He's back at work for two weeks and feels like he's got this when it happens.
TK's heard it from pretty much everyone, recently — his dad, his therapist, Carlos, even, who are all worried about him going back to work without really dealing with how being shot affected him emotionally, despite chatting with Colt (which helped) and putting on a brave face (which, admittedly, did not help) — and he's sure he's okay. He insists on it, because he's been cleared physically from his doctor, and there's no way he's staying on the sidelines for a day longer; helping people is his calling, and hearing stories through Marjan or watching disasters unfold on the news while unable to do nothing just won't cut it for him any longer. And it's not just the people around him that are a little hesitant around his return to work; the night before his first shift back, he's on the phone with his mom for almost two hours promising her that he's going to be okay — and he's still not positive that he has her sold by the time she has to leave to get on her flight to Paris.
Either way, he goes back to work and the first day goes fine, as does the second, the seventh, the twelfth. There are a few hiccups because of his injury, as lots of exertion brings about a sort of tenderness and dull ache that radiates throughout his shoulder, seemingly setting his scar on fire, but he's able to keep up and the team is happy to have him — even if they're constantly keeping an eye on him. Judd's especially keen on keeping close to him during calls, insisting that it's what he's going to have to deal with now that he has an older brother, and TK shrugs it off and gets his job done and appreciates his weekend off.
But it does happen. And it's so sudden that TK doesn't even recognize what's going on until it's like he's trying to breathe while underwater. And by then, it's too late.
"You seem awfully cheery today."
Marjan says it knowingly, nudging her shoulder against his as they sit next to each other in the rig, watching scenery whir by them through the windows, accented by their sirens and horn. He glances at her, and he considers trying to play it off, but he knows he can't hide anything from her — he's tried and failed twice, and vowed to never attempt it again.
It doesn't stop his attempt at deflecting, though. He cocks a brow at her, as he asks, "Can't I just be in a good mood, Marj?"
"Not when you're just getting back from a weekend with your hot cop," Paul pipes in now, leaning into their little bubble. Marjan points at Paul, as if agreeing with his observation, and TK groans as he begins to feel another round of them ganging up on him coming on.
"Did my dad seriously tell everyone about our plans?" TK asks, knowing the man in question can hear him over the radio, as Paul and Marjan snicker and Judd hides a smile behind his fist. "You know, nothing is sacred anymore."
"Family knows everything about everyone son. There's no hiding from us," Owen smirks at the group of them as they file out of the rig, huddling up near the ladder truck. Slowly, the personal slips away as they take on their professional roles, his dad taking on his captain's voice. "Alright, listen up. Judd's running point here, you all listen to him. Mateo, you and—"
As his dad lists off orders, TK nudges Marjan back as they pull down their visors, following Judd as they approach the barn fire and prepare to enter the house to aid with search and rescue. She looks at him expectantly, as he finally admits: "I am in a good mood, you know. It was just a good weekend, okay? It was the first time we really got to just relax by ourselves and have fun."
"Oh, I'm sure," Marjan says with a wink, quickly squeezing his arm before she charges forward to be a few steps ahead of them. TK huffs, but there's really no amount of good-natured teasing that could ruin the mood brought on by the memories of the past couple of days.
Their response to the call goes by in a bit of a blur; the flames are tamed and all the animals have been moved away from the burning stalls and the whole family is accounted for, and they're all milling around, waiting for the all-clear when the man who called in the fire makes a comment about checking on his equipment, or something, TK isn't entirely sure. But then there's the sound that echoes out around him, and he feels like everything around him turns into a distorted hum as all he can focus on is the impossibly loud bang.
An engine in an ancient tractor backfires.
A stupid, harmless engine backfires, except it isn't just that because it's also the sound of a trigger being pulled and the feeling of cool fingers setting a chest tube in place and the constant beeping of machines keeping him alive and—and it's too much, all at once. TK pulls off his helmet and all but throws it to the ground, straining against his heavy gear as his fingers start trembling.
He tries to keep it to himself, because he doesn't want the others to know that something so mundane — a fucking backfiring engine, of all things — is all it takes to send him spiralling. But, as if on cue, Paul turns to him to say something anecdotal, until he takes in the look on TK's face.
"Hey, TK, are you okay? What's going on?" Paul asks, eyes keen and observant as ever as they fall onto him, roaming over his face as he steps closer.
On instinct, an overwhelming sense of doom blooming in his chest, TK steps back.
"Well," TK starts weakly, hands balled into fists at his sides to hide their shaking, his breath hitching as he tries to catch it. He tries to let his medical training take over; he tries to let the first responder part of his brain speak for him, because if he lets himself admit that this panic goes beyond work, he doesn't know if he'll be able to claw himself out of this. He clears his throat and starts listing off his symptoms as if he's outside his own body, doing a routine check over a victim. "Judging from the rapid heart rate, shaking hands, and sudden onset of dyspnea, I'd say I'm having a panic attack."
He aims for casual, his voice turning up at the end as if there's a joke to be found somewhere. All eyes fall on him as he speaks, and TK feels his face flushing hotter by the second, the attack building up faster and without warning, as the rest of the team looks at one another, trying to figure out how to approach him, the roles suddenly reversed as one of their own becomes the patient. And it hits him all at once, this unshakeable feeling of failure and weakness and there it is again, seemingly louder this time — bang! — and there's a flash of a memory of a night he's worked so hard to forget, and he's walking backward until he hits the side of the rig and his knees shake as he tries to breathe.
Through his muddied brain, he thought that the others would immediately rush forward and try to steady him — something he knows he'd hate, and try to push away — but they're trained for this, he knows they know better, but he can't help the way his breath hitches up in his chest again and he realizes that all he needs is to not be here right now. Shakily he brings a gloved hand up, giving the team some sort of vague gesture as he tries to look for somewhere else to go to try and collect himself.
