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To Love is to Know You

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They’ve settled in for the night and are in the middle of watching a movie their son recommended when the phone rings.

“Carlos really likes this?” he questions skeptically as more blood goes spraying across the screen.

His wife chuckles at his tone even as she winces at the scream the protagonist lets out for the 100th time.

“He’s young, Gabriel. I don’t think we’re actually supposed to like what Carlitos likes,” she tells him as she leans across the couch, reaching for her phone. She turns to him with a smile as she shows him the caller ID. “Hablando del diablo,” she says fondly before pressing talk on their son calling.

“Tell him I’m questioning his choices,” Gabriel jokes, pausing the movie as Andrea says hello with a smile. He watches as that smile quickly drops, his heart seizing in his throat as she lets out a gasp and a shaky ‘what?’ to whoever she’s speaking to. It’s obvious now that it’s not their boy.

He waits for her to end the call with a fearful ‘we’ll be there soon’ before she turns to him with tears in her eyes.

Even before she speaks, he knows, and his hands shake as they reach for hers.

“Carlitos got hurt at work,” she whispers, her face pale and frightened. “He got shot, and they are rushing him to the hospital.”

 

֎֎֎

 

The drive to the hospital is both short and the longest drive Gabriel Reyes has ever had behind the wheel. Next to him, Andrea grips the rosary his mama gave her after they got married. She doesn’t pray, though, and he thinks she’s too worried to remember any prayer at the moment.

“He’s going to be okay,” he tells her, his voice rougher than he would typically use with his sweetheart, but he can see her starting to spiral, and he needs her to focus on his voice and not on all the troubling thoughts he knows are running through her head at the moment. “Carlos is young and strong. He’s going to be fine, he –”

“Is our baby boy,” she whispers, looking at him with those big brown eyes, so like Carlos’ when he was little, looking at him to make everything okay.

“El va estar bien, amor,” he tells her softly, willing himself to believe it too.

He pulls into the hospital parking lot. They quickly exit the car, holding hands as they rush towards the doors and the front desk. He’s sure they both look a fright as they ask the girl behind the counter for information.

“Mr. and Mrs. Reyes,” calls out a tired voice to them, and when they turn around, they find a familiar-looking young man with brown hair and green eyes standing before them in an EMS uniform.

Gabriel is struck by his eyes. They’re wide, the worry in them plain to see, and it’s obvious he’s been crying by how pink and puffy they are.

“I’ve been waiting for you both; I didn’t want you to get lost,” he tells them, pointing to a door at the far end of the hall to the left. “We’re in there.”

“How’s Carlitos?” his wife asks at the same time as he says. “We’ve met you before.”

“Uh – yes – you have, sir. I’m TK,” he answers with a grimace. Gabriel knows it is the young man’s effort to smile but just can’t. “We met at the farmer’s market about nine months ago.”

TK turns to Andrea, his expression softening instantly. “They took Carlos to the back when we got here, ma’am, but we haven’t heard anything yet.”

“What happened?” he asks TK and is struck again by how expressive his eyes are. Gabriel sees pain, fear, frustration, and anger cross his face.

“We were answering a call to a disturbance; a man was threatening to set fire to his ex-bosses place and was holding them hostage inside. He was armed, so Carlos and the rest of APD went in first,” TK takes a pause, swallowing hard, and Gabriel is struck by how the young man is keeping it together when it’s undeniable that it’s difficult for him to do so. “Shots were exchanged, and the suspect was neutralized but not before he hit Carlos.”

“Where?” he asks, hoping against hope that his son was wearing his vest. TK’s face, scared and apologetic, tells him it doesn’t matter.

“T – the,” TK clears his throat, lifting a hand to run through his hair. Gabriel catches the slight shake of it. It’s not the only thing he spots on them. Though mostly clean, Gabriel notices specks of blood on them. Looking him over once more, he sees some on his uniform too. “The neck, sir.”

