It’s there when he wakes up that morning. If you had asked him, made him look you in the eyes as he opened his, yawning and rolling his shoulders to greet the new day, he would have lied about it. It’s subtle at first, though, so you can’t really blame him.
TK is already awake when his alarm goes off. He has it set on his watch so that it vibrates to wake him but lets Carlos sleep in if it’s his day off. It’s pretty reliable, he’s never been a heavy sleeper, and it eliminates all the possible guilt that would come along with waking his beautiful boyfriend when he looks so peaceful like that, hand resting lightly atop their shared comforter. The pressure that sits behind his right eye is honestly, hardly noticeable. He’s worked through worse, he will work through worse, so there’s not a lot of point in doing anything about it now. He makes a mental note to choke down a glass of water with his coffee though, just to cover his bases.
When he stands up, his vision blurs, bursts of pink and green light spreading across his bedroom wall like some kind of twisted fireworks. They go away though when he rubs his eyes, so he doesn’t think much of it. It takes all the effort in the world to collect his uniform from the top of the dresser, where he’d laid it out the night before, and trudge off to the bathroom to shower and get dressed.
Even with his head pressed against the cool tile, the water feels abrasive. It’s supposed to be relaxing. It’s supposed to give him a fresh start to the day so that he’s ready for whatever he has to do at work, so he’s not in a bad mood when he gets home so that he can get off on the right foot or whatever. It doesn’t do any of that, though, because it’s too busy being loud and heavy somehow, like a thunderstorm rather than a peaceful rain.
He uses the single serve k-cup coffee maker that his dad bought the two of them when they’d moved in together. He’d wanted to get them something fancier, but Carlos only ever drank black coffee and TK wouldn’t dare take up any more counter space in his beloved kitchen. Owen had compromised with the Keurig, insisting that he’d had a coupon so it wasn’t even that expensive.
He pops the cup in and closes the lid, his travel mug waiting under the nozzle for his daily cup of peppermint mocha. Carlos would tease him for it, he always did. It’s the middle of spring, babe, is it too soon? Or too late, for Christmas flavors?” and TK would roll his eyes and shoot back with something or other “Ok, Mr. Black Coffee, I see you’ve finally graduated with your Ph.D. in maturity.”
That morning, though, there is no banter, as TK drinks his morning brew, scalding his lip and grimacing at the sting. Carlos has the day off and that lucky bastard is still in bed. God, how TK wants to be in bed.
He leaves without drinking his water.
The pressure builds throughout the day and he ignores it. It’s achy and annoying as he tends to his patients. It’s manageable, but it’s a menace for sure.
Nancy is the first to notice it. They’re getting their patient loaded into the back; a forty-five year old male, pilon fracture to the ankle, and a mild concussion after a run-in with some slippery tile at the top of a set of rather steep stairs. He’s stable and coherent and going-to-be-fine, so she’s got a second or two to watch TK squint at the harsh light of the sun, to watch him roll his neck a few times as he’s sitting down.
“You good?” She asks softly, nodding in his direction as she fiddles with the IV saline before making sure everything is secure for transport. He nods but doesn’t say anything. She notices but doesn’t intervene. That’s how it usually goes.
By the time his shift is halfway over, the pain is settling in. It’s taken up shop beneath his eyelid and it spreads and stretches down the side of his face, under his cheekbone, and around to the base of his skull. It’s bad, but if anyone asked, he’d deny it.
He doesn’t throw up for another three hours after that.
Tommy is the one that finds him, which is embarrassing, somehow, for the both of them. She knows what to do, she knows how to help, but it’s different when it’s him. It’s always different when it’s somebody you know. That’s why they don’t let doctors practice on their families, why they don’t encourage CNAs to do home health for their own grandparents. That’s what she tells herself, anyway, as she watches him retch into the trash can that sits next to the row of sinks in the locker room.
He’s not crying yet, but God does he want to.
“You okay, Strand?” She asks, keeping her voice low. She reaches for the dimmer switch on the wall closest to her and turns the dial down, the shadows in the room becoming more pronounced as she does. TK’s shoulders droop in response, grateful for the respite from the harsh fluorescents.
