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“Up,” Faraday says, pushing at the -- heavy, warm, familiar --  body next to him. “Up you get.”

He gets a groan in answer. No movement, though.

“C’mon, you lazy asshole. You’re falling asleep.” If Faraday isn’t allowed to fall asleep in Vasquez’s bed, then Vasquez isn’t allowed to fall asleep in Faraday’s. Them’s the rules -- even if Faraday hates them. Sure, he’s broken more than he can count in his lifetime, but even Faraday knows what barbed-wire fences he shouldn’t jump across. Some lines are just not meant to be crossed, especially not after he’s gotten this far.

He never thought, months ago, that he’d know the terrain of Vasquez’s body by heart. That he’d know the beautiful way Vasquez sucks in a breath whenever Faraday kisses over his ribs. That he’d know the way Vasquez moans breathlessly right before he orgasms. He never thought he’d know the frightful way it burns a hole in his heart every time he has to pry himself away from Vasquez and pretend it doesn’t hurt to leave, like he doesn’t care, like he doesn’t want more than just the heated press of bodies in a moment of mutual need.

Vasquez murmurs something into Faraday’s pillow and burrows his face into it. Shit -- it’s going to smell like Vasquez when the man leaves, which means Faraday will lie awake for at least two hours -- wishing, wanting, hoping -- for something that he cannot have. Then, Faraday will inevitably fall into too-real dreams, fantasies too tangible to be good for his sanity, that he’ll wake up thinking Vasquez stayed. That Vasquez wanted to stay. For a reason other than being too tired to get up, that is.

Since his companion seems to be out cold, Faraday takes a moment to simply admire. While he has the chance, anyway. Sure, he can look all he damn well pleases in the heat of the moment -- but there’s something different about this, about seeing Vasquez all soft and sated and spread out on Faraday’s wrinkled sheets. About seeing him vulnerable. There’s something very private about it -- intimate in a way that the fucking they do can never be.

Faraday gently traces over a bruising bite-mark on Vasquez’s shoulder, thumbing over the indents his own teeth made. It’s nice, knowing he put it there, that Vasquez won’t be able to forget about this for days to come. Every time he takes off his shirt to shower, he’ll remember how he moaned for Faraday when he sunk his teeth into that tanned skin, how he clawed at Faraday’s back for more.

Faraday lets his knuckles brush against Vasquez’s stubble, paying attention to the other man’s breathing. He doesn’t want Vasquez to open his eyes, to look up and see Faraday looking at him like this. He knows what his own face would betray right now, and he’s not prepared for Vasquez to see that. Not prepared for Vasquez to recoil in horror and stumble out of bed, repelled by Faraday’s own weakness.

Neither of them are the type of people to fall in love. That’s why this arrangement is so perfect, they figured.

Well -- that’s not entirely true. Vasquez figured and Faraday knew plain out that he was lying through his teeth the entire time. Sure, he isn’t the kind of guy to fall in love -- but he did, years ago, absolutely head-over-heels, for Vasquez. Way before this little arrangement. But he’s happy to pretend otherwise for the sake of it all.

But it’s fine. It’s all fine.

Faraday will take what he can get. Sure, it may be slowly wrenching his heart in two, but this way he gets to touch, to kiss, to take, and to be taken by someone he loves. It’s not that Vasquez doesn’t love him -- Vasquez cares deeply for all of his friends -- but he’s not in love with Faraday, that much is for certain. Vasquez doesn’t do love like that. He’s said as much, over and over again. He likes to wax poetic about love when he’s drunk and maudlin, and Faraday’s always a good shoulder to lean on. And again, that’s fine.

If it means he’ll occasionally get soft moments like this, where Vasquez is curled up in his sheets, quietly snoring and sated, Faraday will take it. He knows what Vasquez tastes like, knows the way he sounds when he wakes up, knows the way his favorite shampoo smells. He knows all of these things, and they are all worth it. Even if he only gets them sometimes, when Vasquez is sleeping and unawares.

It’s been long enough, though, Faraday thinks. He takes ahold of Vasquez’s shoulder and shakes. “Up, Vasquez. I’m serious. It’s late and I want to sleep.”

Vasquez groans and folds himself toward Faraday’s hand, like he’s seeking out the heat of another body. The familiar movement hurts in the aching way Faraday’s gotten too used to. “Go to sleep then, guero,” Vasquez says.

“I can’t sleep with you hogging my whole bed like this. Up you get.” If Vasquez is going to kick Faraday out afterward, then Faraday has every right to kick him out, too. It’s only fair. Also, Faraday is pretty sure that waking up next to Vasquez might actually break him for good.

“You complain too much,” Vasquez says, cracking open his eyes to look at Faraday in that way he does, like a cat who can see into his soul. Faraday hates it. And loves it. And is always scared of what Vasquez might see. “Cállate, guero. Go to sleep.” Vasquez closes his eyes again. He stretches out with a yawn and a moan -- he is so beautiful that Faraday can’t help but watch him like someone would watch a sunset: in awe, breathtaken, greedy.

“You can’t sleep here,” Faraday hears himself say. Vasquez opens one eye again, and it’s closer to a glare this time. Aggressive, sharp, the way Vasquez can get when he’s about to get into a fight. Usually Faraday’s on his side, though: he’s not too often on the receiving end of these looks -- and boy, does he hate it.

But he also knows he can’t budge on this one. There has to be some sort of boundary here, or he knows it’s all going to hurt even worse. He has to keep his distance where he can. He has to safeguard his heart, at least just a little bit.

So, Faraday shoves Vasquez again. “Up.” Because it’s part of the routine, the play, the show.

“Fine,” Vasquez snaps. He sits up, all sharp edges and pique. There’s no more gentle softness to be found anywhere in his posture. He’s still sticky with sweat, just like Faraday. There’s still come, drying on his stomach -- but Faraday only catches a glimpse of that, before Vasquez is up and closing himself in the bathroom with a near-slam of the door.

