up a deck of Uno cards somewhere, and were apparently playing some gambler's variant of the game that involved Emma Cullen lording over a pot of Twizzlers like some kind of tight-fisted emperor.

"Skip," she said around the licorice rope in her teeth, setting a card down on the table. Beside her, Billy Rocks narrowed his eyes.

"You're going to regret that," he promised, voice low. Emma shot him a benign glance, eyebrow raised.

"We'll see," she replied easily.

"Let's keep this civil now," Goodnight drawled from his spot beside Billy. "It'd be in poor taste to get all riled with Vasquez restin' up yonder."

"You're damn right it would be," Faraday grumbled, taking that as his cue. He glared down at the assemblage with his hands on his hips. "You wanna keep it down out here?"

Emma frowned.

"I didn't realize we were being that loud," she said apologetically. Faraday frowned and shook his head, thought of Vasquez looking up at him, soft and content, and telling him to be nice.

"You're not," he sighed, making his way across the living room toward the modestly-sized kitchen. "Just, keep it down anyway."

Teddy Q snorted from his spot on the floor.

"Sure thing, mom," he agreed easily. Faraday glared at him and Teddy just grinned.

"Mouthy little bastard," Faraday muttered. He opened the fridge and dug around for a moment, past all of the well-meaning casseroles and the pan of tamales that Vasquez's mother had express mailed, until he found the Tupperware of tomato soup he'd made two days earlier, to celebrate Vasquez's first night home.

"He means well," Billy said suddenly from directly behind him. Faraday whirled around so fast he nearly spilled soup all down his front.

"Goddamnit," he spat meanly. "Would you wear a bell or something?"

Billy arched an eyebrow.

"You still wouldn't hear me if I didn't want you to," he said easily, corners of his mouth tilting up. Faraday snorted, amused despite himself.

"Probably not," he agreed. They stood in companionable silence for a second before Billy leaned back against the countertop.

"How's he doing?" he asked gently, while Faraday started digging around for one of the oversized mugs that Emma had insisted on buying them as a housewarming gift. They were deeply unreasonable for coffee or tea, but had become favorites of his and Vasquez's to use during the winter months, when they ate a disproportionate amounts of soups and stews.

"About as well as can be expected, considering," Faraday shrugged. He busied himself with pouring the soup off, setting it up in the microwave.

"That's good," Billy said, low. Faraday nodded, stared at the numbers as they counted down from a minute and thirty seconds, focused on the gentle whirr of the mug as it slowly spun around.

There was the brush of a shoulder against his, and Billy asked quietly, "How are you doing?"

"Fine," Faraday said immediately, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'm not the one that got shot."

Billy huffed a laugh and rolled his eyes.

"How are you really doing?"

Faraday swallowed hard, that tight knot springing to life in his throat. His eyes stung a little.

"Fine," he said again, hoarse.

Billy sighed and clapped a hand over his shoulder.

"I know what it's like," he said gently, and Faraday thought back to last Christmas, when they'd all spent the holiday at the hospital because Goody'd caught a nasty shot to the thigh, nicked his femoral artery. "If you ever want to talk, I'm around."

Faraday blinked, eyes prickling hot, and nodded.

"Thanks," he croaked, and did his best to flash a close-mouthed smile. Billy returned it, patting his shoulder a couple of times.

"Remember to take care of yourself, too," he said, eyes intent. "We're all here to help, raucous card games aside."

Faraday laughed and wiped at his eyes.

"I will," he promised, as the microwave beeped its success. He sighed and collected he mug, fished a spoon from the utensil drawer. "Better get back before Sleeping Beauty drops off again."

Billy nodded, and followed him out into the living room. As he passed Teddy Q, Faraday leaned down and grabbed a handful of his meager stack of Twizzlers, popping one of them into his mouth.

"What the hell?" Teddy demanded hotly. Faraday winked at him.

"House cut," he provided, as Teddy scowled. Emma snorted into her hand. "You lot don't gotta stick around, you know."

Goodnight shrugged from his spot on the sofa.

"Nowhere pressing to be," he assured easily. "We'd like to lend a hand if you boys need it."

Everyone nodded at the sentiment, and Faraday felt that knot build up again, sweet and painful.

"Well," he groused, despite the rough edge to his voice, "just be quiet about it. I'll shoot you myself if you wake Vasquez up."

He retreated back down the hall with the soup, the entire motley troupe chuckling behind him.

When he settled himself back onto the mattress, Vasquez stirred again.

"Hey," he greeted, voice low and rough, mouth curling sweetly.

God, but Faraday wouldn't know what to do without him. He swallowed a shaky breath.

"Hey, sweetheart," he greeted, smiling down at Vasquez and holding the mug up. "I brought you soup."

"Soup?" Vasquez repeated, confused but pleased. He started pushing himself up, wincing, and Faraday abandoned the soup on the nightstand in favor of helping him into a seated position.

"There you go," Faraday murmured, stuffing one of their spare pillows behind Vasquez's back. "Careful."

"What kind of soup?" Vasquez asked, curling his palm over Faraday's and running his thumb across Faraday's knuckles.

"Tomato," Faraday responded, couldn't help grinning a little. Vasquez had always had a strong reaction to narcotics, and it never ceased to stir something warm and fond in Faraday's chest. "Sound good?"

"Very," Vasquez replied. He frowned. "I don't have a spoon.

Faraday laughed and grabbed the spoon with his free hand, wagging it in the air.

"Brought you that too, darlin'," he said. Vasquez grinned at him like he'd just performed a particularly impressive magic trick.

"C'mon now," Faraday said fondly, settling down next to him, careful not to jar his shoulder. "Let's get you fed."

Chapter Text

The Robicheaux estate had once been a plantation of no small esteem, trading crops and doing business with folk from as far off as New York, on occasion. Then the war had come, and torn down all the walls, the tall Grecian pillars, at the same time that it had torn down the only living heir's hubris, all of it burned to ash under so much bitter blood and cannon fire. The plantation house proper had long been demolished - mausoleum to dead ancestors and dead ideals as it was - and something smaller, humbler erected in its place; not built to aim toward quite the heights of its predecessor but fuller for it, of laughter and company both.

Joshua Faraday was sat in its modest dining room alongside a number of his fellows at a mahogany table, which was full - laden with tray after gleaming silver tray, stacked high with all manner of nosh, and dotted with bottles of liquor - and peering blearily into his glass, which was empty.

"Hey. Pour me another one, hom-bray," he drawled, wagging his tumbler in front of where Vasquez was seated to his left. The world was swaying gently, everything hazy-edged with the warm, familiar glow of whiskey.

Vasquez scoffed, smirking around his cigar, and swatted Faraday's hand away with less accuracy than normal.

"Get it yourself, guero."

"I am an injured man!" Faraday insisted, laughing and leaning out of the way when Vasquez reached over to swat him again.

"Maybe a year ago you were," Vasquez muttered with a grin, still poking at Faraday's side.

"Just 'cause it was awhile ago means it don't count?" Faraday hedged insistently, grinning broad and sharp, smacking Vasquez's hand away whenever it ventured too close. Across the table, Goodnight huffed a laugh.

He had one arm thrown over the back of his chair, tumbler of whiskey hanging loose in his fingers. He seemed lighter, here, than he had ever been in Rose Creek; less prone to startling, a little of that hunted wariness faded from his eyes. Faraday wasn't sure whether it was the time or the locale that was to blame, but it was a good sight even so. They had all changed in a year - even Faraday himself, most obvious in his continued companionship with the world's most irritating outlaw.

