best running route in austin?
Carlos is immediately on alert when he sees TK’s name pop up on his phone, but he waits a whole five minutes before answering. You’re assuming I run?
TK replies with five eyeroll emojis.
Try Lady Bird Lake if you haven’t already.
[thumbs up] [arrow]
Carlos looks outside; it’s dark. He checks his watch: 9pm. What, now?
Carlos performs an eyeroll of his own. I’ll meet you there in 15.
TK looks as unfairly good in an FDNY long-sleeve and basketball shorts as he does in uniform. He’s jogging tight circles around a bench, restless even for someone already in motion. He looks up when he hears Carlos approach, pausing for a moment before he resumes jogging in place.
“I can’t in good faith condone running alone after dark.”
“Good thing you’re here, then, officer,” but there’s no heat behind it.
Before Carlos can finish fully narrowing his eyes in response, TK takes off down the trail. Carlos sucks in a deep breath and follows him down the path.
“So. You generally make a habit of going for runs alone in strange places at night?” Four punishing miles later, they’re back at the parking lot. Despite the late hour, it’s still warm, and they’re both covered in a light layer of sweat.
TK’s knuckles go white as he tightens his grip on the bench he’s using to balance while stretching, and his lips purse into an unhappy little frown as he focuses his eyes on his shoes. “Not exactly.”
“Right.” Carlos isn’t going to push it, not tonight, and this is generally when he’d ask someone back to his place for a beer, but. He also notices that his car’s the only one in the lot. “Do you need a ride home?”
TK’s frown deepens, and he closes his eyes for a few seconds. “Mm.”
“Or, we could grab a… juice? If anywhere’s open. Smoothie? Sorry, I usually reserve these healthier choices for daylight hours.”
That gets him a laugh, at least. “Sure. Juice on me as thanks for the personal police escort around the lake.”
It takes some Googling, but they find a juice place that’s still open at nearly ten. They have juice, and TK pays as promised, and they don’t really talk about anything much but manage to stay seated at the small table in the window long after both of their green sludges are gone, and then Carlos drives TK home.
TK comes around to the driver’s side window after he gets out of the car, and he looks a million miles away but sincere when he says, “thanks.” He pauses like he’s going to say something else, but the words never come.
“Safety first,” Carlos says. “I’ll - text you.” The words curl up like a question at the end without his consent.
“Yeah. Yeah, okay.” TK gives him a tiny smile that doesn’t meet his eyes, then bounces on his toes and runs into the house, where all the lights are still on, and Carlos thinks he can see the shadow of a figure waiting by the window.
Carlos waits a respectable four days (well, three and a half) to text TK again at a very innocent and wholesome time late next Sunday morning.
Has anyone told you about the breakfast tacos yet?
no??? give me a time and a place as long as that time is in the next 30 and the place is bikeable.
Granny’s seems like a safe bet: close enough for TK to bike, casual food truck setting, and of course, he’s sure the tacos won’t fail to impress. Carlos gets there first and it’s already crowded, so he immediately gets in line. He’s messing with his phone while he waits and doesn’t notice TK has joined him until he feels a brush against his side, too close for someone casually passing by.
“Morning,” TK offers with a smile, bright and breezy as the spring weather around them. He looks about ten times happier than he did the last time Carlos saw him.
“Mornin’. I hope you’re hungry. I can promise you haven’t had tacos like these in New York.”
“I’m counting on it,” TK says, patting his stomach. Carlos’s eyes can’t help but follow the movement for a few seconds more before he looks back up. They’re finally nearing the front of the line, which serves as a timely reprieve.
“Hey, go grab a bench. I know what’s good here; I’ll bring it over in a minute.”
TK wiggles his eyebrows as he backs away, nearly running into a tiny dog wearing an even tinier sweater before he turns himself around and walks normally toward the benches.
Carlos joins him a moment later, hands full with the best Granny’s has to offer. He can’t be offended that TK’s hungry eyes are focused entirely on the tacos; he’s starving as well, most definitely focused on tearing the foil away from the food and not watching TK tear into his and most definitely not remembering what those hands felt like tearing off his shirt. Not that at all.