For a moment, Faraday can’t help the panic that flares in his chest: did Vasquez catch the obvious yearning in Faraday’s eyes earlier? Is he annoyed more by Faraday’s unbridled love than by being pushed out of bed after an orgasm? Vasquez shouldn’t be annoyed by the latter: that’s their deal, that’s how this whole thing works.

“You’re out of toothpaste,” Vasquez says when he exits the bathroom. He probably used Faraday’s toothbrush, that asshole.

Faraday watches Vasquez as he pulls on his boxers. Pants. A shirt. Faraday watches as Vasquez doesn’t look at him once, and then shrugs into his jacket.

Shit.

“See you tomorrow?” Faraday ventures. They usually have a standing date to get drunk on Tuesdays at their local dive bar.

“Maybe,” Vasquez says, before sliding out of Faraday’s bedroom and then out of his apartment altogether.

Fucking goddamn.

--

“I’m fucked,” Faraday tells Goodnight over his third -- fourth? -- whiskey of the night. “Fuck. I fucked up.”

It’s Friday, and Faraday hasn’t seen neither hide nor hair of Vasquez since Monday night. It shouldn’t ache so bad, but it does.

“Well, you’re likely not wrong,” Goody tells him, before sliding a glass of water Faraday’s way. It leaves a trail of condensation on the shitty bartop. Faraday passes a finger through it while Goodnight keeps talking. “You’re not exactly known for making healthy decisions. Drink some water.”

Goody, to his credit, doesn’t even ask how Faraday fucked up. The fucker probably already knows. Faraday knows he’s obvious about Vasquez. He knows that Goody knows how he feels.

“When’s Billy getting here?” Faraday asks. He takes a sip of water and is surprised at how good it tastes, how easily it slides down his throat after the burn of whiskey.

“Later,” Goody says. And then he continues, with absolutely no segway: “It was a mistake to sleep with Vasquez, Joshua.”

Faraday just groans. “Spare me the lecture, Goody. I know I fucked up.” He fucked up sleeping with Vasquez for the first time. He fucked up by doing it again and then, again. And he fucked up royally by letting whatever it was show on his face while he was kicking Vasquez out of bed. Faraday knows he wears his emotions on his sleeve, the same way Vasquez doesn’t. It’s what gets him into trouble all the time -- he really should be more careful.

When Billy shows up, Faraday loses count of how many drinks he’s had. He loses count of how many times Goodnight calls him dumb, and he loses count of how many times Billy rolls his eyes in Faraday’s direction. He loses track of both of them for a while, when he wanders deeper into the bar, for a fuck or a fight, and he finds them again when he’s on his knees outside, losing the contents of his stomach to the curb.

They help him up, and Faraday swings a fist because the world is spinning and it’s easier to try and punch his problems away than accept help when freely given. Billy just laughs and wrangles him, all easy-like, into a cab.

They must climb in next to him because before Faraday realizes it, he’s outside his apartment building, leaning heavy on Goodnight’s shoulder and huffing his regrets into the man’s jacket. Goody is kind enough to not push him away, and Billy’s even kinder to keep his mouth closed. Faraday remembers him with choice words in the beginning of the evening -- small digs about Faraday’s idiocy -- but now he’s quiet, content to let Faraday fester in his own self loathing. It’s a small mercy that Faraday appreciates.

He drinks another glass of water and loses it twenty minutes later. Once he’s another glass in and tucked into his couch -- he refuses to sleep on his bed, he just can’ : it smells like Vasquez -- Goody and Billy leave him.

Again, it’s a kindness. They’ve seen enough of him moping like a kicked dog -- he can do the rest of this routine in peace.

--

“It was only a matter of time before you knocked down this carefully constructed tower of yours, Joshua,” Chisholm tells him over a cup of coffee in the early afternoon. Faraday hadn’t really been a person until at least noon. He hadn’t even really slept -- so now he’s hungover and exhausted, and Sam Chisholm is trying to give him a talk about responsibility and personal consequences.

So far, it’s all sounded like gibberish to Faraday.

“Can’t you just let me drink my coffee in peace?”

“Not when your moping is clouding up this whole coffee shop with an air of self-pity, I can’t,” Chisholm says.

“I’ll fix it, alright?” Faraday says, even though he isn’t sure how he’s actually meant to do that at all. He just knows that everyone expects him to do it, so that’s what he needs to promise.

“You do that, son,” Chisholm says. “Just talk to the man.”

Well, that’s not going to happen.

--

Faraday picks a fight the next night at a bar he can’t remember the name of. He wears the black eye and the cut on his cheek for a week, too proudly.

It hadn’t make him feel any better overall, but in the moment he’d felt just a bit of reprieve.

--

It’s not like Faraday can show up at Vasquez’ apartment with a bouquet of flowers and apologize for his feelings. Frankly, avoiding the whole I-have-feelings-for-you situation would probably be the best for the both of them, if it’s what’s making Vasquez uncomfortable enough to avoid Faraday. And honestly, it has to be. What else could Vasquez have a bee in his bonnet about?

It’s gotta be Faraday’s affection for him that’s so off-putting. And Faraday can’t even blame him: who’d want Joshua Faraday pining after them, anyhow? It’s just plain unfortunate is what it is.

He’s just gotta prove he doesn’t have feelings in the first place. Has just gotta make it seem like Vasquez saw something he didn’t.

So, when they’re all hanging out on Sunday evening at Goody and Billy’s, Faraday figures he’s got his best shot. He spends most of his evening hanging around Billy because at least Billy appreciates that Faraday needs some space from his own emotions. They spend all of dusk at the grill, talking about little pointless things, while Billy makes sure Faraday doesn’t burn everyone’s food. They both do a decent job -- Faraday at grilling and Billy at wrangling Faraday -- and Faraday feels much more like himself by the end of it -- once he’s full of a couple beers and a couple burgers.

