Word Count: 2,147
Warning: Implied dub-con
Notes: This has been percolating around in my head ever since watching Colin in 'Our Private Life' a few times. I consider Carlos to be an extremely inspirational character - particularly in the red apron, and I'm only sorry it's taken until now for fic to make its way out of my brain :)
Summary: Carlos and his boss at the grill don't really have a relationship at all.
Carlos was a nervous guy. Sometimes. His foot would tap, and his fingers would jerk; he was just twitchy that way. He’d make Edgar afraid when he wielded a knife to cut the lettuce, the tomato. But he never did cut himself at work, or anyone else, however erratically he behaved. No, Carlos never cut anything by accident.
Edgar would like to think that was the reason he employed Carlos at the Icaro Grill in the first place, for his skills, but he knew that wasn't true. He liked occasionally to pretend he was currying favour with the family, with Carlos’ brother perhaps, who managed the new shopping centre - that he was hoping for a crumb or two to fall from that shiny new edifice with its air-conditioning and its escalators, perhaps the promise of an outlet in the new mall, Icaro going up-market. But Edgar knew that wasn't true either.
However jerky Carlos got, however odd and weird, however cruel, he was still intensely beautiful. That was the first thing Edgar noticed. He shouldn’t have been looking really, because it was hardly professional, but he was hiring for a new grill cook in the overheated back room, sweat pouring off him, sticky under his apron, so maybe he wasn’t feeling as professional as all that, or as forgiving, or as patient. And then Carlos had walked in. He’d slid down into the hard plastic chair like his body would go on forever, and he’d kicked his skinny legs out and then folded one ankle up onto one thigh, and just stared. He didn’t even want the job, that’s what Edgar had realised as Carlos stared at him, insolent and brittle and so fucking pretty - because it wasn’t like the whole town didn’t know about the Reyes’ troubled son. He’d wondered what blackmail had been employed to even get Carlos down here for the interview. He knew Carlos expected to fail it before he even opened his lovely lying mouth.
It had given Edgar a bitter satisfaction to offer him the job. The look of surprise on Carlos’ face had almost been worth it alone, with its hint of vulnerability, before the anger had swooped in, snapping his eyes into fire. Edgar felt like he’d won a victory, but it had only ever been the opening skirmish of a long drawn out war.
Carlos was a vegetarian. That was the first thing they clashed over - well, not the first thing, but it was close enough. Carlos didn’t like to think of all those baby animals slaughtered and then dismembered onto Edgar’s grill. He wouldn’t handle the meat, he’d only handle the vegetables, cut up the onion and tomato, shred the lettuce. Edgar would say what was the point of a grill cook who didn’t grill? But Carlos would only blink at him slowly, before curling his lip and saying, “You can always fire me.” It ended all their arguments, because Edgar couldn’t do that - he might never see Carlos again.
“You’re too thin,” said Edgar one day, in a change of tack, and Carlos had snorted as though he’d heard it all before. Maybe he had, but that didn’t make it untrue. Edgar ran one finger down the back of Carlos’ long-sleeved t-shirt, feeling all the bumps and knobs of his spine. It illustrated the point, Edgar thought, rather nicely. “If you ate meat, it would give you some flesh on your bones - give you some strength, some iron in your gut. You could stand up to your father.”
Carlos had glanced at him, sidelong and knowing. Edgar shrugged. He knew what he was doing, what he was suggesting. “What do you know? You don’t talk to your father,” said Carlos, finally, and Edgar hit back quick as a flash, “But he knows I’m gay.”
“That’s why he doesn’t talk to you,” said Carlos, but his lips were curling up into a smile.
Edgar counted it a win, but not because of the smile. When he’d touched Carlos, when he’d felt the warmth of his body through his t-shirt, smelt the spiciness of his scent - Carlos hadn’t moved away. Carlos had, in fact, shivered slightly. Edgar felt he could have wrestled bears.
“What happened to you?” Carlos asked suddenly, on another day, “What horrible thing happened to make you gay?”
Edgar paused in his cooking, just stood watching the fat bubble from the meat, invisible before, but suddenly there, oozing its way out before sizzling away into nothing on his griddle plate. If only it was so easy. “Nothing,” he said, “I didn’t do anything.”
“That’s not what I asked,” said Carlos, and his voice was thin and high, so far away. Edgar wanted to wrap him up and keep him from all harm, but he wasn’t allowed to even hug him. It was driving him slowly insane.
Carlos was a compulsive fantasist. Edgar hadn’t realised what that meant, not really. Then he walked into the back room at the grill to find the cheap white plastic table and chairs daubed in crimson, the sluggish colour of an open vein. There were smears too on the walls, on the floor, as though a butcher had gone mad with the draining tray, or a dying chicken had run around spraying arterial blood from its chopped neck. He’d gasped, because it was so incongruous, so horrific, just staring until Carlos had said, “I’m sorry,” faintly, as though he apologised for the mess, and not for the long cuts that decorated his arms. There was a butcher’s knife on the floor near his right hand, its handle sticky with more blood.
“The knife threatened me,” said Carlos, still sitting on the floor, looking at it with detached interest. “It said if I didn’t do what it wanted then it would hurt you instead. Instead of chopping up the lumps of beef, the bits of baby cow, it would go after you. It would turn on you.”
