The first time Paul and Carlos made out, Carlos mumbled something about how they should "explore their tenuous bonds and tendrils of long subdued attraction", and Paul muttered something about, well, his exact words were, "Shut up, Carlos," which didn't go down so well, and so they decided to explore their tenuous bonds and tendrils of long subdued attraction some other time. Perhaps when they didn't want to hit one another.
The second time Paul and Carlos made out, Carlos's eyes rolled back in his head, and he fell down. Paul thought, "Wow, I'm good," but then he realized Carlos wasn't moving. "Um, Carlos?" he said, and Carlos remained still. And rather more ashen than usual, in fact.
"What did you do?" Daniel asked.
"What? Nothing? Why is it always my fault?"
"Guys," Sam said. "I think his 'stache just turned pale."
"Dehydration," the doctor said reproachfully. "You need to drink more water, Mr. Dengler. Eight glasses a day at least."
Daniel nodded his head and patted Carlos awkwardly on the knee. "You had us all worried for a while there. We don't know what we'd do without you."
"Call Brandon Flowers?" Sam said.
"I don't think he plays the bass." Daniel paused. "Does he?"
Carlos rolled his eyes. "Hysterical, you both are. Now get out. All of you," but then he said, "Paul, you can stay."
About two minutes, and Paul had his hand down Carlos's hospital gown and Carlos had surprisingly strong fingers around the back of Paul's neck, and it was going quite well, Paul thought. Until of course the nurse started yelling.
"Ouch," Paul said, as she threw him out, muttering something about how the kids today had no respect and would just put anything anywhere at anytime they felt like it, even on someone's sick bed. She was about sixty. Paul told himself that he allowed her to drag him along in her vice-like grip, was far too well raised to struggle, and that his ungainly fall onto his rump in the corridor was in fact, intended.
"Unlucky, huh," Sam said, quite unsympathetically, as he reached down a hand to help Paul stand up.
"Just bad timing. We'll get there."
"Perhaps someone's trying to tell us something," Carlos said, after they'd sneaked off to some backstage storeroom and barely escaped without heavy boxes landing on their head as they backed into them and they went tumbling down with an unpleasant clang.
"What? That trying to get it on with your bandmate while you're on tour, bored, recently sober, on the rebound, stressed out, pressured, homesick and spatially disconnected to the world at large might not be such a good fucking idea?"
"Or perhaps just that gay sex is wrong."
Paul kicked idly at that large cardboard box that almost flattened him not two minutes ago and winced at the shattered-glass sound it made. "Think we'll have to pay for that?"
"Only if we're found out."
"I haven't gotten laid in over a month," he told Sam forlornly over breakfast and newspapers.
"My wife travels with me," Sam said, and bit obscenely into his bagel.
Paul lit a cigarette and tried to pretend it was a post-fuck cig. It didn't work.
"So I've decided, we should skip the whole foreplay, fumbling with each other's clothes thing and just get to it. It's all extraneous anyway. We're men. We don't need that shit."
Carlos was unbuttoning his vest as he said that, nodding his head in Paul's direction in a way that clearly meant Paul was to follow suit immediately.
"I'm," Paul said. "I'm picturing hernia. One of us can't get it up. We get it up and manage to break it, somehow."
"How on earth would it break?" Carlos grimaced, but stopped undressing.
"It is a bone, after all."
They tried, anyway, and when Paul, entirely accidentally, kicked Carlos in the bone, rendering him useless for the night but fortunately not broken, probably because it wasn't actually a bone to begin with, Carlos only sighed and said, "Divine intervention, ha ha."
Paul put his head in his hands.
"It's Carlos D, I swear it is. It's not like you can mistake someone else for him. And the other dude looked kinda like Paul. But I dunno, his face was all hidden."
"Are you sure? Only one stall's closed. Where's the other one?"
Paul shut his eyes and willed them to go away. Not because he still held any interest in fucking Carlos, in retrospect the concept of bathroom sex was far more attractive than the reality, but because hiding in the cramped cubicle with his feet up so that the kids outside only saw one pair of shoes was uncomfortable. Plus it smelled.
"Um, Carlos?" One of them called out, tentatively. Carlos shook his head.
"Yeah, probably not him. Told you. You're just too drunk to see straight."
