here, beneath my lungs

I feel your thumbs, press into my skin again
Singing is Not Without You

Summary: Carlos just doesn’t want to sing without James. Takes place during Big Time Concert.

            Big Time Rush was not supposed to be a trio.

            Kendall, Logan, and Carlos… those three names did not fit well together without there being a James after, or before— heck it didn’t matter, as long as there was a James in there somewhere! There should be, there had to be, which was why it was driving Carlos insane that there wasn’t.

            There was just Kendall, Logan, and Carlos. That was it.

Apparently, that was the decided decision of Gustavo, Kelly, and everyone. Everyone but himself.

He would’ve spoken up. He really would’ve, but speaking was useless, useless when it had unanimously been agreed that James wasn’t coming back. They’d already tried going to talk to him to personally persuade him, failed at trying to find a replacement, and now, running out of time, they’d come down to the final straw of the game.

They’d settled for BTR becoming a three-person band.

How horrible.

Being in a band without James was the last thing he wanted to do— singing without James, dancing without James, playing video games without James, sleeping without James, breathing without James, existing without James. All these thoughts overwhelmed him at once when the decision was announced.

And then, sitting on a carpet, discussing with Logan, Kendall, and Gustavo the rearrangements of their singing parts in their songs, it finally hit Carlos. He wasn’t just losing a band mate, he wasn’t just losing a co-worker he could’ve spent years singing alongside with. He was losing his best-friend, his companion, his everything.

Now watching as Gustavo crossed out James names next to his assigned parts on the lyrics sheet and replacing them with either Kendall’s or Logan’s, he felt his heart-ache, his stomach tighten uncomfortably. Every X over his name, every scratch that appeared as they went down the paper, it felt as if they were slowly erasing James from his existence. They were ridding him, removing him, and it hurt him to think that Big Time Rush was about to go on without him.

What would this band be like in three years? He wondered. Would he completely forget James and just live his life in this pop-star reality alongside Kendall and Logan, smiling and being-carefree, going wherever the road decided to take him?

Yeah right, like that would ever happen.

He knew he could never forget James in a million years. They’d spent the gist of their childhood together, running around each other’s backyards, throwing spit balls in class together, getting scolded for drawing with crayon’s on James’ bedroom wall. Carlos could not escape those memories or the thousands of others with them growing up together, experiencing hardships and offering condolences with comfort when things got ugly.

But most of all, how could he forget someone he’s been in love with for the better part of four years now? Yeah, he hasn’t been able to really admit to anyone, keeping it a silent confession since the day it dawned on him, but it was true, real. Carlos liked James in a way he thought should not be possible—for how could someone like someone else this much?—but he did. There was absolutely no one in this world that could make him forget James’ chestnut locks, bright hazel eyes, charming smile. No one could replace him, he knew, and that’s why he was comforted a little bit when Gustavo announced that they weren’t going to seek out a replacement.

He couldn’t say that going on without James was any better though.

He did not have the heart in it to sing lyrics to songs that he did not mean, to sing about a victory that not was, to sing about a love that was no longer there.

It’s why it pained him when, after running through a quick choreography rehearsal, he, Kendall, and Logan were each handed mics and told to run through the opening act in front of Gustavo, Kelly, Mrs. Knight, and Katie. It all felt so wrong.

It didn’t work. Of course it wouldn’t work, they’d been practicing so long with just the four of them, side-by-side harmonies and dances that it’d been drilled into each of their brains to perform in the way that they had been taught with each other, with James. He was their missing link, and it felt entirely awkward without him there. It was as if a connection had been severely broken and without hearing his voice in the mixture of theirs, without his signals, or beings, his drive or passion, this performance was not what it could be.

Every time he bumped into either Logan or Kendall and he saw their anxious faces he knew they felt it to. The emptiness, loneliness, uncertainty—- he wondered if they thought the same thing that he did, that this band could simply not be without James. He knew they knew, but Kendall and Logan were strong enough to push on.

He wasn’t.