He doesn’t answer right away, and it’s got almost nothing to do with the bile that is still dancing playfully at the base of his throat, taunting him. His eyes are closed and he’s sweating now. He wants to go home. He wants to go home.
He gives Tommy a thumbs up, keeping the other arm braced against the white subway tiles for support.
He doesn't glance up at her, doesn’t speak. She nods her head and takes out her phone. That’s how it usually goes.
He doesn’t know how he ended up laying down in the bunk room, his face pressed into the fluffy pillow, shoulders covered in a thick olive green blanket. His dad had picked the color scheme, and it definitely shows. He must have been on autopilot. He must have had help. He doesn’t remember, though. Probably a combination of both.
There’s a hand rubbing gently up and down his back, letting him know that there’s somebody there before fingers start brushing through the hair at the side of his head behind his ear. He knows it’s Carlos before he opens his eyes. You could say it’s the feeling, you could say it's the faint scent of coconut shampoo and that lotion he keeps in the console of his car. You could even say it was the way his footsteps sounded when he’d walked in. Mostly what it was, though, was that he hadn’t been afraid. There had been no tiptoeing around, no nervous glances. It was all soft touches and keeping the lights off. It was the confidence that did it.
Knowing is a rewarding thing. Being known is also a rewarding thing. The prize is familiarity. You don’t think of that as a prize because it’s so common, it’s so reliable, so consistent, that sometimes it’s hard to separate the cause from the effect. There is no greater, stronger, foundation for love than familiarity.
“You ready to go home, honey?” He whispered, close to TKs face. He was squatting down, making himself level on purpose. That way he knew he would be heard without being so overwhelming, so overpowering.
TK nods, but he doesn’t say anything. Carlos collects himself for one split fraction of a second and then he fixes what he can with what he has. That's how it usually goes.
“Moving on three, babe, deep breaths, you know the drill.” And he counts and slides his hands under TK’s back, helping him sit upright. He swings his feet around quickly, knowing that sometimes it’s better to just rip that bandaid off, and then he's cradling the back of his neck, holding his face into his chest, keeping him steady, blocking out the light. He knows what to do. He always does.
TK ends up standing, wobbling, but on his own two feet about a minute later. He’s got sunglasses on, though his eyes are still clenched tightly shut and he’s not sure where the glasses came from. He’s got a jacket draped around his shoulders and he’s not sure when that happened either. The two of them take tiny tiny steps all the way out to the parking lot and when he’s leaned up against the side of Carlos’ Camero, the dam begins to crack. He won’t cry yet, but it's only by sheer willpower.
Carlos’ hands are on him again before he has time to realize they’d been gone. He guides him forward and then back and then lowers him as gently as he can into the passenger side seat. The bathroom trash can from his house is nestled between his feet, the fresh garbage bag lining glinting against the sunlight.
“Just getting your seatbelt, babe,” Carlos whispers, reaching across his lap to secure the strap of canvas across his thighs, tightening it, and laying it flat against his chest and shoulder. He leans in and kisses him on the forehead before closing the door quietly.
The sound of it and the shake of the car as the driver's side door opens is enough to have him burying his head in the bin at his feet, retching with such force that Carlos’ back hurts just to see it. He closes his own door softly before running his hand up and down TK’s spine between his shoulder blades, ghosts of fingertips against his own jacket.
“Try to take a breath, Ty,” He times his words so that the important ones fall between sharp and jagged gasps for air. He hears him and it’s obvious because his next inhale is so intentionally deep that it shakes his whole body and he almost loses his grip on the still mostly empty trash can. Carlos grabs it just in time anyway and sets it back on the floor, never taking his other hand away from his boyfriend’s back.
“Okay, you’re all done, babe, you’re okay, let’s get you home, huh?”
He’s talking to himself now and he knows it, but he grabs a tissue from the center console and uses it to wipe the spit from TK’s lips all the same.
The drive is short and Carlos does everything in his power to avoid the potholes and cracks in the pavement. The tension TK is holding in his shoulders may as well be leaking out of his ears, filling up the car and making it hard to breathe. It’s always hard to see someone in pain. It’s always different when it’s someone you love.
