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I feel safe in the 5 am light

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Carlos maybe has a soft spot for their late-night hangouts.

He realises very early into their relationship that late night hangouts are becoming a thing for them, and he is the first one to admit that those cannot solely be blamed on their jobs and ridiculous schedules due to them.

Obviously, those affect too, but he simply adores those small and quiet moments he gets to spend with him. Somehow, the moments during nights feel special, mostly just because is just the two of them, and TK has a habit of revealing different sides of himself when they are alone.

The more vulnerable sides, the sides that are the essence of him, the kind of stuff he doesn’t let just anyone to see.

TK usually plays his cards close to his chest and he is particular of what he lets other people to see, and it has taken time for him to trust Carlos, too, but he is willing to take anything he decides to share with him. He has known since the beginning that TK is worth of all of the trouble and chase, but when he truly started opening up to him, he found him even more beautiful and fascinating than he could have predicted, and after that, there was no way in hell he wouldn’t fall in love with him.

Carlos is perfectly aware that when he gets sleepy himself, he loses any filter he possibly has during the more alert hours of the day, and he ends up blurting out almost any thought that crosses his mind and admitting things and making dumb declarations of love, but TK has never made him feel stupid because of it. If anything, he seems to enjoy it.

Everything is quieter at night, and Carlos rather likes the feeling of serenity, calmness and that no one is expecting anything from either one of them, and that they can just be and talk and discover something new or fall back into the familiar rhythm of them that they have managed to create.

***

Carlos knows he is staring.

He knows he should stop.

But he cannot stop staring and he cannot tear his eyes away from him. He fears if he does look away, he will realise that none of it is actually happening.

He knows he is having a little hard time believing that TK came back. Not only did he come back, but he came back for him, and decided that despite everything he did, he is still worth of sticking around.

And not only sticking around, but that he is still worth all of his love.

TK is seated at one of the chairs near the kitchen island, talking and laughing. He is explaining something about a call they had been on, a wedding maybe, and Carlos has a hard time concentrating on listening. TK keeps moving his hands around as he explains, and he occasionally keeps taking a sip out of the sparkling water bottle he took out of his fridge.

Carlos sits opposite of him, trying his best to follow his story, but he can only focus on two things.

One, he is there. He came back.

Two, he is looking at him exactly the same way he did prior to the fight. Nothing has changed.

He knows that they are not fighting anymore, and that they talked about things, properly, and that things have gone back to normal in between them. There’s no awkwardness or bottled-up emotions, just the regular comfort and warmth that usually is there.

Still, he cannot believe that he didn’t fuck up things irrevocably between them.

He knows that he hurt him, cut deep with his words when he claimed that he was just a friend in front of his parents, and that just one conversation might not be able to erase all the hurt he caused, even if TK has forgiven him and given him his unwavering support.

He loathes the way he felt when TK slammed the door on his way out. Since the beginning, the thought of this is too good, it won’t last has crept up on him, and he has tried to keep it at bay, but in that moment, he felt like he had been right all long.

He was aware that the reluctance of introducing him to his parents could be a problem for them, but he had tried his best not to think about it. He didn’t think it could be a make-it or break-it issue, but he knew that it had the potential of an argument there, and it was exactly why he tried to pretend everything was normal, joking about HR and everything, because he wanted to hold on to the illusion of it not being a big deal.

Because if it wasn’t a big deal, then they would be fine. And if things were fine, then he wouldn’t have to worry about losing him.

But TK had left, and he had been left with regret and fear that he might have accidently ruined the best thing in his life.

He wanted to fix it, he wanted to reach out and tell him that it had nothing to do with how he feels about him but picking up his phone felt like an impossible task and the last thing he wanted was to hear him say it was over between them.

The worst part was that he tried to protect TK’s feelings as much as his own, but he knows he failed miserably at it, and it’s not a particularly pleasant realisation.

“You are miles away,” TK points out, almost impossibly softly, and the shift in his tone almost startles him.

“Sorry,” he murmurs, almost sheepishly. He drags his hand along his face, trying to compose himself and his thoughts.

He has been in love before, but nothing could not compare to what he feels for TK, and while he loves that they can have this, life together, and that he returns his feelings with same intensity to match his own, there is always the fear that he will lose it and him, one way or another.

“It wasn’t particularly interesting story,” TK remarks, but his whole face softens as he studies him with his gaze. “Are you okay?”

He isn’t certain of the answer. He definitely feels better than a couple of hours ago, but the turmoil in his chest still hasn’t died out, and he is exhausted and there are million things on his mind, and he doesn’t know how to start to unravel any of it.

“You know I love you, right?” Carlos blurts out, and it is nowhere near an answer to his question, but it feels urgent to say, and he is a little glad he managed to get it out at least. He exhales before he continues. “That I don’t just supposedly love you back, but truly and genuinely love you.”

Understanding settles into his eyes and the smile dims a little, but it still lingers there when he hops off from the chair and instead, steps closer to him, settling himself in between his legs.

