Carlos drove slowly, and carefully. The radio was on, but he'd made sure to keep the sound of it low enough that it didn't disturb his sleeping passanger.
He stopped at a red light and took the opportunity to get a good look at TK. There were bags under his eyes, and even in sleep he didn't seem as relaxed as he should have been. Carlos hadn't gotten the full story yet, but he did know that TK's shift had been hellish. He had to wonder why life seemed so determined to beat the other man down every time he seemed to get his feet under him.
TK sighed in his sleep, shuffled, and then settled again, and Carlos breathed a sigh of relief. He hadn't been sleeping well recently, and even when they only managed to see each other once or twice in the past week, he had noticed his exhaustion get progressively worse. The nonstop calls they'd gotten today probably made everything way worse.
The blare of a horn pulled him out of his musings, and he realized the light had turned green while he wasn't paying attention.
It happened in the blink of an eye.
One second he was easing the car forward, and the next his world flipped on its axis. His head hit the window, and then there was only darkness.
Carlos opened his eyes, then immediately shut them again as the streetlight shone directly in his eyes and left him with a blinding headache. He heard a groan from beside him and whipped his head around so fast that he almost passed out from the pain the movement caused.
"Carlos," TK was saying, and from the panic he could hear in his voice, this wasn't the first time he'd tried to get his attention.
"TK? Are you okay?"
"Stop moving so much!" Carlos froze, and watched TK breathe out harshly. His boyfriend was worried, he realized belatedly. He just didn't understand why. He was fine. "Are you okay?" TK asked, and Carlos meant to answer, he did, but the ringing in his ears intensified, and his headache was so bad that he almost wished for unconsciousness.
So, against his will, Carlos drifted off.
"-swer me, damn it! Carlos."
Carlos winced at how loud TK was being and had to swallow thickly to keep the nausea at bay. "TK?" He muttered.
"I'm here, Carlos. I need you to stay awake, okay? Does anything hurt?"
Carlos thought about it, but it was hard to think straight when it felt like his head was stuffed with cotton. "Head," he managed to get out after a few tries. "Side."
His eyes shut on their own accord, and he didn't know how much time he lost, but the next thing he knew, there were hands, gentle but freezing, on his neck and he flinched away from them, but they held firm. "-los, it's me. It's TK. Babe, you've gotta stay still, please."
Had he been moving?
TK kept trying to talk to him, and Carlos managed to catch a few things he said, but didn't say anything himself. He mostly drifted off, and though some part of him heard the fear in TK's voice, the desperation, and he wanted to reassure him, he couldn't muster up the energy to do it.
"Carlos, no! Hey, stay with me. Carlos? Carlos!"
30 minutes earlier
TK had been in dangerous situations before. He wasn't a stranger to them.
This was different though.
His day had started off with a truly spectacular fight between his parents that woke him up an hour earlier than his alarm would have. He'd shaken it off, determined to not let anything dampen his good mood. He'd been a paramedic for about two weeks, and for the first time in a while, it felt like he'd found what fit. So, he went for a run, avoided going back home, and went to the station.
Somehow, his day only managed to get worse. Spilled coffee, missed breakfast, back to back calls that got progressively worse; with the last one being an eight year old little girl who'd accidentally ingested about a dozen pills of her mother's Benadryl. By the time they'd gotten there, it had been too late. It hadn't stopped TK from trying to save her, even though he'd known it was too late. The result of that loss had been disastrous, to say the least. He'd snapped at Nancy, at Tommy, and basically everyone who had gotten in his way, and as he waited for Carlos to come pick him up, TK wondered if he actually had a job to come back to tomorrow.
TK's body instantly relaxed when he heard Carlos' softly spoken words, and he relaxed into the other man's arms. He'd been so lost in thought he hadn't even noticed Carlos coming up behind him, which really told TK that he needed to shut off his brain for a little while. "Hey," he whispered as he turned around in his boyfriend's arms and put his own around his neck. He pressed a soft, short kiss to the other man's lips, then closed the distance between them entirely, burying his face in Carlos' neck and took a deep breath in. He only realized how tense he'd been when he began to unwind in Carlos' arms.
"Hey, Ty," Carlos mummered as he tightened his arms around him. "Bad shift?"
Tk nodded into his shoulder.
Carlos put his hands on TK's shoulders and urged him to pull away. He smiled, and TK found himself smiling back automatically. "How about you tell me all about it over pizza?"
TK gasped dramatically. "Carlos Reyes, offering to get take out instead of cooking? Well, I'll be-"
Carlos shut him up with a kiss, and TK didn't mind one bit. Once they pulled away, he grabbed his hand and dragged him to the car, happy to leave his crappy day behind him.
