HIs phone vibrated against the table. He sighed, flipping it over. He knew the text. He knew what Carlos was talking about without even looking. His boyfriend had spent their one night off away at his family’s ranch. Without him. Because his parents didn’t know about him. Or them. Or…any of it.
And now…Carlos was messaging. Trying to process the night before. The stress. The headache of being around his parents and faking things.
He knew he should respond, and he would. Just, he couldn’t help but feel the pang of hurt, of anxiety. Not when he had spent the night at his parents’ place, dealing with their stuff. He loved his parents. Truly and completely. But…something was going on. They were keeping something from him.
Everyone seemed to be keeping their secrets. First Carlos. He made him the secret. Now, his parents.
“What’s got you down, brother?”
He started at the voice.
“Hey, Judd.” TK sat up straighter. “Nothing. I’m fine.” He rubbed a hand over his face. “What’s up?”
Judd gave him a look up and down before pulling up a chair across from TK. “Don’t look like nothing. You look like your phone did something majorly offensive.”
TK snorted. “I’m fine.”
Judd raised an eyebrow. “Want to try that again?”
TK slumped down at that. “It’s stupid.”
TK sighed deeply. “Carlos had dinner with his parents last night.”
Judd sat forward at that. “Okay.”
TK chewed on his lip. “And I couldn’t go.”
“We were off last night.”
“I know.” TK felt is voice take on a slight whine; he cleared his throat. “But, they think I’m just his friend. And friends don’t go to big family dinners.” He let his eyes flicker up to see Judd’s reaction. The other man looked sad at the confession.
“That’s tough. Is Reyes not…you know? Out to them?”
TK breathed out. “He is. But, they apparently didn’t take it well. When he came out. So, he’s not really brought boyfriends around.”
“I see.” Judd leant his elbows on table and gave TK his full attention.
“So I get it. And I’m fine. It just…”
“Not as fine as you want to be?”
TK deflated at that. “Sort of. I mean, I know it’s about his parents. And his relationship with them. Not me. Or our relationship. We’ve talked that out. A lot. It just…last night was our only day off. And it just sucks. You know?” He looked away, trying not to let Judd see the emotions that were coming up for him. He hated this. He hated still being upset over all this. Hated not really even knowing what he was upset over at this point.
“That does suck.” Judd gave him a sympathetic look. “Look I—“
Before he could finish that thought, the alarms blared throughout the house, causing both men to stand and start moving.
“We’’ll finish this later?” Judd gave him a pointed look.
“Yeah. I’m fine, Judd. Seriously. Just a thing.” He raced toward the truck, grabbing his gear and looking out as his father came around and into view.
“Let’s go guys!” Owen called out.
Everyone soon filed Ito the truck and settled. Judd pulled out and started speeding off.
“Alright, looks like this is a bar fight turned ugly,” Owen called out once they were on the road.
“I thought most of the bars were shut down right now?” Paul asked, raising his eyebrow at the information.
“Supposed to be,” Owen replied with a sigh. “Looks like this one has been operating despite the closure orders. Someone called it in tonight and complained. And guess that led to a brawl.”
“Fun times,” Judd snarked.
“At least you should get to see your boy, TK,” Marjan teased, nudging his knee with her own.
“He’s on shift?” Mateo asked.
“Um yeah. Was supposed to go in this morning. I don’t know what time though.” TK shifted uneasily in his seat.
“Wait, you didn’t spend the night together? For once?” Paul added.
“Um, no. He had a family thing.” TK rubbed at the back of his neck.
Owen, picking up on TK’s unease, shifted gears for him. “Alright, Carlos or whoever is here from APD should already be on site. We’re backup and rescue. Some of the customers got into it. Tommy and Nancy will need some help. Judd, Mateo I want you to help with sorting out and lifting patients with them. Marjan, Paul, TK…you guys are on assist with EMS.”
A chorus of ‘copy that’ rang out in the truck as Judd pulled up to the scene. It appeared to be a dive bar, half boarded up and sporting some broken windows. APD was already on site. Tommy and Nancy pulled in right along side them, already running in to assist. They all soon followed.
TK scanned the bar as they all entered. He anxiously adjusted his mask. His eyes soon found APD. Carlos. Of course it was Carlos on duty.
Their eyes met. Carlos gave him a look, and shifted uneasily as they looked at one another. TK broke eye contact, too nervous, knowing he had ignored the texts earlier. Well, not ignored. Just not responded.
Carlos nodded at him but didn’t speak. It wasn’t too unusual. Both were working. They had to do their jobs. Like always.
He startled and turned to face Tommy. “Yes, ma’am?”
She gave him a soft smile. “Can you check on some of the people over there for me? Do triage? I’ve already called in for backup. Another bus should be here soon.”
“Yeah. No problem.” He grabbed a medical bag from Tommy and started working on the patrons off to the side. A few had some minor injuries, just bruises and cuts. He started to assess and treat as needed. Off to the side, he could see Carlos doing his own triage of sorts. He went around and started to talk to the crowd, gathering info and sorting things out.
TK turned to a patron and started to check her for possible concussion. “Ma’am? Can you tell me what happened? Any headaches? Did you pass out?”
“No,” the woman sighed. “Just the scratch on my forehead.”
TK nodded and started to clean the cut. “It doesn’t look too bad.” He grabbed a pen light and stabilized her head. “Just let me check your pupils real fast.”
She sighed but allowed him to do so. Most of the patrons seemed annoyed at their presence honestly. They tolerated the paramedics and firefighters. But the cops…that seemed to be another story.
They were pissed.
“Sir, please stand back for me.”
TK felt himself hone in on Carlos’s voice. He let his gaze turn over to the other side of the bar. Carlos was trying to stand between a couple of idiots who were yelling and trying to continue the fight.
“No! This asshole called you guys on us!”
TK finished up with his patient and moved closer to the group Carlos was working with. They all seemed agitated and unhappy with the police officers, sending glares and shifting uneasily. Carlos was largely by himself in the crowd. The other officers had fanned out to keep the others under control and to take statements. Carlos had been left to the wolves…
“Sir, I can’t confirm who called this in.” Carlos stepped in between the man and the target of his anger. “The bar isn’t supposed to be open right now. That’s no one’s fault but the pandemic. I’m sorry but—“
“No…we’ve been going here every day for a decade! This is bullshit!”