When they finally left, Paul stepped onto the floor and stretched his aching legs. "Inconspicuous, your new look. You must be so pleased to finally achieve the anonymity you've craved for so long."
"Jesus loves everyone, Paul," Carlos said, extending his arm to pull Paul's hat down, hard, over his face. "Even those of us afflicted with vanity. Or fashion sense."
"Oh, okay. Um."
"I'm sorry. Sam's in a mood and I didn't want to bother him and you're the only one I fully trust that I can see face to face."
Daniel didn't seem too pleased to be one of Paul's few confidants on tour. "Uh..." he said.
"No, look. Okay first of all this is a bad idea, terrible, you two have to work together, how could it possibly be wise that you get into a relationship with one another, not that I'm assuming that you want to be in relationship with one another for all I know you might just want to um, enjoy casual sex with I have no issues with, in general and not just specifically pertaining to the two of you, and really if two people want to be intimate without sharing intimacy I'm fine with it but I really don't want to picture the two of you naked - and oh god too late, and uh, okay just to get one thing straight you are not allowed to have sex in the bunks I forbid it i have to sleep there too, and uh."
"So, we should book a hotel room then, at the next stop."
"Yes, that would be better. Yes."
"This is nice," Paul said.
They were having dinner on the balcony of the extremely sweet hotel suite that Carlos managed to book. Fine mints included.
Paul put the last mouthful of his food away, and grinned at him. "Come here," he said, and Carlos came.
"Fire alarm?" Sam raised his brows.
"We ignored it as long as we could, thought it was false, but then Carlos thought he smelled smoke, only I didn't, and then we got into a uh, Discussion over that, and then we almost got there, but maintenance knocked on the door, so that was the end of that particular not-so-cunning plan."
"Yeah, you guys have shit luck all right. My wife's still here, by the way."
Two nosebleeds, a dead rabbit, a concussion, fire alarm, accidental almost electrocution and accidental almost breaking Daniel's guitar later, they finally gave up.
"This blows," Carlos said morosely, touching the barely healing bruise on his jaw where he'd somehow managed to get hit by a bowl of petunias hurled by some unseen person while Paul was attempting to go down on him in an alley.
Paul said, "Oh, if only."
The journalist that was interviewing them broke away from talking to Sam to stare. When she asked, tentatively, about Carlos's face, they both kept silent and left Daniel to scramble for a non-answer.
Paul had always thought that irony meant that perhaps he could get away with wearing certain items of clothing, or his realization that for all his half-hearted attempts to deceive, inveigle and obfuscate the press seeking answers about him, he could enthusiastically spout the absolute truth and they would still get it wrong. He hadn't figured it meant that he could be relatively famous and Carlos could be relatively famous and they could, theoretically, fuck pretty much anyone they wanted but not, apparently, one another.
Two days later, he got caught in another question, and this time Daniel wasn't there to rescue him. Paul didn't recall what exactly he said, but the headline read something about how Paul Banks didn't find the joy of division joyous at all, the control it took notwithstanding.
"Public personas, private lives, Paul." Carlos snapped the magazine open and glared at him.
"It's not like I was specific. Besides, I was waste-yeah, I got nothing. Stop reading that shit if it upsets you so much. Don't play their game."
"You mean the journalists'."
"No, I meant the words."
"Oh, and I'm not upset. I'm annoyed. There's a difference."
"What the fuck ever. But hey, at least you can answer for some of the things I say for once."
"You want to have a Talk with me, don't you?"
"Only if you promise not to open your mouth. But no." Paul scowled. "It's over. Not that it ever even began. I mean, what the fuck, seriously. It's almost funny when you think about it.
"Well, perhaps you ought to get to know one another or something. Try dating?"
"We've known each other for over ten years, Dan. How much getting to know each other must we do. Besides, I just want to get laid. Carlos promised, no strings attached."
"Ah. Um, I'm sorry. Maybe you should try...you know, if you want to get off."
"You did not just suggest that I fuck a groupie, did you?"
"No, god no. Not that I'm judging or-"
"Got it, you're a beacon of understanding and Buddhalike in your tolerance of other people's behavior." He started to ask Daniel what exactly he'd meant if not that, but Daniel was already blushing, and then he put his fingers together in an O and delicately moved his wrist, and Paul blinked. "Yeah, not the same. But thank you, though," he hastily added, before Daniel could dispense more advice. "You've been a lot of help."
