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TK unlocked the front door, stepping inside Carlos’ house, grinning as he took in the dimly lit room, tiny scented candles scattered throughout the space.

“Hey you,” purred Carlos, meeting him as the door swung open. TK didn’t even have time to drop his duffel on the floor, feeling Carlos’ hands down his sides, moaning into the contact. He released the bag, kicking the door closed with his foot, before flipping the pair around, pressing Carlos against the back of the door, kissing him until he was breathless.

“Is that a gun in your pocket, Officer Reyes, or are you just happy to see me?” smirked TK. Carlos blushed, leaning in to nip at TK’s neck, bite at his earlobe.

“I’m very happy to see you, and I’ve got plans,” answered Carlos huskily.

“Plans, hmm?” Carlos pulled away, putting a gentle finger on TK’s lips before replacing them with his own lips.

“Yes. Your safe words?”

“Green is good, yellow is slow down, red is stop,” recited TK, skin already flushing at the prospect of the night ahead.

“Thank you for telling me.” He didn’t speak again, pulling TK in close, trying to taste as much of him as he could, feeling TK grind his hips against him. They’d started using safe words in their relationship, to keep each other on track, and to be able to discuss any issues that had arisen. TK had discovered by accident one night that Carlos didn’t like any pain, preferring only pleasure. Any pain and it took him straight out of his headspace and the night just wasn’t the same. He just wanted to please TK and receive the same in return. So far, they hadn’t discovered anything that had caused TK to safe word, other than a night when Carlos had too much to drink, and TK had safe worded them out of having sex, because he wasn’t sure that drunk Carlos could really consent.

Carlos led TK up the stairs to the bedroom, shedding clothes as they went, groans of anticipation echoing through the hallway from the pair of them, TK eager to see what was in store for him, Carlos desperate to show him. They’d been on opposing shifts for nearly a week, and a quiet word with Judd and a shift swap meant that Carlos could finally see his partner for longer than a few hushed words when one of them got home. Carlos pinned TK against the closet door, unzipping his pants slowly, slipping a hand inside to cup his erection. TK practically melted under his touch, allowing Carlos to remove his pants altogether, stripping off his briefs, before pushing Carlos away and onto the bed, divesting him of all remaining clothing, taking in the sight of Carlos’ naked body in front of him.

 

God he was lucky.

 

Carlos sat up, pulling TK close to him, lips crashing together, already feeling the blood course through him, arousal filling the room. He dragged TK onto the bed, pushing him down and straddling his hips, groaning as his cock rubbed against TK’s. He pinned TK to the bed, kissing him until he was gasping for breath.

“Colour?” he asked, pulling away for a moment. TK’s pupils were blown, wide with desire and anticipation.

“Green,” he whispered, pulling at Carlos. Carlos leaned down, sucking a hickey onto TK’s neck, before reaching into the bedside drawer. TK closed his eyes, feeling the immense pleasure coursing through him, the heat of the moment, before he felt Carlos click a handcuff closed around his wrist, the other around the bed head. TK opened his eyes, looking at the wrist dangling above him, before glancing at Carlos face, swallowing compulsively as a memory flashed in front of his eyes.

 

His wrist, secured above him by a blue silk scarf.

 

He shook his head briefly, trying to pull himself back into the moment, feeling Carlos’ lips against his chest, his breath tickling his nipples. He rattled against the bedframe, testing his limits. Carlos’ hands were everywhere, and TK lost himself in the feeling, the ticklish touches across his skin, the heat growing in his groin, chest heaving as his breath came to him in gasps, closing his eyes. He felt Carlos pull away for a moment, and whimpered at the loss, before feeling soft fabric across his eyes. He tried to open his eyes, confronted with darkness.

 

She’d taken his eyesight too.