“Well I wouldn’t have done it if you hadn’t started fighting!” The other patron yelled back. He started to push against Carlos’s back.
“Both of you need to take a step back,” Carlos asserted.
TK felt his skin prickle. Things seemed to be escalating out of nowhere. The two men continued yelling over Carlos. He tried to keep them separated. But eventually…he lost the fight. The two men lunged at one another, catching him in the middle. He took a hard hit to his head from the instigator, yet Carlos managed to separate them almost as quickly as it started, knocking the man behind him back a step.
But the man in front who had instigated things…
He pulled a pocket knife from his jeans…
TK’s head swam as he saw the glint of metal. He yelled out, catching Judd’s attention. He ran forward to help. But he wasn’t fast enough. He saw the knife strike Carlos in the side…saw the blood drip onto the dirty wooden floor…saw the shock and pain settle in his face…
TK moved on autopilot. He ran forward to stop the man from assaulting Carlos any more. Judd soon joined, picking up on the fight. TK made it there first. He put himself between Carlos as the man, trying to separate and protect his boyfriend. The man struck out at him a few times, catching him in the eye and side with his fist. He brushed it off. Too much adrenaline and desire to protect Carlos.
So much adrenaline he didn’t feel the knife catch him in the side too…slicing through his turnout coat…catching against the flesh underneath…
Judd showed up a second later to pull the man away and against the wall. “Settle your ass down!”
TK let Judd handle the man. He instead focused on Carlos. “Hey! Stay with me, babe.” He applied pressure to the stab wound, blood seeping through his fingers as soon as he touched. Carlos gasped at the touch. He went all but limp in TK’s hold. “Shit….Tommy! I need help.”
Blood continued to spill between his fingers and down his coat as Tommy rushed over. She handed off the patient she had to Nancy. It looked like a broken nose or something. Nothing major.
Carlos looked like it was major.
“What happened?” Tommy took in the scene with wide eyes, already putting on new gloves and pulling out things from her bag. “Get him on the ground, Strand.”
TK stared at her for a moment, obviously in shock. Judd thankfully joined them and took over.
“Let me help, TK.” Judd put one hand on TK’s shoulder and the other on Carlos’s. “Let’s get him flat so Tommy can check him over. That’s it. We’ve got him.”
TK allowed Judd to help, to get Carlos in on his back on the floor. The gross bar floor. It was…it wasn’t right. Nothing about this was right.
“”It’s okay, brother,” Judd soothed.
TK wasn’t sure if he had spoken his thoughts aloud or if Judd just knew. Regardless, Judd’s words helped get him out of his head. He pushed down harder, applying more pressure to the wound. Carlos groaned under his hands but wasn’t coherent. He was half unconscious.
“TK, I need to get this compression bandage under your hands. Okay? We’ll do this quick, but we need to slow the bleeding so we can transport.”
“Y-yeah,” TK shakily replied. “Okay.”
TK moved his hand and allowed Tommy to place the bandage where it needed to go. He then assisted in applying more pressure. Blood seeped quickly through the gauze…even if it was better than his hands.
God this was too much.
“With us brother?”
TK startled at Judd’s voice. “Yeah. Sorry.”
“It’s okay,” Judd soothed.
“You’re doing great, TK,” Tommy added, trying to give him a reassuring smile. “Paul’s bringing over a stretcher with Nancy. We’re going to load Carlos up and get him to the ER. You can come. I could use the assist in the back while Nancy drives. Okay? Think you’re up for that?”
He wasn’t…but he didn’t have a choice. He had to. For Carlos.
They moved him into the back of the ambulance. Nancy and Judd shut the doors while TK and Tommy helped settle Carlos. His eyes fluttered, but didn’t open. Tommy kept working over him. TK…he tried to follow orders as best he could. He nearly jumped out of his skin when Nancy started the ambulance and drove off from the bar.
“It’s okay. We’ve got this, TK,” Tommy assured. She applied more pressure bandages and secured an oxygen mask over Carlos’s face. He moaned as TK applied more pressure to the gauze pads. He could feel blood soaking him, stretching out across his fingers and staining his clothes.
“Stay with us, Reyes,” Tommy muttered, checking over his vitals.
Carlos moaned at the mention of his name. TK turned his full attention up to his face, taking in the pained expression as his eyes finally opened again. “Hey babe,” TK stuttered out. “It’s okay. I’ve got you.”
TK let out a shaky breath as Carlos roused under his hands more. “Right here. Not going anywhere. You’re okay. Just stay with us, alright? You can do this. Okay?”
Carlos didn’t answer, his eyes slipping shut again and his breathing growing more shallow. TK’s sped up at the sight. Tommy squeezed his arm. “It’s okay. He’s still with us. The knife may have nicked something but we are just a minute or two out. We’ve got him. It’s okay.”
TK nodded, not sure what to say. He kept his hands on Carlos and just tried to help. He wasn’t sure what he was doing but he just wanted to help. To save Carlos.
The ambulance lurched to a stop. TK jumped at the sudden change. Nancy threw open the doors and helped Tommy pull Carlos out. TK stumbled, trying to keep up and keep his hands on Carlos…to help with the blood loss. He just had to keep pressing. He just need to keep him safe.
I hadn’t considered how unsafe you felt…
TK shook himself of his thoughts and followed along with everyone. Nurses and orderlies pushed and guided them into the ER. TK just kept pressing on the wound. He just focused on Carlos. Carlos who was still not conscious. Who was still bleeding way too much.
He startled as the nurses started to pull him away.
“No, I need—“
“TK, it’s okay.” Tommy stepped up, pulling him away and letting the nurses forward. “Let them work. They have him.”
“I know. It’s okay.” She tugged on his body, managing to get him a few feet from the gurney. The ER staff and doctors swarmed around Carlos and started working. TK could see them cutting off his uniform, ripping it and tugging at it with little care. Tears started to fill his eyes as the full scope of Carlos’s injuries came into view. The wound looked deep, ugly purple bruises already forming around it.
God it looked bad.
He lurched forward, trying to stay with Carlos as they pulled him further into the ER for treatment. Tommy gripped him tighter. A nurse joined her, doing the same.
“Easy, Strand,” Tommy tried to sooth. He squeezed his arm soothingly and rubbed his back. “Let them work. It’s okay. You’re okay.”
He gave her a scared look but allowed her and the nurse to pull him back.
“I’m sorry, sir. But you’re not allowed back there,” the nurse added.