“I know,” TK says, softly, “and I’m sorry. That was a low blow.”  He carefully lifts his right hand and lets his thumb slide along his jawline.

“Yeah, well, we were fighting,” he huffs.

“That doesn’t mean you deserved it,” TK says, under his breath, as if it were the most obvious thing in the whole wide world.

He just ends up grunting as a response. He feels like he might have deserved worse than that. Sure, it hurt like hell when TK just disappeared without giving him a half chance to explain what happened, but he still cannot help feeling like majority of what went down between them was his fault.

“I mean it,” TK insists, continuing to stroke his jaw and cheek with his fingertips. “I feel loved.”

It is a relief to hear, and some of the weight falls off from his heart. He never wanted him to feel unloved or unwanted because it is the furthest thing from the truth. He doesn’t even know the exact moment when he fell in love with him, but he does know that there is no going back from it.

“I hope you do, too,” TK continues when he fails to give him any verbal response, and he continues to caress the side of his face as if it were the most precious thing he has ever laid his hands on, and it makes something inside of him just break.

“I do,” he reassures, but his voice ends up cracking just the slightest bit in the end.

It would be very difficult not to feel loved, in that particular moment, when he is only offering understanding, support and softness of his touch. He feels like he is drowning in it.

“Great, so maybe now ease on the guilt-tripping yourself,” TK murmurs, but he presses a soft kiss on his forehead. “You made a mistake, I made a mistake, but it’s nothing to beat yourself up over.”

He knows it’s the truth. There is no longer anything to forgive or to ask for forgiveness, but there are still so many details about the argument that keep flashing in his mind. He wants to let them go, but they keep coming back, constantly and persistently.

Carlos bites the inside of his cheek. “Is there anything I can do to make you feel more safe in our relationship?”

It had felt like a sucker punch to his stomach when he had said those words to him. He is pretty certain he could hear his own heart shatter. He knows he has no right to get upset or angry over his feelings because if it is how TK felt, then it is valid, and no amount of protesting that it is not what he wanted or intended to happen will make it better.

But still, it broke his heart, and he knows the only thing he can try to do, the only concrete thing, is to talk about it and perhaps vow that he won’t ever let it happen again. He wraps his hands around his waist, resting his thumbs on the edge of his hipbones.

TK sighs, but it doesn’t seem like it is out of annoyance. He gives him a curious glance, but a tiny smile spreads on his face. “I knew you’d get caught up in that, but you already did.”

“What?”

TK tilts his head to the side, but he stops moving his fingers along his jaw. “Me feeling unsafe in this relationship was never just on you. Once we decided that we’d do this for real, we never really defined what we were. I mean, logically, I knew that you love me, and this is serious, but I just started calling you my boyfriend and you didn’t complain, but it nagged in the corner of my mind that we never talked about it.”

TK takes a pause to exhale, and he shakes his head slightly. “And I didn’t talk about it to you, because it felt so ridiculous. You were the one who wanted a real relationship from the get-go, and it was me who brought it to the halt and there I was getting my mind twisted over the fact that we didn’t talk about it and that I never heard you call me your boyfriend.”

Suddenly, there is heaviness in heart again, that resembles a lot like regret, but TK is pointing at him with his finger.

“There’s literally nothing to feel guilty about. You’re not a mind reader, you couldn’t have possibly known what was going on my mind. But yeah, your comment to your parents struck a nerve, because in the back of my mind I’ve been wondering about what we were, if this was just some lets see where this goes type of thing and will last only as long as it’s fun and easy.”

Carlos is a little loss for words again. He strokes his hipbones with his thumbs, trying to reassure that he is glad that he is telling it him now at least, and it does make sense. He just assumed TK would know where they stand in their relationship, but he can see that assuming was his first mistake.

“So, it played straight into my own insecurities,” TK continues, slowly, “and it hurt and amidst all of that, I never even considered that you’d have a valid reason for it.”

He exhales slowly, looking at him properly. “If I’m not allowed to feel guilty, can I still be sorry?”

TK chuckles, low and surprised. “Maybe.”

“Good, ‘cause I am,” he mumbles, grazing his jawline with his lips. “I never wanted any friends with benefits situation. I thought I was more clear on it, but apparently not enough,” he says with a soft huff. “Anything else I could do?”

TK looks thoughtful. He seems to be searching for the right words, and he doesn’t press him, even though several moments pass in silence.

“Talk to me,” he ends up saying, almost grimaces after he says it. “I mean, you can be vulnerable, too. If you told me about why you didn’t want me to meet your parents, I’d have understood. I want you to know that you can talk to me.”

He is too used to guarding his own heart, keeping some of his emotions hidden away, so that they wouldn’t be an inconvenience, bother or burden to anyone.

“Oh,” he says, half-involuntarily. “You too.”

He feels strangely vulnerable right there and then, under his soft gaze, but he doesn’t think it’s a bad feeling. If there is anyone who is worth of bearing his heart to and taking the risk, it is TK.