Andrea lets out a gasp, bringing her hand to her mouth to try and muffle the sound.

“You worked on him,” Gabriel realizes. He needs to focus on something other than the information they’ve just been given.

“Yes,” TK answers, biting down on his lip to the point that Gabriel wants to wince at how painful it looks. Given the redness of his mouth, the kid has probably been doing it a while now. “My Captain didn’t want it to be me – ” TK stops.

He takes a breath, collecting himself. “We stabilized him on the field and then brought him over. My Captain is here if you want to speak with her while we wait for the doctors.”

They follow the young man down the hall into a private room, and Gabriel is shocked to see how full it is with first responders, most still in uniform like TK. Everyone seems to turn to look at them when they walk in.

“These are Carlos’ parents,” TK explains to the crowd before turning to a tall woman with a sympathetic but no-nonsense look on her face. “Captain Vega, could you – ” he gestures towards them.

The Captain nods, standing from her seat to walk over to them. She has a bag with her that she hands over to TK.

“Nancy brought your stuff from your locker,” she says to the kid with a kind smile. She places her hand on his shoulder, giving it a squeeze. “Why don’t you go change while I speak with Carlos’ parents.”

TK nods, looking relieved. “Yeah, Cap, thanks.” He turns towards them, looking like he wants to say something else but doesn’t. Instead, he gives them a small nod and walks away, leaving them with his Captain.

Gabriel focuses on her, reaching out to hold his wife’s hand as Captain Vega goes through the emergency in more detail. She’s compassionate but honest as she breaks down her assessment of Carlos’s injuries on the scene and their handling of it.

“TK is one of the finest medics I have ever worked with,” she tells them, with something akin to pride in her voice. “And it’s Carlos. He wasn’t about to lose him,” she continues softly, knowing. “We got him here, and they’ve had him in the back for the last hour. I’m sure they’ll come out and tell us something soon. All we can do now is wait, unfortunately.”

“And pray,” Andrea whispers thickly.

“Never a bad idea,” she says with a small, understanding smile. She looks away from them when someone calls her name, an older man in uniform walking towards them.

“Tommy, any word? Where’s TK?” he asks, rushed.

“Nothing yet,” she answers the man whose uniform says, Captain Strand. “And TK is changing. We didn’t want him to still be in the uniform that – “ she pauses, her eyes drifting to them.

Right,” Captain Strand nods before his blue eyes turn towards them. Gabriel watches as he quickly recognizes who they are. “Mr. and Mrs. Reyes?” he questions, exhaling loudly when he answers him with a nod.

“Owen Strand, TK’s dad,” he says, extending his hand to Andrea first and then him. “Nice to finally meet you. I’m sorry it can’t be under better circumstances.”

Gabriel cocks his head at the peculiar comment.

“You work with our son?” Andrea asks politely, probably trying to distract herself from the worry she’s feeling.

“Often,” Owen gives them an honest smile. “He’s one hell of a police officer, good instincts, good head on his shoulders, strong,” he tells them intentionally. “He’s going to come through this just fine.”

Gabriel appreciates the comment, if anything, because it makes Andrea smile for the first time since they heard the news.

“Why don’t we sit down,” Owen continues. “We’re going to be here a while,” he points towards three firefighters with the same 126 insignia he has on his clothes, and they quickly get up, giving them the space. “Maybe we can get you some coffee or tea?”

He shakes his head but nods towards Andrea. “Some tea might be good for your nerves, vieja.”

Andrea nods absently, and Owen turns his head towards the trio who gave them their seats. “Strickland, Marwani, Chavez – “

“On it, Cap,” says the young Latino whose chest tag says, Chavez. “We’ll get for everyone.”

Owen offers the kid a grateful smile. “Get TK a sandwich. I know he hasn’t eaten.”

“He might not want to,” says the other man in the group with a deliberate look.

“We’ll sit on him and force him if we have to,” answers the young woman in the headscarf with a glint in her eyes that tells him she’s not joking. Gabriel watches them leave the room.