TK wanted to scream. Or cry. Something.
Tommy kept rubbing his back. “They’ll take good care of him.”
“We will,” the nurse replied. “You guys did your job. And well by the looks of it. But now it’s time for you to go. I’m sorry. But we can’t allow visitors and…”
TK zoned out as she spoke. Too focused on Carlos and the doors. Barely hearing her talk of the hospital’s COVID protocols and rules around visitors for right now. He couldn’t leave. He just…that wasn’t an option. Protocols be damned.
He just couldn’t move.
Another nurse came up, giving Tommy a kind look. “Hey, chica.”
“Damon, hey,” Tommy greeted the new nurse but kept her hands on TK. “Been awhile.”
“I heard you were back in the game, Vega.”
“I am. And tonight’s been a night.” She squeezed TK’s arm again.
“I can see that.” Damon gave TK a long look. He barely noticed, still focused on the doors that were currently blocking Carlos from him. “That eye looks kind of bad, buddy.”
TK didn’t even realize they were addressing him until Tommy nudged him. “Hmm?”
“You took a hit didn’t you, TK?”
“Wait, were you guys in that bar fight? The one across town?”
“Yeah…we got dispatched there,” Tommy answered. “TK’s boyfriend got caught in the crosshairs.”
“The cop?” Damon pointed toward the doors. “Shit, sorry to hear that man.”
TK found himself nodding. He couldn’t speak. He just…he wanted to see Carlos. Even if he knew that wasn’t an option.
Damon stepped up closer and gave TK a once over. “That eye doesn’t look great. How about we get you some ice and find you two a room to wait in?”
“What?” TK started out of his thoughts at that. “But…I thought—“
“I may be able to bend the rules for a friend.” Damon nudged Tommy with his elbow. “After all, you did save my sister.”
“That was a decade ago, Damon,” Tommy replied with a smile. “But if that gets a pass…”
“I think I can make it work.” Damon winked at them. “Just don’t say anything. We’re allowing visitors. But usually just immediate family. You may get kicked out once they show, but I think I can figure it out for you two.” He flashed them a kind smile. “Just follow me.” He led them through a corridor and into a small private waiting room. “Here we go. Just keep your masks on. I’ll grab some visitor passes and some ice for your friend.” With that, he left Tommy and TK alone in a small room.
“You should sit, TK.”
TK absently nodded and let Tommy pull him down onto a seat. “Thank you.”
She squeezed his shoulder. “Are you hurt anywhere else?”
“Sure you are,” she scoffed. She sat down next to him and gave him a long look. “That’s a lot of blood.” She pointed at his hands and coat.
TK swallowed hard, trying not to gag at the sight. “Not mine.”
Tommy grabbed some paper towels from across the room and returned to his side. She wiped at his hands. It was useless though. She instead started talking again. “They’ll take good care of him. He will be okay.”
“You don’t know that.” TK rubbed a hand over his eyes.
“I know he was in a good position going back there. And,” she emphasized, “that was all you. You did a great job back there.” She let her knee hit his.
“I didn’t do enough. I—“
“Kept him stable. Followed my orders to the letter. For your partner. That’s not easy. But you did it. All of that.”
TK gave her an anxious look at that. “I should have done more.”
Tommy shook her head. “If that was a stranger, we’d both be talking about how amazing you were under pressure. You’re just saying that because it’s your boyfriend. No one is perfect when it’s the person they love I hurt. But, you were pretty damn close.” She waited for TK to look up at her. Once he did, she fixed him with a kind smile. “And from what I’ve heard, this isn’t the first time you’ve been able to do that.” He gave her a confused look. “I heard all about your antics in San Angelo. With your dad.”
“I don’t understand?”
“You went above and beyond to save him. Even with all that fear and worry…you took care of him. You did your job until others could assist.”
“I didn’t do much. I—“
“Just saying,” she interrupted, “I’d be happy to have on my team any day of the week. Seriously.”
Before TK could respond, Damon returned with an ice pack and their passes. Tommy thanked him and took both from the nurse. She stuck the badge to her uniform and fixed TK’s for him. She then urged him to put the ice on his eye. He hissed at the pain.
“Easy. You’re going to have one hell of shiner.” She gave him another long look. “Are you sure that’s all? You’re pretty pale, Strand.”
“I’m fine,” he lied. His whole body felt numb and on fire all at once.
“Sure you are.”
TK was about to argue when the door to their private room opened. He felt his heart drop as he saw the new guests enter. As Carlos’s parents entered.
“Can I help you?” Tommy asked. TK wasn’t sure if she had noticed his anxiety or not, but it was there. He felt his hands already start shaking as they walked in.
I can’t be a friend right now.
“Yes,” Andrea said softly. She looked worried. He husband, Gabriel TK remembered from one of Carlos’s stories. “We were told to wait here for Carlos Reyes. We were told he was in surgery. And—TJ? Is that you?”
Tommy frowned at him but he tried to ignore it. He sat up straighter. Pain hit him as he did so, but he pushed it away. He was fine. He could do this. “Um, yeah. Hi, Mr. And Mrs. Reyes.”
“Were you working with our boy tonight, TJ?” Gabriel asked. His eyes focused on TK’s shaking hands. They were still covered in blood. Carlos’s blood.
TK felt himself pale at the misname again. “Yes…yes sir.” He swallowed thickly. He felt himself start to sweat and shake all the more. He wasn’t keeping it together. Not with them standing there. And Carlos…
“Excuse me,” he said. He stood and fled the room. He heard Tommy yell for him. The Reyes asked questions. But…he just couldn’t do it. Not with Carlos hurt…
TK followed the corridors out from the room, ignoring the glares of the other staff as he moved. He just, he needed away. He knew he shouldn’t. He should have stayed. But, he just couldn’t do it. He knew it wasn’t anyone’s fault per se…but he couldn’t stay there. He couldn’t pretend to be ‘good buddy TJ’ while his boyfriend was apparently in surgery. Which no one had even told him until then.
God he couldn’t breathe.
He felt out of breath and panicked. He let himself all but fall into a nearby wall. He slide down and tried to catch his breath. His side ached, all but throbbing as his lungs refused to work.
He looked up at his name. Gwyn rounded the corner, a mask secured on her face and her heels clicking against the hospital floor.
She was at his side in a second, pulling him up and into her arms.