"I can't be here," he manages to mutter, his body moving on its own accord as he attempts to think back into the deeper recesses of his mind where his training lurks, drawing a blank as he tries to remember what he knows about helping someone — let alone himself — through a panic attack. More violent images from that night appear before his eyes, blood rushing in his ears as he remembers the gun going off and the bullet piercing through him, square in the chest. He remembers the almost palpable coolness of death, and how close it all felt, and he thinks of his father's panicked face as he almost lost him for the second time in the span of six months.
His vision has gone a little blurry around the edges, and as hard as he tries to keep his features schooled into a natural, stoic expression, there's nothing around him but white noise and the staccato of his own heartbeat, and, somewhere far away, Judd's voice, hellbent on trying to break through his haze. TK can't really make out any of the words that the man is saying, but he doesn't feel worse in his presence, so he lets Judd follow him to a small seating area just off the main gravel driveway that leads up to the barn house.
TK sits and bows his head, trying and failing to breathe how he needs to.
"TK, can you hear me?" Judd says, breaking through the cloudiness, and when TK manages to nod, the older man kneels in front of him. "I'm going to help you, if you'll let me. Is that okay?"
"Yeah," TK stutters out, his breathing still coming out too rapidly, his chest heaving as he fights for air.
"It's going to pass, and I'm speaking from experience, kiddo," Judd explains, keeping his hands outstretched toward him but not actually touching him. "Have you ever had a panic attack before?"
TK shakes his head. He vaguely remembers bouts of anxiety as a teenager, but that only led to pills before he was eighteen. Even then, it was nothing like this, like he's—he's dying, or something.
"You're not gonna die," Judd says, surprising TK because he didn't think he'd said that out loud. "I know it's scary, but you're gonna get through this, TK."
TK finds himself latching onto the surprisingly comforting sound of his drawling voice, and the way it seems to drown out everything else going on inside his head.
"I want you to follow my breathing," Judd pulls him from his thoughts once again, and TK locks eyes with the other man, seeing nothing but support and a resignation to stay put until things ease up. "In and out, nice and slow."
TK feels a little ridiculous, and a little babied, but he knows that Judd's intentions are good and set on helping him. So TK watches as Judd breathes, the slow intake of air through his nose and the long exhale through his mouth, and he tries to follow the best he can. He remembers being fifteen and his therapist showing him a similar technique, but watching Judd — his brother, as far as he's concerned — makes it easier to mirror.
It could be five minutes or an hour, TK doesn't know for sure. But when his breathing has started to feel normal again, he finally nods when Judd asks him if it's okay to touch him, and he feels the man run his fingers through his hair, moving his palm down to squeeze at his shoulder.
"How are you feeling?" Judd asks, voice still dropped down to a whisper. TK clenches his jaw and shakes his head.
"I don't really wanna talk about it," TK murmurs, feeling shame flare up in his chest. His whole body aches, and he wonders vaguely what the next stupid thing will be there to activate this panic he didn't know was hiding within him.
"Thank you," he says quickly, trampling over whatever Judd was going to try and say, before he pushes up and starts heading back for the rig, avoiding his father's eyes as he heaves himself into his seat and stares at the ground.
"Now, why am I not surprised to find you up here?"
TK's been keeping to himself (he doesn't want to say that he's hiding from the crew, because he isn't, he just...needs some time), and throughout his life he would always deal with stress through working out, so he sort of beelined for the gym the moment they got back from their call earlier.
He tries to level with Judd, putting the dumbbells back on the rack as he rubs his hands together. "Please don't come and try and get me to talk about earlier. I just need to not think."
"Oh, I didn't come to talk about you, pretty boy," Judd says, lifting his hands in mock surrender. He looks at TK like he might have an ulterior motive, but he still gives in anyway, joining Judd in the next room over on one of the couches as he gulps down some water.
"So?" TK tries to push him to get the conversation moving, the quietness too heavy as it hangs over them.
"So, I wanted to tell you about how it isn't...shameful, or weak of you, or whatever else you might think to have something like that happen," Judd says, playing with his wedding band as he speaks. "You know, your dad was the one that pushed me to go to therapy. To deal with the mess inside of me. And Grace—she's finally getting me back. I'll always be dealing with that trauma, TK, but I want you to know that there are ways of dealing with it that have made me remember who I was. And there are shitty days, I'm not going to lie to you. There are days where I feel like a shell of the man I once was, but then I remember my wife, and my team, my brother," he makes sure to catch TK's eyes as he says the word, and TK feels his throat closing up as the back of his eyes start to burn, "and I remember that I'm strong, and I'm gonna get through this, and I'm not defined by what happened to me. Anxiety, PTSD— it isn't something to be ashamed of TK, and it's taken me these months to accept that."
"I'll always be there for you, TK, we're brothers, right?" Judd continues, as TK roughly swallows. "Hell, this whole team will be there for you. But I need you to know that what happened today? It's okay. And I'm going to help you. I want you to know that you ain't weak."
TK stares down at his hands, and it only takes him a few seconds before abruptly turning and curling his arms around Judd. The man makes a small oof sound in the back of his throat, but he's quick to complete the hug, easily falling into TK's affinity for physical touch.
"You've got this, kid," Judd whispers, both of them still locked in the hug.
TK squeezes his eyes shut, and feels the words ringing through him. He knows those things, superficially, but the panic rising up within him sent him back to that night so quickly it scared the shit out of him. But he knows that he has a support system unlike any other. There are so many things he wants to say to Judd, but all he can do is pull back so they're an arm's distance away from one another, and look him in the eyes, hoping his sincerity bleeds through as he says: "You too, brother."