"By that metric, we ought to have hired a hand to pour our drinks this evening," Goody said with a smirk, gesturing to the assembled. "We all were wounded men at one point or another during the skirmish." He nodded, conciliatory, and amended, "Excepting the good Mrs. Cullen and our Comanche friend, of course."

Emma Cullen, face flushed prettily with liquor but bright-eyed and smiling, inclined her head. Beside her, Red Harvest simply stared over his glass, the tiniest tilt at the edges of his mouth belying his amusement.

"You're forgetting someone," Chisolm reminded, arching an eyebrow over his grin. Goody laughed and turned to where Billy was smirking beside him, clapping a hand dramatically to Billy's shoulder.

"Why I do believe our friend here is correct, Billy," he announced grandiosely, holding his glass up as if he were offering a toast. "My sincerest apologies, Sam. Though how any of our party survived unmolested is a mystery."

"Here, here," Billy agreed dryly. Goody's grin faded to something a little softer, and Billy glanced over to mirror it.

"It is known unto God and God alone," Jack Horne agreed benignly from his seat at the head of the long wooden table. He held his own glass aloft, ruddy-faced and sweet in a way that ran in direct counterpoint to his gruff visage, and added, "I am simply grateful that He saw fit to gift me with more time in the presence of such a fine party of men." He tilted his tumbler to Emma. "And women."

"It sure is something," Faraday agreed easily. He slid his tumbler over to Vasquez again, nudging his ankle under the table. "C'mon muchacho. Fill 'er up."

"There is a bottle right in front of you, guerito," Vasquez grumbled, rolling his eyes.

"Well, for what it's worth," Teddy Q offered, a little shy but gaining confidence as he spoke, and holding his glass aloft, "God couldn't have favored fortune on better men. To another year."

There was a warm, companionable hum in the air as everyone raised their glasses.

"To God's grace," added Horne.

"To good company," Goody provided with a wink. Billy leaned over to brushed their shoulders together.

"To second chances," he intoned lowly, and Goody smiled over at him, soppy and overcome.

"To honor," Red Harvest added, nodding at each of the assembled in turn.

"To luck," Vasquez said, low and dark, and turned to grin at Faraday.

"To magic," he countered, grinning back.

"To righteousness," Emma said, smiling slyly and sharing a glance with Chisolm. He huffed a quiet laugh and considered for a long moment, tilting his glass slowly back and forth, amber spirits glittering in the low light. He smiled to himself, and raised his glass.

"To survival."

There was a chorus of hearty agreements, muttered in a slew of indiscernible tongues, all rising over top of each other in a cresting wave. Everybody tilted a mouthful back, dropping their glasses heavy against the woods when they had finished, the last to land ringing out like a bell, clear and resonating.

They all sat together for a moment, blanketed beneath the fond familiarity borne of beating impossible odds together, before Faraday sighed.

"Well," he announced cheerfully, "we're gonna have to do that again, seein' as somebody refused to fill my glass before that very touching display of companionship and brotherly esteem."

Vasquez reached out and shoved him. Faraday laughed.

Across the table, Goody pinched his nose and glared.

"Vasquez," he said, long-suffering but fond, "just give the poor bastard the bottle, will you?"

Chapter Text

It had to be chemical warfare, Faraday thought mutinously, struggling to take a breath around the miserable congestion in his nose. Or maybe poison. He felt like he was burning alive at the same time that he was so cold his entire body was wracked with tremors, his throat raw and sore, aching all the way down to his bones.

He was wrapped in a blanket - unbearably soft and knit by hand, a gift from Vasquez’s mother last Christmas that had rapidly become Faraday’s favorite - and lying across their lumpy sofa in a nest of mismatched pillows. There were two that belonged to the sofa set, two from the armchairs on the other side of the room, and three from their bed, all stacked and arranged carefully to allow Faraday to stare blearily at the television while he convalesced without developing a crick in his neck.

At least there was a decent TV marathon on today - episodes of Mythbusters tended to blend together, particularly when he spent half of his day in a fever haze, but the explosions were almost as good as if he were out blowing things up himself. There was a sudden, metallic-edged rustling from behind him and then the door opened, Vas’s familiar voice calling out, “Still alive, guero?”

“Funny,” Faraday snapped, though it sounded more like ‘fuddy,’ voice thin and hoarse. He turned to glare up Vasquez as he leaned over the back of the couch, grinning down at Faraday with his dark eyes dancing. “I’ve been poisoned a’d you’re cracking jokes, asshole.”

“You’re not poisoned,” Vasquez said gently, reaching down to smooth his hand over Faraday’s forehead. Faraday whimpered a little and let his eyes fall closed - Vasquez’s hand was blessedly cool against his skin, fingers dragging up into his hair. Vasquez made a little concerned sound. “You’re hot.”

“You know it, babe,” Faraday grinned, looking up just in time to see Vasquez roll his eyes.

“Have you taken anything today?” he asked gently, still petting at Faraday’s hair.

“Cough syrup,” Faraday said absently. “Coupla naps.”

Vasquez clucked his tongue. He moved his hand so that he was cupping Faraday’s jaw, thumb dragging delicately across his cheekbone.

“You think you can sit up for few minutes?”

Faraday nodded sluggishly and pushed himself gingerly into a seated position while Vasquez disappeared down the hallway. He was sore all over, muscles quivering, collapsed against the back of the couch with the blanket pulled up around his shoulders when Vasquez reappeared. He ducked into the kitchen for a brief moment and then came to settle on the armrest next to Faraday, a glass of water and a little white and red pill bottle in hand.

“S’at?” Faraday asked. The question caught in his throat and kicked him into a coughing fit. It was loud and wet and painful, Faraday hunched in on himself while Vasquez ran a soothing hand along his shoulders, murmuring gently to him in Spanish.

“There you go,” he praised encouragingly when Faraday managed to get himself back under control. “Just breathe, querido.”

Faraday swallowed, thick and glutinous and completely disgusting, grimacing over at Vasquez. The water and the pill bottle were on the end table beside the sofa, along with the bottle of cough syrup that Faraday had been sipping off of all afternoon. Vasquez had his free hand curled loosely against his thigh, two little white tablets cupped in his palm.

“What’s that?” Faraday tried again.

“Tylenol, for the fever. Think you can manage it?”

Faraday nodded and Vasquez handed them over, reaching behind himself for the glass of water. Faraday popped the tablets to the back of his tongue and Vasquez pressed the chill glass into his hands. He chased them down, and couldn’t quite resist making a face at the bitter, chalky aftertaste that clung to the back of his throat. He offered the water back to Vasquez, who frowned at him, unimpressed.

“You sure you don’t want anymore?”

Faraday shook his head. He hated drinking water when he was sick - the sour taste of his own mouth washing down his throat - and Vasquez knew it, too.  

“I drank like, two of those strawberry things,” he offered as a concession.

Vasquez huffed a laugh and reached out to cup his hand around Faraday’s cheek again, fingers slipping into the curls behind Faraday’s ear. Faraday leaned into it, sighing contentedly.

“Cariño, you know those are for kids, right?”

Faraday wrinkled his nose.

“Taste better'n water, though.”

Vasquez sighed, smiling fondly and leaning in to press a quick, cool kiss to Faraday’s forehead. Faraday blinked over at him and grinned, leaning a little harder into the gentle pressure of his palm.

“‘M glad you’re home,” he murmured. Vasquez’s smile went a little softer, sweeter.

“Me too, guero. Are you hungry?”