When he pulls up to his condo, parking along the sidewalk. He takes a deep breath and holds it for a moment. He lets himself feel in control for one short second because if he doesn’t he’s going to panic and panic won’t help anybody. He opens his eyes again and sets his jaw before unbuckling his seatbelt and opening his door. He closes it softly, but he can still see TK’s face scrunch up lightly behind the sunglasses.
If you’d seen him on a college campus, you would have blamed it on a hangover. He probably would have let you, too.
They count again before Carlos is hoisting him up under both his elbows, keeping him steady and giving him a minute to bury his face in his neck, gain his bearings before they head for the front door. He side-eyes the trash can that he knows he’ll wish he’s taken with them when he comes back out to the car and it smells like that , but it’s not a priority. TK is the priority. He always will be.
To his credit, TK doesn’t cry until they hit the bottom of the flight of stairs that leads up to Carlos’ bedroom. And even then, he’s keeping it pretty well contained. The single tear that drips down his cheek is enough to grab his boyfriend’s attention, though, and they pause before he starts asking him questions. He’s not sure why he bothers asking, to be honest, because he knows that TK is going to want their bed over their couch, he knows that he hasn’t taken the Imitrex that lives under the sink in their bathroom, just like it does at TK’s dad’s place. There’s a line, though, between confidence and recklessness-- between knowing and assuming, and he’s not trying to toe that line today.
It takes them a while to get up the stairs, with TK’s arm slung around his shoulder, one of his hands secure around his waist, the other horizontal in front of his boyfriend’s body. He lets him grab his arm and doesn’t say anything about the way his dull nails are making little crescent moon indents in his skin. Maybe they’ll laugh about it later, but probably not.
They finally arrive at the edge of the bed and it doesn’t matter that Carlos normally sleeps on the side closest to the door. He lowers TK down, hands steady on his forearms. The lights are off and the curtain is drawn, so the only visibility in the room is coming from the soft glow of a single yellow bulb that he has plugged into the outlet at the far end of the room.
He’d never been a fan of the dark, neither had TK. After he was shot though, he’d had a hard time with it. It felt heavy and all-consuming and so unfathomably large that, even with his head on Carlos’ chest, he felt like he was drifting away. They’d bought the nightlight together at the grocery store a few nights after he’d been discharged. Neither of them said anything, both of them appreciated it. That’s usually how it goes.
It looks like he’s got maybe a minute’s worth of strength to sit up on his own before he’ll run out of steam completely and collapse against the soft mattress and over-priced pillows that adorn their bed. Carlos takes advantage, using that time to quickly unbutton TK’s uniform shirt and slip it off his shoulders, leaving him in a light gray undershirt, stained in places with patches of sweat. It takes him longer than he wants it to unbuckle his belt and slide it around, and he’s careful not to jostle him too much. He’ll have to get his pants off anyway if he wants to use the Imitrex pen, so they might as well do it now.
He taps TK’s hip twice with his index and middle fingers, asking a silent question and he responds by making an unhappy sound and then shifting his weight back onto his feet and lifting his hips into the air so that Carlos can finish what he’s doing. He has to squat to untie his shoes, lifting them off slowly so he doesn’t have to move his whole leg. He tucks them under the bed to deal with later and throws the diary socks in the general direction of the hamper before he stands up again.
“Let’s lay you down, huh?” He whispers, both hands planted on TKs shaky thighs. He nods once, then looks immediately like he regrets it. “Alright baby, okay, on three” and he counts again like he always does before using one hand at the base of his neck to lower him onto his side, the other picking up his legs to swing them around. It’s a smooth and effortless maneuver. They’ve both had the practice, they both know what they’re doing.
His fingers brush through his hair a few timeless before straightening back up with the promise of a quick return. When he enters the en-suite bathroom, he grabs the other trash can and a washcloth from the cabinet above the toilet before heading to the vanity to grab the little square auto-injector case. He runs the towel under cool water and heads back into the bedroom armed and ready to take this thing down.
He places the trash can on the bed behind TK’s shaking form. He’ll need it later, inevitably, and it’s just easier for Carlos to grab it and hold it under his chin than it is for him to try and grab it from the floor. There are more clean trash bags folded up underneath the one that currently lines the white bin so that when he’s finished, Carlos can tie it off and have the next one ready without moving too far away from the bed. Is it ideal to have four small bags of vomit tied up and leaning up against the baseboards? Of course not. But it’s also not ideal to have a concussion or a migraine disorder so they do what they can. They’re seasoned veterans by now. That’s just how it goes.