When they’re done cleaning up in the kitchen -- Faraday scrubbing and Billy supervising in his silent way -- Faraday pats Billy on the back and thanks him for being a good friend, because he doesn’t do that nearly enough, he thinks.

And then, Faraday goes to find Vasquez. The man has been avoiding him all night, which isn’t exactly par for the course, but it isn’t exactly calming either.

They usually catch each other’s eyes a few times, is all. Tonight, Faraday’s only set eyes on Vasquez from afar.

He weaves past Emma and Teddy in the living room, says his hellos to Jack for a moment, and eventually finds Vasquez sitting with Red next to the firepit in the back yard. It casts a flickering orange light over the both of them, both warm and also untouchable.

“Howdy,” Faraday says. He sits down on one of the stumps next to the fire.

Red nods.

Guero,” Vasquez greets.

The silence stretches on between the three of them. They weren’t exactly chatty before Faraday got here -- all quiet tones and long pauses -- but he can tell now that he’s interrupted some conversation. He’s stupid, but he ain’t that dumb.

So, he sits for a while, content in the quiet, before he gets up again. “Gentlemen,” he says, as he gets up to leave.

He kicks Vasquez’s boot on the way out, just because he can.

Cuidado, cabrón ,” Vasquez warns. Faraday missed the way Vasquez’s voice tumbles down his spine and sinks into his ribs.

“Adiós, com-pad-res,” Faraday says, in the worst accent he can possibly muster.

--

Later, after the sun has set and the commotion has retreated to around the firepit, Faraday presses Vasquez up against the bathroom door. He bites at the sweaty skin of Vasquez’s neck and savors the heady way he tastes, how overwhelming it is. How much he missed it.

Guero,” Vasquez warns, when Faraday slots his knee between Vasquez’s legs and rocks against him. “Everyone’s right outside.”

“Don’t care,” Faraday says. “Want you.” He wants Vasquez so bad: needs him. He missed this, missed feeling so close to the other man.

Faraday catches Vasquez in a crushing kiss and fists a hand into that beautiful hair of his. Vasquez stops complaining and starts kissing back. Hard, harder than Faraday’s kissing him. Bruising.

They get lost in a tangle of limbs. Eventually, Vasquez wrangles them inside the bathroom at least, shielding any chance onlookers from the sight of them: drunk and stupid and fumbling at each other like dumb teenagers. That’s what Faraday feels like, anyway, caught up in this mess of hormones and infatuation. Vasquez is like a drug he can’t get enough of, even if it’s killing him inside. Every time, he keeps coming back, more broken each and every time.

Vasquez finishes in Faraday’s hand, eyes closed and panting. He’s silent when he comes, biting off a groan in his throat as his fists clench at his sides -- not scratching down Faraday’s back or pulling at his hair, but it’s fine. He drops down after a moment to his knees and finishes Faraday off in his mouth. Faraday comes too fast, too hard, but he at least can be at ease knowing that Vasquez misses the way his face contorts in fractured pleasure, in the broken way it leaves him. He feels chafed and raw almost immediately, and he knows that he doesn’t want Vasquez to see him like that. He knows it’s plain on his face.

So, he shoves a towel at Vasquez, puts himself together, and dunks his face immediately in the cold water of the sink. He splashes at it until the heat of what feels like tears in the corners of his eyes go away.

When he looks up, Vasquez is leaning against the bathroom door, looking far too put together, too reasonable. Too untouchable again.

Sometimes Faraday isn’t even sure how this all started. How he ever ends up reaching out to touch Vasquez in the first place. Sometimes, the man just seems so far away, and Faraday doesn’t have the courage to reach out and make that connection. Not now, anyway. Not after he’s losing the buzz of alcohol and the rush of orgasm has left him feeling shattered and alone again.

“You okay, guero?” Vasquez asks, ever observant. He has a love bite on his jaw, and even that looks good on him. This time, Faraday can’t look at his own handiwork. It doesn’t feel like a claim or a reminder to Vasquez that he was there -- it just feels like a sick taunt that Faraday is only a fleeting moment in time.

“I’m all good,” Faraday answers. Because he is. Because he has to be. “You good?” He slaps Vasquez on the shoulder and puts on a million-dollar grin.

“Never better,” Vasquez says.

--

He ends up in Vasquez’s bed after another Tuesday spent getting too drunk and too handsy at their favorite dive. Faraday doesn’t even remember stumbling back, but he does remember the way Vasquez pressed him slowly down onto the bed and kissed him until he couldn’t breathe. He remembers tugging at Vasquez’ hair and trying to get him to go harder, faster and Vasquez simply telling him to slow down. To enjoy it. But he doesn’t want slow like lovers -- he can’t handle that small consolation prize. He can’t know what it’s like having Vasquez like this. He wants hard and fast and probably too much pain, because he doesn’t deserve anything else.

But Vasquez takes his time, goes slowly and carefully. He opens up Faraday for too long, until Faraday feels like he’s on the verge of falling apart. He practically does, when Vasquez slides into him, kissing him too tenderly as he goes.

Afterward, Faraday slides into the shower because he can’t look at himself in the mirror long enough to towel himself off. His head spins and his stomach churns and his throat clenches with something that feels a lot like heartbreak, if he was the kind of guy who felt things like that.

He swallows and swallows and swallows until the nausea passes. Until it feels a little less like he swallowed glass.

Vasquez finds him there, sitting at the bottom of the shower with the water running down his face. Faraday isn’t even sure how much time has passed.

