TK has always been tactile, he thrives off of physical affection. There’s nothing that calms him down like his dad pulling him into a hug or ruffling his hair. Owen can’t lie and say he doesn’t love it. When they first moved to Austin, Owen was curious to see how long it would take for TK’s affectionate tendencies to spread to the 126.
Turns out the answer is not long at all.
Within a few weeks, TK is comfortable with the team. He hugs Mateo after a rough call, sits close to Paul when eating dinner, kisses Marjan’s cheek when she makes him coffee in the morning, and leans his head against Judd after a long day. TK has always wanted siblings so it warms Owen’s heart to see the team so accepting of TK’s affection and returning the gesture.
But there’s one person TK isn’t affectionate with at all, the one person Owen was sure he would be. Carlos. In fact, TK seems to go out of his way to avoid touching Carlos. He keeps his hands folded in his lap, leaning slightly away from him. It strikes Owen as strange, Carlos and TK have been dating for a few weeks now and he hasn’t so much as seen them hold hands. Maybe they’re just more private about it, Owen rations. But that seems so unlike TK that he can’t help but ask him later that week.
“TK?” Owen asks when they’re getting ready for work one day. “Why don’t you touch Carlos?”
TK looks at his dad with wide eyes, “ Dad -”
“Get your mind out of the gutter,” Owen smacks his shoulder lightly and finishes tying his shoe. “I mean you don’t hug him, you don’t hold hands, why not?”
TK looks at the floor, scuffing his foot lightly, “I don’t want to annoy him.”
Owen frowns up at his son, “Why do you think it would annoy him? Carlos loves you.”
He shrugs, “It annoyed Alex.”
“Oh.” Owen stops moving and gives TK his full attention, sensing that there’s more to this story.
“He used to get upset when I was too clingy, he would shove me away and yell,” TK tells his father softly. Owen knew his relationship with Alex wasn’t good, but he didn’t know it was like that. “I love Carlos, dad, I don’t want to ruin it.”
“Come here,” Owen opens his arms and TK easily walks into them. As Owen embraces his son, gently scratching the back of TK’s neck, he says, “You’re not going to ruin anything. Carlos is a good egg, you can be yourself around him. And if he's anything like Alex, he’s going to have five badass firefighters as well as an overprotective st bernard out to get him.” TK laughs. “Talk to him, okay?”
TK nods and pulls out of his dad’s arms, “I will. Thanks, dad.”
TK decides to talk to Carlos that night over dinner. When TK arrives at Carlos’s house, his heart is racing. He sheds his shoes and pads into the kitchen where Carlos is stirring something over the stove. TK longs to wrap his arms around his boyfriend’s waist and rest his head on his shoulder, but he doesn’t. Instead, TK wraps his arms around himself and leans against the counter.
“It smells great,” TK compliments, causing Carlos to look up at him with a gentle smile.
“What are you doing all the way over there?” Carlos asks teasingly.
TK rolls his eyes but walks closer to where his boyfriend is cooking, staying a little ways away, but close enough that Carlos can reach him. Carlos steps towards him and quickly kisses him, “That’s much better.” TK blushes. “How was work?” Carlos asks as he stirs once more.
TK shrugs, “Same old, same old. You?”
“Annoyingly uneventful,” Carlos sighs. The pair falls into silence for a moment before Carlos looks back up at him, “Everything okay?”
“Can I have a hug?” The words escape TK before he knows it, he goes still, watching Carlos apprehensively.
Carlos just smiles and brings TK into a tight hug. TK feels himself relax instantly, breathing in deeply, trusting Carlos to keep him upright, “I didn’t think you liked hugs. Is everything okay?”
TK nods into Carlos’ shoulder, “I really like hugs. And I want to hold your hand and lean on you and hug you all the time.” Without having to look Carlos in the eyes, the words come easily to TK. “I’m sorry.”