The cool sensation of the washcloth over his eyes has TK sighing with relief. It’s not fixing it, and he’s not really even sure if it’s helping or distracting, but either way, he settles on the idea that he likes it. Within seconds though, he feels Carlos rubbing his hand against his hip and he knows he isn’t going to like the next step.
“You okay with 6 milligrams, babe?” he asks, like TK can even remember his own name, much less the dosage of the medication that’s going to help ease his pain. He makes a kind of affirmative noise anyway though and then Carlos is pushing up the leg of his boxers to hit the thickest part of his thigh up by his hip.
“Big deep breath for me babe,” He whispers wiping the area off with an alcohol wipe before pressing the needle end of the pen into his skin and administering the drug. He leaves it there for the prescribed ten seconds to make sure that all of it has been released and TK whimpers as he removes it. “I know, honey, I know, all done though. You did so good, Ty, you’re alright.” he encourages as he pulls the quilt that they keep folded up at the bottom of the bed up and over his boyfriend.
He sets a timer for two hours on his phone, so that if he’s still hurting like that they can administer the second dose. He keeps a hand on TK’s calf the whole time, making sure he knows he isn’t alone.
He’ll need to get a water bottle later, dehydration is only going to make it worse, especially if he keeps crying and puking. They both know that. He’ll need to find that bag of rice that they have to put in the microwave as a heating pad. His mom had made it for them, and the fabric was a soft red and black flannel that seemed fitting somehow. TK’s chest will be tight later, his jaw too, and he’ll be cold even though he’s sweating. He’ll be too tired to hold himself up and it will be a battle to get him to eat anything for the next forty-eight at least. That’s how it usually goes.
TK can’t think clearly. His head hurts and his thigh hurts at the injection site and his mouth tastes bad and he can’t stop shaking and he really doesn’t want to throw up again but it’s already in his mouth. He makes an incoherent moaning sound and tries to sit himself up so he doesn’t choke on it and within seconds, Carlos is helping him onto his back again and then up, plunking the bucket between his blanket-covered thighs.
The tears stream freely now and he has no intention nor ability to keep them at bay. Carlos hops up on the mattress behind him, braces a warm palm against his chest, bracing him against his own straining muscles.
“I’m sorry, honey, get it all out, you’re alright,” He’s murmuring it lowly, in a way that feels like a blanket fresh out of the drier.
TK leans his head back against his shoulder when he’s done and the washcloth is placed against his forehead again without him having to ask for it. The hand on his sternum begins rubbing in slow circles and it’s almost enough to slow his racing heartbeat.
They sit like that for what feels like forever until the medicine starts kicking in and he gets tired. Carlos’s arm has been asleep for the better part of the last ten minutes, but he wouldn’t even dream of moving until he knows that his presence won’t be missed. TK has his face pressed up against his neck and the washcloth is warm now, the water soaking into the collar of his shirt. He presses a kiss against the top of his head and rubs at his chest for a little while longer before he decides it’s safe to move.
He gathers his supplies: TK’s Nalgene water bottle with all the stickers on it (Carlos had laughed at him for it the first time he’d seen it. It just made so much sense), a sleeve of saltine crackers. He grabs a new set of comfortable clothes for the both of them, leaving them folded and setting them on the ground by the shower door, knowing that TK will want to shower soon, regardless of if he seems well enough to do it. The trash gets thrown out and the shoes are put away, laundry thrown in the hamper. He’s halfway through debating whether he should make some dinner when TK whimpers slightly from where he’s curled up under the blankets.
When Carlos looks at him, he’s got his face pressed into the pillow, a white-knuckled grasp to match the color of the sham that covers it. He’s shaking, vibrating , almost. Like there’s a buzzing under his skin that won’t go away no matter how hard he squeezes.
Carlos is at his side in an instant, with his fingers running through his hair again the way that he knows TK likes.
“Hey babe, still pretty bad, huh?” He whispers, glancing at his watch to see how long it’ll be before they can give the next injection. TK just whimpers again in response, incoherent and sweating. The tears that run down his cheeks make Carlos’s chest hurt.