“I knocked,” Vasquez says when he pulls back the shower curtain to truly take in the picture of what Faraday has become. “Multiple times.” Vasquez is picture-perfect in pajama pants. The expression on his face is unreadable. But Faraday thinks that maybe his eyes are a little blurry, too. So, it’s hard to stay. Maybe he can blame it all on the steam.

“You make this very hard,” Vasquez says and Faraday doesn’t understand what he means. “You are a mess, guero.”

Faraday knows this. God, but he knows it. All he can do is tip his head up into the warm spray of water and let it cascade down his face like summer rain. For a blissful moment, there’s no world around him --  no Vasquez, no painful longing, no shitty choices made -- just this.

“Time to get up,” Vasquez says. It sounds too kind. The way he’s looking at Faraday is also too kind.

All Faraday wants is to stay here for the rest of the night. He can’t crawl back into Vasquez’s bed, but he also doesn’t want to leave. The thought is repulsive.

“Can I sleep on your couch?” Faraday asks through the rain.

“What?”

God, but now he’s committed. “Can I sleep on your couch?”

Guero,” Vasquez warns. “Cállate. Get up. Get out of the shower.” Vasquez pulls a towel off the rack and holds it open. It looks so inviting. Vasquez looks so inviting.

So he gets up. He lets Vasquez turn off the shower and help him out of the tub and into the towel. For a brief moment, he lets himself sway, buries himself in the soft skin of Vasquez’s neck. Faraday breathes him in, just for a second, and then pulls away.

“You want me up and out?” he asks.

Vasquez regards him for a moment, looks Faraday up and down, then shakes his head slightly. “No,” Vasquez says. Maybe because Faraday is so pathetic. It doesn’t matter -- all that matters is that Faraday’s made an even bigger mess of this than he’d been trying for. He was hoping to fix this. To give Vasquez the idea that Faraday just didn’t care. Yeah -- that went well. He sure showed Vasquez.

Soon, Faraday is on the couch because he put himself there. Vasquez sits next to him and hands him a glass of water. There are three ice cubes bobbing about in it.

“You going to be okay?” Vasquez asks him. He doesn’t ask what’s bothering Faraday, he doesn’t ask if he wants to talk about it. Small mercies.

“Always am,” Faraday says. It earns him a sigh.

Vasquez says something else after a while, after Faraday’s leaned back against the couch and closed his eyes. Most of what Vasquez says is in Spanish, Faraday thinks. He can’t understand, even though he tries. God, but does he want to know.

Don’t know what to do with you, he thinks he hears Vasquez say, as he’s drifting off, pulled by the resolute hands of sleep.

Keep me, Faraday thinks. It’s all he wants, really. For Vasquez to keep him.

Stay, Faraday thinks, because he wants that, too. He wants Vasquez to stay with him until he falls asleep. He wants to stay at Vasquez’s side for forever.

Please, Faraday thinks, as he lets himself slump against Vasquez’s shoulder and lose himself to darkness.

--

He wakes up on the couch with a godawful crick in his neck.

For a moment, Faraday has to fight the disorientation of waking up in an unfamiliar place.

Then, two smells hit him. First: coffee. Then, Vasquez. Both rich and equally addictive.

He pushes himself up, dislodging a blanket as he goes. His mouth tastes like ass, so he meanders into the bathroom first, stealing Vasquez’s toothbrush to at least partially rectify the problem.

Afterward his foray into the bathroom, Faraday meanders his way to the kitchen, where he can hear the synchronized clatter of Vasquez making breakfast. Whatever it is, it smells delicious.

Eggs, it turns out, as Faraday sees from his spot lingering in the doorway of the kitchen. For a few moments, he just stands and watches Vasquez putter. Everything the man does is purposeful -- he is made of straight lines and precise decisions. He is so sturdy , so resolute; Faraday can’t even comprehend it, sometimes.

After a while, Vasquez breaks the silence. “How long are you going to stand there and watch me, guero?”

Oops. Caught red-handed. “Until you’ve finished breakfast so you don’t ask me to help,” Faraday answers. He could help, sure -- but he’d rather watch. “I wouldn’t want to ruin it.” Faraday gives Vasquez one of his award winning grins. He gets an eye-roll in return.

He tries to push all of the ache from the previous night down into a small compartment between his ribs, tries to box it all away so that it’ll stop nipping at the underside of all his thoughts, but he can’t quite manage it. He crams most of the melancholy away while watching Vasquez cut up chiles, tomatoes, and sausage. The part that clings, though, is the part that wants to reach out and touch, the part that wants to wrap himself around Vasquez as he works in the kitchen, to press him up against the counter and kiss him good morning.

Ah, well.

That’s just now how they work.

“At least get us something to drink,” Vasquez tells him.

“Margaritas? Mimosas? Jack and coke?” Faraday asks.

Vasquez actually puts his knife down and turns to level Faraday with a look. “It’s nine AM.”

“And?”

Vasquez narrows his eyes. “Didn’t you have too much to drink last night, too?”

Not really. Not any more than normal. He had too many emotions last night is what he had. Faraday just shrugs, instead of saying all those things. If Vasquez thinks his little shower breakdown was a result of too much alcohol, that’s better than the alternative.

“Orange juice,” Vasquez decides. “For both of us.”

Faraday goes with it because he has a very hard time saying no to that face. The stern one with the perfect angles and the stubble and the too-knowing eyes.

Breakfast is good. Vasquez isn’t a master chef, but he’s perfect in Faraday’s eyes. He can fold anything into an omelette, can make any breakfast taste good. He has homemade salsa and hot sauce, so Faraday slathers his omelette in those, too. Because if he can’t drink his feelings away, he might as well burn some of his emotions out through his tongue, or something like that. The orange juice is refreshing -- not fresh squeezed, but something more expensive than the frozen stuff you’re supposed to add water to that Faraday buys himself if he wants juice. Usually, he wants the juice for drinks. Usually, he forgoes the juice altogether and spares himself the hassle.