He turned on the radio as soon as he was inside the car, and though he hadn't planned on it, he fell asleep about a minute after the car moved.
He woke up to the deafening sound of metal hitting metal.
It took a minute for TK to realize what had happened, and another for his mind to catch up. He groaned and let out a harsh cough, which jarred his body enough to make his injured wrist known. He looked to the side, and felt his heart stop when he saw Carlos; head turned away from him and not moving. TK pressed the button to release his seatbelt, then moved toward Carlos, who chose that moment to come to.
"Carlos," he said softly, and tried to extend his left hand, but his wrist protested. "Carlos, can you hear me?"
He seemed confused, and he looked around as if in a daze. He was moving too much, and TK tried to still him, but it didn't seem to work.
"Carlos," he tried to get his attention, and thankfully, it worked. Foggy eyes met his, and TK let out a relieved breath. He opened his mouth to speak but Carlos beat him up to it.
"TK? Are you okay?" He asked him softly, words slurred. He began to look around, and though the movements weren't frantic, TK didn't want him to hurt himself any further, not when he hadn't even checked him out yet.
"Carlos, I need you to stay still, okay?" He gave no indication of hearing him and continued his restless movements. "Carlos! Stop moving so much!" TK snapped, against his better judgment, scared out of his mind. Carlos froze, and TK let out a harsh, relieved breath, closing his eyes.
He needed to think more like a first responder and less like a boyfriend, TK realized and with that, he wrenched his door open and stepped out the car. The other car, the one that had hit them, was long gone by now, and another, likely one that had been behind them, had obviously swerved to avoid hitting them and ended up wrapped around a telephone pole. He took out his phone, and realized belatedly that it had died on him and he'd forgotten to charge it. He went back into the car, and found Carlos in the same position he'd left him in, which worried TK to no end. He tried to open the door, but couldn't, seeing as it had gotten the brunt of the hit, so he climed in through the passenger seat and looked for Carlos' phone.
While he did, he spoke to him, attempting to keep him awake. "Are you okay?" TK asked. "Carlos?" Nothing. He found the phone, and with shaking hands, he unlocked it and called 911. He kept an eye on his boyfriend, who did nothing more than blink his eyes drowsily ahead.
TK identified himself and then rattled off the basic information to the dispatcher. TK tried his best to examine him, but with one hand out of comission, it was slow going. In the back of his mind, he knew he also needed to check on the other driver, so with a heavy heart, he left the car in a hurry and crossed the empty street to where the Prius was.
"Sir, sir, can you hear me?" He knocked on the window, and recieved no response. His heart in his throat, he did it again. Please don't be dead, please don't be dead.
The man stirred, and TK let out a relieved breath. He lowered the window and winced. "You okay?"
"Yeah, are you?" He pointed his chin in the direction of Carlos' car's direction. "You took a pretty nasty hit."
"Are you hurt anywhere?
"Nah, I'm just pinned. Are you alright?"
"Yeah, but my boyfriend isn't, so-"
"Go ahead, I'm fine," the man told him immediately and TK shot him a grateful look before he went back to Carlos.
"Babe?" No answer. He was staring ahead, eyes eerily focused on one point and seemingly unseeing. It unnerved TK to no end. "Baby?"
He had at least one broken rib, and he was pinned. He obviously had one hell of a concussion, and God knew how many internal injuries, though TK hoped there were none. They needed help, and they needed it now. "Answer me, damn it! Carlos."
Carlos winced, and TK couldn't help but be relieved that he'd at least received a reaction.
"TK?" He muttered.
TK felt like the air was knocked out of his chest. "I'm here, Carlos. I need you to stay awake, okay? Does anything hurt?"
There was a long pause, during which TK held his breath. "Head," Carlos finally answered, the word so quiet TK could barely hear it. "Side."
TK knew that right now, all he could do was to keep him awake. With no equipment, and only one working arm, he was helpless to do anything but talk at him and hope it was enough to keep him awake. "Carlos, you with me?" No answer, but he did start to move, and at first it was barely noticeable, but then the movements started to become more erratic. "Carlos, it's me. It's TK. Babe, you've gotta stay still, please." He put his shaking hands on either cheek and tried to keep him still as best as he could. It was only a few seconds, but it felt like a lifetime until the other man stopped moving.
Before TK could breathe out in relief, Carlos' eyes rolled back into his head and he slumped into his seat.
TK could have sworn his heart stopped for a second or two.
"Carlos, no! Hey, stay with me. Carlos? Carlos!"
TK didn't register his father's presence until a hand settled on his bouncing knee. His head snapped up, and he was met with his dad's sympathetic gaze and he found himself throwing his arms around the older man's neck.