“How? Why are you here? How—“
“Your father.” She pulled out of the hug, placing her hands on either side of his face and giving him a worried look. “He called. Told me Carlos had been hurt on a call.” Her thumb traced the outline of his black eye. “He said you were helping Tommy and transporting him.”
He bit his lip. “But, how are you here? Back here. I thought…I thought people weren’t allowed?”
“Oh they’re not.” She gave him a clever smile. “But I’m not most people.” She kissed his forehead. “I was on the other side of the hospital for an appointment for…” She waved her hand. “When your father called, I worked my magic to get over here.” She caressed his cheek. “No way I was going to let you deal with this alone.”
TK let a tear finally slide down his face.
“I was told you and Tommy were in a private room. Why…did something happen? Why are you out here?”
TK took a shaky breath and closed his eyes tightly. Another tear slipped out. “Carlos’s parents. The staff must have called. They just showed up.”
“It’s fine.” He felt the pain go through him again. “Really.” God his side hurt. “They should be here.” It burned. “It’s fine.”
He blinked his eyes.
The pain grew.
He felt something slide down his side.
“TK? What’s wrong? Sweetheart?”
He felt his mom pull at his coat.
“Oh god! Someone! Help!”
He felt his legs give out.
He slid down to the ground.
Gwyn tried to help. But it was too late.
Blood started to pull on the ground under him.
HIs last thought…was that maybe it wasn’t just Carlos’s blood on his coat after all…
This chapter got away from me guys. It's 6K and I don't know how that happened. But I hope you like the end of the fic! Thank you for all the kudos, comments, and subs! I appreciate it and will get around to replying to everyone in the coming days. Been dealing with power/internet outages on/off the last week with weird weather.
Thanks again to mtnofgrace for helping plot this out with me! I appreciate you my dear!
He wasn’t quite sure where he was or what had happened. He felt like he was laying down on…something. It wasn’t as soft as the bed he was used to. Definitely not as cosy as the one he was used to sharing with Carlos. Not as warm as the one he used at his dad’s still every now and then. Hell, it wasn’t even as nice as his bunk at the firehouse. No, he was somewhere else. Somewhere not as good.
“Kiddo? Are you with me?”
He felt something soft rubbing up and down his arm. He let his head turn to the voice and blinked his eyes open. The lights around him were bright, making his vision blur and swim. He moaned at it and let his eyes shut again.
“Easy sweetheart. It’s okay.”
He felt whatever was rubbing at his arm move up to his forehead. It blocked some of the light from what he could tell behind his closed eyes.
“Come on TK. It’s okay. You’re okay.”
He opened his eyes again. “Mom?”
“There you are.” She moved her hand away from his eyes, carding. it through his hair. “Hey.” She leaned forward and gave him a kiss on the forehead. “You gave us a scare.”
“Sure did, Strand.”
TK looked up at the second voice. “Captain…”
Tommy sighed and stepped up closer to the bed. “How many times did I ask you if you were hurt?”
TK scrunched his forehead at that. “What? I wasn’t. I—“
“Took a knife to your side,” Tommy continued.
TK shook his head in disbelief. “No. Carlos—wait! How’s Carlos? I should…Carlos!” He started to sit up but stopped once pain shot through his side, stealing his breath.
“Woah, slow down, kid,” Gwyn urged, pushing him down onto the bed and keeping her hand on his shoulders. “Breathe for me. You’re okay.” She kept carding a hand through his hair. “Carlos is upstairs in recovery. His parents are up there right now. He’s doing okay last I heard.”
“You on the other hand,” Tommy continued, “failed to notice you got sliced when you broke up the fight.” She gave him a sad smile. “Your coat was hiding a four inch. Twenty stitches to close it, and given how dirty that bar was, probably one hell of an infection if you don’t stay ahead of it.”
TK groaned, letting his hand wander to his side. He realized he in a hospital gown. He felt the gauze and bandages under the thin material. “Shit…”
“Yeah, you weren’t staying ahead of it, Tyler Kennedy.”
“Don’t ‘mom’ me.” She gave him a stern look. “What were you thinking?”
“I didn’t feel it.” He rubbed at his eyes, wincing as he pressed too hard on the bruises.
“You also have a hell of a shiner.” Tommy pulled his hand away from his face. “And some bruised ribs. You got hit hard than you thought.”
TK nodded slowly. “When can I go? I want…I need to see Carlos.”
Gwyn and Tommy’s gaze met over TK before his mom spoke up. “Honey, I’m sorry but you won’t be able to see Carlos tonight. They are just allowing two people per patient right now. It’s just protocols the pandemic.”
“Doctors should let you go soon,” Tommy added. She kept talking about his aftercare and recovery. Things the doctors had told them. What he needed to do. TK heard none of it, too focused on the fact he couldn’t see Carlos. That he wasn’t allowed to see him.
Despite what they were say, he couldn’t help but wonder if there was more to it. If there was another reason he wasn’t allowed up.
I screwed up…
He couldn’t help but wonder if he had given something away. If he’d given Carlos away to his parents. Given them away.
He started at his mother’s voice. “Hmm?”
“Where’d you go just now?” She squeezed his hand.
She gave him a disbelieving look but didn’t say anything. Instead, she turned back to Tommy. “Captain Vega, do you mind getting the doctors for us? I know they said they would check over TK and see if he could go home once he woke up.”
“Of course.” Tommy patted his leg. “I should head out anyway.” She started toward the door but paused. “Strand, take care of yourself. Carlos need you to.”
TK nodded slowly at that.
“Thank you again,” Gwyn called out. She turned her attention back to TK once Tommy was out the door. “You want to tell me what’s wrong, kiddo?”
“I just….I wish I could see Carlos.”
“I see someone’s awake for us again.” TK breathed a sigh of relief at the doctor walked in, cutting off his mother. “How are you feeling Mr. Strand?”
“Fine. When can I go?” He tried to sit up straighter. God it hurt. He managed to at least get his head up to see the doctor better.
The doctor raised an eyebrow at him. “Well,” she continued, “as long as your mother is able to help monitor things, you should be free to leave once you finish that IV of fluids.” She pointed up to a bag that looked to be nearly empty. “You’ll need to keep a close eye out for infection. Given that you weren’t given immediate treatment and cleaning of the wound, I’m afraid it may be unavoidable.”
Gwyn gave TK a stern look at that but rubbed his arm soothingly.
“We’ll send you home with some antibiotics. Take them all, even if you don’t feel bad.”