It’s weird, eating breakfast with Vasquez. It feels intimate, close. A little heartbreaking, Faraday thinks. It’s just not something they do.

They talk, stiltedly about -- stuff. Nothing important. Faraday isn’t really paying attention. He’s looking at the creases on Vasquez’s cheek from his pillow, at his bedhead, at the worn tee he threw on this morning. He’s nodding along, trying to commit every detail to memory, when--

Joshua --” Vasquez says, rough and sharp. “Faraday,” he says again, when he sees that he actually has Faraday’s attention.

Oh, so Vasquez was actually talking to him. And Faraday missed it. Vasquez did say his name, though. So that’s a win.

Vasquez purses his lips for a moment before talking. “You’re not yourself recently,” he says. Faraday would call it an accusation -- if it wasn’t so true. He just shrugs and takes a sip of his orange juice, wishing it was alcoholic.

“You’re drinking too much. You’re picking fights. You’re --” Vasquez pauses there, where he’s sure Vasquez was going to mention his little pity party in the shower. He’s kind enough not to; they both know what he means; it doesn’t need to be put into words.

Faraday goes to take another bite of his eggs, just so that he has something to do, but he finds them all gone. His plate is gone too. So is Vasquez’s -- they must be in the sink. Goddamn, is he really that out of it this morning?

“I’m fine,” he says.

“No,” Vasquez says. “I don’t think you are.”

Faraday helps with the dishes while Vasquez sits on the counter in the kitchen, drinking another glass of orange juice. The silence isn’t necessarily awkward, but it’s not comfortable either. There’s too much left unsaid, too much weight resting on Faraday’s shoulders. He feels like he’s barely balancing the world on his back. One wrong step and it’s all going to come falling down around him.

He’s washing one of Vasquez’s bowls -- colorful, with little birds on it, the one he keeps salsa in -- when Vasquez says: “I can’t do this.”

I can’t do this, either, Faraday thinks, the words ringing in his head like alarm bells.

“Huh?” he says.

“This,” Vasquez takes the bowl from him -- Faraday’s been washing it for a while, it’s probably clean -- and puts it down on the towel next to the sink. He gestures between Faraday and himself. “I can’t do this anymore. I’m sorry, guero.”

“Oh,” Faraday says.

Oh.

Vasquez hands him a towel for his dripping hands, so Faraday will stop making a puddle in the middle of the kitchen floor. God, he really needs to get his brain into gear.

“I don’t think it’s good for either of us,” Vasquez says. Faraday wishes it didn’t sound so much like the truth. He knows it’s not good for him, has known from the very start. But it must have been fine for Vasquez, right? Faraday tried his hardest to keep himself together, to put his all into their every moment together. It had to have been good.

But maybe it wasn’t.

“That fine, Faraday?”

“Yeah, that’s fine,” he hears himself say, shrugging his shoulders like it doesn’t matter. He feels like he can barely move, barely get a word out. And yet, he’s talking. He’s moving. He’s sounding like it’s no skin off his back. “If it ain’t working, it ain’t working.”

He wants to push his face into Vasquez’s neck again, wants Vasquez to wrap him in a towel. Wants to fall asleep on his shoulder. Wants Vasquez to stay next to him all night and card his fingers through Faraday’s hair. As if that’d ever happen.

“Figure I should probably head off,” Faraday says. “Get out of your hair.”

“You can stay,” Vasquez says. “We’re still friends, guero. Simplemente no --”

“I know, amigo,” Faraday interrupts. Yeah, Yeah, he knows what he’s not. He can’t even be bothered with his normal atrocious pronunciation. “I’ve got things I have to do today, is all.”

He’s between jobs right now, like he always is. But he’s sure he can find something to occupy his time. Gambling, maybe. He could always get ahead on his rent money.

“Faraday,” Vasquez starts.

Faraday pats him on the shoulder. Maybe a little harder than necessary. It’s the bro-iest of pats. The most detached thing he can manage. “See you around, compadre.” This time, at least, he sounds a little more believable.

--

C'est la vie,” Goody tells him.

“Sometimes, things happen for a reason,” Billy says.

Neither of those things are very comforting, Faraday thinks. Especially coming from the most well-matched, stable couple he knows.

--

“You’re an idiot,” Chisholm, at least, tells it to him straight. The man even buys Faraday a cup of doctored-up coffee, even though he doesn’t deserve it. “I told you to talk to him. Not make your whole problem worse.”

“I’m not so good at talking.”

“Clearly,” Sam says.

Faraday hasn’t seen Vasquez in a couple of weeks. Well, that’s not totally true. He’s seen the man plenty, but he hasn’t gotten a chance to actually talk to him. Vasquez is always busy whenever Faraday’s around. And Faraday isn’t an idiot enough to bother Vasquez when he clearly doesn’t want to be bothered. So, he doesn’t. He doesn’t want to mess this whole thing up even worse than it already is. Faraday figures he’ll let his own emotions blow over and then everything will be back to normal.

So, Faraday spends his time doing other things. He drinks too much and picks fights. He drinks too much and goes home with strangers who are tall, dark, handsome. He drinks too much and ends up sitting on the floor of his own shower too many times to count, always wondering how he even got home in the first place.

He doesn’t have to wonder how he got into this mess: he knows that much for sure.

But knowing and learning are two very different things. He shouldn’t have yielded to his desires like that, shouldn’t have let himself fall toward Vasquez with every inch of his being while knowing it was going nowhere. He shouldn’t yield to his desire to absolutely crumble now, but he can’t resist when it feels so good. When it feels, fundamentally, like what he should be doing. What he deserves.

Unhealthy, Faraday tells himself. Obviously it is. It’s just about the worst coping mechanism he could ever come up with. But he doesn’t see much of a reason to stop.