Faraday shook his head, temples throbbing a little at the motion. He reached up to wrap his hand around Vasquez’s wrist, running his thumb across the back of Vasquez’s hand.

“Can we lay down?” he asked miserably. Vasquez laughed, a quiet, gentle thing, and nodded.

“Of course, amorcito,” he assured. He stood up and grabbed a few of the pillows that Faraday had been hoarding, carrying them over to the other and of the sofa. He toed his boots off, left them lying half-under the coffee table as he swung his legs up onto the cushions, parted just enough to fit another person between them. “Ven aquí.”

Faraday scooted carefully over, trying not to move too fast on his aching limbs and queasy stomach. He slumped forward into Vasquez’s chest the minute he reached it, throwing his arm around Vasquez’s waist while Vasquez leaned back against the armrest, the pillows he’d propped up against it. He slipped one arm underneath the blanket, curled around Faraday’s back, and used the other to scratch gently at Faraday’s scalp, working his way up from Faraday’s neck and back down again. Faraday groaned and sighed contentedly, melting down against him.

“Feels good,” he mumbled, and Vasquez ducked down to drop a kiss to the crown of his head.

“Just rest, guero,” he said quietly, over the sound of something on screen shattering to pieces. “We need you better.”

Faraday let his eyes slip shut, drifting on the low, muzzy sounds of the television, the gentle rhythm of Vasquez breathing underneath him. He still felt dizzy, and his body still ached, but he also felt light, and weightless, like he was floating.

“What if I was poisoned?” he slurred absently against Vasquez’s chest. Vasquez considered this for a moment.

“Then I would hunt down whoever did it and avenge you,” he replied easily.

“Promise?” Faraday murmured.

Vasquez sighed and leaned down to kiss him again, long and lingering against his temple.

“Sí, cariño,” he said. “I promise.”

Chapter Text

The entire kitchen was washed in the rich scent of cooking onions, woven through with the bright tang of garlic and fresh-cut cilantro. Vasquez was busy tending a huge pan on the biggest burner the stove possessed, and had delegated the task of dicing up the vegetables to Faraday so that he could focus on the actual cooking thereof.

“Are fajitas even real Mexican food?” Faraday asked, abandoning his task for a brief second to take a long pull off of his beer, which had been sweating sadly out onto the countertop of their kitchen island for the better part of twenty minutes, still more than half full.

“Not really,” Vasquez replied, reaching distractedly for the truly outrageous pepper mill he insisted on keeping, cranking it a few times over top of the pan. He glanced over, frowning. “Why?”

Faraday shrugged.

“Just figured you’d want to impress your fancy foodie friends with something more authentic, is all.”

Vasquez rolled his eyes.

“They’re your friends too, idiota. You knew them before you knew me, remember?” He leaned forward and frowned down at the pan, adding a dash more garlic. “Besides, everybody loves fajitas.”

“What time are they getting here?” Faraday asked absently, attention on the remaining half of a baby bell pepper before him, seeds spilled out across the cutting board like confetti.

He sawed at the skin of it for a second before the blade sank sweetly through, and made a mental note to remind Vasquez to sharpen their knives. He would have done it himself while Vasquez finished preparing dinner, but he had been strictly prohibited from even looking at the knife sharpener after the harrowing evening they’d spent in the ICU last time.

“Hour or so,” Vasquez replied, digging into the big, sizzling pan with the round head of a wooden spoon. He peered down into it for a second and then reached for a little glass dish sitting off to his left, a hill of some mystery seasoning that Vasquez had concocted waiting patiently therein. He pinched a bit off the top and dropped it into the pan, dragging the whole thing back and forth across the burner. The onions and garlic kicked up a hissing cloud of steam, slipping up the sides of the pan and back down. “Are the peppers ready?”

Faraday nodded, reaching down for the last long, thin strip of pepper and popping it into his mouth rather than sawing it into pieces like its brethren.

“Think so,” he replied easily. “Come take a look.”

Vasquez made another minor adjustment to the ingredients already in the pan and wandered around the island to hover at Faraday’s shoulder. He curled a palm over Faraday’s hip and peered down at the riot of orange, yellow, and red sprawled across the cutting board.

Really, guero?” he asked, mouth tilted up in a severely amused smirk.

“What?”

Vasquez rolled his eyes, sighed deep and long suffering, and ran his thumb up and down along Faraday’s hip.

“I asked you to dice them,” he rumbled.

“I did!” Faraday insisted, gesturing to the peppers with the blade of the knife. “They’re all cut up, right here, just like you wanted.”

Vasquez snorted and shook his head.

“That’s not diced, mijo,” he said, amused. “These are chopped at best.”

“Ugh,” Faraday groaned, biting back a grin as he ducked his head. “Spare me the chef talk. Can you use them or not?” He grabbed another piece, chewing thoughtfully and smirking over at Vasquez as he added, “Better be a ‘yes’ on that, because I don’t think we have anymore peppers.”

“I can use them,” Vasquez assured, squeezing Faraday’s hip - a quick burst of warm, gentle pressure - before he stepped away. He collected the cutting board up off the countertop and circled back around to the stove.

“What’s next?” Faraday asked, looking at the array of ingredients spread across the island - half of them unwrapped and unwashed yet.

“Tomato,” Vasquez muttered absently, using the wooden spoon to slide the peppers into the pan alongside the onions and garlic. “Give me a second.”

Faraday dug through the pile of vegetables, condiments, and various and sundry accoutrements until he came up with a plastic bag of tomatoes - on the vine, because Vasquez occasionally got weird about his produce and Faraday had long learned to concede where vine-ripened anything was concerned.

“I think I can manage.”

Vasquez glanced over his shoulder and snorted.

“You couldn’t even dice a pepper, guero.” He poked the spoon around the pan for a second. “It looks like you cut these with safety scissors.”

“I’m sorry, I thought this was supposed to be a nice dinner among friends. I didn’t realize we were going for the gold standard in presentation,” Faraday groused amiably back, uncoiling the twist tie and digging the tomatoes out of the bag. He plucked one off the vine - luscious and red - and set the others aside, reaching out with a hand and making grabbing motions in the air. “I need the cutting board, babe.”

“I said give me a second,” Vasquez replied, doing something with olive oil and long clusters of lush green herbs that he had definitely hand-picked from the window-box earlier that afternoon, the unholy terror. Faraday rolled his eyes.

“I don’t need to take this bullshit from a man who owns a taco truck,” he grumbled, taking another sip of his beer and gesturing to Vasquez with the neck of the bottle. “You’re damn lucky you’re cute.”

“A taco truck you once said served ‘pretty okay’ tacos,” Vasquez shot back. Faraday groaned, letting himself sag against the counter for a second.

“It was one lukewarm review, darlin’, don’t let it ruin your life.” He nabbed a tortilla chip - homemade, naturally - from the big stoneware bowl on the middle of the island and dunked it into one of the ramekins of salsa - also homemade - arrayed around it. “Besides, I’ve made up for it since then. And if you remember, I also said in that article that it wasn’t the worst Mexican I’d ever eaten out of a food truck.”

“High praise,” Vasquez said, dry and unimpressed, though Josh could see the tilt of his smile even half-turned away as he was. “My dick thanks you.”

Faraday shook his head.

“I can’t win with you,” he sighed around his mouthful, and wiped his fingers off on his jeans. Vasquez’s tortilla chips were legendary, but they tended to thoroughly grease up anything they touched. “C’mon, babe, you asked me to help. I could be drinking beers and critiquing your technique right now but instead I’m dicing vegetables for you at great risk to my own personal safety and wellbeing.”