Every vocal that slipped from his lips felt like a searing cut along his chest. He missed James, oh god he missed him, and to even be doing something so much like singing, especially when he was so miserable and constantly reminded being reminded of him, he felt like it was a sin.

Carlos didn’t think he could put up with it much longer.

Gustavo’s angry holler about them having a concert in two days after putting everything on the line for them and them completely stinking broke the boys out of their routine. All three of them paused in their movements after crashing into each other for about the billionth time.

Really they didn’t need to hear it from Gustavo to know, it was really obvious that they were screwing up bad.

"Yeah, well, the choreography is completely different with just the three of us," Logan had replied in nearly a snappy matter, completely frustrated with all this pressure that was being put on him.

“Everything’s different with just the three of us.” Carlos couldn’t help but add bitterly, mind remembering what once was.

"Look , don’t worry, we’ll figure this out. Have we ever let you down?" He heard Kendall step in trying to be the faithful leader he always was, though Carlos could hardly even bring himself to believe that statement. They could not figure this out.

“That’s not the point. The point is: James is not coming back.”

Once those words were uttered Carlos felt as if he’d just been stabbed. He knew it was the truth, but to hear it spoken out-loud in a manner so harshly made it hurt a whole lot worse.

"Now, I don’t care what you sing, but look like you’re enjoying it, or I will destroy ALL OF YOU!" Gustavo couldn’t have barked any louder, and his screaming rang loud in his ears making him unconsciously cringe in response.

This day couldn’t possibly get any worse. He’s lost his best-friend, everyone has given up on him, he’s forced to keep this band going when he can hardly keep himself together, and now he has to act like he’s having the time of his life when he’s very well not. How can he do that? How can he pretend when life is complete without James when, in reality, all of his life is about him?

Never mind that he hasn’t told James of his feelings, but at least he’d had the other by his side to enjoy and right now that’s all he really wanted.

He wanted James by his side.

“Ohhhh you’re such a turd,” Kendall had started up singing the familiar line of the song they’d made up about Gustavo from way back in Minnesota and Carlos couldn’t deny the smile that stretched upon his face in hearing it. There was no way he could keep a straight face listening to that joke.

He glanced over at Logan who seemed to be getting a kick out of it too, and suddenly all three of them ended up singing it together, spinning and grinning. It was a nice little trip down memory lane when things were simple, when this concert was pressuring them, when they were together, and James was just the one of their group determined to become a star, though Gustavo wasn’t very nice at letting that happen so easily. It only made it all the more funny and Carlos got a simple joy in imagining just living back in those days.

The next thing that happened could only be described as short of a miracle.

Seemingly out of nowhere, amidst their voices, a louder, more distinct one rang out. Clear, cutting, and sleek, the passionate vocals that could only belong to that of the James Diamond rang throughout the studio, completing the song on a powerful end-note, causing all three boys to cease in their singing. Carlos had to catch a breather real quick at the sight of the taller boy striding in through the opened door, head-spinning and thoughts spiraling.

Was this real? Was this really happening?

And when James failed to fade before his eyes, failed to disappear and not exist Carlos knew in an instant that he was really, really here.

He jumped in glee and ran as fast as his feet could carry him to the other boy. Maybe he shouted out his name, or he didn’t, he couldn’t remember. All he remembered was his overjoyed nature, of watching Kendall and Logan reunite with James again, of wanting to scream and tackling James in the tightest hug he could muster around his waist before lifting him up. Sure it might’ve looked silly, especially at their age, but Carlos could immediately care less. He was in love with this man and nothing could stop him from touching him right now because he was the happiest person alive that he’d come back, that he’d returned.

From somewhere above he heard James laugh, that delirious addicting laugh of his, and suddenly he felt this pulling desire to lower the brunet down and kiss him, but the instant he did he decided not to. He offered a wide smile instead, which James returned in that simple manner that made him feel butterflies inside every time.

Yeah. The kiss could wait for another time. He was pleased as could be right now already because, honestly, he had James back in his life again and what could be better than that?

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