 

“Carlos, please,” begged TK. Carlos pulled away for a moment, looking at TK, positively debauched on his bed, colour flushing through him. He’d resolved to drive TK to pure madness, taking away the ability to use his hands to urge Carlos onward, to be able to see what was happened, enhancing his other senses. He grabbed the other set of cuffs from the bedside table, securing them around TK’s other wrist, almost melting at the gasp that resulted from the action, the breathy pleas from TK’s lips. He felt his own erection throb, demanding attention, and he ignored it in favour of devouring TK’s taste, kissing down his neck, along his collarbone, occasionally nipping him, watching the marks come up on his pale skin almost immediately. He felt TK’s breathing quicken under his lips, heard the moans, the begging, and continued on, briefly stopping to suck a nipple. TK let out a particularly long groan, and Carlos’ own cock gave up the fight, moaning through his own release, pleasure flooding through him. He glanced up at TK, taking in the sight before him, before deciding he’d let him suffer long enough. He slid a hand down TK’s chest to his erection, to be able to provide him the release he definitely deserved.

What Carlos wasn’t expecting was to find a cold sweat starting to break out across TK’s chest and abdomen, and a flaccid cock.

“TK?”

“Please,” pleaded TK. Carlos could hear the change in tone now, the thinly veiled terror in TK’s voice. He pulled off the blindfold, TK’s pupils dilated in fear.

“Okay TK, I’m calling it, hang on, let me get you free,” said Carlos quickly, his own voice trembling a little. He fumbled in the drawer for the tiny key, twisting it in the silver cuffs, pulling them loose. TK bolted from the bed to the bathroom, and Carlos could hear retching as the door slammed shut, the click as it locked deafening.

“TK?” He felt confused, unsure of what happened, and moved to clean up the bed, feeling like he’d taken advantage of TK, and that he’d pushed his boundaries too far. He stripped the sheets, ducking downstairs and popping them straight in the washing machine, using the downstairs bathroom to wipe himself down, feeling distinctly dirty in his own skin. He trudged back up the stairs, pulling out a pair of sweats and pulling them on, remaking the bed with fresh sheets, before pulling out some clothes for TK. He knocked on the bathroom door, unsure of if he should be even interrupting whatever was happening, or if he was even welcome.

“TK? I’ve got some clothes for you to put on,” he said quietly. He heard a click from the lock, and then shuffling back on the tiles. Carlos slipped inside, looking at TK’s pallid skin, his heart dropping.

 

He’d done this, triggered whatever ‘this’ was.

 

TK took the clothes wordlessly, slipping into the sweats and dragging the hoodie over his head. He looked small and defeated, barely glancing up at Carlos, shoulders shaking with suppressed sobs. Carlos opened his arms, and TK fell into them, allowing Carlos to hold him tight. He rubbed his back gently, leading the pair into the bedroom and pulling TK onto the bed, feeling tears drip down his chest, body shaking as he wept. Carlos’ only concern right now was TK, and whatever was happening in his head, whatever had made him unable to safe word out of the situation. After twenty minutes of TK crying on his chest, Carlos felt him go lax, congestions making him snore softly. Carlos felt his own tears flood down his cheeks, unbidden, and extricated himself from TK’s grip, dragging a blanket over his sleeping form before padding softly out of the bedroom. He glanced back at TK sleeping on the bed, before turning and heading downstairs quietly. He blew out the tiny candles, the mood light almost mocking him for the failure of the evening, and set about tidying the kitchen, packing up the dining setting he’d laid out. He wanted everything to be perfect for TK, and then… he still didn’t know what had happened, but a part of him felt unclean knowing that he’d gotten off while TK was clearly in distress.

 

Should have realised sooner.

 

He had no idea what he’d even managed to set off, and an irrational part of him wanted to wake up TK and find out what had happened, demand answers. The rational part of him knew that was a bad idea, and that TK would tell him if and when he was ready. He grabbed a beer from the fridge, cracking the lid off it before settling on the couch, pulling a soft throw around himself, trying not to let the ordeal upstairs consume him, the confusion and hurt winding its way through his veins. He sipped the cold brew, feeling it slide down his throat, feeling slick in his stomach, and after a few sips he set it back on the coffee table, nausea already making itself known. He pulled the throw closer, and closed his eyes, leaning back against the wall behind him and let sleep consume him.