While drinking beers and critiquing my technique.”

“Just give me the damn cutting board, would you?”

Vasquez abandoned the pan with a truly impressive sigh, carrying the cutting board around and setting it down in front of Faraday with a sarcastic flourish.

“Here,” he said, and plucked the tomato up off the counter. “Now you can stare uselessly at it while I wash this.”

Faraday glared at him but Vasquez just grinned back, loose and easy and unbothered as he circled around to the sink.

“You have a control problem,” Faraday accused, pointing at Vasquez with the knife.

“El único problema que tengo es que mi novio tonto no sabe como cortar verduras,” Vasquez said pleasantly, turning the faucet on and giving the tomato a cursory rinse. Faraday narrowed his eyes.

“I know what ‘novio’ means,” he said pointedly. Vasquez arched an eyebrow at him, grin widening as he dried the tomato and his hands off with one of their raggedy dish towels.

“You know what the rest means?” he asked.

Faraday frowned, and admitted grudgingly, “No.”

“I think I’m still safe, then,” Vasquez shrugged, slipping his arm around Faraday’s waist as he came back around the counter and dropped the tomato onto the cutting board. He wrapped the fingers of his other hand gently around Faraday’s where he had the handle of the knife in his fist.

“What are you doing?”

“Teaching you,” Vasquez supplied, shuffling in so that he was pressed all along Faraday’s back, his chin hooked over Faraday’s shoulder.

“Seriously?” Faraday whined. “Again?”

Vasquez spread his palm across the low plane of Faraday’s stomach, nudging just barely past the hemline of Faraday’s jeans, skin still cool from rinsing the tomato where his fingers brushed the bare strip above Faraday’s boxers.

“Maybe this time it’ll stick,” Vasquez said optimistically, tilting his head to dart a quick kiss against Faraday’s cheek.

“Don’t get your hopes up,” Faraday grumbled, but gamely shifted the knife in his grip until he wasn’t holding it like an enthusiastic serial killer. He sighed and settled back into Vasquez’s embrace while Vasquez realigned his fingers over Faraday’s own. “All right, darlin’. Do your worst.”

“You sound like you’re facing a firing squad, cariño,” Vasquez murmured, withdrawing his palm from Faraday’s stomach and bringing it up to Faraday’s other hand.

“Feels mighty similar,” Faraday groused. Vasquez huffed a laugh, breath a warm gust against Faraday’s cheek. “So what’s first?”

“First, we cut the top off,” Vasquez said, voice low and fond. He nudged Faraday’s hands gently into position, curling his fingers just-so over the tomato and setting the knife into it. Like before, there was a second of soft resistance and then the knife melted through the tomato, top coming neatly off.

“Good,” Vasquez murmured, and Faraday felt a faint flush prickle to life across his cheeks. He was pretty sure that by this point his unfortunate Pavlovian reaction to hearing Vasquez say that particular word in the low, intimate register he was currently using was permanent. “Now flip it over, good. Then we cut, but not all the way.”

Long, capable fingers still curved over Faraday’s, he guided the knife a good ninety percent of the way through the tomato, holding off just slightly before they reached the bottom. He repeated the action over two more cuts and then let go of Faraday’s hands in favor wrapping his arms around Faraday’s waist.

“You try.”

Faraday repeated the action to the best of his ability, cheeks heating further when Vasquez breathed, “Perfect, guero. Keep going.”

He pressed a short row of warm kisses to the line of Faraday’s jaw and nuzzled at his temple.

“Now what?” Faraday asked once he’d finished cutting mostly even rows all along the tomato. He sounded embarrassingly out of breath, voice thin. Vasquez was a warm, solid line behind him, around him. It was hardly the first time they’d ever done this - Faraday was a pretty terrible cook outside of the realm of spaghetti and his mother’s tomato soup - but like every time before he found himself relaxing into Vasquez’s grip, made dizzy and admittedly a little stupid by his proximity.

“Now do the same thing, but cut the other way, like on a grid,” Vasquez instructed. Faraday did as he was told, slicing carefully despite the deeply distracting kisses that Vasquez was trailing down his neck, setting his teeth in every now and then and make low, pleased noises against Faraday’s throat.

“You know,” Faraday said, tilting his head and taking a deep breath, “I’m not sure how helpful you’re being, exactly.”

He could feel Vasquez’s grin against his skin, hear it in the warm twist of his words.

“Want me to stop?”

Faraday swallowed.

“No.” He adjusted his grip on the knife and shivered when Vasquez nosed behind his ear. “What now?”

“Flip it on its side,” Vasquez murmured, breath curling hot around Faraday’s cheek, his jaw. “Cut it the same way you have been, only go all the way through this time.”

Faraday readied the knife, shuddering a little when Vasquez tucked one of his big hands up underneath the hem of Faraday’s shirt, dragging his fingers in delicate, tantalizing strokes across Faraday’s skin. He took a breath through his nose and let it out past his teeth, pressing down gently, carefully.

A cascade of almost perfectly-cubed pieces tumbled down as the knife passed through the tomato’s meaty center, glittering like gemstones in the light.

“Holy shit, it worked,” Faraday breathed. Vasquez hummed and pressed their cheeks together.

“I told you it would,” he said, smug and triumphant. He reached up with one hand, nudging at Faraday’s chin with his knuckles until he turned his head for a kiss - sweet and intent, Vasquez’s tongue sliding hot and slick past Faraday’s teeth. He whimpered a little in the back of his throat and Vasquez made a low, rumbling noise in response.

“You know I’m not going to remember any of this in five minutes, right?” Faraday breathed when Vasquez finally pulled back, mouth warm and a little swollen, skin tingling where Vasquez’s scruff had dragged against it.

“Oh, guero,” Vasquez grinned, and leaned in to kiss him again. “I’m counting on it.”

Chapter Text

"Listen," Jensen said, with all the gravity of a man who had just successfully committed felony arson in a small, hole-in-the-wall bodega, "I think we both know we're never gonna do better than those deadly motherfuckers."

"Never," Josh agreed easily. 

The bodega was beautiful, all lit up in oranges and golds and reds, but the dancing tongues of flames were making the already tilting earth rock dangerously in his vision. Between the many, many beers they had liberated from the tiny mom-n-pop storefront before setting it alight, and the adrenaline rush from successfully destroying yet another front of the cartel they were all in Mexico to deal with in the first place, it was, Josh was forced to admit, a bit much to handle. He closed his eyes and slumped over into Jensen's shoulder. Jensen, because he was a true friend, slung a companionable arm around Josh's neck and hauled him in close.

"Which is why we're fucked if they ever leave us," Jensen continued. Josh nodded and patted at Jensen's chest.

"So fucked," he agreed.

"If that ever happens," Jensen said fiercely, and with that kind of adamant passion to his tone Josh could absolutely believe that he'd convinced a bunch of underpaid security guards that he could produce invisible bullets with only the power of his mind, "we're going to have to marry each other."

Josh blinked.

"What?" he asked, narrowly opening his eyes so that he could peer blearily up at Jensen's face. His brow was furrowed, gaze pinned on the distant fire. He looked like he was steeling himself to face down a firing squad.

"It's the only way," Jensen insisted, turning to glance down at Josh. "Nobody else will ever understand our misery and we're never going to find anyone else like Cougs and V. It was a horrendous mistake of nature that two of them came from the same family. We'll never find that again."

Josh reached up and swatted absently at the brilliant pink petunia on Jensen's chest with the back of his hand. Even through the rolling sway of booze and the haze of smoke, he knew there was something he had to say, that it was immeasurably important that Jensen hear.