There’s a smile back on his face. “Is there anything I can do for you to feel safe?”

“Just – don’t give up on me?”

He wants to make a promise that one day he would introduce him to his parents and that it would happen sooner than later, but he doesn’t want to make empty promises. He knows that they are in a good place now and that all of the relationships require work and effort, and that he will try his best, but it doesn’t mean he won’t mess up again or do any mistakes.

“Never,” he promises him, without missing a beat, and kissing his forehead again, and the turmoil in Carlos’ chest dies down, slowly but surely.

***

Carlos wakes up slowly. His limbs still feel heavy with sleep and he is reluctant to open his eyes. He feels comfortable there, lying on the soft bed, his duvet only covering a tiny part of his right shin. TK is pressed against him, lying on his stomach, his fingers half curled around Carlos’s wrist.

His hair is a mess. It looks fluffy, but it’s sticking to the various directions. He can see the faint stubble that has grown during the few days he has spent at his place. He breathes softly and even though his face is squashed against the pillow, he is still gorgeous.

Carlos fights the urge to push a strand of his hair away from his face, but he doesn’t want to stir him awake. After all, Carlos has no idea how early it is. The bedroom is still dark, so it cannot be late morning yet, and he likes to stay in this bubble a little longer. Not really having to start the day properly yet, just appreciating the passing moment.

He lies there for a moment, just observing him, memorizing the small details. The curve of his jawline, the edge of his cheekbone and the quiet sounds he makes as he sleeps.

TK’s breath hitches, and Carlos knows from experience that it won’t take long until he actually wakes up.

“You’re starin’,” he mumbles, a few moments later.

Carlos laughs. He is certain TK hasn’t even opened his eyes once to actually get any proof of what he has been doing.

“I feel like I cannot be blamed,” he whispers, pressing a soft kiss on his temple.

TK grunts, slowly opening his eyes. They gleam, but there is softness in them too, and Carlos feels a little more than lucky to be in the receiving end of that look.

TK yawns and settles the pillow under his head into different position. “Liking what you see?”

“Obviously.”

TK’s smile grows a little bigger and brighter. He cranes his neck to kiss him. It is a slow kiss, that somehow ends up being a series of slow kisses, and he can no longer distinguish where one starts and the other ends. TK’s lips are warm, but slightly chapped against his, but still all he can feel is the all-consuming love blending into the kisses.

“Hey,” TK says, under his breath, when he pulls slightly away, but the warm smile still lingers on his face.

“Hi,” he replies, just as quietly, and finally pushes the rogue strand of hair away from TK’s forehead. “What do you want for breakfast?”

He attempts to shrug, but it only half-resembles one because he is leaning into his elbows. He reaches to pick up his phone from the nightstand and a genuine laughter escapes from his throat as soon as he looks at it.

He lets his face fall back against the pillow. “It’s 10 pm,” he says, still laughing, mostly into the pillow.

He blinks at him, confusedly, as if not completely comprehending what he is trying to say. TK shows the screen of his phone to him too, and surely enough, the clock on it reads 10.09 pm.

“That’s not--,” Carlos starts, but closes his mouth abruptly, “what I expected,” he finishes, but he cannot help but laugh, too.

He has lost any sleep pattern he previously had. It’s almost tragic and the effort of trying to turn the sleeping pattern back into something that even resembles normal or at least matches his shifts will be a nightmare. Still, his laughter is contagious, and hearing it just confirms how ridiculously in love with him he is.

He knew that he shouldn’t have crashed into bed when his shift ended near two in the afternoon. He had been just so exhausted and trying to stay awake seemed impossible and tiring. He knows TK’s shift ended a couple hours later and he had woken up when he appeared into bed next to him, but instead of getting out of bed, he had just grunted approvingly and fallen back to sleep.

“Do you still want something to eat?” Carlos asks, as he sits up and rubs his face, trying to comprehend what to do with the new piece of information.

He feels way too alert to immediately go back to sleep, and he didn’t eat anything after his shift ended, and he is pretty certain TK also neglected food in favor of sleep.

“Yeah, I’m starving,” he agrees, already getting out of the bed.

He ends up cooking them the not-quite-breakfast, but out of habit, he ends up using breakfast foods anyway. He places an omelette on his plate, while TK keeps eating toast and yoghurt straight out of the cartoon.

It’s quiet, but the silence isn’t uncomfortable, but he can feel TK’s gaze on him as he watches him work. As soon as he sits down next to him, in front of the kitchen island, he breaks the silence.

“Do you mind if I stay?”

It’s a simple enough question but judging by the weight of his gaze while he cooked and that he waited until he was done making the omelette, TK has thought about it before asking it.

It’s sweet that he asks, and Carlos appreciates that he tries to give him enough space, but he still wishes that he would believe that he doesn’t need to ask. He doesn’t need a permission, and even if he did, it would already be his.

“Ty--,” he starts with a soft exhale, trying to best figure out the way to tell him that there is no universe where he wouldn’t want him around, but TK is faster than him.