His father held him tightly, and he couldn't keep the tears at bay this time. When he eventually managed to pull away, Owen didn't let him go far. "Any news?"
"Nothing new," TK mumbled. "Doc said he had a pretty severe concussion, he also suspected a skull fracture. He had two broken ribs, and some internal bleeding- he-" he leaned forward a little, his heart beating a wild rythm against his chest, and told himself to breathe.
"TK-" his father started, but TK just shook his head. He didn't want to hear false platitudes, didn't want the false comfort they would provide. He just wanted Carlos; alive and safe and okay.
"He has to make it."
"He's in the best hands," came his captain's voice. TK's head snapped up so fast his neck actually hurt a little, and he stared at the older woman, mouth open and eyes wide. Owen excused himself with a single squeeze of TK's shoulder.
"Well, don't look so surprised to see me here," she said with a small smile as she came to sit on his other side. The coffee cup in her hand turned out to be for him, and he looked at her gratefully before he took a big gulp of the warm liquid. "Thank you, Captain Vega. I- I didn't expect you to come here. Especially after I-" he winced as he recalled snapping at her and Nancy after the last call.
"I don't welcome that kind of behavior in my team," his captain started, and TK winced again. "That said, I understand. Today was hard, and- losing someone? It's never easy. When it's kids, though, it's-" she shook her head, a haunted look in her eyes. Then she cleared her throat and continued. "I expect you to show up when this is healed up," she pointed at his wrapped wrist. "And I expect you to do better."
TK let out a relieved breath and nodded. "I promise."
"Okay. Keep me updated on your boy, okay?"
"You did good. You handled yourself well out there tonight."
He swallowed thickly, and tried to keep any tears from falling. "Thanks, cap."
She smiled and squeezed his shoulder. "No need to thank me. "
He leaned back in his seat, and took a look at his watch. Only fifteen minutes had passed since the doctors had wheeled Carlos away. TK rubbed a hand down his face and let out an exhausted breath.
It was going to be a long wait.
Paul, Judd, Grace, Marjan and Mateo joined him and his father a little less than a half hour later, and TK tried to stay present, tried to tell them what happened when they asked, but he didn't always succeed. When Paul put a hand on his shoulder and told him to stop trying, that it was okay to take his time, that was when TK had lost his hold on the tears. Big, heaving sobs tore their way out of his chest, and he leaned forward, curling up around himself. His wrist hurt like hell, too much for him to be able to ignore, and no one had given him an update on Carlos, and it was all too much.
He got up, intended on going to the bathroom to wash his face and cry without his teammates' eyes on him. No one tried to stop him, though they did call his name. He only took three steps before he came face to face with the two people he didn't think he could handle being around right now.
"TJ? Are you alright?"
TK stared at the woman, her eyes red and wide and full of concern, then at the man beside her, who was in a similar state. He was frozen, and as much as he wanted to, he couldn't let one word out.
"TK, Andrea," Gabriel mummered, tone exacerbated. "The boy's name is TK."
"Oh, I'm sorry-"
"It's fine, it's alright," he assured her faintly, eager to put a stop to the conversation.
"Were you involved in the accident?" Gabriel asked him. At TK's confused look, he pointed at his bandaged wrist.
TK drew a blank. Right now, he was TK, Carlos' friend, not his boyfriend. He didn't know where the line was, though. Was he supposed to lie and say he wasn't with Carlos? Or was it normal for Carlos to be driving him home late at night after both their shifts. Was he supposed to leave now that they were there? Or would it be okay for him to stay?
"TK?" Carlos' mother put a hand on his arm. "You look pale, are you sure you shouldn't be in a hospital bed yourself?"
He shook his head and forced a smile. "I'm alright."
His dad must have sensed his discomfort, because he came over and extended his hand. "Owen Strand."
"Gabriel Reyes," Carlos' dad immediately took the offered hand and shook it.
Andrea did the same after she introduced herself and then they were once again at a standstill.
"Are you all Carlos' friends?" She asked, smiling at the four who were standing behind him.
Marjan was the first to step forward. "Marjan Marwani," she extended her hand to Andrea, who shook it. She smiled at Gabriel, who nodded at her with a smile of his own, but didn't offer her hand, and the man either didn't seem to notice or didn't care. "This is Paul, Judd and Grace, his wife, and Mateo. We work with TK."
Their eyes swiveled over to TK again. "You must be close," Gabriel commented, eying him curiously.
TK swallowed the urge to laugh hysterically and say 'you have no idea' and instead cleared his throat, hoping his teammates caught on. "Carlos was the first friend I made when I first came here, so, yeah, we're pretty close friends."