“Alright, okay, we’ve got twenty minutes before the next dose. I’ll be right back,” He gathers his supplies again, getting a second washcloth wet, grabbing the auto-injector case from the nightstand so they’ll be ready for round two.
The twenty minutes pass as slow as anything, with Carlos laying on his side behind his boyfriend, holding him close with one hand pressed up against his stomach and the other curled around his head. When his timer goes off, he’s quick to tap the screen to keep the sound and vibrations from bothering TK further. Then he’s lowering the blanket again, sitting up on his knees to get better access to it. He tears open the new alcohol pad and wipes off the injection site again, tossing the wrapper off the side of the bed in the general direction of the trashcan. There’ll be time to clean up again later. That’s how it usually goes.
“Take one more deep breath for me, babe,” He says, inserting the new cartridge into the pen, twisting it so the needle is visible at the bottom. TK takes a stuttering breath, he’s really trying to be calm but it’s hard to do when it feels like your head might explode at any minute. The injection goes smoothly and Carlos never takes his other hand off his thigh the entire time, rubbing circles into goosebump covered skin and whispering soothing phrases until he can remove the needle again and put it back in the carrying container.
“Good job, Ty, you’re doing so well for me babe,” He says pulling the blanket back up over his shoulder. He can’t help but worry a little bit, knowing that usually, sumatriptan knocks a migraine out with one dose. But, TK had waited until he was already dizzy and vomiting to take it, so there was always going to be a chance that it wouldn’t work.
Carlos lays back down, on TK’s side of the bed, and slides himself under the quilt next to him. It only takes a second for TK to register his weight on the mattress and slowly turn toward him, coming to rest his head on his chest. A hand is rubbing at his temple immediately, trying its best to soothe away the pounding pressure, while the other reaches over and readjusts the cloth covering his eyes.
These things always hit him hard. He’d had them before the litany of concussions from bar fights and from work. He’d had them when he was little, too, and he’d go running for his dad when he suddenly got dizzy and couldn’t see right anymore. It was easier back then. Owen would just pick him up, rock him for a while until he stopped crying, rub his back as he buried his head in the toilet. Something changed when his parents got divorced, though, and his dad started spending more and more time at work. He got the kind of good at wiping your own tears that nobody should ever be and it stuck around like a bad habit.
The first time he’d had one in Austin was two nights after they’d moved there. Maybe it was the change in atmosphere, maybe it was the stress, maybe it was that he was only a few days off a bender, the itch for a fix boiling just under his skin, threatening to overtake him. He’d hidden in the bathroom for most of it while his dad started working on his plans for the new station. He hadn’t been missed and it hadn’t mattered that he’d spent twenty-four hours becoming uncomfortably familiar with the grout work in the hall bathroom. He’d smelled awful and he’d showered it off himself and made up some lie about wanting to get to bed early, get rested for a long day of interviews, before locking himself in his new bedroom and pulling the blackout curtains tight on their rod. It was cold and clinical and new in all the worst ways in there, but the feeling of toxic independence settled easily in his stomach as he drifted in and out of sleep.
The Imitrex was a new development. He’d only ever even considered it because of Carlos. It scared him, just the thought of it, but it had become familiar since that first time, and it really did help.
He’d been dizzy before he even left the house, but he ignored it. Back when he was a kid, before this whole mess, his dad would have shaken two Excedrin out of the bottle and set them in his palm with a glass of cold water. Now though, he settled for a couple of deep breaths and another cup of coffee. He was meeting Carlos at 6:00. It was a casual thing. A hang-out thing. He didn’t need to be 100%, but he didn’t want to cancel it either. It felt too important to cancel. That and he’d done this before, he’d be home again by the time it got too bad anyway.
By the time he arrived at Carlos’ condo, though, his mouth already tasted like regret. The sunlight made his eyes pulse and he wanted to lay down more than anything he’d ever wanted before. It takes him seven steps to reach his front door, six seconds to muster up the courage to knock, five seconds for Carlos to open the door. It didn’t take any time at all for him to notice TK’s tight posture, the way that his lips curled up in a grimace rather than a smile. It took no time at all for him to grab him by the elbow gently, without saying anything, no time at all to lead him toward the couch, no time at all to brush the back of his hand against his forehead to check for a fever.