“Yeah, no, you’re right. I should probably leave after I finish this,” he says, quickly, almost rambling as he vaguely gestures towards the yoghurt cartoon with his spoon.

“That’s not what I was going to say,” he points out, softly, placing his fork on the table. “Of course I don’t mind.”

TK fidgets with his spoon, his eyes darting around the kitchen instead of looking at him. “I don’t want to outstay my welcome,” he says, but there is an edge of uncertainness in his voice.

The past four days are the longest he has spent at his place, consecutively. Obviously, he has been to work and so has Carlos, but otherwise, TK has spent the remaining of his free time there, with him. They see each other often, almost on daily basis, if their shifts align well enough, and they usually spend their free time at his place too, but usually, he goes back to home after spending a night or two at Carlos’ place.

Carlos feels like saying that he doesn’t mind is the biggest understatement of the year. He loves that he is spending more time at his home and he is getting used to it. He has carved enough space for TK in his life that it feels empty without him there.

It’s small things, mostly. The way he does grocery shopping bearing both of their preferences in mind. The way there are almost as much TK’s clothes in the laundry bin as there are his own. The way not all of the drawers in his bedroom are his anymore. The way he has both of their printed rosters on his fridge door. The way there are two toothbrushes in his bathroom. The way he keeps finding post-it notes around the apartment, written and left by TK, when their shifts don’t align. The way he remembers TK’s takeaway orders by heart.

And all of those things never fail to put a smile on his face. And he wants that, he wants nothing more than to share all those smallest things and details about their everyday life with him.

“That’d be impossible, you’re always welcome,” Carlos reminds him, as he gently places his hand on top of the one that he keeps fidgeting the spoon with.

He has told it him, a couple of times, and he always tries to make sure that he feels comfortable and welcomed, but he has a growing suspicion that there is something else behind his initial question.

TK stares at their hands, but the touch brings his fingers to a halt. “My dad called my mom a squatter once,” he says, almost offhandedly, “and I know he specifically asked me to move in with him when we moved to Texas, but, uh, sometimes I cannot help but wonder if he thinks the same about me.”

Carlos likes Owen and Gwyneth, he truly does. He knows that their love for their son knows no bounds and that they are caring and good people, but sometimes, he just wants to ask them if they are aware what they are doing to TK with their constant fighting and bickering.

Carlos bites the inside of his cheek. “Your dad loves you, he wants you around.”

The I love you and I want you around goes unsaid this time, but he hopes he hears it, nevertheless.

“Yeah, I know,” TK replies, but his voice grows slightly frustrated, but he finally meets his eyes as he looks up. “And I’m not even sure that any of that matters now ‘cause he is so wrapped up with my mom that they don’t really even notice if I’m there or here,” he adds, with a chuckle that ends up sounding humourless.

It hurts Carlos’ heart to see him like this, hearing that he feels insignificant and small, and like that he wouldn’t be welcomed at his own home, and he wants to fix it, he wants to make it better, somehow or anyhow, but he knows he cannot magically fix all the decades old problems with his parents, even if he would like to.

It makes him feel a little helpless, that he cannot help with everything and not to ease his burden, but he knows he can at least try and make him feel appreciated and welcomed by him.

“I notice,” he says, and when he recognises the questioning look in TK’s eyes, he continues, “whether you are here or there.”

TK chuckles again, but it still sounds just the tiniest bit flat and he sharply inhales. “I guess I’m pretty hard to miss. I mean I keep eating half of your food and hogging the blankets when we sleep,” he attempts to joke.

“I notice,” Carlos repeats, holding his gaze, “because I love having you here.”

TK drops his gaze, but a smile, bright and warm, keeps tugging in the corner of his lips. “I love being here,” he admits, “but as long as you know that you can definitely kick me out if you want to be alone.”

Carlos nudges his ankle with his toes. “I think the point here is that I don’t want to you to go,” he says, softly, “and besides, I’m just glad if I can provide a place where to escape your parents’ fighting.”

The smile of TK’s face crumbles quickly and it makes his stomach fall. He tries to think what he said that caused his smile to vanish, but he comes up short with explanations.

“I--,” TK starts, but he ends up groaning. He intertwines their fingers, but also picks up Carlos’ other hand and brings them together. He wraps his own hands firmly but gently around his hands, just cradling and holding them in place.

TK is a tactile person; he has known it since he met him. Lingering touches here and there, but he has also noticed that handholding is way he shows intimacy. It’s like a love language of its own, the many ways he keeps holding and touching his hands, and right now, Carlos recognises that he is trying to say something profound but struggling with it.

The way he holds his hands in place, as if forcing him to wait, and granting him a second to gather his thoughts and put them into actual words.

“I don’t want you to feel like I’m using you,” TK eventually says, slowly, as if trying out the words, “or that I’d come here only when I need to escape something. I’m here because I genuinely want to see you and spend time with you. The fact that I can escape their fighting is an additional upside, but never the reason.”