“They’re good kids,” Owen comments, catching his gaze. “They care about Carlos very much,” he says with a soft laugh. “Probably because he’s always feeding them when they hang out at his place.”

Andrea smiles at the comment, but Gabriel finds it curious. He doesn’t find it strange that his son would be welcoming. Like his mother, Carlos has always strived to make everyone feel at home. He is just surprised that his son is so close with this particular firehouse and its members.

TK comes back into the room in a hoodie and sweats, looking around. Gabriel watches as his eyes land on them before moving over to his father. He watches as the kid’s shoulders drop at the sight of his dad and quickly makes his way over, almost plowing into him as Captain Strand stands with his arms open, circling them around his boy.

“He’s gonna be okay,” he hears him whisper into his son’s ear. “Carlos wouldn’t leave you, you know that.”

Gabriel takes a sharp breath at the words; he looks over at his wife, seeing that her eyes have gone wide as she stares at the father and son with a newfound gaze, and he knows she’s caught it too.

Before they can come to terms with what it might mean, a doctor in green-colored scrubs walks in with a manila folder in hand. “I’m looking for Officer Reyes’ family?” he questions, startling as everyone stands or looks over at him.

Gabriel is surprised himself but warmed by the idea that so many people care about his son. “Over here,” he calls the doctor over. “We’re his parents.”

The doctor nods in response, crossing the distance between them until he’s standing in front of them, TK and his father joining in. “We’ve stabilized your son enough to move him,” the doctor starts. “He’s in the O.R. now; we’re repairing the damage. He was lucky that the bullet didn’t hit his carotid artery.”

“Is he going to be okay?” Andrea rushes to ask, fear coloring her question.

“We’re doing everything we can, ma’am,” the doctor answers softly with a sympathetic look. “He’s holding strong and was brought in quickly.”

“When can we see him?” he asks, his heart dropping at the shake of the doctor’s head.

“It’s going to be a while,” he answers. “We’re not sure how long it will be in the O.R., and then in recovery, it’s going to be a couple of hours.”

Gabriel feels the room deflate around him at the answer and feels the same.

“For now, I need his next of kin to sign off on some waivers,” the doctor continues as he looks inside his folder, reading out of it. “Who is Tyler Kennedy Strand?” he asks, the question filling the room with sudden tension.

“Uhh – me,” TK stammers, his eyes going to him and Andrea awkwardly. “But his parents – “

The doctor cuts him off with a shake of his head. “Officer Reyes’ work forms have you as the one with the power of attorney over any medical decisions on his behalf. You are aware of this, yes?”

TK looks pained and uncomfortable, apologetic even as he looks at Andrea before nodding. “Yes,” he says softly. “Carlos and I spoke about it a few months ago.”

“Then I need you to come with me, Mr. Strand,” the doctor answers, his eyes shifting over to them as well. “It’s just a formality, you understand.”

TK nods again, gesturing for the doctor to go first, following him out of the room, leaving the rest of them in silence, and he and Andrea stunned.

“They’re involved,” he states, not sure to who, but he catches Captain Strand’s slight wince.

“TK will explain when he comes back in,” he assures them, though Gabriel isn’t sure what he would have to explain. It’s pretty obvious the kid is someone important enough to his son that he would leave him in charge of his care if anything happened to him, and he and his wife know nothing about him.

Andrea reaches for his hand. When he looks at her, he sees the same confusion and hurt in her eyes he’s feeling. He squeezes it reassuringly as they retake their seats, neither knowing what to say.

They stay like that, silently waiting for TK or the doctor to come back. Owen walks away from them, drifting towards the other Captain.

After a few minutes, the ones who walk in are the trio of firefighters the Captain sent out for a snack.

“Te de manzanilla,” Chavez says with a boyish smile as he hands the cup of tea to Andrea. “My Abuela says it’s good for nerves.”