“He will,” Gwyn assured.
“And…you need to be careful about food and water. Drink four more glasses of water than you may be used to. Make sure your meals include things that have iron and vitamin B…that can be things like beef or liver.” TK made a face at that. “Or poultry, fish, leafy greens…”
“We’ll make sure he gets what he needs,” Gwyn continued. She squeezed TK’s arm.
“I need to see Carlos,” TK sighed, knowing it was probably a losing battle.
The two women both gave him a sad smile at that. “Take it Carlos is that cop you brought in earlier?” The doctor asked gently. TK nodded. God he was so tired. He let his head flop back onto the pillow. “I can’t give out details on another patient. I’m sorry. And,” she gave him another sad look, “he already has two visitors with him. That’s all we are allowing upstairs right now.”
TK felt a tear slip down his cheek. He tried to brush it off, to not let the doctor see. His mother noticed if the hand brushing it away was any indication.
“Thank you again, doctor,” Gwyn answered for them both. “I’ll keep an eye on him. So will his father.”
“I’ll get everything sorted and ready. You should be out of here in an hour.” She gave them a smile and backed out of his treatment room.
Gwyn rubbed TK’s cheek softly. “I’m so sorry, baby. I know you want to see Carlos. You will.”
He closed his eyes tightly, feeling tears slip down into his mom’s fingers again. “His parents still think I’m his friend. They’re not going to update me. They—“
“They aren’t the ones who love you.” Gwyn patted his cheek and waited on him to look up at her. “He loves you. He will reach out to you.” She gave him a kiss on the forehead. “Or, worst case, I’ll figure out a way to work my magic for you.”
TK snorted out a laugh at that. He cleared his throat. “Thank you.”
“But,” she emphasized, “for right now, let’s get you sorted and healing up too. Carlos may have had to have surgery, but you didn’t exactly come out of this unscathed. And you tried to hide it from everyone.”
“I didn’t feel it,” TK sighed. “Seriously. I just thought it was a couple punches. I didn’t feel the cut.”
“You mean the stab wound?” Gwyn deadpanned.
“I wouldn’t call it a stab wound…”
“I believe the doctors used those words.”
“Tommy said I got sliced. That’s different. I—“
“TK, you’re hurt. Whatever the word you want to use. Don’t know that it changes the outcome.” Gwyn ran a hand through his hair. “Take a breathe and rest.” She squeezed the back of his neck. “I’m going to go get your prescriptions and hit up the pharmacy while you finish that bag.”
“You don’t have to. I can do it. I—“
“Need to take it easy and heal. Plus, I have some of my own to grab anyway.”
TK made a face at that. Gwyn shifted uncomfortable for a moment then excused herself to go take care of things, leaving TK alone with his thoughts.
Thoughts that ran rampant for the thirty minutes it took for Gwyn to gather the medicines he needed, whatever the hell she had to get for herself, and sign off on all his discharge papers. He was about ready to pull the IV out himself and just walk out, but he had a feeling that wouldn’t go over well with anyone involved.
He let the nurses do their jobs and signed off on the last of his papers. His mom helped him back into a set of borrowed scrubs from the hospital His uniform had been ruined between the blood and cuts. It had been a lost cause and discarded somewhere along the way. The only thing that remained were his boots and AFD issues mask, both of which stuck out against the oversized scrubs.
The nurses forced him into a wheelchair while his mom brought her car around to the doors for him. Moving…hurt. Far more than he expected. Whatever they had used to numb his side for the stitches had long worn off. As had all the adrenaline from earlier. He was left with throbbing pain in the wake of the numbness. His head ached, his ribs, his eye, his side…
“Easy, Mr. Strand,” the nurse cautioned as he slid into his mom’s rental car. He managed to get in without causing more damage, his hand holding his stitched side the whole time.
“Nice and slow, TK,” Gwyn encourage. She squeezed his knee and leaned over to fix his seatbelt for him. He barely protested, too focused on just trying to breathe through the pain and panic he still felt. “You okay for me to start driving?”
“Y-yeah,” he shakily replied.
“Okay. I’ll make it as smooth as possible, sweetie.” She let the emergency brake down and checked her mirrors. “I texted your dad. He’s going to have dinner ready for us.”
“Fine.” He let his head fall against the headrest and she started toward the road.
“I’m fine, mom.”
“Yeah, don’t think you are kiddo.” She slowed and stopped for a red light. “You’re not fine, and that’s okay. You just went through a lot tonight. You don’t have to keep that bottled up. I’m here. Talk to me.”
TK felt himself snap at her words. The emotions of the day. The anxiety. The frustration of, well, everything. “I’m fine.”
“Mom, no, please. Don’t start this.”
“I don’t really want to talk about this. Not unless you want to actually tell me why you were at the hospital today.” Gwyn’s face fell at that. “That’s what I thought.” He faced the window again. “Light’s green.”
The car lurched forward, causing him to gasp as his seatbelt rubbed his side.
“I’m sorry,” Gwyn replied as she was turning on their road.
“About your driving or what I just called you on?”
She pulled up and into the driveway. “Both.” She reached over and squeezed his arms. “Let’s get inside. We can talk.”
TK felt his face flush. “Yeah right,” he mumbled as she got out of the car and came around to help him out. His father appeared on the porch. He knew they wanted to help him…but god he just wanted to hide away for the night.
Owen came over and opened the car door. “Hey, bud.”
TK couldn’t bother to muster up a smile at this point. He was exhausted. He just nodded and let his dad help him up. He all but fell into him once he was standing, his legs shaky and his body aching fiercely.
“I’ve got ya.” Owen held him tight and kept him steady as they moved into the house. Gwyn followed behind, her hand on TK’s band as they walked inside. Owen steered TK over to the couch and urged him to sit. “Here you go. That’s it. Easy, TK.” TK couldn’t help but wince as he sat, his side flaring up with pain at every little move. “Let’s get you some food and some meds.”
TK closed his eyes as the room spun a little. “Not hungry,” he gritted out.
“Now…come on, son. You need to eat to help your body heal.”
“I’m fine,” TK huffed, letting himself lean back into the couch.
“Son,” Owen continued, “come on. Please? I’ll fix you a bowl. I made one of those quinoa bowls and—“
“I said no. I really don’t feel like eating.” TK tried to stay calm. He wasn’t angry. Not really. He just…he was so tired. Tired of pain. Of navigating other people’s relationships. Being in the middle. The secrets…
“Owen, let him be,” Gwyn tried to mediated.