 


 

TK woke up a few hours later, the bed cold and empty. There was no sign that Carlos had even slept in the bed with him, and he furrowed his brow in sleepy confusion. He sat upright, wincing at the ache in his wrists, thin lines rubbed around them.

 

Oh.

 

He remembered what had happened, the overwhelming memories he’d tried to push down, to suppress, because he didn’t want to know anymore. The trapped feeling, unsure of what was happening, what was going to happen. TK swung his legs over the edge of the bed and stood up, shaky and weary, needing to find Carlos, to give him an explanation, to tell him it wasn’t his fault because he would definitely think it was. He headed down the stairs, gripping the railing tightly so he didn’t fall, and spotted Carlos asleep on the lounge, looking distinctly uncomfortable. TK felt his heart swell at the sight of his boyfriend, and as he reached the bottom of the stairs, he watched Carlos’ eyes flick open, a sign of the training he’d had as an officer.

“Tyler. Are you okay?” he asked, voice thick with sleep. TK crossed the room, and Carlos opened his arms and lifted the blanket, allowing TK to snuggle close between his legs. He draped it back over them, and ran a gentle hand through TK’s hair, scratching lightly at his scalp.

“I’m sorry,” whispered TK.

“It’s not your fault. I did something that didn’t make you feel safe. I’m sorry I didn’t realise sooner,” replied Carlos quietly. TK laid there for a while longer, enjoying the feeling of Carlos running his hands through his hair, feeling tears starting to fall as he tried to organise his thoughts and failed. “Baby? Cariño, what happened?” asked Carlos gently. “Was it something I did? I listened for the safe word, I didn’t hear it.”

“I didn’t really remember it until now,” replied TK, voice barely a whisper. He clutched Carlos tightly, still sniffling.

“Remember what?”

“Did I ever tell you that the overdose before I came to New York wasn’t my first one?” asked TK.

“Your Dad mentioned it once, but no, you’ve not really talked about it,” answered Carlos, unsure of where the conversation was going.

“I overdosed three weeks after I was sexually assaulted in high school, at a party,” replied TK softly. Carlos tightened his grip on TK, feeling the tremors racing through him.

“TK, I’m so sorry,” whispered Carlos.

“It was a girl, a year above me.”

“A girl?” TK nodded at the question, and Carlos let his chin rest on TK’s head for a moment, trying not to let the rage consume him from the inside out.

 

A girl had thought it was okay to take advantage of TK.

 

“We were at an end of year party, I don’t really remember why. I’d had a few to drink, and I know I shouldn’t have, but I wanted to fit in. Mom and Dad were arguing again, about colleges, upcoming deadlines, my senior year, whatever they could. I needed to get out, and this cute guy had asked me to come with him to this party. I agreed, met him there, and he kept plying me with drinks, shot after shot until I couldn’t think straight. He took me upstairs, promised me a night I’d never forget. I followed him upstairs, and this girl was there. He kissed her, groped her for a moment, and then left. She locked the door, pushed me against the bed, and I was too shocked to even fight her. Before I knew it I was tied to the bed, and then she blindfolded me. I couldn’t breathe, and then I started begging her to stop, that I didn’t want this, and she didn’t listen. Some kids I knew found me an hour later, trying to pull myself free,” explained TK.

“What happened after that?”

“I found my clothes, and went home. Mom and Dad were so invested in whatever argument that they’d been having that neither of them noticed I wasn’t home, or that I had even snuck back into the house. I wandered around for three weeks, feeling like I needed to tear my skin off, and then one of the seniors said I looked like I needed a pick me up, so he dropped me some Oxy tablets. Two days later, I overdosed in my bedroom, and my Mom found me. She rang 9-1-1, and a month later she asked me to move out and go and live with my Dad, because she couldn’t cope with the drama anymore.” Carlos felt his own breath hitch at TK’s admission.

“And then I went and ruined our night by doing exactly the same thing to you,” whispered Carlos, feeling his heart break.

“You didn’t know, it’s not your fault,” replied TK.

“Did anything happen to the girl? The one that did that to you?” asked Carlos.

“No charges or anything like that,” said TK slowly. “I never filed or anything, I didn’t even tell the police what had happened.”