The conviction and certainness in his voice makes his heart skip a beat. It is almost impossible to name the emotion that his words awake in his chest. He has never made him feel used, but he has gotten so used to, in his friendships and previous relationships, being the one who gives more than receives, but with TK it’s different.

Still, sometimes, it comes as a surprise and keeps knocking him off his feet, but he is giving just as much back to him, and taking into consideration things he hasn’t considered himself. TK keeps making him feel like he has an endless supply of love and that he wouldn’t like nothing more than spend it all on him, and he can admit that it makes him feel special and loved.

“I know,” Carlos replies, the words effortlessly falling off his tongue. It might be the first time TK has said it to him, but it doesn’t mean he hasn’t known it, on some level. “And you know, I’m serious, too. I want this to feel like home to you, as much as it does to me. You’ve a key for a reason.”

In retrospect, he could have put more thought and romance into giving the key to him. He had just one day, knowing that TK’s shift would end earlier than his, given him the spare key so he could let himself in. When he tried to return it, he had just told him that it was his and he should keep it.

But he has used the key and it brings endless joy to him to hear the soft click of the lock when he walks into the apartment.

“You sound like you want me to move in,” TK laughs, wetly.

Carlos searches for any traces of regret or panic in his eyes, but he finds nothing, and TK doesn’t even try to take the words back or offer any explanations why he said it, and warmness and calm settles into his stomach, because maybe the moment he has been waiting for weeks has finally arrived.

“I do,” he breathes out.

He is certain of it, he has been already a couple of weeks. He has wanted it maybe longer, but it became crystal clear a few week ago, on a Tuesday morning, when TK had woken him up, wearing one of his APD t-shirts and boxers, his bed hair being a sight to behold, and brough two cups of coffee with him to the bed. He had kissed him senseless and they spent the morning lying in bed, sipping their coffees, laughing and talking about anything and everything, and Carlos realised he wouldn’t mind if all the mornings for the rest of his life would be similar.

He took it as a pretty strong indicator for wanting TK to move in.

He has been just little nervous to ask the question, because he doesn’t want to move too fast. It’s not too fast in his opinion, they have been together, officially, for closer to six months, but he promised to TK in the very beginning that they would take it as slow as he wanted to, and he intends to honour that promise.

“You sure you won’t get sick of seeing me all the time at home and work too?”  

TK’s voice is light, almost borderline teasing, and the smile on his face seems enamoured, dazzling and above all, genuine. His question is worded as a joke, but Carlos immediately notices that it stems from deeper, from a real insecurity.

He is also aware that there are probably a bunch of very valid reasons why people keep saying that one shouldn’t date a person they work with, but he cannot imagine any reason why it would apply to them. A colleague is a very loose term to describe them, they merely work in the same field and if anything, it makes them understand each other a little better.

His partner keeps teasing him that he looks disappointed if it is another ladder truck besides 126 that arrives to assist them on a call and that his face lights up like the first rays of rising sun when he spots TK during calls, but he is only half-convinced that she is exaggerating.

The point still stands, he cannot imagine that there would be a day or moment when he wouldn’t be filled with raw happiness when he sees him.

“Like I could get sick of you,” he murmurs, pressing a kiss on his forehead, because TK still has his hands locked in between his own, “I’m pretty certain seeing you is the best part of my day.”

TK bites his lower lips, seemingly deep in his thoughts. “Yeah, mine too,” he eventually replies, but it isn’t a straightforward answer, but then again, he never asked a straightforward question.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Carlos rushes to say, because he wants to give him a way out, “I won’t hold it against you.”

TK rubs the backs of his hands with his thumbs. “I want to.”

Carlos isn’t exactly sure what he expected to his answer to be, but his heart still flutters with happiness. “Really?”

“Yeah,” he replies, making it sound like there was never even any other option, “I mean it’s you, so of course, I do.”

He is convinced his heart is going to burst from uncontrollable happiness. It spreads in his chest, like a wave crashing into the shore, repeatedly. TK just grins at him, widely and unabashedly, and he cannot do anything else except kiss him, hard, and hope that it conveys at least a fraction of the happiness his body tries to harbour.

“No one has ever asked me to move in,” TK says, under his breath, when they rest their foreheads together, and he is still cradling both of his hands in between his. He runs his fingers along his wrists gently.

“That’s their loss,” Carlos replies, without missing a beat, “I’ve never asked anyone to move in.”

TK’s gaze is down on their hands, but he smirks. “Does that make me special?”

“I’d say a little more than special.”

***

It is past midnight when Carlos fumbles for his keys from the depths of his jacket pocket to open the door of his home. Well, it’s no longer just his, but theirs, and the realisation of it fills him with awe, wonder and new-found content each and every time.

TK moved in today, and of course, because universe is out to get him, Carlos had to go to work because they were seriously understaffed and there was no way for him to get a day off. TK had just shrugged it off, reassured him that it was okay and that he would just get the entire 126 to help him since they were off-duty too and they had been more than eager to help.