Carlos frowns, pulling away enough to see TK’s face, but leaving his arms around his waist, “Why are you sorry?”
TK shrugs and looks at the floor, “Because we could have been doing this for weeks and um because I lied to you.”
“Well, why did you do that?” Carlos tips his head to the side, his smile light and teasing. Carlos gently rubs his thumb around TK’s waist.
TK sighs, “I don’t want to annoy you.”
Just like that Carlos’s teasing mood drops. He reaches out and touches TK’s cheek, making him look up, “You never can annoy me, okay? I want affection just as much as you do, I was holding back because I thought it made you uncomfortable. But now that I know, we’re still taking this at your pace, okay, tiger? If I do something that makes you uncomfortable or that you’re not ready for, you have to tell me, okay?”
TK nods and looks at his boyfriend with a loving smile, “What did I do to deserve you?”
Carlos rolls his eyes with a fond smile and kisses his cheek, “Are you ready for dinner?”
Owen can see how much happier TK is with Carlos. His son is smiling more, seems to be more comfortable in his skin, it’s nice. It’s nice not to have to worry so much about him.
TK’s had a rough day.
The last call was hard, a 17 year old kid OD’d in his bedroom while his parents were watching tv downstairs. TK can’t get it out of his head, the way the dad begged the medics to save his son, how pale the kid looked. He keeps seeing himself reflecting in the boy’s lifeless eyes. Owen ordered Judd to get TK out of the house and calm him down.
“Judd…” TK clung to the firefighter once they were outside and sitting on the curb.
“I know,” Judd responded, putting an arm around TK to hold him. They sat there for what felt like hours, Judd doing his best to ground TK and keep him calm.
Thankfully Michelle and her team managed to save the kid, but both TK and Owen had been shaken up. Owen, instead of sitting in the front, took Judd’s seat and sat beside TK. Neither father nor son said anything to the rest of the team until they got back to the station.
TK had been reluctant to leave his dad for the night, but he had already set up plans with Carlos. Owen had practically pushed TK out the door, insisting that he would be fine and that seeing his boyfriend is probably exactly what TK needs.
And now as TK pulls up to Carlos’s house, he’s glad he did, he could really use a hug right now and Carlos’s hugs are just the best. He quietly lets himself inside and finds Carlos sitting on the couch, hunched over his laptop with papers spread on the coffee table in front of him. TK sinks down onto the couch beside his boyfriend, accidentally jostling Carlos’s computer, he softly apologizes. He presses his side against Carlos’s, leaning his head to rest on his shoulder.
“TK?” Carlos asks, still laser-focused on his work, “Can you sit up a little, I need my arm.”
TK does so, shifting so that Carlos can move his arm. He wants a hug, but if Carlos really has to work, then he’s fine with just being close to him. But it doesn’t last long, Carlos rolls his shoulder, jostling TK’s head and TK feels a little flurry of anxiety in his chest. But TK shakes it off, maybe Carlos was just adjusting his shoulder. TK sits there for a moment longer before-
“Sorry, TK, I really have to get this done,” Carlos moves away from TK. “I can’t have you leaning on me while I try to work.” TK’s back goes snap straight, the words he hears are no longer coming from Carlos’s, but Alex’s.
You’re so fucking annoying, TK. Can you stop being so clingy for once in your life? Get off of me, I don’t want you that close.
“I-I’m sorry,” TK stutters. “I should go.” TK quickly moves to stand, but Carlos reaches out and grabs his wrist. TK’s eyes blow wide in fear. He can feel Alex shoving him away, roughly pushing TK’s head off of him, and smacking his arms when he got too close. For the first time, TK realizes how much taller and bigger Carlos is than him. Carlos’s shoulders are broad and he has a good few inches on TK. So he does the only thing he can think of.
TK bolts out of the house and to his car, throwing open the door and driving away. He ruined everything. He knew he would. Carlos got annoyed and frustrated with him just like Alex did.