Andrea takes it but doesn’t drink right away. “Thank you – um?”

“Oh! I’m Mateo,” he answers before pointing at the other two who are finishing handing out bottles of water and coffees. “That’s Paul and Marjan. We’re friends of Carlos,” he says with another friendly smile as they come over to them.

“Nice to meet you all,” Andrea answers, elbowing him in the side to do the same.

Gabriel checks out, his mind drifting while his wife picks up the slack and chats with the trio, exchanging small talk. He only tunes in when Mateo asks about their new filly.

“You know about Sally?” he questions, frowning, confused. He gets a few nods from all of them and smiles.

“Carlos showed us pictures of her the last time we were over at his and TK’s place for dinner.”

Gabriel can’t help the sharp breath he takes at the comment.

“They live together?” Andrea asks, shocked, her voice above a whisper.

Oh,” Paul says softly, his eyes widening with realization at their lack of knowledge. He exchanges worried looks with the young woman Mateo called Marjan. Both open their mouth as if to speak and then stop at a loss for words. Luckily for them, TK walks back into the room, making his way towards them.

“Guys, could you give me a second with Mr. and Mrs. Reyes?” he asks politely but firmly.

“Yeah, of course, man,” Paul says quickly, while Marjan tugs on Mateo to stand, moving away. Paul starts to follow them, only to stop and look at TK, speaking again with an apologetic look on his face. “We’re sorry, we didn’t know – “

TK waves him off, a half a smile on his tired face. “Don’t worry about it, Paul.”

Paul gives him a nod, looks at them, and nods again before walking away.

“I’m sure you have a lot of questions,” TK tells them softly, biting down on his lip for a moment before taking a breath, straightening his shoulders. “I’ll do my best to answer them. Should we find somewhere a little more private?”

He looks over at his wife and finds her studying TK with a curious eye. He’s not surprised. He’s more than curious himself about this man who is important enough in his son’s life to be making decisions of life and death for him and apparently living with him. “I think that might be best.”

TK nods mostly to himself, motioning for them to follow him.

He leads them out into the hallway and into another room that Gabriel realizes is the chapel.

“Is this okay?” TK questions nervously. “I don’t want to be disrespectful,” he gestures towards the altar.

“It’s fine, TK,” Andrea assures him.

They take a seat together towards the back of the room, TK sitting across from them.

Nobody says anything for a long moment. He sits watching TK as he taps his foot, and Andrea plays with her hands, struck by the similar nervous motions. He recognizes as TK looks at them with a worried wrinkle between his brow, he doesn’t know where to start, and Gabriel is struck by how young he looks like this. It reminds him of Carlos’ nervous habits growing up, so concerned with disappointing them.

“How long have you and our son been together?” he questions, ripping off the bandaid.

“We’ve been dating for over a year,” he answers honestly, wincing when Andrea lets out a shocked sound. “But we’ve known each other for over a year and a half. It took a while for us to get – us, right.”

A year?” Andrea questions, surprised and more than a little sad. “He’s kept this from us for a year?”

“He didn’t mean to,” TK rushes to explain – to defend their son to them, Gabriel realizes. He stops looking nervous, and Gabriel can honestly feel the wave of protectiveness coming off the young man.

While the part of him that isn’t still shocked at this sudden news is pleased that Carlos has found someone obviously loyal to him, another part of him is at a loss at being someone this young man thinks he needs to protect his son from. It leaves an unpleasant feeling in his stomach he tries to push down before he reacts in a way that he’ll regret later.

“Then what did he mean?” he questions, trying to understand. “Because if you guys have been dating for a year, that means you two were together when we met you at the market, and he called you a friend from work.”

He feels bad as his words cause the kid to flinch, and a small cynical smile twists his lips upward for a second.

Yeah, that caused a big fight between us,” he answers dryly. “Look, this is something you need to talk about with Carlos when he comes to. We both knew it was a long time coming, and trust me, he’s been working up the nerve to tell you both about us.”