“Son, what’s wrong? Come on buddy. Let’s talk about this. I know you’re worried about Carlos. And—“
“It’s not just that,” TK finally snapped. He leaned forward, hurting his side in the process. “It’s everything.” He waved an arm his parents.
“I don’t understand,” Owen said, taken aback.
“Everyone wants to have their secrets!” TK pushed himself off the couch. It hurt. But he couldn’t sit still. Not as he talked. Owen and Gwyn reached for him, but he batted their hands away. He started to pace a little.
“Son?” Owen tensed. TK could only hope he was starting to piece things together.
“Sweetheart,” Gwyn spoke up. “Please. Can you sit. You’re going to hurt yourself.”
“TK sighed and stilled for a moment, letting himself lean against the wall. “Are you going to answer my question, mom?”
Gwyn stiffened and looked at Owen for backup.
He didn’t offer it for her. Instead, he walked over to TK and put a hand of his shoulders, no doubt feeling the shaking underneath. “If we’re going to answer that question, then you need to sit down. Please, TK. You’re shaking and in pain. Couch.” He was firm but kind in his words, leaving TK little choice. The two shuffled back to the couch and sat down together. Gwyn gave Owen a look. He shook his head. “I think he deserves to know.”
“We planned to wait,” Gwyn said, slight panic in her voice. “We wanted to wait til we knew…”
“Plans change. I think you know that better than anyone.” Owen gave her a soft smile before turning back to TK. He squeezed the back of his son’s neck. “We weren’t trying to keep a secret from you. I’m sorry you feel that way. I should have known. After everything with Carlos’s parents…”
TK stiffened at that. He closed his eyes, willing his emotions to calm.
Gwyn sighed and joined them on the couch. She took one of TK’s hands in hers. “I’m sorry too.”
TK nodded, keeping his eyes closed. “So what’s going on? Why were you at the hospital? Is something…is something wrong?” He opened his eyes and turned to his mom.
Gwyn sighed and started talking. She told TK everything. She told him of the surprise pregnancy. Of the doctors. Of the news. Everything. She kept ahold of his hand as she spoke. Owen kept his hand on TK’s back, adding in details here and there. They explained themselves as best they could. When they finished, TK felt even more wrung out and figured he had somehow paled all the more.
“I’m sorry baby,” Gwyn added once more. “We weren’t trying to keep you out of this. I just…I was afraid to talk about it. I wanted to wait until the second trimester. If there was a second trimester I guess.”
TK just nodded, not sure what to say.
God I’m tired…
“TK?” Owen rubbed his back. “I know this is a shock. I’m so sorry.”
TK found himself nodding again. He opened his mouth to say something, but still couldn’t find the words. There really wasn’t any. He let out a shaky breath instead and stood.
“TK?” Gwyn repeated.
“I’m fine,” he said automatically. “I just. I’m tired.” He rubbed at his eyes. “I’m going to go to bed.”
Gwyn tugged on his hand. “Tyler—“
“Let him rest. Give him some space for now,” Owen interjected. TK shot his dad a thankful smile. Gwyn squeezed his hand and let go. “If you need us…”
“I’ll yell out or text. I just kind of want to go sleep right now. I’ll, uh, I’ll eat later.” He wouldn’t. The very idea of food made him feel sick.
“I’ll bring your meds and food later, buddy.”
TK thanked his dad and shuffled his way to his bedroom in the back of the house. He kicked the door shut behind him with a sigh. He wanted nothing more than to fall straight into bed, but he knew he needed to change out of his clothes and clean up a little. He forced himself to change out of the hospital scrubs and wash his face in the ensuite. Every little movement sent pain across his flank.
He glanced at the bandage, noting some leakage already showing. He knew he probably should yell for his dad to come change it and help him clean it. But…it could wait. He didn’t want to deal. He just wanted to sleep.
His phone pinged on his nightstand as he walked back into his room. He sat on the edge fo the bed, hope rising for just a second. Hope that maybe Carlos was awake and texting him.
Paul: How are you doing, man? Need anything? Any updates on Carlos? We were told we couldn’t visit.
TK sighed. He tossed the phone back on his nightstand, not bothering to respond. He would later. But for now…he just wanted to sleep…
So he slept. For the rest of that day. It was fitful, filled with nightmares of the day’s events. Of Carlos being stabbed. Of blood. Of worse…
He woke after each one, sweaty and biting back a scream.
He felt like shit.
And the feeling didn’t end the next day. Or the day after. It just got worse. He just got worse. Carlos still hadn’t responded. He had sent countless texts. Each showing as not delivered or unread. He felt his panic only grown with each.
He could barely sleep. He couldn’t eat. He barely left his room, only coming out when Owen begged him to come watch tv or attempt food. He wouldn’t talk to anyone.
Owen gave up on the whole ‘give him space’ thing on the third day.
On that day, he came in armed with a thermometer at six in the morning, his phone up to his ear. The beeping of the thermometer woke TK, who had just managed to fall asleep a few hours before after yet another horrible dream.
“Yeah…he’s sitting at 100.5 degrees today. Yes. Yeah, it was 99F yesterday. And 101 the day before. Yeah, this is with Tylenol and antibiotics.”
TK blinked up as his dad kept talking on the phone. He startled when Owen pulled down his blankets, shifting his phone so that his shoulder could hold it against his ear. He pulled TK’s bandage aside.
“What the hell, dad?” TK muttered, trying to breath through pain as his dad checked his wound.
“Yeah, it’s red and there’s pus on the gauze.”
Owen held up a finger then squeezed TK’s shoulder. “Ten o’clock? Yeah I can bring him them. Thanks. I appreciate it.” With that, he hung up.
“Dad? What’re you doing?”
“I’m setting up a doctor’s appointment for you to get that wound checked.”
“No, you aren’t fine.” Owen sat on the edge of the bed and ran a hand through TK’s sweaty hair. “You’ve got a bad infection that isn’t letting up and you’re anemic if I had to bet with how little you’ve managed to eat. You’re running on fumes. You’re body isn’t healing. And you aren’t sleeping.”
TK hid his face into the pillow. “You noticed?”
“Oh yeah,” Owen sighed. “Both your mom and I did. We thought you may need a little time. Given everything with Carlos.” TK flinched at his boyfriend’s name. “But, this isn’t getting better.” Owen waved at the wound. “So, here’s what we’re going to do. I’m going to help you shower and change.”