He’d grabbed him an ice water from the kitchen and pressed it not his shaking hand without him having to ask for it, without him having to get it himself. He hadn’t offered any medication, he hadn’t tried to talk too loud, tried to ask what was going on. He’d been there and he could tell.
That was the difference with him.
They sat on the couch for a little while before the nausea crept up his throat and had him running toward the bathroom, collapsing on the tile floor just in time to spit strings of bile into the bowl. Without having to ask, there was a cool cloth on the back of his neck and a hand on his back, like there had been when he was a kid. He wasn’t sure if he believed in love, but if he did, surely this was it.
He’d cried that day too, shaking sobs that had Carlos wrapping him up in strong arms, holding him close, and shushing him gently as he dried his cheeks and stroked a hand through his unruly hair. He’d said it would be alright, it would be alright, it would be alright, and for once, TK believed him. He’d fallen asleep in their bed before it was even theirs to begin with.
He’d woken up a few times in the night, the trashcan thrust under his chin just in time, the strings of spit wiped gently from his chin with a tissue. He wasn’t alone that entire time, but he wasn’t overwhelmed either. It was more than he’d ever received, more than he expected, more than he felt like he deserved.
Carlos was the one who made him go to the doctor for it. He probably should’ve gone when he was a kid; his dad was always the one to say that head stuff isn’t something to fuck with. When he’d explained his symptoms, Carlos had been there, hand in his hand, a strength so unwavering it was easy as anything to feed off it. He didn’t sugar coat it for once, talking about how he’d wake up with a pressure that made him dizzy and sick, how he’d stop being able to see everything around him. He talked about how his vision would explode into colors that would have him leaning up against a wall for support while he gained his bearings. He’d told them how he wouldn’t take anything for them, too afraid to risk it.
They diagnosed him with a migraine disorder. They said the proclivity for head injuries probably hadn’t helped, and they’d prescribed him the sumatriptan pen, Imitrex.
He’d made Carlos sit with him at his laptop while he read about the mechanism of action for what must have been an hour before he’d even agreed to fill the prescription. The doctor had told him it was safe, that it was nonaddictive, that technically it wasn’t an analgesic at all, it was a vasoconstrictor. He hadn’t been convinced, though, until they’d watched a couple of videos on it, on the microbiology of it.
Carlos drove him to the pharmacy and held his hand as he talked to the girl at the counter. He didn’t let him go until they got home and put it under the sink together and left it.
He still hated to use it. It still made him nervous. So, Carlos promised after a particularly nasty episode had them both calling in from work, that he would be there to do it if he needed. That he would learn how to use the pen and he would wash off his skin and inject the medication himself if it would help. They made a routine and they stuck to it.
TK hurts, Carlos helps. That’s how it always goes.
He falls asleep after a little while, the drag of his medication pulling him under. Carlos waits for a while, to make sure it lasts before he heads out to the kitchen. It’s nearing midnight when he starts chopping carrots to make soup. He’s got those, the celery, and the onion in the pot simmering within half an hour and he’s pouring in the thick noodles that TK made them buy the last time they were at the store by the time the clock hits one-thirty.
He eats his bowl when it’s done cooking and puts TK’s in a microwave-safe bowl in the refrigerator so that he can have it when he wakes up. The nausea usually lingers like a bad smell for a couple of days after the pain fades away. The tightness in his chest will fade to something short of soreness and he’ll get tired easily for a little while but act like he doesn’t. He’ll say he’s fine, Carlos will recognize the lie. That’s how it usually goes.
He heats up the bag of rice from earlier and takes it into their room once he knows it’s not too hot and he crawls under the covers behind TK, pulling him close to his chest and pressing the heating pad to his stomach where he knows he likes it. There’ll be more of this tomorrow, probably the next day.
He’ll wake up feeling less like he got hit in the head with a baseball bat, though, and he’ll greet Carlos with a sleepy smile and a kiss to the palm of his hand where it will be resting on his cheek. They’ll stay in bed until he’s ready totry some water, then they’ll stay in bed a while after that to make sure it settles okay. They’ll get up when he’s ready to brush his teeth and shower and through the whole thing, they’ll stand side by side, two halves of a whole set.
That’s how it usually goes.