When TK arrives at his house, he blindly bolts into the house, skidding to a stop when he finds his dad laughing in the kitchen with Zoe. He freezes and his dad looks like a deer caught in the headlights.
“TK?” Owen sets down his glass and walks slowly towards his son.
“You’re-you’re busy I should go,” TK starts to move towards the door, but Zoe stops him.
“I should go,” she looks at Owen, “I’ll see you later.”
As the door shuts behind her, Owen crosses to him quickly and brings TK into a tight hug, “I thought you were spending the night with Carlos?”
TK shakes his head, sobbing into his dad’s shoulder, “I ruined everything. He-he-he hates me.”
“Carlos doesn’t hate you,” Owen assures him. He gently guides TK to the couch, letting his son lay almost completely on top of him as he cries. “What happened?”
TK just shakes his head. “He-He was trying to work and I-I just needed a hug after the call and...and he pushed me off and said I was being clingy-” TK cuts himself off with a painful sob. “I ruined it, dad. Just like I did with Alex.”
“No,” Owen runs a hand through TK’s hair. “You didn’t ruin your relationship with Alex, that asshole did it himself. As for Carlos, are you sure it was his words you were hearing?”
TK frowns, “What do you mean?”
“Were you hearing Alex’s words?” Owen wipes away some of TK’s tears with his thumb.
“I-I don’t know,” TK shakes his head.
“How about this,” Owen runs a hand over TK’s hair, “I’ll text Carlos, let him know you’re safe with me and you get some sleep. We can talk more in the morning, okay?” TK nods.
“Thank you, dad.”
Owen smiles sadly, “Love you, kid.”
TK stays curled in Owen’s arms for a little while longer before he pulls himself up and collapses into his bed upstairs.
TK wakes to someone brushing their hand lovingly through his hair. TK hums softly and nudges the hand, causing someone above him to laugh. But wait...that’s not Owen’s voice. TK blinks his eyes open to find Carlos sitting on the bed next to him, looking sadly down at him. And just like that, TK is awake and pulling away from his boyfriend. He pulls himself into the corner of the bed, drawing his knees to his chest.
“What are you doing here?” TK asks.
“Your dad called. He said it would be good if we talked in the morning. Listen, TK-”
“I’m so sorry about last night,” TK cuts in quickly. “It won’t happen again, I promise. I’ll-I’ll stop being so clingy, just please don’t leave me.”
Carlos’s face falls into one of deep sadness, “TK...I’m not going anywhere.”
“Of course not,” Carlos moves just a hair closer and touches TK’s leg. “I love you, Tyler. I am so sorry for what happened last night. I only said that because I knew that if I kept cuddling with you then I would never get my work done. I-I didn’t mean it I swear. I was having a horrible day and I accidentally hurt you-”
“You didn’t hurt me,” TK protests. “I’m fine.”
Carlos fixes him with a look, “You know what I mean. And then not even ten minutes after you left I got a text from Paul saying that you guys had had a call that really hit home for you and I…” Carlos takes a deep breath. “I fucked up, TK. And I am so sorry.”
TK wants to hug Carlos, but instead, he wraps his arms around his stomach. “Alex hated how clingy I am,” he begins softly. “He would constantly tell me that I was annoying and he would shove me away from him and yell and last night…” TK shakes his head. “All I could see was Alex, not you.”
Carlos takes TK’s hand, “I am so sorry, Tyler. I hope you know I would never ever hurt you. I love how clingy you are, tiger. You don’t need to be afraid that you’re going to annoy me.”
“Are you sure? Because last night-”
“Last night was a huge mistake on my part. I love you more than anything, TK.”
TK smiles, “I love you too.”
“Come here,” Carlos smiles at him softly and opens his arms. TK doesn’t hesitate to fall into them, letting Carlos support his weight. They still have a lot to talk about and a lot of issues to work through, but everything is going to be just fine.