TK pulled a face at that.
“Nope. It’s happening, buddy. I’m sorry but it needs to. You’re sweaty and that’s probably not helping things.” He ran his nails against TK’s scalp, trying to offer some comfort. “And then you’re going to attempt to at least drink a green shake for me. If you can.”
TK sighed. “I really don’t feel hungry. I’m trying.”
“I know.” Owen squeezed his neck. “I know you are. So we’re going to give you a little extra help and take you to the doctor at ten to get that wound cleaned again and some stronger meds.”
“Dad…” TK could tell if his voice was coming out as panicked or whiny. He couldn’t bring himself to care.
“Come on. Let’s get you cleaned up.”
Owen helped him out of bed and into the bathroom. He assisted in washing him off and readying himself for the appointment. He then guided him back into the kitchen where he shoved a smoothie in his hands. “I know.” Owen held up his hands. “I know you don’t want it. Just, humor me? Try a few sips. If you feel sick, stop. It’s okay.” He ran a hand over his face. “There’s been enough puking in this house for one morning as is…”
TK faced an eyebrow at that. “Mom?”
Owen nodded. “Yeah. Sorry. Um, morning sickness has set in. Well, all day sickness. But, you know.” He shrugged and shifted uncomfortably. “Look, son, I’m sor—“
“I’m not mad at you guys. You don’t need to apologize.” He set the glass down and ran a hand over his face. “I just don’t know what to say about it all.”
“It’s been a shock.” Owen shrugged. “I just, I am sorry. For springing it on you. For keeping it from you. All of it.”
TK smiled a little and nodded. “I just…it’s going to be high risk. For mom.”
“I know, buddy. I know.”
He looked away. “And I just about lost my boyfriend three days ago.” He pressed his fist into his eyes. “Maybe I did for all I know.”
“You didn’t.” Owen reached across the counter and pulled TK’s hand into his own. “He’ll be okay and will call you as soon as he can.”
TK looked up anxiously. “What if his parents keep him from me? What if he can’t call? What—“
“Then we will figure out a way to kidnap him ourselves.”
That earned a small laugh fromTK.
“Come on. Take a few more sips of that then we will head out.” Owen’s phone buzzed. He took it out and shot off a few quick texts. “Come on.”
TK nodded and shoved the smoothie away. He slowly stood from the kitchen stool. He would have fallen had Owen not ran around to his side to grab him.
“Thanks,” he sighed.
Owen clapped him on the shoulder and steered him out to the car. They made the trek to the doctor’s office. Owen went in with him, guiding him to the front desk to check in and staying at his side every time he tripped.
He was still so tired.
The doctor came out on time and let Owen come back with him. Owen’s phone kept going off, making TK wonder what was going on. Even with work, Owen tended to not get that many texts in such a short time.
“Everything okay?” TK asked when the doctor stepped out to grab some supplies. He had decided TK’s stitches needed to be redone. He had explained how he was going to irrigate the wound and restitch everything. It sounded, well, painful. But TK logically knew it needed to be done.
“Yeah,” Owen replied looking up from his phone.
“Is mom okay? You’re checking your phone a lot.”
“Okay, Mr. Strand,” the doctor interrupted as he stepped inside again. “This will probably feel unpleasant, so I’m going to numb the area and then we will get you started.”
TK nodded in understanding and tried to relax. He kept glancing over at his dad, who kept glancing at his phone. He wanted to ask more, but the doctor started pulling and tugging on stitches and he lost track of time. By the time it was all done, he felt boneless and exhausted.
“I’m going to give you some stronger antibiotics. And repeat that you need to replenish your blood. Be that on your own, or with a transfusion this upcoming week if you can’t keep food down.”
TK blushed at that. “Yeah, I’ll try to be better.”
“Red meat would be best,” the doctor continued. “Or—“
“He’s vegan, doc,” Owen added. “We’ll figure it out. We know what to do. He just hasn’t felt great with the infection.”
“That’s understandable,” the doctor softened. “It is a pretty bad one.” The doctor applied a new bandage and patted TK on the knee. “You are all set. Have your dad help you with your hoodie and I’ll get your prescription.”
With that, TK was left once more with Owen. Who was still glancing at his cell…
TK shook off his concerns and allowed Owen to help. He pulled his hoodie back on and slowly made his way out of the room. He all but slumped against the window once they made it to the car. TK was exhausted and in so much more pain by this point. Owen squeezed his arm once he was in the driver’s seat himself. TK let his eyes slip shut as the car started moving.
He never noticed that Owen wasn’t driving back toward his place.
TK didn’t open his eyes again until he felt the car pull off the road and stop. He expected to see his dad’s place but instead saw Carlos’s condo in front of him.
“I thought you’d like to maybe stay here for the day.”
TK noticed a car in front of them with a Texas Rangers badge on the license plate.
His parents were here.
“Dad, I can’t. They—“
“You can,” Owen insisted. He patted TK on the shoulder before he reached around to the back seat. He pulled up a duffle bag and placed in in TK’s lap. “Your new meds are in there. So is extra bandages and that mineral water you prefer.”
“Your mom packed some extra clothes in there while you were sleeping last night.”
“And your chargers are in there. Think you should have all the essentials.”
“Dad!” TK snapped. “I can’t go in there. HIs parents are there. What are they going to think about me being here? Friends don’t show up with duffle bags and—“
“Gabriel Reyes showed up at the firehouse yesterday. He told me Carlos spent the whole day before, once out of surgery, asking about you.” TK’s eyes grew wide. “And with a busted phone, Gabriel pulled some favors and figured out where you worked. They know you’re coming, son. It’s okay. Just, go. Go see your boy and get some rest. I think you both deserve that.”
TK swallowed thickly. “What if they don’t like it?”
“Don’t know that they matter. Carlos wants you here. So…what are you waiting on?”
TK nodded. “Thank you.”
Owen squeezed his shoulder and encouraged him to get out of the car. It was slow goings, but he managed to stumble up the walkway and reach the door. He knew his keys were probably in his duffle, but it didn’t feel right. To just use the key when Carlos’s parents were over. So he knocked with a shaking hand and hoped for the best.
His heart just about stopped when he saw Carlos’s dad open the door.
“TK,” the man greeted.
TK felt his hands tremble all the more. “Um, hi, sir. Yeah. Um…”
“Come in, before you pass out on the porch and worry the neighbors.”