“Why would he need to work up the nerve?” Andrea questions while Gabriel watches as TK’s eyes flash, his hands curling for a moment. He’s struck by the fleeting anger he sees there – at them.

“Because you’re both more traditional, and he didn’t want to rub your noses in our relationship,” he answers tightly, making Andrea gasp.

Gabriel feels his hackles raise at the resentment he hears in the words. “Hey now, you don’t get – “

“Carlos’ own words,” TK interrupts, his voice sharp enough to stop him. TK stops too, taking a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment.

“I apologize,” he starts again, his voice calmer. “It’s not my place at all, and Carlos needs to be the one to explain this to you.”

Gabriel exchanges a glance with his wife, letting out a sigh when she gives him a serious look. He turns towards TK again, taking a calming breath of his own. “But he’s not here right now, and we’d like to understand.”

TK lets out a sigh, nodding at them after a moment. “You’re right,” he agrees quietly, running a hand through his hair. “I just really wish he was here, though,” he pauses, the pain and love in his eyes as he speaks striking a core with him. This man loves his son. That much is clear.

“Okay, first things first. Carlos loves you both so much,” he tells them reassuringly. “He speaks of both of you with so much respect and admiration. Please don’t doubt that for one second. He didn’t keep us a secret from you because he doesn’t love or respect you.”

“Then why?” Andrea asks, trying to understand.

TK presses his lips together, giving her a helpless shrug of his shoulder. “Because he was scared of upsetting you, of disturbing the tentative peace that the three of you have had since he rocked your world by telling you he was gay at 17, and then none of you ever spoke about it again. He didn’t want to disappoint you.”

By TK’s expression, Gabriel knows that he hasn’t just spoken with any malice, yet he still feels his words hit him like a punch.

“But – that’s,” he stumbles at a loss for words. “Carlos could never disappoint us,” he looks at Andrea to find her with tears in her eyes. “We love our son.”

TK gives him a smile; it’s kind and understanding. “I don’t doubt that,” he tells them, looking at Andrea. “He’s so easy to love, of course, you love him.”

You love him,” Andrea says in awe, still crying, but it feels different than before, almost happy in the middle of the hurt.

TK’s eyes fill with tears; they spill over even as he gives them a bright smile. “More than I have ever loved anyone in my life, ma’am. He is everything to me.”

Gabriel hears how much he means it in his voice and instantly remembers something from earlier. “You worked on him at the scene,” he exhales over a dull ache in his chest at the thought. “Jesus Christ, kid, how did you – “

“The worst moment of my life,” TK whispers, losing his smile, his bottom lip trembling. “And life has thrown some curveballs my way,” he inhales deeply in an effort to control his emotions. “But I wasn’t about to lose him, not like that and not now. We have our whole lives ahead of us, and I plan to spend mine with your son.”

Gabriel hears the conviction and the subtle threat he’s issuing them. He’s telling them he’s not going anywhere, and while a small part of him wants to be annoyed at the warning, Gabriel finds himself mostly impressed. He finds himself liking the kid despite the situation.

“You love him so much,” Andrea whispers, shaking her head to herself. Knowing his wife, she’s mourning the fact that they’ve missed out on seeing it. “And he loves you?”

TK nods quickly. “He never lets me doubt it, not for one single second,” he swallows before another smile takes over his face, soft and involuntary. “He’s wonderful.”

“I’m so sorry we’ve missed it,” she tells him, and Gabriel smiles to himself at how easy he can still read her. “It was never our intent to make Carlos feel like he couldn’t share with us his life. When he told us he was gay, yes, it was a surprise, but we never loved him less,” she frowns, letting out a soft breath. “We wanted him to feel like nothing had changed, and instead, we made him feel like he couldn’t talk to us.”

“But he can,” he continues for Andrea, hoping TK will understand.