“But?” TK sighed, and Carlos felt like his whole world was falling apart with every revelation from TK’s lips.

“She ended up pregnant. I… I have a nine year old daughter out there, somewhere,” admitted TK.

“Sorry, what?”

“Lynn ended up pregnant, and just as I graduated she gave birth to a baby girl, Peyton Avery. I started at the academy a week later, and just swept it under the rug. I was just determined to be the best fire fighter I could be, the best fling in bed for every guy I slept with, the best at covering up what was really going on,” added TK.

“I’m so sorry that happened to you TK, it’s not right. Do… do you want some space? Is there something I can do?” asked Carlos, feeling out of his depth.

“Just… just be there for me. Like you always are,” replied TK softly. Carlos felt TK’s lips brush across his chest, and he leaned his head back, overcome with conflicting emotions. TK felt Carlos’ chest heave under his head, and he looked up at his boyfriend, who was desperately trying to suppress his sobs.

“Carlos?” Carlos looked down at TK’s eyes, and swiped away hot, angry tears.

“No, no, you’re okay, you didn’t do anything wrong. I’m just so sorry that everything happened to you like it did, and I wish I could go back and help you, help change the past so you weren’t treated so badly by everyone,” said Carlos weepily.

“I don’t,” said TK firmly.

“No?”

“Nope. If you did that, then I probably wouldn’t have met you, and you’re one of the best things to happen in my life. I’m just sorry I didn’t remember sooner before this turned into a bummer of a night,” said TK wearily. Carlos tipped TK’s chin up to face him, and kissed him gently.

“It’s alright TK. I’m sorry that happened to you, because it sounds like a miserable experience, and I don’t wish it on anyone. I’m going to call it on using cuffs for a while, until you’re ready, and then we can give it another go, okay?” TK nodded, blinking away tears of gratitude.

“Thank you Carlos. I’m so sorry I ruined your plans,” said TK quietly, biting his bottom lip.

“No, I still got what I wanted, cuddles with TK,” he said, wrinkling his nose as he smiled down at his boyfriend.

“If that’s all you wanted you should have told me, I would have happily given them,” replied TK, snuggling in close. Carlos felt his own eyelids get heavy, and with TK safe in his arms, he drifted off to sleep.

 


 

A few weeks later, Carlos got home early, beating TK by an hour, his shift finishing early. He collected the mail, sifting through until he came across an official looking letter, from the Office Of Children And Family Services in New York.

 

Oh no.

 

They’d been so steady since the night a few weeks back, talking about the situation with Lynn and Peyton, TK finally getting some sleep at night without the harrowing nightmares of the assault. He’d been seeing a counsellor, a trauma specialist, to ensure he didn’t fall off the rails and end up in a bad head space again. Carlos just knew what a letter like this could mean, what could be inside, and his heart sank as he heard the door to his apartment open.

“Hey ‘Los, I’m home!” TK wandered into the kitchen, dumping his thermos mug in the sink. “Today has been so crazy, I’ve had like eleven missed calls from a number in New York. I haven’t even had a chance to call them back yet, it’s been hectic.”

“Uh, TK?” TK turned around, and looked at Carlos, his face dropping.

“What is it, is something wrong? Don’t tell me I forgot to pay another bill.” Carlos handed him the letter, and TK felt his heart stop. “No, no no, please.”

“It arrived today. Could be why there’s a number from New York calling you. Looks like they sent that one overnight to get it here as quickly as possible,” said Carlos quietly. He watched as TK’s hands started to tremble, and stepped forward, taking TK’s hands in his. “Whatever happens, whatever this is, I’m with you, and I’ll support whatever you want to do, okay?” TK nodded, and tore open the letter. He scanned through it, one hand over his mouth as he took in the information, before dropping it on the floor and whirling around to the kitchen sink, nausea rising in his throat as his stomach rejected whatever he’d had for lunch earlier in the day. Carlos stepped over the letter, rubbing a soothing hand along TK’s back as he heaved into the sink, feeling the sweat starting to seep through his shirt. After a few moments TK spat into the sink, and Carlos handed him a chilled bottle of water.

