rensahannou: (Default)
[personal profile] rensahannou
Title: Free Hugs
Disclaimer: Still not my boys, although I kind of love them like they were.
Pairings/Characters: Kendall/Carlos
Rating: PG
Word Count: ~3,700
Warnings: fluffiness, poorly described arts-and-crafts projects (there's a link at the end to explain it!)

Summary: "It's about a week before Carlos's 18th birthday when Kendall finally figures out what to do with all of those coupons."

Author's Notes: Written for [livejournal.com profile] shisou_eimin when she demanded fluffy!Kenlos from me. ♥


----

It started in elementary school. They had to make gifts for Mother's Day, and the teacher decided they should all make their moms a coupon book, with chores like 'clean my room for an hour' or 'water the plants,' things like that. But one of the suggestions the teacher gave was a coupon for a 'free hug,' 'cause moms like hugs and all, and Carlos latched onto the idea immediately.

His entire coupon book consisted of free hug coupons, and if Kendall's remembering right Carlos's mom was ecstatic.

It became sort of a phase after that, with Carlos making and giving away coupons for hugs to basically anyone who would take one, namely their entire class, all of their teachers, and the immediate family members of all four of them. Carlos was a kid so the adults mostly indulged him, although Kendall never saw a teacher actually use a coupon. Their classmates had mixed reactions. A lot of the girls thought it was cute and redeemed their coupons occasionally, and even one or two of the guys did just because everyone loved Carlos and getting a hug from him wasn't really seen as weird. Others thought they were above the whole thing and ignored the coupons entirely or worse, snickered at them, which Kendall did not appreciate.

Kendall, James, and Logan had their own individual reactions as well. James wanted to know why he needed a silly coupon to get a hug from Carlos, but then wondered if he could somehow use these coupons to his advantage, bartering with girls in the class for cooler things like the snacks from their lunches. Logan thanked Carlos in obvious confusion, redeemed one of the coupons immediately so Carlos wouldn't feel bad, and then gave the rest to James when Carlos wasn't around.

And as for Kendall, well. Kendall saved the coupons. Every single one, from that initial frenetic crayon-colored giving spree to the less frequent sticker-filled attempts of their middle school years to the almost professional-looking booklet Carlos gave each of them at Christmas last year. Kendall has never redeemed a coupon—like James pointed out, there was no need for a coupon to get a hug from Carlos—or given one away, and he's never, never thrown one out.

He couldn't really explain why he kept them, but there was never any question about whether he would. Not keeping them wasn't even an option.

These days the coupons are somewhat of a rare commodity, at least compared to elementary and middle school. Kendall was actually shocked to find out that Carlos had given some to Sasha, until he remembered that Sasha was supposed to be Carlos's 'perfect' girlfriend and then it made sense. Sometimes Kendall wonders what she ended up doing with those coupons; did she just throw them in some garbage can like they were worthless?

He doesn't know what James and Logan do with theirs anymore, either. They all only get them on Christmas now, in their stockings, and he's never bothered to ask what becomes of theirs after. Kendall always knows where his are going, and that's what's really important.

The coupons are kept in a box, that Kendall had retrieved from Minnesota during one of their brief trips back. And now he keeps it in his dresser, in the bottom drawer in the back behind his jeans. He's pretty sure his mom knows it's there but since it's just silly keepsakes and nothing like porn or whatever she hasn't said anything about it.

It's about a week before Carlos's 18th birthday when Kendall finally figures out what to do with all of those coupons. He's been having trouble coming up with a good enough present, which he knows is ridiculous because Carlos would be happy with anything, but still. This should be special, right?

So when he remembers that box full of a decade's worth of the love Carlos has for his friends and the world in general, he knows his present will involve that somehow. He's still not sure exactly what to do, and this is one time he can't go to Logan for options because Logan probably won't laugh, exactly, but he would still have thoughts so loud that Kendall could practically hear them and Kendall doesn't want to know what Logan thinks of this idea.

For a second he considers asking Camille for help, because he knows she won't judge him, but what she will do—tell him how adorable she thinks the whole thing is—is just as bad. Instead he turns to the one person in the world he can count on to solve problems and not react emotionally.

"You're going to give his own coupons back to him?" Katie asks when Kendall tells her his idea.

"Is that stupid?"

"I dunno. If it was anyone else, probably. But Carlos…" she trails off, tilting her head back and forth like she's weighing his possible reactions.

"Exactly. It's Carlos. So you'll help me?"

She shrugs. "Sure. I'm not great with the artsy-craftsy sentimental stuff, but the Internet is."