"Jen," he said. "Jake. Jensen."

"Yes, backup husband?" Jensen replied. The round lenses of his glasses glinted orange as he turned to look drowsily down at Josh.

Josh licked his lips, furrowed his brow, and concentrated hard on the Very Important Thing he needed to say. Jensen watched him, as raptly as a man who'd worked his way through most of a twenty-four pack of cheap Mexican swill could, which was to say that he only swayed a little bit, and neither of them immediately fell over. Josh tried to sit up but mainly succeeded in slumping a little further down, neck jammed up awkwardly so that he could look Jensen in the eye.

"I don't want to marry you."

Chapter Text

By the time that Josh gets home, Ale has filled an entire page of his journal with the same affirmation, ten short words gently assuring that someday his body will feel like a home instead of a trap, repeated line after line until he feels like he can breathe without something catching in his throat. He’s in one of his oversized pajama shirts, a pair of boxers, and two sports bras. It isn’t enough, but he’s been pushing it with his binder recently and he knows it, can’t risk cracking a rib or worse, though neither is he willing to go without any support right in this moment.

He took a shower when he got home, hoping that it might help - sometimes it does, reassuring himself through the lean curve of his thighs or the hair on his legs that his body is his, and is closer to suiting the right shape than he sometimes thinks it is - but he’d stood under the spray until the water ran cold and looking down at himself had still been like a punch to the gut. He hadn’t quite been able to catch his own eye in the mirror afterward, either, ducking his head and digging through the laundry piled on the floor until he found something suitable, afraid that he wouldn’t be able to see past the doe-eyes and long lashes and high cheekbones to the strong jaw and set brow underneath. In his experience, when his body doesn’t feel like it's his, it doesn’t generally look like his, either, and spending time ruminating on all the ways his reflection fails him seems like borrowing trouble when he already feels like he’s teetering on the edge of something terrible.

While Josh whistles his way through the door, Ale flips his journal closed, shoves it onto the low shelf under the coffee table where they keep their remotes and their basket full of worn-edged playing cards, alongside a dog-eared notebook and a handful of writing utensils for when their friends come over and somebody inevitably has an idea they just have to write down an hour and a half into smoking up and watching YouTube videos on their moderately sized flatscreen.

“Hey, hot stuff,” Josh greets brightly. He’s still a little ruddy-faced from lacrosse practice, hair tufting in sweat-damp curls up through the gap of his snapback, perched backwards so that the bill juts out behind him. He’s shaved his usual beard into a goatee concentrated on his chin for reasons that Ale can’t begin to fathom but undoubtedly have to do with Josh’s best friend Brody making implications that he either will or won’t be able to rock it. His smile is a little lopsided, sweet and sincere, and his green eyes catch a warm spark of afternoon sun and catch fire as he turns to nudge the door closed, equipment bag lurching awkwardly on his shoulder.

Ale smiles at him, because he can’t help it, even with that sick pit that’s been twisting in his stomach, tugging his chest all afternoon. He isn’t totally sure that there’s any pain he could ever encounter that wouldn’t be significantly and immediately alleviated by the pleasure of Josh’s presence.

“Hola, guapo,” he replies, and Josh’s grin goes wide and smug. He wags his eyebrows and shrugs his bag off onto the floor, kicking off the ratty old flip-flops he wears to and from practice as he circles the little half wall separating the living room from the front door.

He flops down onto the couch like a puppet with his strings cut, the shockwave of his motion enough to tip Ale off-balance, so much so that he has to shift to keep from toppling over. He makes a little noise of displeasure and resettles himself against the sofa’s plush arm, but Josh doesn’t pay it any mind, tossing his hat aside onto the coffee table and stretching his arms up over his head with a low groan of pleasure before letting himself fall backwards. He scoots across the few inches of empty cushion between them, until he can rest his head against Ale’s thigh, and the smile that sprawls across his face is just on the endearing side of self-satisfied.

“You’re in a good mood today,” Ale observes, reaching down to run his fingers through Josh’s hat-mussed hair. Josh sighs through his nose and closes his eyes, pushing up into Ale’s hand with a little, pleased hum.

“What’s not to be in a good mood about?” he replies easily. “I just spent two hours beating the shit out of my best bros, and then I got to come home to my stupid hot boyfriend.”

Ale feels his face heat, pleased flush flaring to life in his cheeks, and gives Josh’s hair a quick, teasing tug. Josh makes a soft noise of discontent and tilts his face, nuzzling up and biting gently at the meat of Ale’s palm once he catches it. Ale clicks his tongue admonishingly and curls his hand under Josh’s chin while Josh peers up at him, eyes slightly hooded, lit from within with a banked warmth that stirs a twin sensation low in Ale’s belly.

“You are,” he says insistently. Ale furrows his brow a little but can’t fight the soft tilt of his mouth at the corners.

“I am what, guero?” he asks, soft, and drags his thumb along the strong, rough line of Josh’s jaw.

“Hot,” Josh supplies immediately. He reaches up and hooks his hand around Ale’s wrist, tugs it down until he can press a warm, dry kiss to Ale’s knuckles. “Handsome,” he continues, breath curling hot against Ale’s skin. He wags his eyebrows and Ale rolls his eyes on instinct, before Josh even finishes concluding, “Sexy as fuck.”

“Mentiroso,” Ale chides teasing, tugging his hand out of Josh’s grip so that he can twine their fingers together with a little squeeze.

“Nunca,” Josh says easily, and Ale snorts, delighted, and squeezes Josh’s hand again.

“Brody been teaching you more Spanish, guero?”
“Si.” Josh’s grin is sly and mischievous, though there’s a slight, suspiciously pink tint to his cheeks. “I learned a new one the other day. Wanna hear?”

Ale narrows his eyes but agrees, “Sure. Impress me.”

Josh brings Ale’s hand up to his mouth again. He drops a kiss to Ale’s fingers, and breathes out a string of familiar words. None are particularly impressive - they’re standard vocabulary and altogether they add up to a casual statement, nothing that Ale hasn't heard Josh say a hundred times in English, but it makes Ale’s heart hammer sweetly against his ribs anyway.

“Otra vez,” he says, voice gone thin with surprise. When Josh looks up, the tinge of pink has brightened to a full flush, washing across the bridge of his nose and down his cheeks. His eyes are impossibly soft, grin lush and smug like he knows exactly what he’s doing to Ale.

He licks his lips, and then repeats himself, husky and rough, “Eres mi novio.”

The words curl up through Ale’s stomach, chest pulling tight and painfully sweet. They root down beneath the miserable ache in Ale’s ribs, a bright, perfect seed of heat, and while it isn’t quite enough to settle the wicked seethe beneath his skin, it’ll grow in time.

He squeezes Josh’s hand, probably harder than is especially comfortable, and says past the tender knot in his throat, “Te amo, guero.”

Josh kisses him again and then nestles down into the sagging cushions of their well worn sofa, closing his eyes and turning so that he can nuzzle his cheek against Ale’s thigh.

“I know, babe. I love you too.”

Chapter Text

Josh rises out of a hazy doze when the mattress under him starts to shift, groaning his protest and turning his face further into the warmth it’s pressed against, tucking his eyes away from the light overhead. He takes a deep breath - reveling for a second in a familiar scent, all low notes of heat with subtle tang at the edges.