“Here, rinse out,” he ordered quietly, turning on the tap to flush the sink. TK did as he was told, frighteningly compliant, and then allowed Carlos to lead him over to the lounge, a blanket draped over his shoulders. Carlos picked up the letter from the kitchen floor, reading through it, his suspicions confirmed almost instantly. He crossed the lounge room, hunkering down in front of TK.

“What do you want to do? Do you want me to call someone?” asked Carlos gently.

“Don’t call my Dad. He’s got enough on his plate with Mom and a new baby on the way, I can’t do that to him,” replied TK, voice hoarse.

“I won’t, I promise. What about Judd and Grace? Judd’s like a brother to you, maybe he can offer some advice,” suggested Carlos. TK nodded, and Carlos stood up, pulling his phone out of his pocket. Judd answered after two rings.

“Hey Reyes, just got off shift and looking forward to my wife and my bed. Is it important?” asked Judd casually, and Carlos could hear the exhaustion in his voice, and hated putting him in this position.

“Um. Normally I’d say no, and let you go home, but it’s TK. Something’s happened, and I really need you and Grace here,” said Carlos, voice choked.

“You at your place?”

“Yes, he’s just gotten home,” answered Carlos.

“I’ll swing by home, pick up Grace and we’ll be there in fifteen minutes, okay?”

“Thank you. Sorry to ruin your evening,” apologised Carlos.

“Don’t fret about it. We’ll be there soon.” Carlos ended the phonecall, glancing at TK, who’d barely moved since Carlos had forced him to sit down on the couch. He looked lost, eyes glazed, and Carlos could see the tremors coursing through his body, the nervous energy building up, and as Carlos lifted TK’s chin up to look him in the eyes, he could see unshed tears pooling in his eyes.

“Oh, cariño, I am so sorry,” said Carlos. He kissed TK on the forehead, before pulling him close for a hug.

“I don’t know what to do,” admitted TK tearfully. Carlos squeezed him a little tighter.

“It’s okay. Judd and Grace will be here soon, and we can talk it through, see what we can work out and what is best for both of you, alright?” TK nodded, and pulled away from Carlos as someone knocked on the front door. Carlos stood up, pulling the blanket back around TK’s shoulders, before crossing the room to let Judd and Grace inside, both looking concerned.

“Is he hurt?” asked Judd quietly. Carlos shook his head.

“Not physically. Emotionally, mentally, I’m not sure, but he specifically asked me not to call his father, so you and Grace were my next best option,” said Carlos, fighting back his own tears. Judd muscled around him, beelining to the living room to sit with TK, while Grace took one look at Carlos and wrapped her arms around his larger frame. He wanted to be strong for TK, but the feel of Grace’s support and love made him cry, the emotions overwhelming. Grace patted his back comfortingly, before pulling away.

“Go sit down, I’ll make us all some tea,” she offered.

“No, let me. I feel like I need to do something,” replied Carlos, voice husky. Grace nodded, following him into the kitchen, pulling out cups while Carlos flipped on the kettle. He didn’t bat an eyelid when he watched Grace drop chamomile tea bags in the three cups, knowing Judd wouldn’t drink tea unless he was dying, and that caffeine would only stress TK and himself out further. After the water had boiled and the tea had brewed, Carlos carried two of the mugs into the lounge room, looking at TK, who was currently sprawled across the couch, head on Judd’s lap. Grace took the seat across from them, Carlos taking the other as he placed TK’s tea on the coffee table.

“What’s going on?” asked Judd, looking from TK back to Carlos.

“Whatever is said here today, I need to stay between us, please,” started Carlos.

“Of course, you don’t need to worry about that. You’re starting to scare me though, what’s going on?” asked Grace.

“TK, I don’t know how much you want them to know. Do you want to tell them?” responded Carlos.

“I don’t care. You can tell them everything, they’ll probably find out eventually,” replied TK, breath hitching as he tried to hold in a sob, Judd’s hand splayed across his back. Carlos took a deep breath, steadying himself before opening his mouth.