Katie gets a computer and they start researching possible projects Kendall can use the coupons for. It takes a long time and a lot of them making faces at overly sappy ideas they find, but eventually they find something that will work. They take a trip to a craft store to get the supplies for it, but when they return to the apartment everyone's home so assembly will have to wait.

Over the next week Kendall is pretty busy. Besides the regular school-studio schedule he's trying to find time to work on Carlos's present as well as get everything ready for the party—er, birthday celebration. Kendall has his mom and sister as well as James and Logan to help with the non-party, but he still feels like he needs to oversee everything to make sure it's done the way it should be.

Putting the present together is actually a lot more difficult than Kendall anticipated, and so is hiding everything for it in the meantime. He at least tells Logan that he's shoved Carlos's present in a box under his bed and if Logan knows what's good for him he'll stay away from it (Logan rolls his eyes at the threat but Kendall knows he'll leave it alone).

Finally it's the morning of Carlos's birthday—a Saturday, luckily—and Kendall wakes up with excitement and an unrelenting nervousness that his present is actually the stupidest idea he's ever had. He helps his mom with breakfast and that takes his mind off of it, and one by one the other inhabitants of the apartment appear, drawn in by the smell of bacon.

Carlos likes his presents first thing in the morning on his birthday. He always has. They manage to get him to hold off until after breakfast but there's no making him wait after that; he's bouncy and expectant and grinning like crazy. They let him choose whose present he wants first, and he picks Katie this year.

"What makes you think I got you anything?" she asks, eyebrow raised at him.

"Because you're my little buddy," Carlos answers, grin still in place.

Katie tries to hide her smile at that but Kendall catches it before she leaves the room and reappears with a wrapped box to hand to him. Kendall's nerves are starting to come back but he fights it, focusing instead on watching Carlos.

Kendall enjoys all of his friends' birthdays, but Carlos is the most fun to watch when he's opening presents, hands-down. The utter, sincere glee on his face as he examines each gift before ripping into the paper is possibly one of Kendall's favorite things ever.

He's so focused on watching and ignoring his nerves he doesn't even notice what the gift is; he'll find out later when Carlos is babbling incessantly about everything he got. This continues through Logan's present, then Kendall's mom's, then James's, and Kendall only has a second to wonder if Carlos saved him for last on purpose before he's heading back into his room, heart pounding hard and loud and wishing he could have just dragged Carlos in here and given this to him in private. Any humiliation would be easier to stand with just Carlos in the room, rather than his family and the other boys watching as well.

But Carlos likes an audience when he opens gifts, and it's his birthday so he gets what he wants. Plus, if he called Carlos in to his room the guys would probably think he was giving him…some other kind of gift, and Kendall would prefer to avoid leading them into that line of reasoning. At least as long as it's not true.

Kendall drags the box out from under his bed and carries the whole thing into the living room, then sets it on the coffee table in front of Carlos, whose eyes get huge.

"This whole thing's for me?"

"Well not the box, I want that back," Kendall says with a laugh, though it does little to help his nerves. He doesn't get nervous often, and this is really just getting annoying. It's Carlos.

Exactly, a voice in his head says. And everyone's watching.

"But I couldn't really wrap it," he goes on, explaining. "So I just brought out the box instead. Open it, dude. If it's stupid I'll get you something better."

So Carlos does, and then looks down inside the box, confusion on his face. "Another box?"

"That one you can keep," Kendall says, grinning a little.

"You gave him a box?" James asks, disbelief in his voice. He and Logan both crowd around to look, but Carlos throws himself over the open container and glares at them.

"I don't even know what it is yet, you guys can't look at it!"

They both retreat to their spots on the couch and Carlos keeps staring quizzically at the box-in-a-box.

"Why does it say 'Hugs & Memories' on the top?" he asks, looking up at Kendall.

Kendall feels himself start to blush at that, and refuses to look at anyone in the room except Carlos. Not that he was really doing that anyway.

"Open it and see."

So Carlos does, and Kendall sees the dawning understanding on his face before he breathes "Oh my God" and all Kendall can read from his tone and expression is shock and he can't tell whether it's the good kind or the 'wow this is the most ridiculous gift in the history of the world' kind.

"Oh my God Kendall!" Carlos is nearly shouting now, pulling the box out and setting it carefully on the table, shoving the outer box away before he starts peeling away the layers of his gift, staring wide-eyed at each piece of paper.

Kendall made a—really freaking complicated—scrapbook album box; the Internet called it an 'exploding box' or something. It's basically an open-topped box-in-a-box-in-a-box, made of thick paper, the boxes attached together through their bases and each with sides that move independently. On all four walls of every box is one of Carlos's coupons, and on the larger box walls there are pictures as well, of all of them as kids. It was hard to find the pictures to begin with and then he'd had to find time to get copies made, but Kendall is starting to think maybe it was worth it.