"Why do I get this horrible feeling that there's some sort of lesson that we're supposed to glean from this, and once we do we'll be able to fuck all we want, only we have to break through the barriers of our denseness in order to achieve that?"
"Because you're drunk?" Paul supplied helpfully.
"There is that, yeah. But still." They were sitting together in the VIP room at the unofficial official afterparty, people-watching. People who weren't them, it seemed, had no problems whatsoever with hooking up with each other. But perhaps they were cursed too, and would exit the club to get hit by a bus before even getting to first base. The thought gave him comfort, but not much.
"Man, I just wanted to get laid, is that too much to ask?"
"Apparently, yes." Carlos sighed, and called for another beer.
"You realize you guys are moping around like a couple of frustrated, horny teenagers, aren't you?"
"No we're not. We are?"
"My teenaged years are far behind me and I can barely remember what I thought yesterday, let alone so very long ago, but yes, yes you are."
"Well, uh. Fuck. But Carlos is uh-"
"Not quite as fond of casual sex as he used to be, it would seem. Or at least it's not giving him quite the satisfaction it used to." Sam paused, and then grinned. "Christy's-"
"Family is here. You're getting about as much action as I am." Paul patted Sam on the back. "It's allright. You're not a teenager anymore, you probably don't even need it more than once a month."
He tried his best though, to not seem mopey. At least he still had the music to focus on, although at some point, when even Daniel called him a slave-driver, and refused to soundcheck yet another song they were probably never going to play live again, Paul realized he should probably channel his energies more evenly among other activities.
Possibly he'd try knitting.
Somewhere in Europe, he met a girl at a club. Tiny and red-headed, pretty smile that she beamed only in his direction. "I'm Charlene," she said. Charlene was twenty-two and a yoga instructor, so she told Paul, who nodded his head, and they spent an entire hour discussing yoga and spirituality and the state of the world. She didn't once mention the music, for which he was deeply grateful.
"I like you, Charlene," he told her.
"I like you too. I was just telling my boyfriend how amazing you are, he's somewhere around - there," and she waved, and her boyfriend came over, and Paul sighed.
"Dude," the boyfriend said.
"Dude," Paul said, "I gotta go."
Carlos laughed. And laughed. And laughed. "Fuck you," Paul said. "I rather liked her, too. She was lovely."
"It can't possibly be that hard. Maybe you should lower your standards."
"I've tried, remember? It didn't work out so well." He stared pointedly at Carlos, who seemed uninclined to stop smirking.
"Now you're just being unnecessarily churlish. You wound me, truly you do."
"No, that's only when I'm slumming," Paul said, and sighed.
Knitting. He'd heard it was the new black.
He ended up doing nothing more than looking for parties after the after-party though, and when that ended, stumbling back to the lounge to watch bad tv and porn. Mostly porn.
Carlos came in once, and Paul said dizzily, "When I die, I want a tv for a headstone."
"Come on, I'll buy you breakfast."
"Is it breakfast time already?"
"Sure." Dingy cafe with ugly waitresses, but it allowed pets so that was their only option. Paul got bad coffee and Carlos got even worse cake, although Gaius seemed to like it well enough. "So, I was thinking."
"No," Paul shook his head. "We've been here before."
"Right." But Carlos frowned, and scratched Gaius's neck absently.
"When things went to hell," Paul said, before he could stop himself. "I thought I was fucking going to lose it. I went on vacation and I don't fucking remember where I went. I did so much shit like you wouldn't believe."
"How very tragic for you."
"That too." Carlos stopped petting his dog. "You could've just called me or. No, I guess you couldn't. But fuck it."
"Yeah, fuck it. I just wanted us to-"
"Connect on a biblical level? Explore the carnal and yet wrong according to quite a number of major religions around the world pleasures of the flesh? Fuck-"
"Yes, that," Paul said, interrupting before Carlos went on and he changed his mind. "And also, I rebounded a long time ago. And I'm not just talking Helena either. Thing is, it's not like it's hard for me to get laid. I mean."
"Yeah," Carlos said, and kissed him.
The world didn't end.