Moving to Austin hadn't been easy at all, what with TK and his dad leaving everything behind to "start over". That had been a pain in itself, but TK at least thought that it meant he had found a way to escape everything that tied him to Alex. Back in New York, it was like he was all around, in every little corner of TK's life, taking up the entire space and practically suffocating him, and while TK didn't enjoy the idea of leaving the place he knew as home, it did mean he could at least breathe without hurting. He imagined things in Texas weren't gonna be easy for a gay man with a drug problem and his sophisticated dad, but Owen had convinced him that this was their chance to make things better for themselves and TK tried to trust him.
[17:03] I know you probably deleted my number but I'm in Austin for the week and I really want to talk to you. I hope you can give me an hour of your time. A.
He could have recognized that number anywhere, despite the cheeky A at the end, because TK knew better than anyone that it was easier to physically cut things from your life than it was to delete them from you head. To see Alex's text, a simple fucking line of text, messed with his head in so many ways he couldn't even deny it. Not to himself anyway.
Six months had passed by and things were getting better, they were getting somewhere, and TK had been trying, like really trying, to get his shit together. He and Carlos were slowly slipping into something that at least resembled a normal relationship, even if TK was still tiptoeting around it, and he was actually excited about something for once, not just scared.
He was making huge efforts to open up and be vulnerable again so what was he even supposed to do with a text like that? Answer it? Delete it? Ignore it altogether?
There wasn't even a point in trying to ignore it because he had this itch inside him that was as bad as the need to chase a high used to be and it made him feel all kinds of gross, but he'd spent too much time wondering what happened that led to that cursed evening in that stupid fancy restaurant to pretend that he was above caring. It was a bit pathetic really.
It wasn't like TK still had feelings for Alex, that wasn't the case at all, but he still had feelings about... how it ended.
He let that text sit in his phone for two days before he replied.
[01:27] There's a place called Moonshine downtown. Tomorrow night at 7.
[01:28] You're paying by the way.
Was it a stupid decision to actually do this? Well, yeah, but TK was nothing if not impulsive. And he was no stranger to regret either so what the hell. After replying, he buried his head in a pillow and groaned.
If Carlos took a moment to think about it, the last two, three months had been good actually. There were movies and late night dinners and cuddling too, not just sex, and it made him feel giddy, like he was some sort of teenager with a crush, which was actually not far from how he felt. Things weren't official yet but only because TK hadn't made them official, and Carlos decided he didn't want to pressure him into anything. Still, everything seemed to be going well and he hoped TK could finally give whatever they had a chance.
It was a little past eight when he parked his car in front of the station to pick up TK from work. They were supposed to order takeout and watch Emily Blunt survive monsters in A Quiet Place so Carlos had put extra effort in cleaning his place up and making it cozy for their night in. He wasn't messy or anything but TK still managed to make him a little nervous sometimes, even if the man himself was quite messy. Carlos chuckled at the thought.
But as minutes passed by, there was still no sign of TK. Carlos was just about to text him when Owen walked out, probably done with his shift and looking for his car. When their eyes met, Carlos nodded with a small smile, and he still had trouble not making a big deal out of kinda dating the captain's son. Owen was generally a fun guy to be around but Carlos still felt the need to be on his best behaviour.
"Hey, Carlos," Owen greeted him with a smile of his own, approaching him with ease, "something happened?"
"Sir," Carlos nodded again in acknowledgement. "I'm actually here to pick up TK. Is he coming?"
At that Owen looked confused, and he took a moment to glance back towards the entrance of the station as if he didn't understand what Carlos meant.
"Uh," he frowned, turning slowly, "he left about an hour ago. He said he was going to meet you."
Well, that's weird, Carlos thought and both men looked at each other with concern. Owen seemed like he was trying to make sense of things, but then his eyes darkened for just a second. He cleared his throat and took out his phone.
"I'm gonna call him, see where he wondered off." he told Carlos, his smile much tighter.
To anyone who didn't know their relationship, it'd seem weird for Owen to still check up on his adult son like he did, but Carlos knew the story and he could easily read the worry in Owen's eyes as he waited for TK to answer. His own jaw tightened as a storm of ugly thoughts clouded his head. It's not like he didn't trust TK, but things were far more complicated than that.