"I can't…" Carlos is saying, as he looks at every single piece of the box and grins. "I didn't…you kept all of these? Or, I mean…where else would you get them, you kept them all. Kendall!"

He looks up as he says Kendall's name, almost accusingly, and Kendall's pretty sure his eyes are a little damp.

"It's probably silly to give them back to you, isn't it?" Truth be told, Kendall didn't actually put all of the coupons in the gift. He just picked the best ones from each year.

"What do you mean give them back? Dude, you're using them. Redeeming them, right? And there's like…I don't even know, 15 of them or something so let's get this show on the road, it's gonna take a while." Carlos stands up, holding his arms out, and Kendall laughs. He should have seen this coming.

Trying to tell Carlos that wasn't really the point of the gift would just make him feel bad, and like hell Kendall is going to turn down any sort of appreciation Carlos wants to shower him with, so he steps forward and allows himself to be practically crushed by affection.

"What the heck, guys?" Logan says, and Kendall watches as he and James finally get the chance to inspect the present.

James laughs. "Are these Carlos's free hug coupons? Wow, and they're really old, too. Is that what you meant, Carlos? Kendall's been saving these?"

"Since we were kids?" Logan asks, surprise in his voice. He looks over at Kendall. "Why?"

Kendall shrugs, still wrapped up in Carlos, and knows he should probably be embarrassed but he can't bring himself to be right now. "Because I wanted to."

"Who cares why?" Carlos asks, and Kendall feels the arms around him tighten before his feet lift off the ground and Carlos is sort of rocking him back and forth like he's snuggling a giant cat or something. "It's like the best present ever."

"You said my present was the best present ever!" James says, looking sharply at the back of Carlos's head.

"He says that about every present, James," Logan says, still staring at the table. "What's this other thing? This little wrapped package?"

"There's something else?!" In a flash Carlos drops Kendall and plops down on the floor next to the table, grabbing up the remaining gift and tearing the paper away fervently. When he can see what it is he stares at it for a second before turning to grin up at Kendall. "You're not expecting me to save these for 10 years, are you?"

Kendall laughs. "You do whatever you want with them, Carlos. Even if all you want to do is trade them for something better." He gives James a pointed look as he says it, and James crosses his arms and makes a face in response.

"Something better? Hah, yeah, I don't think so, buddy," Carlos says, flipping through the booklet of coupons. That had been Katie's idea actually, to give Carlos some 'free Kendall hug' coupons as well. "Hey, some of these are blank. They just say 'Free' with a line. How come?"

"You can write whatever you want on them," Kendall explains. That had been his own idea, and he could only hope Carlos would take full advantage of it.

Carlos laughs. "Awesome. Thank you, Kendall," he says, then hops back up to hug him again.

"You're welcome, dude," Kendall answers, hugging back and feeling his nerves dissipate at last.

————

Carlos spends a good part of the rest of the morning on the phone with family, recounting all of his 'amazing' gifts. The par—celebration that afternoon is small but fun, with their closest friends from the Palm Woods as well as Gustavo and Kelly there to prove to Carlos that even now everyone still loves him. Even the Jennifers stop by, Carlos lighting up when he sees them walk in the door.

After everyone leaves they have dinner (pizza and corndogs) followed by watching movies on the couch. The four of them are planning a day out tomorrow, but Kendall's not sure it could be any better than today has been. He's still thinking this when he's brushing his teeth that night, replaying in his mind Carlos's face as he opened his gift and realized what it was.

I did good, Kendall thinks, leaning over the sink to spit. He had to endure some teasing from Logan and James on his newfound love of arts and crafts, but that was nothing he couldn't handle. He makes a mental note to thank his sister for her help soon.

As Kendall rinses his mouth out he hears footsteps approaching through the kitchen and looks up to see Carlos walking towards him, his face still stuck in the same smile he's had all day.

"Hey, birthday boy," Kendall says, returning the smile. "Have a good day?"

"Yeah, but it needed pie. I'm glad we're getting some tomorrow."

Kendall laughs. "Here, I'll get out of your way," he says, and starts to leave the bathroom.

"Wait," Carlos says, and he suddenly sounds a little nervous. "Um."

"Yeah?"

"I, um." And now he's fidgeting, and it's pretty adorable, though Kendall has no idea what could be causing it. "I…I have a coupon," Carlos finally stammers out.

"You're using them already?" Kendall says with a chuckle. "Dude, it's still your birthday, you want a hug you just say so."

"I know that," Carlos says, and now Kendall can see he's holding something in his hand. "It's one of the blank ones."