“Nine years ago, TK was sexually assaulted by a senior in high school, who eventually ended up pregnant with his baby. He’s had nothing to do with his daughter up until the Office Of Children And Family Services in New York got in touch with him today via letter. They’ve been trying to call him, to get in touch, to let him know that his daughter has just become an orphan after a major car accident killed her mother and the mother’s parents. TK is her next of kin, the only one left to take her, otherwise she becomes a ward of the state, dumped into the foster care system. I… I don’t even know how to react or what to do,” admitted Carlos.

“That’s a lot to happen in one day, I can see how you’d both be feeling overwhelmed,” said Grace quietly.

“I don’t want her to be abandoned to the state. It’s not her fault what her mother did, but I’m not sure I want to be a parent. I mean, I’m still trying to sort out my own life, and to take on a nine year old kid? I don’t think I can do that, but I don’t want her to be left to the state,” replied TK, pushing himself up from Judd’s lap.

“We’ll support you in whatever you want to do TK, you know that. If you want to take her, then we’ll get the ball rolling, get everything set up. If you don’t, then that’s okay too, we’re not here to judge you. We’re here to support you,” said Judd quietly. Carlos picked up the letter from the coffee table and handed it to Grace. A photo had been included in the letter, and Grace’s heart skipped a beat when she laid eyes on the young girl. She was still covered in scrapes across her face, tiny cuts from the accident, her honey coloured skin contrasting against her dark hair. Peyton Avery had TK’s blue-green eyes, his unruly hair, his full lips, but her complexion was very much of her mother, the alabaster skin of TK absent under the warm tones. When she was older, she was sure to be a heart breaker, gorgeous and breathtaking. She glanced up at her husband, raising an eyebrow, and Judd looked back, confusion across his face.

“Look, this sounds crazy, but I might have a solution for you,” offered Grace gently. TK and Carlos looked at her, and Judd’s face lit up as he realised what Grace was suggesting. She passed the letter across to Judd so he could look at the picture. “Judd and I are registered foster carers, for long term or short term. We’ve always wanted kids, but it’s not really something that’s happened, so we’ve been looking into other options. If you’re willing, and you do want to give her that safety, you can ask the New York Office to liaise with the Houston Office, and we can always take her on, give you a chance to get to know her. I’d normally suggest your parents, but I know that they’re getting ready for a new baby, and mixing a nine year old into that might cause some troubles,” explained Grace. TK let out a moan that sounded like a wounded animal, before breaking down in heart wrenching sobs. Carlos handed off his tea to Grace, crossing the space to fold TK into his arms, kissing the top of his head as he cried.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Carlos asked Grace.

“Either way, if she stays with us, then we’ll adopt her. If you get to know her, and you want to take her in, you can do that later. The letter indicates it’s fairly time sensitive, as the emergency foster family is having some troubles. It’s not a big ask, she’s gorgeous TK, but I know what she means to you and what memories she is likely to bring up. I also know you have the biggest heart and want the best for her, so whatever you want us to do, we’ll support you in your choice, okay?”

“Please, please take her. I want to see her, but I don’t want to see her and I feel so conflicted,” admitted TK, snuffling as he tried to bring himself under control, the relief that he would still get to see her but not have to try and be responsible for her almost overwhelming.

“She is beautiful TK, she looks a lot like you. It’s unorthodox, but I think it might be the best option,” added Judd.

“If you are willing to do that, I would be eternally grateful,” replied TK.

“It’s no trouble at all. She looks like a great kid, who’s Mom made a bad choice, and I can see you don’t want that to affect your relationship with Peyton. But you’re right, you have your own history to work through, and you don’t want to jeopardise her wellbeing. It’s a very grown up decision to make TK, I’m really proud of you,” said Grace, eyes shining. TK felt wrung out and exhausted, much like he had when he’d told Carlos the story three weeks earlier, his emotions jumbled and confusing.

“You’ll need to make some calls cariño, can you do that? Let them know what’s going on, and then we can look at getting you some food and into bed,” suggested Carlos. TK nodded wearily, standing up and collecting his phone from his bag, heading upstairs to return the phonecalls from earlier in the day. Carlos breathed a sigh of relief, leaning forward over his knees, Judd looking at him with concerned eyes.