Andrea nods in agreement. “He can,” she repeats. “We want to be part of the life he’s building with you.”

TK smiles. It’s wobbly but iridescent as it lights up the room. “He – we would like that very much,” he tells them, chuckling softly. “You have no idea how much I’ve wanted to know you both. You need to tell him when he wakes up.”

Andrea looks fearful again as she turns from TK to him and back again. “What if – “

No,” TK answers resolutely. He holds out his hand for Andrea, covering it when she places it in his. “Carlos is going to be fine. He’s not leaving us.”

Gabriel watches them hold each other’s hands, his wife taking comfort from the man in love with their son, and hopes, for all their sakes, that he will turn out to be right.

 

֎֎֎

 

The next three days are the longest of Gabriel’s life. After over seven hours of surgery and recovery, they’re allowed to see a sleeping Carlos.

If there was any doubt in his mind about TK’s feelings for his son, they’re wiped out the moment he sees him at his bedside. The way he takes his hand in his, holding it for dear life as he whispers in his ear that he loves him and that he’s there, that they all are.

They wait, hours and hours they wait for Carlos to wake up. The doctors tell them the surgery was successful, and now they just have to wait for Carlos’ body to recover enough for him to wake up. They’re not sure when that’ll be.

He walks into his son’s hospital room after taking a call from work to find TK alone with Carlos, his wife nowhere in sight.

“You know, sweetheart, if this is payback for the time I got shot and ended up in a coma, then message received,” TK talks to a sleeping Carlos, bringing his hand to his lips. “You can wake up now because I’ve learned my lesson.”

“You were shot?” he questions, raising an eyebrow, wondering exactly what these two have been through.

TK blinks up at him. He lowers Carlos’ hand but doesn’t let go. “Yeah,” he nods, clearing his throat. “Before Carlos and I officially got together, it was a house disturbance gone wrong, an accident, but I got hit in the chest and ended up in an eight-day coma. Carlos had to sit through it, the eight worse days of his life, he likes to remind me,” he turns back to Carlos, his expression softening. “I really didn’t need to learn the hard way how this feels.”

Gabriel makes a sound at the back of his throat. He takes the seat he’d been occupying next to Andrea, finding her purse still there.

“She went to the restroom and to get something to drink,” TK tells him. “I told her I would stay with Carlos.”

Gabriel nods in understanding, and the room goes quiet as neither says anything else. They both just watch Carlos, focusing on the rise and fall of his chest. His eyes stray to TK —his focus on Carlos, the way he reaches out to touch his skin like he can’t bear letting him go for a moment for fear he’ll slip away. The last few days, he and Andrea have gotten to know the kid better, along with the rest of his crew.

Their love for each other and their love for Carlos is evident in every gesture and kind word they have to say about him. It still hurts him to know he and Andrea have missed so much. As he laid in bed holding his crying wife, more than a few tears slipped his own eyes at the lost time. Every day that passes, he promises to fix it when his son wakes up.

“You know, when he was around ten, he convinced his cousin to help him up the stallion at the farm,” he starts telling him, lost in the memory. “And this was a rough horse, even I didn’t ride him much, but he got on, and the thing, of course, sent him flying,” he shakes his head to himself. “He was knocked out maybe five minutes, but they were the longest five minutes of my life.”

“Was he okay?” TK questions, concerned even though it obviously turned out okay in the end.

“A fractured arm,” he answers, chuckling. “As soon as the cast was off, he was right back at it – this time bribing the horse with apples, carrots, and beetroots until he won him over. By the end, it would only let Carlos ride him. He was so smug about it, tipping his hat at us as he rode him.”

TK grins from ear to ear. “Tell me there are pictures of him in the hat.”

Gabriel stands, pulling out his wallet. He fishes out an old worn picture, passing it over to TK. He watches as the boy takes gentle care, running his index finger over the image as he smiles down at it.

“Damn, that’s cute,” he murmurs, handing back the picture after a moment longer. “You know, he won me over with patience too.”