They both dig in in comfortable silence, surrounded by sun and the sounds of people and the smell of hot food and fresh grass. It doesn’t feel like leading up to anything, it just feels nice. Carlos likes nice; nice is good. He hopes TK feels the same way, and from the look on his face - uncomplicated, content - Carlos thinks he probably does.
On his next early shift, Carlos gets sent straight to a warehouse fire - several warehouses, as he finds out during the drive over. It’s barely past 6am, but the fire occurred in the pre-dawn hours, and the area is swarming with activity. Carlos assumes fire and EMS have been on the scene since the call, but he doesn’t have time to look for Michelle or TK or anyone else as he sends his partner to start collecting witness statements and goes to assess the area himself.
It feels like days later when he finally has a moment to pause and breathe and down half a water bottle someone passing by handed him in one long swig. The sun is high and bright in the sky. Carlos scans the still-buzzing crowd of first responders, witnesses, and warehouse staff, looking for his partner so they can compare notes and ideally get the hell out of there if they have everything they need and nothing else they can do.
Before he finds the fellow officer he’s looking for, his gaze snags on Michelle, kneeling next to a seated figure on a bench and pulling items out of her med-kit. The figure is still partly dressed in heavy fire gear, but Carlos would recognize that jawline and the set of those shoulders anywhere. A tight feeling clenches in his chest as his feet start taking him in that direction before he’s even made the decision to move.
Michelle is focused on her work, applying a wound dressing to TK’s forearm, but appears otherwise unconcerned. Probably nothing serious, then. TK grimaces as the dressing wraps around his arm, but he appears far from critical condition. The knot in Carlos’s chest loosens as he carefully sits down on TK’s other side. “Hey. Everything okay?”
TK looks up from the bandaging process to give Carlos half of a smile. “Hey yourself. Didn’t see you guys around.”
“Seems like you’ve had your hands full. Is that anything bad?”
“Nah, I don’t think so. Michelle would’ve told me if it was serious. Right, Michelle?”
“You’ll be fine, kid, just take it easy for a few days.” Carlos can recognize just the barest hint of mischief in her eyes as she finishes dressing the wound and stands up. “You’re all set. Stay out of more trouble here, okay? Go home before you make this any worse.”
“Yes, ma’am.” TK starts to fully remove his jacket but winces as the newly-dressed wound brushes the heavy sleeve.
“Here, let me.” Carlos gives TK a second to stop struggling with the jacket before he moves over to help. TK looks at him sideways but doesn’t say anything, and he lets Carlos lift the jacket gently off his shoulders. This feels familiar, but Carlos doesn’t feel the need to say so out loud. He still has half his water bottle left and offers it to TK, who grabs it awkwardly in his uninjured left hand. Seeing that, Carlos twists off the cap before letting go.
“Of course. Your crew heading out soon?”
TK tucks his head into his shoulder and coughs. “Think so, yeah. You?”
“As soon as I find Flora and we get all this,” he gestures to his stack of paperwork, “sorted out.” He pauses. “You look beat.” He does, even excluding the minor injury. His shift was probably scheduled to end hours ago. “Buy you a cup of coffee after you finish up?”
TK’s teeth flash bright white as he smiles. “Yeah, sure. Pick me up at the station in an hour.”
where can i go dancing around here? like our kind of dancing? asking for a friend.
If you wanted me to take you out, all you had to do was ask.
it really is for a friend. but you should come too.
Let me check my calendar.
i had no idea your wednesday nights were so packed.
I suppose I can move some things around for you.
:) can you meet at 10?
See you then. Carlos waits for a few minutes, then picks his phone up again and follows up with the emoji of the dancing women in the red dress.
True to his word, TK is ready just before ten, breezing out of the station in a subtle but fresh cloud of soap and cologne. He smiles when he sees Carlos waiting for him, and Carlos doesn’t miss the up-and-down TK gives both his outfit and his car before walking over to join him, standing just this side of too close for a friendly distance.