Still, as he opens the door, he cannot shake the slight pang of disappointment that he missed something so big and monumental of their relationship because of work and that TK didn’t even seem that bothered by the fact he wouldn’t be there.

He tries his best to hide it somewhere deep, because most of all, he is happy and grateful.

The first thing he sees when he finally gets the door open is cardboard boxes. There are countless of them, stacked in top of each other in robust-looking piles and all of the boxes seem intact and full of TK’s belongings.

He is a little confused because he was certain they would have managed to unpack everything because 126 was scarily efficient when they put their minds into something, but the invasion of the moving boxes seems to indicate differently.

TK rests his hand on top of one of the piles near the kitchen, and half leans into the pile, too. He is wearing a yellow hoodie and grey sweatpants and he looks tired, but he is smiling so hard it makes his eyes squint a little and happiness just radiates off him. “You really think I’d move in without you?”

Carlos stares at him, a little loss for words, but he sputters out laughter, coloured with disbelief, but mostly it is just out of happiness.

“I just got everyone else do the heavy lifting,” TK explains, as he makes his way through the boxes to him, and wraps his arms around his waist, “I thought we’d do the actual unpacking tomorrow when you have a day off, too.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

The words are out of his mouth before he has any time to really consider them, but he strokes the edge of his shoulder blade with his thumb.

“I wanted to do this with you,” he starts, “but I also didn’t want you to feel guilty about work, but moving in alone felt just plain wrong, and you’re really bad at hiding your feelings. You looked sad this morning when you left, and I couldn’t just let that happen.”

He has been nothing but happy that the day has finally arrived, but his words make something new tug in the corner of his heart. Something stronger than happiness, and he is certain his heart will overflow with love at any given moment.

“I’m sorry,” Carlos says, “and I’m really glad you waited.”

“You literally have nothing to apologize for,” he says, letting his hands slip away from his waist, but he takes his hand instead and starts to walk around the piles and piles of boxes. He leads him into the middle of it, where there is cleared out space in the middle of the living room and there are two pizza boxes lying on the floor.

“There is one sacred Strand moving-in tradition that I kinda wanted to do with you,” TK explains, gesturing towards the floor and pizza.

“Yeah?”

TK sits down on the floor, crossing his legs and trying to find a comfortable position to sit in, and he follows his lead.

“My dad used to move a lot after the divorce,” TK says, handing the other pizza box to him, “and it sucked, but on the first night in the new apartment, nothing was ever in their right places, so we would sit on the floor and eat pizza.”

He studies his face as he keeps talking, and it’s obviously a happy memory for him, and his eyes keep gleaming with fondness.

“And I know we actually have all the furniture in place, but, uh, it doesn’t feel like I’ve moved in unless I do this.”

Carlos takes a bite of the pizza slice he is holding. “Thank you for letting me be a part of it,” he says, and he means it. It’s clearly something he cherishes, and it means more to him than he can say that he wants him to be involved in it, too.

TK elbows him, gently, in the arm. “We don’t have that many traditions, but there are some I’ve always wanted to continue with my own family, too.”

He says it casually, almost like an offhanded comment and it takes a moment for the implication of his words to hit Carlos, but when he looks at him, and sees the slight curve of his smile, he knows he absolutely meant his words, and Carlos thinks his heart might not survive the strength of his happiness.

 

***

Carlos is lying on his couch, attempting to read the book that Grace had recommended, but his mind keeps wandering and he cannot focus on the words.

When his phone starts to vibrate next to him, he is almost grateful. Yet, he frowns when the caller id displays TK’s name on his bright phone screen.

It’s late, closer to midnight and he is supposed to be at work. It’s not unusual that they sometimes call each other from work, but still, every time he gets a call when TK is at work, he gets a lump in his throat.

“Hey, everything okay?” He asks as soon as he accepts the call and the line connects.

“Yeah, yeah,” TK says, sounding slightly sleepy, but his voice is still light. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”

He feels the tension in his shoulders to dissolve as he hears his voice. Assuming the worst with every late-night phone call probably isn’t doing any favours to his blood pressure.

“It’s okay,” he reassures him, and honestly, he is just glad to hear his voice, although he saw him less than ten hours ago. “Quiet shift?”

“Yeah,” TK chuckles, quietly, “almost everyone is asleep. Judd is on the other side of the firehouse, calling Grace.”

Knowing that TK keeps, on regular basis, paralleling them to a married couple, the couple who is ridiculously in love with each other, makes unfair things to his own heart.

He isn’t particularly superstitious person, but he still silently hopes that the shift will remain quiet and that all of them will remain unharmed.

Carlos can hear footsteps on the other end of the call, and he can imagine TK pacing around as he talks. He sits up on the couch, too. “Cannot sleep?”

“Yeah, also I missed you.”

He knows it should be ridiculous, that they miss each other instantly. It has been almost a year, but the part of the honeymoon phase where they miss each other automatically if they are apart hasn’t went away, and Carlos is a little glad it hasn’t.