Owen closed his eyes and sighed deeply, looking tired.
"It keeps going to voicemail." he said in a sharp tone, but more to himself. He turned his attention back to Carlos and tried for a brighter smile.
"Maybe he went home for a shower and fell asleep instead. He does that sometimes, he's clumsy like his mother." Owen chuckled, but he looked like he couldn't hide the fact that he was nervous, and maybe he didn't want to. "Why don't you follow me and I'll have a talk to him about dating etiquette, huh?"
Carlos nodded again and tried to have a little faith.
"Uh," Owen came down the stairs in a hurry, phone in hand, still trying to reach TK, "he's not here. I'm gonna text the team and his therapist and his sponsor, see if they know anything."
Carlos tried to remain composed for Owen's sake, but he was starting to feel like he should expect the worst and it made it hard for him to think. He should have been more prepared for this, but things were going well and he couldn't deny just how invested he was so of course it was harder than usual.
"I'm sure he's fine." Carlos said, believing it less by the minute, "I can take the car and look around for him and maybe you can let me know if you find out anything."
"No," Owen said, a little out of sorts, the slight shake of his hands more noticeable now. "I'm coming too, I can't stay here."
And Carlos understood him perfectly.
As they got in the car, Carlos was about to drive off when he felt Owen's hand on his shoulder. Looking over, Owen had a serious expression, his optimistic facade kinda gone for a second.
"Did you guys fight recently? Did he seem upset about something lately?"
"Wh-" Carlos was taken by surprise, but it made sense. He cleared his throat. "No, we're good. Real good actually. At least I think so."
"Okay, okay, that's good." Owen said with a nod. "That's good."
Evenings were really crowded in downtown Austin so driving through the busy streets was a nightmare in itself. Owen kept checking his phone for updates but so far no one had anything and it only served to make him more anxious. Carlos knew that Owen was probably praying for this whole thing to be a huge misunderstanding because he kept praying for it too. On the outside, Owen looked quite calm given the situation, but Carlos noticed the little tremor in his hands and the way his eyes darted to every single place they were passing by, hoping TK would suddenly pop out from somewhere.
Shockingly, it didn't take long for Carlos to spot him, or his back to be more exact, and he breathed for what felt like the first time in a long time. Thank. God.
But TK wasn't just fine, he was sat at a table with a man Carlos didn't know, and while Carlos couldn't see his face, the conversation looked serious enough. Suddenly, he felt his jaw and stomach tighten in a way that physically hurt because what the hell was that? Like, fine, maybe they weren't officially in a relationship and maybe TK didn't feel a damn thing for him, but this? He hadn't expected this. TK could have dropped him a text, a hint, anything, but apparently he hadn't even bothered with that.
"Sir," Carlos choked out, trying to keep calm. "he's there."
Owen's head snapped to his right, trying to find TK on the busy street. When he finally saw him, he closed his eyes for a moment, muttering something that Carlos couldn't hear over the pounding in his head. Owen's surprise quickly melted into a glare though.
"What the hell is he doing?" Owen's hand went for the door and Carlos could relate to that feeling. TK didn't owe him a lot, but he owed him more than this.
He cleared his throat, looking anywhere but at that scene, trying not to have a moment when TK's dad was there to witness it.
"Sir, I can't park here," he said before Owen could step out, "I need to find a parking space before I get a ticket. I- uh," he stuttered, and sighed, because he really didn't want to be here right now, but he also didn't want to ditch Owen and leave him without a ride in case he needed it. "Maybe I can call you an-"
"Carlos," Owen said then and Carlos could feel the man's hand on his arm. God, he wanted to punch something. "I'm sorry, I was so focused on trying to find TK before he did something stupid that I forgot for a second what this must feel like for you. And seeing him-"
"It's alright," Carlos interrupted with a humorless chuckle. "I just thought I knew where he and I stood. I'm happy he's alright though."
And he meant it. Even when everything else fucking hurt.