“Oh Carlos,” said Edgar, his voice scratchy. He stepped carefully through the room, avoiding the splatters and small puddles, until he could slide down the wall beside Carlos. The bright red of their aprons offered a strange symmetry to it all, Edgar thought. He looked at the cuts on Carlos' arms, they were extraordinarily precise, in several parallel rows. There was the gleam of old scars beneath them.
“It’s ok,” said Carlos, nudging him with his shoulder, “It only wanted me to dance. I quite like dancing the cumbia, actually.”
His parents didn't find out, not that time. Edgar took Carlos to the hospital, but in the big city, driving him thirty miles in his beat up truck, bouncing over potholes all the way. Carlos didn't once complain.
No-one knew them there, and in the emergency clinic they were both fussed over and disapproved of in equal measure. Edgar had never had so many glares directed his way and more than one nurse clicked her tongue at him, as though to say, 'La, what can you do - they're gay, they're going to Hell anyway. What's one more sin? No wonder he doesn't take good care of his boyfriend.'
Carlos sat silent, looking small and grey, and nothing like himself. Edgar couldn't say, I'm not his boyfriend, he won't let me be; even though he did get to hold Carlos' hands as they stitched him up. They felt too cool to Edgar, his wrists too thin, and although once he felt fingers tightening against his own, he didn't allow himself to assume anything. It might have been the pain.
Similarly, Edgar didn't say anything when one nurse, motherly but with her mouth pursed as though she'd tasted lemons, thrust a paper bag into his hands that proved on inspection to contain condoms. Because he wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry.
Carlos was bipolar. His eyes were bright with mania as he screamed at Edgar, their lids pink from both tears and anger. Edgar held both his wrists in one hand, as Carlos fought, twisting and turning, as though a bird was beating its wings against immutable cage bars. He didn't want to hurt him. But he didn't want him to hurt himself either - not any more.
"I don't love you, you know!" Carlos spat into his face before Edgar could turn his head away.
"I know," he whispered, as though they were in on a joke, some sort of sick Star Wars parallel, but he didn't stop holding on. He couldn't help it.
"So," said Edgar, his eyes on the boy opposite him, in the hard white plastic chair. "You don't want this job, do you? So why are you even here?"
The boy - Carlos - raised his insolent eyes to Edgar's face for the first time. It was like being punched in the chest - his gaze was so razor-sharp, so young, so full of bravado and stupidity, but also so very beautiful. This boy with such an attitude, and a face like an angel, made Edgar realise how much he wanted something he shouldn't even be thinking about - how that made him feel dangerously reckless.
Carlos was rocking on his chair, tipping it backwards and forwards with only one thin leg anchoring him to the ground, his other foot folded up onto his thigh. The sole of the shoe was brown, worn to the black rubber in places. Edgar didn't know why he noted it.
"My mother wanted me to apply and my brother threatened to beat me up if I didn't show." Carlos looked aside, his hands fiddling with the long sleeves of his t-shirt. "My father doesn't care what I do - he's always at the stupid farm. I don't care what I do either. Do you?"
Edgar's head was thumping, the heat from the griddles and the sun beating down on the metal roof turned even this quiet back room into some kind of torture chamber. There was a strong smell of onions from the boxes of veg that lined one wall. He stood up, feeling the sweat run unpleasantly down the middle of his back.
"No," he said, lying.
Carlos stood then too, in the same fluid movement he used to sit down. "I'll just go, shall I? Tell Mum the interview went well, that I'll wait to hear from you."
His face was shutting down already, a young idiot moving from potential challenge to indifference. He looked bored already, like the run-down battery in a new toy. The brilliant beauty of him guttering into nothing.
The room was small, and Edgar was by the door. When Carlos went to leave he would have to push past him, and Edgar found he wanted to see that challenge back in Carlos' eyes. It didn't take much. Edgar was built on solid lines, muscles strong under his red apron, and when Carlos put his long fingers onto his shirt and pushed, he just didn't move.
"What?" Carlos looked surprised, as though things like this didn't happen to him. Perhaps they didn't.
"You've got the job," said Edgar, hearing his voice deepen, feeling the saliva dry in his mouth. "On one condition..."
"Yeah, and what's that then?"
Edgar leaned forward a very little, and up slightly more. Carlos tasted of cherry soda, his lips full and soft, and still cool despite the heat. Edgar wanted to bite, so he did, sucking one plump lip between his teeth, scratching and licking at it like a dog with a marrow bone. He found his hands were now resting on Carlos' slim hips, kneading them, desperate to pull him closer, but instead he held himself still, because shame might be an added spice in small doses but he didn't want to sicken himself.
Pulling back, Edgar whispered against Carlos' lush mouth, "Tell me you don't want this, and I'll stop." He could feel Carlos' hand still on his chest, but now fisted in his shirt. He could feel the soft gusts of his breath on his cheek, sweet and rapid. But he didn't say no.
Just as softly, Carlos whispered back, "You're my boss, that's all. But you're not my boyfriend - not ever. Remember that."
Then he shimmied round in Edgar's arms and lent against the hard white plastic table, arse provokingly in the air, skinny jeans riding low on his hips.
It seemed that Carlos would have his interview after all.