TK heard a cough from behind him, and when he turned to check, he found all except Paul and Judd looking at him with wide eyes. Judd seemed sad, but unsurprised, and Paul gave just gave him a nod, as if to say that he'll follow his lead. TK was so grateful to them.
It took another hour of waiting to know anything about Carlos' condition, but it felt like a lifetime. TK had to censor his words, had to think everything through more than once before he said it, and he had lost count of the number of times he'd jumped in before one of his teammates or his dad said something that implied he and Carlos were anything more than friends.
It was exhausting.
And TK was at the end of his rope.
The doctor came in, and he told them what TK had already known. Moderate TBI, fractured skull, and internal bleeding. He'd known the list would be extensive, but to hear the words from the doctor himself, to hear him say that Carlos wasn't out of the woods yet, that it would take a day or maybe two at the least for him to wake up, was a punch to the gut.
His mother was crying softly at this point, and Gabriel's eyes were filled with tears, but he managed to thank the doctor before he pulled his wife into his arms. He spoke softly, in Spanish, and TK looked away from them.
Some part of him hated them. For making Carlos feel so unsafe in his own life that he couldn't tell them he had someone who loved him, and someone who he loved back. And selfishly, he hated them because their ignorance forced him to act like his entire world wasn't falling apart. He wanted to cry, to breakdown, but he couldn't, because when he looked at Marjan, or Paul, or Judd, or Mateo, they weren't crying, they didn't look like they were ready to tear their way out of their own skins; they just looked worried, like friends would be.
TK took a deep breath.
I am fully on board.
You can tell your parents I'm your friend; your colleague; your personal shopper.
As long as you need.
Another breath. Then another, and another. Remembering those words, his words, centered him. It also reminded him that this wasn't about him. That Carlos deserved to have the time he needed to be ready to tell his parents himself, that he deserved to let them know on his own terms.
"You guys don't have to stay," Carlos' father mentioned, his tone kind and sincere. TK's heart thudded against his chest, so loud he had a hard time hearing what the man said next, though he could take a guess at what was coming. "-it'll be a while, you can go home if you'd like. Leave your number and I'll call you with updates."
And there it was.
His blood ran cold in his veins, and try as he might, he couldn't swallow past the lump in his throat. What would a friend do in this situation? Would a friend stay and keep vigil even when there was no hope of Carlos waking up anytime soon?
He got his answer when he saw the others gathering their jackets, obviously leaving.
TK felt hollow, but he followed their lead. He put his number in Gabriel's phone with a shaking hand and let Andrea hold his hand after he handed the phone to her husband. When she smiled at him, so kind and concerned, TK nearly lost his hold on his emotions. "He will be alright. Our Carlos is strong," she reassured him.
He smiled, a small one that probably didn't reach his eyes, and squeezed her hand. "I know. Please let me know if anything changes," he requested, hoping he didn't sound as desperate as he was feeling.
"Of course," she promised, and it calmed him down a little bit.
His father was waiting for him a few feet away, and when he was close, he put an arm around his shoulders. TK leaned into him.
"I'm proud of you," his father told him quietly.
He couldn't even muster up a smile. "Thanks, dad."
His dad lead him down the corridor, into the elevator and eventually, they reached the doors that would take them out of the hospital.
TK couldn't move past them.
His father looked back at him. "TK?"
He shook his head. "I can't- I can't leave him."
Owen came to stand beside him, but not before moving him out of the way. "TK, I know- Kid, you need to come home, okay? Get some rest, because you really look like you need it. And tomorrow, you can come visit. You heard the doctor, he doesn't expect him to wake up for at least a few days."
TK leaned back on the wall. "I know. I just can't leave him."
"He's not alone, TK," Owen told him quietly.
"I know that," he snapped. "I know, okay? I- you can go, dad. I'm staying."
He sighed. "Kid, you said Carlos wasn't ready for them to know."
TK nodded. "And they won't," he told him determinedly.
Owen raised an eyebrow. "How?"
"I'm staying in the cafeteria."
"TK, you can't do this to yourself."
"He almost died. Carlos almost died, right in front of me. I'm not leaving."
His father studied his face, and when his eyes softened and he stepped back, TK knew he'd won. "Alright, keep me updated."
"Hey, it's gonna be okay, kid."
"I hope you're right, dad."
The next morning, he had his dad bring him a change of clothes before his shift. Owen obviously disapproved of TK not taking care of himself, telling him that he looked like hell, that Carlos wouldn't approve of him not taking care of himself. The words barely registered though, as he eagerly took the bag. He didn't even know if he'd even said goodbye to his father. All he cared about was that, in a few minutes, he'd be able to see Carlos.