“And… your friend?” Carlos raises an eyebrow. It doesn’t make a difference to him one way or the other, but he can never seem to pass up the opportunity to give TK a hard time, at least not when it’s totally innocuous. He’s probably had enough of being treated like he’s made of glass for a lifetime.
TK’s smile falters just a fraction. “You know Paul, right? Of course, he’s been out with us. Anyway, we’re about to surprise him in a second here, but,” and he gives Carlos the quick version, sparing the details but getting his point across. “So. That calls for a night of dancing in a judgment-free zone. You know a place?”
“I sure do.”
“Perfect. My hero.” TK bats his lashes.
“You’re an idiot. But a good friend. Happy to help.”
It’s not like it’s any hardship to help out, Carlos finds, especially not when TK slings a casual arm around his waist the moment they’re through the door. Especially not when TK spends more of the night dancing with him than not, close and playful and definitely more-than-friendly. Carlos feels a little drunk with it all, the music and the lights and the dancers and TK, although he’s made a point not to drink when they’re together. That hasn’t been hard, either - it seems like everything about dating TK is easy, except for the part where they’re not actually dating, or if they are, they’re at least not talking about it. But that seems like an obstacle for another time, a time where he isn’t pressed up against a gorgeous guy, close enough to follow the movement of TK’s hips, close enough that they’d be kissing if either of them leaned in more than an inch or two. Close enough, for now.
It feels like both a relief and a disappointment to finally take a break, snagging ice waters from the bar before meeting up with Paul at a small table off to the side of the dance floor. Carlos is gratified to see he’s not the only one breathing fast, not the only one with the want he knows must be showing in his eyes. He can see it in TK’s, too.
Paul appears to genuinely be having a good time, and although Carlos doesn’t know him well, he’s truly glad for it. He’s had a good time as well, not just being here with TK, but being here with Paul, being here as part of something, even in the smallest way. It feels more solid than some whispered come-ons in a dark bar or a few stolen midnights hours spent hooking up.
Tuning back in to his surroundings, Carlos sees Paul stifle a yawn and TK drooping against the hightop table. “It’s almost time for me to turn back into a pumpkin.”
“Your chariot awaits, princess,” and to Paul, “and sir.”
Paul laughs and rolls his eyes, finishing the last of his drink and setting it on the table as he stands to leave.
TK brushes Carlos’s wrist with his fingertips, leaning up and in and meeting his eyes like it’s a question. Carlos isn’t sure TK that finds what he’s looking for, but maybe he does, pulling Carlos into a quick, loose hug. “Thanks for coming. I’ll call you tomorrow,” TK whispers into the embrace before letting go to follow Paul. It feels like a promise.
Carlos knows TK has a shift starting at noon the next day, so he’s surprised when his phone rings in the afternoon. It’s not that he wasn’t expecting a call - he trusts that if TK says he’s going to do something, he will - but he wasn’t expecting it so early. He’s just arriving home from the gym and opts to keep the car in park and pick up the phone there when he sees who’s calling.
“My tax dollars clearly at work,” he says by way of a greeting. “Aren’t you supposed to be fighting fires or rescuing cats from trees or old ladies from their bathtubs?”
“I’m on break, asshole,” TK laughs. “But I’ll try again later if this is a bad time.”
“I’ve always got time for you, sweetheart,” Carlos drawls.
“Cute. Hey, thanks again for taking us out last night. Paul seems like he’s having a better time today. And, it was also a good time for me. With you.”
“Back at you.”
“Good. Listen, I -- wanted to go back with you last night. If you wanted to, I mean--”
“Yeah, TK, I did. I do.” This isn’t exactly a conversation Carlos would’ve chosen to have over the phone, but he gets the sense it’s easier for TK this way, and he’d rather talk about it on TK’s terms than not at all. Still, he doesn’t press and doesn’t say anything else, letting the silence stretch for a few long seconds before TK starts again.