TK’s eyes widen at the comment.
TK couldn’t help but turn toward that voice.
“What?” Gabriel continued. He grabbed the duffle bag from TK’s hand and pulled him inside, keeping a tight grip on him when TK looked ready to fall over. “He looks worse than you, mijo! And you’re the one who had surgery three days ago.”
“Mi armor, be kind,” another voice yelled from the kitchen.
Gabriel guided TK toward the couch. “What? He does! He looks sick.”
TK couldn’t help but hone in on Carlos. Carlos who looked, okay. Who was sitting on the couch with pillows all around him and blankets. Carlos who looked, better. So much better.
“Hey,” Carlos sighed out. “Hey you.”
Gabriel nudged TK toward the couch. He all but fell into the cushions, Carlos half catching him and Gabriel steadying them both. “Easy, boy. Easy.”
“Sorry,” TK sighed.
“It’s okay,” Carlos comforted, squeezing his arm. Gabriel nodded at them and stepped away, going off toward the kitchen. Once he was gone, Carlos gave TK a kiss on the forehead. “You’re still burning up.”
TK shook his head. “I’m fine,” He shifted so that he could see Carlos better, his side flared with pain, making his breath catch in his throat.
“Babe, you look bad.” Carlos pulled him closer to his side. TK stiffened. “It’s okay.”
“No, don’t want to hurt you.”
“I was stabbed on the other side. It’s okay.”
“But your parents. They—“
“Know,” Carlos emphasized. “I kind of let it slip while high on morphine.” He made a face.
TK huffed out a laugh. “Morphine will do that. But—“
“It’s okay. More than okay.” He put his arm around TK’s shoulders. “Seriously. Once they figured out TJ was really TK,” he squeezed TK’s arm, “papi reached out to some old contacts to figure out which house was yours.” He pulled TK against his side; he went willingly this time. “He must kind of like you…he willingly went to a firehouse to look for you for me.” Carlos shot him a wide smile at that.
TK couldn’t help but return it. “So, you’re okay?”
Carlos gave him a soft kiss on the cheek. “Yeah. I am. I’m okay.” He leaned back to get a better look at TK. “I’m sorry it took so long to see you. My phone was busted at the bar. New one hasn’t arrived yet.”
“Nothing to apologize for. Really.”
“You look like you haven’t slept in days.” He ran a hand through TK’s hair. “So think I do.”
TK huffed at that. “Don’t think you asked the asshole to stab you.”
“Thank you,” Andrea yelled from the kitchen, startling both boys. “If Carlos apologizes one more time…”
“Don’t interrupt your mother,” Gabriel added.
“They’re right,” TK said softly. “It wasn’t your fault. And I’m okay. Just worried about you.”
“And hurt yourself,” Carlos added with his own worried gaze. “How bad?’
TK sighed. “Twenty stitches on my side. I got sliced when I went to help.”
“And hit by the look of it.” Carlos’s thumb brushed against TK’s black eye. “Infection too?”
“Yeah,” TK sighed. “And kind of still anemic. I’ve had a hard time getting my body to replenish the blood I guess.”
“Well, I think Mami can help with that. She’s cooking lunch now.”
TK glanced at the kitchen and back to Carlos. “Is this okay?”
Carlos pulled him in closer. “Yeah. Yeah it is. They’ve been…good. Better than I expected.”
TK let himself relax at that. “So you’re okay?”
“I am. But better now that you’re here.” He let his head fall on TK’s shoulder. “I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you too.” TK let his head lay against Carlos’s. He glanced up at the TV for a second where a baseball game was playing in the background. “You sure you’re alright? I thought you hated baseball.”
Carlos snorted. “Dad put it on while I was napping. You can put something else on if you’d like.”
“Nah,” TK let himself relax even more. “This is a nice break from Star Wars.”
“Yeah, we finished The Mandalorian yesterday and he decided that meant we needed to re-do the whole series.”
“I thought you liked that show?”
TK snorted. “I do. But I meant he decided to re-do the whole universe. He started with the prequels last night.” TK shivered at that, causing Carlos to laugh. “But it was either that or Bridgerton with my mom. And I know enough about her sex life to last me a lifetime. Let alone watch her watching…that.” He shook off the thought, still not ready to process the implications of his parent’s sex lives just yet. He would. He’d talk to Carlos later. When they were alone. When the time was right.
Carlos pouted. “I’ve been wanting to watch that.”
“Of course you have,” he laughed. “Maybe later?”
“I’ll hold you to it. But for now…I think if we change the channel, my dad will throw a fit.”
“Can’t have that,” TK said nervously.
“Hey, no.” Carlos hugged him. “They want you here. Seriously. Mom is even cooking for you.”
“I told her you don’t eat meat so she is making her famous vegetable soup for lunch.”
“And I plan to make an assortment of tacos for dinner,” Andrea added, walking into the living room with a tray of food. Gabriel sighed behind her. “Now don’t give me that.” She glared playfully at her husband. “I have meat for you. I just plan to also do those fried avocado ones you secretly like…”
“Those are good,” Gabriel conceded.
“Here you go, TK.” Andrea handed TK a bowl of soup with a chunk of bread. “Eat up boys. You both look like you could use it.”
“Thank you ma’am.” TK took the food and tried to sit up more, but stopped once his side lit with pain. Gabriel was at his side, steadying him and the food. “Sorry.”
“No, don’t apologize.” Gabriel let go once he was sure TK was good to sit. “From the way it sounds, you helped Carlos not get it worse.”
“Don’t know about that. I—“
“The other officers said if you and Judd hadn’t acted so fast, things would have been worse,” Carlos interjected. “So yes, thank you, Ty.”
TK blushed and nodded.
“So, TK,” Andrea continued. “Eat. Please.” She nudged TK’s knee before she sat down herself to eat.
TK shifted anxiously until Carlos squeezed his knee himself. Being here, was definitely helping, but he couldn’t help but worry. Couldn’t help but fear saying or doing something wrong.
“So,” Andrea spoke up. “How long have you been seeing each other?”
TK looked at Carlos as she spoke. He smiled softly before he started answering her questions. She kept asking things. Soon, Gabriel joined in. He even asked about TK’s job, teasing lightly for his firefighting antics.
For the first time in three days, TK could breath. It wasn’t perfect. It was still a lot.
But maybe, maybe things could work out after all.