He changed in the bathroom, tried to make himself presentable, as much as he could, then all but ran to the elevator, out of it, and then to Carlos' room.
His mother was there, and TK could hear her murmuring, though it was too quiet for him to catch anything. Before he made his presence known, he let himself look at the man he loved. Carlos was pale, and he had a bandage wrapped around his head. There was an oxygen mask on his face, and his chest rose and fell gently. There was ache in TK's chest now, one that he was sure would only be eased by seeing him awake and talking, by being able to hold his hand, to kiss him, to talk to him and have him talk back.
TK took a calming breath, then knocked on the door frame, and Andrea jumped a bit before turning to look at him. He saw the tears in her eyes, the downward turn of her lips- which held an uncanny resemblance to Carlos'. He smiled briefly.
"TK!" She wiped away her tears, stood up, and made her way over to him. She clicked in disapproval as her eyes roamed his face. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah- just, couldn't sleep last night."
She eyed him curiously. "Worried about Carlos?"
"No," came his hasty reply, and she reared back a little in surprise. "Not that I- of course, I was worried about him! But I couldn't sleep because of this," he lifted up his injured wrist, and hoped she bought his lie.
"Oh, you poor thing. Sit, sit. This happened in the accident, yes?"
"Yeah," TK told her. "I asked him to give me a ride home." His eyes were drawn to Carlos' prone form, and they filled with tears. "If I hadn't-"
"This was not your fault," she told him adamantly. "The only one at fault is the one who ran a red light." She patted his hand, and he ripped his gaze away from his sleeping boyfriend to her. "You took care of our boy, while you were injured yourself. Thank you for that."
He shook his head and looked away. "I didn't do much."
"We'll just have to agree to disagree, then," she said with a small, knowing smile.
He smiled back.
She let out a yawn, and he jumped at the opportunity. "You look tired, do you need to go home?"
She shook her head, and he tried not to let his disappointment show. "I can't leave him alone."
"I'll stay, as long as you need," he blurted out, maybe a little too eager. "If you need to take a couple of hours to rest and change, grab a few things, I'll be happy to stay," he amended, and tried to sound nonchalant.
"Are you sure?" She looked nervously at Carlos' bed, her eyes filled with anxiety.
TK held her hand. "I won't leave him alone."
"Gabriel had to go into work, his boss said it was urgent, but he said he'll be back in an hour or so."
"It's not a problem, take all the time you need."
She cupped his cheek in her hand and then patted it with a smile. "You're a sweet boy," she told him softly, then she was gone. TK counted to ten, after she left, then immediately scooted his chair closer. He took a hold of Carlos' hand and immediately lifted it up to his lips. He lingered there for a minute, then turned his head, cheek resting on their intertwined hands to look at him. "I'm gonna need you to wake up soon, okay, Carlos?" He started. "Get better, and come back to me, please," his voice broke on that plea, and with it, so did TK. He leaned forward, his head resting on Carlos' uninjured side and let the tears fall.
The next three days went on in that same pattern. TK barely left the hospital, and when he did, it was only for a couple of hours; just enough for a shower and a power nap. Most of his time in the hospital was spent in the cafeteria, and though he barely got to see Carlos, it made him feel better to be so close to him.
On the second night, Andrea and Gabriel went home, both so exhausted they could barely stand on their feet. TK, the second he'd gotten Gabriel's text, had went to Carlos, though he'd waited to make sure they were gone.
When he laid his eyes on Carlos, he let out the breath he'd been holding. Like always, the first thing he did was to take his boyfriend's hand in his. Then, he started to talk. "Mateo fell into a hole today at work," he laughed quietly. "Marjan sent me a picture, and Carlos, it's the best thing ever. I don't think probie will ever live it down."
He sniffled, then forged ahead, trying to keep things light. "Paul might have a date with someone, though he has been a bit cagey about the details. And Judd-" TK laughed. "Judd and Grace's anniversary is coming up and he is panicking. He's been texting me stuff, and- between you and I? I think he's just trying to distract me, because how the hell am I supposed to know what gift he should be getting his wife? I told him he'd have better luck asking Tommy."
It was foolish of him, but he kept his eyes on Carlos' face, desperately hoping to see him open his eyes. He didn't, and TK swallowed back his disappointment. "I miss you," he whispered, eyes closed. "I love you, and I miss you, and I need you to wake up now, Carlos."
If this were a movie, Carlos' hand would have twitched in his, or maybe his eyes would have opened.
But this was reality.
Carlos didn't move, and his eyes stayed closed.