--

“Where’s Vas?” Faraday asks Red, when he finds him next to the firepit one lazy Sunday afternoon. It’s getting cold outside, winter nipping on on the heels of autumn. He’s already had a few drinks. Enough that he can’t stop the nickname from slipping out.

“On a date.” Red says.

It feels like Faraday can actually hear the sound of a record skipping in his ears, the words are that jarring.

“Vasquez doesn’t date.”

Red levels him with a look. “Neither do you.”

“That’d different. I don’t date because --” Because he’s madly in love with the person he’d consider his best friend. He doesn’t need to say it aloud. Red probably already knows -- scratch that -- Red totally already knows. “Me not dating has nothing to do with the fact that Vas doesn’t date.” Talking to Red, if he actually talks, that is, is always like trying to solve a riddle. Faraday’s never been much good at riddles; he’s not damn near smart enough.

“You’re a disaster,” Red says. It’s pretty on brand with what else Faraday’s been hearing. “I’m not fighting your battles for you,” Red says.

“I know you’re not.” Why would he be? Faraday’s confused. Why doesn’t Red ever have a linear conversation? “I’m not asking you to.”

“Talk to Vasquez, then,” Red tells him.

Ugh, that’s the last thing that he wants to do.

“Vasquez is on a date.” Faraday snaps back. He can’t very well talk to someone who’s on a date. That would make him a terrible friend.

Red rolls his eyes and then looks at the fire. He doesn’t answer Faraday, which is fair. It’s totally fair.

Faraday pulls out his phone and pulls up his message history with Vasquez. He hasn’t texted the guy in a while. Nor has Vasquez texted him, really.

sup, Faraday sends, after way too long deliberating. Three little letters that took what feels like five minutes to come up with.

“See? He’s not answering. He’s busy,” Faraday says, after another few minutes of silence between them. He waves the phone at Red, like he can read the unanswered message while Faraday twists the phone through the air.

Red just hums. He doesn’t need to tell Faraday that he’s an idiot: it’s implied. It’s also known.

Later, while Faraday is getting himself another drink in the kitchen, he can’t help but pull out his phone. No new messages.

red said ur on a date. hope its going well, Faraday types, while not meaning a goddamn word of it. He doesn’t even know why he sent it, just that a minute later he wishes he hadn’t. He hopes Vasquez doesn’t read it as the desperate stab that it is. He hopes Vasquez reads it for what it says, even though it’s a blatant lie. The man deserves a nice date, even though Faraday doesn’t want him to have a good time at all.

Later, Faraday sends Vasquez a picture of the fire. He manages to send it with no accompanying words.

Even later, he sends: not the same w/o you here

In rapid succession, he sends way too many broken heart emojis to even count. Then, one beer bottle for good measure.

He wishes he could send a smashed-beer-bottle emoji. That feels pretty accurate to his mood.

It really isn’t the same, though. Even the nights that they don’t fall into and against each other, Faraday can always count on Vasquez to keep him company. He finds himself sitting by the fire with everyone else around him, but feeling even more alone than ever. Loneliness, Faraday thinks. It’s such a weird thing, that. Vasquez would probably call him melodramatic, but he really does feel out of place, a few seconds out of line with the rest of the world.

Still no text from Vasquez.

Faraday lets his eyes fall on Billy and Goody, watches the way they bump knees and lean their shoulders against each other. He watches the way Goody’s hand falls on Billy’s knee, the way Billy smiles back up at his man.

The hot stab of yearning is unexpected in its ferocity. Faraday wants that . He wants the easy affection, the love that exists between the two of them. Not just the passion, but the quiet connection that comes with it. The trust. The happiness. The ease. The need for nothing else in the world.

He wants something he never really figured he’d be pining after. And suddenly, it’s too much to bear.

Faraday pushes himself up and heads out, not a word of goodbye; he doesn’t trust his voice not to break.

--

He calls Vasquez.

It rings and rings --

Vasquez doesn’t pick up.

--

Faraday finds himself at his favorite dive. The one he normally goes to with Vasquez. It’s always weirdly busy on Sundays -- all lonely losers like him, searching for a place to belong -- so Faraday melts himself right into the crowd. He has a couple more drinks, and is bought a few more, once he finds some guy who looks just as lonely as he does. The guy checks enough boxes, even though he’s chattier than Faraday’d like. He’s handsy, though, which is perfectly fine. He keeps reaching out to make a connection, to share a little warmth. Faraday likes that, too, likes feeling like he’s not quite so alone tonight.

Faraday can barely feel his face when the guy kisses him. It’s not bad, though.

They stumble into the back of the bar and then they tumble out the door to the back alley. The man presses Faraday up against the wall and kisses him until his lips are bruised. It’s a rush, he thinks, the cold air and the pain, and it makes him feel a little more alive. A little more centered.

Faraday shoves at the guy -- he doesn’t think he even got a name and doesn’t want one -- until Faraday’s the one pressing him up against the rough and dirty brick. He then drops to his knees in the gutter, tugs at the guy’s pants until his cock is free, and sucks him off -- hard and fast.

The guy spouts nonsense at him, calls him perfect, calls him dirty, calls him every name in the book. Faraday’s throat burns and he feels a little nauseous, but it’s so good when the guy pulls at his hair and makes it hurt. It makes him forget, just for a little while, the aching and terrible feeling that’s pressing in on him from all sides.

It takes Faraday a second after the guy has come to get his head to stop spinning. He feels lighter, looser. Not perfect, but not as broken as he could.

His phone buzzes in his pocket, just as the guy’s pulling Faraday off his knees, grabbing at him and palming Faraday’s half-hard dick.

“Wait,” Faraday says, fumbling for his phone.

“I think that can wait,” the guy says, but he gives Faraday time.

Phone died. You alright, guero? Vasquez’s text says. So simple, so easy.