“Lo siento, mijo,” a voice says in a husky whisper from somewhere overhead, and Josh’s brain comes fully  back online. Something under Josh’s head shifts and he cracks one eye open to realize that he’s lying halfway on top of Ale, with his head pillowed against the other man’s shoulder.

When he lifts himself partway up off the bed and cranes his neck to peer blearily up at Ale, his dark hair is sticking up at the back like some kind of exotic bird and he has an indentation of some indefinable pattern on his cheek. Josh glances lazily around them and manages to put together that they’re lying on a particularly hideous sofa that he’s one-hundred percent certain belongs to the apartment that Ale shares with his best friend, Emma, and not in the livingroom of the swanky pre-furnished uptown condo that Josh pays way too much to never spend any time in.

He tries to ask what happened, but it comes out all one word, slurred together into ‘whadappen?’ Ale huffs a little laugh and shifts again so that he’s a little higher up on the sofa arm.

“My arm was going numb,” he explains, and his voice is sleep-hoarse in the particular way that never fails to rouse a spark in Josh’s belly.

“‘Fore that,” Josh persists, waving a hand vaguely in the air. Ale smiles fondly at him and cups a hand around his neck.

“You just got off nearly seventy-two hours of rounds,” Ale supplies, running his fingers through the hair at the nape of Josh’s neck. It feels amazing, and Josh can’t really help the way he groans and collapses back down with his face smushed against Ale’s chest, the soft cotton of his well-worn tee shirt. “Our place was closer than yours and I didn’t want to risk trying to wrestle you into your own apartment while you were deadweight.”

“You drove me home?” Josh mumbles, eyes already half-closing again while Ale runs the fingers of his other hand across the bare skin of Josh’s shoulders. Josh realizes distantly that he can barely smell the hospital on himself, which must mean that Ale was willing to wrangle him out of his scrubs, if not up the really too many flights of stairs to his apartment while the elevator is being repaired. 

“You were, uh,” Ale pauses for a moment, considering, “a little disoriented when you called me.”

“Mrs. Guzman!” Josh flinches with his whole body when he remembers, adrenaline sparking through the buzz of exhaustion. He tries to push himself up again but Ale holds him down. “Her surgery - ”

“Went well,” Ale supplies easily. “Emma texted me a little while ago to confirm that she’s still stable, and your pager is on the coffee table just in case.”

Fuck,” Josh breathes, and all of the tension drains out of him. Ale runs his fingers through Josh’s hair again and Josh practically melts into him under the sensation. He says again, a little softer, sweeter, “Fuck.”

“Toda está bien, guero,” Ale assures. “Go back to sleep. I promise to wake you if anything important happens.”

And Josh really should get up and drag his ass home, because sleeping curled together on Ale’s truly hideous sofa isn’t doing the pitiful crush he’s been nursing for months any favors, but that would require getting dressed, and making Ale drop him off at his car, and driving home, and climbing at least eight flights of stairs because Josh doesn’t believe they’re ever going to fix the damn elevator, but Ale is right there - warm, and soft, and accommodating, humming quietly under his breath, and Josh can’t quite fight through the gentle haze slipping over him with every gentle pass of Ale’s hands.

He shifts and settles in a little closer, slinging a leg over Ale’s hips because if he’s going to do this, he might as well commit. The last thing he hears before he drifts back down under is Ale telling him in muted Spanish, “Que tengas dulces sueños, amorcito.”

Chapter Text

Ow, fuck!” Josh hissed through his teeth as the cabin dipped almost imperceptibly around them and Ale’s hand tightened over his like a goddamn vice. “Darlin’, you’re gonna have to be gentle or our first order of business in Mexico is gonna be cabbing to the hospital to fix my broken hand.”


The man beside him cracked one eye open just wide enough to cut him a dark glare without turning his head from where he was sitting ramrod straight in his seat, back pressed into the cushion as if he might be to disappear through it if he only tried hard enough, but he eased his grip a bare fraction of an inch. It wasn’t much, but he wasn’t cutting off circulation to Josh’s fingers anymore so Josh would take it. He glanced over to find that Ale had squeezed his eyes shut again, face drawn in a rictus of fear, brow knit and mouth pressed into a sliver-thin line. His other hand was white-knuckled over the head of the armrest and there was a fine tremor running through him. Josh sighed, dragging his thumb across the back of he hand Ale had curled around his.


"Sweetheart, we’re fine,” he assured, voice low and soothing.


“I didn’t know you were a pilot,” Ale snapped meanly, eyes still closed. “Or a - a man who builds planes.”


“An engineer?” Josh hazarded, because sometimes when emotions were high, Ale’s second language started dropping away from him in bits and pieces.


This time, Ale did turn his head, and the look he shot Josh was venomous.


“You know what I meant,” he hissed through gritted teeth.


“I did,” Josh agreed, not rising to the bait and giving Ale’s hand an affectionate squeeze. First-class seats had been something of a necessity, to accommodate Josh’s 6'2 and the couple of extra inches Ale tacked onto that, but Josh was doubly grateful he’d thought to book them with all the fuss Ale was making. “That’s why I reminded you of the English word.”


Ale narrowed his eyes, as if suspicious that there was some mockery underneath Josh’s careful attempts at pacification that he wasn’t catching. Josh rolled his in return.


“Would you just try to relax? Please?” Josh sighed. “You’re making the flight attendants too nervous to bring me refills.”


“I am trying to relax,” Ale snarled. “It’s surprisingly hard to do in a metal tube a million miles off of the ground!”


“We’re at cruising altitude, darlin’,” Josh teased on instinct and Ale squeezed his hand again, hard and mean. “Fucking - I’m gonna take it back if that’s how you’re gonna be!”


This time when Ale’s grip tightened over his, it was instant and instinctual, a little real panic bleeding into his face and Josh’s heart clenched miserably at the sight of him. He shifted his hand so that he was a little bit more comfortable and squeezed Ale’s hand right back, lifting it high enough that he could drop a quick kiss to the back of Ale’s palm.


“I shouldn'ta said that,” Josh mumbled. “I got you, sweetheart, don’t you worry.”


Ale didn’t relax, per se, but some of the panic drained away, leaving him stiff as a board and still more than half-terrified but not in immediate danger of causing a scene or dropping into a headspace he couldn’t get out of.


“I still don’t understand why we couldn’t just drive,” Ale said miserably, shifting over so that he and Josh were pressed together from knee to shoulder, even though his seatbelt had to be digging into his side because he refused to unbuckle it regardless of what the captain said.


“Because I thought an hour and change in a plane would be easier than six or so in a car,” Josh explained for probably the hundredth time. “More’s the fool me.”
Ale took a long, deep breath and leaned over to rest his head against Josh’s shoulder.


“I’m sorry, guero,” he murmured gently. “You surprised me with a beautiful gift and I’m being a jackass.”


Josh sighed again and turned to press a kiss to the crown of Ale’s head, rest his cheek gently against Ale’s downy curls.


“I didn’t realize how much you hate this,” he admitted. Josh didn’t have any family worth visiting and all of their friends lived in Sacramento with them so they’d never had much reason to fly anywhere before now. “We can drive next time.”


“Next time?” Ale asked, and when Josh glanced down at him, he had his eyes shut but there was a curl at the edge of his mouth turning his grimace into a grin. “Making a lot of assumptions about my family’s opinion of you, guerito."


Josh rolled his eyes again.


“I Skype your mom every Sunday after she goes to mass, don’t even start with me.”


“They’re all going to love you,” Ale assured gently. “My primo Carlos - ” he cut off, sucking a little punched-out breath past his teeth as the plane hit a pocket of turbulence, cabin rattling for a spare second around them. He squeezed Josh’s hand again, and tucked his face further into Josh’s neck.