Gabriel raises an eyebrow at the comment, waiting for him to continue.

“When he and I met, I wasn’t in a good place emotionally,” TK starts to tell him as he looks back at Carlos, reaching up to brush his hair back. “I’d gotten out of a relationship that left me messed up, and I wasn’t looking for anything serious. I hurt his feelings at the beginning, and honestly, he should have just cut his losses.”

He looks over at him. “But Carlos doesn’t give up on people, especially when they’re hurting, so he became my friend, someone I could trust with the not-so-great parts of me. He never judged. He just cared about me more, making sure I knew that I was worth the effort even when I wasn’t so sure of that myself,” he smiles as he retakes Carlos’ hand. “He loves me even when I don’t always love myself.”

“I’m sure you do the same for him,” Gabriel answers. Even with Carlos asleep, he’s seen enough to know the two of them genuinely love each other. Now he just wants his son to wake up so he can see it for real.

“I try,” TK answers. “He makes it easy.”

“Do you think he’ll forgive us?” he can’t help but ask, the question playing in his head the last few days as he learned more of the parts of his life Carlos felt the need to keep to himself for their comfort.

TK frowns as he looks at him, shaking his head slowly. “Carlos will tell you there is nothing to forgive. He doesn’t blame you.”

“He should, though,” he can’t help but argue, feeling frustrated, angry tears at the back of his throat. Fear clawing its way back after three days of waiting for his boy to open his eyes and wondering if it will ever happen. “He was 17, a kid, scared but brave as he told us his truth, and while we accepted it at that moment, we didn’t make sure he knew that it would always be okay with us. That’s on us. We should have done better.”

“Do better now, Gabriel,” TK says to him quietly, shrugging his shoulder when he looks at him, his expression nothing but kind. “Forgive yourself, because Carlos never blamed you to begin with, and do better now.”

“Are you always so wise, kid?” he asks, smiling when TK lets out a bark of laughter.

“That is the last word anyone who knows me would use to describe me,” he shakes his head, still giggling. “Usually, it’s stubborn or reckless. Carlos has been known to call me a brat quite a few times,” he says fondly as he looks down at the bed.

“Because you always get your way,” Carlos rasps out, eyes still closed.

Gabriel isn’t sure who’s gasp is louder, his or TK’s as they both stand to get closer.

“Carlos? Sweetheart?” TK asks, cautious but hopeful, and Gabriel holds his breath as he waits to see if Carlos is genuinely back with them.

It takes a minute, maybe two, maybe three, but slowly Carlos opens his eyes.

“Hi, sweetheart,” TK whispers, tears falling even as he smiles widely down at Carlos.

Gabriel watches as his son frowns as he tries to weakly reach up to touch TK’s face. TK helps him, lifting his hand and holding it against his cheek.

“Don’t – cry, Ty,” Carlos gets out slowly, brushing his thumb under TK’s eye, earning a wet laugh from him.

“I love you so much,” he says to him, and though he’s obviously tired and in pain, the smile Carlos gives TK is the brightest Gabriel has ever seen.

“Love you too, amor,” his son whispers back to his boyfriend, sounding just as hopelessly in love with him. It reminds Gabriel of him and Andrea, and he can’t help the small sound that escapes his throat.

“Dad – “ Carlos says softly, surprised as his eyes find him; they shift back to TK, concern coloring his expression.

“It’s okay, babe. I promise,” TK assures him with a smile as he gives his hand a squeeze.

“It is mijo,” Gabriel tells him, hoping to wipe away the slight fear he sees in his son’s eyes. He never wants to be the cause for that look again.

TK looks over to him, smiling at him reassuringly, and Gabriel remembers what he said to him moments before Carlos woke up. Forgive and be better.

“I’m gonna go find Andrea and a doctor,” TK declares, giving him a nod. He turns back to Carlos, leaning down to kiss him on the forehead. “I’ll be right back.”