"He's not alright though." Owen said softly, a bitter smile on his face when Carlos looked at him. "That's Alex, his ex-boyfriend, who should not be in TK's vicinity if you ask me, and I don't know what he's doing in Austin or why TK's with him right now, but I am going to go talk to him. I can't force you to stay but you have every right to be here and to be upset."
And yeah Carlos was upset, he was beyond upset, because he was foolish enough to think this would work out eventually, if he tried hard enough. He really wanted to know what TK had to say about this whole thing, especially when it involved his ex boyfriend, who as far as Carlos was concerned was a complete asshole, but at the same time he didn't feel ready to face whatever this was. He just wished TK wouldn't have put him in this situation in the first place because it really, really sucked.
"I'm just gonna go around the corner and park. I'll wait for you there. I don't-" Carlos' fingers stretched over the wheel, breathing out like he was doing his best not to blow up, "I can't be there right now."
Owen's jaw tightened too, but he nodded anyway. Carlos could tell he was just as disappointed.
"Thanks, Carlos." is all he said before clapping him on the shoulder and getting out of the car.
Damn it, TK, Owen thought as he slowly approached the table where his son was sitting, wondering exactly how to solve this whole thing without turning it into a fiasco, when TK suddenly stood up.
"-stupid enough to actually think this could help me move on." TK scoffed, throwing a bill on the table, "I didn't come here because I was desperate for you, Alex, I just came here to get some fucking closure. Don't ever text or call me again, we're done for good."
And wow, Owen didn't even have the time to marvel at that before TK turned around and their eyes met. TK stopped dead in his tracks, panic written all over his face because he knew what this looked like. Owen didn't know exactly what was happening, but he felt damn proud that TK was walking away without someone making him do it.
Owen didn't care much for Alex in the past, mostly because the man didn't seem to put enough work into his and TK's relationship, which always made TK overthink everything, but ever since the incident, he'd lost all respect for him as a person. Sure, nobody forced his son to use drugs again and overdose, but it sure didn't help to find out the man you wanted to propose to has been cheating on you for months. Owen always had a bad gut feeling about it, especially since they weren't even living together yet, but TK had pleaded with him to be supportive and Owen just hoped that it would work out somehow, for TK's sake.
"Dad," TK almost whispered, looking like a deer in the headlights. Alex stood up too, ready to say something, when Owen shook his head.
"Don't." is all he said, but the warning was sharp enough to make Alex slowly take back his seat.
Owen didn't hide his glare, didn't want to, but his features softened once he looked to his son. TK seemed so small now, all bravado gone, like he was back to being seventeen again, when Owen had to drive him to rehab for the first time. He could see tears welling up in TK's eyes, looking like he was scrambling to say something in his defense because he knew exactly what Owen thought of his ex-boyfriend.
"No, no, no," Owen told him and stepped closer, "come on." he put his arm around TK and guided him away, leaving Alex behind. They didn't need to do this there.
"Dad, I-" TK started but Owen shushed him until they found a small bench where he sat TK down.
Once they settled down, Owen had to ask.
"What's going on TK? Why is Alex here?"
"I just-" TK started but he looked like he was having trouble organizing his thoughts so Owen gave him a minute. "I don't know. He texted me that he's in Austin and I," he sniffled, looking away, trying to find something to do with his hands because he was too nervous, "I was stupid enough to meet him because I wanted to know why I wasn't enough after two years together."
"So you still have feelings for him?" Owen asked, a little offended, frowning. TK immediately shook his head.
"No, dad, it's not like that, it's just," he paused, inhaling deeply, trying not to let his voice crack, "what he did? It haunts me. It haunts me every fucking time I try to move forward with Carlos. I keep thinking that if I do move forward everything will crush and burn, but if I don't move forward things will also crush and burn." he confessed, his eyes meeting Owen's, cheeks wet with tears. "I was trying to understand what I did so I wouldn't do the same to Carlos because I want this relationship to work. Carlos is everything Alex never was and he's everything I want right now, but I feel like no matter what I do, I can't stop thinking about how it'll end and it hasn't even fucking begun."