Kendall's eyebrows shoot up at that, and he wonders what Carlos could possibly have written on one of those to be redeemed this late at night. And make him act nervous like this. Because Kendall was pretty much expecting things along the lines of '1 hour of video games' or 'pink smoothie purchase.'

"Well, hand it over then," Kendall says, holding out a hand for the coupon, but Carlos grips it tighter.

"First…tell me why you saved them." Carlos meets his eyes, and Kendall can tell that for some reason this is important to him.

But he shrugs. "I told Logan. Because I wanted to."

"Yeah but why? I mean, we were just kids. Most everyone else just threw them away. And Logan was the only one of you guys who ever used one."

"Well, like James said we never really needed to use one, right?" Carlos shakes his head in agreement. "So…what else would I do with them? It's not like I was going to throw them away. And I wasn't going to give them away like Logan or trade them away like James."

"So you kept them."

"Yeah."

"All of them." Kendall nods. "And you brought them here, from Minnesota."

"Yeah."

"And made me the awesomest present ever with them."

Kendall smiles at that. "Well, Katie helped, but yeah. I'm glad you like it, I was worried it was a stupid idea. I wanted to get you something special, since…I dunno, this is a big birthday and all."

Carlos stands for a moment, watching Kendall, and Kendall waits for him to decide if this answer was sufficient. Then he holds out the coupon. "Here."

It's crumpled a bit from being held so tightly and Kendall has to smooth it out to read it. When he does he feels his jaw drop slightly. Tamping down on his nerves before they can flare up again, he glances back up at Carlos.

"Really?"

He tries to say it in a way that lets Carlos know he's not making fun of him in the slightest, but genuinely wants to make sure he's seeing things correctly.

"I don't think you're allowed to question the coupon, Kendall. You said 'whatever I want,' remember?" Carlos is grinning a little now, and Kendall wonders if this is a joke but hell, if it is he's got no problems with playing along.

"Just making sure you handed me the right one," Kendall answers with his best attempt at a flirty smile.

Carlos starts to laugh but then stops, jumps forward and snatches the coupon away. "Wait, this is the right—whew, okay, it is," he says, then hands it back.

Kendall's eyebrows shoot straight up. "Wow, I can't wait to see what's on the other ones, then."

"Well you never will if you don't follow through with that one first," Carlos tells him, crossing his arms across his chest.

"I can't argue with that," Kendall says, and without any further ado takes the one step needed to erase the distance between them before leaning down and kissing Carlos.

At first he thinks he's caught his friend off-guard, surprised him by moving so quickly but then he realizes it's probably just because Carlos doesn't have a lot of kissing experience and he's freezing up out of nerves. Kendall lifts his free hand up to touch Carlos's cheek gently, not moving his lips until he feels Carlos drop his arms, relaxing at last.

The kiss doesn't last very long; Kendall can tell Carlos is nervous but determined, and after he thinks enough time has passed for Carlos to feel like he's proved himself Kendall maneuvers the kiss into a tight hug.

"Your heart's beating really hard, Kendall," Carlos says, and Kendall hadn't noticed but it's true.

"So's yours," Kendall notes. They both laugh a little before Kendall says "Happy birthday, Carlos," squeezes him for a second, and then lets go.

"Going to bed now?" Carlos asks, and he's blushing and it's really just too cute.

"Yeah, we've got a busy day tomorrow. Birthday celebration, take two. You should get to sleep yourself."

"Yeah I guess. Goodnight, Kendall." He turns to walk away, but before he's made it through the kitchen Kendall stops him.

"Hey Carlos."

"Yeah?" he says, turning back.

"Don't waste any more of your wild-card coupons on kisses, okay? You want one of those you just ask. Or you know, just…take it."

Kendall sees Carlos's eyes widen before he grins. "Got it. Thanks again for the present."

"Thanks for not waiting 10 years to use a coupon."

Then they just grin at each other for a few seconds, before Kendall can't really take it anymore. This has been enough for one day, more than enough, even, and they do need to get some sleep. "Well, I gotta pee," he says nonchalantly, "so I'm gonna close the door now. 'Night, birthday boy."

Carlos laughs. "'Night. Tomorrow's gonna be awesome."

He walks away before Kendall has to come up with a response, so instead he closes the bathroom door and leans back against it, finally letting himself process what has just happened. And then all he can do is grin.

Kendall never knew why he kept those coupons, but right now he couldn't be happier that he did.

----

End-of-fic notes: Okay so yes, I did do some internet research to figure out something for Kendall to make (and my name is also Katie, but THAT'S UNRELATED). Here's an example of an 'exploding box' all opened up: http://scrapbooking.about.com/od/layouts/ig/Exploding-Box-Scrapbook-/Embellishing-and-Assembly.htm
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Katie/KT

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