They are perfectly capable of spending time on their own, but it’s still nice and comforting to know that they are in each others’ minds and that there is the certain reassurance of hey you are the person I want around, no matter what.

“By coincidence,” Carlos starts, smiling at the empty and dimly lit living room, “I cannot sleep, and I miss you, too.”

He laughs again. “Are you reading that book Grace told you to read?”

“Yeah, uh, attempting to,” he mumbles, glancing at the book that lies abandoned on his knees.

He guesses that it should feel strange that TK can guess accurately what he is doing, but instead he feels just strangely seen and known, and it is not a feeling that he would mind.

“It’s great, but it requires a certain mindset,” TK points out, and Carlos just assumes he has somehow found the time to read it.

He is aware that the 126 has a very loose book club where they keep recommending books they have read and ended up loving, and that somehow, he and Grace have been sucked into it, too.

“I probably shouldn’t have started it after a ten-hour shift.”

“Definitely not.”

Carlos settles the phone into better position against his ear. “Tell me about your day?”

He likes TK’s voice. It’s comforting and calming, and just hearing it, even through the phone, helps him relax a bit. Sleeping alone is something that neither one of them are fond of, but they have to do it often enough, and he is aware that late-night phone calls have become a somewhat tradition during quiet shifts, just to make it a bit easier.

TK tells him about a call where they had been dispatched earlier, a child and cat stuck on the same tree. He tells about Buttercup stealing Mateo’s phone charger and making him chase him around the station. He tells about Paul and Marjan making a bet on who manages to maintain the longest streak of staying uninjured during calls and the subsequent betting pool.

Carlos in turn, tells about the tediousness of his paperwork. He tells about one of the officers who is on maternity leave but brought the new-born baby in so that her colleagues could meet the baby. He tells him about a shop-lifting case he was working on earlier.

Nothing they share with each other is urgent and all of it is small details about their days that could wait until TK gets back home, but he feels content hearing it already in the middle of the night.

“You should go to sleep, babe,” TK tells him softly when he hears Carlos repress yet another yawn.

“Said kettle to the pot,” he quips, because he isn’t the only one who could probably use a couple hours of sleep, at least.

TK makes a non-committal grunt, but he sounds slightly amused.

“I’m glad you called, Ty.”

“Me too.”

***

Carlos wakes up when he feels the mattress move beneath him, and for a moment he wonders if he could just fall back asleep, but then he hears the heavy and uneven breathing of TK next to him, and he immediately knows something is wrong and he instantly feels more alert.

He is lying his back towards TK, and he tries to fumble with his hand to touch him, just to ask what is bothering him, but his hand falls onto the mattress, because TK has managed to sit up and has moved to the other end of the bed.

“Cariño,” he murmurs, trying to get himself up, too.

It’s his still half-asleep brain that provides him with the pet name, and it escapes his mouth almost half-involuntarily, but TK still doesn’t respond. He startles visibly when Carlos touches his back and starts to rub it in a slow and soothing manner.

“Nightmare?” He asks, unsure of what else it could be that has made him so distraught in the middle of the night.

“Yeah,” he breathes out.

“The same one?”

“Yeah,” he repeats, still trying to catch his breath.

Carlos keeps rubbing his back because he knows exactly what nightmare he has been having for the past week. He also feels slight pang of guilt because it is, indirectly, sort of his fault.

Carlos got shot at a few days ago. It was supposed to be a normal follow-up to lead in half-abandoned industrial complex when the suspect had started to fire at them. He had been wearing a bulletproof vest so instead of a trip to the hospital, he had only received a large and ugly bruise on his chest, and it has already started to turn into shade of yellow.

He had been fine, just a little sore and shaken-up, but for some reason, TK had taken it a lot harder. The following night he had had the first nightmare and while Carlos still doesn’t know all the details of it, TK had been pretty incoherent as he tried to explain it, he had gathered enough to understand that the reoccurring theme was him and dying.

He would do anything to prevent him from having that particular nightmare again, but there is not much he can do. He would love to promise that nothing bad is going to happen to him ever again, but he cannot do that, but he has promised already that he will be careful.

Carlos hasn’t told him that he almost went in without the vest, but he changed his mind when he imaged the glare TK would give to him if he knew. It’s not like Carlos has ever been particularly reckless when it comes to his job, that is much more up in TK’s alley, and he always tries to protect everyone involved, but sometimes it is easy to get caught up with just doing his job.

“I’m here, I’m fine, I got you,” Carlos murmurs, repeating it like a mantra until the tension in his shoulder’s dissolves.

TK takes a couple of deep breaths and slouches a little more but flashes him a rueful smile. “I’m sorry I woke you up. Again.”

His voice still sounds meek and fatigued.

Carlos presses a kiss on his forehead. “There is nothing to apologize for.”

He glances back at him, his eyes gleaming a little more than usually, but his gaze gets caught into his bare chest where the bruise is still clearly visible. His eyes seem to tear up, and Carlos isn’t entirely sure if it is just from exhaustion or if the nightmare stirred up strong enough emotions.