"TK.." Owen trailed off, moving closer to hug him tight. Alex messed him up alright, Owen thought bitterly. He was just trying to find a way to push himself to move on and Owen couldn't blame him for that.
He held TK for a while, hoping it would calm him down, and tried to choose his words carefully.
"Look, I know Alex hurt you and I know you're scared, but what he did has nothing to do with you." he said, slowly pulling away to face TK, "He didn't have enough respect for you to be honest about his feelings and that's on him, not you."
TK brought a hand up and used his sleeve to dry his eyes, looking kinda embarrassed. It broke Owen's heart.
"I can't say I truly know Carlos because I don't but from what I've seen so far I feel like he would never disrespect you like that. He was there for you from the start, through good and bad, and you know he's in love with you, you know that." Owen insisted, smiling slightly. TK hesitated for a second but nodded briefly.
"You need to accept that what Alex did was just an expression of who he is and not a consequence of something you did or didn't do. Feeling insecure sucks big time, I know, and I also know it feels like a big risk for you, but I think Carlos is someone who can help you see why you're worth it, and why it's worth it to let yourself love somebody again." Owen reached for his shoulder and squeezed it, "I don't want to pressure you into this relationship because that's not good, but I noticed that you feel better when he's around and that must mean something."
"I think," TK sighed, playing with the hem of his shirt, "I think I was stuck with a different image of me and Alex and now that I talked to him again I can see that we wanted different things. I mean, hell, we didn't even live together because he needed space."
"I told you I never understood that, but I was also trying not to be overbearing."
TK was silent for the longest time, looking deep in thought, and Owen wasn't sure what was going through his head but it surprised him to hear him chuckle.
"What's funny?" Owen quirked an eyebrow.
"Nothing. I just never heard you talk about any of my boyfriends like you talked about Carlos. And Carlos is not even my boyfriend yet."
"Well, I like this one." Owen laughed, reliefed. "But you should talk to him. You might have forgotten you two had a date today." he said, cringing slightly when TK looked up with eyes the size of the moon.
"Shit, shit, shit." TK jumped from the bench. "He came to pick me up, didn't he? Fuck!"
"Really dad?" TK deadpanned.
"He's around the corner in his car. He drove me here."
To say that it took a minute of full on wide eyed staring from TK before he could make a sound was pretty accurate.
"What- Jesus-" TK sat down again, hands on his face, "You're telling me he saw me sitting at a table with another man after I forgot we had a date?"
"And he's still here." Owen pointed out, like that meant something, because it did.
"What do I even say, dad?"
"You tell him the truth, try to make him understand like you did with me." Owen smiply shurgged. "And you promise not to do it again."
"I really fucked up though..." TK trailed off, already too nervous, but also desperate to make things right, or better.
"He's upset TK, anyone would be, but you need to tell him that you're sorry and you need to tell him how you feel. He needs to know that now."
"Yeah, I know, I know he does, you're right." TK said, looking agitated, "Can you give us a minute?"
"Sure. I'll be over at that fancy icecream place when you're done."
As he approached Carlos' car, TK's heart pounded loudly enough to make him dizzy. What if Carlos had enough of his shit? What if this was the end TK had anticipated and there wasn't anything to blame it on other than his inability to fucking express his feelings? He hadn't even gotten to call Carlos his, he couldn't lose him now, not after having the privilage of being in his life and knowing what that felt like.
When he stepped closer to the car's window, he saw Carlos's elbow sticking out of it, his head resting on his fist while the other played with the radio.
"Carlos?" he whispered, but it was loud enough to see Carlos almost flinch. TK was feeling like a balloon about to burst and he was completely terrified of what the outcome might be.
Carlos' hand fell idly on the verge of the window when his head snapped in TK's direction. He looked surprised and sad and tired and it broke TK to see him like that, especially since it was his fault.
"I'm so sorry." TK said then, because it was all that made sense in this huge mess, and felt too ashamed to even cry. This wasn't some small mistake, some mishap to treat lightly, and TK didn't even know how to start explaining.
Carlos inhaled deeply and his jaw tightened, turning off the radio before walking out and leaning on his car, facing TK with his arms crossed.