TK steps away from Carlos, squeezing Gabriel’s arm as he walks by him before leaving the room, leaving him alone with his son.

Turning back to Carlos, he finds him still looking concerned as he stares at him, and that simply won’t do for him. He shifts over to where TK had been standing, now next to Carlos. “How do you feel?” he questions gently, getting a tiny shrug back.

“Tired,” Carlos gets out, his voice raspy. “Thirsty.”

“Oh! Of course,” Gabriel says quickly, turning to grab the pitcher of water on the bedside counter and a cup. Filling it, he turns back to Carlos, raising his bed a bit before bringing the straw to his lips. “Slowly, mijo.”

Carlos does as he asks, all the while looking at him. After he’s had his fill, Gabriel pulls the cup away, putting it back on the counter. He reaches out to his son, running a hand over his curls like he would do when he was a little boy.

“You scared the hell out of us, kid,” he whispers, swallowing hard as the last couple of days catch up to him. “We were so scared we were gonna lose you.”

Carlos leans into his touch. As he closes his eyes, a tear rolls down his cheek. “Sorry, pop.”

“No, I’m sorry,” Gabriel shakes his head. He takes Carlos’ hand. “These last few days have shown your mom and me how much of your life we have missed, and we’re so sorry.”

“Dad – “ Carlos tries. “I – “

“We messed up, Carlos,” he continues, needing to get it out. “We thought we were keeping things normal by not making a big deal out of you coming out, and instead, what we did was make you believe that you needed to keep parts of your life a secret for us to be comfortable. But our comfort isn’t the most important thing. Your happiness is, and as long as you’re happy, so are we.”

Carlos’ eyes fill with more tears, and Gabriel is struck by how young he seems as he looks up at him hopeful.

“We met your boyfriend,” Gabriel chuckles fondly. “I mean, obviously. He’s pretty special, Carlitos. You picked a good one.”

Carlos laughs. It’s wet from tears but joyful. “I picked the best one.”

Gabriel smiles at the pride he hears in his son’s voice. “We’d like to get to know him, son,” he says. It’s a hope and a request in one. “Your mom and I, we’d like to know him and you,” he swallows hard as his eyes burn. “We love you so much, but loving someone isn’t always knowing them. If it’s okay with you, we’d like a chance to fix that now.”

Carlos stares at him, mouth open, and there is the slightest tremble of his bottom lip.

Carlitos.”

He and Carlos turn their heads to the door where Andrea and TK stand together. Carlos smiles at his mom, the smile growing when he notices that she’s holding hands with TK.

“Mami,” he says softly.

Andrea walks towards them, tugging TK along with her. Reaching the bed, she reaches out to touch his face. “Baby,” she whispers, shaking her head as she tries not to cry. “Please never scare us like this again.”

Carlos lets out an amused huff, closing his eyes for a second. “I’ll try, Ma.”

“Good,” Andrea grins at him, amused by his tone. “And you better be ready to be smothered for a while. TK and I have been making plans. We’re not letting you out of our sight.”

“We have a shifts chart,” TK teases him, sharing a grin with Andrea.

Gabriel watches with amusement as Carlos looks scared again, this time at the team he sees being created before his very eyes. He laughs, happy and relieved, when Carlos turns to him for support.

“I wouldn’t fight it, kid,” he warns him. “You know how your mother is, and your boyfriend seems just as bad; just accept it. They’re bonded. We all have.”

Carlos looks around at all three of them, the contentment he sees in his son’s expression, a blessing, and Gabriel knows it’s going to be okay. There is still a lot of time that he and Andrea will have to make up for. Conversations that will still need to be had.

But his son is alive; he’s safe, happy, and in love with a good man. He and Andrea haven’t missed it all, and they don’t plan to miss anything else when it comes to their boy ever again.

Carlos grins at him. “I think I’m okay with that, dad.”

Gabriel smiles back. He’s okay with it too.