On the fourth day, TK was on first name basis with the cafeteria workers, and they'd stopped being weirded out by his near constant presence there. He'd just gotten a coffee and settled at his table when someone sat across from him. He looked up from his phone and saw Carlos' mother smiling at him. "Good morning."
He smiled nervously. "Morning."
"You're here early," she commented mildly, and there was a twinkle in her eyes. TK didn't know what the look on her face was, and he was too tired to try to figure out what it meant, so he looked into his coffee, and stifled a yawn.
"Couldn't sleep, so I came to check on Carlos instead."
She hummed, then picked up her own coffee and took a sip. "Have you known my son for long?"
He swallowed thickly and nodded, the movement jerky at best. "He was the first friend I ever made here," he shared, a smile overtaking his face.
"You care about my son," she said, as if just realizing this.
You have no idea.
"Like I said, he's one of my closest friends," he answered, starting to feel uncomfortable. She didn't say anything, but that knowing, and slightly unnerving, look was back on her face, so he brought the subject to Carlos. "How is he? Any change?"
"Gabriel is talking to the doctor right now. Then he'll be joining us- uhh, there he is!" She waved a little at her husband. When he looked behind him to where Carlos' father was, his eyes widened. The man had a wide smile splitting his face and he jogged the last few feet towards them. TK's heart was in his throat as he watched the couple embrace. Gabriel was speaking in rapid Spanish, and then Andrea was crying, and TK honestly wasn't far behind at this point.
The man's eyes found his, and he seemed startled to see him. "Good morning, TK."
"Morning," he mumbled. "Carlos? Is he-"
"Our Carlos is going to be alright. He woke up about ten minutes ago. The doctor is with him now."
TK dropped down into his chair, and let his head drop to the table. He didn't let any tears fall, but just barely. Gabriel patted his shoulder. "Come on, let's go see him."
TK's head jerked up. "Oh, I don't want to intrude." He felt wrong to say the words, but he felt like he had to, if he was going to keep playing the part.
"Nonsense! You're his friend. Not to mention, he asked about you, was worried sick." Gabriel told him with a smile, but he was looking at him like a puzzle he could solve. But then he turned, wrapped an arm around Andrea's shoulders. "Come on, let's go see him."
When Carlos woke up, disoriented and in pain, the first thing he saw was his father's face, eyes filled with tears and lips pulled into a wide smile. He was talking, but nothing registered for Carlos. "What happened?" He asked hoarsely, his throat dry and irritated. His father brought over a water cup with a straw in it, and told him to take small sips. Though it was hard, Carlos complied. "What happened?" He repeated the question, and this time, he sounded stronger.
"You were in a car accident," his father told him, a hand on his arm.
Carlos' brows drew together in a frown, and he tried to remember anything about it. His headache got worse, and he nearly gave up on remembering what happened. But, he couldn't help but feel that there was something important just out of reach.
His father pressed the call button, and settled beside him. "Your mother is in the cafeteria. She is going to be so happy to see you awake, mijo."
Carlos smiled. "Sorry I worried you and mama, I-"
TK, upset about the shift. Hugging him outside the station. TK sleeping in the car, sitting sideways and facing him. Flashes of his boyfriend's panicked words as he tried to keep Carlos awake.
Carlos' head spun, and try as he might, he couldn't shake the fear that suddenly took a hold of him.
"Carlos? Carlos, son, answer me."
"TK," Carlos gasped out. "TK was with me in the car." And he wasn't here, now. TK wouldn't have left him, he would have been here, if he was okay. "Is he okay? Did something happen to him."
"TK is alright. We've spoken to him, and he's been here everyday."
Carlos breathed a little but more easily, and now that the panic subsided, he realized exactly how he'd acted, in front of his father no less, and felt his face grow hot. "That's good." He tried to sound nonchalant, but probably failed miserably. His father stared at him, eyes roaming Carlos' face. For several seconds, he didn't say anything, just stared, and Carlos swallowed.
Say it, he pleaded silently.
A doctor and two nurses came in, and his father excused himself to go grab his mom. Carlos knew he should feel relieved that his father hadn't mentioned him nearly having a panic attack at the thought of TK being hurt, but all he felt was anger.
His father wasn't stupid, so he must have understood what that meant and yet, he had done the same thing he and his mother had done when he was seventeen; he'd ignored it.
His mother entered in a flurry of motion, and his dad followed after her. She hugged him, fussed over him, and his dad watched it happen silently with a soft smile on his face.
Carlos was numb.
That was, until he saw TK hanging back in the doorway, his face reflecting the same longing Carlos was feeling.
What he wanted, more than anything in the world was to have TK's arms around him and feel the comfort his arms brought him.