"You could have at least told me something, anything," he said, his voice low and rough, like his throat was sore, and the sound of it sent shivers down TK's spine, "not let me look for you like a fool while you were out with someone else."
"Carlos," TK's voice cracked and he shook his head, stepping closer, reaching to touch his arm, but Carlos moved it before he could, "It's not-"
"You don't have to explain anything, TK, I get it. I just never thought I mattered so little that you'd ditch me without a word to meet up with the man who cheated on you for months." Carlos said and for a small moment his frown wavered. He looked surprised with himself, kinda uncomfortable, probably aware of the weight of his words as soon as he said them, but he tried not to let it show.
TK couldn't be upset though. Carlos had every right to feel hurt and mad and betrayed because TK did ditch him, just not for the reasons Carlos thinks he did.
"It's not like that, Carlos." TK countered and stepped closer to him, trying not to choke on his words. "Look, I know I fucked up. I forgot about our date and-"
Carlos shook his head.
"That's the least of our problems, Ty." he said, sounding so tired and defeated and fuck.
"No, I know, it's just," TK inhaled deeply, feeling all of his nerves on fire, "three days ago Alex texted me. He said he wanted to talk and at first I thought fuck no, but then I also thought about how I wanted us to move forward in our relationship and there were things, fears, holding me back. I wanted to see him because I wanted him to tell me what I fucked up so badly that he cheated on me two years into our relationship. I was dumb enough to think I'd get some grand insight on how to make our relationship work better, how to avoid messing up, on how I can move forward and love you like you deserve." TK laughed then, a humorless sound, "But it was stupid. So, so stupid. I mean the bar was low enough already but this," he trailed off, meeting Carlos' gaze, his eyes itching with tears.
"My dad was right, Alex did what he did because he didn't respect me enough but you're nothing like that, there's just no comparison there. You never make me feel anything but good. You make me feel like I want to be better." he paused, reaching for Carlos' hand and his heart pounded faster when Carlos didn't move away.
"And I know that what I'm saying doesn't excuse what I did, but I just want you to know that this was never about wanting Alex back. Never was, never will be. I know I danced around what we are for too long, but it was only because what you made me feel scared the shit out of me. I'm in love with you and I'm ready to stop being stupid about it." TK stepped even closer, "I'm so sorry I made you go through this. I want to try and fix it, if I can. I want you to give me a chance." he pleaded softly, trying to not to be pushy, and willing his hands to stop shaking agains Carlos'. "Please."
Carlos stared at him for the longest time, searching TK's eyes and probably processing his mess of a speech. It kinda killed TK because all he wanted to do was touch him more and hold him close and kiss him for the first time in what felt like ages. He just hoped Carlos still wanted him to do that, that he still wanted this. There was a lot he had to put up with because of TK and TK knew that.
"This can't happen again, TK, I can't-" he finally said, sighing, his eyes closing for a moment, "I can't be on this constant rollercoaster of feelings where I don't know what you want because you won't talk to me about it."
All TK could do was nod because that was beyond reasonable. He knew he was gonna have to work on that, get better at it, because opening up sometimes felt like moving mountains, but it was the bare minimum anyone would ask for and TK was ready to learn how to trust in good things again.
"I believe you, I understand why you did it," Carlos said, softly caressing the back of TK's hand with his thumb and TK already felt so much better, "I just wish you would have talked to me about it. It really fucking sucked to see you with someone else, not knowing what's going on, thinking that what we had maybe didn't matter that much to you."
"It does, it does!" TK insisted, louder than he intended.
"I know," Carlos tugged him closer, his hands on TK's waist, looking at him with pleading eyes. TK was so close now that he could feel Carlos' breath tickling his skin. They've been in this position countless times before but it had never felt like this, so vulnerable and raw and good. And TK still wanted more. "but we need to talk for this to work. You need to open up to me and I promise you that nothing you say will scare me away or make me love you any less. I'm in this, all in, but I need to know you're ready for that."
"I'm ready now." TK cupped Carlos' face, reaching up to kiss him softly. "I love you."