“It’s all right darlin’,” Josh promised, resting his head over Ale’s and gently disentangling their fingers so he could slip his arm around Ale’s shoulders instead while Ale curled a fist in the fabric of Josh’s shirt. “We’re all right. Everything’s gonna be fine.”


Ale took another deep breath, warm against Josh’s throat, and sighed shakily, “Sí, guero. I know.”


They sat in comfortable silence for a few long moments, the hum of the recycled air and the shifting of other passengers a gentle susurration all around them. After awhile, Josh turned to drop a kiss to Ale’s temple.


“Probably still oughta get you some Xanax or somethin’ for the trip home, though,” he murmured against Ale’s hair. Ale’s laugh was a warm gust against his throat.


“Guero,” he said sincerely, “that’s the best idea you’ve had all day.”

Chapter Text

The third time that Ale drops his pencil with a hiss and absently shakes his hand out, Josh rolls his eyes and tucks his cards back into the pocket of his vest and heaves himself up off the thin boardinghouse mattress. By the time he crosses the room to the tiny table tucked up under the window where Ale has been taking advantage of the slowly fading daylight to pen a missive to Sam about the status of their scouting mission, Ale is reaching for the pencil again, dark brow set in determination. Josh intercepts him on the way up, fingers wrapped gently around Ale's wrist as he clucks behind his teeth and says brusquely, "Gimme that, cowboy."

Ale makes to tug back out of his grasp, muttering a sharp, "It's fine, guero," but Josh keeps his hold. He steps in close, circling around so that he can half-sit on the table, and nudges until Ale gets the picture and turns his palm up.

"Don't seem very fine," Josh says mildly, digging his thumbs carefully into the heel of Ale's palm and running them up toward his fingers. Ale makes a soft little noise that Josh knows well enough by now to recognize as one of relief rather than irritation, and so he keeps going.

It's been raining for the past few days - though the dark thunderheads looming over town have finally let up for a spare few hours - and Josh knows that Ale's hand troubles him in this kind of weather, worse sometimes than Josh's bum leg, seeing how much he uses it. He sits there for a few long moments while the afternoon sinks drowsily into twilight, working the tension out of Ale's hand and watching the way his shoulders start to relax, too.

"Oughta tell me when it's too much, darlin'," Josh says, dragging his thumb thoughtfully over the long, ugly scar bisecting Ale's palm. It's faded from angry red to the dusty pink of an old wound, but it still makes Josh's heart twist sickly when he thinks on it too long.

"We told Sam we would be in touch," Ale says weakly, as though either of them are foolish enough to imagine that their fearless leader is pacing back and forth in anticipation of their report.

"It'll keep," Josh says easily, because he knows what it is to try and let your stubbornness carry you past a new and unwelcome limitation set by your body only to have it fail. "We can wait out the rain. Might even make it back before your letter if the weather keeps up long enough."

"Shouldn't have to wait," Ale grumbles, but he makes a low, soft noise in the back of his throat as Josh digs into the heel of his palm just under his thumb.

"Shouldn't try to catch knives with your bare hands, then," Josh shoots back, cutting Ale a quick, teasing grin. Ale snorts and rolls his eyes.

"You saying I should have let that hijo de lechina stab you, guerito?" he asks, dark gaze glittering with warm humor.

"I am much obliged by your heroics, sweetheart," Josh drawls, slow and syrupy thick. He lifts Ale's hand higher, ducking his head to brush a kiss to the scar on his palm, tilting it to drop another to the twin mark on the back of his hand where the blade punctured through. Ale curls his fingers around Josh's and Josh peppers a little trail of kisses along his knuckles before turning to find Ale smiling at him in that painfully tender way he sometimes does, eyes hooded and pupils blown dark.

"Better?" he asks, and Ale tilts his head, grin sprawling wide and sweet.

"Better."

Chapter Text

It seemed to Joshua Faraday that there was not a lot of excitement to be found in the world after surviving an explosion that ought to have skewered a fellow full of shrapnel, to say the very least of lasting damage. Not that he especially minded - it turned out that all it had taken to settle a little of that gnawing itch that buzzed to life under his skin and drove him to gambling or theft or danger was to stagger beyond the thin line separating the living from the dead only to be yanked solidly back when he'd had a long, horrifying peek at what lingered on the other side. He wasn't quite accustomed to a more settled life, but roaming the country at large with a group of like-minded vagabonds provided enough entertainment that neither was he shackled to the desperate need for the next big thrill anymore.

They were on a job, in a city this time. Big one, too, with proper hotels and enough folk milling about that Vasquez didn't have to keep to his usual scarcity for once. He and Goodnight had wandered off sometime after breakfast, with a passing mention of visiting the more popular market streets. It was thankful that Vasquez couldn't sew, Josh thought absently as he strolled along a sparsely populated avenue, tossing an apple in hand. The man was a peacock if Josh had ever seen one, and he would undoubtedly haul bolts of fine cloth back to the room they were sharing by the armful if he thought there was a chance he could make something of it. Sam had been fairly adamant that even with the gang of desperadoes they were currently hunting squirreled away in one of the city's seedier parts they wouldn't be in town longer than a handful of days.

It was lucky too, because Josh could tell from the shadows that fell over the horse minders as he approached the livery stable that Wild Jack had fallen into something of a mood in the day-odd that he and Josh had been parted.

"Anybody lose a finger yet?" he asked, grinning sharp as he sidled up, still tossing the apple up into the air and catching it off a glance. The working boys cut each other dark, unamused glances beneath the brims of their hats and Josh grinned wider.

"No sir," one of them piped up - dark hair, skin browned either through the steady kiss of the sun or as a gift of his heritage, though Josh would be hard pressed to guess which. He canted his head, mouth tilting at one side into a sardonic smirk, and added, "Though not for lack of trying."

It was in better humor than most of the rhetoric Josh heard in regards to his hellion of a mount, and it pulled a delighted bark of a laugh out of Josh's chest before he could quite catch it.

"He's made off with more'n a handful in his time," he agreed pleasantly, glancing out at the fenced pasture, where a herd of middling size was grazing on the tall, sweet grass. He saw a few long faces that he recognized - Emma's palomino, Sam's black steed, even the utterly ridiculous white gelding that Vasquez insisted on riding despite the fact that his continued freedom depended upon keeping a low profile, but no Jack.

"You stashin’ him separate?" he asked, and the dark-haired boy nodded. It was hardly surprising. Even horses of utterly placid personality were at risk of catching against Wild Jack's violent temper when it struck up. He was much like Josh himself in that way, which more than enough folk had commented on unprompted that it must ring true.

"He's around the back," the boy explained, hooking a thumb over his shoulder, pointing toward the far corner of the weather-beaten livery stable. "Don't got no horses in the sick-pen at present so we stuck him in there."

Josh clicked his tongue again.

"Never did like bein' alone," he commented with a sigh. One of the boys snorted, short and disbelieving although Josh supposed he couldn't blame him. Part of what had drawn him to Jack in the first place was that monstrous temper that most folk found too dangerous to associate with. Josh was hardly a man of even humor, and there were enough of his sour-hearted associates peppered across the western territories and missing at least one of their auditory appendages to hammer that point home.