Their eyes locked, and TK smiled, and Carlos felt like he could do anything. He looked at his parents, and realized that their silence, and his, had created a rift between them that only grew bigger with each day. And Carlos was tired; of lying, of hiding, of letting them hurt him and not saying anything about it.
"Mama, dad, I- I need to talk to you about something."
Carlos' eyes were on TK, not on his parents, and he watched his boyfriend's eyes widened and he stood up straight. But then he smiled at him, soft and comforting, and Carlos felt some of the fear, some of the anger and the pain, fade away. With one last look at him, TK was gone.
"Of course, mijo." His mother was now concerned, and she took a seat on the edge of his bed. His father stayed standing, one hand on his mother's shoulders.
"Do you-" he started but stopped abruptly. He took a deep breath, then tried again. "I'm gay." His voice shook, hell, his whole body was shaking, and he felt like he was seventeen again, terrified out of his mind that his parents may not accept him for who he was.
His parents shared a startled look, then they turned to him, confusion written all over their faces. "We- we know, Carlitos," his mother told him, her hand squeezing his.
He resisted the urge to laugh hysterically. "Do you?" His voice broke. "Do you know?"
"Son, what's going on?" His father asked him gently, but he looked startled.
"Eleven years," Carlos snapped. "It's been eleven years, and you never mentioned it. Not once. You told me you loved me and you hugged me and you made it seem like it was okay for me to be myself, but then- nothing. Not one word. I've hidden that part of me for eleven years, because that was what you wanted, wasn't it?"
His mother was now crying quietly, and his father seemed close to it too, his eyes wide and his mouth hanging open. "Carlos, no-"
"You did it again, today!" Carlos exclaimed. "When I asked about TK. You knew it was- you knew, didn't you?"
"I didn't want to push."
Carlos didn't stop the laugh this time. He raised both his hands to his face and wiped away the tears that had managed to escape against his will. He was still laughing when his mother framed his face with her small hands and turned it towards her. "Oh, Mijo, I am so sorry that we made you feel this way."
His laughter suddenly turned to painful sobs, and he found himself leaning forward and into his mother's waiting arms. A hand settled on his back, rubbing up and down, and the touch was comforting; made him feel safe.
His mother pushed him away slowly, gently. His father's hand stayed where it was.
"Eleven years ago, we didn't have the words. Even now, I feel like I don't have the words. Carlitos, we had no idea what you needed from us back then, so we tried to follow your example. We-" she shared a look with his father, then her eyes came back to his. "We should have asked you about what you needed, instead of assuming. We should have tried harder." When she looked at him, her eyes were full of sadness.
His father took over. "The world is a cruel place, Mijo, and we, I'm ashamed to admit, tried to protect you from it in all the wrong ways. We never discussed it with you, Carlos, but we agonized over how to handle your coming out for days. When you never brought it up, when you never brought anyone home, we just assumed you hadn't found anyone, or that you weren't trying to."
Carlos was overwhelmed, and he could barely think, let alone speak. When he looked at his father, he saw him wipe a couple of tears away discreetly.
"I am so sorry that we hurt you, son," his father told him, leaning down to press a kiss to the top of his head. "We were so scread to say the wrong thing and lose you. But we did anyway, didn't we?"
Carlos let out a relieved sob and sneaked one arm around his father and the other around his mother.
They cocooned him in warmth, and for the first time in a long time, he truly felt safe in their arms.
"So, TK," his mother started. "More than a friend?"
It honestly sounded like she already knew the answer, but he relished in the fact that he could proudly say it to his parents and have them be happy for him.
"I love him."
She pursed her lips and shook her head. "He didn't say anything, this whole time. I- I suspected there was something- the boy looked like leaving you was the worst thing he had to endure whenever he left your room."
Carlos smiled, but at the same time, guilt creeped up and it made the smile fall off his face. TK had been pretending for four days that he was his friend, he'd probably been worried sick. His mother's words rang in his ears, and he couldn't imagine how hellish it had been for his boyfriend to visit him for a short time and then leave when he had no doubt wanted to stay with him.
"Dad, can you-?"
His father was already moving away from him, and was at the door before Carlos could even finish his question. His father poked his head out, looked both ways, then disappeared out the door.
His mother pulled him close again, and he rested his head on her chest, breathing in and out.
When TK came in, followed by his father, Carlos could tell he was nervous by the way he was rubbing his hand, the one not wrapped in a bandage, on his thigh. His mother got off the bed and moved to the door, where his father was standing.
TK walked over slowly. "Hey, Carlos," he greeted, still cautious, and Carlos smiled, wide and happy.
"Come here," he beckoned him over. TK's eyes widened and they flickered over to his parents. Carlos just shook his head with a giddy grin. "It's okay, they know."