Faraday looks at the guy, looks at the desirous way he’s looking back at Faraday. He could have this. He could maybe even keep this, if he tried hard enough. The guy mentioned, at some point, going back to his afterward. Like this didn’t have to be just some fling. That they both didn’t have to be alone. Faraday could, for once in his life, try for something.

But if he’s going to try for anything, it ain’t gonna be this.

“Sorry,” he says. “Fuck, I’m so sorry.” His voice is rough and raw, and the nausea still comes in waves.

“I’ll get you a cab,” the guy says. He runs his fingers down Faraday’s jaw one last time before he slips a piece of paper into Faraday’s pocket. “My number, if you ever want it.”

“Take care of yourself,” the guy says, before closing the door to the cab.

When the cab driver asks where he wants to go, Faraday gives him the only address he can think of.

--

Faraday hasn’t been sitting at Vasquez’s door for too long -- maybe half an hour, maybe a bit less -- when the other man comes home. Faraday has his eyes closed, his head tilted up toward the ceiling, so he doesn’t see Vasquez coming. But he hears the ding of the elevator, hears the familiar lilt of Vasquez’s steps. He hears him pause for a moment, probably after catching sight of Faraday slouched up against his door, and then he hears him start walking again.

“Hey,” Faraday says, when he hears Vasquez come to a stop in front of him.

He cracks open his eyes and hisses at the brightness he is greeted with. Vasquez looks like an angel, haloed in fluorescent light. He also looks genuinely shocked to see Faraday here. Not resigned like Faraday thought he’d be.

“Guero,” Vasquez says. He squats down next to Faraday instead of kicking at him and telling him to get to his feet. “Are you alright?”

It’s about as plain a question as Vasquez has ever asked. It’s also more personal than normal. Usually Faraday’s granted a little more leeway for his feelings.

“Missed you, Vas,” he answers. He missed Vasquez so much. It’s truly unfair how hard his feelings have gotten ahold of him, how deep their roots have grown into his ribs. He doesn’t think he can prune them now. Doesn’t think he wants to, either.

Vas reaches out and runs his hand over Faraday’s hair. He shouldn’t do that -- Faraday is gross and sweaty and dirty. He’s a mess. Vasquez shouldn’t want to touch him, but he is anyway. “Levántate, guero. Let’s get you inside,” Vasquez says, wrapping an arm around Faraday to haul him to his feet.

God, but Vasquez is strong. Faraday always forgets that he’s packed with muscle, with power.

They bypass the kitchen, the living room, and end up in the bedroom. Faraday veers toward the bed, but Vasquez steers him in the direction of the bathroom instead. “You smell like a fire. And a bar,” he says by means of explanation, when Faraday groans his annoyance.

Vasquez tugs Faraday out of his clothes, providing balance when he can so that Faraday can do most of the work. He knows that he smells like sweat and probably a little like sex, but Vasquez doesn’t mention it, so Faraday keeps his mouth shut.

Faraday ends up under the spray of water, leaning up against the cool tiles of the wall with his eyes closed. It’s nice, he thinks, this moment of serene quiet. He doesn’t expect it to last, though; he expects his treacherous emotions to come crashing in at any point in time to ruin the party.

He also doesn’t expect to feel Vasquez’s naked body behind him. Doesn’t expect to find hands in his hair, rubbing the shampoo into his hair.

“How was your date?” Faraday asks, when he really just meant to say hey, thanks .

Vasquez’s hands still for a moment, and then start moving again. “Eh. Not terrible,” he says. He works the shampoo into a lather and gently pushes Faraday toward the stream of water until Faraday dunks his hair and rinses out all the suds. When he pulls back, he blinks his eyes open and looks at Vasquez through wet eyelashes. God, he’s the hottest damn thing Faraday has ever seen.

“Actually,” Vasquez says, “it was really fucking terrible.”

“Yeah?” Faraday says. Somehow his hands end up covered in soap. He starts working them over Vasquez’s torso, mostly just delighting in the slide of his fingers over a well-muscled form.

“Yeah,” Vasquez echoes. “I realized halfway through that I -- dios -- que no quería estar allí,” he says.

“You know I don’t speak Mexican,” Faraday says. His heart thuds noisily in his ears. The sound of the shower is near-deafening.

Sí, lo sé,” Vasquez says, and catches him in a kiss. Faraday thinks he probably deserves not knowing what Vasquez is saying, but he doesn’t think he deserves the kiss. He’ll take it though, no complaints. He just feels a bit off-balance, is all. A bit like Vasquez is leading Faraday in a dance he doesn’t understand and the music is so far away.

“I know that you don’t --” Vasquez says. “And I know that you’re a fucking mess --” he says. Faraday has no goddamn clue what he’s trying to say. “But I missed you, guero. I missed this. Whatever this is.”

Vasquez kisses him again. Faraday grabs at him with soapy hands, tries to press himself closer. He’s had enough to drink that his balance isn’t great, that he only ends up crowding Vasquez against the wall. Faraday kisses him back with all he has before breaking it, before kissing Vasquez’s perfect jaw, his beautiful neck.

“I want you,” Faraday says, because now feels like as good a time as any.

“We’ll fall here,” Vasquez says, nodding at the shower floor. “Bed.”

No, wait. Faraday shakes his head, sending droplets of water everywhere. Yes, but no. God, he wants -- but, no. “That’s not -- I fucking want you, Vas.”

Vas looks at him like he’s dumb. Like Faraday’s drunker than he is and doesn’t know what he’s saying.

Oh, but Faraday knows what he’s saying. He knows all too well what he’s saying. Sure, the words tumble out of his mouth faster than he can truly think about them, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know what he’s saying. “I want you, Vas. I want everything with you. Not just -- all the shit that we’ve done,” because god, they’ve done so much. “Even though that’s so good, too.