“Are you okay?” asked Judd.

“I just – I want to be a dad, I’m not going to lie, but this seemed like the worst possible way for it to happen. The event was so traumatic that he forgot about it until three weeks ago, when I triggered a PTSD episode. I don’t want that for TK, I want him to feel secure, happy, loved, enough that he makes the choice to be a parent, not to have it shoved on him by the state,” said Carlos quietly.

“And one day I’m sure the two of you will have that, the family you’ve always dreamed about. Right now, this isn’t what TK wants, and I can understand exactly where he’s coming from, and I think he’s making the best possible decision for everyone involved. Grace and I have always wanted to be parents, and this seems like the best possible option for both of you, so TK can still see her if he wants and be involved in her life, rather than making a rash decision and losing all opportunity to ever get to know her. Besides, TK is like my little brother. How can I say no to him?” joked Judd. Grace’s phone started jingling in her bag, and she pulled it out, glancing at the number.

“It’s the Office Of Children And Family Services in Houston. I’ll step outside to take this,” she said quietly. She answered the phone and walked away from Judd and Carlos.

“I don’t know what I’d do without the two of you here. He was in such a state this afternoon, and I didn’t know-”

“Don’t worry about it Carlos. She looks like a gorgeous kid, she’s TK’s kid so there’s gotta be some good in there somewhere, and we have the space and the capacity to take her on. She’s about the same age as T’s twins anyway, Isabelle and Evie, so she’ll have some good kids to play with. Who knows, maybe I can convince Charles to babysit sometimes,” said Judd casually.

“Nothing phases you Judd, does it.”

“Not really, not anymore. You’ve just gotta go with the flow and what the Lord gives you. We were just saying the other day that we haven’t had any foster kids for a while because of the pandemic, and then you ring, and now we’re getting a foster kid, probably a long term one too. Things happen for a reason, and maybe that’s why this happened,” shrugged Judd. Carlos heard TK coming back down the stairs, and Grace stepped back in the front door.

“What’s the verdict?” Carlos asked TK.

“They’re more than happy to fly Peyton out here and for Grace and Judd to become her foster parents, and if I decide that I don’t want her to be in my care, I can sign papers to put her up for adoption for Grace and Judd,” announced TK, exhaustion evident in his posture, swaying slightly on the spot.

“That was the Houston office confirming the same thing. They’re putting her on a flight tomorrow morning, and we’ll collect her in the afternoon, if you wanted to see her,” offered Grace. TK shook his head, and Carlos stood up to support TK as he staggered a little.

“No, not tomorrow. I need to go to a meeting,” said TK quietly. Judd stood up, sensing TK was at the end of his rope, unable to really think straight anymore. TK felt Judd’s strong arms around him, pulling him close.

“I’m proud of you little brother, so proud. Get some sleep, and we can talk tomorrow sometime,” said Judd. TK nodded as Judd released him, letting his head fall on Carlos’ shoulder.  

“Grace, Judd, I really do appreciate what you’re doing for us. Thank you doesn’t even seem like enough,” said Carlos quietly.

“It’s no trouble at all, okay? You two go and get some sleep, and don’t worry your pretty heads about any of this.” Judd and Grace left quietly, Carlos moving to close the door behind them. TK remained where he was standing, looking like a mess.

“I’m sorry you had to deal with this.”

“Hey, TK, it’s not a problem. I said I was in this with you, no matter what you decided to do, and I stand by that,” answered Carlos.

“I heard what you said to Judd. About being a dad,” added TK.

“Did you hear the part where I said I wanted it to be on both our terms? There’s no point sacrificing your mental and physical health just because I want a child, especially under circumstances like this, and I wouldn’t want you to. Come on, let’s get some food into you, and then we can get some sleep, it’s been a long day.” TK followed Carlos into the kitchen, placidly accepting the salad he placed in front of him, methodically consuming the food before Carlos led him upstairs. He absentmindedly changed into his sweats and a shirt, before crawling into bed with Carlos, allowing his arms to pull him close.

 

He finally felt safe.