“It’s just. It’s a lot, it’s a lot and it’s fast - I know that’s stupid, given how we kicked things off - but, you know, all the stuff I told you at the station a few weeks ago, and everything’s different here in Austin, it’s still not home, and my dad, he has cancer and I just found out and, fuck, I haven’t told anyone that.” Carlos has to wonder if TK is remembering to breathe through all of this, and he takes in a deep breath of his own, partly to process the information and partly to remind TK to do the same.
“TK. That is a lot. All of that, those are big things. And, look, I meant what I said. This thing between us doesn’t have to be anything you don’t want it to be. But it feels like it’s something,”
“Yeah, it’s something. But on my end, it’s nothing that you’re not ready for -- okay? I know we’re still getting to know each other, but I’m not going anywhere or rushing you into anything. You’re driving, got it?”
TK laughs a little, sounding relieved. “I’m from New York; I’m a terrible driver.”
“That’s fine. I give good directions.”
“You do.” Another pause. Carlos can hear an alarm starting in the background. “Shit, I gotta go. Thanks for that. Sorry it was kind of a mess. I’m kind of a mess. But I’m trying, you know?”
“I do know.”
“Yeah. You busy tonight?”
“Can we try this again? Not to invite myself over, but, well. Can I invite myself over, for dinner? For real this time?”
“Yeah. Yeah, I’d like that.”
“Okay. Great! I really do gotta go. I’ll see you tonight.”
“See you. Be safe out there.”
TK shows up at Carlos’s door later that night, looking a little self-conscious. Carlos isn’t sure if that’s due to the potted plant he’s carrying, the button down and sharp jeans he’s sporting (as much as Carlos loves TK in a hoodie, too, he definitely appreciates the effort), or the overall weirdness of trying to do this over again.
TK breaks into a shy smile, which Carlos finds himself mirroring before he can really think about it. “You look nice. Come on in.”
TK does, handing him the plant as he crosses the threshold. “Here. It smells amazing in here. Sorry for totally putting you on the spot for the whole cooking thing--”
“It’s really not a problem. I told you I like cooking, and I meant it.”
“Not just to impress me, then?”
“Well, it’s working.”
“Good. Here, sit, everything’s basically done. Let me just get it out on the table--” He swats at TK as he comes up behind him, resting his chin on Carlos’s shoulder and generally getting in the way. “Hot pan. Sit!” TK burrows his face into the crook of Carlos’s neck before moving away and complying. “Any crazy calls today? Did I miss anything good.”
“Nah, just the usual. Cats. Grandmas. You know.”
“A true American hero.”
They keep the conversation light over dinner, TK as funny and charming as Carlos has come to know him to be. TK helps him clear the dishes, and Carlos enjoys the way they keep running into each other in his tiny kitchen, even though he can tell TK is intentionally getting in his way more than he’s actually having trouble navigating the area.
“Do you have time for a movie before you have to get back for curfew?”
“Rude. I might live under my father’s roof, but I am an adult…. My curfew isn’t until one, I’ll have you know.” TK laughs as he flops onto the couch. Carlos has a fleeting thought of the last time TK was laid out on that couch, but there’s plenty of time for that now. Well, later. “I could do a movie.”
It is actually late once the movie is over, and both Carlos and TK stand and stretch after nearly two hours curled into the couch and into each other. TK checks his watch as he yawns, “I should go.” He straightens up and faces Carlos full-on, more awake now. “I had a very nice time tonight, Carlos. I mean it.”
“Good. So did I. And I also mean it.”
TK frames Carlos’s face in his hands and leans in to kiss him, slow and sweet. It’s not a means to an end, but it feels like opening a door that they’ll have plenty of time to walk through. Carlos kisses him back for a long, long moment, smiling into it before finally breaking away.
“Yeah,” TK says, winded. “That’s definitely a something.”
“Good night, TK. I’ll see you soon,” not sure if that’s a promise or a question, but the ghost of TK’s lips against his one more time, there and gone, is certainly the answer he was waiting for.