And TK, he let out an audible breath of relief, and the smile on his face was so bright it could put the sun to shame. Carlos held his arms open and TK sat on the edge of his bed and fell into them. He buried his face in Carlos' neck and took a huge breath in, then pressed a few soft, feather light kissed there. His arms were almost painfully tight around Carlos' waist, but he honestly couldn't give a damn about it.
"I'm sorry it took me so long, I'm so sorry you had to go thought this," Carlos whispered in his ear, just before he pressed a kiss on his cheek.
TK shook his head, then pulled away reluctantly. He smiled softly and cupped Carlos' cheek in his hand. "You have nothing to be sorry for. I told you to take all the time you needed and I meant it, Carlos. And- I am so proud of you."
He pulled him back in, and noticed his parents watching them. His mother's eyes were filled with tears, and her hand was covering her mouth, though that didn't stop him from spotting her smile. When he looked at his father, the man who Carlos had always had trouble reading, he found nothing but happiness and pride on his face.
"Boys," his mother called out, and grinned at them when they turned to her. "We'll give you two some time."
"And before I forget, once you're out of this hospital, Carlos, I expect you and your boy to show up for dinner," she told them sternly, and he had to nudge TK to get the man to nod.
His mother nodded, satisfied and then they watched them leave.
TK didn't waste any time. The minute his parents were gone, his lips were on Carlos', hungry and demanding, yet somehow managing to stay gentle. Carlos gave as good as he got. His hands settled on either side of his boyfriend's neck and he pulled him close. He closed his eyes and enjoyed the closeness and the overwhelming happiness the contact conveyed.
TK pulled away and Carlos, almost unconsciously, chased his lips. His injuries chose that exact moment to make themselves known, and though he tried to hide his wince, TK caught it and immediately pressed the call button.
TK pointed a finger at him, glaring adorably, which really wasn't that effective. "Not a word."
He rolled his eyes. "I'm really okay, TK," he assured him.
He rested his forehead against Carlos'. "But you almost weren't, so why don't you just humor me?"
Someone cleared their throat, and they sprang apart. Carlos winced again, then blushed when he noticed the older woman's knowing look.
When he looked at TK, he found him in the same state Carlos was in, though he seemed a lot less embarrassed and lot more smug about it.
Carlos shook his head, and when TK grinned at him, he couldn't help but smile in return.
When his parents came back, they weren't alone. Owen, Paul, Mateo and Marjan all trailed after them. Ten minutes later, after Carlos was hugged to death, they settled and began to talk amongst themselves. Mateo was interrogating his father, it looked like, possibly about his job. Marjan, Paul and his mother were having a quiet conversation that involved a lot of gesturing on his mother's part. It made him happy, to see his parents fit in this life, with this family, he'd built for himself here.
He looked down at his sleeping boyfriend and ran a hand through his soft hair. The hospital bed was too narrow to fit two grown men on it, but they made it work. The nurses didn't approve, but they hadn't outwardly said anything, probably because no one had the heart to wake TK when he was sleeping so peacefully.
"I think this is the first time in the past four days that he's actually slept well- or in a bed." He looked up from his boyfriend to Owen, confused about what it meant.
"He basically lived at the hospital. Only showered and took power naps at home, then was back here immediately."
A lump grew in his throat, and he shook his head. "He didn't even get to spend much time visiting me, why would he stay?"
Owen smiled wryly. "You would've done the same, I think."
Carlos smiled and shrugged, because yeah, he absolutely would have. Mateo let out a particularly loud laugh, and TK startled awake, almost falling off the bed. Carlos caught him befor he did, and enjoyed the sight of a sleepy, grumpy TK rubbing one eye with his hand and attempting to glare at Mateo, who was now laughing at him, at the same time.
Once he woke up fully, which took almost a whole five minutes, he seemed to realize that he'd been sleeping on Carlos and he started blushing.
Carlos pulled him into his side. "You're blushing," he teased him, unable to resist.
"Shut up. Why didn't you wake me up?"
"Looked like you needed the sleep." He watched him duck down, and held his hand in his, giving it a squeeze. "And your dad confirmed it. You were sleeping at the hospital, TK?"
He shrugged, looking uncomfortable. "Couldn't get myself to leave."
"I don't know." He looked him in the eyes, his gaze somber. "Leaving you; it just felt wrong."
Carlos hugged him close, so that TK's back was to his chest, and pressed a kiss on the back of his head when the other man's hand intertwined with one of his own. "I love you," he muttered, quiet and just for TK to hear.
He felt the ghost of a kiss on his forearm before he heard the words that never failed to make his heart skip a beat.
"I love you, too."