Josh had never minded that part of himself - it had kept him safe through a tumultuous youth and even now mostly kept the trouble he encountered shaved down to a bare minimum - and it had never bothered him in Jack, either. He'd practically stolen Jack from the rancher he'd bought him from, the man so shaken by amazement that Jack didn't grass him immediately and aim for his tender parts with those furious hooves that he'd accepted a pittance for a stallion of caliber, not that he'd been able to do much with an animal that tended to bite and kick when folk got too close, regardless of its breeding quality. Josh had taken advantage of too many bad deals to count throughout the course of his life but he had to admit that the acquisition of Wild Jack was far and away his sentimental favorite.

He left the boys to their gossiping - worse than shopgirls most days, in Josh’s experience - and strolled along a worn-down path through the high, weedy grass in the direction the boy had indicated.

He could hear Jack well before he saw him, nickering and whinnying and stomping at the ground in distaste for his current circumstances.

“Well ain’t that a handsome fella!” Josh called as he rounded the building, tilting his hat back with his knuckles so that he could take in the full splendor of Jack spinning on a dime and cantering over toward the side of the fence Josh was approaching unimpeded. To this day he wasn’t quite sure if Jack’s affinity for him had to do with Josh being the purveyor of foodstuffs to Jack’s connoisseur palate, but he’d never seen the stallion daintily pluck a sugar-cube out of anybody else’s pocket or nose affectionately at anybody else’s hair. These days he would allow Vasquez close enough to stroke his calloused palm down the strong length of his neck, but the one time Vasquez’d been brave enough to move for the saddle Jack had nearly taken a chunk out of his arm.

Josh hopped up onto one of the lower rungs of the sturdy wooden fence, laughing when Jack nudged his velvety nose against Josh’s face so hard he knocked his hat clean off into the dirt.

“Settle down, now,” he chided affectionately, rubbing his palm over Jack’s nose, up his long face and back behind his ears, pushing his fringe up off his face for a second. “I missed you too, sweetheart, ain’t no need to be so dramatic about it.”

He held the apple up, palm flat out so as not to catch any of Jack’s teeth in his enthusiasm as he fumbled the fruit into his mouth.

“Don’t know what those boys were on about,” Josh murmured, running his hands up and down Jack’s face, his neck, while Jack chewed delightedly on the apple. “Ain’t a damn thing about you ain’t perfect, darlin’.”

Jack didn’t answer, of course, but the way that he did a little dance-step when Josh leaned in and planted a sloppy kiss dead-center between those big, limpid eyes was good enough for Josh.

Chapter Text

Josh cringes a little and takes another slug of whiskey straight from the bottle at the sharp lance of pain and the all-too-familiar tug of thread in skin when Billy pulls another stitch taut, closing the suture a further half a centimeter. All in all, being treated for a minor stab wound is not how Josh had intended to spend his afternoon, but Billy had been fairly unresponsive to Josh’s usual overtures toward an adrenaline-fueled round in the sack and instead gone straight for the excessively well-stocked medkit their team keeps in every safehouse the moment they arrived back from the slightly chaotic but ultimatey successful operation. Josh, meanwhile, had limped his way into the kitchen for the celebratory bottle of Jack he’d put on the counter that morning because he has his priorities in line.

The wound isn’t exceedingly deep, but it’s ugly, the result of slipshod knifework, which Josh only knows because he’s had the pleasure of watching one of the masters work up close and personal for the past four years, give or take. He thinks the guy might have been going for his femoral artery, but he failed pretty miserably and now all Josh is going to have to show for it is a hideous scar and having to spend the next month putting up with Vasquez’s smug assertions that he should be grateful for the extra hand-to-hand lessons.

“He’s gonna be unbearable for weeks,” Josh mutters bitterly, biting back a hiss as Billy threads the needle through again. Shot of local aside, having your - well, whatever Billy is to him - be the one to sew you up after an incompetent did a shoddy job of gutting you is hardly ever a pleasant experience.

“You deserve it,” Billy says, without bothering to look up, “for letting someone this sloppy get so close.”

There’s no heat behind the words, and Josh knows well enough by now how to read the sense of humor that Billy spent the better part of two years pretending he didn’t have. He snorts into his next sip of whiskey and leans back against the tank of the toilet. Billy swats at his good thigh and Josh makes a little noise of protest.

“Don’t move,” Billy instructs, with the steel-barred tone of a man who expects to be listened to. It’s a cousin of the way he occasionally talks to Josh when he has him bent double on the plush mattress in the room they’re not technically sharing and a little tongue of heat licks through Josh’s belly.

He wags his eyebrows though Billy can’t see and lets his head fall gently back against the wall with his eyes closed.

“Keep talking like that and you’re gonna have more to deal with while you’re down there than just sutures,” Josh teases, and there’s the tiniest huff of a breath that might be a laugh. There’s another sharp pinch of pain and a tug while Billy pulls the next stitch closed, but his other palm is curled warm against Josh’s skin, thumb dragging soothingly across the meat of his thigh.

Not the ideal way to spend the afternoon, perhaps, Josh considers, but altogether, he’s had worse.

Chapter Text

“You’re gonna have to do better'n that, kid,” Faraday slurs to the limpid yellow eyes blinking up at him out of the collar of his coat. A ginger-striped ear flicks curiously at him and Faraday runs his thumb - seemingly giant next to the tiny, dirt-streaked face - up the aquiline bridge above a little pink nose. “Vasquez has the puppy eyes to end all puppy eyes. That ain’t gon’ cut it.”

The little bundle nestled into his jacket mews pitifully, and almost as if on queue the man in question opens the front door. His wild curls are pulled back into a knot at the back of his head, pajama pants slung low enough beneath his long-sleeved top to show a tantalizing stripe of bare skin, the glorious shadow of a line of hair leading to one of Faraday’s all-time favorite places. He doesn’t look especially impressed to see Faraday standing here on the porch nigh-on midnight, presumably talking to himself, and says as much.

“I was just chattin’ with Maria here,” Faraday scoffs, the generous measure of booze that Emma had obligingly poured down his throat all evening making the warm interior lights glowing behind Vasquez’z head swim and twist delightfully.

Vasquez heaves a long sigh, peering down at the mangy little pile of ginger kitten tucked into Faraday’s coat.

“Guero,” he mutters, “you can’t keep naming every stray animal you find after my mother in the hopes that it will convince me to keep it,” but he’s already reaching out to stroke between the kitten’s too-large ears and Faraday can see the curl of his grin when she starts purring like a motor.

“I would never!” Faraday insists, mock-affronted, while he thinks privately to himself, works every time.

Chapter Text

“Now?”

Faraday is perched in front of the stove, leaning slightly in over the wide, flat-bottomed skillet taking up the largest burner at the back. His hands are poised at waist-height, fingers coated liberally in flour and tongs clutched in a casual grip, like a brawler keeping his hand loose while he waits for the perfect opening to land a hit. There’s another smear of flour across the freckled bridge of Faraday’s nose, and his russet hair boasts a generous dusting of the fine white powder.

He’s not much better at making tortillas than he is at dicing vegetables, Vasquez laments, making a considering noise where he’s hovering with his chin hooked over Faraday’s shoulder, but at least he looks good doing it.

“Give it a second,” he suggests, and Faraday - with all of four tortillas worth of experience under his belt - turns to arch a disbelieving eyebrow at him.

“It’s gonna burn,” he says, in that twang he gets when he’s at least three beers deep into the evening, voice slow and sticky-sweet like molasses.

“It won’t,” Vasquez assures, and leans in.

Faraday tastes like avocados and cayenne pepper, the bitter tang of the fruity summer IPAs he loves so much. His mouth is soft and familiar and the tortilla definitely burns, but neither of them especially mind.