Still, he knows he has to do something.

He gets out of the bed and finds himself a clean t-shirt to wear, so it at least TK doesn’t have a constant visual reminder of what had almost happened. His eyes are shining with gratefulness when Carlos sits back down on the bed again.

“I’m fine,” Carlos reassures, because he still keeps looking at him.

“I know,” he breathes out, “I know, but my subconscious doesn’t, and it doesn’t let me sleep,” TK complains, falling back on to his back.

He lies down, settling next to him, and he frantically tries to come up with anything that could help. It is difficult, he knows that much. He is more than familiar with the icy terror that takes over his veins when hearing that someone he loves has gotten hurt.

He has a lot of experience about that all-consuming fear and worry with TK. He has spent a lot of sleepless nights when TK has been just discharged from hospital, just lying next to him and checking that he is still alive.

He knows the anxiousness is almost impossible to shake off, and that it doesn’t get any easier. He guesses, and hopes, that TK’s nightmares will stop with time, at least about this specific instance, but he wants to help him now. Somehow ease his distress.

Suddenly, he gets an idea. It’s not much, but at least it is something concrete and something he can do. He grabs TK’s wrist and pulls his hand so that his fingertips end up laying on his neck, just on top of the spot where his pulse is the most noticeable.

“Feel that? There’s proof for your subconsciousness,” Carlos explains, softly, letting go of his wrist, but TK’s fingers remain on his neck.

TK exhales, and it sort of sounds like out of relief, but he swallows. “You’re gonna regret this when I end up sleeping my fingers on your neck,” he jokes, even if his voice sounds slightly breathless and weak.

He can feel his constant and steady heartbeat against TK’s index and middle finger, even though the touch is light. It’s barely touch at all, but it is still there.

“If that’s what it takes for you to sleep, then there’ll be no regret.”

“You’re unbelievable,” TK mutters, but his voice is gentle, and his eyes are so full of fondness that he thinks his heart might actually skip a beat. “This is dumb.”

He might be complaining, but Carlos notices that he doesn’t do anything to actually pull his fingers away, so he assumes it helps.

“It’s not dumb if it helps, keep ‘em there as long as you need,” he adds, stroking the wrist of his hand, “and wake me up as often as you need to.”

“Okay,” he breathes out, quietly.

It doesn’t take Carlos that long to lull back into sleep, but when he wakes up in the morning as his phone starts to blast the alarm, he notices that TK’s fingers are still resting near his lower neck, and that he looks almost well-rested.

***

“Why are you awake?”

He asks it as soon as he walks down the stairs and spots TK lying on the couch, watching the TV almost absentmindedly.

He thinks it is a fair question since it is only four am and neither one of them are on duty today.

The living room is dark, but the TV’s bright colours on screen keep illuminating the room with glow of different shades of blue and yellow.  

“I couldn’t sleep. My calf keeps cramping,” TK explains, gesturing towards his right leg with the remoter.

Carlos walks up to the couch and lifts his legs up to sit down on the other end of the leather couch. He settles TK’s legs back onto his lap. He rests his hand on his ankles.

“You can go back to sleep,” he points out softly, nudging him in the stomach with his toes, “you don’t have to stay awake for me.”

Carlos knows it, but he still prefers to stay there with him. He isn’t too tired and the bed is just ridiculously big and empty if he is there alone. Besides, he doesn’t want to leave him alone, to suffer from sleeplessness and achy muscles, and even after years of being together, he wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to spend some time with him.

“I’d rather be here,” he tells him, and runs his fingers up along his leg, until he presses his fingers into his calf.

TK moans, squeezing his eyes shut.  “Fuck that feels good,” he breathes out.

“Rough call earlier?”

Carlos keeps massaging his muscle. Applying gentle pressure and making his way through the knots and tensed up muscle.

“Hmh, a bit. There was a massive fire at an apartment complex. We got everyone out, but it was pretty touch-and-go for a moment. But there were so many stairs,” he explains, but his face twists into a grimace every once in a while, when he hits particularly sweet spot on his muscle.

Carlos just hums, focusing on his calf, but he smiles at him warmly.

“You know, you have just signed yourself up for a lifetime of leg massages because from now on, I’ll always complain to you when I get a cramp,” TK attempts to deadpan, but the bright grin appears on his face almost instantly.

“Lifetime, huh?” Carlos questions amusedly.

“Or as long as you manage to put up with me.”

“I don’t think lifetime is long enough,” he admits, as the starts to rub his calf, soothingly, and hoping that he managed to get the worst tension away.

TK chuckles, and it is all light and bubbly. “I love you, too, but that better not be a proposal.”

“No, you deserve a better one.”

Carlos has no real plans, yet. He just knows that it is something he wants to do, in the future.

TK’s smile is lopsided, and he nudges his side with his foot. “No guarantees that it is you who gets to ask the question.” 

His heart soars.

So, maybe, Carlos has a soft spot for their late-night hangouts.