“I want to sleep with you. To fall asleep with you. To wake up and have you there. I want to cook with you, and sit with you, just fucking be with you. I want all that dumb sappy romantic shit I gripe about. I want all that, everything I can possibly have, with you. Because goddamn,” Faraday says, “goddamn, Vas, I love you so much.”

Vasquez is quiet. He looks shellshocked, staring straight at Faraday with a stunned expression on his face.

Finally, he talks, “You are very drunk, guero.”

Faraday was very drunk two hours ago. Now, he’s sober enough to know that he’s probably made a huge mistake. But at least it’s all out in the open now. It -- feels strangely liberating, he thinks. Like a huge weight has been lifted off his shoulders. Even if Vasquez turns him down, or laughs him out of his apartment -- both likely -- it was something he had to do. Faraday might not be the bravest of men, but he has balls on occasion.

“If you’re gonna turn me down, can you at least do it when I have pants on?” Faraday asks. He turns off the shower and watches Vasquez grab two towels on what looks like autopilot. It’s sort of weird to watch. Like looking in a twisted mirror.

“You’re drunk,” Vasquez repeats.

Faraday towels off his hair, feeling lighter than before. “Yeah, a bit.” He knows the rejection is coming: he’s always known. That’s what makes it so easy, he thinks. There’s no uncertain consequences here.

“No, very drunk.”

“I think I know how drunk I am, Vas.”

Eres un idiota,” Vasquez tells him.

“Well now I know what that means,” Faraday says. Because he’s smart like that.

When Faraday goes to pick up his jeans, Vasquez hands him pajama pants instead. Faraday raises an eyebrow. “You aren’t kicking me out?”

“What you said,” Vasquez starts, then stops for a long moment. “Did you mean it?”

“Why the fuck wouldn’t I mean it?” Faraday asks. Why would he pull his heart out of his chest like that and shove it in Vasquez’s general direction if he didn’t mean it?

Vasquez sits down on the bed. Faraday sits down next to him, feeling strange. Feeling -- maybe a little unsure. Like the ground’s been kicked out beneath him and he’s teetering on the edge of something vast and wide.

“Because you’re drunk and stupid?” Vasquez answers.

Faraday laughs. He is both of those things. Maybe one more-so than the other, right now. “Stupid for you, more like.” Faraday mutters. He wants to reach out and touch -- but he doesn’t know where they stand anymore. A minute ago, Vasquez was offering Faraday his bed. Now, they’re only inches apart but it feels more like miles.

“I love you, Vasquez,” Faraday says, because he has nothing to lose at this point. "I'm head over goddamn heels." And he’s spent so long not saying it that it feels like he’s releasing pent up pressure every time he does. It feels good, it feels true. “Sorry for fucking everything up.” He is. Kind of. But not really. He doesn’t know how not to be in love with Vasquez. And if it was a choice, he wouldn’t take it.

“You mean it?” Vasquez asks.

“Yes, goddamn it,” Faraday says, shoving at Vasquez this time, a hand at his shoulder. “Quit calling me a liar. I ain’t a liar -- not about this, anyhow.”

He doesn’t get why it’s such a big deal, why Vasquez won’t let it go. He’s about to ask, to maybe get up in Vasquez’s face a bit, when he realizes that Vasquez is already in his. And, suddenly, Vas is kissing him. It’s slow and passionate, and so strangely intimate and close. Vazquez has never kissed Faraday like this before. Hell, Faraday’s never kissed anyone like this before.

Vas is on top of him before he knows it, pushing Faraday onto the bed, running deft fingers through his hair, pressing close in, around, and against him.

Of all the ways Faraday thought this would go, even with the goddamn Spanish Inquisition from Vasquez a moment ago, he never thought that this would be one of them.

“Hold up,” Faraday says, pulling back as best he can, panting. “I’m a little confused.”

“You’re always confused, querido.” Vasquez says, looking damn pleased with himself. Well, that’s a new one.

“Does that mean ‘handsome,’ then?” Faraday asks.

Vasquez just laughs and presses a kiss to Faraday’s lips. “Te amo, guero. I love you too.”

Faraday wants to ask what , wants to throw his hands up in the air and ask why he’s been granted this goddamn miracle, but even he knows better than to press his luck like that. If he’s being given this, he’s not about to take it for granted, that’s for sure.

So he takes it and cherishes it as hard as he possibly can. He lets Vasquez push him into the bed. He lets Vasquez kiss him until he’s dizzy. He lets Vasquez slide them both back out of their pajama pants and kiss every inch of his skin.

After a moment, Faraday pushes Vasquez over and worships his body with his mouth. He has to show Vasquez just how much he loves him, how much he adores him. How much Faraday appreciates every moment with him. And Vasquez -- well, Vasquez lets Faraday know just how much he appreciate that love and attention with all the little sounds Faraday pulls from him. Little gasps, lengthy moans, breathy, panted words in multiple languages. Vasquez is beautiful, in this moment and in every moment, and Faraday cannot believe his damn luck.

Faraday lets himself enjoy it, he lets himself savor it all.

He takes his time, because what better time than now?

--

In the morning, he wakes up to sunlight streaming in through the window and Vasquez spread out beside him like a work of art. Faraday ain’t much one for looking at paintings or sculptures, but if they all looked like Vasquez now -- all soft lines and glowing angles -- well, he’d go to museums much more frequently.

“Hey,” Faraday says, when Vasquez’s eyes flutter open. He can’t help but smile, even though the apprehension and anxiety are there, sitting heavy at the underside of his ribs. The what if’s that he just can’t get past: what if Vasquez changes his mind? What if he kicks Faraday up and out? What if, what if, what if?

“It’s too early, querido,” Vasquez says, instead of doing any of those things. He throws an arm around Faraday and pulls him close. He smells like sweat, like spice, like home. “Go back to sleep.”

That, Faraday can do.